More than 60 business and not-for-profit executives are publicly criticizing the Republican-controlled General Assembly for action on multiple bills that would strip control away from Indianapolis city government.
A letter signed by officials from some of central Indiana’s biggest companies and civic organizations—including Eli Lilly and Co., Salesforce and Cummins Inc.—says legislation introduced under consideration this year would “stifle local priorities.” The letter urges lawmakers to reconsider that approach.
The tug of war between the Democratic-controlled city of Indianapolis and Republican state lawmakers is not new, but this year, there is a flurry of bills that would take away power from local officials—and those bills are advancing.
One would shift oversight of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department from the mayor to a new five-member board that would be mostly appointed by the governor. Another bill would strip funding for local public transportation and prevent IndyGo from moving forward with its planned expansion of bus rapid transit lines.
Senate Bill 392 would take zoning control away from city planners and give more power to townships in Marion County. And yet another bill would prevent the city from changing its name, even though there’s been no proposal to do so.
Also, the Senate recently voted to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a controversial landlord-tenant bill the General Assembly passed last year. That legislation would block the city of Indianapolis from continuing to implement a series of tenant protections it put in place in 2020.
Business leaders say lawmakers should stop interfering in local decisions or risk stifling the central Indiana economy.
“As employers, we don’t claim a special privilege to speak for the people of Indianapolis,” the letter reads. “But we are invested in the success of our city, which continues to be the engine of Indiana’s economy. Imposing heavy-handed limits on local authority would stall our ability to drive Indiana forward.”
The letter acknowledges that the city faces economic, housing and crime problems, but the executives say they believe local officials are the ones best equipped to tackle those challenges.
“We don’t have all the answers. Neither do our elected officials. But we’re certain solutions are more likely to be found by listening to those closest to the issues at hand and working together,” the letter says.
Mark Fisher, chief policy officer for Indy Chamber, told IBJ that business leaders would like the state to partner with local officials to find solutions to those issues. But attacking local control would only slow the city’s recovery and growth, he said.
“I appreciate the concern that the Legislature has about the future of Indianapolis,” Fisher said. “But these challenges did not arise overnight, and they’re certainly not going to be solved overnight.”
Indy Chamber helped to coordinate the letter, and CEO Michael Huber signed it on behalf of the organization.
The list of companies that signed spans a wide range of industries, including law firms, developers, tech companies, real estate firms and banks. Some of the most well-known businesses in Indianapolis, including Anthem Inc., OneAmerica, IU Health, Community Health Network and Roche Diagnostics, are represented in the letter.
It also has support from well-established community groups, including Indiana Black Expo, Indiana Latino Institute, the Indianapolis Urban League and the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership.
Even a top Republican—former Lt. Gov. John Mutz—signed the letter.
Elanco Animal Health President and CEO Jeffrey Simmons, whose company announced in December It would invest $100 million to construct a new headquarters in Indianapolis, is also part of the group.
Aman Brar, CEO of Jobvite, told IBJ he signed the letter because he’s concerned about the impact some of the legislation—which he called “absurd and embarrassing”—would have on the city’s ability to attract and retain talented workers.
“We’re creating unnecessary barriers,” Brar said.
Brar said he wants lawmakers to back down from some of these “ridiculous” bills and instead work collaboratively with the city.
“Many in the Legislature believe that local decisions are best, so I don’t understand why Indianapolis would be a carve out,” Brar said.
Michael O’Connor, senior director of state government affairs at Lilly, said the company decided to speak up because it believes community issues, such as policing and public transit, should be decided at the local level.
“The process is the process,” O’Connor said. “Let’s respect local decision-making authority.”