Waltz: Marketplace Fairness Act a Useful Measure

Bill Waltz, the Indiana Chamber's VP of taxation and public finance, penned the following column, which ran in The Journal-Gazette of Fort Wayne.

States have the right to tax activities that take place within their borders. States do not have the right to burden interstate commerce – unless Congress approves.

The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 involves both principles.

The act would require online sellers who have no physical presence in a state to collect sales tax from that state’s residents. It recognizes that Internet purchases take place within the buyer’s state but that compelling the seller to collect the sales tax affects interstate commerce.

The 69 U.S. senators who voted for the Marketplace Fairness Act concluded that states should be allowed to require remote sellers to collect the sales tax. But passage in the House is uncertain as opponents raise questions. The legislation should be evaluated on an objective basis.

Here are some of the statements and claims being made about the Marketplace Fairness Act :

•The Internet tax moratorium should not be lifted

•This is a “new” tax

•This will hurt small Internet businesses

•State tax administrators will abuse their power to tax out-of-state businesses

•It will be impossible for sellers to comply with the laws of 8,000 jurisdictions

•Internet businesses will move out of the United States

•Jobs will be lost

First, this has nothing to do with the 1998 federal moratorium prohibiting taxing Internet access or imposing a new tax on the conduct of business over the Internet. This is about applying existing state laws on the taxation of retail merchant transactions.

This is not a new tax. States’ sales tax is due on Internet purchases today and purchasers are legally obligated to pay. The problem is few people do so by self-reporting, shifting the burden to all those self-reporting taxpayers who do meet their legal obligations.

As for hurting small businesses, the act has a small seller exception for any business having less than $1 million in annual sales (and this threshold could be raised).

Many of the abuse objections are refuted by the text of the bill. It expressly prevents states from subjecting a seller to “any other type of taxes, other than sales and use taxes.” It further specifies that “This Act shall not be construed to create any nexus between a person and a state or locality.”

The text also addresses administrative compliance. It contains provisions on “minimum simplification requirements” to assure some uniformity in how each state identifies what is to be taxed and at what level. It calls for a single filing and single audits within any given state. The states are required to provide free software to calculate the tax. Additionally, remote sellers are shielded from liability for inadvertent noncompliance.

There will be complications with any major change in procedure, but the act is very friendly to remote sellers. Also, it is in the states’ interest to keep things as simple as possible in order to collect the tax.

As for businesses and jobs moving overseas, Internet businesses are not likely to relocate unless the costs of production motivate them to do so. Internet businesses will continue to grow and thrive in the U.S. – and create jobs – whether or not they must collect sales taxes.

The jobs focus should be on those lost today as in-state brick-and-mortar retailers have cut back due to the unfair price advantage enjoyed by online sellers.

Opponents can suggest problems where there are none, foster doubt and cater to viewpoints that have no basis in reality. But once these questions are answered fairly and objectively, there is no good reason not to support the Marketplace Fairness Act.

Gigerich: Indiana Business Climate is Good News, Bad News Scenario

Larry Gigerich of site selector Ginovus penned an informative column for Inside INdiana Business about Indiana's business climate. While we have come a long way and are currently envied by many states, there is still work to be done. He writes:

A few weeks ago, the Kauffman Foundation and Thumbtack.com released an annual ranking of states for their friendliness to small businesses. Indiana ranked 15th for 2013. The study analyzed several factors including items related to tax climate, work force development and regulatory issues. Eight-thousand small businesses were contacted for feedback regarding the study's criteria. Here is how Indiana ranked in each category.

1. Overall Friendliness: B+
2. Ease of Starting a Business: B+
3. Ease of Hiring: F
4. Regulations: C
5. Health and Safety: D
6. Employment, Labor and Hiring: C-
7. Tax Code: D
8. Licensing: A-
9. Environmental: D
10. Zoning: B-
11. Training and Networking Programs: C-

The grades given to Indiana are not surprising. Work force development and job training have been a focus of Governor Mike Pence and the legislature since the beginning of the year. Indiana's educational achievement, continuing learning for adults in the work force and availability of certification/credential programs have not been where they need to be. While progress has been made, there is still much to be done by government, educational providers, not-for-profits and the private sectors.

Indiana has been recognized as a relatively easy place to start and grow a business. This report points to that in terms of licensing, zoning and other factors affecting the launch of a new business.

The tax code ranking is a bit surprising, but the survey asked small businesses if they were paying too much in taxes for their locations. The elimination of the state inheritance tax, which impacts small and family-owned businesses, could help improve this ranking.

Indiana continues to struggle with rankings where health and environmental issues are considered. In particular, the state's obesity and smoking rates are unacceptably high. These items impact healthcare costs, number of missed days of work and quality of life. In terms of the environment, Indiana's long-term large manufacturing presence has impacted water, air and soil quality. While important steps have been taken in the areas, there is much left to be done.

The top five states for small businesses are (in order): Utah, Alabama, New Hampshire, Idaho and Texas. The bottom five are (in order): Illinois, California, Hawaii, Maine and Rhode Island.

