BizVoice Earns APEX Award for Entrepreneur Profile

32137645The Indiana Chamber’s BizVoice® magazine earned a prestigious honor in APEX 2016, the 28th annual awards program recognizing excellence in publishing by professional communicators.

Tom Schuman and Rebecca Patrick authored profiles of three entrepreneurs (Max Yoder, Crystal Grave and Jim Hallett) in the September-October 2015 issue. The entry was selected for an Award of Excellence in the Writing Series category.

There were more than 1,600 entries. Grand Awards were presented in 11 categories, with Awards of Excellence recognizing exceptional entries in each of the individual subcategories.

BizVoice, with limited entries each year, has earned 79 national and state awards in its 18-year history. Learn more at www.bizvoicemagazine.com.

Tax Court Under Scrutiny

10044552In April 2015, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered the creation of the Ad Hoc Tax Court Advisory Task Force to review the Indiana Tax Court’s resources, caseload, performance and operations. In May of 2015, the General Assembly passed legislation calling for the Indiana Judicial Center to conduct a like review and submit a report to the Legislative Council by December 1, 2016. The Supreme Court subsequently amended its order to have the task force submit its report to the Judicial Center and the Legislative Council by May 1, 2016.

In April 2016, the task force issued its findings and recommendations along with a report compiled by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), which was contracted to assist the task force. These materials are now getting some attention and are definitely worthy of examination. The nine-member task force was chaired by Court of Appeals Judge James S. Kirsch. The members include a variety of experienced tax practitioners as well as the general counsel for the Department of Revenue and chief deputy for the Office of Attorney General. Tax Court Judge Martha B. Wentworth also participated as an “ex officio” liaison and attended meetings by invitation from the chair.

The NCSC researched the Court’s caseload, staffing and timeliness. It also interviewed stakeholders and conducted a survey seeking opinions on these subjects and on the perceived timeliness, fairness and demeanor of the Court. And it looked into case management, internal procedures and administrative practices. The statistical results, observations and recommendations are all set out in the report. The survey results evidence a contrast in opinions between the government responses and taxpayer responses regarding the quality of service provided by the Tax Court.

In short, it seems that the government representatives are significantly less satisfied with the Court. Not unrelated to their disgruntlement, it was noted in the preface to the findings that the Department of Revenue and attorney general members of the task force sought recommendations to review the very structure of the Court, recommending review of the de novo hearing process and the lack of automatic appeal rights. However, the majority of the group and the chair found these matters “outside the purview of the task force’s directive.”

Several things were apparently deliberated and no specific findings or recommendations were made. Ultimately, the task force’s primary finding was that after 30 years, the existence of the Tax Court still serves its initial purposes of providing tax expertise, tax law consistency and renders fair and thoughtful opinions.

The findings do focus on the need for continued progress in timely addressing pending cases and the utilization of resources and staff. The report recommends an ongoing review and suggests the Tax Court explore several reforms to its case management practices, including ruling on some matters without oral arguments, limiting discovery, requiring the Department of Revenue to certify a complete audit file (to avoid it having to be reconstructed) and referring some cases to mediation.

The findings and recommendations, NCSC report and other materials are available online.

Immigration Committee Hears from Business

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The Indiana Senate Select Committee on Immigration Issues conducted its third meeting recently; this time it was the business community which brought its case before Senate legislators. The Indiana Chamber made a very effective plea for Congress and the federal government to bring about comprehensive immigration reform.

At the Chamber’s request, subject experts Jon Baselice, Chris Schrader and Jenifer Brown testified – along with Chamber staff – on the impacts of immigration on companies.

Baselici is the director of immigration policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, served on the staff of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and assisted in drafting S.744, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. He testified that our immigration system is working abysmally. The U.S. Chamber sees four areas for reform on immigration:

  1. Controlling our borders and preventing individuals from overstaying their visas
  2. Modernization of our legal immigration system, placing more value on a potential immigrant’s skills and talents, along with temporary worker programs
  3. An enhanced employment verification system as long as there is a preemption of state and local E-verify laws, adequate safe harbors for employers who use the system and the creation of an agricultural guest worker program that provides agribusinesses meaningful access to lawful workers in times of need
  4. What to do with the current undocumented population of 11.3 million.

Chris Schrader, president of the Society for Human Resource Management, presented a perspective on E-verify. He discussed its limitations, that there was no safe harbor for employers and that it is unable to authenticate identity. Jenifer Brown of Ice Miller testified on the actions available to Indiana under federal law (including the Immigration Reform and Control Act); the pros and cons of the federal E-verify system – explaining the complexities of the mandatory versus the non-mandatory system; the effect of unauthorized aliens upon the economic well-being of Indiana and the effect of their removal and changes in federal law or policy regarding legal immigration that could improve the Indiana economy. The Chamber also provided a presentation on the difficulties and the process of the I-9 employment eligibility verification form.

