Legislative Testimony: Employment for Non-Union Teachers

The Indiana Chamber’s Caryl Auslander testified today in support of Senate Bill 302 – Employment Contracts for Non-Union Teachers, authored by Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon) and Sen. Jim Smith (R-Charlestown).

The Indiana Chamber has long supported similar legislation allowing employees to choose whether or not they want to join their union. And as such, those that choose NOT to join their respective union for whatever reason should have the opportunity to negotiate their contract outside of the collective bargaining agreement that was set forth by that union – just as any other employee in the state might be able to do.

We feel that this legislation empowers both the employer and the employee to negotiate a contract that works best for BOTH parties.

Legislative Testimony: Bill Will Aid Talent Retention

The Indiana Chamber’s Caryl Auslander testified today in support of House Bill 1054 – Higher Ed Co-Op and Internship Programs, authored by Rep. David Ober (R-Albion).

The Indiana Chamber supports this initiative to tie together efforts from our universities, employers and students in a way to better support all three entities.

The program will incentivize students to stay in Indiana and have access to Indiana employers for potential employment after graduation. Ultimately, we believe this pilot program will help attract and retain additional bright future employees for our state, specifically in the much needed science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas.

On a related note, the Chamber has an affiliated program, Indiana INTERNnet, which is an internship-matching program. Since Indiana INTERNnet began a little more than a decade ago, the service has helped more than 60,000 students and 5,500 Hoosier employers access important tools and make connections with each other.

An Energy/Environmental Issue Primer for the Start of Session

The 2015 legislative session began Tuesday and will adjourn no later than April 29. This “long session” will include the state’s $30 billion biennial budget and likely see more than 1,000 bills filed. Bill filing deadlines are January 13 and 14 for the House and Senate, respectively. You can count on the environmental and energy area to add its fair share of legislative ideas to the mix. In the environmental arena, we expect to see the following:

  • The Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s perennial laundry list of technical “clean-up” items
  • Rep. David Wolkins’ “No More Stringent Than” annual initiative
  • Something related to “brownfields” and clean-up efforts
  • Anti-harvesting of Indiana’s hardwoods
  • Above-ground storage tanks controls

In the “water resources” area, we expect to see the following:

  • Legislation to direct the Indiana Finance Authority to survey/examine the larger – and a few smaller – water supply utilities in the state
  • Establish an Indiana Water Resources Institute
  • Create incentives to promote water utilities to invest in infrastructure improvements

And it is likely that the electric power/energy area will really heat up (sorry) as multiple issues rise:

  • Legislation related to the Governor’s energy plan
  • Energy efficiency measures
  • Allowance to purchase electric power outside the current provider
  • Install a requirement that any new electric power generation be allowed competitive bids/procurement
  • Establish a rate case schedule for electric power utilities of XX (to be determined number of) years
  • Address the rural vs. municipal territorial/compensation dispute

Not all of these issues are ones that the Indiana Chamber will necessarily oppose or support – they will be part of the discussion but some may never get a hearing. This is like your friendly weather forecaster trying to tell you if it will rain, snow or be sunny in one month.

Legislative Session Begins; State Budget Will Dominate

statehouse picHow will the money be prioritized? That’s the overriding question as lawmakers return to the Indiana General Assembly today to start work on a new two-year state budget.

The Indiana Chamber will be pushing for substantially more dollars for an expanded education-based preschool program for low-income families.

Prudent financial decisions are necessary in budget sessions but so too is investing where it makes great sense. The current five-county preschool pilot program is inadequate. Indiana has too many children entering kindergarten unprepared to learn. The need is further underscored by the 1,800 applicants for the 450 slots in the pilot program.

The Indiana Chamber will also will be advocating for the state budget to include funding for workforce training with increased designations for high wage career areas, like those in science, technology, engineering and math.

In other education matters, the Indiana Chamber has a longstanding policy of making the state superintendent of public instruction an appointed position and will be seeking to start that on course to becoming reality.

While the political challenges are obvious, we are encouraged that legislative leaders recognize that something has to change. At a minimum, there is consensus for some level of surety that the State Board of Education will function more smoothly and stay on task.

The Governor’s proposal of letting the State Board of Education elect its own chair is a concept the Indiana Chamber can endorse and would be a good starting point if making the superintendent an appointed position is unable to prevail this session.

In the tax arena, there appears to be strong interest among the General Assembly to provide relief to small business personal property tax filers. Indeed, the Commission on Business Taxation has voiced its support for getting rid of the tax for these users. And that’s what the Indiana Chamber wants to see happen.

