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It’s been a fairly frenetic week at the Indiana Statehouse, packed with announcements and activities with the potential to shape the next session of the General Assembly—this despite the fact that session won’t officially start until January 4th.

So before you break for the weekend (or perhaps the holidays), we wanted to hit you with a recap of the last few days. Let’s start with action on our legislative agenda:

Ready to Rise:

On Wednesday, we held our annual member meeting to elect leadership for the year to come and ask for the board’s final endorsement on policy priorities in 2022.

Our full agenda is called “Ready to Rise” – Indy’s business community is eager to rise above the turmoil of the last two years by putting the pandemic decisively behind us and pursuing strategies for long-term inclusive growth. This will include some familiar in-progress priorities in public health, economic development and neighborhood redevelopment.

We previewed this platform a few weeks ago, but now we can give you the formal rundown of our top issues (read the full release here):

  • Protecting Employer Flexibility & Workplace Safety (and economic resilience, for that matter…): You know where we stand on allowing employers to require COVID vaccines, and there was another chance for a shot of pro-business common sense on public health at the Statehouse this week – more on this later.
  • Preserving Non-Partisan School Boards: Has anyone read a news story about school boards over the past year and thought, “You know what these meetings need? More politics!” – ? The Chamber believes education policy should be guided by what’s best for student learning, scholastic achievement and putting young Hoosiers on a path towards success in tomorrow’s workforce. Politicizing school board elections detracts from these goals.
  • Supporting Regional Growth & Economic Development: Building on the state’s $500 million READI program, the Chamber continues to advocate strengthening Regional Development Authorities (RDAs) and creating local financing options for regional projects, while making the case for additional state funding of high-impact plans for attracting new talent and investment beyond the initiatives announced this week.
  • Closing K-12 Achievement Gaps: Access to quality education is a prerequisite for economic mobility – the Chamber will focus on concerns like disparities in digital learning resources, uneven engagement in the 21st Century Scholars program, and seeking a need-based analysis of the complexity index (aid to students in poverty) ahead of the next state budget cycle.
  • Reforming Juvenile Justice: Young Hoosiers involved in the justice system face the most daunting hurdles to education and employment success – the Indy Chamber supports adequate resources and programming (including special education, social and emotional learning and mental health) aimed at breaking cycles of recidivism and poverty early in life.
  • Protecting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Education: As Hoosier employers demand skilled workers who can thrive alongside colleagues from all walks of life, Indiana’s classrooms should also reflect the diversity of its workforce and the global economy. The Indy Chamber supports local school districts adopting DEI programs to promote scholastic achievement for all students.
  • Making Downtown Safer: Downtown Indianapolis is Indiana’s largest business district and the core of our regional economy. While staying focused on issues like affordable housing, food security, mental health services and other ‘root cause’ challenges, we acknowledge the need for more resources to combat violent crime, putting a priority on the safety and security of those who live, work, and contribute to the vitality of downtown.

We’re posting the full document at www.IndyChamber.com, so check it out there.

And READI to Rise:

…up the population growth rankings, that is (hopefully HB1001 doesn’t get amended to include restrictions on bad puns). Governor Holcomb and Secretary of Commerce Chambers also unveiled READI grant awards this week, highlighting the state’s investments in quality of life, talent attraction and other community-based development priorities across the state.

We’re pleased that the White River Regional Opportunity Initiative (Marion, Hamilton, Boone, Hancock, and Madison counties) and received $20 million for new park and mixed-use development along the river, livability projects like the Nickel Plate Trail and innovation-driven economic development programs at 16 Tech and the Flagship Enterprise Center – the full plan is worth a look here.

The Mount Comfort Corridor Region was also awarded $5 million for multi-modal connectivity, workforce programming and mixed-use development along U.S. Highway 40 and Mount Comfort Road, efforts that could link to plans for the Blue Line bus rapid transit route east to Cumberland.

And as regions prepare to put the first round of READI grants to work, there’s already discussion about the future based on the breadth of the project pipeline revealed by this summer’s planning process. Governor Holcomb has already signaled his intention to seek more funding for the program in 2023 – as our legislative agenda notes, we’re certainly pleased with the prospect of continued state support.

But the current iteration of READI relies on federal COVID aid, and it’s unclear whether remaining or repurposed funding from the American Rescue Plan Act will be available for the sequel. But with an expected budget surplus hitting $5 billion by the end of June, there’s certainly money sitting in Indiana’s rainy-day fund that could be redirected for regionalism.

Dollars and Sense:

Which brings us to another much-anticipated event this week, the presentation of a revised revenue forecast for the 2022-2023 biennium to the State Budget Committee on Thursday.

Indiana tax collections continue on an eight-month hot streak, beating estimates by a total of $644 million from July through November. The forecast predicts this boom continuing through the rest of FY2022, slowing just a bit in FY2023 but adding an eye-popping total of $3.3 billion in general fund revenue beyond April’s expectations that shaped the current budget.

This tremendous revenue rebound is likely to intensify the discussion around permanent tax cuts in the next legislative session, with the caveat that trends seem to be settling back towards “normal” (whatever that means these days) later in 2023. But the optimistic outlook is good news heading into the 2023 budget session.

We think that this strong fiscal position demands a renewed conversation around investments in Indiana’s future and our ability to compete with economies around the country.

Round 2 on Vaccine Protections:

Of course, economic growth is driving these revenue gains – employment hitting pre-COVID levels in 2022 and consumers continuing to spend.  Rising vaccination rates among Hoosiers are the best way to protect public health and this private sector recovery…which finally brings us to the last chapter of this hectic week, another hearing on HB1001.

That meant another seven hours of testimony over how to strike a balance between individual freedoms and collective responsibility. What we know is this—employers need flexibility to navigate a resurgent pandemic and continued economic uncertainty.

A factory floor is different from a hospital ward, which is different from a restaurant kitchen. In order to ensure business continuity and workplace safety, we must enable employers to protect the jobs of all their workers by requiring common sense health precautions.

We continue to stand against policies that hamper employers’ flexibility to respond to impacts of the pandemic or force them to absorb the costs created by ill-defined exemption policies. So we again made our position clear and continue to monitor the evolution of this legislation.

And that brought (sigh of relief) the end of the week, a preseason warm-up for a regular session schedule that definitely looks to be more crowded than the usual non-budget year.

 

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