Cameron to EU: I’d Like to Dispute This Charge

I find Europe pretty intriguing at times.

It’s apparent based on the recent secession vote — although it didn’t quite pass — that many folks in Scotland are not happy with the United Kingdom. Well, now it seems the UK is not too enthusiastic about the European Union (EU).

The EU recently presented UK Prime Minister David Cameron with a bill for over 1.7 billion Pounds – to be paid by Dec. 1. It’s an additional payment to the 8.6 billion Pounds the UK currently pays. Cameron was rather displeased.

“It is an unacceptable way to treat a country which is one of the biggest contributors to the EU,” he told the BBC. “We are not going suddenly to get out our cheque book and write a cheque for 2bn euros. It is not going to happen.”

Considering Germany’s also been butting heads with its European partners over its commitment to austerity, it seems there’s a lot of friction across the pond.

Toll Road Tales: Good News for Taxpayers, Motorists

TReactions were varied recently when the company operating the Indiana Toll Road filed for bankruptcy. A researcher at the Harvard Kennedy School emphasizes the positive aspects of how that deal was structured and focuses on the continually evolving role of each party in such an agreement. Governing reports:

n 2005, two companies came together to form the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. (ITRCC), which won the right to operate the toll road in exchange for a $3.8 billion up-front payment. The deal limited how much tolls could rise and included a trigger requiring the consortium to expand the roadway if certain congestion benchmarks were reached. The $3.8 billion threw off about $250 million that was used to fund other state transportation priorities.

Like so many other enterprises, ITRCC was done in by the Great Recession. Its financing structure called for large debt payments at the end of the first decade, which proved overwhelming in the face of revenues that didn’t meet projections when the downturn hit and traffic volume fell.

But what’s reassuring is that motorists will see no interruption in service or toll increases as a result of the bankruptcy. The roadway is still subject to the same performance metrics, and there will be no taxpayer bailout. State officials will first try to find a new operator to take on the remainder of the concession deal. If that doesn’t work out, the ITRCC will likely be recapitalized with an altered debt schedule.

In either case, customers will retain the benefits from the $458 million ITRCC has invested since 2006 in road, bridge and pavement improvements and a new electronic tolling system.

While it appears that the Indiana Toll Road deal has succeeded at protecting taxpayers and motorists, that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from the bankruptcy. To maintain a true public-private partnership, governments might want to avoid taking the entire concession payment up front.

Chicago completed a similar deal just before the Indiana Toll Road agreement and couldn’t resist the temptation to use the upfront windfall to plug other holes in the city budget instead of using interest from the concession payment to maintain transportation infrastructure. More recently, public-private partnerships for Virginia’s Pocahontas 895 parkway and Colorado’s Northwest Parkway featured smaller upfront payments but give taxpayers a cut of the ongoing toll revenue.

Linking Veterans With Jobs and More

sThe Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs will be visiting eight Hoosier communities over the next several weeks, holding Community Outreach events that will offer veterans, active duty members and their dependents opportunities to connect with services and prospective employers.

All events are free. Registration is requested for planning purposes. Each event will be held from 1:00-6:00 p.m. (local time) in the following communities:

  • October 27 – Valparaiso – Porter County Expo Center, 215 E. Division Road, Valparaiso. Register
  • October 28 – South Bend – Ivy Tech Community College, 220 Dean Johnson Blvd, South Bend. Register 
  • October 29 – Ft. Wayne – Ivy Tech Community College, Coliseum Campus, Room 1640, Fort Wayne. Register
  • November 6 – Terre Haute – Ivy Tech Community College Terre Haute Main Campus, The Community Room, 8000 South Education Drive, Terre Haute. Register
  • November 13 – Bloomington – Ivy Tech Community College, 200 Daniels Way, Hoosier Times Student Commons, Bloomington. Register
  • November 20 – Columbus – Ivy Tech Community College, 4475 Central Avenue, Columbus Learning Center, Columbus. Register
  • December 4 – Lafayette – Ivy Tech Community College, Grand Hallway, 3101 S. Creasy Lane, Lafayette. Register
  • December 9 – Kokomo – Indiana Wesleyan, Kokomo Education and Conference Center, 1916 East Markland Avenue, Kokomo. Register

Additional outreach events will be planned for Muncie, New Albany, Bedford and Jasper. Those interested in attending events in these communities can find more information here or call (800) 400-4520.

