Mixed Bag With Tech, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Priorities in Senate Budget

The long-awaited announcement of the Senate initial version of the budget came late
last week. In it, there are several technology-related issues that were either included or dropped from the bill, as well as some funding amounts also reduced from the House version:

  • Transferability of the Venture Capital Tax Credit was deleted. The Chamber would like to see it included to increase the flow of venture capital funds for promising qualified businesses.
  • Funding of the 21 Fund (21st Century Research and Development Fund) remains at $20 million a year. The Chamber prefers $30 million a year.
  • Funding to backstop the initiation of direct flights to Europe was reinstated, although it is $4 million rather than $10 million over the two years. A good start.
  • Funding for the Management Performance Hub (MPH) was reduced to $6 million for two years, which is less than what the House reduced from the Governor’s original amount.
  • Keeps $20 million for the two years for the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute
  • Removed the Next Level Trust Fund, which would have provided investment guidelines and supervision to direct a portion of the Major Moves Trust Fund to invest in promising Indiana opportunities.
  • It allocates $1 million for the biennium for the Launch Indiana program.

We will work to keep the things we like in the bill and try to restore other items that were reduced or removed as it advances through the Senate and goes to conference committee. The Chamber will continue to educate legislators on these important economic development priorities currently in the bill.

Senate Puts Its Mark on State Budget Bill

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley (R- Noblesville), primary drafter of the Senate version of the budget, has now put his touches on the House-drafted version. After a concise explanation and short discussion in committee, HB 1001 was passed unanimously (although the Democrat leadership expressed mild discomfort with some particulars) and now goes to the full Senate.

A few highlights of the $32.14 billion budget package include:

  • a 1.7% increase each year in K-12 education funding – $348 million over the biennium
  • $4 billion to higher education
  • $5 million to the governor’s office for substance abuse prevention, treatment and enforcement
  • $500,000 for homeless veterans
  • a 24% salary increase for state police officers
  • $6 million to double-track the South Shore Line

The budget will maintain an 11%, or $1.8 billion, reserve. But there is a lot still to be determined about how the final negotiated budget will shape up. Unresolved at this point is the fate of the House’s desire to direct all the sales tax collected on gasoline to road funding and an increase to the cigarette tax – both of which could impact the budget. And finally, it must be recalled that the budget-makers will receive an updated revenue forecast in a couple weeks; that too could change the picture some. So, while the Senate has spoken, the last word is still a few weeks away.

Road Plan Under Construction as Senate Takes Its Turn

The Indiana Chamber was pleased overall to see the Senate response to the House road funding bill. Several aspects of the plan will be determined as this bill goes forward – including how it interfaces with the budget bill’s (HB 1001) evolution.

Some key Senate changes from the House road funding plan are:

  • removal of the sales tax revenue collected on fuel sales that would directly go to roads
  • a Chamber-supported $75 annual registration fee for hybrid vehicle
  • modified distribution of the state/local road funds
  • requirement change from “may” to “shall” for INDOT to seek a waiver to toll interstate highways
  • addition of a $100 annual transportation infrastructure improvement fee that applies to commercial
  • vehicles greater than 26,000 lbs.
  • addition of a $5 fee per new tire sale (currently 25 cents per tire)
  • addition of a 10-cents per gallon aviation fuel excise tax with revenue going to the airport development grant fund

This version of the bill should bring in about $672 million per year. Tolling has the potential of bringing in up to $400 million per year, when implemented. Removing the House proposed sales tax revenue collected on fuel sales that were earmarked for the highway fund reduces the total by over $300 million. As the bill moves forward, the Senate may have other cashflows in mind that can be repurposed to replace that revenue stream. Doing so will help get the road funding bill close to the $1.2 billion a year the extensive Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow taskforce recommended last year.

The Chamber testified in support of this version of the bill. It keeps the discussion going and presents other ideas and options to be considered for the final version of the bill, which we will work to bring to a good landing at the end of session.

The Chamber will continue to advocate for a strong, user-fee based model to address Indiana’s $1.2 billion per year road funding gap. We encourage members of the business community to contact your state senator to let them know they need to support HB 1002 to address the huge $1.2 million gap in Indiana’s road funding.

Call to Action: Connect with your state senator via our grassroots page. Let them know today that long-term road funding is important to you and your company!

Community Impact of I-69 Expansion Takes Center Stage at May 5 Summit; Business and Civic Leaders Encouraged to Attend

Now that the completion of the Interstate 69 corridor from southern Indiana to Indianapolis is becoming closer to reality, it’s time to look at how the state can take its moniker of “The Crossroads of America” to the next level.

