Check Out the Chamber’s Issue Pages

Do you have a topic you're passionate about, and would like to know what the Indiana Chamber is working on in that area? We've developed some web pages highlighting key issues that will show you what we're focused on and offer some background on our public policies. See the pages below, and more information will be added weekly to these as the session progresses.

http://www.indianachamber.com/education
http://www.indianachamber.com/tax
http://www.indianachamber.com/healthcare
http://www.indianachamber.com/econdev
http://www.indianachamber.com/labor
http://www.indianachamber.com/environment
http://www.indianachamber.com/localgov
http://www.indianachamber.com/federal

Our 2013 Top Legislative Priorities and Legislative Business Issues documents are also available to view.

Brinegar: Indiana Vision 2025 is Ambitious — and Should Be

A lot of thought has gone into developing the Indiana Vision 2025 plan. It includes more than 30 goals in four areas of focus: outstanding talent, which encompasses K-12, higher education and the workforce; an attractive business climate; a superior infrastructure; and a dynamic and innovative culture. See a PDF of the plan.

EPA Plans Could Mean Huge Energy Cost Increases

The U.S. Senate is likely to vote this week on a measure from Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases as pollutants. Some argue it will be among the most important environmental votes of this decade. The Weekly Standard contends:

The regulation of greenhouses under the Clean Air Act was triggered by EPA’s determination that such gases pose a danger to human health. This is not because they actually pose any danger to human health, like real pollutants, but rather because their accumulation in the upper atmosphere could contribute to “dangerous warming” by 2050. Carbon dioxide is a ubiquitous product of all economic activity and of everything that breathes.

Giving EPA the power to regulate it is tantamount to letting it control virtually the whole economy. And unlike other pollutants, no effective, commercially practicable control technology exists. Where economic activity is found to produce too much CO2 for EPA standards, that activity will simply have to stop. Hidden deep inside thousands of pages of technocratic jargon is a fact that should focus the attention of everybody.  If not stopped this week, EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases risks an economic catastrophe.

According to some estimates, just in the next two years the new regulations could cost 1.4 million jobs and decrease U.S. business investment by 15 percent. One study estimates that GDP will be half a trillion dollars less by 2030.  Another concluded the cost of gasoline will rise by 50 percent, electricity by 50 percent, and natural gas by 75 percent over the next 20 years. Transportation costs are the primary variable in food prices – so food prices will be affected. Low income Americans, who are particularly vulnerable to spikes in energy and food prices, will be hardest hit.

Earlier in the week, we released an Action Alert stating If the EPA moves forward as it plans, dramatic increases in energy costs are just around the corner. Even the EPA admits to huge energy cost increases. It has been estimated that the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations could reduce business investment between $97 and $290 billion in 2011 and as much as $309 billion in 2014. EPA’s own records indicate that permitting provisions alone will cost applicants $125,000 and 866 hours of burden per facility.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pushing forward with its plans to regulate and penalize carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has admitted that regulating greenhouse gases under the Act would subject the business community to an onerous and costly process that will see costs skyrocket. The McConnell Amendment seeks to stop the EPA from moving forward with this process and allow Congress to address the issue.

Congress should pursue common-sense solutions to address greenhouse gas emissions, not to allow the EPA to charge forward with a seriously-flawed, job-killing regulatory strategy.

Luntz Described as ‘Evil Cleaver’

Here’s a recent description of pollster Frank Luntz, courtesy of a political blog: "the boyish charlatan who’s been concocting spin for conservative candidates and causes for what seems like a century now, but who still manages to look like the evil Cleaver brother."

Not exactly a Luntz fan, huh? But love him or hate him, he’s always interesting. And he returns for the Indiana Chamber’s 2011 Legislative Reception and Dinner. A few topics likely to emerge: 2012 presidential contenders, how serious is Washington about debt reduction, state legislative battles (think Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio to begin with) and more.

Here’s a BizVoice story when we had the opportunity to sit down with Luntz in 2008. I’ve heard him a few times now; can’t say I always agree with everything he has to say. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it.

See and hear for yourself on March 16.