In summary, Indiana's ranking relative to the rest of the country is good. Policymakers in the state should focus on ways to improve our weaknesses in order to move Indiana into the top 10. Due to the fact that Indiana has never been a location for large headquarters for companies, small businesses are and will continue to be the lifeblood of the state's economic growth.

New Tax Guide a Valuable Asset for Indiana Businesses

We take great pride in helping to educate our members and customers through our many publications. The latest example is the newest edition of the Indiana Taxation Handbook, a valuable resource for those who deal with Indiana tax issues.

As a result of changes in tax law and policy over the last two legislative sessions, new and revised sections of the Indiana Tax Handbook: 2013-14 Edition include:

  • Elimination of the Indiana Inheritance Tax
  • Reduction in the Indiana Corporate Income Tax
  • New consolidated filing options for Indiana businesses
  • Overview of the new rolling reassessments for real property in Indiana
  • Adjustments to the property tax appeals process, and new obstacles that must be overcome in appealing property tax assessments
  • Impact of the automatic taxpayer refunds, and where Indiana taxpayers will receive savings

This informative publication is authored by attorneys at Ice Miller, LLP and is available for $111.75 for Indiana Chamber members and $149 for non-members. Order your copy today by calling (800) 824-6885 or through our web site.

VIDEO: Pres. Brinegar Wraps up the 2013 Legislative Session

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar offers a two-minute wrap-up of the 2013 legislative session. Highlighting his review are thoughts on the new budget, tax relief and critical education and workforce development issues.

Poll Question: It’s Grading Time

We asked a few weeks ago for your opinion about Gov. Pence's income tax cut proposal and where state legislators would end up in their budget. A 5% cut divided between 2015 (3%) and 2017 (additional 2%) was not one of the options.

I guess that would fall under what was choice D (other), which received 3% of the vote. The other choices were:

  • Full 10% cut as proposed by Pence: 43%
  • 3% cut per the bill passed by the Senate: 27%
  • No tax cut, which was part of the House bill: 27%

Lawmakers have termed the overall budget as the largest tax cut ($1 billion) in the state's history. The Indiana Chamber's upcoming legislative analysis will have more details, but that does include an immediate elimination of the state inheritance tax (in fact, it makes the elimination retroactive to January 1, 2013) instead of the nine-year phase-out that was passed in 2012.

The budget, as always, was a high-profile issue but just one of the topics that garnered attention. Again, more Chamber review is on the way but our new poll question asks for your overall grade of the 2013 General Assembly. Cast your vote at the top right of this page.

Pres. Brinegar Offers Chamber’s Reaction to State Budget Deal

Earlier today, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and Indiana Senate President David Long announced a deal had been reached on House Bill 1001, the two-year state budget. Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar reacts to the budget provisions:

"The new state budget has a strong focus on jobs and economic growth, putting additional investments into education and workforce development while also making important tax cuts.

"Trimming the individual income tax rate by 5% will not only benefit working Hoosiers but also many of the state's smallest business owners.

"It was particularly important to see some K-12 funding restored (cut during the last budget process) and more dollars targeted for our highways and infrastructure system.

"Meanwhile, the immediate elimination of the inheritance tax is long overdue and will lift a significant burden off of small, family-owned businesses.

"We commend House and Senate leaders, the governor's office and all those who got the budget to where it is — fiscally sound and including a wide variety of positive provisions for Hoosiers."

Numbers are in for Crafting the Final Budget

State budget watchers have been talking about the April update of the revenue forecast for months. This is because everyone knew that the numbers that came out this week revising the December projections for state tax receipts over the next two-plus years would be the numbers that control the final form of the FY 2014-FY 2015 biennium budget. While the significance of the April update is not to be diminished, the reality is that many of the “down in the weeds” budget crafters are the same people that generate the forecast. The Revenue Forecast Committee includes fiscal analysts from each of the four caucuses and a representative from the state budget agency – and these people are the ones that the fiscal leaders work with to put the budget together. So this means the folks who have been doing the hands-on budget detail work had a pretty good idea of what the April numbers would be earlier than when they were publically presented on Tuesday. But they couldn’t really generate revised numbers until they had enough indication of what the overall economic forecast would be. It is those trends and indicators that serve as the basis for the group’s revenue projections. The economic forecast (or outlook as they call it) is performed by IHS Global Insights (the largest and most renowned
economics organization in the world).

The revenue forecasters apply economic variables to their formula guided by IHS Global Insight’s economic forecast/outlook for Indiana. The group’s presentation this week indicated continuation of a stable but slow recovery, a slight slowing of consumer spending and higher nonwage income. In response to the economic picture, the revenue forecasters made some modifications to their revenue forecasting model and also made an adjustment to the gaming tax projections to account for more out-of state-competition. The resulting bottom line was an upward revision of $290 million over the previous forecast for the balance of FY 2013 (+$33M), FY 2014(+73M) and FY 2015 (+$184M). Nearly all of the increase is attributable to projected individual income tax receipts in the next biennium. The individual income tax projections were increased by 3% and 4% for FY 2014 and FY 2015 respectively. This translates to $70 million and $151 million more than the December forecast.

