Chamber’s Top Legislative Priorities in 2014

Eliminating business personal property tax, allowing employers to screen prospective hires for tobacco use and establishing a work share program are among the top legislative priorities for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in 2014.

“In many categories of commercial and industrial property tax, Indiana is among the very highest states in the country. That’s largely due to our taxing of machinery and equipment. It’s a remaining black mark on our tax climate – an area where we simply can’t compete,” declares Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“All of our surrounding states have done away with the tax except for Kentucky, which taxes personal property at a lower rate than Indiana. It’s past time to remove this burden that can greatly hinder business expansion and innovation.”

On the health care front, the Indiana Chamber is seeking to repeal what is termed the smokers’ bill of rights for prospective employees.

“This is an intrusion into the rights of employers in making hiring decisions. Holding smoking up to the same standards as we hold discrimination based upon race, gender, religion and ethnicity seems arbitrary and without justification,” Brinegar offers.

“There are other behaviors (such as substance abuse and having a criminal record) which are also personal choice and over which employers do have discretion in hiring decisions; this reinforces that the state’s protection for smokers is unnecessary and not well founded.”

One policy the Indiana Chamber believes would benefit employers, employees and the state is a work sharing initiative that would allow employers to maintain skilled, stable workforces during temporary economic downturns.

“Employers would be able to reduce hours without layoffs and provide unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours. Then when circumstances improve, employees could return to full-time work status for the company,” Brinegar explains.

“What’s more, a federal grant is available for three years to pay for the cost of the program. It’s a positive scenario for all parties.”

When it comes to K-12 education, Brinegar says the Indiana Chamber will continue to push for the absolute best academic standards for the state.

“That’s the bottom line. We need to improve student learning, meet the essential college- and career-ready requirement and have an appropriate student assessment system. Those elements all currently exist within the Common Core State Standards program, which we continue to fully support.”

Below are the Indiana Chamber’s top legislative priorities. The complete list is also available on the Indiana Chamber web site (www.indianachamber.com).

CIVIL JUSTICE
Support regulating the practice of lawsuit lending, in which a third party provides a plaintiff a cash advance loan while the legal case is pending. In turn, a plaintiff agrees to repay the advance (which is usually at a high interest rate) from the lawsuit proceeds. This practice complicates the legal process by forcing more cases to go to trial because the plaintiffs can’t afford to settle due to their repayment agreement with the lender. In turn, this causes more and more Indiana businesses to pay expensive legal fees. This lending practice is legal in most states, but regulation and transparency do not exist in Indiana.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Support a voluntary vehicles miles travelled (VMT) pilot program as a potential replacement for existing fuel taxes. With Indiana’s already insufficient fuel tax revenues for roads/transportation trending down and more fuel efficient and electric/hybrid vehicles on the roads, a new funding mechanism for road maintenance needs to be found. Owners of alternative-fuel vehicles, including electrical vehicles, should pay for the roads they use just like other drivers. Voluntary VMT pilots in other states are currently taking place and Indiana cannot afford to ignore this potential road funding alternative.

Support expanding the patent-derived income tax exemption to the pre-patent phase. This incentive change would allow innovative, high-tech businesses that typically pay high wages to qualify during the earlier patent-pending phase of the (often long) patent application process, thus carrying forward any credit. Many emerging businesses would find this helpful in capitalizing their start-ups and expanding hiring. (Current law states you must have had a patent issued by the federal government before you can apply for the exemption.)

EDUCATION
Support maintaining high-achieving academic standards, such as the Common Core, and allowing the State Board of Education (SBOE) to determine student assessments. Indiana needs standards that improve student learning and meet the college- and career-ready requirement. The testing component of the standards can best be determined by the SBOE.
Support a framework for the future development of publicly-funded preschool initiatives for low-income families. There is critical need for improved preschool opportunities, especially for low-income children whose families may not have the means to provide a high-quality preschool experience or to provide needed learning opportunities in the home. The Indiana Chamber supports publicly-funded preschool programs that are: focused on those families in greatest need, limited to initiatives that maintain parental choice, focused on concrete learning outcomes and integrated with reforms at the elementary school level that will maintain and build upon the gains.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT
Support a water policy to stabilize our economic future and effectively compete with other states. A policy/plan is needed in order for the state to effectively manage its significant water resources, as well as to ensure delivery of an adequate, reliable and affordable supply of water.

