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Road funding tops Indiana Chamber of Commerce legislative agenda
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Road funding tops Indiana Chamber of Commerce legislative agenda

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INDIANAPOLIS — The state’s top business organization agrees with legislative leaders that passing a long-term infrastructure funding plan is the most important issue for lawmakers to tackle during the 2017 Indiana General Assembly.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce CEO Kevin Brinegar said this week the state no longer can kick the can down the road with short-term road spending using only existing resources.

“Based on studies, reports and simply traveling across the state, it’s pretty apparent that what we desperately need is a long-term, sustainable, transportation infrastructure funding plan,” he said.

Brinegar indicated the chamber even could support plans that increase the gasoline tax, index it for inflation, impose additional taxes on electric vehicles that don’t use fuel, toll an Interstate highway or reallocate to roads all the revenue collected through Indiana’s 7 percent sales tax on gasoline.

He pointed out that a typical Hoosier motorist currently pays about $120 a year in taxes to use the state road network, likely less than what that person spends in just one month for telephone, television or Internet access.

“That is just no longer sustainable,” Brinegar said. “We need to completely fund both maintenance needs and important new projects, and ensure that every user pays their fair share.”

Beyond infrastructure, the chamber favors a “fiscally responsible” expansion of Indiana’s pre-kindergarten pilot program, now serving some 2,500 low-income students in Lake and four other counties.

“We are encouraged that virtually everyone involved sees the need to increase state-funded preschool,” Brinegar said. “The Indiana chamber will be advocating that disadvantaged youngsters take priority for the state’s limited dollars.”

It also supports reforms to Indiana’s A-F school accountability system and high-stakes standardized test, though believes neither should be eliminated.

“Clearly there have been issues with ISTEP testing and the communication of result expectations based on the state’s new college and career-ready standards,” Brinegar said. “But the fundamental importance of measuring students, teachers and schools remains.”

On health issues, the chamber has endorsed a $1.50 per pack hike in the cigarette tax to discourage smoking and try to reduce the nearly $3 billion in annual Hoosier health care costs attributed to smoking-related illness.

It also wants state law changed so employers can discriminate against smokers when hiring and subject employees who smoke to higher health insurance premiums.

Individuals previously convicted of a felony also could face hiring discrimination if the chamber’s proposal to prohibit localities from enacting “ban the box” ordinances, barring employers from asking about a potential hire’s criminal record, is enacted into law.

At the same time, the organization wants the Legislature to approve a work share program allowing employees to claim partial unemployment benefits if their hours are reduced during an economic downturn.

In addition, the chamber favors passing a balanced state budget, reducing the business personal property tax, developing state water and energy plans, and believes Indiana should make technology innovation part of its identity.

“Indiana is already fostering an impressive entrepreneurial spirit and becoming a technology hub in the Midwest. But we need to better support our technology successes and build on them,” Brinegar said.

Finally, Brinegar admitted the chamber doubts the General Assembly will act on these ideas, but nevertheless supports extending statewide civil rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers and wants township government eliminated as an unnecessary duplication of county and municipal services.

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