Poll: Legislators Could Have Done Better

Those who voted in our most recent blog poll were not overly impressed with the work of the Indiana General Assembly in 2013. The grades and the percentage of votes received:

  • C: 29%
  • D: 29%
  • B: 23%
  • A: 16%
  • F: 3%

We conducted a roundtable for our BizVoice magazine earlier this week. Giving their views on the session were Chamber President Kevin Brinegar, two House legislators (Democrat Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne and Republican Jerry Torr of Carmel) and Evansville Statehouse reporter Eric Bradner. You'll be able to check out their analysis in the July-August issue.

Our new question, top right of this page, seeks your opinion on federal health care reform as implementation moves closer.

Poll Question: It’s Grading Time

We asked a few weeks ago for your opinion about Gov. Pence's income tax cut proposal and where state legislators would end up in their budget. A 5% cut divided between 2015 (3%) and 2017 (additional 2%) was not one of the options.

I guess that would fall under what was choice D (other), which received 3% of the vote. The other choices were:

  • Full 10% cut as proposed by Pence: 43%
  • 3% cut per the bill passed by the Senate: 27%
  • No tax cut, which was part of the House bill: 27%

Lawmakers have termed the overall budget as the largest tax cut ($1 billion) in the state's history. The Indiana Chamber's upcoming legislative analysis will have more details, but that does include an immediate elimination of the state inheritance tax (in fact, it makes the elimination retroactive to January 1, 2013) instead of the nine-year phase-out that was passed in 2012.

The budget, as always, was a high-profile issue but just one of the topics that garnered attention. Again, more Chamber review is on the way but our new poll question asks for your overall grade of the 2013 General Assembly. Cast your vote at the top right of this page.

Your View: More Choice in K-12 Schools

Education is once again among the dominant Indiana General Assembly topics. Our recent poll question asked your top priority among the following (all five options received between 11% and 30% of the vote):

  • Expand voucher opportunites (30%)
  • Increase overall funding (22%)
  • Leave Common Core standards alone (15%)
  • Preschool funding for students in need (22%)
  • Other (11%). Specifics focused on increasing accountability, restoring traditional public schools and ensuring high levels of learning for all students

A large number of K-12 education bills remain in play at the Statehouse, not to mention proposals on higher education and workforce development. It's promising to see the attention devoted to such important issues. We hope the end results match the intentions.

Check out the new poll question (top right) regarding potential enhancements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

We’re Still Legislatively Speaking

The 2012 Indiana General Assembly session concluded on March 9. We’re wrapping up the post-session analysis over the next few weeks. Here’s the lineup of current and upcoming communications:

  • Take our blog poll (top right of this page) and give your grade on the lawmakers’ efforts
  • Members can look for the Chamber’s Final Legislative Report later this week, offering a full session recap of key priorities for Indiana companies and their employees as well as a scorecard of bill outcomes
  • Our April 6 Policy Issue Conference Call (members only). We’ll not only talk about the final week of the session, but shift gears to a busy primary election season. Sign up to listen in or ask questions of Chamber policy and political experts

Still to come after that are a session recap in the May-June BizVoice magazine, the annual Legislative Vote Analysis publication that grades legislators on their votes and a return on investment that calculates Chamber member savings from the positive policies passed and the costly measures that were defeated.

Legislature 2011: Tallying Up the Victories

The recently concluded Indiana General Assembly session was, in non-technical terms, a really, really, really good one for Chamber members, their employees and all Hoosiers. Chamber President Kevin Brinegar calls it maybe the best overall in his 19 years with the organization.

We told you earlier about a May 13 Policy Call for members that will include House Speaker Brian Bosma and Chamber issue experts. Members can also look for the Final Legislative Report on May 10. In this one, we let our issue experts unleash that creativity that has been building up over the last four months. They’ll give the big picture on what happened, why it happened, who you should be thanking and more.

We’re also in the process of setting up in-person review briefings in communities around the state. Brinegar and the Chamber team will come to your town, provide the overview and answer your questions. We’ll keep you posted as they develop.

The Speaker is Coming, the Speaker is Coming!

What does all this legislative activity (all indications are lawmakers will complete their work on time today) mean for companies, employees and citizens throughout the state? The Indiana Chamber will have some answers during its May 13 Policy Issue Conference Call for members.

Providing some of the analysis will be none other than House Speaker Brian Bosma, who weathered the five-week Demcorat walkout and has helped orchestrate what will go down as one of the most successful General Assembly sessions in quite some time.

Chamber members, you don’t want to miss this one. Sign up today!

Time Equals Results for Students

Reforms come in various shapes and sizes. For example:

  • Health care reform dominated the headlines in 2009 and early this year. No one is quite sure what we ended up with, although many in business are convinced it’s going to cost a lot of money and more and more John/Jane Q. Publics are not happy with what they’re learning about the government intrusion into their medical doings.
  • Local government reform in Indiana has stalled the last few years because a:) some Hoosiers like the way the system was set up in 1851; b:) politics is taking precedence over policy (imagine that!); c:) the people who prefer the status quo have spoken louder, or at least more effectively, than the proponents for change; or d:) some combination of all of the above.

Today. however, we’re talking education reform and it’s an area in which the overall results are sometimes mixed. (But then almost any reform is an improvement over a status quo that fails far too many young people). But the focus is spending more time on task; in Massachusetts, the official name is a rather straightforward Expanded Learning Time. And ELT is working.

