Gov. Mike Pence repeated a campaign mantra of moving Indiana from “good to great” on Dec. 5 when he outlined his agenda for the upcoming legislative session.
In the “good” category, particularly for business, that means maintaining the state’s sterling credit rating, keeping taxes low, and continuing to invest in roads and bridges.
But reaching “great” will require more than mastering the fundamentals. Sure, company executives want low taxes. But they also need a better-trained work force, more public transportation options and a friendly locale where the best employees will want to join and help grow their businesses.
The upcoming short session is a prelude to the longer budget-writing session in 2015, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to work on making the state a better place to live. (See IBJ’s session preview starting on page 15.)
One of the headline goals for Pence’s agenda is another big tax cut for business—this time getting rid of a property tax on business equipment and machinery.
While the move would help the bottom line of many companies, what’s lacking is a replacement for the $1 billion in revenue the tax provides for schools, libraries and other services.
Plus, from a tax-and-fee perspective, Indiana already is known as one of the country’s most business-friendly states. We’re not as well known for our education quality.
That’s why Pence—and the General Assembly—would be wise to make education their first priority.
Pence rightly argues for more early-childhood educational opportunities and career education for older students. The governor wants vouchers to help needy families send their children to preschool. That might not be the approach favored by most Democrats, but they should be able to find common ground with Pence since there’s little debate on the merits of early-childhood education.
Another priority: finally moving the ball forward on mass transit. Let the residents of central Indiana decide whether we want to invest in a system that better connects companies with their work forces, equalizes opportunities, and drives investment in ancillary developments. A “great” state doesn’t settle for a lousy public-transit system.
Finally, the General Assembly can take a big step next year toward silencing some of Indiana’s harshest critics—the ones who see the state as unwelcoming and not valuing diversity. Don’t send a potential constitutional ban on gay marriage to a statewide referendum; send it to the shredder.
Then there are the issues that surface every year, including efforts to modernize the state’s arcane alcohol laws. This deserves a hearing, but not one that drowns out more substantive changes that could help all the state’s businesses.
This year’s session might be short on time, but it can be long on impact if elected officials go beyond the fundamentals.•
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