Indiana Chamber Unveils Top Legislative Priorities for 2017

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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

Go Vote! Then Let’s Move from Politics to Policy

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar comments on the election aftermath:

“We probably have just witnessed the most bizarre and bruising election of our lifetimes. It’s critical to move on quickly from any bitterness of the campaigns or results and come together as a state and nation.

“We need lawmakers to concentrate on the business of governing and moving our economies forward. Let’s focus on producing positive outcomes and Indiana continuing to set an example as a state that gets things done.”

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.

RFRA 2.0 and Road Funding

statehouse picElection year dynamics, conservative Republican super majorities and the non-budget nature of the “short” session create the context for all issues facing the Indiana General Assembly in 2016. In economic development, the only issues to see much traction are adding LGBT civil rights protections to the Indiana Code and a short-term fix for the state’s roads and highways with an emphasis on local funding. Other issues will arise, but are unlikely to gain much attention.

Last spring’s rancorous debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) damaged Indiana’s brand in the international marketplace for jobs and investment. It led to an economic boycott of Indiana, a viral trashing of our state’s reputation in the international media and a black eye for our state’s political leadership. Moreover, the enduring stigma attached to Indiana as a discriminatory and unwelcoming place, especially among a Millenial generation that represents our future workforce, endangers our prosperity. That is why the Indiana Chamber has made adding protections for the LGBT community in state law a priority for the upcoming session.

New legislation will start in the Senate, where Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) has drafted a bill that attempts to strike a balance between the religious and LGBT communities. The bill, as it stands, will probably not make either of those constituencies happy. The synopsis prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity while also providing protection for religious liberty and conscience. Additionally, it also preempts local civil rights ordinances that conflict with the state civil rights law. Look for an interesting debate as the session progresses.

In the area of transportation infrastructure, the General Assembly likely will take only baby steps to address an acknowledged nearly $1 billion annual funding gap between current revenues and maintenance needs. Legislative leadership seems content to wait until 2017 before pursuing any significant changes to the way Indiana funds its roads, bridges and highways. Nevertheless, armed with the results of a major road funding study by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) presented over the summer, all legislators will be able to evaluate proposed solutions in 2016 – it is just unlikely that they will move on them, especially any tax or fee increases. (The INDOT study examined existing fuel excise taxes, their future revenue potential and alternative funding mechanisms and revenue streams, such as vehicle miles traveled [VMT] or tolling.)

The legislation to watch is HB 1001, which will contain a number of reforms and potential funding mechanisms based upon the initial data from the INDOT study. The Indiana Chamber collaborated with key legislators in crafting HB 1001, which can be likened to a block of stone delivered to a sculptor’s studio: It will be an array of many options that will be chipped away at during the legislative session, hopefully into something recognizable (and helpful) in the end.

The condition of our infrastructure has already become highly politicized with partisan accusations and dueling proposals from Gov. Pence, House Democrats and the Republican majority caucuses, but nevertheless we expect several issues to be examined in sobering detail: gasoline and diesel fuel excise tax increases; fees for electric or alternative-fuel vehicles; repurposing the 7% sales tax on gasoline for the state’s highway fund; and a discussion of indexing fuel taxes for inflation, among other proposals.

Given the controversial nature of these topics and a near allergic reaction by politicians to tax increases in an election year, we anticipate it will be a very contentious and interesting session.

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 www.indianachamber.com/priorities.

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.”