Federal Infrastructure Proposal Unveiled; What It Means for Indiana

On Monday, the Trump administration released its long anticipated $1.5 trillion plan for public works and infrastructure. The plan is based on $200 billion in direct federal spending to leverage $1.3 trillion in state, local and private infrastructure investment. (See https://www.whitehouse.gov/wpcontent/uploads/2018/02/INFRASTRUCTURE-211.pdf.)

With many of our nation’s roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure in need of upgrading and building out for the future, this plan relies heavily on additional investment from the states and the private sector. The base of the plan has $100 billion in incentives in the form of grants to state and locals that includes $50 billion for rural projects, $30 billion for revolving federal credit and capital funds, as well as $20 billion for innovative projects that may not be ripe for private investment.

Indiana was one of several states that passed a bold, long-range infrastructure plan last year. (In fact, more than half of the states have raised their gas tax over the past five years.) So we should be well positioned to take advantage of this plan, as we have already taken the needed step to enhance our state and local road infrastructure funding.

Water infrastructure is a big issue for Indiana and this plan also proposes to leverage local investment with up to $40 in local and private money for every $1 in federal investment.

Additionally, the plan also proposes to cut federal permitting and approval times to two years, down from five to 10 years. This could be a big benefit for many projects.

Presently, this plan does not lay out specific funding for the proposal and puts that issue before Congress to solve. That could prove more difficult with concerns that the recently passed federal tax plan will raise the nation’s deficit. One option: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently proposed raising the federal gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993. No doubt, this will be a tough discussion in Congress.

There is usually an economic multiplier effect with infrastructure investment. America’s infrastructure is in dire need of modernization. Indiana has taken big steps to take care of its own and will hopefully benefit from this package. As details develop, we will continue to see how this plan evolves and impacts Indiana infrastructure.

Chamber Goes to D.C., Talks Top Member Issues With Hoosier Delegation

The Chamber’s Caryl Auslander met with Sen. Todd Young last Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Indiana Chamber members were once again represented in Washington as Caryl Auslander, VP of federal relations, returned to meet with over half of Indiana’s congressional delegation last week. On the agenda: the most pressing public policy matters the Chamber hears about from its member companies throughout the state.

On this trip, Auslander met with Sen. Todd Young, Rep. Susan Brooks (IN-05), Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-08) and Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (IN-09), as well as with key legislative staffers from the offices of Rep. Jim Banks (IN-03), Rep. André Carson (IN-07) and Rep. Pete Visclosky (IN-01).

Below are the five main policy areas discussed with these delegation members:

Health Care Reform
The Indiana Chamber wants to see lower health care costs and improvement to the overall system. We believe the Affordable Care Act is overly complex, administratively burdensome and financially unsustainable as-is. We support a “repeal and replace” approach, but in the absence of that, substantial changes should be made to make the law more workable and viable for the long term.

Infrastructure
The Chamber is looking for a stable, long-term way to pay for highway infrastructure, with a separate, sustainable and dedicated transportation funding source. Whatever the upcoming Trump and congressional plans entail, Indiana deserves its fair share of federal transportation dollars. Equity guarantee would ensure that all states receive a minimum level of funding relative to other states. All states should receive a minimum of 95% return on their share of fuel tax contributions and on any additional funding sources. Without an equity guarantee, overall funding may increase; however, Indiana could receive less overall or comparatively.

Regulatory Reform
The federal government has consistently overreached its authority, which has left Hoosier companies facing a multitude of complicated and changing federal regulations. It’s not only burdensome and time-consuming, but has created a lot of business uncertainty and hinders the ability to expand in the U.S. NOTE: Auslander reiterated the top regulations to overturn from the Chamber’s standpoint and gave the delegation another copy of the list.

Rural Broadband
The Chamber believes that advanced communications and digital infrastructure is critical to long-term economic development. Yes, we have come a long way, but still not enough is happening and not quickly enough. We encouraged our delegation to find more ways to bring the most rural parts of the country and state up to date technologically to help reverse downward economic trends. Broadband in rural communities helps businesses, schools and communities at-large; it is no longer a luxury but now a necessity.

