Nate Silver: GOP Has 60% Chance of Taking Control of Senate

Nate Silver has built a brand as a successful prognosticator of U.S. elections — and fantasy baseball projections, for the record. So Democrats are understandably concerned about his prediction that Republicans will regain the U.S. Senate in 2014. The Huffington Post writes:

Cue the hand-wringing in Democratic circles everywhere: Nate Silver says the GOP will probably re-take the Senate in November’s elections.

After he ran the table in 2012, correctly predicting the electoral outcomes in every single state, Silver has become something of a modern-day oracle to political junkies.

On Sunday, Silver took to his new FiveThirtyEight website—and his new TV home on ABC—to deliver one of his breathlessly awaited prognostications.

Republicans need six seats to regain control of the Senate chamber. How many seats did Silver think the GOP would win? “Exactly six,” he told ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

Silver gave Republicans a 60 percent chance of wresting the Senate out of Harry Reid’s hands—a big blow to the final two years of the Obama presidency. In Silver’s words, that only makes the GOP “slightly favored” to win, and there are still very many months to go until November.

Sen. Coats Visits Chamber Office, Introduces Bill to Help Businesses

Senator Dan Coats was in the Indiana Chamber of Commerce office today promoting the bill he introduced — the Sound Regulation Act of 2014, to help Hoosier job creators. The bill would require every federal agency to engage in an extensive cost-benefit analysis to determine the actual cost, in dollars, of regulations under each agency’s jurisdiction.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the cost of complying with federal regulations exceeds $1.75 trillion every year, which amounts to more than $10,500 per American worker. Meanwhile, the number of pages in the Code of Federal Regulations has expanded from 71,224 in 1975 to 174,545 in 2012.

The aim of the bill is to reduce over regulation on American businesses — an effort the Chamber supports.

Here’s more on the bill from Sen. Coats’ web site.

Time is Now for Pres. Obama’s Overdue Support for Keystone XL Pipeline

The Indiana Chamber supports the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline as a means to reduce our national dependence on unstable governments, improve our national security, strengthen ties with an important ally and promote the production of Canadian oil. Based on a recent ABC News/Washington Post Poll, most of the country agrees.

Here’s a recent summary of the Chamber’s position:

Indiana and our country are deeply dependent on foreign oil sources from countries that are typically not our friends. Canada has vast oil reserves and is presently our number one supplier of oil. It is critical that we continue to have a positive relationship with Canada by supporting their oil production and the pipeline that will carry this crude. Many Indiana companies supply various products and materials that will be used to refine this oil and move it through the pipeline.

Additionally, the Chamber agrees with Deroy Murdock’s recent column for National Review Online that President Obama needs to stop wavering and approve this project. Read the full article, but here’s an excerpt:

Five years and five months have passed since TransCanada first asked the State Department to bless KXL. Since the pipeline would cross America’s international border with Canada, it requires presidential approval, typically influenced by the State Department’s guidance. Since TransCanada filed its application on September 19, 2008, State has been very generous with its advice, offering at least five different assessments on KXL:

• On April 16, 2010, State found that KXL would have “limited adverse environmental impacts.”

• On August 26, 2011, State stated that “There would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor.”

• On March 1, 2013, State virtually echoed its previous report when it ruled that “there would be no significant impacts to resources along the proposed Project route.”

• This past January 31, State concluded that “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the U.S.”

• On February 26, State’s Office of Inspector General rejected charges that the department’s KXL review suffered ethical lapses: “OIG found that the department’s conflict of interest review was effective and that the review’s conclusions were reasonable.”

Obama’s 61-month-long navel-gaze on KXL (atop the four months that State pondered the pipeline late in G.W. Bush’s presidency) is pathetic when compared with American milestones that were achieved in less time:

• NASA needed four years, from 1979 to 1983, to build the Space Shuttle Discovery.

• As OilSandsFactCheck.org outlines in an excellent infographic, it took just two years (1941 to 1943) to build the Pentagon — the world’s largest office building, and home to 30,000 military and civilian employees.

• The Golden Gate Bridge linked San Francisco and Marin County, Calif., after just four years and four months of work over one of America’s most unforgiving waterways. Construction began on January 5, 1933. Pedestrians first crossed the bridge on May 27, 1937; cars followed the next day.

• Hoover Dam required five years of construction (1931 to 1936). It was finished two years ahead of schedule.

• It took one year, three months, and nine days to erect the Empire State Building. Between January 22, 1930, and May 1, 1931, a force of 3,439 men built what became — at 1,454 feet — Earth’s tallest skyscraper.

Obama’s endless “study” of Keystone is disgraceful. If he believes it should be built, he should approve it. TransCanada will invest $5.3 billion to build the pipeline. Taxpayer cost: $0.00. While some 10.2 million Americans officially are out of work, KXL will offer direct or indirect employment to an estimated 42,100 people.

