U of Indy Unveils Enhanced Digital Mayoral Archives


History is fascinating.

When we moved my grandmother to a long-term care facility several years ago, our family was sorting through some of the boxes of keepsakes she had stored in her garage, including items from her childhood.

At the time, I had a young daughter and came across a pamphlet of advice for new parents from the 1950s. It was shocking to see the words of wisdom I was being given today versus the advice of even recent history. Later, we found cookbooks from the 1960s and 1970s containing recipes filled with way too many Jello and cream cheese combinations. Yuck. But fascinating!

If you’re a student of history – or even have a passing interest in learning about those who came before us – here’s something you’ll love: the University of Indianapolis recently unveiled a digital tool that enables anyone to access information about Indianapolis civic history.

The “Digital Backpacks” collection is a free, interactive feature where users can create folders with items collected during the administrations of Indianapolis mayors back to 1968, including an emphasis on sports history.

“The Digital Mayoral Archives enhances the University’s ability to extend its reach beyond the campus,” said Institute Director Edward Frantz. “By connecting to the history of our city, University students also are able to comprehend the way in which the past interacts with the present.”

”We believe this will become a significant teaching tool in Indiana and an important resource for political scholars and armchair historians around the world,” added Frantz, a history professor at the University of Indianapolis.

The backpacks feature is an enhancement to the Digital Mayoral Archives created as part of an ongoing partnership with digital history leader HistoryIT, a Maine-based company that leverages technology to improve access to historical archives. In 2013, HistoryIT began the process of digitizing more than 600 file boxes full of documents, images, recordings and other artifacts from the administrations of Indianapolis mayors Richard Lugar, William Hudnut and Stephen Goldsmith, and from the records of Indiana politician L. Keith Bulen.

Today, more than 400,000 items, including previously confidential documents, are available online. Nearly 23,000 users have logged on and searched the Digital Mayoral Archives.

Victory! Software-as-a-Service Bill Set to Become Law

This week, the Senate unanimously approved the House changes to Senate Bill 257 (Sales Tax on Software). This bill began as a top Indiana Chamber goal; it was embraced by the administration and made a priority of the Governor, the Senate got it introduced and rolling, then the House took good legislation and made it even better.

The Senate concurrence vote means the bill is on its way to Gov. Holcomb and there will be SaaS (software as a service) tax clarity in Indiana!

This is exactly what the Indiana Chamber has been working toward since last summer and it is good news for the SaaS industry. Senate Bill 257 is a straightforward piece of legislation that can reap very real economic benefits for the state. We thank legislators for listening to our members and taking this important step forward to demonstrate Indiana’s commitment to embracing the growth of the SaaS industry. The legislation puts Indiana in a very favorable position to attract more and more of this burgeoning business to our state.

Key Workforce Development Legislation Still a Work-in-Progress

In the Indiana General Assembly, both House Bill 1002 and Senate Bill 50 have been significantly amended in ways that we support, but also in ways that give us some concern. We have strong support for the thoughtful and deliberate work on the study by the Legislative Service Agency of all workforce programs. It is extremely thorough and we look forward to the results of each year’s report and presentation. We also support the language regarding the Next Level Jobs Employer Training Grant program. The career and technical education (CTE) student information portal for local employers is a prime example of a creative model without having to spend extra capital. And we also support expanding the Employment Aid Readiness Network (EARN) Indiana program to include part-time students.

We hope to continue the conversation on the makeup of the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet in conference committee and have some questions as to how this will work in conjunction with the State Workforce Innovation Council (SWIC), a similar existing cabinet that is required to have its membership be 50% employers. We appreciate the language in the bill allowing the Indiana Chamber to be consulted with on a gubernatorial appointment for a business leader to the panel; however, we question why we cannot simply utilize the SWIC.

If we are tied to the idea of creating a new cabinet, we feel strongly that we should have more employer voices at the table, plus give the Indiana Chamber a seat as well. The Chamber’s place on the cabinet would provide historical knowledge on workforce issues, representing the voices of thousands of members and investors throughout the state and providing consistency when we have a new Governor who would make the majority of the appointees (be they employers or agency heads).