The current process is time-consuming and ineffective. All sides would come out ahead with a small business exemption. Much effort is spent by small businesses and their local governments on these returns. And for what? The tax liability often averages between only $10 and $50 per small business. In total, these returns come to a mere 1% of the overall business personal property tax collected.

Read about the Indiana Chamber’s top legislative priorities as well as additional areas of focus for the 2015 legislative session.

On Tap in ’15: Road Funding, Sunday Alcohol Sales and 21st Century Fund

Republican supermajorities and the biennial budget will be the context for all issues during the 2015 Indiana General Assembly, as a two-year budget must be passed and any caucus with 71 members (e.g., House Republicans) inevitably will have its internal disagreements. But, in the areas of economic development and infrastructure, another contextual factor will be a major road funding study by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) due in summer 2015 – after the Legislature has adjourned.

This INDOT study will examine existing fuel excise taxes, their future revenue potential and alternative funding mechanisms and revenue streams, such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or tolling. The study will provide a tool to address an acknowledged $750 million annual funding gap between current revenues and identified maintenance needs, let alone any new projects (such as third lanes on congested portions of Indiana interstates).

Legislative leadership and fiscal and transportation policy experts within the General Assembly seem content to await the results of the INDOT study before pursuing any significant changes to the way Indiana funds its roads, bridges and highways. Nevertheless, in the 2015 session we expect issues such as fees for electric or alternative-fuel vehicles to be addressed; examination of using more revenue from the 7% sales tax on gasoline for the state’s highway fund; and a discussion of indexing fuel taxes for inflation.

The INDOT study follows a report by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure identifying a set of priority projects and laying out a long-term vision for surface transportation infrastructure across Indiana. This report includes recommendations for waterborne, air and rail commerce that may be taken up by the General Assembly, including the creation of dedicated funds for these important modes of transportation.

Likewise, while the final segment of Interstate 69 has yet to undergo regulatory review and be announced, current law prevents it from running through Perry Township in Marion County as an option; we expect legislation to remove that prohibition to be introduced. We also expect investment in next-generation telecommunications infrastructure to be addressed through legislation that streamlines zoning and regulatory approvals, seeking to make them less cumbersome and more consistent across different political jurisdictions within the state.

In the area of economic development, many items will be discussed. Along with continued reform of Indiana’s business personal property tax, other anticipated issues include: examination of tax increment financing (TIF) districts; repealing Indiana’s ban on the Sunday sales of alcohol; increasing production limits on craft breweries; renewal and reform of the state’s 21st Century Fund; film production incentives; and review of both the existing patent-derived income tax exemption and the state’s venture capital tax credit.

Indeed, we expect a major thrust for fiscal leaders this session to be a re-examination of many of the state’s existing economic development programs and tax provisions, as well as discussion of a new Regional Cities Initiative by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and the Pence administration.

Given mixed economic signals and the continued emphasis on job creation, we anticipate it will be a very busy session.

Minnesota’s New Site Helps Students Make College Pay

minnPeople in powerful positions often have access to the best information.

Minnesota high school students now have the ability to expand their power base. When they are agonizing over technical school and college choices, they can now look at marketplace data that show which academic programs have high placement rates and what recent graduates are being paid.

For the first time in its history, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is making this information available to the public on its website.

The data reveal a pattern of underemployment among recent graduates. For the Class of 2011, among those completing programs ranging from certificates to graduate degrees, by their second year out of school, only 42 percent had full-time jobs that they kept for a whole year.

But the most intriguing statistics are the wage breakouts among academic programs. Here are some of the highlights for the Class of 2011 two years after completing their education:

  • Among students who earned bachelor’s degrees in marketing, 52 percent had full-time jobs and 31 percent were working part-time. The median annual salary for full-time employees was $35,373.
  • Among bachelor’s graduates with general business degrees, the median annual wages for full-time employees were $57,227. In this major, 59 percent were employed full-time and 21 percent were working part-time.
  • Those with special education and teaching degrees at the bachelor’s level had annual median earnings of $35,312.
  • Technical education translated into good-sized paychecks for people who completed certificate programs or associate degrees. For example:
  • Annual median earnings were $44,196 for full-time workers who obtained associate degrees in electromechanical instruments and maintenance technology. In this program area, 60 percent held full-time jobs in their second year out of school.
  • Plumbing program graduates also saw high job placement. Among students who completed certificate programs for plumbing, the annual median earnings for full-time workers were $41,229. Forty-five percent were working full time and 42 percent were employed part time in the second year out of school.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill requiring DEED to take the wage and employment data that the state receives from employers and present it to state residents in a format that’s easy to use. Called the “graduate employment outcomes tool,” people can use drop-down menus on the DEED website to look up wage and placement data by academic program.