“Each event will provide information and assistance with VA benefits, claims processing, remission of fees and even what to do if someone wants to enroll or return to college,” said Deanna Pugh, Director of Veterans Employment and Education. “The Indiana State Police, Dish, NiSource, United States Postal Service, Kroger and Lowes will be among the companies and organizations looking to hire employees to work in these communities.

“We will also offer Dale Carnegie sessions to help veterans prepare for interviews. We’re very excited about connecting our resources to our veteran communities and helping link those who have served our country with the many services designed specifically to assist them.”

A new state law that took effect July, 1, 2014, allows for approximately 26,000 post-911 veterans to apply for assistance through the Military Family Relief Fund. This new law eliminates the three-year restriction on access to the fund, which provides grants that may be used for needs such as food, housing, utilities, medical services, transportation and other essential family expenses. The Military Family Relief Fund has a balance of more than $7 million and lifting the cap will ensure those funds are available to support Hoosier veterans and their families.

Since its establishment in 1945, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) has remained focused on aiding and assisting “Hoosier” veterans, and qualified family members or survivors, who are eligible for benefits or advantages provided by Indiana and the U.S. government.

Breaking Bad? Google Chairman Warns That Governments Could Effectively ‘Break Internet’

WIn a recent event hosted by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Google Chairman Eric Schmidt offered an alarming prediction that governments, especially our own, could end up splintering the Internet into pieces. This, he argues, is because countries may prefer to operate their own Internet instead of allowing surveillance organizations, such as the National Security Agency, to collect data on their citizenry.

Wyden added that this would hurt American tech companies — and thus eliminate some American jobs.

Be sure to read the full National Journal article about these remarks, and watch the brief video featuring Schmidt’s comments.

IFA, INDOT Address Transportation Committee About Toll Road, Future Plans

The Interim Committee on Roads and Transportation heard from both the Indiana Finance Authority (IFA) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) on the Indiana Toll Road and current and future road infrastructure needs on Sept. 23. IFA Public Finance Director Kendra York and INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning testified.

York reviewed the status of several public-private partnership (P3) projects around the state, but most of the interest and questions concerned the pre-packaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the private operator of the Indiana Toll Road, ITR Concession Company, LLC (ITRCC) and its affiliates. ITRCC filed for bankruptcy on September 11.

York testified that the bankruptcy proceeding is expected to result in either the sale of all assets of ITRCC (including lease rights to the toll road) to a new entity or a restructuring of the existing debt. Under either scenario, the toll road will continue to be owned by the IFA on behalf of the state of Indiana. IFA will continue to have the rights it negotiated in the original lease agreement including the right to approve any new operator and that operator will be strictly held to the same operational standards set forth in the original lease agreement. There will be no change to the current toll rate structure under the lease agreement. Road operations will continue as usual during the bankruptcy process without impact to drivers, employees, vendors and the communities served by the road.

York said IFA will continue to monitor the bankruptcy and work with related parties to protect the public interest. In other words, any concerns about adverse effects of the bankruptcy proceeding on the toll road or the state of Indiana are misguided at best, misleading at worst.

Browning provided a broad overview of the state of Indiana’s roads and bridges during his testimony. When adjusted for inflation, INDOT is operating much more efficiently than in years past: Operating expenses in 2014 are approximately $74 million less than in 2005, but while INDOT is operating more efficiently, the state needs more revenues to address a growing need for maintenance of existing infrastructure, let alone expansion of the state’s highway network.

Within the next five years, all fuel excise tax revenues from the state’s highway fund will be required for maintenance of existing infrastructure; no funding will be available for expansion projects. Additionally, more than half of the state’s bridges are in the last 25 years of their useful life (50+ years or older) and will need significant reconstruction or remediation.

