On the face of it, the just-concluded session of the Indiana General Assembly was one to savor for business interests.
Lawmakers approved a cut in corporate income taxes—quite a feat in a year when state coffers were bare—and reduced the amount businesses will have to repay to replenish the indebted Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
And business lobbyists were able to beat back many ideas they didn’t like, such as a provision in the original version of an immigration bill that would have revoked businesses’ licenses after three violations of hiring undocumented workers.
Yet in other ways, we’re forlorn, even embarrassed, by what emanated from the Statehouse this year. Issues lawmakers decided to make priorities, or failed to make priorities, confounded us—and added to the unfortunate perception that Indiana is stuck in the past.
To attract and retain businesses in the 21st century, the state must position itself as progressive and forward-thinking—a point executives from Cummins Inc. drove home in opposing the original immigration bill as well as a constitutional amendment that passed banning gay marriage.
Tim Solso, CEO of Cummins—one of the few Indiana employers on a hiring spree—put it well in an op-ed. “We plan to add even more people given our ambitious plans for growth,” he wrote. “These new jobs could be located in many places in the world; for us to add them in Indiana we must have an environment that is welcoming to all people and where diversity is valued and allowed to flourish.”
Fortunately, backers of the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions have more hoops to jump through. It must win legislative approval in 2013 or 2014 to face a statewide referendum in November 2014.
Here are other lowlights of the session:
• Lawmakers again failed to pass a statewide smoking ban in workplaces and other public sites. Passing a ban with teeth should be a no-brainer. And failure to do so may begin to undermine the city’s all-important convention trade. As Don Welsh, then-CEO of the Indiana Convention & Visitors Association, said last year: “It’s what people have come to expect, and Indianapolis is being left behind.”
• Legislators passed—and Gov. Mitch Daniels signed—legislation that makes Indiana the first state to cut off all government funding for Planned Parenthood. The move puts the state at risk of losing as much as $4 million a year in federal funds—none of which pays for abortions.
Planned Parenthood says the funding loss will lead to undetected cancers, untreated sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Daniels disagrees, saying women in all 92 counties will continue to have access to services nearby.
This much is clear: It’s a bad law, just the sort of vindictive, backward measure that lawmakers spent way too much time debating this year.
We’ll take this session’s business victories—fortunately, some lawmakers focused on the right things. But the misguided agendas of too many members of the General Assembly threaten to undercut progress the state is making in enhancing its business climate.•
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