Check out the site.

Momentum for Significant Changes to Indiana Taxation

Since 2002, there have been numerous changes to the Indiana tax laws to improve Indiana’s competitiveness, while at the same time implementing cost controls and preserving Indiana’s ability to balance its budget. Notable changes include the elimination of the gross income tax and the supplemental net income tax; the elimination of the inheritance tax; reductions in income tax rates for individuals, corporations and financial institutions; numerous deductions and credits designed to stimulate economic development; and the addition of property tax caps. As a result, various national studies have recognized Indiana’s ability to improve its tax climate while maintaining fiscal discipline. The Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. recently ranked Indiana’s tax climate the eighth best in the country on its State Business Tax Climate Index.

Indiana, however, isn’t resting on its laurels. On June 24, the Governor hosted the Indiana Tax Competitiveness and Simplification Conference, comprised of a mix of national and local economists and tax practitioners. As its name suggests, this one-day conference was intended to identify and discuss ways in which Indiana could make improvements to its tax laws to enhance Indiana’s competitive positioning and to simplify its tax laws and tax procedures. In September, the state issued its 70-page Tax Competitiveness and Simplification Report.

The Legislature had a similar initiative, but one with a different approach. The Legislature created a “blue ribbon” committee to study Indiana’s business tax structure. Members of the committee were designated governmental leaders and representatives of select interest groups and key organizations (including the Chamber). The committee met three times to hear testimony from national and local groups and individuals, and then concluded with a meeting on November 12 to discuss and approve its findings and recommendations.

The scope of the topics discussed has been extensive. The discussions have included some “big ideas,” such as elimination of the personal property tax, the broadening of the sales tax base to include more services, the elimination of the corporate income tax or the reduction of the sales tax rate if the sales tax base is broadened and the idea of turning Indiana into a forced combination, or unitary, state. Big ideas to eliminate taxes in their entirety, or reduce tax rates, and even many of the less ambitious ideas, raise issues of finding replacement revenues to balance the budget and maintain Indiana’s fiscal discipline. Other ideas, such as broadly taxing services or making Indiana a unitary state, may raise revenue to “fund” other changes, but they raise significant policy questions and potentially undermine Indiana’s goal of being more competitive and simplifying its tax laws.

This should not, however, be written off as an academic exercise. There have been numerous ideas in which there appears to be a consensus of opinion for change. Some are areas in which there is very little or no discernible fiscal cost. Those areas include ways in which tax procedures can be improved and streamlined. There are other areas in which there is a conceptual consensus for change, but the improvements would have revenue implications of varying degrees. An example is simplifying Indiana income tax by reducing the number of “decoupling” adjustments from federal taxable income. For the most part, there is a revenue cost to each decoupling adjustment.

The state’s report indicates that it envisions a “package” which will be revenue neutral. It includes a discussion of over 50 ideas, which does not include all of the ideas discussed at the conference or in the white papers prepared by conference speakers in advance of the conference. Some of the topics discussed in the report are very specific and include recommendations. Those seem the most likely to be presented to the Legislature during the 2015 session. Others topics were discussed in less specific terms and appear to reflect the state’s view that additional analysis and discussion is needed. These topics appear more likely to be presented in future sessions if at all. The Legislative blue ribbon committee made 19 recommendations, with more focus on property tax changes.

This chart identifies some of the topics which have been discussed, as well as possible prospects for change. With the high level of effort this year to identify areas for improvement, there is a genuine opportunity to enhance Indiana’s tax climate and legitimate reason for optimism. On the other hand, a package which contains elements that raise revenue in order for the package to be revenue neutral or the temptation of the state to add or exclude elements in a package which give the state an unfair advantage in dispute resolution, could result in a package which includes provisions reflecting highly questionable tax policy and that hurt Indiana’s competitiveness and create further  omplexity to Indiana’s tax system, the exact opposite of the stated goals from the Governor’s tax conference.

Consequently, cautious optimism might be the best characterization.

While we do not yet know exactly what will be presented to the Legislature in 2015, many changes will likely be proposed and discussed. It could be an exceptionally interesting session.

Mark J. Richards is chairman of the Indiana Chamber Tax Policy Committee and a partner at Ice Miller LLP. 

