Paving the Way for Good Roads

PollQuestion

We’ve got a new poll question (top right) asking about a strategy to pay for long-term infrastructure funding. The current House Republican plan calls for a modest gasoline tax increase and higher cigarette taxes (that would go toward Medicaid spending, with sales tax funds currently used in that area shifting to transportation).

More details on the legislation: HB 1001

The most recent poll asked for your top legislative priority. Civil rights expansion (36%) topped the list, followed by increased transportation funding (28%) and education testing reform (16%).

Four Areas Where Gov. Pence’s State of the State Address Missed the Mark

?????????????????????????????????????????The 2016 session of the Indiana General Assembly may be short in time but, as usual, there is a long list of important issues. In outlining his priorities in the State of the State speech, however, Gov. Mike Pence fell short in four key areas.

First is civil rights expansion. After appropriately listening to Hoosiers since last spring’s public relations crisis, the Governor failed to articulate a clear vision. His words, depending on interpretation, bordered on telling legislators to do nothing at a time when action is needed.

The Indiana Chamber went through a similar lengthy listening process as public policy committees, the executive committee and the full board of directors (all comprised of representatives of member companies) debated the issue. Once a final determination was made, the Chamber communicated the decision that the members had voted to support the expansion of civil rights to protect sexual orientation and gender identity. Although not popular in all circles, similar clarity was needed from the Governor.

In the critical area of infrastructure funding, the Governor advocated against the only long-term solution presented thus far because it included several responsible revenue increases. As an organization that works each day to create and maintain the best possible business climate, the Indiana Chamber does not go looking for tax hikes. But in this case, they are necessary.

Third, on education, the “let’s take a step back on ISTEP” remark goes too far. Indiana already has a new test that measures our new, stronger standards. The test needs rebranded, not revised, and administered correctly to achieve the desired results.

Finally, there was no mention of work share, a common sense program to support employers and employees in an economic downturn. It will be needed at some point and the best time to implement it is now.

The Indiana Chamber has and will continue to communicate with the Governor and his staff our positions on these issues, which we believe are in the best interest of the state’s economy, employers and workers.

RFRA 2.0 and Road Funding

statehouse picElection year dynamics, conservative Republican super majorities and the non-budget nature of the “short” session create the context for all issues facing the Indiana General Assembly in 2016. In economic development, the only issues to see much traction are adding LGBT civil rights protections to the Indiana Code and a short-term fix for the state’s roads and highways with an emphasis on local funding. Other issues will arise, but are unlikely to gain much attention.

Last spring’s rancorous debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) damaged Indiana’s brand in the international marketplace for jobs and investment. It led to an economic boycott of Indiana, a viral trashing of our state’s reputation in the international media and a black eye for our state’s political leadership. Moreover, the enduring stigma attached to Indiana as a discriminatory and unwelcoming place, especially among a Millenial generation that represents our future workforce, endangers our prosperity. That is why the Indiana Chamber has made adding protections for the LGBT community in state law a priority for the upcoming session.

New legislation will start in the Senate, where Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) has drafted a bill that attempts to strike a balance between the religious and LGBT communities. The bill, as it stands, will probably not make either of those constituencies happy. The synopsis prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity while also providing protection for religious liberty and conscience. Additionally, it also preempts local civil rights ordinances that conflict with the state civil rights law. Look for an interesting debate as the session progresses.

In the area of transportation infrastructure, the General Assembly likely will take only baby steps to address an acknowledged nearly $1 billion annual funding gap between current revenues and maintenance needs. Legislative leadership seems content to wait until 2017 before pursuing any significant changes to the way Indiana funds its roads, bridges and highways. Nevertheless, armed with the results of a major road funding study by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) presented over the summer, all legislators will be able to evaluate proposed solutions in 2016 – it is just unlikely that they will move on them, especially any tax or fee increases. (The INDOT study examined existing fuel excise taxes, their future revenue potential and alternative funding mechanisms and revenue streams, such as vehicle miles traveled [VMT] or tolling.)

The legislation to watch is HB 1001, which will contain a number of reforms and potential funding mechanisms based upon the initial data from the INDOT study. The Indiana Chamber collaborated with key legislators in crafting HB 1001, which can be likened to a block of stone delivered to a sculptor’s studio: It will be an array of many options that will be chipped away at during the legislative session, hopefully into something recognizable (and helpful) in the end.

The condition of our infrastructure has already become highly politicized with partisan accusations and dueling proposals from Gov. Pence, House Democrats and the Republican majority caucuses, but nevertheless we expect several issues to be examined in sobering detail: gasoline and diesel fuel excise tax increases; fees for electric or alternative-fuel vehicles; repurposing the 7% sales tax on gasoline for the state’s highway fund; and a discussion of indexing fuel taxes for inflation, among other proposals.

