Tax Reform the Talk of Fly-in

More than 100 of the state’s top business leaders descended on D.C. this week for the Indiana Chamber’s Fly-in event with our congressional delegation.

Attendees received meaningful and timely information from their representatives and senators through policy briefings, special dinner discussions and office visits.

Tax reform was the hot topic. How ironic that while we were D.C.-bound that President Donald Trump would be heading to Indianapolis to roll out his tax reform plan for the first time, and taking nearly half of the Indiana delegation with him on Air Force One for the announcement. But almost all Hoosier delegation members made it back in time to address their business constituents.

The tax reform message the Indiana Chamber contingent delivered to lawmakers in D.C. was that failure should not be an option – this needs to get done!

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio wraps up his remarks on tax reform – turning the floor over to Sen. Todd Young and Sen. Joe Donnelly for a Q&A session.

What caught our attention was how deeply committed everyone is to have tax reform cross the finish line. We felt that from our guest speaker, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, considered the Senate fiscal expert, to Indiana members in the House and Senate, including Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.

They know it’s important not only to them politically but they also realize that it’s much needed policy.

President Trump’s tax reform framework, which assuredly was done in tandem with congressional leaders, includes actions that the Indiana Chamber and business community at-large have been championing for some time:

• Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35% – the highest in the world today, which drives investment, jobs and even corporate headquarters overseas
• Lowering the top personal income tax rate – which now offers disincentives for initiative, investment and risk-taking while reducing the number of brackets
• Eliminating the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which is overly complex and ineffective, and the estate tax, which endangers many family farms and small businesses
• Adopting a territorial system in which income earned overseas is not taxed in the U.S.

In our Q&A with Sens. Donnelly and Todd Young, they were asked to handicap the likelihood – on a one to 10 scale – of a meaningful tax reform package making it through Congress. Donnelly gave it a fairly hopeful six, while Young said he’s more confident today than even a few months ago and now puts the chances for success at seven-plus.

Young added: “At a time when the rate of business creation is lower than at any period in my own life, I feel like the time is now for tax reform. And the President made a compelling case in what I thought were pretty accessible terms (for Americans).”

Donnelly summed up his thoughts on the matter: “My view on tax reform is simple: I want to try to get to ‘yes’. I think it’s much better if it’s bipartisan. … I think it’s a much better message to the country.”

At our legislative briefing, Congressman Larry Bucshon (IN-08) offered his assessment as well. “As long as both sides don’t go to our corners and stick with our traditional talking points – trying to win an election in 2018 – we are going to get this done.”

Tax reform, if done correctly, would broaden the base while lowering rates across the board – spurring new investment, job creation, economic growth and, ultimately, tax revenues, without increasing the federal deficit.

Our tax code should look like it was designed on purpose for strategic economic growth.
We are hopeful that’s what will happen in the coming months.

A big thank you to our D.C. Fly-in sponsors for making the event possible: Zimmer Biomet (dinner sponsor), Allegion (cocktail reception sponsor), Build Indiana Council (legislative briefing sponsor), AT&T, The Boeing Company, Duke Energy, The Kroger Co., Old National Bank and Wabash Valley Power.

We hope to see everyone who attended – and more – back next year!

Hits and Misses: The Indiana Legislature Halftime Report

We are pleased that several of our top priorities are alive and in good shape at the midpoint – including long-term transportation funding, pre-K expansion and anti-smoking legislation. All of these tie directly to the Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan.

Long-term transportation funding – tolling around the corner?
This is the Chamber’s top priority in 2017. House Bill 1002 is the proposal to take care of the state’s transportation needs; the 20-year infrastructure plan addresses the erosion in funding that has taken place and the lost purchasing power from the enhancements in automotive technology and fuel efficiency.

We believe that the bill’s proposed gas tax increase is pretty solid. Senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who appears to be taking the lead on this bill in the Senate, may change things like dedicating all of the sales tax on gasoline to transportation needs and put a heavier emphasis on tolling, which would enable the state to undertake major projects like adding additional lane miles to Interstate 70 and Interstate 65 throughout Indiana. Overall, we are very encouraged by the commitment we have seen to date from the House, Senate and Governor. We also realize this will be a little tougher sell in the Senate and are prepared for a strong advocacy effort.