Keystone XL Pipeline Defeat Will Likely Be Short-Lived

119744231The Keystone XL Pipeline bill was narrowly defeated Tuesday in the U.S. Senate. Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar offers his thoughts on the policy and the latest activity in Washington:

“Canada is going to continue to develop the oil sands and sell to other nations whether the U.S. allows the Keystone XL Pipeline or not. Whatever the impact that activity has on the environment, the activity is still going to happen. That’s the reality. Continued posturing by the Obama Administration and others amid calls from environmental groups isn’t going to change that.

Other countries are looking out for their energy futures. The U.S. needs to as well. Going forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline is an important part of the mix. It would strengthen and expand our already vital energy relationship with Canada. And sourcing more of our energy from a friendly, North American neighbor will help reduce our reliance on energy resources from less stable areas of the world.

Indiana is fortunate to have two senators – Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly – who understand the pipeline’s importance and have been staunch supporters of the project. It’s too bad the Senate, on the whole, couldn’t get past politics and do the right thing for our nation’s energy security. However, we look forward to early 2015 when this measure seems destined to finally pass the Senate and make its way to the President’s desk.

Background: The proposed Keystone XL project would construct a 1,700 mile pipeline to transport about 800,000 barrels a day of heavy crude oil from tar sand fields in Canada across the central U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Only the Elephants Might be Upset; No More Peanut Report

7324001You have to start somewhere when it comes to better utilizing taxpayer resources and getting rid of unnecessary government work. But rest assured, there is a long way to go.

Check out this Government Executive recap of some common sense legislation out of Washington:

The House  put the final touches on a widely embraced bill to eliminate or modify 53 useless or outdated agency reports, an effort backed by the White House as a cost-savings measure.

The vote tally of 382-0 was evidence that the only area of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats in both chambers was precisely which reports to target in subjects ranging from the Agriculture Department’s write-up on the number of peanuts planted each year to the Homeland Security Department’s analysis of illegal imports of products made from dog and cat fur.

Though some studies have tagged nearly 300 reports as possibly superfluous, negotiators worked the number down. In June, the Office of Management and Budget identified 74 dubious reports; a Senate bill named 64; and a House bill passed in April listed 79.

“In today’s challenging fiscal environment, Congress must leverage every opportunity to save taxpayer dollars by streamlining or eliminating antiquated reporting requirements that are duplicative, irrelevant or simply ignored,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a co-sponsor. “While enacting the bipartisan Government Reports Elimination Act may not go as far as we would like, it nevertheless represents precisely the type of pragmatic, good government legislating that a divided Congress should be doing more of.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who had introduced a companion version, said, “Hundreds of federal employees spend countless hours producing mountains of these reports each year, and in many cases no one ever reads or even refers to those reports. Surely these agency resources could be targeted to smarter, more productive efforts that will actually provide more direct benefit to customers and taxpayers.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a co-author, cast the final bill as just “a first step toward making government smaller and smarter.” She and Warner introduced another bill that would target another 67 reports.

Harmonizing Music History with Worker Productivity

19188345Technology improvements are generally associated with getting the same amount of productivity with fewer workers. But something called the “quartet effect” – with links back to the lyrics of the Grateful Dead – instead emphasizes enhancing what people do with their time. Governing reports:

In the foreword to David Dodd’s The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, Robert Hunter, the band’s “lyricist in residence,” wrote that the song “Uncle John’s Band” represented “the first lyric I wrote with the aid of that newfangled gadget, the cassette tape recorder. I taped the band playing the arrangement and was able to score lyrics at leisure rather than scratch away hurriedly at rehearsals, waiting for particular sections to come around again.”

What Hunter was describing, of course, was an improvement in productivity resulting from the application of new technology. Productivity is usually measured in terms of the labor cost per unit of production, and in most cases improvement is achieved by using new technology to reduce head count. For instance, a steel mill that once employed 10,000 workers produces the same tonnage with only a thousand employees, bank tellers are replaced by ATMs and elevator operators become a thing of the past. But in Hunter’s application of new technology, no one’s position was eliminated. It’s an example of what has been called “the quartet effect” at work.

When you reduce the head count of a musical quartet, you have not improved its productivity. If what you wanted was the music of a quartet, you have destroyed the product. The technology Hunter employed is the kind that, rather than eliminating jobs, allows existing staff to make better use of their time and gives them the opportunity to create higher-quality products.

How is this relevant to government? For most local governments, public safety constitutes the largest single category of expenditures, typically accounting for about 60 percent of total costs. For states and for some local governments, education is the dominant cost category. But it’s important to remember that within these areas, personnel costs — the salaries and benefits of police officers, firefighters and school teachers — are the real cost drivers. Personnel costs typically represent 80 percent or more of the total cost of a police department, for example. Few would argue that taking cops off the streets or teachers out of classrooms improves productivity.