Vital Unemployment Bill Passes Indiana House

The folllowing is a legislative update on HB 1450 regarding unemployment insurance:

Bill # and Title: HB 1450 – Unemployment Insurance
Author: Rep. Dan Leonard (R-Huntington)

Summary: Establishes the weekly unemployment benefit amount as 47% of the individual’s prior average weekly wage. This is calculated by dividing an employee’s earnings during a year (regardless of how many weeks the employee has worked) by 52. Establishes the maximum weekly benefit amount at $390 (which is the current maximum). This change will not become effective until July 1, 2012. This means that people currently drawing unemployment benefits will see no change to their benefits. Places all employers into Rate Schedule E (a lower rate) for the years 2011-2020. Establishes a 13% surcharge for employers to pay into the unemployment insurance solvency fund in order to pay interest due on the outstanding balance of federal loans.

Chamber Position: Support

Status: The bill passed out of the House with 61 votes and was sent to the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee for consideration.

Update/Chamber Action: In addition to working to get the bill passed in the Senate, the Indiana Chamber is also involved in researching the issue of whether bonds could be issued to pay off the loan to the federal government (a little over $2 billion was owed as of late January). Besides the possibility of getting a lower interest rate (currently the federal government is charging around 4% interest on the outstanding loan balance whereas the interest rate might fall to around 2-2.5% under a bond), if the loan was paid off then Indiana employers would not lose their federal credit toward the payment of their federal unemployment taxes. While unemployment insurance taxes will increase next year (and they must to help return the system to solvency), the Chamber-led shift to Schedule E rates will result in $2 billion in savings (over the intended new rates) for Hoosier employers over the next 10 years.

Evansville Courier & Press: Township Reform is Needed

Mentioning the Indiana Chamber’s support of the movement, this Evansville Courier & Press editorial argues that townships simply aren’t very convincing when it comes to demonstrating their usefulness for Indiana:

Although the case for downsizing or eliminating township government remains a hard sell to the Indiana Legislature, the case for local government reform remains ever more compelling.

Yes, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce came out this past week in support of either the elimination of township government or of at least the elimination of advisory boards in each of Indiana’s townships. But that is no surprise. The organization that lobbies for issues favorable to businesses has long supported the downsizing of local government, particularly of township government, as a way of reducing local government costs.

Of more interest, we found news reports this past week of two more issues involving specific townships elsewhere, as reported in other news media. They stand as further evidence that townships have too much time and tax money on their hands.

Also, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose legislative agenda includes local government reform, will come to the January session armed with what we would call compelling information in support of ending township government in Indiana.

Of course, locally we had the case of former Knight Township Trustee Linda Durham, who allegedly misappropriated $70,000 in township funds. She awaits trial, and if the charges prove true, it will be one more indication that township government is woefully lacking in oversight.

Also, Eric Bradner of the Courier & Press Capital Bureau reported about a year ago that township governments statewide were sitting on $215 million in surpluses, much of it intended for emergency poor relief.

More recently, according to the Associated Press, via the Indianapolis Star newspaper, the Wayne Township trustee in Marion County earlier this month was found planning to give $200,000 in poor relief funds to the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library to allow for longer hours at four library branches.

The trustee, David Baird, said his plan fit in with the township’s mission for poor relief in that the poor use the libraries’ computers and other resources to look for jobs.

This is not the intended purpose of poor relief. It should be utilized to address urgent needs, such as preventing electricity from being turned off, or for filling urgently needed prescriptions. But township trustees seem to take tremendous latitude in deciding how to spend tax-financed poor relief.

The Indianapolis Star reports on a State Board of Accounts audit of Jefferson Township in Sullivan County, which resulted in the trustee and his wife, working as the office clerk, having to give back $42,366 to the township for payments they should not have received.

Chamber Director’s Resignation Stems from Twitter Feed

When I read the headline for this story, I initially assumed this director probably had too much to drink and spouted off a personal opinion about someone or something (as many of us do from time to time) on her Chamber’s Twitter feed, thus leading to her departure. But reading her actual Tweets illustrates how fine the line is between what should and shouldn’t go out via a business’ social media program. Granted, her posts might be construed as a bit too informal, but nothing here seems all that egregious. Here is an excerpt from the article at AnnArbor.com, and the site itself shows a few examples of the Twitter feed in question:

The rules that govern the social media world are constantly evolving, but an episode that led to the resignation of the Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce’s executive director shows that ignorance about that evolution is risky.

