By Mark Robinson
Area business leaders received a preview of potential hot topics during the upcoming 2015 Indiana Legislature session when Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, spoke at Oak Hill Mansion in Carmel.
Chamber of commerce members from throughout Hamilton County attended the Dec. 12 breakfast, as did Donna Schaibley, recently named to replace Steve Braun as state representative from District 24 that covers parts of Carmel, Westfield, Zionsville and Sheridan.
Brinegar, a Noblesville resident who has been ICC president for 12 years, said his group is focused on seven priorities in the areas of education, infrastructure, labor relations and taxation, where its eight lobbyists will monitor and attempt to influence legislation.
Brinegar said the ICC would still like to see the state’s business property tax completely eliminated, “but it won’t be this year.” In the meantime, the ICC is behind legislation to have businesses that pay less than $200 annually in the tax be freed from doing so. He said that would cut more than half of the state’s 270,000 business filers off the list, yet it would only see a $10 million decrease in business property tax revenue of the $6.7 billion generated annually.
Another business-related focus is for a work-sharing program that would allow an employee whose hours are reduced to receive some unemployment compensation. Currently, only those completely out of work in Indiana can access the unemployment system. The ICC favors legislation that would give employees whose workload has been reduced a proportionate amount of unemployment benefits. For instance, a 30 percent reduction in hours would yield 30 percent of full unemployment compensation. Employers would also have to maintain full benefits for the reduced-hours employees.
“There’s a majority of states that have adopted this legislation and we’d like Indiana to do that,” Brinegar said. “That way, the employee stays employed and the employer doesn’t lose the talent so that when the economy picks back up, they don’t have to start from scratch and go find somebody. They can just increase the hours back.”
In education, Brinegar said the ICC favors expanded preschool funding for low-income families; using existing national academic standards tests with modifications for Indiana, instead of spending “tens of millions of dollars developing our own”; and making the superintendent of public instruction position appointed by the governor instead of elected.
“The governor appoints every other department head, he ought to appoint the head of the department of education,” Brinegar said. “That’s been the position of both political parties over the years, it’s been the position of the state teachers union until recently, until they got their own candidate elected.”
Brinegar said a two-year INDOT study revealed that revenue from gasoline and diesel taxes is less than it was 10 years ago because of the alternative vehicle power sources developed such as electricity and natural gas. That leaves an annual $750 million gap in the state’s road and highway maintenance budget. The ICC favors increasing the amount of fuel tax going to the highway fund (instead of the state general fund), indexing the fuel tax to inflation and taxing alternative fuel vehicles with higher license plate fees.