In close, though these bills are better and moving in the right direction, they still need work. The Chamber will continue to advocate for strong policies throughout conference committee.

What the Senate Leadership Changes Mean for the Business Community

The 2018 legislative session marks the first one without fiscal stalwarts Brandt Hershman and Luke Kenley, both of whom retired from the Senate – Hershman’s announcement coming just before Christmas. While it’s hard to replace such experience and wisdom, those stepping up to fill their shoes have been waiting in the wings for a while and should make for smooth transitions.

Back in mid-July, Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) was tapped to succeed Kenley as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is tasked with that chamber’s budget-writing duties. Mishler was the ranking member of that group for years and worked on the school funding formula component of the budget.

Senator Travis Holdman (R-Markle), who takes over for Hershman as chair of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, has been the long-time ranking member there and often assumed the chairman’s role during meetings. Holdman is well versed in the matters that come before the committee and the business community will continue to be well served by his thoughtful viewpoints.

To take that post, Holdman relinquished his leadership on the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee. The “next man up” there is Sen. Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg), who is a no-nonsense and intelligent legislator. He has been extremely helpful on labor issues and owns several businesses himself, so he knows the difficulties that businesses face. That perspective will likely also factor into how he handles the health insurance bills, which are now being assigned to his committee.

Short Session Starts With a Flurry of Activity

The Governor and General Assembly have continually heard from Hoosier employers on the need for a skilled workforce – and better aligning state programs with job demand. The good news is bills are being introduced to address those concerns. While only a handful of measures have been released to date, we are seeing legislation related to training tax credits and grants, as well as efforts to streamline current workforce programs. We anticipate a comprehensive workforce bill (1002) will be introduced in the House later next week.

The Governor’s computer science bill (SB 172) requires all public schools to offer a one-semester elective computer science course at least once each school year to high school students. We expect a hearing on this measure in the next two weeks. Both this and the workforce efforts are 2018 Indiana Chamber legislative priorities.

Senate Bill 257 has been introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) to serve as the beginning of discussions on clarifying the exempt status of computer software sold as a service (SaaS) – a Chamber priority. Holdman is also authoring another major piece of tax legislation, SB 242, which contains a variety of tax matters. The House bills are coming in too, with a good number already filed addressing local tax issues.

Speaking of local matters, the Chamber is very pleased to see that the House Republican agenda includes a bill that will make township government more effective and efficient by the merging of townships (approximately 300) where less than 1,200 people reside. Such local government reform has been a longstanding Chamber goal.

In addition to SB 257, other technology-related bills include Rep. Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) autonomous vehicle (AV) proposal to position Indiana to safely test and implement AV technology with automobiles. The bill also will address truck platooning, which uses GPS and WiFi technology to allow trucks to more closely follow each other for greater efficiency, on Indiana roads.

Rural broadband, high-speed internet and small cell wireless structures technology all will be topics for the Legislature to debate. Certified technology parks also will be discussed with the idea to have an additional capture of sales and income tax revenue for those complexes that perform well.

In health care, enabling employers to ask prospective employees if they are smokers not only heads the Chamber’s wish list but also appears to be gaining traction this go-round. Eliminating the special protections (currently in state statute) for smokers is found in SB 23 and will be guided by Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne). The bill has a pretty good chance of getting a hearing in the Senate – which would be a first. Previously, a measure was taken up in a joint hearing in the House.

Increasing the tobacco tax and raising the legal age for smokers to 21 are policies that likely will be included in a bill to be introduced by Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary). The Indiana Chamber is supportive of both.

Nine utility-related bills are on our radar screen at this point. They range from tweaks of last year’s big legislation (like SB 309, which addressed rising energy costs and a long-standing struggle between the investor-owned electric utilities and larger consumers of energy) to compulsory sewer connection, excavation for infrastructure, regulation of solar energy systems in homeowners’ associations and new water legislation. Separately, Sen. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) has a proposed ban on coal tar pavement sealer, which we oppose.

There are also a number of bills proposing changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws including: Sunday sales, cold beer sales by grocery and convenience stores, and increases in fees and penalties.

The Chamber will be providing more details on all of these bills as the session progresses.

