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.