From a business perspective, the second session of the 116th General Assembly is more notable for what didn’t happen, and the issues that were put off for future debate and consideration. For example:
Infrastructure: Lawmakers put a temporary band aid on the state’s crumbling infrastructure, passing a last-minute compromise that will put $230 million (primarily from reserves) into state highway projects and $530 million to local needs (with no new revenue, but rather an accelerated distribution of local income tax collections) along with new city and county tax options to raise additional money.
The bill avoids a statewide tax increase, but neglects the structural deficit between infrastructure needs and dwindling gas tax revenues. The Indy Chamber supports a ‘bigger picture’ plan that realistically pays for a transportation system that meets the needs of industry and our ambitions for population and employment growth. We will continue to push for a long-term solution in next year’s budget session.
I-STEP: Similarly, the legislature repealed the increasingly unpopular I-STEP, but deferred discussion of how to replace the test to an interim committee. We will monitor this group’s deliberations carefully, and assess the impact on educational achievement and accountability.
Teacher Recruitment & Pay: As one part of the road-funding bargain, the Senate agreed to fund a new teacher scholarship program that will help aspiring educators pay for college in exchange for working in Indiana schools for five years after graduation – a priority for Speaker Bosma. A measure allowing local districts to offer bonus pay to teachers in key subject areas was also resurrected and squeaked by both chambers, to the surprise of many and dismay of the ISTA (the Indy Chamber supports the concept).
Missed Opportunities on Talent: An additional $42 million for the Regional Cities initiative also emerged from the final day’s negotiations to head to the Governor’s desk. Of course, the General Assembly missed a much larger opportunity to enhance the state’s ability to attract new talent and investment this year…
Inaction on anti-discrimination protection for LGBT Hoosiers and visitors is perhaps the most disappointing legacy of this session, and the most notable example of inaction on a critical issue. But as we continue to add up the economic costs of RFRA, Indy’s business community is committed to advancing an agenda of inclusion (also including bias crimes legislation) in 2017.
Stay tuned for the comprehensive end-of-session report with details on how the business agenda fared, issue by issue.
Looking ahead, as information on interim committees and summer study schedules are released, we will be identifying opportunities to influence the discussion on key topics headed into next year’s critical budget session.
While “wait ‘til next year!” may be the best catchphrase for this General Assembly, delay isn’t an option on the issue of mass transit. We continue to work to build support in the City-County Council for a transit referendum this fall, and make preliminary plans for a fall campaign. Learn more about the Marion County Transit Plan, consider contacting your own City-County Councillor, and connect with us to explore other ways to get engaged – reach Vice President of Government Relations Mark Fisher at email@example.com, 317.464.2291 and @FisherIndy.
Be on the lookout in the coming days for the Indy Chamber’s formal end-of-session report on the 2016 Indiana General Assembly, covering all of our legislative priorities and bills of interest. In the meantime, check out a brief rundown of the action at the Statehouse leading up to sine die.