For anyone who wants a refresher about how legislation becomes law, the Chamber has a handy guide free of charge. It includes a diagram of the bill process, a glossary of often-used terms and a look at where bills commonly get tripped up.

Additionally, the Chamber will be providing updates and issuing pertinent documents throughout the session at www.indianachamber.com/legislative.

Chamber Talks Workforce Needs, Impact of Opioid Addiction as 2018 Legislative Session Begins

As the 2018 General Assembly gets underway, the Indiana Chamber is highlighting three big issues expected to be debated in the coming days and weeks: workforce needs, the opioid crisis and smoking rates.

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar says, “We’ve done so well recently from an employment standpoint that we’ve almost outstripped our ability to hire skilled workers since unemployment is so low in the state.

“It’s clear we need to raise up the skills of those who are here, but the Indiana Chamber is also suggesting that perhaps we need to pursue a parallel strategy of recruiting people from out of state. Talent is more mobile than ever before and once people gethere, they really appreciate our cost of living.”

But make no mistake, Brinegar stresses, the state’s priority should be on the potential talent pool at home. That means some major changes will need to occur – ones that hopefully start in the new legislative session.
“What we’ve been doing wrong is saying, ‘Here is our program, you come use it and we hope that it will solve your needs.’ Instead, there should be a conscious effort to truly listen to employers and then develop training programs that are demand-driven to what the needs of the marketplace are now.”

Many of those jobs today and down the road are in the middle skills area – skills that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year bachelor’s degree. Brinegar states this should be a focus for both Hoosier workers who need to improve their skillset and young students.

“We know from our member companies that they are reaching down to high schools and even middle schools to explore with students what job opportunities there are with their companies, what skills they need to have, what classes they need to take in high school to be eligible to take those jobs. It’s becoming a lot more focused on getting people ready with some specificity for jobs after high school.

“There will always be the need for a number of jobs requiring a four-year degree or more, but the real growth is in show me what you know, show me what you can do, show me what machinery you can operate. That’s the mindset we need to have to transform some of these government silos … along with listening to employers and creating programs that communicate to young people what those job needs are.”

Additionally, the Indiana Chamber is partnering with the Governor’s office and the state’s drug czar, Jim McClelland, to be the source for the business component of the state’s plan to combat the opioid crisis.

“We will be researching on best practices, disseminating information to employers and putting on training programs. I’ve told the Governor’s office that we want to be part of the effort and part of the solution. It’s a big problem and it’s not going to be solved overnight, but this has become an employer problem in addition to a personal and societal problem,” Brinegar offers.

“We’ve rapidly gotten to the point to where employers almost can’t fire somebody for failing a drug test because there isn’t the depth in the workforce to tap into for new workers. Employers are looking for guidance. They want more information on what they can do, how they can train supervisors to recognize signs and know where the effective treatment programs are.”

The Indiana Chamber, a founding member of the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, would like the same urgency placed on reducing the state’s smoking rates.

“There are 10 times more people dying from smoking-related illnesses every year than opioids. And it’s the most preventable source of disease,” Brinegar notes.

“We need to improve our health metrics, including obesity, which are in the bottom third of the states. I rarely accept average for anything, but if Indiana rose to be just average when it comes to smoking, that would significantly curb health issues and save those individuals and businesses a lot of money on insurance coverage and health care costs.”

Indiana’s current smoking rate is at 21% of the population; the national average is 15%.

Enhanced workforce efforts and reducing the state’s smoking rates are among the Indiana Chamber’s Top 9 legislative priorities for 2018. The full list is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.

Walorski Pushes for New Repeal of Medical Device Tax; Messer’s Reverse Transfer Concept Amended Into Reauthorization Bill

Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) has brought forth legislation to suspend the medical device tax for five years. She joined Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) in co-authoring the bill, H.R. 4617, which would delay the implementation of the 2.3% tax that was originally created through the Affordable Care Act. In 2017, Congress delayed the tax for two years, but without intervention it is set to take effect January 1, 2018.

