Federal Highway Funding Deadline Nears

36601064The current federal funding stream for highways runs its course July 31. The Senate is looking at a four-year option, while the House appears more in favor of extending it through this year and soon revisiting the matter.

Every member of Indiana’s delegation is keenly aware of the situation. While in D.C. this week, the Indiana Chamber continued to advocate for a long-term solution to financing the federal Highway Trust Fund. A patchwork of re-authorizations that are often only for a few months is no way to manage transportation assets, set national priorities or plan for future needs. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in his letter this week to state departments of transportation:

“Congress’s failure to pass a long-term bill is of great concern to all of us who are engaged in the work of building and maintaining our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Careening from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflicted crisis undermines our system. We need Congress to break the cycle of short-term extensions; we need a long-term bill with significant growth.”

A Look at Indiana State Budget Estimates

19145168The monthly revenue estimates referenced in connection with Indiana’s state budget and commonly used to evaluate how Indiana is doing can be confusing because they change periodically and result in different baselines. First, there are the estimates on which the budget is formed – those established by the revenue forecasters in mid-April each year that a two-year budget is put together by the Legislature. And then there are the most recent revised estimates – updated by the forecasters each December.

If you look closely enough at the reports from the budget agency each month, you can discern the differences. Appropriately, the budget agency compares the actual monthly collections to the most recent updated estimate. But if you go beyond their summary, commentary and main chart you can find out how the monthly revenues compare to the original numbers on which the budget was formed.

Since we are now into the last month of fiscal year 2015 and the last month of our current two-year budget that was written in April of 2013, it seems a good time to look at just how well those forecasters did. While the numbers fluctuate considerably from month to month, with 11 of 12 months actual collections known, they are off by less than 1% (just .8 of a percent.) They projected collections of $13,152,600,000 and actual year to date collections were $13,042,800,000. They were off by $109.8 million, or eight-tenths of a percent, statistically as good as anyone can reasonably expect. In fact, it is pretty extraordinary and the forecasters are to be commended for such accurate work. Good, reliable projections are important to the fiscal integrity of our state.

And our fiscal picture doesn’t look bad at all right now. The collections now stand at $211.3 million or 1.6% above the revised/updated projections (those made in April of this year.) But it is not the estimates that are the real indicator of how the state is doing. It is a comparison of actual year-to-date collections that show actual growth. Those same monthly reports also show how the current fiscal year-to-date collections compare to the actual collections through the same period of the prior fiscal year. With the fiscal year nearly complete, Indiana is 3.6% above the prior fiscal year collections. And most encouraging is the 4.4% year-to-date growth in sales tax (our biggest revenue stream) and the 6.9% growth in individual income tax (the next biggest).

Boiling all this down there are two points: (1) the state forecasters do a great job, and 2) the present fiscal picture of the state looks good.

D.C. Fly-in is Your Chance to Speak Up

7324001Don’t sit on the sidelines when you could be influencing laws and regulations under discussion in Washington. Make an impact by attending the Indiana Chamber’s D.C. Fly-in on September 16-17!

The event offers business and community leaders an opportunity to speak with Indiana’s congressional delegation and key staff members during a roundtable discussion/dinner on September 16. The second day features a panel of national and state issue experts, followed by numerous group visits to congressional offices.

“It’s ideal to get in front of lawmakers in D.C. so they can go back to their offices and get to work on what you just talked to them about,” emphasizes Cameron Carter, Chamber vice president of economic development and federal relations.

By September, the 2016 presidential campaign will be in full swing with a number of members of Congress running for re-election. Dominant issues in Washington and beyond will include transportation, tax reform, repatriation of overseas funds, Obamacare and immigration.

Dennis Faulkenberg, president and CEO of transportation advising company APPIAN in Indianapolis, has participated in the Fly-in for as long as he can remember. He’s helped coordinate office visits on Capitol Hill the last several years.

“Since I’ve spent some time lobbying in Washington, I know the Hill and how to get from one place to the other,” Faulkenberg comments. “It’s really special to meet with members of the congressional delegation, and voice your concerns and opinions about business in Indiana.”

Cost is $149 per person and group discounts are available. Each attendee is responsible for securing travel arrangements. Discounted hotel rooms are available for Chamber Fly-in guests at The Liaison Capitol Hill.

The D.C. Fly-in is sponsored by Zimmer. The breakfast program is sponsored by Faegre Baker Daniels. Additional opportunities are available by contacting Jim Wagner at jwagner@indianachamber.com or at (317) 264-6876.

Update on the Way for Indiana Government Book

HereIsYourIndianaGov15Here Is Your Indiana Government: 2015-16 Edition is the most comprehensive guide to governance in the Hoosier state.

Since its development in 1942, this book has been used by the community and hundreds of thousands of students (from sixth grade to college level) to learn about Indiana and how Hoosiers govern themselves. A variety of local government and agency updates will be included in the new edition.