Tax threats avoided; overall outlook good
Everyone should be thrilled that two detrimental proposals – on mandatory combined reporting and sales tax on services – didn’t really get out of the gate. And that’s thanks to the good work of the Chamber’s Bill Waltz over the course of the summer. That means there are no big, threatening tax bills looming for us to worry about.

Instead, this session has brought some positive activity that will improve things procedurally within the Department of Revenue. Additionally, while not involving the Legislature, the Chamber has provided substantial input to the Department of Local Government Finance on a rule with respect to the so-called big box commercial/industrial property assessments. (That input was made possible thanks to a subgroup of the Chamber’s Tax Committee that analyzed the big box assessment issue; we are always grateful to our members for lending their expertise!)

On track: expansion of the state’s pre-K pilot for children from low-income families
Obviously, the expansion – to $16 million total in the Senate (including funds for a new online pre-K pilot); at $20 million in the House proposal – is not as significant as we would like, but we recognize this is still a very young program and are encouraged that what’s being debated is the level of increased funds, not the merit. We also appreciate all of the programmatic language that allows for potential expansion into all 92 counties (SB 276) and increases the income thresholds for eligible families (HB 1004). That said, we are going to continue to work to get as many dollars as possible directed to this. It’s vital for children to have that strong early education as a foundation.

Making the superintendent of public instruction an appointed position still can happen
We remain optimistic this longstanding Chamber goal will be realized this session. Yes, House Bill 1005 will have to be amended because it’s too similar to the one the Senate voted down last week. What happened there was, by all accounts, a blunder created by a perfect storm of factors – including little caucus discussion before the vote. But the good news is that the House bill is alive AND Senate leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) has assigned it to the Senate Rules Committee that he chairs, so he’s going to go to work on it and will ultimately determine how much of it needs to be changed. We speculate that requiring Indiana residency – which is not currently in HB 1005 – could be one modification. It definitely will have to be different than the failed bill to pass the Senate Rules Committee.

Comprehensive smoking reform, now in HB 1001 and HB 1578, would send big message
We are hopeful that the increased tax on cigarettes ($1 per pack) and funding for a more robust smoking cessation program will stay in the budget bill (HB 1001). Likewise, that the repeal of the special civil rights privileges for smokers will survive on its own in HB 1578; this marks the first time that policy has been passed by either house, so we are making progress. Seeing these three elements cross the finish line would be a clear indication that the state is taking seriously the ever-increasing costs to employers of Hoosiers smoking – more than $6 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity on the job.

The provision raising the cigarette buying age from 18 to 21 is most likely not happening this session after its removal in the House Ways and Means Committee. That group felt there wasn’t enough definitive information or testimony.

ISTEP, energy and technology updates
The Chamber is supporting legislation that will replace ISTEP with a shorter, more focused assessment. You can put all the debates and disagreements aside because this has to happen this session.

We are encouraged by the Senate’s passing of SB 309, an energy bill, which, among other things, addresses net metering for those investing in wind and solar energy; we believe the bill is consumer-friendly. Moreover, utilities have offered up some ideas and concessions that we think will help control electricity prices. The water infrastructure proposal (SB 416), while not funded, sets up the appropriate framework and keeps that needed policy moving along.

The budget bill (HB 1001) contains some pro-technology priorities, including the transferability and expansion of the venture capital tax credit. This would incentivize additional out-of-state investors without state tax liability to invest in promising early stage Indiana companies. Additionally, the open data measure (HB 1470) would allow public access, in an appropriate way, to the tremendous amount of data the state has collected. This is one of a couple of new initiatives coming from our Indiana Technology & Innovation Council policy committee. To see these efforts making progress right away, in their first session, is very encouraging.

A disappointment for the Indiana Chamber
There were several bills centered on litigation that couldn’t get out of committee. That’s because there are too many attorneys on both civil justice committees who are standing with trial lawyers, which essentially is blocking any sort of tort reform.

Beyond the Bicentennial: Our Letter on Infrastructure, Energy and Telecommunications

The following is the third in our series of Beyond the Bicentennial letters, addressed to gubernatorial candidates. Read them all at www.indianachamber.com/letters.

