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.

Chamber Comments on State’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar on the release of the report from the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure:

“The recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure are an important first step. The group has identified priority projects and clearly defined the funding challenges. Equally important will be the work called for in HEA 1104 (2014), legislation outlining an Indiana Department of Transportation study of financing alternatives that will help meet future funding needs.

“In addition, it’s time for Washington to get its act together and assure that federal funding shortfalls are addressed. Some states are already cutting back on important projects in fear of Highway Trust Fund deficiencies as soon as August 1. What is truly needed – instead of short-term, crisis-avoiding extensions – is a multi-year renewal of the federal transportation plan.

“Superior infrastructure is one of the four drivers of the Indiana Chamber-led Indiana Vision 2025 and strong transportation via road, rail, air and water is critical to our state’s economic future.”

Apple Reaches Settlement in E-Book Pricing War

Step into my room at home and you’ll find a row of book-lined shelves, stacked atop one another and overflowing onto my desk. When I was younger, summers meant days filled with devouring books. And yes, I was that kid who brought books to school and read whenever a spare moment presented itself, only occasionally hiding them beneath my teacher’s line of sight so I could read during class (but only if it was a book I absolutely couldn’t put down).

As a book nerd, I’ve kept up a bit with the raging paper versus e-book war. Personally, my loyalty remains with paperback books. I enjoy physically turning the pages and have felt a sort of cold detachment whenever trying to read an e-book. On the other hand, I have nothing against e-books and believe the two forms can co-exist peacefully—someday.

But for that day to come, publishers and booksellers need to straighten out e-book pricing issues. In April 2012, the U.S. government sued Apple and five of the biggest publishers for contracts Apple made with the publishers that raised e-book prices. The agreement in these contracts involved the publishers establishing book prices and Apple receiving 30%. The purpose was to force Amazon, who often sold below cost, to raise e-book prices.

Apple has now reached a settlement in this e-book pricing lawsuit, in which it faced up to $840 million in claims. The terms of the agreement have not been made public.

This is only one example of the controversies e-books have caused in the publishing world, but hopefully this is a step in settling pricing issues.

In the meantime, as a stubborn paperback-enthusiast who has not been personally affected by this problem, my biggest hope is simply for the industry to thrive as a whole, whatever that takes.

Iowa Senate Race is Pretty Farmin’ Serious

Politically, Iowa remains one of our most interesting states. Obviously, its early caucus status lends itself as a power player in presidential politics. But its makeup is also rather vexing and seemingly unpredictable at times, featuring successes for both Republicans and Democrats — and the longevity of its Senators Chuck Grassley (R) and Tom Harkin (D), who’ve been in office since 1981 and 1985, respectively.

With Harkin retiring, there’s a heated race for his vacated seat featuring Rep. Bruce Braley (D) and State Senator Joni Ernst (R). (I actually interacted often with Braley’s staff during his 2006 campaign, while I was working on a State House race in Waterloo for U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh’s All-America PAC.) Braley, however, has found himself trudging through difficult terrain in light of some unfortunate and dismissive agriculture-related gaffes — the latest in a stump speech by a surrogate. Columnist Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register highlighted Braley’s problems, illustrating how some unfortunate word choices here and there can quickly change the nature of a political campaign.

Below, you’ll find an ad where Ernst attempts to capitalize by relaying her hog castrating bona fides, because… pork. (I like the snuggly pig embrace 20 seconds in, personally.)

Oh yes, it’s campaign season, America. Let’s get hog wild! (I’ll show myself out.)