Brinegar: We Commend INDOT on I-69 Route

i69The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) announced today that the preferred route for Interstate 69 section 6 between Martinsville and Indianapolis is the State Road 37 corridor. Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and Hoosier Voices for I-69 Chairman Kevin Brinegar offers his comments:

“We support INDOT’s decision that the State Road 37 corridor is the best alternative for completing the I-69 extension and it will be the best investment for Hoosiers. The corridor requires far less new construction than the alternatives, impacts the fewest homeowners and has the most consensus among all interested parties.

“We commend INDOT on the thorough selection process and the analysis used to come to this decision.

“While we’ve made much progress on the I-69 extension – most recently with the opening of Section 4 in Greene and Monroe counties in December – there is still much to be done from the Bloomington area up to Indianapolis. The state must remain committed to funding this important project and seeing it through to completion.

“In the not-too-distant future, I-69 will run continuously from Evansville to Fort Wayne and beyond. That will provide many more Hoosiers with better road access, leading to reduced travel time. And that also is very attractive for businesses, making Indiana an even more viable hub for companies and new jobs.”

The 2016 Legislative Session: Some Noteworthy Shots Made

Silhouette of Teen Boy Shooting a Basketball at Sunset, copy space

With the NCAA basketball tournament in full swing and baseball season just around the corner, slam dunks and grand slams are both center stage. Neither of those terms, however, can be used to describe the 2016 Indiana General Assembly session. We’ll have to settle for a solid jump shot or maybe a line drive double in the gap.

The number one priority for the Indiana Chamber and its business members was enhanced funding for roads and transportation infrastructure. A total of $1.1 billion, when counting money for local governments, is a strong start. What’s even more important is the commitment legislators made to address longer-term needs in the 2017 budget-writing session.

All four legislative caucuses and the governor’s office offered plans and spent considerable time working toward solutions. That is an excellent sign of even better things to come. In the education arena, the disastrous ISTEP test implementation in recent years led to several needed pieces of legislation. Teachers and schools will not be negatively impacted by the 2014-2015 test results, but all-important accountability remains in place and a summer panel – with the Indiana Chamber at the table – will determine a more suitable testing future for our state’s students.

Other positive legislative results included funding the third Regional Cities program, scholarships for prospective top-of-their-class teachers, a long-sought solution to the unregulated lawsuit lending industry and saving hundreds of millions of dollars with more appropriate property tax assessments of large retail facilities (aka “big box” stores).
Unfortunately, there were also two significant missed opportunities. Indiana must be seen as a welcoming place for all in order to retain and recruit top talent, new business investment and tourism. Failing to pass civil rights legislation doesn’t put Indiana in the strong position it could have been, or arguably needs to be. While this proved a bridge too
far for legislators to cross in this election year, all of our state leaders must find a way going forward to work together to craft a solution.

Despite bipartisan support, implementing a work share program barely even got out of the starting gate. Work share would benefit employees, employers and communities when the next economic downturn occurs. At the request of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), the Indiana Chamber partnered with them to commission an independent study of why a work share program is needed. The Chamber also took the extra step of identifying viable funding options for the program’s administration. However, DWD still was unable to get on board. Until they do, this policy will, unfortunately, face an uphill climb.

If these last two items had been added to the plus column, we might just be talking slam dunks and grand slams. Still, there will be another game in town next year, and the Chamber will be back at it – pushing these policies and others that support making Indiana a more prosperous place for employers and their employees.

Read further analysis from Brinegar on several of these issues in this summary

Road Funding Bills, Regional Cities Funding Headed Down to the Wire

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Several bills attempting to address Indiana’s transportation infrastructure and regional economic development are headed toward eleventh hour conference committee deliberations where differences in approach between House Republicans and Gov. Pence/Senate Republicans will need to be hashed out. It is a high-stakes game in an election year.

House Bill 1001 is the House Republicans’ original effort to create a long-term, sustainable and dedicated funding source for Indiana’s roads, highways and bridges. It attempts to address a near $1 billion annual maintenance shortfall through indexing existing fuel taxes to inflation, dedicating the sales tax on fuel sales to infrastructure (vs. the state’s general fund), increasing taxes on cigarettes to refill the state’s general fund coffers (which support the state’s Medicaid program), imposing fees on alternative fuel vehicles, and supplying local units of government with expanded fiscal tools and taxing authority for roads. The Indiana Chamber worked with legislators on this bill and supports this comprehensive, data-driven approach.

Senate Bills 67 and 333 (as they started in the Senate) reflect Gov. Pence’s and Senate Republicans’ desire to avoid any tax increases for roads this year and delay any major decisions on road funding until the 2017 budget year, while also giving some money and tools to local units of government. At best, these proposals are short-term fixes to a long-term problem and the Chamber prefers the House Republican legislation.