Dear Mr. Gregg and Lt. Gov. Holcomb:

For Indiana to be the state we all want it to be – one that inspires business location and expansion, brings good-paying jobs to Hoosiers and allows for a high quality of life – a solid infrastructure framework must be in place that reflects both present conditions and is prepared for future developments.

The Superior Infrastructure economic driver in our Indiana Vision 2025 plan champions that belief, with goals regarding transportation, energy, water and telecommunications – all things sometimes taken for granted but inherently critical to running a business and enjoying the comforts of daily life.

Reliable roads and bridges doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for (especially for the Crossroads of America), yet it takes significant investment to keep them functioning, make enhancements and build anew. Frankly, our state has not done enough in recent years and has thus fallen behind.

In 2016, the state Legislature opted to provide short-term funding with a task force set up for the next phase. We all should know at this point – based on studies, reports and simply travelling across the state – that what Indiana desperately needs is a long-term, sustainable, strategic policy plan. One that lasts decades, not a few years or election cycles. And above all, it must be based on the principles that enough revenue is raised to completely fund both maintenance needs and important new projects, and that every user pays their fair share.

There are a number of strategies that should be on the table – any or all of which the Indiana Chamber could support:

  • Index fuel excise taxes/fees to inflation
  • Raise fuel excise taxes/fees
  • Charge fees for alternative-fuel vehicles (which aren’t subject to the regular fuel tax)
  • Tolling a major interstate
  • Dedicate all of the sales taxes on fuel to infrastructure (the current model allots a penny with the other six cents going to the state’s general fund), and replace the revenue lost to the general fund with another revenue source so that the general fund is left whole

But, realistically, how we get there matters far less than advancing to the point where we have a robust transportation fund. It’s time to finally address this in 2017 – hopefully in a bipartisan way – before it becomes a crisis.

For decades, many companies have located in Indiana because of its adequate, reliable and affordable supply of electricity. But now that coal – Indiana’s most plentiful energy source – has come under frequent attack by the Obama administration, affordability is starting to go out the window. And how long will it be before businesses and jobs go with it?

Unfortunately, Indiana is to some degree at the mercy of the incoming president and the Environmental Protection Agency. However, we can take additional proactive steps at the state level to combat their actions against coal.

One avenue is to focus on diversifying Indiana’s energy mix with an emphasis on clean coal, natural gas, nuclear power and renewables. Development and execution of a statewide energy plan (which does not currently exist) is essential.

Turning the attention to water, we need to finish the good work that stemmed from the Indiana Chamber’s 2014 water resources study and legislation carried by Sen. Ed Charbonneau and others to develop and implement a statewide water resources plan.

We must ensure that future water resources are available – our ability to effectively compete with other states depends on it. And we are approaching the point where research and data collection should soon transition to action. Leadership must be shown by the next Governor to help spearhead the process.

While the need for water has been obvious since the beginning of time, the advent of broadband and its economic significance is a much more recent development. It wasn’t that long ago that broadband was spoken about only in terms of faster and more reliable internet entertainment. But today, and in the future, its business, medical, security and quality of life impacts are paramount.

Legislation in 2015 that created the Broadband Ready Communities Development Center assists rural locales in working through the barriers they might have to broadband investment by a provider.

But not enough is happening and not quickly enough. We must find more ways to bring the most rural parts of Indiana up to date technologically to help reverse their downward population and economic trends.

That sentiment – being more aggressive – easily could be said for all of these infrastructure components. If elected Governor, we strongly encourage you to make that shift and put a greater priority on these vital issues.

Sincerely,

Kevin M. Brinegar
President and CEO
Indiana Chamber of Commerce, representing 24,000 members and investors statewide

The 2016 Legislative Session: Some Noteworthy Shots Made

Silhouette of Teen Boy Shooting a Basketball at Sunset, copy space

With the NCAA basketball tournament in full swing and baseball season just around the corner, slam dunks and grand slams are both center stage. Neither of those terms, however, can be used to describe the 2016 Indiana General Assembly session. We’ll have to settle for a solid jump shot or maybe a line drive double in the gap.