The forecast’s show of strength in personal income growth could itself become the subject of debate in the budget negotiations since it can be argued two different ways. Those supporting a tax cut will point to it as evidence that the state is collecting too much in this particular category of revenue, while those cautioning against a cut will suggest that this demonstrates the volatility and uncertainty of a steady income stream. Will the forecasts cause the House budget-makers and the Senate budgetmakers to change their thinking and reconsider the tax cuts? Perhaps, but consider that $290 million is only 1% of the total budget and is really nothing more than an adjustment of a prior estimate.

However you want to view it, it is a positive upswing and that fact alone should help the Governor’s cause for the individual income tax rate reduction.

Licks or Clicks: Take Your Pick

I'll risk showing my age by asking how many remember the advertising phrase: "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?" The ads on U.S. television go back to 1970.

I was somehow reminded of that when reading a recent headline that said: "How many clicks does it take to get to state tax information online?" Not quite as exciting or tasty a subject, but there is that alliteration.

The Tax Foundation asked the second question. Indiana was one of five states at the bottom of that list, requiring five clicks in order for a visitor to the state web site to find 2012 individual income tax rates. Three states (Colorado, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) provided access with only two clicks.

A second query focused more on quantity of information rather than ease of locating. States were evaluated on the availability of 2012 and 2013 tax rate schedules, tax tables and tax forms. Five states had a perfect six score; Indiana was one of 11 with a five out of six.

What does it all mean? One takeaway is that states would be well served to reduce taxpayer frustration at an already frustrating time for many by making tax information available in an easy-to-locate manner. And, anytime you can pull out a 43-year-old Tootsie Pop reference, you have to take advantage of it.

The Tax Foundation has the details.

Brinegar Speaks on Indiana Budget, Speedway Upgrades

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar sat down with Inside INdiana Business recently to discuss the most pressing topics in the state legislature as the end of session nears. See the video on IIB:

A bill that would create a tax district to fund upgrades at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway continues to make its way through the legislature. Some lawmakers want to add guarantees that would protect state funds if the facility would be sold. In this week's INside the Statehouse segment, Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar says he's "cautiously optimistic" the legislation will pass.

Our partners at Network Indiana/WIBC report a proposed amendment to the bill calls for the speedway to receive a portion of the money the horse racing industry now receives as a loan, rather than forming a tax district. The chance would also give an additional $5 million to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. for other motorsports industry efforts.

Brinegar says the Indiana House and Senate are not too far apart on a two-year state budget. He believes the final product will look closest to the Senate's proposal, which passed through committee last week. That plan includes a smaller individual income tax cut than the 10 percent proposed by Governor Mike Pence and an increase in K-12 funding by more than $330 million. Pence has called the proposal "a good start."

Differences also remain on education issues. The Senate has passed a bill that would halt the implementation of Common Core standards. House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning (R-91) has refused to hear the bill because he believes the standards should move forward.

Spend, Spend and More Spend

Few will argue with the idea that federal government spending is out of control. The Heritage Foundation's Federal Spending by the Numbers is a comprehensive look at the situation. We'll share a few of the many bullet points that just make me (and I'm sure many of you) wonder why our political leaders can't realize that the current course is a disastrous one.

  • Over the past 20 years, federal spending grew 71 percent faster than inflation.
  • In 1962, defense spending was nearly half the total federal budget (49 percent); Social Security and other mandatory programs were less than one-third of the budget (31 percent). Two major entitlement programs, Medicaid and Medicare, were signed into law by President Johnson in 1965.
  • In 2012 entitlements were nearly 62 percent of total spending, while defense dropped to less than one-fifth (18.7 percent) of the budget.
  • Federal spending per household reached $29,691 in 2012, a 29 percent increase (adjusted for inflation) from $23,010 in 2002. The government collected $20,293 per household in taxes in 2012.
  • The excess of spending over taxes produced a budget deficit of $9,398 per household in 2012.
  • For every $6.80 the federal government collected in taxes in 2012, it spent $10. Consequently, $3.20 out of every $10 spent was borrowed.
  • Major entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program, Obamacare) will increase from 44 percent of federal spending in 2012 to 57 percent in 2022.
  • In 1993, Social Security surpassed national defense as the largest federal spending category, and remains first today.
  • Federal energy spending has increased steadily over the past decade with the government increasingly subsidizing activities like energy efficiency, energy supply, and technology commercialization. An unprecedented $42 billion was spent in 2009 as part of the stimulus, a nine-fold increase over the 2008 spending level.
  • Interest on the debt is the fifth largest federal spending category, even at today’s low interest rates.
  • All entitlements (excluding net interest) total nearly 62 percent of all federal spending today.
  • Spending on the largest, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, will leap from 10.4 percent of GDP in 2012 to 18.2 percent by 2048.
  • The big three entitlements alone will absorb all tax revenues by 2048. Other spending, such as national defense or interest on the debt would have to be financed completely on borrowed money.
  • Medicare is the fastest-growing major entitlement, growing 68 percent since 2002. Medicaid grew 38 percent and Social Security 37 percent.