Biz leaders encouraged by Indiana elections

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Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ landslide re-election, despite the national Democratic tide, buoys central Indiana business leaders’ expectations of success on key issues. Those issues include installation of constitutional caps on property taxes and comprehensive local government reform.

Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce President Roland Dorson said Hoosiers overcame their resistance to the more controversial aspects of Daniels’ efforts, such as the adoption of daylight-saving time and the lease of the Indiana Toll Road, to affirm their overall support of his business-friendly agenda.

“Hoosiers embraced change at the state level. I think they recognized and acknowledged in the voting booth that the past is a great place to visit, but you don’t want to live there,” Dorson said. “They recognized Gov. Daniels’ vision and gave him a mandate for change.”

The outcome of the majority of other races on the ballot enhance that prospect, Dorson said.

Daniels will enjoy support of Republicans Tony Bennett, the new state superintendent of public instruction, and Greg Zoeller, the new attorney general. And while final results of several key races in the Indiana House were still in doubt this morning, it appears Democrats will enjoy at best a slim majority there.

But Daniels faces a daunting challenge, as the souring national economy tilts closer to a deep recession. Indiana Association of Realtors CEO Karl Berron said Daniels’ choices will be hemmed in by that reality, particularly as the auto industry’s woes spread to manufacturing-intense Indiana.

Berron said a majority of Hoosiers clearly understand the depth of the daunting problems on the horizon. And that’s why they overwhelmingly stuck with Daniels and his governing priorities of balanced budgets and aggressive attempts to court business expansion.

“His approach and philosophy was validated. That’s a really, really important thing for Indiana,” Berron said. “Now more than ever, in today’s world, you’ve got to adapt and change.”

Despite optimism about Indiana’s prospects for the next four years under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce was worried this morning. Chamber President Kevin Brinegar is concerned that Democratic President-Elect Barack Obama will usher in a new era of onerous regulation and taxation that hampers business growth.

Brinegar said the state chamber likely will reposition its lobbying efforts to focus on federal issues. He’s particularly worried that new leadership in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will tighten the leash on business to a stranglehold.

“In times of economic downturn and financial crisis, it’s not the time businesses would prefer to have folks that are considered liberal tax-and-spenders in control of Washington,” Brinegar said.

The Indiana Chamber was alarmed when Obama, on the campaign trail, signaled he could make major adjustments to U.S. foreign trade agreements, hike capital-gains taxes, and rescind President George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Brinegar said changes in those areas could end up curtailing both business and consumer spending.

“We’re on the verge in this country of having more than half the citizenry pay no federal income tax,” Brinegar said. “I, for one, think that’s a line we don’t want to cross.”

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