The number one priority for the Indiana Chamber and its business members was enhanced funding for roads and transportation infrastructure. A total of $1.1 billion, when counting money for local governments, is a strong start. What’s even more important is the commitment legislators made to address longer-term needs in the 2017 budget-writing session.

All four legislative caucuses and the governor’s office offered plans and spent considerable time working toward solutions. That is an excellent sign of even better things to come. In the education arena, the disastrous ISTEP test implementation in recent years led to several needed pieces of legislation. Teachers and schools will not be negatively impacted by the 2014-2015 test results, but all-important accountability remains in place and a summer panel – with the Indiana Chamber at the table – will determine a more suitable testing future for our state’s students.

Other positive legislative results included funding the third Regional Cities program, scholarships for prospective top-of-their-class teachers, a long-sought solution to the unregulated lawsuit lending industry and saving hundreds of millions of dollars with more appropriate property tax assessments of large retail facilities (aka “big box” stores).
Unfortunately, there were also two significant missed opportunities. Indiana must be seen as a welcoming place for all in order to retain and recruit top talent, new business investment and tourism. Failing to pass civil rights legislation doesn’t put Indiana in the strong position it could have been, or arguably needs to be. While this proved a bridge too
far for legislators to cross in this election year, all of our state leaders must find a way going forward to work together to craft a solution.

Despite bipartisan support, implementing a work share program barely even got out of the starting gate. Work share would benefit employees, employers and communities when the next economic downturn occurs. At the request of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), the Indiana Chamber partnered with them to commission an independent study of why a work share program is needed. The Chamber also took the extra step of identifying viable funding options for the program’s administration. However, DWD still was unable to get on board. Until they do, this policy will, unfortunately, face an uphill climb.

If these last two items had been added to the plus column, we might just be talking slam dunks and grand slams. Still, there will be another game in town next year, and the Chamber will be back at it – pushing these policies and others that support making Indiana a more prosperous place for employers and their employees.

Read further analysis from Brinegar on several of these issues in this summary

Four Areas Where Gov. Pence’s State of the State Address Missed the Mark

?????????????????????????????????????????The 2016 session of the Indiana General Assembly may be short in time but, as usual, there is a long list of important issues. In outlining his priorities in the State of the State speech, however, Gov. Mike Pence fell short in four key areas.

First is civil rights expansion. After appropriately listening to Hoosiers since last spring’s public relations crisis, the Governor failed to articulate a clear vision. His words, depending on interpretation, bordered on telling legislators to do nothing at a time when action is needed.

The Indiana Chamber went through a similar lengthy listening process as public policy committees, the executive committee and the full board of directors (all comprised of representatives of member companies) debated the issue. Once a final determination was made, the Chamber communicated the decision that the members had voted to support the expansion of civil rights to protect sexual orientation and gender identity. Although not popular in all circles, similar clarity was needed from the Governor.

In the critical area of infrastructure funding, the Governor advocated against the only long-term solution presented thus far because it included several responsible revenue increases. As an organization that works each day to create and maintain the best possible business climate, the Indiana Chamber does not go looking for tax hikes. But in this case, they are necessary.

Third, on education, the “let’s take a step back on ISTEP” remark goes too far. Indiana already has a new test that measures our new, stronger standards. The test needs rebranded, not revised, and administered correctly to achieve the desired results.

Finally, there was no mention of work share, a common sense program to support employers and employees in an economic downturn. It will be needed at some point and the best time to implement it is now.

The Indiana Chamber has and will continue to communicate with the Governor and his staff our positions on these issues, which we believe are in the best interest of the state’s economy, employers and workers.

A Look Back at the Legislative Session: Some Major Accomplishments and a Few Missed Opportunities

statehouse-picMeaningful long-sought accomplishments mixed with a few missed opportunities and one highly unfortunate detour quickly tell the tale of the 2015 legislative session.

The Key Victories
The state’s common construction wage statute has unnecessarily cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on public construction projects over many decades. With the repeal finally in place, there will be open and fair bidding among all contractors for these projects.

Also gone: The hassle of filing personal property tax returns – or paying to have them filed – for what amounted to a very small tax liability for many small businesses. This will positively impact over half of all businesses in the state – some 150,000 in total. The throwback rule – really an unfair and inappropriate tax – is eliminated, too. It allowed for Indiana to tax whatever portion of your business income that wasn’t already taxed in Indiana or elsewhere.