“These jobs are really good-paying jobs,” says Union Business Manager magazine. “They provide not only a good living wage, they provide health care, and they also provide pensions.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky calls KXL “the single largest shovel-ready project in America.”

Beyond the unemployed, all 315 million Americans would enjoy the steady flow of friendly oil from a NATO military ally. Every petrodollar exported to Canada is one less dollar shipped to overseas oil producers — such as terrorist-funding Saudi Arabia, gay-jailing Nigeria, and the Crimea-invading Russian Federation.

Work Share Plan Would Provide Options to Layoffs

House Bill 1338, authored by Rep. Tom Dermody (R-LaPorte), would create a new state work share program to allow unemployment insurance benefits to partially offset lost hours for employees on reduced hour schedules. It would also allow employees to continue employee benefits such as health care insurance that are unavailable if laid off.

Work share would allow you to keep employees on the job during a temporary slowdown, so that you can gear up quickly when business conditions improve. You wouldn’t have the expense of recruiting, hiring and training new employees. Also, you spare your employees the hardship of full unemployment.

Since work sharing is a cost-equivalent alternative to traditional unemployment benefits, the impact on the unemployment trust fund is neutral. However, federal grants provide money for Department of Workforce Development to set up administration of the plan and will reimburse the state for work-sharing benefits, making work sharing a net positive to the unemployment trust fund balance during the two years of the federal grant.

It would be a win-win for employers and employees, keeping people working, avoiding full unemployment benefit costs, and helping companies keep their skilled workers.

The work share program in House Bill 1338 is expected to receive a hearing shortly in the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Please take a moment right now to send a message to committee members urging them to support the work share program. It will only take a couple of minutes to send an email through the Indiana Chamber’s online grassroots action center.

Business Personal Property Tax Elimination a Priority

Right now, state legislators are weighing whether to move forward with key legislation in both the House and Senate to phase out, eliminate and/or exempt a major portion of the business personal property tax. The Indiana Chamber, Gov. Mike Pence and a host of tax experts believe this is an important and wise move to reform a tax that discourages business investment and job creation.

Please take a moment right now to send a message to your state legislators urging them to support a phase-out to elimination of the business personal property tax.

House Bill 1001, authored by Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero), would provide county officials the ability to choose to exempt business personal property taxes on new equipment – effectively a phase-out option. Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek), would eliminate the bottom 50% of filers of this tax – for whom tax receipts make up only 1% of total receipts.

Some background information and facts:
•    The effective property tax rate for commercial and industrial property taxpayers is near the top of the states in every category (big, small, urban or rural), and this is largely due to the state’s tax on business equipment.
•    Taxing the very machinery and equipment that allows companies of all sizes (79% of Indiana manufacturers have fewer than 50 employees) to operate, expand and create jobs makes little sense.
•    Our state is among the five or six states that tax business personal property tax at the highest rates. Most Midwest states don’t have the tax at all. We need to shift away from a tax that discourages business investment and job creation.
•    This is not a $1 billion hit to local governments. No one is advocating an immediate and entire elimination – and certainly not without restructuring for revenue replacements. This is a complicated issue because the tax funds local units of government, but there are a variety of options to replace lost revenues.

There is major support among legislative leaders and the rank-and-file for a phase-out to elimination of the business personal property tax. However, they are being inundated with objections from local government officials who simply don’t want a change. We believe economic growth and job creation should be the priority, not protecting the status quo.

Students Want to Work in Government

Edwin Koc, research director for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) says for today’s students “taking home a hefty paycheck and quickly climbing the career ladder are not as important. They prize personal growth and opportunities to contribute to their communities over financial gain.”

NACE is a respected leader in its field. When it asked thousands of students expected to graduate college at the end of this academic year to identify the top industries in which they preferred to begin their careers, the leaders — by a wide margin — were:

  1. Government
  2. Human Services
  3. Education
  4. Social Services

A Mississippi State University professor adds, “The motivation to work in the public sector stems from a desire to help others. Young people in America are socialized with that aspect in mind.”

The comments from the 2013-2014 class are being backed up by students in the last few years who are enrolling in public administration or public affairs graduate problems at high levels. For example:

  • Graduate enrollment at the Ohio State University John Glenn School of Public Affairs has surged 48% since 2008
  • Overall, a Council of Graduate School study revealed first-time enrollment for public administration and services programs equaled growth for engineering students and outpaced business degree enrollment

Some would consider this a troubling trend due to the private sector struggling to find workers with the appropriate skills. I’ll go the other way, pointing out (as the Governing article does) that many of these students with public administration training end up pursuing careers in the non-profit or private sectors. More importantly, the attitude of serving the public and wanting to make a difference is strongly welcomed.

