This year’s Legislative Priorities
The Northern Indiana Coalition of Chambers works together on issues of importance to the Northern Indiana Region. The Six-County coalition has identified these four Regional priorities for the 2015 Legislative session:
TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE: Indiana’s Transportation funding faces significant challenges for the future. The Indiana General Assembly has not adjusted the excise tax rate on Motor Fuels since the 1990’s. Yet the costs associated with building roads has increased dramatically and Major Moves funding has been nearly depleted. The current funding stream cannot meet the needs of Indiana’s vital transportation network.
The NICC Region has several critical transportation projects that support economic development in the region. The Indiana General Assembly must find appropriate ways to fund a transportation program that meets the current and future needs of our great state. This may be the most critical issue facing our region in the coming decade. NICC members ask the General Assembly to pass legislation in 2015 that supports increased road funding for State and local governments. These changes should include adjusting or modification of revenue streams to meet the needs of highway construction and maintenance necessary to maintain Indiana as the Crossroads of America. It should be noted that Hoosiers and visitors are paying significant use-tax on fuel, through the sales tax, that is not returned to the roads. In addition, Northern Indiana has proven tollways are an effective way to build and maintain vital infrastructure. Tollways must be considered as a tool for funding projects throughout the State of Indiana. Existing funds should be used to support the network of existing Indiana roads.
The impacts to the NICC Counties would be reflected by funding critical transportation projects such as:
• Completion of the US 31 project by planning and funding the removal of the remaining stoplights between South Bend and Indianapolis to allow the free flow of traffic between the three improvement projects.
• Upgrade of US 30 to Freeway status. INDOT’s preliminary study on this corridor between Valparaiso and Fort Wayne indicates that this upgrade would increase traffic flows from the current 30,000+ vehicles per day to over 80,000 vehicles per day.
• Completion of the CR-17/SR-15 connector from the current point of termination in Elkhart County to a Kosciusko County designated point of connection with
SR-15 in Claypool. This corridor has been identified by Conexus as a regional priority.
• Significant improvements along the
US-33 corridor between Ft. Wayne and the US-20 bypass in Elkhart County to ensure continued economic development along this corridor, such as designated passing lanes.
• Construction of the Illiana Expressway into the North Central region with connections to key economic development points east of I-65 (i.e., the US-20 bypass in St. Joseph County). Additionally, studies should be funded to help develop connection points throughout the region.
EDUCATION & WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: The demand for a highly skilled workforce is one of the greatest challenges facing the United States. The changes created by a Global Economy must be addressed by Indiana’s educational system. Local education institutions must be empowered to meet the needs of the community they serve. The State of Indiana has a role in training the future workforce by developing a curriculum designed and funded to meet the current and future need for Indiana employers. Appropriate weight should be given to career education in high school, advanced technical training at technical schools and Ivy Tech, quality degrees from our state colleges and universities to meet the jobs and careers of today and tomorrow. Some of the needs identified to help businesses represented by NICC include:
• An advanced Manufacturing Center on the Elkhart Ivy Tech campus.
• Ensure appropriate funding levels for the K-12 public schools located throughout the region. Any mandates approved by the legislature should include adequate funding to ensure sustainable implementation.
• Ensure that private and/or charter schools receiving public funds adhere to the same regulations and admission requirements as public schools.
LOCAL FUNDING OPTIONS: Local communities face a variety of challenges that require the appropriate resources to address. All levels of government should be efficient and lean. However, “one-size fits all” solutions do not address each community’s challenges. The unintended consequences of property tax caps and the possibility of elimination of the business personal property tax continue to have significant impact on many local governments We believe that the government closest to the people best knows the needs of the people and is best situated to address those needs. Local funding options must be provided to allow each community to address their unique needs. Specifically:
• Uncouple the state-mandated use of the local option income taxes by empowering local governments to identify the area of greatest need.
• Grant all Indiana communities the same local revenue producing options currently granted to only a few.
• As options for reducing tax impacts are reviewed (such as Business Personal Property Tax repeal), ensure that State-level replacement revenues are included in the tax relief package.
• Provide more transparency in collection of local income taxes to ensure all revenues return to the County of origin.
WATER RESOURCES: Northern Indiana is an area with abundant surface and groundwater. Water is increasingly becoming an important tool in growth and development of communities. As other areas of Indiana look to outside sources to replace dwindling supplies of water, it is important that State government honors the commitments of the Great Lakes Compact. And for those areas not covered by the Compact, pass legislation that protects Northern Indiana from those that would attempt to tap into this important natural resource. Any proposed costs of water projects in water-starved portions of the State should be borne by the users – not the entire State.