“The job-killing medical device tax would have a devastating impact on Hoosier workers and patients across the country who depend on life-saving medical innovation,” Walorski said. “I am committed to permanently ending this burdensome tax. As we continue working toward repeal, we must protect workers and patients by preventing it from taking effect.”

Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06) and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02)

Walorski’s bill was part of a group of legislation introduced by members of the House Ways and Means Committee aimed at stopping Obamacare taxes set to take effect in 2018. The other four measures are:

• H.R. 4618, introduced by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), provides relief for two years from the tax on over-the-counter medications, expanding access and reducing health care costs by once again allowing for reimbursement under consumer-directed accounts;
• H.R. 4620, introduced by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), provides relief in 2018 from the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) that drives up health care costs;
• H.R. 4619, introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), provides needed relief from HIT for two years for health care plans regulated by Puerto Rico; and
• H.R. 4616, introduced by Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Mike Kelly (R-PA), delivers three years of retroactive relief and one year of prospective relief from the harmful employer mandate paired with a one-year delay of the Cadillac tax.

Earlier this year, Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06) introduced legislation that encourages a more seamless transition for community college transfer students earning degrees. Messer’s proposal would make it easier for students to earn a degree through a “reverse transfer,” where students who transferred from a community college to a four-year-institution but haven’t completed a bachelor’s degree can apply those additional credits back toward an associate’s degree.

Originally titled the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2017, it was recently added as an amendment to the Higher Education Re-authorization by the House Committee on Education and Workforce. The provision would streamline credit sharing between community colleges and four-year institutions so transfer students can be notified when they become eligible to receive an associate’s degree through a reverse transfer.

“An associate’s degree can make a huge difference for working Hoosiers,” Messer said. “By making it easier for transfer students to combine credits and get a degree they’ve earned, Hoosiers will have more opportunities to get good-paying jobs and succeed in today’s workforce.” This legislation was supported not only by the Indiana Chamber, but also by Ivy Tech Community College and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

FCC’s Official Net Neutrality Decision Coming This Week

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will decide whether to overturn the Obama-era net neutrality regulations that currently govern the internet. It is highly anticipated they will decide to return to the pre-2015 regulations.

Net neutrality implies an open internet environment that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or web sites.

The 2015 net neutrality laws reclassified high-speed broadband as a public utility under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act rather than the 1996 Telecom Act. These regulations applied to both mobile and fixed broadband networks. The reclassification changed how government treats broadband service and gave the FCC increased controls over internet service providers.

The office of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently issued this Myth vs. Fact statement on returning to the pre-2015 regulations. One issue the public is concerned with is if internet providers would block or “throttle back” certain content to the public. Another is if content developers would pay internet providers for accelerated data transfer. The bigger issue is whether internet providers can operate their businesses as businesses rather than as a public utility. Data show that private investment in internet services has slowed under the post-2015 regulations.

The Indiana Chamber supports free-market competition in the delivery of advanced communications services. The competition in a free-market environment among industry service providers is consistent with providing choice to consumers and an adequate service of last resort in extended service areas.

The Chamber opposes any attempt to impose new regulations on broadband and other next-generation telecommunications services by the FCC, especially through the unilateral reclassification of such services under Title II of the Federal Communications Act.  The Indiana Chamber supports the U.S. Congress examining and deciding issues such as net neutrality. We believe that advanced communications and digital infrastructure are critical to long-term economic development. Since 2006, private companies have invested more than $1.5 billion in new broadband capacity in the state, expanding service to more than 100 Hoosier communities and creating 2,100 new jobs within the industry.

If the FCC rules to return to the pre-2015 regulations, it is expected that Congress will entertain legislation to promote some of the concepts of net neutrality and limit the ability to stifle content.

Many Business Provisions Still Being Reconciled in Federal Tax Reform

We’re almost there. Tax reform has passed both the House and Senate. It now seems very possible that the President will have a bill to sign by Christmas. As some have described: All they need to do now is “sand the rough edges”. But another saying is equally applicable to the business tax components: “The devil is in the details”. Specifically, details directly relating to the taxation of both C-corporations and pass-through entities. Terms that will impact those who do business here and those who do business around the globe. In other words, details that will significantly affect big businesses, small businesses and everybody in between.