What to Expect From Congress in an Election Year

The answer to the query in the headline is “not much,” but that is considered a vast improvement over recent years. Here is the analysis from Bo Harmon, vice president of political affairs for BIPAC.

There are a number of legislative items that members of both parties acknowledge need to be addressed. Implementation of Obamacare. Immigration reform. Tax code and entitlement reform. A long term solution to the debt ceiling crisis. Privacy security. Patent reform. Trade.

With all of these issues, the public increasingly frustrated with gridlock in Washington, and an election coming up where Congress will want to be able to talk about their accomplishments, we should expect to see some major legislative action in 2014, right? Wrong. Well, mostly wrong. There is actually a glimmer of hope that 2014 will produce more than 2013. Though, that’s a bit like saying “we scored zero points last game and expect to do better than that this time.”

The reason that Congress hasn’t accomplished much since 2010 is the same reason we don’t expect to see much more in 2014. With the House in the hands of Republicans and the Senate and White House controlled by Democrats, and each side increasingly responsive to the most ideological polarizing parts of their base, they disagree on how to proceed. Both sides understand the things that need to be addressed, but there is zero consensus on how to do it.

The Obamacare debate is a prime example. Not a single Republican in either chamber voted for original passage though many key features of the legislation were included in previous GOP health care reform bills. Once Republicans took the House in 2010, GOP leadership took the position that repeal of the legislation in total was the only option and have refused to offer or support tweaks or fixes to problems. The Republicans believe “it’s not possible to ‘fix’ something fundamentally incompatible with our ideology.” Politically, they also believe if the legislation fails they will benefit and thus have little political incentive to improve the law. From their perspective, it is BETTER politically to have as many things go wrong with ObamaCare as possible.

This same standoff occurs on issue after issue – taxes, immigration, entitlement reform, etc. But, it is a new year and in our optimistic resolutions, we see some possibility of federal action on a handful of bills. There was a small bright spot in December when a two-year budget compromise passed that would avoid the possibility of a shutdown and eliminated some of the most irrational sequester cuts. This rare bipartisan effort was criticized by many however as small ball for not addressing bigger, long term issues. Even still, it was the best that could be achieved in the current gridlock environment.

The environment is also different than it was in 2013. At that time, Democrats were emboldened by the President’s popularity and felt little need to compromise, believing they had received a mandate from the 2012 elections to do as they wanted. With the President’s approval ratings significantly lower now, the confidence to act as boldly is similarly evaporating. Conversely, Republicans spent 2013 in fear of retribution from the Tea Party. Now, Boehner in the House and McConnell in the Senate have openly broken ranks with the Tea Party and seem almost eager to act in ways that show consensus.   The budget deal and the changed political environment provide the foundation for some compromise legislation to take place on issues that need to be addressed. Small, incremental changes to a handful of issues is possible, likely driven by the middle. We may see some movement on immigration, trade, patent reform, etc; even if more contentious things like tax reform remain unlikely.

While many would like to see more comprehensive solutions and small, incremental changes to immigration or Obamacare implementation may not be at the top of your industry agenda, we are dealing with a situation where NOTHING has been getting done and we need to make an effort to support and reward even baby steps at basic government functionality. Only then will members of Congress have the political courage to attempt larger, more comprehensive changes and take a look at issues that are at the forefront of your industry agenda. It is a shame that we have reached this point where expectations for our Congressional “leaders” is so low but they have demonstrated over the last three years that nothing else can be expected from divided government driven by ideological extremes.

 

The Personal Side of Politics

My seven year-old daughter recently got excited about the memory of walking in a parade in last year’s campaigns. We were there on a weekend afternoon with a candidate backed by the Indiana Chamber’s non-partisan political action program.

“Daddy, we talked to the governor, the senator and played with their dog …” I remember all the complaining about how her feet hurt and carrying her half the parade route, but I smiled that she remembered a “political” experience warmly.

It’s a darn shame so few in our society ever really get to have a positive and personal relationship with the people who run for office and represent them. It’s hard to hate someone who you’ve looked in the eye, made a personal contact with and shared something with – even just a pleasant greeting.

The airwaves are filled with vitriolic rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and anger on both sides. The incentives in politics are all out of whack, as activists and media are driven to conflict and division. At times it seems the only time politicians are portrayed as personal or human is when they screw up.

I didn’t come from a political family. However, I still remember being not much older than my daughter one fall morning when my congressman knelt down to shake my hand and say a kind word. I respected that man for a decade to follow, even when I worked tirelessly to defeat him later as a young adult in the political business.

It’s a shame more of our children and adults don’t get the chance or care to make a personal connection with political leaders.

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.