What the Senate Leadership Changes Mean for the Business Community

The 2018 legislative session marks the first one without fiscal stalwarts Brandt Hershman and Luke Kenley, both of whom retired from the Senate – Hershman’s announcement coming just before Christmas. While it’s hard to replace such experience and wisdom, those stepping up to fill their shoes have been waiting in the wings for a while and should make for smooth transitions.

Back in mid-July, Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) was tapped to succeed Kenley as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is tasked with that chamber’s budget-writing duties. Mishler was the ranking member of that group for years and worked on the school funding formula component of the budget.

Senator Travis Holdman (R-Markle), who takes over for Hershman as chair of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, has been the long-time ranking member there and often assumed the chairman’s role during meetings. Holdman is well versed in the matters that come before the committee and the business community will continue to be well served by his thoughtful viewpoints.

To take that post, Holdman relinquished his leadership on the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee. The “next man up” there is Sen. Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg), who is a no-nonsense and intelligent legislator. He has been extremely helpful on labor issues and owns several businesses himself, so he knows the difficulties that businesses face. That perspective will likely also factor into how he handles the health insurance bills, which are now being assigned to his committee.

Future Road Funding: Smooth or Bumpy?

36601064This summer, as we wander Indiana for work or pleasure, motorists experience both how good and bad Indiana’s road infrastructure is. The real issue is Indiana’s road funding mechanisms are in need of modernization to keep up with today’s demands.

To address the issue short and long term, several months ago the Legislature passed and the Governor signed two important bills on road funding, HB 1001 and SB 67. Combined, the bills did the following:

  • Provided a total of $689 million of additional funding over the next four years to Indiana’s local governments for their road funding needs.
  • Provided an additional $228 for state road funding in 2017. (Funding for this and the above came from a combination of using some of Indiana’s budget surplus, providing revenue from local option income tax collections and directing some of the sales taxes collected on fuel to road funding.)
  • Provided Indiana counties the option to double their wheel tax and for municipalities with a population over 10,000 to establish a wheel tax. If eligible local governments choose to do this, they can raise up to an additional $376 million a year.
  • Established the FIRSST (Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger and Safer Tomorrow) Task Force to develop a long-term plan for state and local roads and bridges, and develop funding mechanisms for the various components of the plan.

The FIRSST Task Force has a lot of work to do before the end of this year. The goal is to present a plan that will set the stage for what might take place during the 2017 legislative session. Its 16 members will verify the costs of road maintenance needs, look at current revenue streams and determine what current and new ideas are viable for the future. This is important given that the primary funding mechanism, the 18-cent-per-gallon gas tax, is not keeping up with the cost to maintain state and local roads, let alone build new ones.

In a recent Chamber infrastructure policy committee meeting, Senators Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) and Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) indicated their commitment to achieving a solid and sustainable long-term solution during the 2017 session. Given the Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 goal area of “Superior Infrastructure”, we will play an active role in this discussion.

It’s Conference Committee Time — Again

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Bill Crawford tells the House that work begins at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on the budget conference committee, that those involved should be prepared to work each day through Sunday, possibly "morning, noon and evening" in the attempt to have a compromise ready by next Monday.

Those words came after, on a voice vote, the House dissented on the Senate budget that was passed earlier in the afternoon. But even that involved a few theatrics.

House Minority Leader Brian Bosma urged opposition to the dissent motion, saying, "It’s time to end the per-diem, end the travel, end the hotel expenses; end the misery for taxpayers, for employees wondering if the state will shut down. It’s time for all that to end."

Democrat Russ Stilwell countered that he wasn’t going to rely on "blind faith" in going along with a Senate proposal that passed three hours earlier. Plenty of shouts from the floor even prompted Speaker Pat Bauer to call for a little decorum.

Crawford and Jeff Espich are the House conferees. Advisors on the Dem side are Goodin, Pelath, Avery and Welch; for the Republicans, Turner, Thompson and Borror. On the Senate side, Luke Kenley and John Broden are the conferees; offering their guidance will be Republicans Hershman, Dillon, Lubbers and Senate Pro Tem Long; Tallian, Hume and Skinner for the Dems.

The clock is ticking. Seven days and counting.