Both federal and state highway revenues are expected to remain flat or slightly decline due to a number of factors, including increased fuel efficiency standards and alternative-fuel vehicles. This will cause the state to have to look for creative ways to finance projects (such as P3s) or find new sources of revenue. INDOT is in the middle of a legislatively-mandated two-year study of needs and funding sources.

In short, while the state did well in the Major Moves era with strategic investments, it is facing increasing challenges to pay for future upgrades to its surface transportation network. New sources of revenue need to be found and the Indiana Chamber looks forward to the final analysis by INDOT in the two-year study.

Poll: Almost One in Four Americans Open to Separating from U.S.

CAlthough Scotland’s movement to secede from the United Kingdom fell a bit short at the ballot box, it appears it’s not just 45% of Scots who have separation on their minds.

And frankly, it’s no secret most Americans aren’t enthusiastic about the federal government these days. Between gridlock, behemoth budgets and trying to solve the health care puzzle, many have grown frustrated. Poll results explained in this Reuters article, however, are still a bit alarming.

Whoever takes the White House in 2016 may have his/her hands full in trying to unify the country. 

Congress Seeks Short-Term Fix to Highway Trust Fund Dilemma

The U.S. Congress voted last week to provide $10.9 billion to the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund the Highway Trust Fund in order to reimburse states for repairs and infrastructure improvements for roads, rails and airports.

The nearly $11 billion was cobbled together from general fund revenues by any number of budgetary gimmicks not rationally tied to the fuel (gasoline and diesel) excise taxes that normally go into the trust fund (e.g., an extension of customs fees as well as so-called “pension smoothing”).

Few lawmakers in the Indiana delegation (and the entire Congress for that matter) are happy that it is not a longer-term solution; those we spoke with were frustrated by the delay and the funding mechanisms. The Indiana Chamber agrees this is no way to conduct the people’s business, but it is better than the alternative of the highway fund going broke, work stoppages and the idling of hundreds of thousands of construction workers across the country. We will work with the delegation to secure a more rational bill and reauthorization of the multi-year surface transportation bill in coming months.

Indiana Chamber Endorses Four Members of Congress for Re-Election

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is endorsing four members of the state’s congressional delegation from Central Indiana:

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN, 4th District);
U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN, 5th District);
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN, 6th District); and
U.S. Rep. Todd Young (R-IN, 9th District).

“Good public service deserves to be recognized. These members of Congress continue to demonstrate sound fiscal policy and prudent decision-making on issues that are vital to jobs and economic growth,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

The Indiana Chamber’s nonpartisan congressional PAC determined the endorsements.

At both the state and federal levels, Indiana Chamber support is driven by vote scores on pro-jobs, pro-economy issues. For state endorsements, the Indiana Chamber relies on its Legislative Vote Analysis report. Congressional support is based on the vote tally conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Representatives of the U.S. Chamber, which also is supporting these candidates for re-election, joined the Indiana Chamber in downtown Indianapolis for today’s press conference.

The Indiana Chamber has been the state’s leading business organization for more than 90 years, representing over 800,000 Hoosier workers through nearly 5,000 member companies across Indiana.

Congress Can Do It, But You Can’t

An interesting blurb in a recent Kiplinger newsletter on one of the privileges of congressional service:

Congress can do what employers can’t when it comes to health coverage: use tax-advanced funds to reimburse workers who buy individual health care policies on exchanges. Employers face a tax penalty of $100 a day per worker for violations.

Yet the government gives lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers tax free contributions to help offset insurance premiums, covering about 72% of exchange-bought insurance. The government allowed the payments because of concerns about higher premiums and the loss of the government subsidy for insurance for both lawmakers and staff.

The IRS restated its view that such subsidies aren’t permitted in the private sector after some vendors told employers that the pretax payments would allow them to meet the mandate to provide insurance. The double standards isn’t likely to change.

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.