We led off with Biggie Smalls last week, but we’ll do it again in a more positive light today: We mentioned last week the game-changing letter from Indianapolis corporate leaders speaking out against legislative proposals that would “stifle local priorities” – transit, housing, public safety and other issues we’ve worked hard to move forward in Marion County.
This statement from 60+ executives from major employers and civic influencers got plenty of attention, and we hope their message changes the tone at the Statehouse. Early in the week, this optimism seemed well-founded as we rallied against two bills that would have scuttled progress on civilian oversight of law enforcement rebuilding trust between police and the citizens they protect.
SB168 would have put IMPD under a state-dominated oversight board; the bill was softened by amendment (two local appointments on the board), but was still an unprecedented invasion of local control. It was pushed to a summer study committee due to a bottleneck of bills in Senate Appropriations (which would have also had to pass it due to its fiscal impact), which we’ll cautiously count as a win.
SB394 would effectively eliminate the new IMPD General Orders Board, preserving local control but overruling efforts at civilian oversight by mandating the administrative power of the chief of police. As we said last week, when residents have no voice in law enforcement, they’ll also stay silent when the police seek their help – mistrust is crime’s quiet accomplice.
There was a motion to shift the subject to a summer study committee as well, but the bill’s author said he’d rather see it die in committee – a sentiment with which we heartily agree, but we’ll stay vigilant to make sure this language doesn’t re-appear as an amendment to another public safety measure later in the session.
In another modest victory, SB392 (Marion County Zoning) was amended to eliminate township-level zoning appeals in favor of representation from across the county on the Indianapolis/Marion County zoning appeals board – avoiding a maze of confusing bureaucracies that would have complicated economic development.
Where the sidewalk ends
Unfortunately, things got tougher on Thursday, when the Appropriations Committee narrowly passed SB141. This is the bill that strips funding from IndyGo for bus rapid transit routes by changing the rules to force private fundraising for public infrastructure.
You already know our position: Transit creates a more competitive business climate by connecting people and employers, and rapid transit service like the Blue Line along Washington Street has transformative potential for neighborhood redevelopment and revitalization.
Cancelling these projects also cancels $40 million in planned road and sidewalk improvements along Washington Street (part of more than $200 million in infrastructure investment on all three BRT lines). It means writing off nearly 13 miles of new or repaved sidewalks and multi-use pathways, 18 miles of repaved streets, and 65 new traffic signals as collateral damage in this bizarre vendetta against improved transit.
Not only that, the bill would impede efficiency efforts by IPS to manage transportation costs by partnering with IndyGo, and serving students attending charter schools like Purdue Polytechnic (which has located both of its Indianapolis schools along rapid transit – the Red and planned Blue Lines).
Here’s the bright side: Concerns about interfering in local issues – and overriding local officials and voters – were prominent in discussion around the vote, so our message does seem to be resonating. The committee was initially deadlocked before one member changed his vote to give the full Senate a chance to weigh in.
So we’ll take the fight to the floor as well. In a possibly good omen, SB42 was decisively defeated on third reading earlier this week. While not singling out Indianapolis, the bill would have strained local budgets by limiting flexibility to adjust public safety spending – we can make the same arguments against state intervention in the spending priorities of specific local agencies, with the backing of our business community.
We have mixed reports on economic recovery and resilience efforts this week, so let’s start with the positive:
- SB1 – providing employers with civil immunity from COVID-related liabilities as they re-open their businesses – passed the House and the Senate concurred with the amended version, sending the final bill to be signed by the Governor on Thursday; we applaud the swift action to accelerate economic recovery.
- HB1004 and HB1008 – creating small business recovery grants ($30 million total) and K-12 learning loss prevention grants ($150 million) respectively – both passed the House last week and were referred to Senate Appropriations this week;
- We also got some good news in the House budget on regional development funding – see below;
- Unfortunately, another recovery priority didn’t make it past committee deadlines this week: SB44 would have created a work share program, allowing businesses to reduce employee hours and qualify workers for partial unemployment benefits to avoid layoffs (and longer-term displacement) during a recession – the bill had bipartisan and broad business support, but died without a vote.
The Doctor Is In
Doc Brown, that is. The Ways & Means chairman unveiled the House version of HB1001 last week; it passed out of committee and slogged through more than forty second reading amendments before being engrossed on Wednesday. A few notable additions or changes from the original budget proposal:
- The House plan adds a 50-cent per pack increase to the state cigarette tax, bringing in an estimated $307 million over the biennium (helping cover growth in Medicaid); it’s a positive sign for us to keep pushing for a higher increase, in the interests of public health and the state’s bottom line;
- It scales back some of the construction and teacher pension debt repayment proposed by Governor Holcomb in favor of grant programs, including $150 million for the Regional Recovery Grant program floated by the Governor in his State of the State, focused on regional economic resilience initiatives – again, we’re learning more but appreciate any investment in regional development;
- The House also adds $10 million for local law enforcement agencies to purchase body cameras (conforming with HB1006, the bipartisan police reform package that passed third reading), and $50 million for the public health-focused grant program envisioned by HB1007;
- The House largely maintains transportation and current levels of capital spending on construction projects, including higher education;
- Speaking of higher ed, the House freezes funding in FY2022 with a 1% increase in FY2023, mostly at the expense of regional campuses (we certainly support investments recognizing the impact of IUPUI);
- At the other end of the education pipeline, we’re pleased the House amendment also boosts pre-K beyond pre-COVID levels, to $22 million annually;
- K-12 obviously remains the biggest category of spending, but the House divides the pot differently – shifting more resources to choice scholarships (following the voucher expansion set forth in HB1005, which also passed third reading and headed to the Senate this week);
- We’re concerned about the effectively flatlining of K-12 complexity funding (aid to expand resources for students living in poverty) which would hit the budgets of urban districts like IPS (and several of our township districts) especially hard, and widen disparities in educational opportunity and achievement.
Blizzard (of bills)
As the temperature dropped and snow fell outside, things heated up at the Statehouse – and tempers flared too (we’ll stay out of that controversy). With committee and third reading deadlines looming, there’s plenty of action…here are a few more highlights:
- Sticking with education and IPS for a moment, SB358 passed committee: We’re wary of its implications for IPS to right-size underutilized buildings and gain revenue from redevelopment; the bill expands the scope of school facilities eligible for $1 transfers to charter schools – we support flexibility in the “dollar law” if the district continues to pursue efficiencies (like the partnership with IndyGo mentioned earlier) and support its innovation network;
- SB359 addresses the need for broadband access, with flexible financing options for local government (and oversight through INDOT) that could add value to metropolitan communities as well as rural areas – it was recommitted and passed Tax & Fiscal Policy this week;
- A pair of economic development bills also hit the floor from Tax & Fiscal Policy – SB213 added accountability and expanded revenue reinvestment limits for certified technology parks, while SB215 creates the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative to support local redevelopment projections with tax incentives and grant financing in cooperation with regional development authorities;
- Finally, HB1095 takes a balanced and bipartisan approach to those who aggressively harass pedestrians as a public safety issue – previous policies focused on words (asking for money) instead of unwanted actions (impeding, threatening, following): This bill creates a homelessness task force focused on compassionate and comprehensive solutions to this issue, while defining trespassing and harassment as related to panhandling – it passed second reading Thursday.
Dealing with the root causes of homelessness takes on a higher priority as the House joined the Senate in overriding the Governor’s veto of SEA148 this week, attacking local ordinances on renter-landlord relations and potentially increasing housing insecurity here in Indianapolis. We’ll continue to focus on housing as a priority issue and look for ways to blunt the impact.