Topics include:

  • Interesting facts about Indiana (demographics, state song, motto, origin of county names, notable natives, etc.)
  • Historical highlights of Indiana government development
  • State government (explanation of its departments/agencies and their functions, updated budget information, contact information including phone numbers and web addresses)
  • County government (origins of the counties, the elective county administrative officials and their function, council function, powers of the counties, services)
  • Cities and towns (creation, city classifications, incorporated towns, municipal government, public works)
  • Township government (divisions, schools, boards)

Large quantity discount pricing is available as follows:

  • 1 to 9 copies: $19.50 each
  • 10 to 25 copies: $12.50 each
  • 26 to 50 copies: $10.00 each
  • 51 to 75 copies: $8.50 each
  • 76 to 100 copies: $7.50 each
  • 101 or more: $7.00 each

To place your order, call (800) 824-6885, order online or email publications@indianachamber.com.

Highway Trust Fund Has Some Potholes

36601064The Congressional Budget Office asserts the national Highway Trust Fund would need $3 billion in ADDITIONAL revenue to keep funding transportation projects through the end of September. And it would need $8 billion if Congress chose to extend funding authority until the end of 2015. Read more via The Hill.

Obviously, there are serious challenges facing America’s road infrastructure.

Cam Carter, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of economic development and federal relations, outlines the main problem.

“Congress needs to get its act together and summon the political will to fashion a long-term solution to the insolvency of the highway trust fund,” he asserts. “We’ve had our fill of short-term patches. Some will say that the highway fund is insolvent because today’s vehicles are more fuel efficient and that is depressing revenues going into the fund – and there is some truth to this. But, the greater truth is that Congress hasn’t raised fuel taxes to keep up with inflation since 1993 and that, more than anything, is the root of the problem.”

Lugar Leads the Way; Now About that Skills Gap

100_5793Our recent poll question asked you to tab the most influential Indiana senator since 1960. It can’t be too much of a surprise that Richard Lugar (foreign relations, nuclear security, agriculture and other areas of leadership) topped the voting. The results:

  • Lugar: 56%
  • Birch Bayh: 26%
  • Evan Bayh: 9%
  • Dan Quayle and Dan Coats: 4% each

The current poll (top right) seeks your insights on workforce challenges.

VIDEO: Mitch Daniels Discusses Cutting Government with Reason Magazine

Matt Welch of Reason magazine, a libertarian publication, sat down with former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels to discuss his thoughts on making government more efficient, as well as social issues, the debt and being president of Purdue University.

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.

A Badge of Honor for Bilingual Grads

????????????????They say a picture speaks a thousand words. That notion also holds true for State Seals of Biliteracy, which recognize high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in one or more languages in addition to English.

California led the way nationwide in adopting the seal (in 2011). Indiana became the ninth state to do so during the current legislative session.

This excerpt from an NPR story has more:

Beyond shedding a more positive light on bilingualism, proponents say the seal allows employers to distinguish between people who can get by in another language from those who are truly fluent.

Each state determines who gets a seal, but several national language organizations have created guidelines. Recommendations include: passing the AP exam, the International Baccalaureate exam or the Standards-Based Measurement of Proficiency.

Today, 74% of students who earn these seals are bilingual in Spanish. More than 165 school districts are currently granting the award.

One big question about the value of the seals is whether employers care about them. UCLA professor Patricia Gándara explored that question in a 2014 study. She surveyed 289 California employers, and found that they overwhelmingly prefer hiring a multilingual person. And, they said, they would favor someone with a certification that proves it.

Kruse, the Indiana bill’s author, says the seal goes beyond the obvious choice of speaking Spanish and English.

“A lot of businesses want to know, ‘Do you know Chinese? And how do I know you know?’ And you can have your certificate as verification.”

Cheer Earth Day, Not EPA’s Latest Moves

87741351Something to celebrate for Earth Day: Indiana’s air quality has not been as good as it is today in over 60 years! I remember the first Earth Day 45 years ago and for a decade served on the Indiana Earth Day board. I’ve witnessed step by step Indiana’s group effort to make the air cleaner and cleaner.

Today, more than 90% of Hoosiers live in areas that meet ALL air quality standards. In 2005, that number was only 61%. To monitor all the air quality and progress, Indiana operates and maintains more air quality monitoring sites than any other state in the Midwest on a per-person basis. We’re on top of it.

Indiana does have a few remaining air issues in pockets of the state, but those are being addressed. Whether that’s the lead level in Muncie, the ozone standard in LaPorte County or the one-hour sulfur dioxide standard in parts of five counties – all are making progress and should be remedied in a reasonable timeframe.

Still business and industry in Indiana and across the nation continue to be whipped by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with regulations that are grossly unfair and frequently tightened on a whim. All the vast improvements go unnoticed and the goalposts keep moving further and further away. Ironically, as our ozone levels have declined, the incidence of childhood asthma has actually increased.

The impact of EPA’s pending controls is real and will cost every business and person that uses electricity. Yet there is no real environmental benefit that will be realized. Industry in the U.S. and Indiana has spent billions of dollars installing expensive pollution control equipment. The data clearly shows that our emissions have substantially decreased. In other words, we’ve pretty much squeezed everything out of the ozone orange.

Over the many years, Earth Day has helped bring attention to industry practices that needed scrutiny. That was a very good thing. But the EPA is taking its efforts too far. It’s time for all of us to take a deep breath and exhale. And you know what? We can do that outside today because the air is so much cleaner.