Other Good Outcomes
We have a balanced two-year budget that puts as much emphasis as the revenue forecast would allow in prioritizing K-12 education, higher education and expanding funding for career and technical education – all Indiana Chamber priorities.

Another focal point of ours is water resources. The General Assembly took heed of our study last summer and passed two important next-step pieces of legislation that center on getting better data on what water resources exist throughout the state.

The Governor’s Regional Cities initiative recognizes and puts an appropriate focus on the important concept of quality of place. It acknowledges that population within our state and elsewhere is shifting from rural and less populated areas to urban and suburban areas. Similarly, we are in an era where young adults are increasingly choosing the place where they want to live and then looking for employment instead of letting the job dictate their location.

We were also satisfied that a reasonable conclusion was reached regarding the property assessments of “big box” retail stores. As it was initially introduced, it would have been devastating for many businesses by putting far too much specificity into law.

Missed Opportunities and One Detour
Conversely, there are a few decisions that stand out as particularly unfortunate that more or anything wasn’t done.

A work share program that would benefit employers and their workers as well as repealing the smoker’s bill of rights for new hires are still facing resistance from key individuals, which is preventing the issues from even getting a committee hearing. Likewise, regulating the practice called lawsuit lending, which translates to prolonged litigation and more costs for employers, continues to be stymied by two legislators.

An issue we hoped was going to be properly addressed was the dysfunction between the state superintendent and the State Board of Education. The best solution and one we have advocated for the last 30 years would be to let the Governor appoint the state superintendent like he does all other agency heads. But we ended up with something not even a middle ground. Instead, Senate Bill 1 is a rather convoluted piece of legislation that does nothing in the immediate term to remedy the situation in the least.

And then there was the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the historical fallout and the “fix”. We were pleased by the legislative response to specify that in no way could that statute be used to discriminate against individuals or different groups of Hoosiers. We anticipate there will be efforts by legislators to further strengthen that stance next year.

State Superintendent Needs to be Appointed, On Same Page with Governor

It’s about good public policy. It’s about what’s best for students and teachers.

For nearly 30 years, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has supported having the state superintendent of public instruction be an appointed position. We did this when Republicans and Democrats controlled the governor’s office. And we have been far from alone.

In years past, the state Democratic and Republican parties have included it in their platforms. And in 2004, both Gov. Joe Kernan and challenger Mitch Daniels had it among their campaign proposals.

It may be surprising to some, but the Indiana State Teachers Association used to support having an appointed superintendent. However, the group changed its tune once its 2012 endorsed candidate, Glenda Ritz, was elected.

The Indiana Chamber has remained consistent with its position and believes politics should be put aside.

Having an appointed superintendent came oh so close to happening in the late 1980s during Gov. Robert Orr’s administration – passing the House and falling only one vote short in the Senate. Since then it’s mainly been a parade of governors and superintendents not on the same page on major education policy (regardless of which party held either office). That situation doesn’t serve the state, students, parents or teachers well.

Our governor campaigns on education issues and sets an education agenda. In order to be held accountable for that, he needs to be able to appoint the superintendent of his choosing. That way, we can be assured there is alignment with respect to education policy. Hoosiers can then hold the governor truly responsible for education and factor that into his performance assessment come election time.

Appointing a superintendent also means the person chosen comes from a broader pool of qualified candidates. And the selection should then be based on the person’s education and leadership merits, not political backing.

Many have known for a long time that the current system isn’t conducive to getting things done. That’s only been exacerbated the last two years with the divergent philosophical opinions of Gov. Mike Pence and Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Too often this has resulted in the State Board of Education at a crossroads, if not a standstill. That’s entirely unacceptable.

What’s more, the superintendent, as head of the state Department of Education, should be treated like every other agency leader. We don’t elect the superintendent of the Indiana State Police, commissioner of the Department of Revenue and so forth. All of those officials are appointed at the discretion of the governor. The Department of Education should be the same.