The I-69 Regional Summit on May 5 in downtown Indianapolis will focus on how this long-awaited connection through the state positively impacts communities along the route and what increased economic development efforts those areas can pursue.

The event is presented by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Hoosier Voices for I-69.

Speakers from across the United States and Canada will provide attendees with a comprehensive overview of the project and its magnitude, plus the potential economic opportunities that each community and the state has as a result. Experts also will examine ways to enable collaboration and leverage the new I-69 corridor from a statewide perspective.

The summit will open with the latest from the Indiana Department of Transportation on Section 5 and a timeline for Section 6, as well as updates on the Trump administration’s proposed transportation funding bill. Breakout sessions will cover topics such as branding and marketing strategies; the Canada/U.S. connection; economic development; zoning and tax credits; best practices and much more.

“We encourage business and civic leaders all along the I-69 route to attend this gathering. They will receive detailed information and a toolkit of ideas to take back to their own community or organization, as well as the chance to connect with experts who can be tapped into after the summit concludes,” says Indiana Chamber CEO Kevin Brinegar, who is also chairman of the board for Hoosier Voices for I-69.

A reception will be held May 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. The summit begins the morning of May 5 at 8 a.m. and concludes at 4 p.m. A luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m. will be held May 5, with a keynote panel that includes Canadian Consul General Douglas George.

All events are held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis.

Cost for the full summit (including the May 4 reception) is $269 per person.

Individual tickets to the May 4 reception are $69. Individual tickets to the May 5 luncheon are $69; a table of 10 at the lunch on May 5 is $600.

Register online by visiting www.i69summit.com or the Indiana Chamber’s web site at www.indianachamber.com/specialevents.

The platinum sponsor is Duke Energy. Silver sponsors are: Hoosier Energy; Indiana Office of Tourism Development; Radius Indiana; and Smithville Fiber. Silver lunch sponsors are: AZTEC Engineering; Butler, Fairman & Seufert Inc.; Daviess County Economic Development Foundation, Inc.; and Old National Bank. Bronze lunch sponsors are: HNTB Corporation; and 69 BridgeLink.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available; for more information, contact Jim Wagner at [email protected] or by calling (317) 264-6876.

Positive Aspects of SB 309 Overshadowed by Confusion Over Solar Energy Production

Three amendments were recently offered to SB 309 and approved during last week’s hearing – two by Rep. David Ober (R-Albion) and one by Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville). One amendment clarified who qualified as an applicant for a CPCN, one for the study of self-generation by schools and one changes the deadline of installation to receive the 30-year grandfathered rate to December 31, 2017.

The Indiana Chamber testified in support of the bill and tried to clarify some of the confusion over net metering (no one is trying to kill the solar industry). We also expressed some of the concerns that some members have over co-generation (that they would like more flexibility). We emphasized that we do not want the bill to fail because it is truly a compromise of long-standing issues that industrial users and businesses, as well as residential ratepayers, have had with Indiana’s investor-owned utilities. It will not fix all concerns our members have expressed, but is a first step in helping businesses control costs and building a statewide energy plan. It will serve as a building block of the Chamber’s efforts to maintain Indiana’s competitive edge when looking at energy costs that have risen over the past decade.

On March 22, the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee heard nearly a day of testimony on this bill in a full House chamber from many groups and individuals, both in support and against the bill. No vote will be taken until Wednesday.

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Surprise Unanimous Vote on ‘Ban the Box’ Prohibition

Regarding SB 312 (Use of Criminal History in Hiring), the Indiana Chamber talked with committee members prior to the hearing to secure support, and numerous business organizations testified in favor of the bill.

The Indiana Chamber was represented by Chris Schrader, a member of our Labor and Employment Policy Committee. Schrader is also the director of government affairs for the Indiana State Council of SHRM. He commented that employment decisions should be made on the basis of qualification, not on factors with no bearing on the ability to perform job-related duties. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided comprehensive guidance to employers regarding consideration of criminal records in the selection process: (1) the nature or gravity of the offense or conduct; (2) the time elapsed since the conviction; and (3) the nature of the job sought or held. These points provide adequate protection to job seekers while at the same time permitting employers to safeguard both their interests as well as the public’s.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association, Employ Indy, the Indy Chamber, the National Federation of Independent Business, Indy Solutions, the Indiana Hospital Association, the Indiana Apartment Association and the Indiana Retail Council all supported the bill. Some of those testifying favored the first half of the bill which dealt simply with prohibiting “ban the box” (the box on an application asking about criminal history). Several testified in favor of the second half of the bill (amended into the measure on second reading in the Senate) regarding criminal information of an employee could not be introduced as evidence against an employer in certain circumstances (referred to as a limited immunity). There is some debate over the effectiveness of this part of the legislation; similar language has been used in Colorado.

