Indy Chamber re-elects board leadership, endorses legislative agenda:
Priorities focus on economic resilience, equity reforms beyond COVID
(INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.) The Indy Chamber has re-elected board leadership and approved legislative priorities for the 2021 session of the Indiana General Assembly at its annual membership meeting yesterday. The region’s largest business organization will continue to be chaired by Dennis Murphy of IU Health as it pursues a policy agenda focused on getting Hoosiers safely back to work while investing in a more resilient, inclusive economy ready to grow beyond the COVID pandemic.
Murphy is joined again on the Chamber’s executive committee by Vice-Chair Melissa Proffitt (Ice Miller), Treasurer John Hirschman (Browning Investments), and Secretary Jim Birge (Faegre Drinker). The legislative agenda also features some familiar issues – pushing a higher state cigarette tax, expanded pre-K and employer-driven workforce programs, to name a few – while acknowledging new challenges that have emerged during a turbulent and often tragic 2020.
“We rely on our engagement and insight of our board to help us represent thousands of employers across our region,” said Indy Chamber President Michael Huber. “Clearly, Dennis Murphy’s continued leadership is meaningful as COVID makes public health an even higher priority on our legislative agenda.
“This crisis makes the necessity of raising the cigarette tax even more obvious,” Huber continued. “The events of 2020 also demand a stronger voice from the business community on racial equity – in health outcomes, criminal justice and economic mobility. Our legislative agenda reflects that.”
The Indy Chamber joins other business groups in calling for employer liability protections during COVID, along with specific proposals to protect the vitality of downtown Indianapolis: Proper enforcement of aggressive panhandling, programs to support homeless populations and funding flexibility for downtown investments through reform of the Economic Improvement District statute.
The Chamber also emphasizes criminal justice reform and policies aimed at rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities it serves to make Indianapolis a safer place to live, work and do business. Its agenda endorses civilian oversight, body cameras and anti-bias training for police, along with bail reform and sentencing of multiple felony offenders to state facilities instead of county jails.
“We can’t build a more inclusive economy if too many of our citizens feel excluded from fair treatment under the law,” Huber added. “We’re asking for legislative actions that give local police departments the tools to do their jobs, protect our neighborhoods, and avoid spending tax dollars putting more Hoosiers into the justice system if it doesn’t make us safer.”
The Chamber’s ongoing emphasis on inclusive growth extends to K-12, where COVID has further isolated many families from educational opportunities that prepare students for college and career success.
“We support scaling up the school funding ‘complexity index’ to provide more resources to districts that serve higher concentrations of low-income and disadvantaged children,” explained Chamber Chief Policy Officer Mark Fisher. “We also need to encourage high-performing charter schools and partnerships with districts like IPS to provide diverse learning experiences to their students.”
Remote learning has also exposed the ‘digital divide’ as an issue affecting rural communities and low-income urban areas alike. Addressing these challenges while supporting teacher pay increases and expanding access to pre-K will be difficult given the tough budget climate created by COVID.
“Every dollar will be precious as lawmakers put together the next state budget, with education continuing to account for the majority of state spending alongside many other competing demands,” noted Fisher.
“It’s another reason why we must finally act to raise the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack,” he finished. “Indiana needs the revenue to address public health now; while cigarette revenues will decline over time, we’re confident that fewer smokers also mean lower long-term Medicaid costs and a stronger overall tax base driven by a healthier, more productive workforce.”
Other highlights of the 2021 Indy Chamber Legislative Agenda include:
Back to Work:
- In addition to employer liability protections, establish an Indiana Workshare program to retain employment and skills;
- Maintain transit service connecting people and jobs by protecting transportation agencies from funding cuts driven by COVID-related ridership declines (and other unreasonable mandates).
Economic & Workforce Development:
- Aligning state and local incentives with “opportunity industries” creating high-wage jobs;
- Continue programs like ‘Next Level Jobs’ preparing Hoosiers for in-demand occupations, adding an emphasis on workers displaced by the pandemic;
- Increase tax increment financing flexibility for certified tech parks and workforce housing development.
- Incentivize brownfield redevelopment to bring new investment to former industrial sites, encouraging more redevelopment success stories like Elanco and the Bottleworks complex;
- Acknowledging state fiscal challenges, prioritize efforts to increase homeownership and protect funding to programs like Stellar Communities to enhance quality of life and live/work development.
Infrastructure & Transportation:
- As COVID-related effects on gas tax revenue limits state aid for local roads, explore alternatives to the current funding formula to align resources with traffic and transportation needs.
Election & Redistricting Reform:
- Support non-partisan redistricting standards that are based on community interest, equitable representation and reasonable geographic compactness to encourage constructive competition and bipartisan cooperation;
- Authorize no-fault absentee or vote-by-mail systems for future elections.
Read the full 2021 Indy Chamber Legislative Agenda here.