Indy Chamber to push for higher state cigarette tax, expanded pre-K

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The Indy Chamber on Wednesday said it would continue to push for a higher state cigarette tax and expanded pre-kindergarten during the 2021 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

The business-advocacy organization also said it re-elected board Chairman Dennis Murphy, CEO of IU Health; Vice-chairwoman Melissa Proffitt, partner-in-charge of client relations of Ice Miller; Treasurer John Hirschman, CEO of Browning Investments; and Secretary Jim Birge, partner at Faegre Drinker.

The chamber acknowledged that it would be a difficult year given the financial toll created by the pandemic, especially in a year when many lawmakers will be looking for ways to boost teacher pay. Increasing the state cigarette tax from 99.5 cents to $3 per pack would help raise needed money, it said.

“Every dollar will be precious as lawmakers put together the next state budget, with education continuing to account for the majority of state spending alongside many other competing demands,” Chamber Chief Policy Officer Mark Fisher said in written remarks. “It’s another reason why we must finally act to raise the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack. Indiana needs the revenue to address public health now.”

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has unsuccessfully lobbied for years to increase the cigarette tax, but there are some indications that Statehouse leadership might be more open to the possibility this year.

The Indy Chamber said it would call for employer liability protections during the pandemic and “specific proposals to protect the vitality of downtown Indianapolis.”

Those proposals, it said, should include ways to prevent aggressive panhandling, programs to support homeless populations, and funding flexibility for downtown investments through reform of the Economic Improvement District statute.

Other agenda goals include criminal justice reform and policies aimed at rebuilding trust between law enforcement and communities.

The chamber said it endorses civilian oversight, body cameras and anti-bias training for police, along with bail reform and sentencing of multiple felony offenders to state facilities instead of county jails.

“We can’t build a more inclusive economy if too many of our citizens feel excluded from fair treatment under the law,” Indy Chamber President Michael Huber said in written comments. “We’re asking for legislative actions that give local police departments the tools to do their jobs, protect our neighborhoods, and avoid spending tax dollars putting more Hoosiers into the justice system if it doesn’t make us safer.”

The chamber also is calling for the establishment of an Indiana workshare program and more incentives for brownfield redevelopment, among several other items.

The Indy Chamber’s entire 2021 agenda can be found here.

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4 thoughts on “Indy Chamber to push for higher state cigarette tax, expanded pre-K

  1. If the Indy Chamber is going to propose such a huge cigarette tax increase, maybe they should propose using some of the money on programs that use proven methods to get people to stop smoking. Smoking rates in households making less than $35,000 are 3x higher than in households making $100,000+. As much as cigarettes are a nuisance and cause serious health problems, increasing the cigarette tax could easily turn into a tax on the poor to be redistributed to the middle class. This should be seen as less of a cash cow and more of a way to make our citizens healthier.

    As far as the justice reform stuff that the Indy Chamber is endorsing, I agree wholeheartedly. To solve our crime issues, we need citizens to start trusting our institutions, and especially the ones who end up needing intervention from the criminal justice system. Throwing more police into a community that doesn’t trust government institutions is like putting a generic gas station BAND-AID on a wound that needs stitches. It doesn’t work. We need real change. I don’t even trust our institutions and I have most flavors of privilege, so there is a long way to go.

    Hopefully sometime soon this state will reform mandatory minimums and drug laws. Lawmakers need to wake up to the fact that Indiana has as many prisoners as Australia with a fraction of the population. Not only is it unacceptable in the “land of the free,” but our economy would be MUCH better and our GDP would be MUCH higher if we took a play out of the book of most other developed countries and got non-violent offenders incorporated into the economy rather than indoctrinated into a life of crime at the state prison.

  2. So they want to take more money from one group of Hoosiers, smokers, and give it to another group of Hoosiers, people who teach pre-K in government funded schools. And as an extra added bonus, government gets bigger!! It’s a win-win for all the special interests. I thought the Indy Chamber was a business lobbying group…silly me.