Forgive us for our impatience, but we’re determined to make 2019 the year when central Indiana and the state finally address head-on some of their most serious challenges.
Here’s what’s on our minds:
◗ Pass the cigarette tax increase.
From both an economic and health care perspective, it makes compelling sense for the Legislature to finally pass a $2-per-pack tax hike.
The number of people who smoke in Indiana is 50 percent higher than the national average. That’s a big reason the state ranks poorly on a whole host of health measures, a reality that weighs down employers with billions of dollars in extra costs annually.
Raising the cigarette tax is the most powerful weapon the state has in its arsenal to fight tobacco consumption. As an October study funded by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation noted, “Extensive economic research clearly shows that the demand for tobacco products follows the most fundamental law of economics—that of the downward sloping demand curve. That is, as prices go up, the quantity consumed goes down, and vice-versa.”
◗ Pass a hate-crimes law.
Economic-development leaders don’t like to talk about it, but they’re still wrestling with the after-effects of the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle.
The lack of a hate-crimes law in the state helps feed into the perception that Indiana is stuck in the past on issues of diversity and inclusion. As is often noted, Indiana is one of just five states without such a law. As we implored in last week’s editorial, it’s time for the Legislature to wipe away that cloud by passing a strong law that includes gender identity.
◗ Devise a comprehensive Circle Centre revival plan.
Downtown’s Circle Centre mall slid into decline years ago, long before the April closing of its final department store, Carson’s, put an exclamation point on the problem.
Circle Centre’s woes aren’t fully visible from the street, thanks to the string of restaurants that have opened on the perimeter, filling space occupied by Nordstrom before its 2011 closing.
But the mall’s corridors are in sad shape, with vacancies increasingly filled with second-tier tenants such as Glow Golf and Knockerball. And while we are glad to see the current efforts to spruce up the 23-year-old mall, it will continue to decline without a new master plan that shifts much of the space to alternative uses, such as office and residential.
◗ Embrace regionalism by adopting a commuter tax.
Indianapolis officials have lamented for years that the nearly 200,000 commuters who drive into Marion County each day for work should be taxed to pay for city road maintenance.
Hoosiers pay income taxes to their county of residence, not the county where they work—a reality that has left the state’s urban areas, where incomes generally are lower—in a financial pinch and struggling with basic road maintenance, such as pothole repair.
This issue never has gotten anywhere in the Legislature because it’s a hornet’s nest—figuring out how to divvy up tax revenue without leaving suburban counties feeling shortchanged won’t be easy. But leadership in the doughnut counties needs to think big-picture. The whole region loses if we let its core rot.