HEALTH CARE
Support repealing the smokers’ bill of rights for prospective employees from the Indiana Code. The Indiana Chamber believes that all employers should have the right to choose whether or not to screen and/or hire prospective employees who use tobacco products. Since employers are footing most of the bill for health care costs for their employees, they should be able to have some discretion in determining whether new employees use tobacco products or not.

Support reinstating the wellness tax credit. The Indiana Chamber supports this incentive to start a wellness program, which can increase attendance, boost morale and productivity, as well as positively impact health care coverage costs.

LABOR RELATIONS
Support a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns. Employers then could reduce hours without layoffs, enabling workers to keep their jobs – which hopefully could be returned to full-time status once economic circumstances improve. Also part of the equation: Unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT    
Support common sense simplification and reforms to local government structures and practices. Creating the option for counties to have a single county commissioner and county councils with legislative and fiscal responsibilities is one that several Indiana counties desire. There should be incentives to reward local government efficiencies and performance in the delivery of services to taxpayers.

TAXATION
Support legislation to reduce the dependence on the taxation of business machinery and equipment. This tax discourages capital investment, places a disproportionate property tax burden on businesses and puts Indiana at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states that have eliminated it or are moving to do so.

We Want Your (Our) Water

It’s water war time once again — maybe. We’ve reported in the past 18 months on a number of state battles over water resources, while all the time emphasizing the need for a comprehensive Indiana plan to ensure long-term supplies for our citizens and businesses. It’s part of our Indiana Vision 2025 blueprint.

The West and South are the locale of many such skirmishes, but the latest comes from the middle of the country. Namely, it’s the Missouri River and Kansas wanting to “divert” some of the water to irrigate crops in the western part of its state.

Some details, courtesy of the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper:

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has asked Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to back off of a feasibility study of Kansas taking water from the Missouri River to divert to western Kansas.

“The Missouri River is a resource that is vital to Missouri’s way of life and our economy,” Nixon said in a letter to Brownback.

Describing the Missouri River as the “lifeblood” of numerous communities, Nixon said the river provides drinking water and is used to ship goods to markets.

“We have worked for many years, and fought many legal battles, to ensure the River is managed properly,” Nixon wrote. “Thoughtful and reasoned discussion and cooperation, rather than unilateral plans for massive diversions, must be the guiding forces in planning for the River’s use,” he urged.

Nixon’s letter to Brownback was in response to the Kansas Water Office’s plan to commission a study on a proposal to divert water from the Missouri River and transport that water through canals some 360 miles to irrigate crops in western Kansas.

The so-called Kansas Aqueduct Project has been on the shelf for decades, but has recently been re-emphasized by water officials in Kansas.

Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, said the idea is to divert water at high flow or flood times on the Missouri River. That would help Kansas farmers and alleviate downstream flooding on the Missouri, he said. The water office is the state’s water agency, which conducts water planning and helps make state water policy.

But Nixon said while Missourians have suffered through flooding on the Missouri River, they have also depended on the river during droughts.

 

Asian Carp Forums to be Held Around State

You've likely seen the videos of people driving boats down the Mississippi River and other systems as large fish fly into and around the boat. While it makes for amusing video, the introduction of Asian carp into the ecosystem is a concern for many.

The Indiana Catfish Conservation Assocation recently posted the following notice, and the Indiana Chamber is happy to be involved with these education forums:

The Indiana Wildlife Federation in partnership with the Little River Wetland Project, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Indiana Forum, Inc. announce three educational forums to be held this fall.

The meetings will cover the progress of control efforts to keep Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species out of the Great Lakes. The forums will also provide background information in preparation for the Army Corp of Engineers report expected to publish in January, 2014, which will present alter-natives for stopping Asian carp and all aquatic invasive species transfers between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basins.

All stakeholders and the public are invited to attend.

Registration is not required.

Email info@indianawildife.org or call 317-875-9453 or 800-347-3445 for more information.

November 6, 2013 – PORTAGE
3:00-4:45 pm CST
Northwest Indiana
Forum, Inc.
6100 Southport Road
Portage, IN 46368

November 14, 2013 – FORT WAYNE
6:30-8:30 pm EST
Allen Co.
Public Library
900 Library Plaza
Ft. Wayne, IN 46802

November 19, 2013 – INDIANAPOLIS
3:00-4:45 pm EST
IN Wildlife Federation
708 East Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202

Pollution Too High or are Standards Too Low?

The recent news that parts of five Indiana counties have been pushed out of attainment for ambient air quality and exceed a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for sulfur dioxide comes as no shock.

Indeed, the U.S. EPA continues to lower the standards, making it increasingly difficult for communities to meet the new requirements.

