Paving the Way for Good Roads

PollQuestion

We’ve got a new poll question (top right) asking about a strategy to pay for long-term infrastructure funding. The current House Republican plan calls for a modest gasoline tax increase and higher cigarette taxes (that would go toward Medicaid spending, with sales tax funds currently used in that area shifting to transportation).

More details on the legislation: HB 1001

The most recent poll asked for your top legislative priority. Civil rights expansion (36%) topped the list, followed by increased transportation funding (28%) and education testing reform (16%).

Work Share Gets Dog and Pony Show, but No Vote

statehouse-picThe 2016 legislative session marked the first time in the last several years that the work share policy made it to the hearing stage, despite having strong bipartisan support. Still, the Chamber knew in advance of the hearing that Rep. Doug Gutwein (R-Francesville), chair of the committee, was probably not going to take a vote on the bill. Our plan was to give it our best shot and hope that the chairman would change his mind.

The bill’s author, Rep. Ober, testified that work share is a win-win for employers and employees, and he laid the groundwork for why the bill is important for both. Employers in an economic downturn retain skilled workers who receive partial unemployment compensation instead of being laid off. That means employers then do not have to rehire employees (and retrain) when the economy picks back up. Employees also retain their jobs and their employer sponsored benefits while drawing a prorated unemployment compensation benefit. Additionally, Rep. Karlee Macer (D-Indianapolis), a co-author on the bill, testified of her long-time support for the issue.

The Chamber presented study findings, released just this month; the research was conducted as a joint request by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Indiana Chamber. Noted economist Michael Hicks from Ball State University, the author of the study, was unable to be present for the hearing. The most important point made by the study was the impact on the economy. During the peak of national unemployment in 2010, Indiana having a work share program would have translated into $500,000 less in month to month income volatility and approximately 10,500 employees would have kept their jobs.

The Chamber would like to thank members Tom Easterday of Subaru Indiana Automotive and Mark Gramelspacher of Evergreen Global Advisors for taking the time out of their busy schedules to come testify before the committee in favor of work share. Their points to the committee were right on the mark. Easterday noted that Indiana is the most manufacturing intensive state in the U.S. Additionally, he talked about the state’s shortage of skilled workers and why retaining skilled workers during an economic downturn is so vital to manufacturing in Indiana – and a work share program can help accomplish that.

Gramelspacher testified, “There is a better way to run the unemployment program and that is work share. It creates a win-win from a lose-lose. This is a rare opportunity for the legislative body. Work share allows employers to maintain the employment relationship with known individuals and people that employers have already recruited, interviewed, tested, trained and invested in.”

The Indiana Institute for Working Families and AFL-CIO testified in favor of the bill as well.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association (IMA) testified that previously it was not supportive of work share, but because of the Chamber’s recent study it recognized the benefits and now supported the concept. However, the IMA then proceeded to express various concerns for implementing the actual program.

Prior to the hearing, the DWD representative acquiesced that the Chamber had been able to remove most of the agency’s arguments in opposition to the bill. In testimony, however, DWD opposed even moving the bill out of committee for further debate. That was a curious strategy, given the discussion before the hearing and the fact that the agency partnered with the Chamber on the study.

The Indiana Chamber brought forth two viable options to pay for the minimal cost to set up a state work share program and maintain it annually.

Nonetheless, the committee chairman followed DWD’s lead and announced at the close of the hearing that no vote was being taken then or essentially anytime this session.

Once again, here is why work share would be extremely beneficial for the state:

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.

‘Lawsuit Lending’ and Asbestos Litigation Bills Expected

statehouse-picLast month the Indiana Chamber reported that a Colorado Supreme Court decision determined that “lawsuit lending” is a loan and will be regulated under the Uniform Consumer Credit Code (UCCC) in Colorado – and that it could impact what happens in the Indiana General Assembly. (Lawsuit lending is the practice of advancing money to a plaintiff/someone involved in an accident in anticipation of winning a lawsuit in court. If the plaintiff is awarded a settlement, the advance must be repaid at considerably high interest rates. If the plaintiff loses the suit, there is no obligation to repay the loan.)

Representative Matt Lehman (R-Berne), recently elected the House GOP Floor Leader, has indicated that he indeed will be filing his annual lawsuit lending bill – though it will look different. Previously the measure was titled Civil Proceeding Advance Payment Transaction (CPAP), which was defined as a nonrecourse transaction in which a person (CPAP provider) provides to a consumer claimant in a civil proceeding a funded amount. However, this year’s version will mirror the language in Colorado. The 2015 language specifically stated that the UCCC does not apply to a CPAP transaction; but his year’s bill (although not yet filed) will place the transaction under the UCCC.

Separately, Rep Tom Washburne (R-Evansville) will be filing a bill regarding asbestos litigation. It’s expected to require a plaintiff who files a personal injury action involving an asbestos claim to provide information to all parties in the action regarding each asbestos claim the plaintiff has filed or anticipates to file against an asbestos trust. The bill’s intent is to provide transparency to asbestos litigation and to discourage a plaintiff from being able to file an asbestos suit against an employer and also file a claim to an asbestos trust.

RFRA 2.0 and Road Funding

statehouse picElection year dynamics, conservative Republican super majorities and the non-budget nature of the “short” session create the context for all issues facing the Indiana General Assembly in 2016. In economic development, the only issues to see much traction are adding LGBT civil rights protections to the Indiana Code and a short-term fix for the state’s roads and highways with an emphasis on local funding. Other issues will arise, but are unlikely to gain much attention.