The U.S. trails most other industrialized nations in school days. So Massachusetts has added 300 hours per year in select schools. Included among the results:

  • ELT schools gaining in test results at double the state average in English language arts and math; and at five times the state average in science
  • Broadened opportunities for students, including enrichment programming in a variety of subjects
  • Increased student demand. One Boston middle school went from underenrolled to a waiting list in three years
  • Higher teacher satisfaction
  • Stronger community partnerships

No, you can’t just keep the doors open longer. No one said it is easy. But it does seem to be one of the more common sense reforms that could yield positive results for students of all abilities. Yet, in the Indiana General Assembly, time is spent each session fighting off legislation that would actually shorten the school year.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Indiana’s local government structure and school day calendar (to meet the needs of students who had to help out on the family farm) were set up around the same time. Both are in need of a serious update. We’ve got to start somewhere — for schools, that might be with more, not less, learning opportunities.

Read Massachusetts’ More Time for Learning: Promising Practices and Lessons Learned.

No “Boom Baby!” or Dunking Dutchman, but Brinegar Will Offer Many Assists

Indiana Chamber members and others are invited to Lunch with Brinegar at Conseco Fieldhouse at 11:30 a.m., June 9, 2010.  Chamber President Kevin Brinegar will provide an update on membership benefits and current legislative issues facing Hoosier businesses. The Chamber played some killer defense for business in the 2010 Indiana General Assembly, and Kevin will update you on the session’s outcome.

The event is a great opportunity to network with other Chamber members from central Indiana. Kevin might even show off his mad dunking skills.

The lunch is free for members and $19 for non-members. To RSVP, contact Tom James at tjames@indianachamber.com or (317) 264-3793.

We hope to see you at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Primarily Speaking, It’s a Crucial Voting Period

Primaries have always been my favorite. In most districts, the primary election is the election that will decide who gets to raise his or her right hand and take office. The pressure is generally more intense and often more personal given that the political parties see them as “their fights.” Not us. We represent the business community (employers and employees) and recognize the opportunities presented by a good primary fight no matter the party. Primaries are usually the best, if not only, chance to take out many of those incumbents who say they are pro-business, but their voting record and actions indicate otherwise.

Just a few months ago, the only race in town was for control of the Indiana House. With only eight days to go until the last day of the primary election voting season, there are several others that are just as compelling. What was once a cakewalk U.S. Senate re-election race for Evan Bayh has turned into a competitive Republican primary that people are paying close attention to and a November contest that will be one of the most watched in the country. There are highly competitive primaries in the fourth, fifth, eighth and ninth Congressional districts. And of course, there are a bevy of state legislative primaries that are hotly contested.

After the 2008 failure of the political parties to recruit enough pro-jobs, pro-economic development candidates, (even leaving several competitive districts uncontested), we decided to fully implement our own candidate recruitment and development program. Since December 2008, we have met with well over 100 potential candidates and recruited several who decided to run.  Following this effort, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG) is now leading or playing a significant role in no less than seven highly competitive Indiana General Assembly primaries.  

This post kicks off an impressive lineup of guest bloggers we have assembled this week. They include state chairmen, a former state chairman, media representatives, popular Indiana bloggers and leaders/communicators from the state’s largest three political parties.

Please check back this afternoon as one of the most insightful and respected individuals in Hoosier politics weighs in. Robin Winston is a former Democratic state chairman, Indiana Week in Review panelist and key strategist for Hoosier Democrats. Grab a nice hot tea or caffeinated drink of your choice and enjoy. I certainly will.

No Time for Games in Education Policies

A vehicle bill in the Indiana General Assembly is one that contains no text, but is available to be amended at a later time. HB 1367 fits in that category this time around, and the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) hopes to drive its suggested school budget cuts through the House Education Committee (via 1367) on Monday.

The ISTA plan: gut the progress made last year (scholarship tax credit and virtual charter school pilot programs), eliminate some testing (really ?), spend rainy day funds and any reserves above 8%, and allow more money to be transferred from capital funds to general operating funds.

The Indiana Chamber, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and about any other group interested in education policy are prepared to oppose this effort. IDOE previously released a Citizens’ Checklist that prioritizes items that should be considered before any cuts are made that affect classroom instruction and learning. And while the ISTA does not propose the feared mass teacher layoff, putting the clamps on the much-needed scholarship and voucher school initiatives would be detrimental to students and their learning opportunities.

The checklist emphasizes that school districts look at some of the same changes many businesses have been forced to implement during the economic downturn. These include freezing pay (or rolling back previous increases) and closely reviewing health plans (with inclusion in the state program an option that would save money for many). These two items alone could account for much of the projected $300 million cut in education funds.

At the same time that judiciously saving money should be the top priority, a questionable $200 million mandate on school counselors passed the House committee last week. While the Chamber said "no, you have to be kidding," or something a little more professional, it was the only one to speak up and the measure somehow had the support of ISTA and associations representing superintendents, school boards and counselors.

Finally, education leaders and those same groups are also saying that if you want us to teach young people to read (SB 258), we’re going to need more money. Since when is reading NOT included in current education efforts.

Let’s hope a little common sense begins to prevail — starting today.