The process for reconciling the two versions of tax reform is already underway as the House and Senate name members to the conference committee that will determine exactly what will be in the package before it is voted on one last time. Indications are that majority leaders want to have a committee report for their respective bodies to act on by the end of next week. So while the details still have to be worked out, both bodies are very engaged and they’ve passed legislation that defines the general parameters.

There will continue to be debate, in public and in private, over the deficit, how much growth tax reform will generate, who benefits and who doesn’t, but the House and Senate are effectively committed to getting something done at this point. On the individual income tax side, they will need to find agreement regarding the limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT), as well as mortgage interest. These items are important to individuals, important to the numbers and important politically. But the two sides really aren’t that far apart. A $10,000 SALT deduction of some kind and a healthy mortgage interest deduction will almost certainly remain in the final product.

But where they land on many items critical to business is harder to predict; a lot is up in the air. Let’s start with the corporate rate itself. While both plans call for a 20% rate, the President hinted it could still change slightly. That appears unlikely, however, but the rate is tied closely to the fiscal projections. And the fiscal projections are why the Senate delayed the effective date for corporate rate change to 2019, to reduce the cost of the bill. So when exactly the change goes into effect is at issue.

Similarly, the taxation of pass-through income is also unsettled. The House limits the pass-through rate at 25%. The Senate approach was to give a deduction to pass-throughs to keep their tax down. Effectively, the different approaches would not have drastically different bottom line impacts for most pass-through income recipients. The real complications come via provisions directed at guarding against individuals in higher brackets from categorizing personal income as business/pass-through income.

What about the issues of interest to multinationals who conduct huge volumes of business activity around the globe? The House and Senate agree that the U.S. must move to a territorial system and companies shouldn’t be taxed here on income they earn overseas. But beyond that basic principle, how multinationals and their foreign-sourced income is handled is anything but clear right now. Both the House and Senate have included forms of supplemental taxes intended to prevent their perception of “base erosion” and to discourage what they view as corporations “gaming the system”.

Likewise, they are still working through how best to address the repatriation of foreign-earned profits and are looking at special, one-time tax provisions to encourage companies to bring those assets back to the U.S.  Another item important to many businesses of all types and sizes is how quickly, to what extent and for how long will they be able to claim deductions for capital expenditures/investments. Two final differences to note: (1) The Senate preserves the corporate alternative minimum tax; the House repeals it; (2) the House and Senate versions both limit the interest expense deduction, but in materially different ways. (A good summary of all the differences can be found in this report from the Tax Foundation.)

Of course, there are many, many other pending issues wrapped up in this legislation for the tax folks in Washington to resolve in short order. They include the health care mandate, estate tax, exemptions for educational institutions and nonprofits, and the list goes on. Tax reform appears close. Let’s hope good solutions are close too.

Some Puzzling State Revenue Numbers

The Indiana State Budget Agency recently released the revenue collections report for October. The overall collections for the fiscal year now stand 2.8% ($136 million) below projections; not good, but not critical at this juncture.

The troubling numbers for the revenue watchers are the corporate tax collections. They were down again this month and are now at 52% below the April revenue forecast projections. Nobody really knows how to fully explain the drop. While the corporate collections historically fluctuate widely from month to month and are the hardest to predict for many reasons (that are not directly related to predictable economic activity), the gap between projections and collection is extraordinary. Fortunately, corporate collections have never represented a big piece of the pie (only around 6%) when compared to sales (48%) and individual income (36%) tax collections. Still, the unforeseen drop accounts for $126 million of the $136-million-dollar shortfall.

The State Budget Agency has drilled down on the matter and is attributing it to a high volume of refunds. But what is triggering the refunds is not clear either. Sometimes refunds can cover a number of years. They could be tied to a recent settlement of numerous cases or result from changes in the law – lots of possible factors. Whatever they are attributable to, they probably don’t mean that corporate collections will stay down; they are likely to rebound over the balance of the fiscal year and smooth out the impact, but they are not likely to recover to the total of the original projections. Let’s hope this is just a temporary mysterious dip that is evened out over time.

For those interested, you can review all the numbers and commentary from the State Budget Agency.