The Indy Chamber has released its agenda for the next session of the Indiana General Assembly. At its annual membership meeting Tuesday, the chamber detailed its legislative priorities for 2018, which include a continued expansion of affordable pre-k for low-income families and an increase in the state’s cigarette tax.
The chamber’s agenda is titled "Indy: Open for Business." President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Huber says Indianapolis has a competitive business climate, but it can always do better. "To be ‘Open for Business,’ we have to be open for talent – welcoming a diverse workforce with protection from discrimination, investing in education from preschool through adult vocational training, and elevating ‘livability’ as an economic issue."
The chamber provided some of its priorities for 2018, including:
- Creating an inclusive climate for a diverse workforce, through a statewide anti-discrimination law that encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity, bias crime penalties and restoring in-state tuition and financial aid for foreign-born graduates of Indiana’s K-12 system;
- Reforming the distribution of local tax revenues to reflect a regional workforce and support regional growth by allowing equitable investment in infrastructure and other public services;
- Creating a healthier, more productive workforce – and reducing healthcare costs – by raising the state cigarette tax (using the proceeds to tackle pressing public health issues), raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, and allowing employers to screen prospective workers for tobacco use;
- Exploring regulatory reductions, state grants and tax incentives to encourage new development on brownfield sites – vacant or unused properties, often former industrial facilities with environmental issues.
Additionally, the chamber says it will continue to "advocate for local government flexibility on tax and budgetary policies, streamlining of township government, support for local transportation priorities and public transit options, and non-partisan redistricting reform."
The chamber also elected new leadership for its board of directors. Connie Bond Stuart, regional president of southern and central Indiana for PNC Bank will serve as chair for 2018, while Lisa Schlehuber with Elements Financial will serve as vice-chair. Rafael Sanchez, CEO of Indianapolis Power & Light Co., has been elected treasurer and Jim Birge with law firm Faegre Baker Daniels will serve as secretary.
"The Indy Chamber is rethinking economic development, focusing on today’s opportunities and tomorrow’s challenges,” said Stuart. "We’re pushing specific policies – supporting microloans for small businesses, applying the state sales tax exemption to software companies – that will pay dividends quickly. We’re also pursuing a longer-term agenda for upward mobility and growth, which includes making pre-K more accessible and affordable for underserved residents."
The chamber also named currently board chair Brian Sullivan "Life Director" and he will continue his service on the board.