Indianapolis City Councilman Vop Osili also testified; he was the author of the city of Indianapolis’ ordinance to “ban the box” in regard to vendors working with the city. He said that he didn’t like to see his legislation be “gutted” but given the potential positive impact of the limited immunity he could support what was being attempted despite it preempting the city’s ordinance.

Given the unanimous vote in committee, we anticipate that the bill will pass the House.

Small Cell Broadband Legislation Has Robust Committee Hearing

The Chamber supports SB 213 to help enhance community broadband capacity and speed with the implementation of small cell towers.

The technology is changing and to get to 5G and increased mobile broadband speeds, the small towers have to be located with coverage in mind. These are not your grandfather’s big cell towers but are smaller and are often disguised and co-located with light poles and other utility poles. There was some concern raised by a couple of communities that wanted the ability to say where the towers should go. Ultimately, it is an engineering solution that must prevail based on the coverage area.

The House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee will consider amendments in the coming week or so, and then hopefully the bill will be voted out for further consideration on the Senate floor.

Bumpy Road for Road Funding in Senate?

The Chamber recently testified in support of HB 1002, citing the need for long-term, sustainable funding to adequately maintain, finish what we have started to build and build out our priority new road projects. We also noted that we do not see where the state can magically find the funds in the present budget to address the need outside of taxes, plus the additional 10 cents a gallon to ensure our road quality is a wise investment.

There were no amendments offered as of yet but it is safe to say the bill will have several committee amendments to change it.

Additionally, there are several major issues to iron out in this bill. One is whether to dedicate all of the sales taxes collected on fuel sales to road funding or keep most of that revenue flowing into the general fund. Another is what the Senate will do with the $1 a pack cigarette tax increase passed by the House. The cigarette tax increase would have replaced much of the revenue in the general fund if the fuel sales tax would have gone to the road fund. Yet another issue is to toll or not to toll major interstate highways. While that is a pure user fee for roads, there is quite a disagreement about if and where such tolls should be considered.

Another aspect is there are legislators who don’t want to be labelled as “raising taxes” and shy away from the fiscal realities of our very important road infrastructure.

Folks, this is an investment in our future that won’t cost that much individually and has the potential to enhance commerce and Indiana’s “Crossroads of America” location advantage.

The Chamber will continue to advocate for a strong, user-fee based model to address Indiana’s $1.2 billion per year road funding gap.

Call to Action: Connect with your state senator via our grassroots page. Let them know today that long-term funding is important to you and your company!

Hits and Misses: The Indiana Legislature Halftime Report

We are pleased that several of our top priorities are alive and in good shape at the midpoint – including long-term transportation funding, pre-K expansion and anti-smoking legislation. All of these tie directly to the Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan.

Long-term transportation funding – tolling around the corner?
This is the Chamber’s top priority in 2017. House Bill 1002 is the proposal to take care of the state’s transportation needs; the 20-year infrastructure plan addresses the erosion in funding that has taken place and the lost purchasing power from the enhancements in automotive technology and fuel efficiency.

We believe that the bill’s proposed gas tax increase is pretty solid. Senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who appears to be taking the lead on this bill in the Senate, may change things like dedicating all of the sales tax on gasoline to transportation needs and put a heavier emphasis on tolling, which would enable the state to undertake major projects like adding additional lane miles to Interstate 70 and Interstate 65 throughout Indiana. Overall, we are very encouraged by the commitment we have seen to date from the House, Senate and Governor. We also realize this will be a little tougher sell in the Senate and are prepared for a strong advocacy effort.

Tax threats avoided; overall outlook good
Everyone should be thrilled that two detrimental proposals – on mandatory combined reporting and sales tax on services – didn’t really get out of the gate. And that’s thanks to the good work of the Chamber’s Bill Waltz over the course of the summer. That means there are no big, threatening tax bills looming for us to worry about.

