Long overdue education reforms, vital tax reductions to stimulate economic growth and common sense prevailing on illegal immigration represent the biggest victories of the 2011 legislative session, says Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar.
"This was a very good year for pro-economy, pro-jobs bills that will positively impact households throughout the state. And the new education laws put the focus where it should be — on students and increasing their potential for academic achievement; these are the most significant enhancements to the state’s education system in more than 20 years," he explains.
The Indiana Chamber’s list of the five most important victories this session (in alphabetical order) with comments from Brinegar:
Corporate income tax rate reduction (HB 1004) — Decreases Indiana’s rate, one of the highest in the nation, from 8.5% to 6.5%; will be phased in over four years.
"This significantly strengthens Indiana’s already strong business tax climate. Indiana’s corporate income tax was exceedingly high; this reduction will make Indiana more competitive and bring its corporate rate in line with other states. Existing C corporations and their employees will realize the benefits through increased investments in jobs, equipment and company growth."
Illegal immigration policy that’s workable (SB 590) — Makes attempt to determine legal status of immigrants but does not aggressively overreach.
"This new law is much better than what was originally proposed. We can live with it. It’s a far cry from the discriminatory Arizona-style immigration law it started out as, which could have resulted in severe financial ramifications for the state’s economic development efforts. Thankfully, common sense prevailed.
"The ‘three strikes’ provision that could have led to a business losing its operating license and permits was removed, as were most of the law enforcement sections along with the ‘English-only’ requirements for public agencies."
School choice scholarships/vouchers (HB 1003) — Provides scholarships to low- and middle-income students to help pay the cost of tuition and fees at a public or private school that charges tuition.
"For too long, thousands of Indiana children from low- and middle-income families have been trapped in assigned public schools that too often fail to provide the necessary level of education. Now parents will be able to redirect a portion of state dollars assigned to their children’s education to a school that better fits their children’s needs. This will give those students a better chance for success in school and throughout their lives."
Teacher performance and compensation (SB 1) — Provides for performance-based pay and establishes an annual staff performance evaluation that categorizes teachers as: highly effective, effective, improvement necessary or ineffective.
"A reward for a job well done is a basic employment premise. Yet, for decades it has been an entirely different approach in the teaching profession, where public school teachers’ compensation is pre-determined by the factors of seniority and level of degree.
"This new law will greatly improve the evaluation process, make evaluations meaningful and make teachers more accountable for their actual performance. The good teachers we have in our state – and there are many – will have nothing to worry about. For the others, this new process hopefully will put them on the road to improvement. The principal desire here is to spur better education for students through higher quality of instruction."
Unemployment insurance tax relief (HB 1450) — Mitigates effects of unemployment tax increase on employers by placing them in a much lower tax rate scale through 2020. Overhauls the state’s unemployment system to bring revenues and benefits more in line with each other.
"The dramatic tax increases for employers that went into effect this year (per 2009 legislation) were too steep for many employers to absorb. Some employers would have had difficulty maintaining the size of their workforce, let alone going forward with hiring plans. With the Indiana Chamber’s urging, legislators realized this and provided much-needed relief. By shifting all Hoosier employers to a much lower rate scale (Schedule E), it will save $2 billion on their unemployment insurance bills over the next 10 years. That’s a substantial improvement over what was going to take place."
UPDATE: Here is a chart of what bills passed, along with the Chamber’s position on them.