Among others testifying before the committee: the Indy Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana State Building & Construction Trades Council, Indiana Builders Association and Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association. Three more meetings are expected before a report is prepared for the Indiana Senate.

Employer Survey: Downward Workforce Trend Continues

More than half of respondents to a recent survey expect their workforces to grow in the next two years, but more of those employers continue to leave jobs unfilled and rank meeting talent needs as among their biggest challenges.

There were 671 respondents to the ninth annual employer survey, conducted by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and its foundation. WGU Indiana sponsored the survey, sent to Indiana Chamber members and customers. Participating companies included 58% with fewer than 100 employees and 27% with between 100 and 500 employees. Leading industries represented were manufacturing (21%) and health care/social assistance (11%).

While there were not dramatic changes from workforce results in recent years, several downward trends continued. Companies that left Indiana jobs unfilled in 2015 due to under-qualified applicants increased to 45% – compared to 43% and 39%, respectively, for the prior two years. In addition, 27% of respondents identified filling their workforce and meeting talent needs as ­­their biggest challenge. Another 49% categorized the talent needs as “challenging but not their biggest challenge.” The 76% total exceeds the numbers for 2015 (74%; 24% biggest challenge) and 2014 (72%; 20% biggest challenge).

This comes despite the percentage of respondents requiring an industry certification or occupational license for unfilled jobs declining from 27% in the 2015 survey to 16% in 2016. At the same time, the minimum requirement of a high school diploma increased from 34% to 39%.

On the other end of the education spectrum, more employers are also raising the bar. Employers requiring a bachelor degree as the minimum level for the unfilled jobs increased from 23% a year ago to more than 28% in 2016. This reaffirms the importance of moving the current workforce toward degree completion.

More than half (52%) of survey respondents indicated they do not offer tuition reimbursement. Of those providing the tuition assistance, only 11% of companies see at least 10% of their employees taking advantage of the benefit. This serves as a potential additional detriment to reaching the Outstanding Talent goals, particularly in elevating the skills of incumbent workers. Recent Cigna Corporation research shows a $1.29 return generated for each $1 investment in tuition reimbursement.

Additional results include:

  • Personal qualities (work ethic, responsibility, initiative) and critical thinking skills were cited as most challenging to find among job applicants and new hires at 63% and 54%, respectively
  • More than half (54%) of companies expect to grow their workforce in the next 12 to 24 months. Forty-one percent anticipate no change, with 4% seeing a decrease
  • Pending retirements continue to be a factor as 57% say up to 5% of their employees will be eligible to retire within the next five years (27% place the percentage of eligible retirees as high as 10%)

View the survey results at www.indianachamber.com/education.

The Indiana Chamber and its foundation, focused on providing research and solutions to enhance Indiana’s economic future, have resources to assist employers, job seekers and students.

IndianaSkills.com provides job supply and demand information both statewide and regionally. It utilizes current labor market data to help companies, prospective workers and students understand Indiana’s workforce landscape. Salary data, required skills and certifications, and creation of effective job descriptions are among the featured tools.

Indiana INTERNnet has been connecting students and employers for internship opportunities for 15 years. The easy-to-use web site, informative Intern Today, Employee Tomorrow guide and regional partnerships are supplemented by additional outreach programs.

The Indiana Vision 2025 plan measures Indiana’s progress compared to other states on 36 goals in the four driver areas of Outstanding Talent, Attractive Business Climate, Superior Infrastructure, and Dynamic and Creative Culture.

Chamber Members: Get the Most Out of Your Staples Business Advantage

StaplesChamberAd_BizVoice

It’s easy to take advantage of the savings through the Staples Business Advantage Program! Leverage the partnership between the Chamber and Staples, and save on everything you need to keep your business running:

  • Members save an average of 15%-30% off Staples’s already low prices
  • Best buy list of 2,000 most frequently purchased items
  • Free delivery for orders over $50
  • More than office supplies- a fully integrated solution with discounts on furniture, technology, promo, facilities and breakroom
  • Print solutions: $0.02 black/white, $0.23 color copies, 50% off finishing services

Questions? Contact Laura Bourdelais at Laura.Bourdelais@staples.com.

Early Childhood Education Gets a Push in the Right Direction

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Great news: It seems like 2017 will be the year that everyone finally jumps on the train to expand the pre-K pilot program in Indiana. In just the past two weeks, we have had two major announcements from Governor Mike Pence and Superintendent Glenda Ritz on different proposals to expand the pre-K pilot program.

As background, in 2014 Pence testified in front of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee to pursue Indiana’s first pre-kindergarten program for disadvantaged four-year-olds. That session generated legislation to create a five-county pilot program (selected counties were Lake, Marion, Jackson, Vanderburgh and Allen) for 2,300 grants of up to $6,600 for low-income four-year-old students. This voluntary, voucher-based program could place students in public schools, private schools, licensed child care centers, licensed homes or registered ministries – as long as they were a Level 3 or Level 4 on Paths to Quality, which is Indiana’s child care quality rating and improvement system.