Instead, this session has brought some positive activity that will improve things procedurally within the Department of Revenue. Additionally, while not involving the Legislature, the Chamber has provided substantial input to the Department of Local Government Finance on a rule with respect to the so-called big box commercial/industrial property assessments. (That input was made possible thanks to a subgroup of the Chamber’s Tax Committee that analyzed the big box assessment issue; we are always grateful to our members for lending their expertise!)

On track: expansion of the state’s pre-K pilot for children from low-income families
Obviously, the expansion – to $16 million total in the Senate (including funds for a new online pre-K pilot); at $20 million in the House proposal – is not as significant as we would like, but we recognize this is still a very young program and are encouraged that what’s being debated is the level of increased funds, not the merit. We also appreciate all of the programmatic language that allows for potential expansion into all 92 counties (SB 276) and increases the income thresholds for eligible families (HB 1004). That said, we are going to continue to work to get as many dollars as possible directed to this. It’s vital for children to have that strong early education as a foundation.

Making the superintendent of public instruction an appointed position still can happen
We remain optimistic this longstanding Chamber goal will be realized this session. Yes, House Bill 1005 will have to be amended because it’s too similar to the one the Senate voted down last week. What happened there was, by all accounts, a blunder created by a perfect storm of factors – including little caucus discussion before the vote. But the good news is that the House bill is alive AND Senate leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) has assigned it to the Senate Rules Committee that he chairs, so he’s going to go to work on it and will ultimately determine how much of it needs to be changed. We speculate that requiring Indiana residency – which is not currently in HB 1005 – could be one modification. It definitely will have to be different than the failed bill to pass the Senate Rules Committee.

Comprehensive smoking reform, now in HB 1001 and HB 1578, would send big message
We are hopeful that the increased tax on cigarettes ($1 per pack) and funding for a more robust smoking cessation program will stay in the budget bill (HB 1001). Likewise, that the repeal of the special civil rights privileges for smokers will survive on its own in HB 1578; this marks the first time that policy has been passed by either house, so we are making progress. Seeing these three elements cross the finish line would be a clear indication that the state is taking seriously the ever-increasing costs to employers of Hoosiers smoking – more than $6 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity on the job.

The provision raising the cigarette buying age from 18 to 21 is most likely not happening this session after its removal in the House Ways and Means Committee. That group felt there wasn’t enough definitive information or testimony.

ISTEP, energy and technology updates
The Chamber is supporting legislation that will replace ISTEP with a shorter, more focused assessment. You can put all the debates and disagreements aside because this has to happen this session.

We are encouraged by the Senate’s passing of SB 309, an energy bill, which, among other things, addresses net metering for those investing in wind and solar energy; we believe the bill is consumer-friendly. Moreover, utilities have offered up some ideas and concessions that we think will help control electricity prices. The water infrastructure proposal (SB 416), while not funded, sets up the appropriate framework and keeps that needed policy moving along.

The budget bill (HB 1001) contains some pro-technology priorities, including the transferability and expansion of the venture capital tax credit. This would incentivize additional out-of-state investors without state tax liability to invest in promising early stage Indiana companies. Additionally, the open data measure (HB 1470) would allow public access, in an appropriate way, to the tremendous amount of data the state has collected. This is one of a couple of new initiatives coming from our Indiana Technology & Innovation Council policy committee. To see these efforts making progress right away, in their first session, is very encouraging.

A disappointment for the Indiana Chamber
There were several bills centered on litigation that couldn’t get out of committee. That’s because there are too many attorneys on both civil justice committees who are standing with trial lawyers, which essentially is blocking any sort of tort reform.

Local Option Transportation Bill Moves Forward

SB 128 was amended on the Senate floor last week and passed third reading yesterday. It was previously determined that HB 1141, with similar language, would not move out of committee and efforts would be focused on the Senate legislation.

These were two bills with similar goals – to allow for communities all around Indiana to supplement road funding to enhance the possibility for a priority regional project – and were introduced in their respective legislative bodies. Both bills would apply to all areas of the state and create a mechanism for local communities to create a regional development authority, which can be used to apply for federal grants, create separate funding for a particular road project, give them the authority to issue bonds and have a referendum to raise property taxes to pay for transportation infrastructure.

The authors of both bills are from Jasper, and they see great economic value in connecting their community and surrounding communities with Interstate 69. They want to create options for communities to step up to provide additional local funds to enhance the possibility of getting a road built sooner.

The Chamber supports the effort as it creates a viable local funding option and it doesn’t require INDOT to elevate the priority. However, if the funding is there, it is more likely to happen. The authors and other supporters will continue to work on moving the Senate bill through the process.