Indiana Capital Chronicle: Chambers releases detailed economy plan in gubernatorial bid

By Whitney Downard
Indiana Capital Chronicle

Republican Brad Chambers released an economic plan Monday that establishes two new cabinet-level positions and expands several government programs to tackle housing, child care, property taxes and entrepreneurship.

But he was quick to reiterate his belief that growing the economy would, in turn, reduce government and shrink taxes even if his proposals include plans for growth in the short term.

“… just two cabinet positions announced today doesn’t say that I’m going to expand government, right? When you grow the top line, when you’re growing revenues and you’re investing in education, people get lifted up,” Chambers said at the Fishers announcement. “Medicaid use goes down — that’s significant savings if we can do that — crime goes down — that’s significant savings if we can do that by lifting people up out of poverty and out of economic stress.

“(There are) lots of ways when you grow government [the economy] — you grow resources — you can shrink government … I’m confident that we can shrink government and make it more efficient and, more importantly, make it work for the customer.”

The former Secretary of Commerce pointed to his two-year tenure as evidence of his economic experience, following back-to-back agency reports of record-breaking capital investments and above average wages in planned projects. The “Play to Win” plan would be a continuation of his efforts during that appointment, he said.

Chambers has previously unveiled plans to tackle barriers in education and online safety along with policy considerations for China.

He is one of six Republicans, one Democrat and one Libertarian vying to succeed the term-limited Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The plan

Chambers’ ten-pillar plan would “create a cabinet-level position that manages, optimizes and protects our most valuable resource — water” as well as a Secretary of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

He acknowledged that water “is a topic that comes up a lot with me” due to the landmark LEAP Innovation District in Boone County, a controversial development anchored by a $3.7 billion investment from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. An additional, unidentified water-guzzling semiconductor manufacturing facility prompted a proposal to pipe hundreds of gallons of water from Tippecanoe County — which many Hoosiers opposed.

Gov. Eric Holcomb halted progress until a water study is completed.

As the former state leader on the project, Chambers said it was critical to Indiana’s economic development when competing with other states for lucrative companies.

Chambers’ multi-point plan also includes a proposal to create “general permits” from the Department of Natural Resources to reduce “bureaucratic red tape” for farmers and an Agriculture Readiness Program similar to the state’s Manufacturing Readiness Program.

Additionally, Chambers pushes for continued work in the realm of READI grants, which administered $1 billion to communities during his time as Secretary of Commerce.

“North Carolina is playing to win. Ohio is playing to win. Arizona, Texas and China are playing to win. Ireland is playing to win,” Chamber said, referencing his plan’s title. “They all want that Lilly $4 billion-dollar investment. We would be pouring concrete, erecting steel and hiring thousands of high-wage jobs for Intel today if Indiana was ready. I put us in a position to be ready with the LEAP Innovation District.”

Intel’s $20 billion chip factories project went to Ohio after a bitter competition between states.

The above priorities would be partnered with higher education efforts that target workforce development in semiconductor manufacturing, electric vehicles and life sciences. But he noted efforts weren’t just for multi-billion dollar companies. The entrepreneurs and smaller businesses would qualify for programs bringing more start-up dollars and innovation grants.

“We’re not capitalizing the opportunities available to us to the small- and medium-sized businesses … innovators and job creators,” Chambers said. “We need to expose Indiana’s … innovation to the world to bring more capital to these folks.”

Notably, the plan also includes a proposal to reinstate work requirements for Medicaid, a policy currently suspended in Indiana — and other states, following federal scrutiny — as litigation moves through a federal court. The 2019 lawsuit was paused during a federal review and interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic but was amended in January, according to a website for the plaintiffs.

Housing, child care and property taxes

Chambers has repeatedly said that he believes “the number one job of a governor is to grow the state’s economy,” emphasizing the need to increase the average Hoosier wage — which lags behind the national average — and improve quality of life.

“Over 300 events statewide and this is the issue I hear the most: I don’t understand my property taxes; I don’t understand my assessments,” Chambers said.

In particular, he identified confusion over the assessment process. Home and property values rise and fall depending on sales data on similar properties.

“Let’s create a simpler formula so everybody can understand it. I’m a real estate guy and sometimes I don’t understand how an assessment came to be,” Chambers joked. “So let’s create some transparency.”

Tactics to improve the process for Hoosiers, which is a vital revenue stream for local units of government, include evaluating the “portability” of the Homestead Property Tax Credit to allow Hoosiers to keep the deduction even if they move within the state.

Additionally, Chambers called for extending relief from House Enrolled Act 1499, passed by the legislature in 2023, which increased homestead supplemental deductions and reduced net assessed value growth to slow tax increases.

But every business needs an occasional reinvention, Chambers said, including the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) — an entity he proposed “modernizing” with a 10-year strategic plan to increase construction of all forms of housing.

“I know a little bit about housing” said the real estate tycoon. “We need to reinvent the IHCDA to set ambitious goals for delivery of quality, affordable housing statewide.”

Another suggestion included establishing a revolving fund for down payment assistance repaid through a future home sale or over ten years. But last week, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition released a report analyzing the housing shortage, finding that extremely low-income households had the most acute need — which Chambers didn’t specifically address in his plan.

But he pointed, again, to wages, saying that increased economic prospects would lift those Hoosiers out of poverty.

“If we raise wages, we’re going to lower the amount of people that need that very low-income housing. At the same time, we need to address the current need,” Chambers said.

High wages undoubtedly benefit individual Hoosiers but become a challenge in industries such as child care, which has notoriously low wages and a workforce dominated by women and people of color. But livable wages for child care workers and safety regulations — such as an adult-to-child ratio — drive up prices for families.

“We have to fix the system and it’s super complex,” Chambers acknowledged. “In many ways, it doesn’t pay to be a child care provider and it … is unaffordable to Hoosiers.

Prohibitively expensive child care additionally keeps many, especially women, from participating in the workforce.

“We have the potential to grow our economy but you can’t grow your economy without people,” Chambers said.

He committed to “exploring” all-day pre-kindergarten expansions for three- and four-year-old children along with “potentially” increasing income eligibility for state subsidies and employer-sponsored centers.