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

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

Federal Highway Funding Deadline Nears

36601064The current federal funding stream for highways runs its course July 31. The Senate is looking at a four-year option, while the House appears more in favor of extending it through this year and soon revisiting the matter.

Every member of Indiana’s delegation is keenly aware of the situation. While in D.C. this week, the Indiana Chamber continued to advocate for a long-term solution to financing the federal Highway Trust Fund. A patchwork of re-authorizations that are often only for a few months is no way to manage transportation assets, set national priorities or plan for future needs. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in his letter this week to state departments of transportation:

“Congress’s failure to pass a long-term bill is of great concern to all of us who are engaged in the work of building and maintaining our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Careening from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflicted crisis undermines our system. We need Congress to break the cycle of short-term extensions; we need a long-term bill with significant growth.”

Waiting … and Waiting on a Highway Funding Fix

30449450Federal highway funding is running low. Nothing new there. The Indiana Chamber, and many others, have called for long-term solutions from Washington instead of short-term fixes that simply extend the uncertainty.

How are states reacting to the current dilemma. According to the Kiplinger Letter:

  • Arkansas, Georgia, Wyoming and Tennessee have postponed 440 projects totaling more than $1.3 billion
  • Iowa, South Dakota and Utah have increased gas taxes. Others that may follow include Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Carolina
  • Seeking funds from advertisers: Virginia sells space on highway rest stop signs to GEICO; Travelers Marketing sponsors highway patrols in Massachusetts
  • Partnering with private investors: Florida is seeking private funds to rebuild portions of Interstate 4; New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia are seeking similar ventures

Kiplinger editors add:

But states can only do so much on their own. Ultimately, Congress must act. Odds favor another temporary fix this fall. A long-term solution will likely wait until 2017. Congress and a new president will have a fresh opportunity to tackle broad tax reform, including a possible hike in federal fuel taxes, which no longer approach what’s needed to pay for highway work.

Not what many want to hear in terms of the time frame.

Chamber Comments on State’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar on the release of the report from the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure:

“The recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure are an important first step. The group has identified priority projects and clearly defined the funding challenges. Equally important will be the work called for in HEA 1104 (2014), legislation outlining an Indiana Department of Transportation study of financing alternatives that will help meet future funding needs.

“In addition, it’s time for Washington to get its act together and assure that federal funding shortfalls are addressed. Some states are already cutting back on important projects in fear of Highway Trust Fund deficiencies as soon as August 1. What is truly needed – instead of short-term, crisis-avoiding extensions – is a multi-year renewal of the federal transportation plan.

“Superior infrastructure is one of the four drivers of the Indiana Chamber-led Indiana Vision 2025 and strong transportation via road, rail, air and water is critical to our state’s economic future.”

Help Get I-69 Into National Freight Network

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is currently seeking comments on the Primary Freight Network and National Freight Network designations. The Indiana Chamber believes that I-69 should be included as part of the National Freight Network and is asking DOT to support this effort.

As part of the National Freight Network designation, DOT has the opportunity to identify an additional 3,000 miles of highways that are critical to the future efficient movement of goods; this represents a strategic opportunity for the nation to enhance its freight transportation network.

A national priority over the past 20 years, I-69’s significance as a major freight route will increase as states along the corridor continue making progress toward its completion.

I-69 provides the most direct interstate access to principle international border crossings between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as well as multiple Gulf Coast ports; the volume of traffic on I-69 is anticipated to dramatically rise as the interstate progresses. For all these reasons, I-69 should be included in the Primary Freight Network.

We urge you to show your support for including I-69 as part of the Primary Freight Network by signing this petition.

Transportation Funding: Current Taxes, Fees Not Paying for Highways

Transportation funding is a topic that is getting more traction (tire pun completely intended), and we recently explored the Chamber’s position on this blog, which includes comments from our own VP Cam Carter.

In fact, one of the Indiana Chamber’s legislative priorities for 2014 is development of a vehicle miles traveled pilot program. The need for such initiatives is illustrated in a new Tax Foundation study that finds just over half of state and local expenses on roads in 2011 came from highway user taxes and fees. Indiana falls below the national average.

Despite being dedicated to fund transportation projects, revenues from gas taxes and tolls pay for only about half of state and local spending on roads, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. Alaska and South Dakota come last in transportation funding derived from gas taxes and tolls—10.5 percent and 21.5 percent, respectively—while Delaware and Hawaii rank the highest—78.6 percent and 77.3 percent, respectively.