Add to this mix Gov. Pence’s request for an additional $42 million for a third Regional Cities grant award, and you have plenty of fodder for lengthy, contentious negotiations with a March 10 deadline looming. Leadership from both chambers has been meeting with the Governor and his staff to hammer out a compromise proposal. As of this writing, negotiations are occurring behind closed doors and in caucus discussions with both sides remaining far apart. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Legislature watch as Republicans battle among themselves over the “right” compromise package.

We anticipate that the third Regional Cities grant will be funded in some way and that some short-term road funds and expanded authority for local governments will emerge. Whether or not the tax increases in HB 1001 survive the negotiation is an open question. The Chamber will work with all parties to address the state’s road-funding needs in the most rational and comprehensive way possible.

Senate Committee Amends House Roads Bill; Another Task Force Created

30449450The political wrangling between the House and Senate over the roads bill is in full swing. This bill has been substantially altered by the Senate Appropriations Committee at the direction of its chairman, Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville). Essentially, Kenley’s amendment removes all tax increases and decreases from the bill and establishes a task force to further assess the state’s needs for road funding – putting off difficult decisions to 2017.

Meanwhile, the original language of HB 1001 was inserted into SB 333, the Governor’s roads plan. Both bills are set up for conference committee negotiations. We expect the discussions and subsequent vote on this one will go down to the wire.

The Indiana Chamber has worked with legislative leaders as they attempt to address the state’s transportation infrastructure needs and nearly $1 billion annual maintenance deficit. The original language of HB 1001 represents a rational, long-term and sustainable system for roads, highways and bridges and is the Chamber’s preferred approach at this time.

Any movement is positive movement at this point and there are many elements to like in Kenley’s amendment, but another task force or working group (or whatever you care to call it) is viewed as unnecessary given the amount of timely studies and commissions that have already looked at the state’s infrastructure needs in recent years. The Chamber will work with all interested parties to address the state’s needs in the most rational and comprehensive way possible.

Call to Action: Please urge your representative and senator to support a long-term fix for Indiana’s roads and highways; you can do so online. Fuel taxes have not been raised in more than a decade and no other short-term policies will address the state’s needs as well as a set of comprehensive policies in the original HB 1001 language. No other legislation even comes close, even though short-term funding is helpful.

Speaker Links Regional Cities Expansion to Long-Term Road Funding

statehouse-picSB 302 passed the Indiana Senate 35-15 on February 1, but House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) stated this week that the measure won’t clear the House Ways and Means Committee “without extra help.”

The bill does the following:

  • Specifies the manner in which certain excise taxes and local taxes collected under the tax amnesty program shall be distributed
  • Provides that after making the distributions required under the tax amnesty program, the next $42 million collected under the program must be deposited into the Indiana Regional Cities development fund
  • Provides that any remaining amounts collected under the tax amnesty program shall be deposited in the state bicentennial capital account (rather than the state general fund, under current law)
  • Specifies that revenue received from the rental of certain communications system infrastructure shall be deposited in the state general fund (rather than the state bicentennial capital account, under current law)
  • Appropriates $42 million from the Indiana Regional Cities development fund for the purpose of funding a third grant under the regional cities initiative

The Indiana Chamber endorses regionalism and place-making strategies that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s Regional Cities program embodies and that this legislation seeks to supplement. Separately, we appreciate Speaker Bosma’s efforts to use this bill as leverage to assist his plan for long-term road funding (HB 1001); that’s the transportation bill that the Chamber fully endorses.

This week, Bosma essentially said give and take will need to occur to get House legislators over the hump after they feel they held up their end of the bargain by passing the Regional Cities statute for two locations last session, only to now have the Governor expand the parameters to request dollars for a third location.

Ultimately, the Chamber would like to see both the Regional Cities expansion and HB 1001 – in its full form – become law this session and will be intently working toward that goal.

Senate Needs to Hear from You on Top Issue

36601064Highways and bridges are easily taken for granted. They only come to mind for most of us when something goes wrong: A car hits a large pothole or there is an inconvenient road closure. But if you look around, the inevitable aging of our infrastructure system is happening.

There are three legislative proposals to address a $1 billion a year maintenance shortfall in funding for roads and bridges. Only one, HB 1001, helps meet long-term needs.

Yes, it will cost the average driver $25 more a year in gasoline taxes. But we are all spending much more than that (an average of $366 per year) on automobile repairs due to poor quality roads.

Senators are reluctant to increase taxes in an election year. Employers and voters, however, want a long-term solution. It’s too important to our economy and the time to act is NOW.

Please email your state senator urging passage of HB 1001 and long-term road funding.

Learn more: Read the write-up on the HB 1001 committee hearing and this one-pager which outlines additional infrastructure facts.

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.