Property Tax Assessment Appeal Issues Continue

Last session, county officials sought drastic changes to Indiana’s property tax assessment methodology in reaction to two decisions from the Indiana Board of Tax Review (IBTR) involving “big-box” retail stores (e.g., a Meijer and a Kohl’s store). Officials complained that assessment appeals were being wrongly decided because the IBTR allowed the consideration of the sale price of like buildings that had been closed and were vacant at the time of the transaction as evidence of the value of the operating stores. Assessing officials called these transactions “dark sales” and contended such sales should be precluded from being considered in determining the assessment of like structures that remain open and occupied by large retail entities. The legislative result was something of a standoff between county officials and affected taxpayers. The ultimate legislation (SB 436) left a lot to be desired since the interested parties maintained such disparate viewpoints. They were – and remain – fundamentally divided on how real estate should be valued under Indiana law.

The issue came to the forefront again last month when the IBTR issued another decision that resulted in a significant reduction to a large commercial entity; this time, a CVS Pharmacy store in Bloomington. Interestingly enough, this case did not involve a “big-box” and was not based on the application of “dark sales” (even though you would have thought so from the way it was being publicly described by many.) Nevertheless, it was cited as another case where the IBTR had somehow gotten it wrong and was making a bad decision.

The situation essentially reveals: Assessors and county officials believe that large national chains should be taxed more because they are large national chains (and refuse to acknowledge the state of the law which just doesn’t support their higher assessments.) The IBTR has merely been doing its job, applying case law that has developed from Tax Court decisions issued since 2010 and before.

What’s more, assessors and county officials do not want to assess the property based on its fair market value, they want to assess it based on the value of the business operations that take place on the property — what I call “value to the user.” Property tax is supposed to be a tax on the value of real estate, not a tax on the investment value that real estate has to the owner. This debate arises out of the statutory and administrative rule definitions that govern our assessment system. Indiana defines true tax value as something different than the market value-in-exchange (what the property could sell for); instead it creates a hybrid standard referred to as “market value-in-use”. This hybrid was created to protect some properties from higher taxes. The best example is when a highly valuable piece of prime commercial real estate is actually used for agricultural or residential purposes.

But now there is a movement to interpret market value-in-use as a means for taxing the value the property has to its specific user, i.e., the national retail chain owner. This is not only subjective, unfair and inequitable; it is unworkable. It would result in nearly identical buildings being assessed at widely differing values based on the financial status and circumstances of the particular owner. Such a standard is contrary to our Indiana Constitution and would effectively undermine the integrity of our entire assessment system.

It is an important issue and appears it is going to be taken back up next month by the Interim Committee on Fiscal Policy, which has scheduled meetings for October 7, 13 and 21.

Chamber Promotes Life Sciences in D.C.

7324001The Indiana Chamber is a proud partner in Hoosiers Work for Health, which promotes the biopharmaceutical and life sciences industry, and visited with Indiana’s elected representatives in Washington, D.C. July 15-16 to discuss issues such as patent
reform, taxation and FDA regulatory procedures.

The Chamber joined several other Hoosiers Work for Health representatives for office visits on Capitol Hill. The group met with Reps. Susan Brooks (R-5th District) and Larry Bucshon (R-8th District), both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as Rep. Todd Young (R-9th District), who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. The group also visited with key staff members for Sens. Dan Coats (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) while the Senate held floor votes on an education bill.

It is clear from the conversation with Indiana’s elected officials that they understand the importance of the biopharmaceutical/life sciences sector to the economic health of Indiana. This sector directly supports more than 20,000 jobs across the state and generates $19 billion in economic output. By creating high paying jobs, biopharmaceutical companies build a strong foundation from which we can grow our state economy – providing stability and prosperity into the future.

A Look at Indiana State Budget Estimates

19145168The monthly revenue estimates referenced in connection with Indiana’s state budget and commonly used to evaluate how Indiana is doing can be confusing because they change periodically and result in different baselines. First, there are the estimates on which the budget is formed – those established by the revenue forecasters in mid-April each year that a two-year budget is put together by the Legislature. And then there are the most recent revised estimates – updated by the forecasters each December.

If you look closely enough at the reports from the budget agency each month, you can discern the differences. Appropriately, the budget agency compares the actual monthly collections to the most recent updated estimate. But if you go beyond their summary, commentary and main chart you can find out how the monthly revenues compare to the original numbers on which the budget was formed.

Since we are now into the last month of fiscal year 2015 and the last month of our current two-year budget that was written in April of 2013, it seems a good time to look at just how well those forecasters did. While the numbers fluctuate considerably from month to month, with 11 of 12 months actual collections known, they are off by less than 1% (just .8 of a percent.) They projected collections of $13,152,600,000 and actual year to date collections were $13,042,800,000. They were off by $109.8 million, or eight-tenths of a percent, statistically as good as anyone can reasonably expect. In fact, it is pretty extraordinary and the forecasters are to be commended for such accurate work. Good, reliable projections are important to the fiscal integrity of our state.

And our fiscal picture doesn’t look bad at all right now. The collections now stand at $211.3 million or 1.6% above the revised/updated projections (those made in April of this year.) But it is not the estimates that are the real indicator of how the state is doing. It is a comparison of actual year-to-date collections that show actual growth. Those same monthly reports also show how the current fiscal year-to-date collections compare to the actual collections through the same period of the prior fiscal year. With the fiscal year nearly complete, Indiana is 3.6% above the prior fiscal year collections. And most encouraging is the 4.4% year-to-date growth in sales tax (our biggest revenue stream) and the 6.9% growth in individual income tax (the next biggest).

Boiling all this down there are two points: (1) the state forecasters do a great job, and 2) the present fiscal picture of the state looks good.

Highway Trust Fund Has Some Potholes

36601064The Congressional Budget Office asserts the national Highway Trust Fund would need $3 billion in ADDITIONAL revenue to keep funding transportation projects through the end of September. And it would need $8 billion if Congress chose to extend funding authority until the end of 2015. Read more via The Hill.

Obviously, there are serious challenges facing America’s road infrastructure.

Cam Carter, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of economic development and federal relations, outlines the main problem.

“Congress needs to get its act together and summon the political will to fashion a long-term solution to the insolvency of the highway trust fund,” he asserts. “We’ve had our fill of short-term patches. Some will say that the highway fund is insolvent because today’s vehicles are more fuel efficient and that is depressing revenues going into the fund – and there is some truth to this. But, the greater truth is that Congress hasn’t raised fuel taxes to keep up with inflation since 1993 and that, more than anything, is the root of the problem.”

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.



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.”