Indiana is already behind the times – and more than 35 other states – in acknowledging that an appointed superintendent serves citizens best. Our preference would be that realization happen sooner rather than later. We recognize the political sensitivities and pressures currently in play – though we don’t agree with bowing to them – and want to see serious discussion and action taken on the issue this legislative session.

Time for Work Share to Happen in Indiana

Work share is a positive option for both companies and their employees in times of economic need. It is a voluntary program that allows employers to maintain a skilled and stable workforce during temporary economic downturns.

Here’s an example of how it works. Instead of laying off 10 workers due to decreased demand, a company could keep the full workforce in place but reduce the hours of 40 workers by 25%. The impacted employees would receive three-quarters of their normal salary, as well as be eligible for partial unemployment insurance benefits to supplement their reduced paycheck.

Just like regular unemployment insurance, work sharing benefits would not fully cover lost income. They would, however, help mitigate the loss.

There is no negative impact on the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

Work share programs are in place in more than 25 states. They are intended as temporary solutions, usually lasting no more than six months. The biggest users are manufacturers, where work flow often varies based on current contracts.

Neighboring Michigan and Ohio passed legislation that authorized work share programs. Indiana failed to do so the last two years, despite support in both political parties. Let’s finally make it happen in 2015.

Comment Period Open for EPA’s Latest Carbon Regulation

Potentially devastating to our state. That’s how we view a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation to strictly limit carbon emissions from the nation’s existing coal-fired power plants. This latest proposal comes on the heels of a plan to put in place greater pollution controls for any new power plants.

The President has left no doubt that he is mounting an all-out war against coal. Congress refused to bite on a climate change bill, so he’s spending his second term trying to legislate via the EPA. Smart, necessary regulations make sense, but that’s the opposite of what we have here; it’s entirely unreasonable given our nation’s energy needs.

These EPA regulations also will barely even move the needle toward reducing carbon emissions (not even by 2% according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy), but they will deal a tangible blow to the national and state economies.

The Institute for 21st Century Energy predicts the regulations will result in a whopping $51 billion in annual economic losses through 2030. On top of that, some 224,000 Americans will lose their jobs and consumers will pay $289 billion more for electricity. Separately, the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated the electricity cost increase could be as much as 80%.

Most Hoosier businesses and families can’t afford to pay that, and they certainly can’t afford a slumping economy and job market.

The reality is that Indiana will be hit far harder than most states because it’s the number one per capita manufacturing state in the nation. Over 80% of Indiana’s electric power comes from coal, compared to only 45% for the country. Despite diversification efforts, coal remains Indiana’s primary energy source.

For decades, companies that have located in Indiana have often cited a reliable and affordable supply of electricity among the determining factors, according to site selectors and information gathered by state government. Losing that competitive advantage entirely is now a real possibility with coal coming under attack by the Obama administration.

We encourage you to let the EPA know your thoughts on this latest regulation by visiting www.indianachamber.com/EPA. Also, let your members of Congress know; they need to take action before irreparable damage is done to our economy.

Common Core Kept in Place

House Bill 1427 preserves the state’s Common Core academic standards and allows for continued implementation.

The Indiana General Assembly rejected the attacks on Common Core and allowed the standards, which the State Board of Education adopted in August 2010, to continue to be implemented. (Only the elements of the program not already adopted – such as testing and science standards – would be paused under HB 1427).

In another strong move, the Legislature mandated standards that include Common Core as the foundation and require college and career readiness criteria. By those standards still being based on Common Core, that should assure that Indiana keeps its federal waiver (that removed us from the federal No Child Left Behind program) and Title I funding for our schools.

It was also critically important that the ultimate decision-making on Common Core remain with the State Board of Education (as it does), which has adopted all previous Indiana standards (including Common Core) and doesn’t face the same politically-charged environment that exists at the Statehouse.

While we don’t agree that actual new adoption procedures are necessary, several positives could result from that. Further review of the Common Core standards would hopefully provide the general public with a better understanding of what Common Core does and doesn’t do. Plus it will give the state the opportunity to determine which, if any, additional standards we should adopt. (The Common Core multi-state agreement permits Indiana to add up to 15% of its own standards to the program.)

The Indiana Chamber advocated for the Common Core standards to be left in place, both for the merits of the program and the consistency of the rulemaking process.