This pilot program was awarded $10 million that year and was given an additional $10 million the subsequent year. The response was overwhelming – over 500 low-income applicants in Marion County alone were turned away. In Valparaiso, 600 applications were submitted for only 285 spots. It is important to note that 41 other states have publicly funded preschool programs. Indiana is unique as businesses around the state have stepped up to the plate and have invested heavily to push to expand the pilot program. The business community realizes that having a quality start to school will ultimately lead to a stronger workforce and better communities.

The day of the Indiana Chamber’s spring board of directors meeting earlier this month, Governor Pence announced that he had sent a letter to Secretary Sylvia Burwell of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expressing interest in expanding pre-K education for disadvantaged children. HHS oversees preschool development grants authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). He has also stated publicly his desire to request additional state dollars in the next budget. It should be noted that Pence had the opportunity to apply for $80 million in federal grant dollars in 2014 and decided not to pursue the application at the very last minute, citing concerns regarding federal intrusion. The Governor now states that the pilot is producing great results and the time is right for expansion.

Similarly, Ritz announced a proposed expansion of pre-kindergarten programs in announcing her Imagine 2020 legislative plan the following week. Ritz’s pre-kindergarten announcement included high-quality, state-funded, universal access to pre-K to the tune of $150 million per year. With this price tag, Ritz stated that if the political will is there, the funds will follow. Her plan utilizes reversions from state agencies already made to the general fund and leveraging federal dollars.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg joined Ritz this week to discuss more details about the pre-K plan. It was explained that the $150 million per year would be available for 289 public school districts with pre-K programs. The program would be voluntary for students, but would be open to all Hoosier four-year-olds, regardless of family income.

While we are thrilled that leaders of both parties are supporting expansion of pre-K programs in Indiana, per usual, the devil is in the details. Expansion can take shape in many forms: universal coverage for all four-year-olds regardless of income levels, increasing the number of counties in the pilot, expanding access to three-year-olds or changing the poverty-level income requirement. These details all are yet to be determined in each proposed plan.

The Indiana Chamber has partnered with many stakeholders to promote expansion of the pre-K pilot and has been meeting frequently to determine our approach to the 2017 legislative session, our messaging and to work collaboratively with community partners and Chamber members to promote a well-funded, high-quality expansion. We will be relying on employers across the state to help us beat the drum about the importance of a great early start to school, which will help lead to lifelong success.

Letter: Federal Health Insurance Tax Harmful to Employers

The federal Health Insurance Tax is an aspect of the Affordable Care Act that poses a threat to businesses across the country. The following letter of concern from Caryl Auslander, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of federal affairs, was sent to Sen. Joe Donnelly and explains the Chamber’s position on the issue.

Senator Donnelly,

As Hoosiers, we are proud that our state has shown strong and sustained economic growth ever since the nationwide recession in 2009. It is our concern that the Federal government is hurting, rather than helping, by enacting policies that harm the employer community, specifically small businesses. In particular, we are deeply concerned by the Health Insurance Tax (or “HIT”) that is embedded in the Affordable Care Act.

This provision ensures that those individuals and businesses that have to turn to private insurance companies for coverage are stuck with a disproportionate share of the costs of the ACA. While the original intent of the HIT was supposed to be paid by the insurance companies, in reality the companies really act only as tax-collecting proxies for the Federal government.

When a consumer cannot avoid purchasing a good or service, they have little or no power to resist price increases imposed by suppliers. And when all of the suppliers are charged the same tax, they all have the same incentive to pass it along to their consumers. Thus the HIT forms a hidden tax on health insurance consumers: The families and small businesses who can’t afford to self-insure.

By some estimates, the HIT will cost more than $500 per family every year. A tax burden like that can place real hardship on a middle-class family, push poor families straight into insolvency, and keep small businesses from being able to hire new workers, reinvest in their company or provide other services to consumers. In a small firm with 80 employees, the hidden HIT alone could cost more than $40,000 a year — well over the state’s per-capita income.

The HIT is a hidden and regressive tax, and bipartisan agreement has been enough thus far to delay its full implementation. But middle-class Hoosiers and small business owners here cannot afford the continued uncertainty. On behalf of 24,000 Chamber members and customers across the state of Indiana, it is our request that you place the permanent elimination of the Health Insurance Tax at the top of your agenda. Its unconditional repeal would be a victory for transparency, good government, and economic opportunity for all.

Thank you for your leadership on this issue and for defending the people of Indiana.

Sincerely,

Caryl Auslander
Vice President, Federal Affairs

Mo Rocca Cites Benjamin Harrison Home Experience in Commencement Speech

Humorist and “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca recently advised graduates of Sarah Lawrence College to not panic if they don’t yet know what their professional lives will hold. In his anecdotes, he mentions how an experience at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site (in downtown Indianapolis) among other historic homes gave him a new perspective on passion.

Also noteworthy: “Do not take romantic advice from people who have been single for more than five years, or divorced more than twice.”