Given the controversial nature of these topics and a near allergic reaction by politicians to tax increases in an election year, we anticipate it will be a very contentious and interesting session.

Indiana Chamber Unveils Our Top Six Legislative Priorities for 2016

statehouse picTransportation infrastructure funding, reverse credit transfer to the state’s accredited two-year colleges and expansion of the state’s civil rights law are among the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s top priorities for the 2016 session.

These objectives were announced at the organization’s annual Central Indiana Legislative Preview in Indianapolis today.

The Indiana Chamber proposes an array of strategies to establish a sustainable funding stream for the state’s roads, highways and bridges. These include dedicating more of the state’s sales tax on fuel purchases to infrastructure, increasing and indexing fuel excise taxes and implementing fees on alternative fuel vehicles.

“Indiana benefited greatly from the Major Moves program that accelerated our timeline and funded $4 billion worth of projects over the last decade. But those dollars are spent or allocated. It’s time to move forward with the next generation of resources to drive our economy by moving people and products throughout our state and beyond,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“Legislative action is needed in the coming session to address glaring needs and begin implementing long-term strategies to allow our state to live up to its ‘Crossroads of America’ designation.”

Brinegar concludes that the good news is that legislative leaders, the Governor and others are on the same page about the need; the challenge will be how to get there.

Higher education is also a focal point for the Indiana Chamber. One specific proposal the organization will be pushing for is a method to allow for more students to turn their existing college credits into a two-year degree. This would be accomplished by allowing specific credits earned at state-supported colleges and universities to be transferrable to Indiana’s accredited two-year schools, such as Ivy Tech and Vincennes. Credit is already generally transferrable from the two-year schools to their four-year counterparts.

“This would give students more opportunity for post-secondary attainment and then obviously help with employment,” Brinegar offers. “Specifically, it would help fill the gap for those individuals who first went to a four-year school but for whatever reason couldn’t continue. This would be a viable path for them to turn their efforts into a two-year degree and become more attractive to employers.”

Earlier this month, the Indiana Chamber announced its support for expanding the state’s civil rights law to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity, with Brinegar noting:

“The time has come for Indiana to expand protections against potential discrimination. This action will increase the state’s future business competitiveness in the recruitment, attraction and retention of talent, as well as enhance respect for all employers and employees. We encourage our state leaders to work together to take this next critical step.”

Another initiative the organization will again pursue is a work sharing program, which will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns and enable employees to keep their jobs but with reduced hours and salary (which is partially offset by unemployment insurance). This program has enjoyed support on both sides of the aisle the last few years, but has yet to cross the finish line.

“There is no negative impact on the state’s unemployment insurance fund. Instead of paying full benefits to a smaller group of recipients, a larger group of employees will receive limited benefits – but most importantly remain on the job,” Brinegar explains. “There is no reason not to enact a work share program to help meet future employee and employer needs. They deserve that option.”

The other two legislative priorities for the Indiana Chamber are maintaining a fair and equitable system for the state’s commercial property assessment and appeal procedures (in the face of recent “big box” retail stores’ appeals and reaction to that); and expanding publicly-funded preschool from the pilot program to statewide so more children are prepared to enter kindergarten.

A complete rundown of the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 key legislative initiatives (top priorities and additional areas of focus) is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.

Also at the legislative preview event, four state legislators were honored as Indiana Chamber Small Business Champions “for their hard work and dedication to improving Indiana’s small business climate.” This award is based on voting and advocacy during the 2015 legislative session.

The 2015 Small Business Champions are: Sen. Rodric Bray from Martinsville, District #37; Sen. Carlin Yoder from Middlebury, District #12; Rep. David Ober from Albion, District #82; and Rep. John Price from Greenwood, District #47.

Recap of the Indiana Chamber’s Top 6 legislative priorities:

  • Support an array of strategies to establish a sustainable funding stream for the state’s roads, highways and bridges
  • Support specific credit transfer from Indiana’s four-year, state-supported institutions to the state’s accredited two-year colleges
  • Support expanding the state’s civil rights law to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Support a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns
  • Support maintaining a fair and equitable system for the state’s commercial property assessment and appeal procedures
  • Support the development of publicly-funded preschool initiatives statewide

Lawmakers Hear from INDOT on Road Funding; Gov. Makes $1 Billion No-Tax Proposal

30449450Two key events in recent weeks on the transportation front in Indiana: A long-awaited Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) study on long-term funding options for Indiana’s roads, highways and bridges was presented on Oct. 15 to the Interim Study Committee on Roads and Transportation; and just a few days before, on Oct. 13, Gov. Pence proposed a $1 billion, four-year plan for short-term transportation needs whose most prominent feature was no tax increases. INDOT Commissioner Brandye Hendrickson appeared with the governor at his announcement and testified before the interim study committee.

