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Lawmakers’ vow on jobs partly filled

Ask any Hoosier what should have been the top priority for the just-ended session of the Indiana General Assembly and the answer would undoubtedly have been jobs. Did lawmakers deliver?

Yes. No. Maybe.

Success in job creation is easy to claim while failure is easy to deflect. Republican leaders point to business tax cuts they believe will spur investment and, in turn, hiring. They can’t lose – if the jobs don’t follow, they can find a scapegoat in the national economy. If hiring increases, they can claim full credit by pointing to bills that cut taxes on businesses.

For a true “jobs bill,” you can look to House Bill 1002, which authorizes release of up to $400 million for transportation projects, available to leverage up to $1.6 billion in work through federal funding. The first $200 million will be released immediately, with the second installment contingent on the state’s budget picture in December.

Conservatives like to say that government doesn’t create jobs, but in highway funding, it certainly does. The legislation will create thousands of construction jobs directly and indirectly support more through improved infrastructure.

It’s tougher to classify Senate Bill 1, which reduces the corporate income tax rate to 4.9 percent over six years, as a jobs bill. While the state is on track to have the second-lowest corporate tax rate among the states by 2022, Indiana already had one of the most business-friendly tax environments in the nation. The legislation also gives counties the option to exempt all new business equipment from the business personal property tax and to offer “super-abatements” for certain projects, prompting some local government officials to suggest that Indiana counties are set up for a tax-cutting competition.

What legislative leaders describe as an opportunity to attract jobs in many cases could turn out for local government officials to be a curse. Reducing business personal property taxes, on top of the property tax cuts and circuit-breaker provisions already in effect, could harm their capacity to offer features that attract and retain jobs: high-quality schools, sound infrastructure, parks and other quality-of-life amenities.

For Allen County residents, the session produced a referendum vote on local government reorganization that some believe will foster job creation in northeast Indiana by creating one point of contact for businesses looking to locate or expand here. Voters will be asked whether the current three-member board of commissioners should be replaced by a single county executive.

If approved, other counties will be watching to see how a streamlined county government structure works and whether it truly delivers on economic development promises.

The jobs promise is an easy one for legislative candidates to sell, but a better goal is improving Hoosiers’ lives. By that measure, lawmakers did good work in finally strengthening the state’s lax child care regulations. Thirty-one children have died in child care businesses since 2009. Gov. Mike Pence has said he will sign the bill, which will also apply to church-based child care providers.

Each session is defined in some way by what lawmakers did not do. This year it did not send a same-sex marriage referendum to voters, instead prolonging the debate for another session. Count it as another success for jobs. While the controversy is hardly helpful in attracting or retaining young people, at least it avoids the costly contest between opponents and supporters.

A successful session? Depending on your view of Indiana’s progress, you could say that it was.