Tax Reform
We need a tax code that is certainly simpler. It’s complicated and it costs way too much to comply with. Lowering the corporate income tax rate – which puts us at a competitive disadvantage globally – is something virtually everyone agrees on. We also urged getting rid of the ineffective alternative minimum tax (AMT) and the federal estate tax, which poses a real threat to small businesses and family farms. And while it is important for comprehensive tax reform, we need to do it in a way that does not increase the deficit.

Donnelly Talks Policy to Chamber Group

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly discussed a wide variety of issues with members of the Indiana Chamber’s Executive Committee during an hour-long visit last week. Among his comments on the issues before Congress:

  • Opioid crisis: Senators are working on a federal law that would limit painkiller prescriptions to one week (hopefully reducing addictive outcomes)
  • Transportation infrastructure: There will be a big bill and he believes it will pass as long as it gets paid for
  • Tax reform: Stuck for now because money to pay for it was going to come from the failed health care overhaul
  • Health care bill: Legislation can’t be passed that would result in fewer people having insurance coverage. Democrats, Donnelly noted, have ideas that should be considered

Other topics of conversion: immigration, trade agreements and global threats (Donnelly is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee).

Local Option Transportation Bill Moves Forward

SB 128 was amended on the Senate floor last week and passed third reading yesterday. It was previously determined that HB 1141, with similar language, would not move out of committee and efforts would be focused on the Senate legislation.

These were two bills with similar goals – to allow for communities all around Indiana to supplement road funding to enhance the possibility for a priority regional project – and were introduced in their respective legislative bodies. Both bills would apply to all areas of the state and create a mechanism for local communities to create a regional development authority, which can be used to apply for federal grants, create separate funding for a particular road project, give them the authority to issue bonds and have a referendum to raise property taxes to pay for transportation infrastructure.

The authors of both bills are from Jasper, and they see great economic value in connecting their community and surrounding communities with Interstate 69. They want to create options for communities to step up to provide additional local funds to enhance the possibility of getting a road built sooner.

The Chamber supports the effort as it creates a viable local funding option and it doesn’t require INDOT to elevate the priority. However, if the funding is there, it is more likely to happen. The authors and other supporters will continue to work on moving the Senate bill through the process.

Indiana Chamber Unveils Top Legislative Priorities for 2017

lanane

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (right) speaks during Monday’s Indiana Chamber Legislative Preview. He was joined during the panel discussion by Senate President Pro Tem David Long, as well as House Speaker Brian Bosma and Minority Leader Scott Pelath. Our VP Caryl Auslander moderated.

Long-term transportation infrastructure funding, expansion of state-funded preschool to children from low-income families and strategies to reduce the state’s smoking rate are among the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s top priorities for the 2017 session.

These objectives were announced at the organization’s annual legislative preview in Indianapolis today. The event sponsor was Ice Miller LLP.

“Based on studies, reports and simply travelling across the state, it’s pretty apparent that what we desperately need is a long-term, sustainable, transportation infrastructure funding plan,” offers Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

He believes whatever strategies are ultimately settled on to fund the state’s road and bridges, two factors must be taken into consideration.

“We need to completely fund both maintenance needs and important new projects, and ensure that every user pays their fair share.”

Specific funding strategies the Indiana Chamber could support include: indexing the fuel excise taxes/fees to inflation; raising fuel excise taxes/fees; charging fees for alternative-fuel vehicles (which aren’t subject to the regular fuel tax); tolling a major interstate; and dedicating all of the sales taxes on fuel to infrastructure (the current model allots a penny with the other six cents going to the state’s general fund).

Brinegar notes that the Indiana Chamber would support replacing any revenue lost to the general fund with another revenue source so that the general fund is left whole.

Education is also high on the organization’s agenda.

“We are encouraged that virtually everyone involved sees the need to increase state-funded preschool,” Brinegar begins. “The Indiana Chamber will be advocating that disadvantaged youngsters take priority for the state’s limited dollars.

“We want to see legislators focus on fiscal responsibility, ensure preschool programs are of high quality and adopt a mixed delivery model that includes public schools, Head Start programs, licensed family and center-based childcare, as well as community-based organizations. All of those things are vitally important.”

The Indiana Chamber is part of the All IN 4 Pre-K coalition.

Separately, the Indiana Chamber is supporting suitable testing for students and accountability measures for all involved in the education process.