U.S. EPA officials point to coal-fired power plants as the main contributors to the release of more sulfur dioxide than is permitted in the new standards. Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas that contributes to acid rain that damages the environment and can worsen breathing problems.

Parts of Marion, Morgan, Daviess, Pike and Vigo counties are the ones that have now been pushed out of attainment. For a number of years, all 92 counties have met the necessary levels for ambient air quality standards. But the U.S. EPA has continued to tighten the belt on standards that measure carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.

Hoosier regulators now have 18 months to draft a plan telling how the counties will come back into compliance within five years.

So it sounds like Indiana’s air is just dirtier than ever, right?

Nope. In fact – it’s much cleaner than it’s ever been in our lifetimes. This 2011 BizVoice® story on the state of Indiana’s environment points to significant improvement in Hoosier air, water and land quality. But that’s hardly the story everyone hears.

For the story, I spoke with Dr. William Beranek Jr., president of the Indiana Environmental Institute, a third-party forum for analysis and understanding of Indiana’s environmental protection laws, rules and policies.

This is what he told me at the time: “We have been steadily and significantly improving across this timeframe (past 20 to 30 years), by sulfur dioxides, by nitrogen dioxide, by ozone, by lead and by particulates,” he explains.

“One of the challenges we’ve had across this time is that the technical community – for better or worse – has been steadily determining that some of those parameters are actually more harmful to human health than we had thought. Therefore, while we had been steadily improving the quality of the air, the indicator of whether we have good air has been steadily tightening. We’re at a point where we’re just as far from the finish line as we were when we started.”

Another expert on the matter: Bernie Paul, president of B Paul Consulting and former air quality expert for Eli Lilly & Company, also pointed to the federal process used for evaluating and changing air quality standards – starting with the Clean Air Act of 1970. That legislation was written so that all standards are re-evaluated every five years, and that cost implications cannot be taken into consideration when creating air quality standards.

“For a public agency to have to re-evaluate technical information every five years, when it takes 10 years to execute the plans to bring the air quality level down to where they set it, that’s a broken process,” he insists.

“A 10-year or even a 20-year review cycle would make more sense, because it takes so long for all of the implementation to be executed. We really can’t have a system where you’re constantly churning the standard.”

How does this relate to you? If coal-fired power plants are pointed to as the problem with these new regulations and the only way to match the requirements is to add more emission controls (or phase out coal altogether, as some would suggest), that means your electricity rates will go up.

Organizations including the U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) provide estimates between 83% and 95% of Indiana’s electricity coming from coal-fired power plants. It affects jobs here too: the EIA ranks Indiana as eighth in coal production in the country.

These are just some things to keep in mind the next time you read a story about Indiana’s “dirty” air.

Don’t Let National Ceiling Fan Day Blow By Without Realizing its Importance

While many homes have ceiling fans, its possible homeowners don't often think about their importance. Our friends at Fanimation in Zionsville are hosting a party on August 17 to celebrate ceiling fan awareness, and have passed along some critical facts you should consider when it comes to keeping your home cool:

On August 17, 2013, Fanimation is hosting an awareness party to promote the first annual National Ceiling Fan Day to be held on September 18, 2013. The purpose of the day is to educate the American public about the benefits of ceiling fan usage. Studies published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend using ceiling fans to reduce or eliminate the need to use air conditioning because ceiling fans consume far less electricity. Many Fanimation ceiling fans consume 30-50 watts during operation while air conditioning systems can use upwards of 5,000 watts. If every American turned off their air conditioning for one day and utilized fans for their cooling needs, the United States would save over three trillion kilowatt hours of energy consumption…

The National Ceiling Fan Day Awareness Party is a free event held at Fanimation’s headquarters and is open to the public. Fanimation has organized fun activities for all ages. There will be live music, prizes, vintage cars and bicycles on display, free food catered by Dashboard Diner, a caricaturist and a Kids Zone with bicycle helmet fittings, energy awareness activities and face painting. Attendees are also welcome to tour Fanimation’s antique fan museum located on site. The party will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 10983 Bennett Pkwy Zionsville, IN 46077.

President of Fanimation, Nathan Frampton says, “Fanimation hopes to inspire the public to turn down their air conditioners and turn on their fans. They will notice immediate impacts on their electricity bills and they will also help the environment.” He adds, “We as a society have grown dependent on air conditioners, we use them in our cars and then continue relying on them at home.  America’s increased reliance on central air and the escalating cost of energy inspired Fanimation to initiate the first annual National Ceiling Fan Day on September 18, 2013.”

