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(BIGGIE) SMALL(S) STARTS

This week’s title is a shout-out to all you transit nerds out there – it’s a big week for us.  Indy’s first bus rapid transit route, the Red Line (which received critical early funding from the competitive federal Small Starts grant program) is moving forward faster than expected.

We also learned more about a $15 million Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Fund led by the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership to develop affordable housing options along the Red Line, the kind of strategy we need to ensure our investments in mass transit pay off in a more inclusive economy.

‘Small starts’ is another reasonable description of this week at the General Assembly, where we saw modest movements on bigger issues.  For example, sticking with transit, we took another step forward with a positive Roads & Transportation Committee vote on HB1365, lifting the ban on light rail projects in Central Indiana.

We also got a small start towards a healthier workforce, as the Senate Health & Provider Services Committee passed a measure to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18-21 (SB425), as committee members were captivated by the inaugural committee testimony of our own Taylor Hughes.  We still need to reduce Indiana’s high smoking rate and invest in public health (and a more productive economy) by raising the state cigarette tax, but action on SB425 is a breath of fresh air on the issue.

In the House, the Ways & Means Committee also passed HB1444, proposing a $0.08/milliliter tax on e-liquids.  As we noted last week, we’re cautiously watching this proposal – a ‘vaping tax’ shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute or compromise on a much-needed increase on our comparatively-low cigarette tax.

The push for local government reform has been almost entirely characterized by small starts and incremental progress.  We tiptoed ahead a couple of steps this week:

  • HB1177 takes aim at the unused surpluses piled up by township government as they continue consuming local property tax levies that could be diverted to much-needed capital investments – it passed the Ways & Means Committee and heads to the House floor;
  • HB1650, eliminating township advisory boards, also passed committee and awaits third reading.

Game Time!

Whatever you might say about SB552, you can’t call it small – the sprawling bill makes big bets on Indiana’s gaming industry.  The bill passed the Public Policy Committee unanimously and heads to Appropriations; it allows relocation of Gary casinos, clearing the way for one to land in Terre Haute (after a competitive bid and site selection process) and approves sports betting statewide.

In other sports news, an agreement between Purdue Polytechnic High School and Keystone Construction (whose CEO, Ersal Ozdemir, also owns the Indy Eleven soccer franchise) to locate Purdue’s second Indianapolis charter location in Broad Ripple raised speculation about plans to locate a permanent stadium (and mixed-use development) a few blocks away at the former Broad Ripple High School site.

There’s been a lukewarm legislative reception for standalone financing for the soccer stadium, however, as Senate Appropriations Chair Ryan Mishler has encouraged the Marion County Capital Improvement Board to weigh in and consider Indy Eleven plans as an amendment to SB7, his broader CIB funding proposal.

Tax Incentives, Talent Investments, Traffic Amnesty…and more!

  • On Tuesday, the Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee will hear SB563, which extends current incentive programs to cover high-growth, venture-backed firms and adds a redevelopment tax credit with greater flexibility for the IEDC, along with other changes solicited by the agency (we expect it to be merged with SB601);
  • Speaking of redevelopment opportunities, HB1518 passed out of committee this week – the bill makes it easier for mixed-use developments like Indy’s Bottleworks project (also a former brownfield) to secure alcohol permits for tenants;
  • From economic development to economic inclusion, the Chamber testified in favor of HB1141, which helps reduce unpaid traffic fines to affordable levels to allow working Hoosiers to keep their driving privileges (and reliable employment) – it passed committee unanimously;
  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee heard HB1628, which expands ‘On My Way Pre-K’ eligibility to counties across the state, for Levels 3 and 4 “Paths to Quality” providers serving four-year-olds, while protecting service levels in existing pilot counties like Marion; a vote is expected next week – we support broadening access and demonstrating statewide demand to justify increased funding;
  • Two measures dealing with Redevelopment Commissions passed their first committee hurdles with amendment – HB1166 (Redevelopment Commission Membership), giving school boards a vote on redevelopment commissions, and HB1596 (Expenditures of Redevelopment Commissions) that requires a specific commission resolution for relevant spending outside the redevelopment district;
  • Two Senate measures on local financing also passed third reading and head to the House: SB109 authorizes a food and beverage tax in a handful of metro cities and counties, and SB255 governs the certification of arts and cultural districts;
  • HB1625 provides that if a state agency intends to adopt a rule that may increase or decrease the costs of housing in Indiana, the agency shall prepare a housing affordability study for the rule – it passed the House by a comfortable margin; and finally –
  • SB496 creates a Voluntary Family Leave Insurance Program, passing committee after being amended to eliminate a proposed tax deduction and other fiscal impacts.

Liberation!

Some hip-hop fans were dismayed to see Big Boi in the Super Bowl halftime show without Andre 3000 – so we’ll bring the Outkast together for another call for liberation of bias crimes from legislative limbo, starting in the Senate.  We’ve had some encouragement that the issue will get a hearing before the February 26th deadline.   We’ll be pushing SB12 (by Senators Bohnacek & Alting) and SB75 (by Senator Glick) as comprehensive solutions – help us keep the pressure on by continuing to spread the word on Indiana Competes.