A small, red box was on the wall where a Power Point presentation showing an
Indiana landmark was being projected Friday.
“It’s ironic the fire alarm is sitting just about on top of the Capitol
building,” observed Vince Griffin, Indiana Chamber of Commerce
Griffin and others told local business owners, bankers, elected officials,
Realtors, accountants, attorneys, educators and consultants the upcoming
Jan. 5 long session of the Indiana General Assembly will be faced with some
“Whatever they do, it will not be pretty,” said Bill Waltz, state C of C
vice-president for Taxation and Public Finance.
The non-partisan Fiscal Policy Institute estimates a shortfall between
Indiana revenue and expenditures ranging from $700 million to $1.3 billion.
“It’s not good,” said Waltz. “The picture is bad but bad is a relative term
and compared to other states like Illinois and California, we're not really
The General Assembly's main task is passing a budget and redistricting. With
19 new members in the state House and five in the Senate, that's 24 wild
cards thrown in this session's legislative deck.
Waltz said it will be tough for the Assembly to raise taxes. With 80 percent
of the state budget tied to education spending and Medicaid, there's not
much room left to maneuver.
When it comes to K-12 education, the chamber anticipates Gov. Mitch Daniels
will be especially engaged. Waltz said legislators almost have to get to
education to deal with the deficit.
The state chamber supports restricting items for teacher collective
bargaining strictly to those involving compensation; enacting merit or
performance-based teacher pay structure; allowing students in failing
schools to attend other public or private schools; and expanding entities
that can authorize charter schools.
When it comes to taxation the chamber opposes any new or increased business
tax yet supports both exempting taxation of machinery and equipment, and
making improvements to tax administration procedures.
Waltz doesn't perceive an appetite for legislators to tinker with property
taxes but they'll be on the hunt for new revenue they can pretend isn't a
tax increase. As far as privatizing the Hoosier Lottery, Waltz said that has
gotten less attractive and not likely to come up.
Economic development will have an emphasis on capital and job creation, it
was predicted. The 88 year-old state chamber supports authorizing blanket
public-private partnerships statewide for transportation /infrastructure
projects to increase private-sector investment, and adopting a right-to-work
Waltz said companies simply remove Indiana from consideration because it
doesn't have such a law. State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-District 4, said, “If you
want to start a labor war, it's the people in this room that will pay for
Waltz said the business personal property tax is another black mark on the
Matt Reardon, an economic development advisor with consultant SEH, said the
onerous tax puts the burden on local government to drive economic
development. Waltz said finding a way to allow local entities to exempt the
tax may be plausible under certain circumstances.
Don Babcock, economic development director of NIPSCO, said the utility does
offer abatement for qualifying facilities and electric customers to help
The Indiana chamber supports meaningful government reform with a strong
focus on townships; Waltz said some recommendations to consolidate/reform
Hoosier government found in the Kernan-Shepard report will be revisited this
When asked if consolidating libraries likely will be proposed again --- a
prospect opposed by Westchester Public Library here --- Waltz said that
option may or may not be put forward.
Soliday said the mood could be to give County Councils more legislative
power, and to better define the appropriate roles of councils and the County
Griffin is chamber vice-president for Energy and Environmental Policy. He
said a huge hole to fill is an outstanding loan balance of $1.8 billion
Indiana owes the federal government after the state's Unemployment Trust
Fund ran out of money in November, 2008. Changes approved in 2009 include a
higher employer tax rate taking effect in 2011.
When it comes to labor relations, the chamber supports an overhaul of the
state's unemployment insurance system to reduce fraud and to bring revenue
and benefits in line with each other.
Griffin said anticipate a number of bills on immigration. The chamber
opposes any immigration policy that attempts to take away an employer's
right to do business. The chamber supports a total ban on smoking in the
workplace but opposes any health-care mandates or assignment of benefits.
Griffin said by 2014 Indiana will have to implement new federal health-care
regulations at a cost of nearly $4 billion over 10 years --- money Indiana
doesn't have. A related concern is expected to be the availability of
It was noted by speakers that increasing the cost of doing business for
employers only will hurt their employees and customers.