Connecting the Dots

This week saw the General Assembly settling into a typical early session schedule: Lots of committee hearings as both chambers sort through the nearly eight hundred bills filed, floor action starting on some top priorities and consensus proposals, behind-the-scenes maneuvering on more controversial issues…it’s a busy time.

You’ll read about a number of seemingly-disparate topics in this update, and it’s worth acknowledging that our legislative agenda covers a lot of ground–including territory that strays beyond the familiar “business issues.” As we recap the past week, it seems like a good time to connect (or reconnect) some of those dots.

What makes a safer community?
For example, a package of bills targeting violent offenses in Marion County was heard in Senate Corrections & Criminal Law on Tuesday. We’re still working through the specifics of these plans, and share the urgent priority of making Indianapolis safer–while also keeping an eye on the big picture: Crime rises in tandem with poverty and inequality, so job creation and economic development are public safety issues, too.

That’s why we were disappointed that foes of mass transit have launched another attack on the Blue Line bus rapid transit route–by linking people, employers and neighborhoods with reliable transit to promote upward mobility, public transportation is an anti-crime investment.

Backing (out of) the Blue:
SB369 would essentially cancel the Blue Line along Washington Street from the airport to Cumberland by outlawing newly-constructed dedicated bus lanes outside the Mile Square. While sparing the Red and Purple Lines, the bill’s damage reverberates beyond the Washington Street corridor by diminishing the overall efficiency and connectivity of the county-wide system.

But let’s keep our focus on the route itself: This legislation would void more than $100 million in federally-funded infrastructure improvements–road repairs and repaving, new sidewalks and curbs, signal upgrades and accessible ramps–along the 24-mile line. Those are the most tangible benefits to riders and non-riders alike who live and work in the corridor.

The bigger picture is the hundreds of thousands of jobs served by the three bus rapid transit routes as main arteries of the transit network–the Blue Line itself will serve thriving high-tech hubs (Infosys), exciting new corporate developments (Elanco) and up-and-coming neighborhood commercial hubs, as well as the heart of downtown. Kicking out one leg of the BRT stool, so to speak, destabilizes the workforce connectivity, economic development and community redevelopment impact of the city-wide system. That’s what’s at stake with SB369.

Crossing lines in the classroom:
Education is also an important investment in fighting poverty and crime. It extends economic opportunity, and in doing so, meets the critical needs of the business community for a more competitive workforce that’s prepared for the challenges of a changing job market.

So we embrace education as a critical priority, with a straightforward focus on preparing students for the challenges of a changing job market and a global economy.

This session, that’s led us to oppose proposals like HB1182, which adds partisan affiliation to the school board ballot–as we’ve mentioned before, we fear this move shifts emphasis towards the ideologies of adults instead of the success of kids. (HB1182 was heard and held in committee this week; we’re waiting on a hearing for SB144, a companion Senate measure.)

Just as a skilled workforce starts in our local schools, we also believe a more inclusive economy starts with more inclusive classrooms: Companies need diverse teams of critical thinkers that are familiar with a variety of viewpoints. That’s how we innovate, and these attitudes take root early.

Open, honest and accurate discussions about diversity and the socioeconomic challenges that face different students in different way are part of the learning process, and we oppose SB167 and HB1134 on that basis.

After last week’s contentious hearing on the Senate bill, HB1134 passed committee on Wednesday after several more hours of testimony spanning two days–sadly, time not spent on substantive strategies to close achievement gaps and increase educational attainment.

Money talk:
It’s easier to follow the money in connecting the dots among policy issues…but the fiscal effects of some plans aren’t always obvious or easy to anticipate.

Take the talk around reducing business personal property taxes, for example. Lowering the costs of capital investment for Hoosier manufacturing is a worthy goal. But taking dollars out of the local property tax base also impacts school budgets, including the referendum passed by IPS (with our support) in 2018 to raise teacher salaries.

So we’re evaluating business tax cuts in the broader context of education and other priorities, including the potential impact on state and local budget commitments.

That’s our attitude towards–and testimony on–HB1002, the House GOP tax relief plan that we detailed last week (an individual income tax cut from 3.23%, the repeal of certain utility taxes and lowering the 30% minimum depreciation floor on business personal property).

If the General Assembly moves forward with permanent tax plans this year, we’re looking for a prudent balance between tax relief and preserving investments in education, workforce development, and quality of life (including Governor Holcomb’s plans for a “READI round two”) that are also important to a strong business climate in the next two-year budget.

And at the local level, we’re hopeful that lowering the 30% floor comes with full revenue replacement to support local schools (as mentioned earlier) and help communities like Indianapolis keep up with pro-business investments in infrastructure, neighborhood livability and economic development.

The House plan does include some revenue replacement for local business property tax losses, unlike SB378, which raises the minimum assessment threshold for taxable equipment and lowers the 30% floor directly from the local tax base.

(SB378 was held in committee this week; HB1002 passed through Ways & Means on Wednesday and looks to be on a fast track–we’ll see if its reception in the Senate reflects more cautious attitudes on tax cuts.)

State of the Statehouse:
Which brings us to Governor Holcomb’s State of the State address on Tuesday evening. The Governor took a deserved victory lap on positive employment and population growth numbers, the state’s strong fiscal position, success stories from programs like Next Level Jobs and the employer-based Workforce Ready grants and more recent investments in infrastructure and, of course, the overwhelming statewide response to the first round of READI grants.

But the topics the Governor didn’t address say more about the state of this short session: While calling for a personal property tax depreciation adjustment for new manufacturing equipment, he held back from endorsing the broader tax cuts envisioned by HB1002.

He didn’t indulge in attacks on classroom diversity programs, talking instead about new metrics for high school graduate preparedness, giving us hope that SB167 will continue to stall. Nor did he signal support for politicizing school boards.

We titled this update “Connecting the Dots,” but we also tried to read between the lines in the State of the State…and draw some optimism from what we heard, and what we didn’t hear.
Most heartening, the Governor did speak out on the importance of COVID vaccines to combat a resurgent virus. Will it make a difference?

  • SB3, which eases Indiana out of the public health emergency without restricting the rights of employers to protect workplace health and safety, passed out of committee and hits the Senate floor with momentum.
  • Unfortunately, HB1001 moved to third reading with anti-employer, anti-vaccine language intact (though easing provisions penalizing businesses through the unemployment insurance system for taking action based on vaccine requirements).

This sets up a clash over COVID, with the lives of Hoosiers and the strength of our economic recovery on the line. We’ll keep up the fight, and keep you updated.

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