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.

Six Tips that Make Good ‘Cents’

19151085What do you mean money doesn’t grow on trees? Rats.

Now that we’ve got that nasty truth out of the way, it’s time to get serious. It’s time to start saving.

This Forbes article describes six easy ways people in their thirties can do just that – and how it will pay off in the long run.

Three of the tips include:

  • Embrace stocks: The financial crisis took its toll on many thirtysomethings. Nearly 40% of Gen Y-ers say they’ll never feel okay investing in stocks, MFS Investment Management has reported. Take note: Since 1926, a portfolio mostly in stocks has never lost money in any 20-year period while averaging gains of more than 10.8% a year, versus 4% for bonds. At age 30, you should have most of your portfolio in stocks, with about half in U.S. equities and nearly 30% in foreign equity.
  • Don’t cash out: More than half of workers in their twenties who leave a job do not roll their 401(k) into an IRA or their new employer’s plan, says Aon Hewitt. Bad move: On a $10,000 balance, you could be left with just $7,000 after taxes and penalties. If, instead, you keep that money growing at, say, 6% a year, you’ll have an extra $100,000 or so by the time you retire.
  • Sweat the small stuff: If you carry multiple credit card balances, you’ll save the most money by paying off your highest-rate plastic first, right? Wrong. Two Northwestern University professors have found that people who focus on their smallest debts before tackling bigger, higher-rate loans are more successful at erasing debt. The psychological boost from eliminating a loan entirely gives you the mojo to keep paying down debt.

Indiana Named Best State in the Midwest for Business

?????????????????????????????????????????A new Chief Executive magazine survey labels Indiana as the best state for business in the Midwest — and the sixth best in the U.S. A release from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has more:

The magazine’s “Best & Worst States For Business” ranking is based on surveys of more than 500 CEOs. According to Chief Executive, the results of the 11th annual survey show that CEOs favor states with progressive business development programs, low taxes and a quality living environment.

“We’ve worked hard to create a low-cost, pro-growth economic environment here in Indiana,” said Governor Mike Pence. “This ranking confirms what we already know as Hoosiers. With an honestly balanced budget, robust infrastructure and a top-notch workforce, Indiana is a state that works for business.”

As highlighted by Chief Executive, Indiana became the first Midwestern right-to-work state in 2012, a law that was upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court last year. Since its passing, more than 100 companies have indicated to the IEDC that its passage was a factor in their decisions to locate or expand operations in Indiana. Collectively, these projects account for approximately 10,000 projected new jobs and more than $2.3 billion capital investment in the state.

Indiana’s 6th place ranking makes it the only Midwestern state in the publication’s top 10. Among neighboring states, Kentucky ranked 28th, Ohio ranked 22nd, Michigan ranked 43rd and Illinois ranked 49th.

This Chief Executive magazine ranking is the latest in a series of national accolades for Indiana’s business climate. Last year, Indiana was ranked best in the Midwest and 7th overall in Area Development magazine’s “Top States for Doing Business” as well as best in the Midwest and 7th in the nation in the Pollina Corporate “Top 10 Pro-Business States for 2014” study.

Chief Executive magazine is a bi-monthly publication for top management executives published by the Chief Executive Group LLC. Founded in 1977, the Chief Executive Group LLC is headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut. The full survey results are available online.

Don’t Overlook Financial Freedom; Help Available

?????????????????Despite Indiana’s less-than-exemplary health status (too much obesity and smoking), financial wellness is a factor that cannot be overlooked. Primerica is one of many organizations trying to make a difference through employee education.

Chase Eaton has been a regional vice president for the organization in the Indianapolis area for the past nine years. (During that time, he has also been a member of the Indiana Pacers’ Power Pack — that high-flying dunk team that entertains fans during each home game.)

Eaton says there are two parts to the Primerica plan for businesses:

  1. Group presentations that teach employees basic money concepts such as the Rule of 72, debt stacking (how to pay down debts faster), efficient budgeting, saving for retirement and more.
  2. Individual sessions in which associates can develop, with a coach, a personalized financial game plan. Outcomes include a debt freedom date, financial independence number (amount of savings needed to retire), itemized budget worksheet and comprehensive insurance review.

Contact Eaton to learn more.

The Wellness Council of Indiana focuses on the financial side of wellness as part of its work with organizations throughout the state. Membership is an excellent first step to establishing an overall culture of wellness.

Indiana’s Economic Outlook Places High on “Rich States, Poor States” Ranking

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) just released its 2015 “Rich States, Poor States Rankings,” which positions Indiana as having the third best economic outlook in the nation.

You can view the full report online. The economic outlook criteria is explained: 

The Economic Outlook Ranking is a forecast based on a state’s current standing in 15 state policy variables. Each of these factors is influenced directly by state lawmakers through the legislative process. Generally speaking, states that spend less—especially on income transfer programs, and states that tax less—particularly on productive activities such as working or investing—experience higher growth rates than states that tax and spend more.

 

alec

Why the Chamber Supports Common Construction Wage Repeal

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar on the decision of House Republicans to pursue House Bill 1019, which would repeal the state’s common construction wage statute. The bill passed the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee early this afternoon:

“The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, although surprised to learn of the addition of this issue to the 2015 legislative agenda, has been a strong supporter of this common sense reform for decades. In a year in which a new two-year state budget will be adopted, actions that help provide additional taxpayer protections are particularly important.

“Repealing the common construction wage removes government-mandated pay scales and restores fair and open competition to public construction projects. With local governments and schools facing increasing financial pressures, projected taxpayer savings of between 10% and 20% per project are welcome news.

“The arbitrary common construction wage process prevents accountability on taxpayer-funded projects and often precludes local contractors from bidding for local work. Other states that do not have a common construction wage law have realized demonstrated cost savings, while maintaining the high-quality work delivered throughout the construction industry.”

Legislative Testimony: Annual Mega Department of Revenue Bill

The Indiana Chamber’s Bill Waltz testified today on Senate Bill 438 – State and Local Tax Issuesauthored by Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek). The Chamber supports various provisions and the general intent of this Department of Revenue bill, but also opposes other aspects at this time.

The Chamber generally supports the effort in this bill to clarify a number issues and ease administrative burdens for both the Department of Revenue and taxpayers. However, there are several new provisions that still need work in order to be confident that the language will fulfill the apparent intentions.

The Chamber has serious reservations regarding attorney-client and deliberative process privilege provisions as written. Additionally, the Chamber opposes changing the Tax Court’s standard of review of the state Department of Revenue decisions.

This is a very complicated bill and our position will be adjusted as amendments are made; our support and opposition will match the degree that our concerns are addressed.

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.

Job ‘Casualties’ Mount Due to Device Tax

16446238In our most recent Indiana Chamber Policy Call with Congressman Todd Rokita, the subject of the medical device tax came up. No surprise. It’s been a topic in countless conversations ever since the terrible idea was first broached in 2010.

Rokita expressed confidence that repeal will make its way to the President’s desk in 2015. What happens then, of course, can’t be predicted.

A recent Site Selection article notes that concerns have only multiplied. It contains quotes and analysis from Cook Group chairman and long-time Indiana Chamber board member Steve Ferguson, who says five plants (each would have employed up to 300 people) have been “put on hold” because of the tax.

Check out the full article.

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.