Business leaders urge Indiana lawmakers to address labor shortage

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana business leaders want the state legislature to take action to get more Hoosiers back to work.

The lower labor participation rate was one of the big issues the Indiana Chamber of Commerce discussed Monday at an annual luncheon with state legislative leaders.

The problem isn’t going away anytime soon and could get worse, according to Kevin Brinegar, the Chamber’s president and CEO.

A survey the Chamber conducted earlier this year found nearly 75% of Indiana business owners say the current pool of job applicants doesn’t meet their needs, Brinegar said.

“One of the inhibitors right now is quality, affordable child care,” he told the attendees at Monday’s luncheon.

Brinegar called on state legislators to help families find child care.

“Should there be tax credits for lower income folks to help pay for the cost of child care?” Brinegar said. “And we need to perhaps generate other ideas as well.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledge it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

“Like in so many different industries, the child care industry is struggling with finding people,” said House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers).

“It actually is more expensive for care for an infant than it is for a year of tuition at a four-year public institution, college,” said State Rep. Terri Austin (D-Anderson), House Democratic Caucus chair.

Indiana Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said the state should provide businesses with incentives to offer child care to their employees.

Another solution is to get students in school sooner, Taylor said.

“If you go in accordance with the guidelines for children to go to school in Indiana, you don’t have to send your child to school ’til they’re 7,” Taylor said. “Now let’s say we started that at 5. We’ve got a budget surplus. We can afford it.”

Speaker Huston said he and his colleagues are looking at the child care issue. But Republicans don’t expect to consider allocating state funding until the budget is rewritten in 2023, said Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer (R-Jasper).

“Being a non-budget session, adding things to the ongoing expenses of the state would probably not happen in the short session until we have a full biennium to look at and a little longer outlook and where those avenues and the long-term expenses for the state are going,” Messmer said.

Among the other ideas discussed at Monday’s luncheon, the Chamber also wants the state to offer incentives to bring remote employees to Indiana, Brinegar said, to bring more skilled workers to the state and help to offset the current labor shortage.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce also wants to see the legislature take action to promote entrepreneurship and improve K-12 education to better prepare students for post-secondary two- and four-year degree programs, Brinegar said.

Also included in its legislative priorities: The Chamber is calling on the General Assembly to set statewide standards for renewable energy sources and enhance Indiana’s tax court structure and tax climate, Brinegar said, calling on lawmakers to cut business personal property taxes.

Brinegar also discussed the federal government’s vaccine and testing mandate for businesses and urged state lawmakers against passing a similar mandate. He also said the Indiana Chamber opposes any legislation that would prohibit businesses from mandating the vaccine.

During the panel discussion, Speaker Huston said he believes the legislature should allow private businesses to make their own decisions on vaccine mandates.

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