State and local governments spent $153.0 billion on highway, road, and street expenses, but raised only $77.1 billion in user fees and user taxes ($12.7 billion in tolls and user fees, $41.2 billion in fuel taxes, and $23.2 billion in vehicle license taxes). The rest was funded by $30 billion in general state and local revenues and $46 billion in federal aid.

“The lion’s share of transportation funding should be coming from user taxes and fees, such as tolls, gasoline taxes, and other user-related charges,” said Tax Foundation Tax Foundation Vice President of State Projects Joseph Henchman. “When road funding comes from a mix of tolls and gasoline taxes, the people that use the roads bear a sizeable portion of the cost. By contrast, funding transportation out of general revenue makes roads “free,” and consequently, overused or congested—often the precise problem transportation spending programs are meant to solve.”

The story is much the same even when adding other transportation options to the mix. In 2011, state and local governments spent $58.7 billion on mass transit, $22.7 billion on air transportation facilities, $1.6 billion on parking facilities, and $5.2 billion in ports and water transportation, in turn raising $13.2 billion in mass transit fares, $18.8 billion in air transportation fees, $2.2 billion in parking fees and fines, and $4.2 billion in water transportation taxes and fees. Altogether, states raised about 48 percent of their transportation spending from user taxes, fees, and other charges.

Expanding tolls and indexing gasoline taxes for inflation may not be politically popular even though transportation facilities and services are highly popular. Given that transportation spending exists, states should aim to fund as much of it as possible from user fees and user taxes. Subsidizing road spending from general revenues creates pressure to increase income or sales taxes, which can be unfair to non-users and undermine economic growth for the state as a whole.

Throwback Thursday: Back in the Winter of ’59

Today's venture back in the annals features a 1959 collection of research studies, titled "Spotlight on Legislative Issues," which was prepared by the Chamber and provided to state legislators of the day.

I'll list some of the interesting topics du jour, though one observation is that society was still working to define — and regulate — the woman's role in the workplace during that time. Debates centered around the merits of equal pay and how to regulate their hours.

It's also interesting to read that the Chamber was waging the battle for more efficient local government spending back then, as it's no secret we're no fans of the current township structure. One paragraph reads:

"There appears to be no assurance that the local government finance problem will correct itself in the immediate future if present practices and laws are unchanged. The continuing and growing desire of people to 'live out,' the construction of community shopping centers away from downtown areas, the rapid improvement in highway transportation and movement of traffic, and the decentralization trend in industry all point to further complications. These complications are the result of the shifting from one local government unit to another of responsibility  for administration and financing of specific governmental services while the taxable property which normally might be expected to bear a part of the cost of these services is in another taxing unit."

To paraphrase: "Something's askew here." Still how we feel today about local government.

County highway funding was also a major issue then. Legislators and the business community were considering the most efficient ways to keep Hoosiers moving:

"Need for improvement in the administration of county highways in Indiana will be one of the major problems confronting the 1959 Legislature. The importance of this issue cannot be discounted when it is realized that state-collected highway tax funds amounting to $40 million will be expended by the counties this year. Rural residents who use county roads as 'farm to market' or 'job to home' routes know and appreciate the fact that safer and more durable county roads are needed. County roads constitute approximately 77 per cent of the road and street milage in Indiana. This rural road milage is highly essential to the welfare of a large segment of the state's population."

Road Funding Day Organizers Hope to Pave Way for Transportation Movement

Properly funding Indiana's highway and road system is critical toward promoting a healthy infrastructure — a vital element of our state's business climate. There are a variety of related bills in the Indiana Legislature this session, though little clarity remains on how to pay for future needs. Advocates will gather at the Statehouse on February 19 to emphasize the importance of the issue . Experts will be on hand to offer talking points, answer questions and lead the effort. Details are as follows:

9:45 a.m.   Registration
10:15 a.m.   Road Funding Legislative Briefing
11 a.m.   Depart for the Statehouse
11 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Legislator Visits

The Road Funding Legislative Briefing will be at the Build Indiana Council office located at One North Capitol Avenue, Suite 1005 in downtown Indianapolis. (This is just across the street from the Indiana Statehouse.)

While registration is not required for participation in Road Funding Day, it would be helpful for planning purposes. Also, if you pre-register, we will be able to notify you should the schedule change for any reason. There is no registration fee. For free online registration, please visit