Last spring’s rancorous debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) damaged Indiana’s brand in the international marketplace for jobs and investment. It led to an economic boycott of Indiana, a viral trashing of our state’s reputation in the international media and a black eye for our state’s political leadership. Moreover, the enduring stigma attached to Indiana as a discriminatory and unwelcoming place, especially among a Millenial generation that represents our future workforce, endangers our prosperity. That is why the Indiana Chamber has made adding protections for the LGBT community in state law a priority for the upcoming session.

New legislation will start in the Senate, where Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) has drafted a bill that attempts to strike a balance between the religious and LGBT communities. The bill, as it stands, will probably not make either of those constituencies happy. The synopsis prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity while also providing protection for religious liberty and conscience. Additionally, it also preempts local civil rights ordinances that conflict with the state civil rights law. Look for an interesting debate as the session progresses.

In the area of transportation infrastructure, the General Assembly likely will take only baby steps to address an acknowledged nearly $1 billion annual funding gap between current revenues and maintenance needs. Legislative leadership seems content to wait until 2017 before pursuing any significant changes to the way Indiana funds its roads, bridges and highways. Nevertheless, armed with the results of a major road funding study by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) presented over the summer, all legislators will be able to evaluate proposed solutions in 2016 – it is just unlikely that they will move on them, especially any tax or fee increases. (The INDOT study examined existing fuel excise taxes, their future revenue potential and alternative funding mechanisms and revenue streams, such as vehicle miles traveled [VMT] or tolling.)

The legislation to watch is HB 1001, which will contain a number of reforms and potential funding mechanisms based upon the initial data from the INDOT study. The Indiana Chamber collaborated with key legislators in crafting HB 1001, which can be likened to a block of stone delivered to a sculptor’s studio: It will be an array of many options that will be chipped away at during the legislative session, hopefully into something recognizable (and helpful) in the end.

The condition of our infrastructure has already become highly politicized with partisan accusations and dueling proposals from Gov. Pence, House Democrats and the Republican majority caucuses, but nevertheless we expect several issues to be examined in sobering detail: gasoline and diesel fuel excise tax increases; fees for electric or alternative-fuel vehicles; repurposing the 7% sales tax on gasoline for the state’s highway fund; and a discussion of indexing fuel taxes for inflation, among other proposals.

Given the controversial nature of these topics and a near allergic reaction by politicians to tax increases in an election year, we anticipate it will be a very contentious and interesting session.

Speculations on Tax Matters for the 2016 Session

What’s in store for 2016 relating to tax issues? Nothing is too clear just yet, but there are a couple significant areas of speculation:

Revisiting “Big Box” Commercial Assessment: This issue was addressed last session in SB 436. But most expect it to be brought back up again in some fashion in 2016. The Indiana Board of Tax Review (IBTR) has raised several legitimate questions about exactly how the changes in SB 436 should be interpreted. Ambiguities will make application of the new laws difficult for the IBTR. This has led some to conclude that a different approach may be better than what was passed last year.

The focus has remained on what is properly considered a “comparable sale” for appraisal/assessment purposes when evaluating a special-built commercial structure. The discussion has turned to an appraisal concept referred to as “market segmentation”, essentially a method for narrowing the field of sales that should be considered reflective of the value of these more limited purpose buildings. Other ideas revolve more around how the IBTR goes about its adjudicatory work and whether some additional procedural adjustment and guidance from the Legislature would be beneficial.

Push for Combined Reporting: Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek), chairman of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, is apparently entertaining the idea of changing the requirements relating to how a corporation must report its income. Under current law, a corporation files its return based on the separate, independent status of each corporate entity, without regard to its affiliation or business relationship with other entities. Nevertheless, the Department of Revenue (DOR) is authorized to require a corporation to combine its income with that of an affiliated/related company in a “combined reporting” if there is such a connection between the companies that the DOR views them as having a unitary business purpose and believes they should be treated as one for taxation.

A good number of states make such combined reporting mandatory in all cases, and the speculation is that Sen. Hershman is thinking about putting Indiana in that category. But this would be a very controversial move and is fraught with a myriad of economic, political and practical issues. Not the kind of matter typically taken on in a non-budget year; perhaps he wants to float it this year to spur discussion. The Indiana Chamber has a long-standing position against combined reporting.

Legislative Directory Goes Digital to Meet Your Needs

LegDirectory16-Cover - Copy3For lobbyists, government affairs professionals and others, the Indiana Chamber’s Legislative Directory has long been a useful tool. This helpful booklet contains all the contact information you need for all 150 state legislators: committee and seat assignments, photos, biographies and much more.

But what if you didn’t have to carry a book around to have this information? What if you could simply use the smartphone or tablet to which you’re already tied?

Now you can with the new and improved Legislative Directory App.

“We’ve worked with Indiana-based Bluebridge to develop an app that will be ready for use at the beginning of the session,” explains Indiana Chamber Publications Director Matt Ottinger. “I’ll be updating information as it comes in throughout December. We encourage you to take advantage of the technology, as it will be mid-January before the hard copies of the book are printed and available.”

Like the book, apps are now ordered through the Chamber. (You no longer download the app via app stores.) The Chamber’s customer service team will send you download codes. Bulk purchases are available for both the app and booklet.

Here are a few other benefits of the app:

  • Real-time updates to information throughout the session and beyond
  • Less expensive than the book, but contains the same (and more) information
  • Legislators’ contact info can be downloaded to your phone

And if you’re not a fan of apps or also want the information as you’ve always received it, hard copies are still offered.

See you at the Statehouse!

VIDEO: See Why Brandt Hershman was Named 2015 Government Leader of the Year

One of State Senator Brandt Hershman’s first jobs was in the White House. But thankfully he eventually moved back to Indiana, and is now considered a jack of all trades on the Senate leadership team. He “sweats the details,” and has helped make Indiana a fiscally responsible and business-friendly state. That’s why the Indiana Chamber named him the 2015 Government Leader of the Year.