Also, here are some key facts to keep in mind:

  • 94 million of the 113.6 million residential homes in the United States use air conditioning equipment and 110.1 million use space heating equipment.* Studies published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend using ceiling fans to reduce or eliminate the need to use air conditioning because ceiling fans consume significantly less electricity.
  • If every American turned off their air conditioning for one day and utilized only ceiling, floor, desk or wall fans the U.S. would save over three trillion kilowatt hours of energy consumption!
  • Energy consumption (data published by General Electric)
    Electric furnace: 17,221 watts
    Central air: 5,000 watts
    Ceiling fan: 30 watts
  • Monthly Energy Cost (based on 15 cents/kilowatt hour)
    Electric furnace @ 5 hrs/day: $392.85
    Central air @ 5 hrs/day: $114.06
    Ceiling fan @ 24 hrs/day: $3.30

For more information on ceiling fans or if you're interested in purchasing one, contact Fanimation business development manager Teal Cracraft at teal@fanimation.com.

Indiana Can Win the Water Battle

(The following column from Vince Griffin, our VP of environment and energy, appeared in the Inside INdiana Business newsletter.)

Wouldn't it be nice if every time you got in your car, you had a full tank of gas? You wouldn't have to worry about where you were going to fill up next or how much it was going to cost. Unfortunately, this is how most Hoosiers view the state's water supply.

Right now Hoosiers are using water with little to no regard for where it will come from in the future. Most people take for granted everyday things such as how they are able to have water available every time they turn on the faucet. As the most manufacturing-intensive state in the country, Indiana uses vast amounts of water each day to keep its economic engine operating. The aquifers and rivers also support agricultural production in Indiana that contributes almost $38 billion to the state's economy.

This abundant resource may become unreliable if we do not take the proper steps now. Indiana, along with other states east of the Mississippi River, currently doesn't have a plan that secures its long-term water supply.

A clear and concise strategy is required for getting water to Hoosiers who will need it most. In order to do this, three questions must be answered:

1. Where is the water?
2. Who needs the water?
3. How do we get the water to where it is needed at the right time?

Central and southern Indiana have fewer aquifers than the northern half of the state. Without some policy that promotes regional distribution systems, development could be geographically constrained. Regional supplies would alleviate those concerns.

The Ohio River could serve as one resource. Twelve billion gallons of water flow through several Indiana cities and towns that sit on the river. At several points along the Ohio, there are ranney wells built during World War II to collect water from the river. But they have not been used in recent years. By adding pumps to these wells and building a system to distribute the water farther north, future shortages could be addressed.

Other options also would be available. All would be focused on moving the water to where it is needed. Doing so will help stabilize the economic performance of southern Indiana.

Lessons can be learned from Texas. Despite experiencing a tremendous population growth, it has no usable water source. In order to combat this problem, the state is divided into water regions. The supplies being used by each are closely tracked and, depending on consumption, water moved to the regions that need it most. This system allows for continued economic growth as potential shortages are addressed.

While there are future challenges, now is a time of opportunity. Unlike many areas of the country, Indiana has water resources. We can invent our energy and water future by taking charge and planning for the future.

Senate Enrolled Act 132 in 2012, which enables the state to gather information from water utilities, will help policymakers make informed decisions. The data also will help the utilities make smart choices when it comes to distributing their resources. Utilities submitted their surveys earlier this year, and the combined findings will be reported in September.

By being proactive, Indiana can become an example for others to follow. Early commitment is also critical as projects to distribute water supplies, while tremendously beneficial, will be costly.

In a recent speech, Dr. Jack Wittman, a national water expert based in Bloomington, summed up the importance of creating a water plan: "The first state, east of the Mississippi, to come up with a plan is the winner."

Indiana has the opportunity to be that winner. The state will soon have the data; it then needs to use it. The goal is to have a plan in the next two years, then execute it to secure the water future for all Hoosiers.

Americans Say ‘Yes’ to Keystone XL

If public sentiment is a factor in the Obama admistration's final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, it's time to let the oil flow. The latest survey results are consistent with previous polls, except that the numbers in support continue to grow to even higher levels.

The United Technologies/National Journal survey says:

While the Obama administration mulls whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Americans are already decided. They support the project by a wide margin, prioritizing potential economic benefits over possible environmental consequences.

The poll finds that more than two-thirds of respondents, 67 percent, support building the pipeline to carry Canadian oil to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast; that includes 56 percent of Democrats. Less than a quarter of Americans, 24 percent, oppose the project, the poll shows.