“Clearly there have been issues with ISTEP testing and the communication of result expectations based on the state’s new college and career-ready standards,” Brinegar says. “But the fundamental importance of measuring students, teachers and schools remains. That’s how we can predict student progress, rate teacher effectiveness and compare and contrast school performance relative to state and national peers.”

Indiana ranks 44th in the nation for highest percentage of smokers. Brinegar stresses that the increased health care costs associated with this level of smoking has the attention of employers.

“These workers are less healthy, have higher insurance premiums and miss more days on the job – and some are not able to work at all.”

The Indiana Chamber, a member of the new Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, is backing a comprehensive approach to reducing the state’s smoking rate. The proposal includes: raising the price of cigarettes via a tax increase; funding a more robust smoking cessation program; increasing the smoking age from 18 to 21; and repealing special privileges for smokers (that prohibit employers from asking possible new hires if they smoke).

“Right now, Indiana is spending substantially more on smokers with health issues who are on Medicaid than it is taking in via cigarette tax revenues. For every pack sold and taxed at 99.5 cents, the state spends at least $15.90 in related health care costs,” Brinegar states. “Obviously that’s not a sustainable tradeoff and needs the state’s attention.”

In the summer, the Indiana Chamber more closely aligned with the state’s technology industry, forming the Indiana Technology & Innovation Council to facilitate better communication and coordination among interested parties.

According to Brinegar, a key focus is public policy so technology leaders can present a strong, unified voice at the Statehouse. Out of the gate, the goal is to “make technology innovation an integral part of the state’s identity.”

Brinegar says: “Indiana is already fostering an impressive entrepreneurial spirit and becoming a technology hub in the Midwest. But we need to better support our technology successes and build on them. After all, our technology efforts now provide tremendous support to the agriculture, logistics and manufacturing sectors in the state – three of our main cogs.”

The Technology and Innovation Policy Summit on December 15 will unveil all the council’s legislative goals.

A complete rundown of the Indiana Chamber’s 2017 key legislative initiatives (top priorities and additional areas of focus) is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.

Also at the legislative preview event, five 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 past legislative session.

The 2016 Small Business Champions are: Sen. Travis Holdman from Markle, District #19; Sen. Tim Lanane from Anderson, District #25; Rep. Matt Lehman from Berne, District #79; Rep. Karlee Macer from Indianapolis, District# 92; and Rep. Ed Soliday from Valparaiso, District #4.

Recap of the Indiana Chamber’s Top 8 legislative priorities:

  • Support establishing a long-term sustainable funding stream for the state’s roads, bridges, etc.
  • Support the expansion of publicly-funded preschool initiatives for children from low income families
  • Support suitable testing for students and accountability for all involved in the education process
  • Support comprehensive approach to decreasing the state’s smoking rate
  • Support a statewide water policy to assure future resources and our economic prosperity
  • Support making technology innovation an integral part of the state’s identity
  • Support maintaining and enhancing our attractive tax climate
  • Support a work share program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns

Beyond the Bicentennial: Our Letter on Infrastructure, Energy and Telecommunications

The following is the third in our series of Beyond the Bicentennial letters, addressed to gubernatorial candidates. Read them all at www.indianachamber.com/letters.

Dear Mr. Gregg and Lt. Gov. Holcomb:

For Indiana to be the state we all want it to be – one that inspires business location and expansion, brings good-paying jobs to Hoosiers and allows for a high quality of life – a solid infrastructure framework must be in place that reflects both present conditions and is prepared for future developments.

The Superior Infrastructure economic driver in our Indiana Vision 2025 plan champions that belief, with goals regarding transportation, energy, water and telecommunications – all things sometimes taken for granted but inherently critical to running a business and enjoying the comforts of daily life.

Reliable roads and bridges doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for (especially for the Crossroads of America), yet it takes significant investment to keep them functioning, make enhancements and build anew. Frankly, our state has not done enough in recent years and has thus fallen behind.

In 2016, the state Legislature opted to provide short-term funding with a task force set up for the next phase. We all should know at this point – based on studies, reports and simply travelling across the state – that what Indiana desperately needs is a long-term, sustainable, strategic policy plan. One that lasts decades, not a few years or election cycles. And above all, it must be based on the principles that enough revenue is raised to completely fund both maintenance needs and important new projects, and that every user pays their fair share.

