INDIANAPOLIS – After nearly two hours of intense – and at times contentious – testimony and follow-up questions, an Indiana House committee voted 8-3 Wednesday afternoon to advance an amended version of H.B. 1596.
Now that it has cleared the House’s government and regulation committee, the bill will move on to the House floor as early as Monday, said Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, who authored H.B. 1596, which tightens existing language around the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars.
Karen Engleman, R-Corydon, and Rep. Jeffrey Thompson, R-Lizton, co-authored the legislation.
Several government, education and business leaders from Jeffersonville, New Albany and Clarksville traveled to the statehouse to testify for and against the bill Wednesday.
At the heart of the heated dialogue was Jeffersonville’s Promise, the city’s new program that offers free tuition to Ivy Tech to qualified Jeffersonville High School students starting with the class of 2019.
The City of Jeffersonville, through its redevelopment commission, has pledged to commit a total of $750,000 of TIF dollars over the next five years to fund the program.
While members of the House committee applauded the program’s intent and benefits, they repeatedly expressed confusion as to why this revision to existing language would derail the program.
The committee especially took issue with Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore, who spoke about the city’s recent growth thanks to new businesses and the multiple ways Jeff uses its TIF dollars, as well as provided an overview of Jeffersonville’s Promise.
He was repeatedly asked how he believes H.B. 1596 would derail the program as it stands, with committee chair Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, going through the legislation point by point with him, trying to get him to comment on the stipulations.
“In all due respect," Moore said, as he declined to respond, "you are asking me legal questions that the attorneys would disagree with what you are saying."
The mayor was asked several more times to explain his concerns, but he denied to do so each time.
When Jeffersonville city attorney Les Merkley subsequently testified, he was admonished by the chair to “pipe it down” after he made an initial passionate response.
After lowering the tone of his voice, he said it was “knee-jerk legislation” and he listed how the city believes the bill would dismantle Jeffersonville’s Promise if the legislation passed.
Some of his points were that Jeffersonville’s Promise is, among other things, not for all students who live in Jeffersonville – just qualifying Jeff High students only. He also noted it is an agreement between the city and Ivy Tech only, and it does not require a students to work for specific employers.
In part, H.B. 1596 puts structure around the use of TIF dollars, with the focus on ensuring any educational program funded by redevelopment commissions are:
• open to all qualified individuals regardless of educational background;
• is designed to fulfill the workforce needs of an employer or a prospective employer whose wages for jobs included in the program equal or exceed the county average wage; and
• is structured as a forgivable loan program that requires participants to work for employers located in the unit for a period of time as a condition of loan forgiveness.
It also states: “A commission may establish a requirement that a participant in a program must reside in the unit.”
When providing an overview of his bill to the house government and regulatory committee, Clere shared a proposed amendment for the committee to consider. It had been drafted earlier in the day.
They voted to accept the amended version, which:
• Eliminates the requirement that a program be structured as a forgivable loan program and that the loan forgiveness is conditional upon the participant working for an employer in the unit;
• Requires a redevelopment commission to establish a requirement that a participant must work for employers located in the unit for a specified period of time;
• Eliminates the provision requiring expenditures for a program to be used only to reimburse a participant in a program after the participant completes a degree or certificate program or completes satisfactory progress toward obtaining a degree or certificate.
Speaking in favor of the bill were Becky Gardenour, New Albany Floyd County School Board member, and Bill Wilson, president of the Clarksville Community School Corp. board, who is also on Clarksville’s redevelopment commission.
They both believe the TIF dollars could be used more effectively and benefit school systems in more robust ways, and this legislation could help facilitate that.
“It’s about accountability,” Wilson also said. “It’s totally about accountability.”
Speaking in opposition to the bill were Shane Gibson, New Albany’s city attorney, who took issue with the language and how it restricts TIF fund usage.
Also, testifying in opposition to the bill was 1SI president and CEO Wendy Dant Chesser, who said area businesses are concerned about the general impact and any unintended consequences of the legislation.
After the hearing, Clere said, “We amended it today and made a simple bill even simpler. It’s about workforce alignment and accountability.”
Clere said he feels confident in his bill and believes it will pass the House floor. "It's been very mischaracterized," he said. "The mayor refused to answer the chairman's questions about how it would hurt the so-called Jeffersonville's Promise program. I thought that was very revealing."
Moore said the city will not give up the fight against H.B. 1596. "I plan on fighting until every Jeff High student who wants a college degree receives one."