Hendrickson provided a broad overview of the state of Indiana’s roads and bridges during her testimony and INDOT’s study vendor, Cambridge Systematics, testified at length on the options available to the state to address long-term transportation funding, concluding that policymakers need to “decide what Indiana should invest in and how best to pay for it.” Both federal and state highway revenues are expected to decline in future years due to a number of factors, including increased fuel efficiency standards and more alternative-fuel vehicles hitting the roads.

All fuel excise tax revenues from the state’s highway fund are required for maintenance of existing infrastructure; no funding is available for expansion projects such as completion of I-69, adding lanes to I-65 or I-70, or new bridges across the Ohio River. Additionally, more than half of the state’s bridges are in the last 25 years of their useful life (50-plus years or older) and will need significant reconstruction or remediation in coming years.

Bottom line: The state needs more revenues to address a growing need for maintenance of existing infrastructure – let alone expansion of the state’s highway network.

Pence proposes a mix of bonding (debt), general fund appropriations and use of the state’s reserves in his “21st Century Crossroads” plan. His proposal would seek $450 million over three years to be appropriated by the General Assembly from the state’s general fund, $250 million to be used from the state’s reserve funds, $50 million from the state’s Next Generation Trust Fund (established by Major Moves monies) and roughly $240 million in new bond financing as existing debt gets retired or refinanced. The plan is short term in nature and, while tapping appropriate sources, needs the consent of the Legislature (where several Statehouse voices expressed reservations about the bonding aspect of the plan).

The Indiana Chamber would like to see a mix of increased fuel excise taxes, indexation, tolling, fees on alternative fuel vehicles and other tools based upon a “user fee” model discussed in the 2016 legislative session, along with the use of existing tax authority by cities, towns and counties to address the needs of local streets and county roads. Policymakers must make some hard choices with the support of the state’s business community to address the scale and scope of the challenge.

In short, the era of strategic investments fueled by the Major Moves program is over. The prevailing (default) practice of making stop-gap appropriations from the state’s general fund is not a reliable or strategic means to pay for future maintenance and upgrades to Indiana’s surface transportation network. Currently, we risk wasting strategic investments already made, and our roads and highways will deteriorate along with our reputation as “The Crossroads of America.”

Chamber Convenes Infrastructure Leadership to Discuss I-65, Long-Term Solutions

10049160The Indiana Chamber recently brought together a trio of the state’s top leadership on infrastructure issues to discuss Indiana’s current maintenance and funding challenges, including the closure of Interstate 65 near Lafayette due to emergency bridge repairs, and long-term solutions to an estimated $1 billion annual road and bridge maintenance funding gap.

Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) Commissioner Brandye Hendrickson, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown M.D. (R-Crawfordsville), and House Roads and Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) appeared before the Chamber’s Infrastructure Policy Committee to share their views and hear the viewpoints of the state’s business leadership.

INDOT Commissioner Hendrickson stated that the I-65 closure represented significant logistical and engineering challenges and economic costs, but that the bridge repairs should be completed and the interstate back online by mid-September. She stated that INDOT was doing all it could to expedite the process, but that the bridge failure pointed to the state’s maintenance needs. A statutorily required study of potential funding mechanisms has been underway and will be made public at a legislative interim study committee this fall, most likely in October.

Both Brown and Soliday agreed that the state needs to commit for funding to road and bridge maintenance – and that was the case prior to the I-65 bridge incident. Brown suggested that revenue projections look pretty good for the $200 million appropriated to the 2020 fund to be deployed later this year, but acknowledged that more needed to be done – most likely in 2017, the next budget-writing session of the General Assembly. He also said he was open to using the $500 million in the Next Generation Trust Fund for immediate infrastructure maintenance needs. Brown would like to see a “consistent funding stream on an annual basis for transportation infrastructure” enacted in the future, but left all options on the table pending review of the INDOT study.

Soliday praised the INDOT study and described it as a “tool to look at a number of funding mechanisms and options”; he plans to hold a study committee hearing in October to review the tool and various options. Soliday said that the average Hoosier driving 12,000 miles/year pays about $108/year in taxes for transportation infrastructure and described that as a “bargain” compared to the average monthly cell phone or cable TV bills consumers pay. Both legislators were supportive of public-private partnerships and progress on existing road projects; they expressed frustration that county wheel taxes had not been more fully utilized to address local funding needs for local and county roads.

It was clear from the panel discussion that it is a question of when and how the transportation funding gap will be addressed, not “if” it will be addressed. Most likely, these issues will begin to be discussed in-depth in the 2016 legislative session with some supplemental funding being found, but that a longer-term solution will be waiting until the budget-writing process in 2017.

VIDEO: Time to Move Forward and Improve Indiana’s Infrastructure

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar discusses the importance of improving Indiana’s infrastructure. 2016 looks to be the “year of infrastructure” at the Statehouse, and Brinegar asserts “Indiana can’t wait for Washington to act.”