(INDIANAPOLIS) — As things currently stand, legislators won’t have much wiggle room in the next state budget – with most of the money earmarked to adequately fund increased Department of Child Services and K-12 education demands.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce hopes that such a tight squeeze may make a cigarette tax hike more appealing to legislative leaders and the Governor.
“We will certainly be making the case for it. There is nothing else the state could do to infuse the revenue stream that would have the impact of increasing the cigarette tax by $2 per pack,” declares Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar.
“While we agree with what Gov. Holcomb has said in past years that funds collected should go to related health care programs – to cover smoking cessation and Medicaid costs – we also believe any additional money could go to where the state has the greatest needs.”
Efforts to decrease the smoking rate of Hoosiers – through the per pack tax increase and raising the smoking age to 21 – are on the Indiana Chamber’s list of legislative priorities for 2019.
“Smoking is costing employers and the state more than $6 billion annually in lost productivity and health care. Research has shown that significantly increasing what a pack of cigarettes costs and upping the legal age to smoke do yield positive results,” Brinegar notes.
In recent public remarks, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma has emphasized that the age component might find increased support this time.
Brinegar explains why mindsets have changed. “Large tobacco companies are now coming out in favor of raising the age to 21. More localities and states are doing it, and notably, the military is also on board.”
A mitigating factor, he says, is the collective realization of the negative impact vaping is having on teens.
“They are getting hooked on nicotine, which is prompting a hard look at age requirements for these e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes.”
The Indiana Chamber also continues to advocate that the state Legislature take the next steps in skilling up the workforce, as employers continue to cite finding qualified workers among their biggest challenges (see results of the organization’s annual workforce survey at www.indianachamber.com/education).
“After several years of concentrated efforts, it’s time the state evaluates the existing programs,” Brinegar begins. “We have to pinpoint what will most help retrain workers for the current job market and how best to get the word out. There’s no magic answer, but we must achieve better results.”
In the upcoming session, the Indiana Chamber likewise will be pushing for the state to pass a bias crimes law.
“It’s not only the right thing to do, it is important to helping our employers recruit and retain talented employees. Indiana is a welcoming place and we must enact every policy possible to convey that message to those outside our state,” Brinegar offers.
The Indiana Chamber will be endorsing “as broadly defined a law as possible, yet recognizing that the overriding goal is for a bill to pass and Indiana to take itself off the very short list of states (five) that do not have one.”
Meanwhile, the Indiana Chamber will be going on the defensive regarding medical marijuana; the group is opposed to that in addition to recreational use.
In addition to the “real effects and impairment marijuana has on job performance,” Mike Ripley, Indiana Chamber vice president of health care and employment law, stresses that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the valid use of marijuana – a sticking point for Indiana Chamber members.
“Its consistent effectiveness and safety have not been proven yet through clinical trials, which we support taking place. Separately, the Chamber currently backs the use of isolated components of marijuana, cannabinoids or similar extracts for solely medicinal purposes if approved by the FDA for specific illnesses and diseases.”
Other 2019 top priorities for the Indiana Chamber include increased broadband access to rural communities, moving up the effective date for making the state superintendent an appointed position and significant planning for and investing in Indiana’s water infrastructure. A full list of the Indiana Chamber’s key initiatives is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.