There are a number of strategies that should be on the table – any or all of which the Indiana Chamber could support:

  • Index fuel excise taxes/fees to inflation
  • Raise fuel excise taxes/fees
  • Charge fees for alternative-fuel vehicles (which aren’t subject to the regular fuel tax)
  • Tolling a major interstate
  • Dedicate all of the sales taxes on fuel to infrastructure (the current model allots a penny with the other six cents going to the state’s general fund), and replace the revenue lost to the general fund with another revenue source so that the general fund is left whole

But, realistically, how we get there matters far less than advancing to the point where we have a robust transportation fund. It’s time to finally address this in 2017 – hopefully in a bipartisan way – before it becomes a crisis.

For decades, many companies have located in Indiana because of its adequate, reliable and affordable supply of electricity. But now that coal – Indiana’s most plentiful energy source – has come under frequent attack by the Obama administration, affordability is starting to go out the window. And how long will it be before businesses and jobs go with it?

Unfortunately, Indiana is to some degree at the mercy of the incoming president and the Environmental Protection Agency. However, we can take additional proactive steps at the state level to combat their actions against coal.

One avenue is to focus on diversifying Indiana’s energy mix with an emphasis on clean coal, natural gas, nuclear power and renewables. Development and execution of a statewide energy plan (which does not currently exist) is essential.

Turning the attention to water, we need to finish the good work that stemmed from the Indiana Chamber’s 2014 water resources study and legislation carried by Sen. Ed Charbonneau and others to develop and implement a statewide water resources plan.

We must ensure that future water resources are available – our ability to effectively compete with other states depends on it. And we are approaching the point where research and data collection should soon transition to action. Leadership must be shown by the next Governor to help spearhead the process.

While the need for water has been obvious since the beginning of time, the advent of broadband and its economic significance is a much more recent development. It wasn’t that long ago that broadband was spoken about only in terms of faster and more reliable internet entertainment. But today, and in the future, its business, medical, security and quality of life impacts are paramount.

Legislation in 2015 that created the Broadband Ready Communities Development Center assists rural locales in working through the barriers they might have to broadband investment by a provider.

But not enough is happening and not quickly enough. We must find more ways to bring the most rural parts of Indiana up to date technologically to help reverse their downward population and economic trends.

That sentiment – being more aggressive – easily could be said for all of these infrastructure components. If elected Governor, we strongly encourage you to make that shift and put a greater priority on these vital issues.

Sincerely,

Kevin M. Brinegar
President and CEO
Indiana Chamber of Commerce, representing 24,000 members and investors statewide

Road Funding Committee Discussions Ramp Up

9809397An in-depth interim summer study committee on road funding (called FIRSST) held its second meeting last week. This was an input session that focused on how Indiana’s road conditions and funding compare to other states.

There were several informative presentations from several different groups including Conexus and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Points of interest from the discussion:

  • For the U.S., average funding sources for highways and transit are 25% federal, 40% state and 35% local.
  • Indiana’s deficient roads cost $391 per motorist per year. This includes flat tires, bent rims and other costs.
  • Some 16% or 9,965 miles of Indiana’s roads are considered in poor condition; that ranks us third among six Midwestern states.
  • A total of 10.2% or 1,944 Indiana bridges are considered deficient in quality; that ranks us second among six Midwestern states.
  • Investment in road infrastructure is declining, even when adjusted for inflation.
  • There are 54 potential funding sources for road funding ranging from fuel taxes to parking meters.
  • Fuel taxes have not kept up with the infrastructure needs. Automobiles are more fuel efficient and inflation has been eating away the buying power of gas taxes. Indiana last raised its gas tax in 2003 and it is not indexed for inflation.
  • As electric cars become more popular, very few states – including Indiana – impose fees for their use of roads. Of the 10 states that do, the fee ranges from $47.50-$200 per year.
  • Of the 50 states, 36 – Indiana among them – have toll roads.

The Indiana Chamber will continue to encourage the development and implementation of fiscal systems to support the array of transportation infrastructure projects critical to economic growth. The next FIRSST meeting is scheduled for September 29.

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

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.

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.