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The General Assembly convened this week with a quickly expanding list of bills, but a singular constitutional job – passing a two-year state budget.

The state revenue forecast predicts growing tax collections over the next biennium, more than $800 million gained in 2020 and ’21 – but as any ‘90s hip-hop fan could warn lawmakers, “the more money you come across, the more problems you see.”

In this case, fiscal optimism was quickly quashed by Medicaid spending projections and an eye-opening budget request from the Department of Child Services that would consume most revenue growth by itself.  With a growing chorus of calls for teacher salary increases (a priority we support) and steadfastly protecting the state surplus, the numbers get tricky enough to vex the highest-paid math teacher.

Team Effort:
Some of our top legislative issues don’t necessarily involve new appropriations, but they all have hurdles on the slalom towards sine die.  Fortunately, we aren’t in it alone.

Indeed, your Indy Chamber is working with like-minded organizations to make progress on key priorities – and we encourage individual members to get involved as well.  Of course, your Chamber membership is the major commitment to our advocacy efforts, but as you read about our partnerships on bias crimes, tobacco reform and early childhood education, you can visit Indiana Competes (and don’t forget to follow @INCompetes),  Raise it for Health, and All IN for Pre-K (respectively) to get more involved.

Speaking of getting involved, here are two opportunities for your schedule – more to come:

  • The Indiana Forward campaign for bias crime reform is coming up Tuesday (January 8th) at 11:30am at the Statehouse (South Atrium) – let’s build a crowd for comprehensive action.
  • ‘Raise It for Health’ Day at the Statehouse will be January 30th – register here to join us.

Bias Crime Breakthrough?
On bias crimes in particular, we’re helping build a broad coalition to urge the General Assembly to pass a comprehensive bias crimes bill that positions Indiana as a welcoming state to live, invest and do business.  In today’s talent-driven economy, growing employers seek out places that embrace a diverse workforce – Indiana can’t afford to be left behind as one of five states that turn a blind eye to bias crimes.

To join the push to protect all Hoosiers from hate, please visit Indiana Competes – if you haven’t already – sign up, and encourage your colleagues to do the same.  Our partners at the United Way of Central Indiana have launched a companion campaign, Indiana Forward; together, we represent thousands of companies, civic organizations, religious and social service groups, and individuals from all walks of life in support of a strong law that reflects the diversity of modern-day Hoosiers.

With majority public support, the Governor’s endorsement and our growing advocacy network, momentum is on our side. However, Senate bias crime bills have been assigned to the Rules Committee (often a prelude to procedural demise, though Senator Bray says he only wants more time to build consensus in the GOP caucus); in the House, there’s buzz around a bill that doesn’t include enumerated characteristics.  These developments remind us the path forward is anything but smooth.

Common Sense on Cigarettes
With a tight budget, and public health issues contributing to an ever-expanding Medicaid mandate…it makes perfect sense to raise the cigarette tax to discourage smoking (curbing chronic ailments and rising health costs in the longer term) and generate new revenues, right?

That’s why Indy Chamber is part of another coalition, the ‘Raise it for Health’ partnership advocating for a $2-per-pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax, (currently the lowest in the region) and increasing the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.

Raising the tax means cutting costs for Hoosier employers, which today pay higher insurance rates and lose billions of dollars a year in time and productivity as a consequence of Indiana’s high rate of smoking.  And using the proceeds to step up the fight against opioid abuse and other health issues can also rebound to help reduce runaway state Medicaid spending.

And let’s not forget that income tax collections make up more than a third of state revenue; how much taxable earning potential goes up in smoke from tobacco-related illness and absences?  It’s safe to predict that raising cigarette taxes will pay off in the paychecks of a healthier workforce.  But strong arguments don’t always succeed without strong advocacy, so Raise it for Health is gearing up for an aggressive push.

Early Childhood Education:
It may take a village to raise a child, but it definitely takes teamwork to persuade legislators to expand our cautious forays in publicly-supported early childhood education.

Working again with the All IN for Pre-K partnership, the Chamber continues to urge the General Assembly to invest in Indiana’s future workforce by making high-quality preschool accessible and affordable to low-and-moderate income families through the ‘On My Way Pre-K’ program.  This year, our aim is expanding the ‘On My Way’ pilot to at least 40 counties, while protecting funding levels in currently participating communities.

Given the tough fiscal environment, we’ll embrace any budgetary baby steps towards to the ultimate goal of all Hoosier children entering kindergarten – at age five – ready to learn and succeed.

Dropping the hottest bills of the session:
As legislators keep dropping proposals in the hopper, we’re keeping an eye on legislation aligned with our agenda and others of interest – good, bad, and indifferent.  With the filing deadline coming up Thursday, keep an eye on next week’s update for a list of specific bills…and don’t forget to check in every Friday thereafter as we sum up weekly action and advocacy opportunities.

And for even more up-to-the-minute news on #INLegis, follow the Business Advocacy team on Twitter:

Mark Fisher – @FisherIndy
Tim Brown – @TimJBrownLaw
Taylor Hughes – @STaylorHughes

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