The State Department is evaluating the proposal, and President Obama said last month that the pipeline should not be permitted if it leads to a significant increase in greenhouse-gas emissions. There is no timeline for a decision, but the State Department says it is evaluating the project in "a rigorous, transparent, and efficient manner."

In the question posed by interviewers, poll respondents were told that Keystone supporters "say it will ease America's dependence on Mideast oil and create jobs," while opponents "fear the environmental impact" of building the pipeline.

Congressional Republicans have been prodding the administration to approve Keystone, with the GOP House holding a symbolic vote in support of the pipeline in May. (That measure won unanimous support from Republicans, save for one member who voted "present," while 19 Democrats also voted in favor.)

These Numbers May Surprise You

Numbers are fascinating. Lisa Sprinkle, part of our Indiana Chamber accounting team, recently said in a BizReport article for our members that she loved numbers so much that she took extra math classes while in school. I wouldn't go that far. I'm more intrigued by the points people try to make through numbers and statistics rather than trying to solve quadratic equations or whatever it was I struggled with in school.

A few recent unrelated numbers I came across; kudos to Governing magazine for the compilation:

  • 90%: portion of tuition covered by the state for University of South Dakota law school students who agree to work in rural South Dakota counties for five years after they graduate. Similar to other programs for doctors and nurses, South Dakota is the first to goes this route with attorneys
  • 7%: amount by which Nevada's water supply is shrinking every year. Occasional summertime droughts are not the issue here; it's having a long-term water plan for our state (any state) to make sure business and individual water needs are met
  • 260,000: the project nursing shortage by the year 2025. Forty percent of the working registered nurses in the country are age 50 and above. More than 54,000 qualifed applicants were turned away from nursing programs in 2010 due to a lack of teachers

Texas/Oklahoma Saga Latest in U.S. Water Battles

We've discussed battles over water rights previously — and certainly will again. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court basically told Texas it has no right to claim billions of gallons of water on the Oklahoma side of the Red River. The Court reinforced an existing compact between those two states, Arkansas and Louisiana. Stateline reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday unanimously rejected a Texas water district’s attempt to tap river water in Oklahoma, settling a dispute that raised questions about state sovereignty and natural resources at a time when water is increasingly scarce and fought over.

The ruling found that the Texas authority had no right to the water in question, despite a four-state pact designed to ensure equal access to the water that flows in the Red River. The Tarrant Regional Water District had filed a lawsuit in 2007 saying Texas was entitled to some 130 billion gallons of water on Oklahoma’s side of the river basin.

As Stateline previously reported, the questions at the heart of the case have taken on increasing importance as drought and water shortages have strained water supplies and relations among many western states.

The dispute was seen as a potential test case for states’ rights over natural resources, but it’s likely the effect will be narrow, Marguerite Chapman, a law professor at the University of Tulsa, said.

“I think it affirms the integrity of an interstate compact as essentially a contract,” she said. “I don’t think it will disturb other compacts…the far-reaching effect would essentially be affirming the language that’s in the contract.”

The case centered on the Red River Compact that was signed by Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana and approved by Congress in 1980.

The compact grants the states “equal rights to the use and runoff” of undesignated, or unallocated, water that flows in the sub-basin where the Tarrant district is staking its claim — but only if flows to Louisiana and Arkansas reach a certain threshold.

“No state is entitled to more than 25 percent of the water,” the pact says.

The compact has been in place for decades, but Oklahoma lawmakers enacted a moratorium on cross-state transfers in 2002. When the original moratorium expired in 2009, the Oklahoma legislature overhauled the state’s permitting process to effectively exclude out-of-state applicants for water.

From One Chief Executive to Another on Coal and Carbon Dioxide

Frequent readers here or of other Chamber communications have no doubt taken notice of the alarming Washington trend of government by regulation. Numerous reports, the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Ten Thousand Commandments among the latest, have examined this dangerous development. Congress may be deadlocked, but government agencies are the ones putting the stranglehold on businesses in Indiana and throughout the country.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence weighed in this week with a letter to President Obama regarding carbon dioxide standards that are being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Pence writes, in part, that the "EPA is proposing a rule that will constrain any potential for an all of the above energy strategy and harm our economy in the process."

The Governor points out that Indiana will be particularly impacted because of its status as one of the leading manufacturing states. While the energy mix has been diversified, coal will remain the major source of electricity. Pence says, "The coal industry and electricity providers have made great strides toward lower emissions, and, as we replace our aging electricity generation plants, I have no doubt that we will find ways to lower emissions even further."

View the full letter – and let's hope Washington pays attention!