In the past, it might have seemed the Indiana Legislature engaged in group-think with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Lately, legislators have asserted their independence — reluctant to adopt chamber goals for making Indiana more appealing to newcomers from other states. Take the chamber’s recent push for more LGBTQ rights, for instance.
Still, it’s worth watching what the chamber supports, even if it no longer serves as a reliable predictor of what lawmakers will do.
Last week, the chamber put tobacco and vaping at the top of its priority list for 2020.
“Raising the age for legal purchase of all tobacco and vaping products, increasing the cigarette tax and taxing e-cigarette products should fall into the no-brainer category,” Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said in a news release.
The chamber called for increasing the legal purchase age for tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21, passing a tax on vaping products and raising the tax on cigarettes.
It will be fascinating to watch what happens when (ahem) the smoke clears. Indiana legislators hate raising taxes, even on “sin.”
You might recall the old notion that if someone is old enough to carry a rifle into battle, that soldier should be able to buy a pack of cigarettes. We’ve agreed for nearly a half-century that 18 is old enough to vote. However, some states experimented with the idea that 18 is old enough to buy alcohol, and that turned out to be a loser.
Hoosier lawmakers tend to balk at being the “nanny state” and banning what’s bad for us. In the case of vaping, it once appeared that Congress might do the job for us, and Indiana legislators likely would prefer someone else take the heat.
Second on the chamber’s list is “talent-attraction efforts.” The chamber defines that as supporting more “regional management authorities across the state to boost quality-of-place funding.”
According to the chamber, more than half of Indiana employers report they have trouble recruiting workers, because applicants don’t find their locations to be attractive places to live.
Northeast Indiana has served as a test tube for quality-of-place projects. The state awarded us $42 million to spend on projects that make us more appealing. A board that oversaw the money spread it around widely, touching all of our northeast counties. Not paying in full for anything, the board instead helped projects that already had a head start on the cash they needed.
Time will tell how wisely our money was spent. With only so much cash, should the state keep building more parks and trails, or focus on its traditional jobs of making sure the roads are smooth and schools are effective?
Speaking of schools, the chamber believes every Indiana high school student should be required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. We rank 34th in the nation for the rate at which students file the FAFSA.
“Right now, students are leaving money on the table. We want as many students as possible to have the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials and degrees with reduced or no debt,” Brinegar said.
If they know how much money they could get for training after high school, more students would continue their studies, improving Indiana’s workforce, the theory goes.
That’s just the start of the chamber’s top nine priorities. Others involve health care costs, unemployment taxes, reducing professional licensing requirements, energy policy, water infrastructure and high school accountability.
Over the first few weeks of 2020, we’ll see if legislators still are listening to the Indiana Chamber.
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.