(INDIANAPOLIS) — Providing relief to small business personal property tax filers and the development of a statewide publicly-funded preschool program headline the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s Top 7 priorities for the 2015 session.

These key objectives were announced at the organization’s annual Central Indiana Legislative Preview in Indianapolis today.

The Indiana Chamber proposes exempting the bottom half of all business personal property tax filers from having to go through the process. This group, while approximately 150,000 strong, pays only 1% of the total tax collected. The organization’s president and CEO, Kevin Brinegar, says the math simply doesn’t add up for the businesses or local governments to make it worthwhile.

“These small businesses have to do extensive inventory on their machinery and equipment, and then prepare and file the tax return. That usually means they have to hire someone to guide them in this effort. All for a tax that, in the end, amounts to between $10 and $50 for most small businesses,” he explains.

“For local government, it’s a similar story: People have to process all of these tax returns and audit a portion of them. That takes time, costs money and diverts attention from other more productive activities.”

Education is also top of mind, with three of the organization’s seven priorities coming in this area.

Brinegar believes making significant improvements to the state's educational levels will remain challenging as long as large numbers of children are entering kindergarten unprepared for school.

“These challenges are compounded and ultimately impact all Indiana students as schools are forced to deal with wide gaps in achievement levels,” he notes. “The state needs to provide funding that will help low-income parents access their choice of preschool programs that are educationally-based and accountable for outcomes.”

The Indiana Chamber also will continue to support development and funding for the state’s new K-12 academic standards, but will be pushing for “fiscal restraint and common sense” when it comes to the testing component, according to Brinegar.

“It’s just uncalled for to spend tens of millions of dollars to come up with a brand new assessment when an existing consortia test can be modified slightly to what’s unique about Indiana’s standards. The state would be far better served seeing that additional money devoted to a statewide preschool program.”

The third education priority is a lasting way to mitigate any policy divide between a governor and state superintendent of public instruction. The Indiana Chamber will be seeking to have the superintendent position become an appointed one beginning in 2016.

“I want to make it clear that we have had this policy position for over 20 years – covering when we’ve had Republican and Democratic governors,” Brinegar emphasizes.
“Our state’s governor is seen as the true leader on education policy and our administrative structure should reflect that and allow for a superintendent of the governor’s choosing. Both parties know this makes sense and is what’s best for the state’s education system and our students.”

Other legislative priorities for the Indiana Chamber:

  • A state budget that not only puts a focus on preschool but also includes a new funding formula for education and workforce training with increased designations for high wage career areas
  • Increased funding for upkeep of Indiana roads by devoting the full seven cents (on the dollar) from the gasoline sales tax to the state’s highway fund. The current model allots a penny with the other six cents going to the state’s general fund
  • A work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns and for employees to keep their jobs but with reduced hours and salary (which is partially offset by unemployment insurance)

In addition, the Indiana Chamber announced six other “areas of focus” for the upcoming session.

“These are issues that are also very important to us. We want to open or continue the dialogue on these topics – some of which are complicated or involve changing how Indiana does thing,” Brinegar notes.

A statewide water policy to assure future resources, allowing employers to screen prospective employees for tobacco use and further reduction in the state’s dependence on the taxation of business machinery and equipment are among those on this list.

A complete rundown of the Indiana Chamber’s 2015 key legislative initiatives is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.

Also at the legislative preview event, five state legislators were honored as Indiana Chamber Small Business Champions “for their hard work and dedication to improving Indiana’s small business climate.” This award is based on voting and advocacy during the 2014 legislative session. The 2014 Small Business Champions are: Sen. Mike Crider from Greenfield, District #28; Sen. Pete Miller from Avon, District #24; Rep. Terri Austin from Anderson; District #36; Rep. Milo Smith from Columbus, District #59; and Rep. Cindy Ziemke from Batesville, District #55.

Recap of the Indiana Chamber’s Top 7 legislative priorities:

  • Support legislation to eliminate small businesses filing personal property tax returns (aka the “de minimis” exemption)
  • Support the development of publicly-funded preschool initiatives statewide
  • Support the development and funding of the state’s new K-12 academic standards, while using existing consortia tests with Indiana modifications; no Indiana-specific test is necessary
  • Support making the superintendent of public instruction an appointed position beginning in 2016
  • Support a greater portion of state sales tax be committed to Indiana road upkeep
  • Support a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns
  • Support a prudent state budget that balances and properly prioritizes the state’s needs

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The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is the state's largest broad-based business advocacy and information organization, representing nearly 5,000 member companies that employ 800,000 Hoosier workers.

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