Mary Ann Bell Falzon resigned last week after a column in a community newspaper questioned the content of her Twitter account, which she was using to promote local businesses through the chamber’s “Doing Dexter” campaign.

Falzon’s mistakes serve as a lesson for the business community, public officials and others unsure about how to approach social media.

“Through all of this whole Twitter mess, I was doing what I set out to do with Doing Dexter,” she told AnnArbor.com. “What I didn’t do well was tweet about it.”

The first lesson for business people: Make sure you understand the tool before you start using it. Falzon acknowledged that she erred by launching a Twitter account without understanding the social media tool, which allows users to send 140-character updates to users who choose to follow their accounts or view the Web site version of their account.

Falzon said her voluntary resignation was “mostly” connected to the criticism over her Twitter account, although she said the chamber board never confronted her about it. The chamber board, for its part, ousted the board member in charge of overseeing Falzon and released a statement acknowledging that the Doing Dexter campaign had “gone with too little supervision."

Falzon launched the Twitter account on July 8 specifically to chronicle her efforts to shop locally and eat locally through the Doing Dexter campaign, which started Aug. 1 and will last through Oct. 1.

U.S. Chamber: We Need the Right Bill on Financial Reform

While we’re primarily focused on next week’s primary elections in this space throughout this week, the hot topic in Washington right now is financial regulatory reform. Tom Donohue, president/CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (there is no direct relationship between state chambers and the national organization, but we do work together on supporting policy that positively impacts jobs and the economy) offers a succinct commentary that provides solid suggestions for improving the legislation currently under consideration.

Financial regulatory reform is essential, and it needs to happen this year. But it’s not enough to pass any bill—we need the right bill. The rules set now will govern financial markets for years to come, impacting job creation and economic growth. At the time of this writing, a bipartisan deal may be in the works, but here are five ways we think that the current Senate legislation can be improved:

Consumer Protection—The Senate bill creates a $410 million Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with far-reaching powers—even over many nonfinancial businesses. In fact, any business that allows customers to pay in more than four installments or assesses a finance charge would be covered—even an orthodontic practice. The bill also opens the door to a new wave of lawsuits because state regulations are not preempted by new federal rules. Strong consumer protection can be better achieved through a council of regulators.

Too Big to Fail—Instead of eliminating the concept “too big to fail,” the Senate bill embraces it, ultimately designating firms as too big to fail and creating a $50 billion bailout fund. What’s needed is an orderly and predictable system—much like our current bankruptcy process—to unwind failing institutions quickly, fairly, and without taxpayer expense.

Derivatives—The Chamber agrees we need more transparency and disclosure in the multitrillion-dollar derivatives market, but there must be exemptions for businesses using the market to hedge risk on such things as exchange rates. These businesses do not threaten the stability of the financial system and should not be forced to post cash collateral that would otherwise be used to grow the business, invest, and create jobs.

Corporate Governance—Provisions in the current bill would trump state corporate governance laws—which have worked well for 150 years—in favor of one-size-fits-all federal laws. That would give labor unions and other special interest shareholders the power to leverage their agendas at the expense of other shareholders. These issues don’t belong in this bill.

Volcker Rule—While the Chamber agrees with the intent of the Volcker Rule to stabilize the financial system, its implementation would put American companies at a global disadvantage. Better tools—such as higher capital and liquidity requirements—can be used to achieve the same goal.

Financial regulatory reform is something Congress simply has to get right. The current bill needs more commonsense provisions to attract broad bipartisan support. The changes we outlined would do just that, while strengthening our capital markets, helping prevent future crises, and boosting our economy.

Ice Miller, Attorney General to Explain Impact of Health Reform on Your Company

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the most sweeping health care reform legislation since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid 1960s. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act (collectively, "Act"), will eventually impact nearly every employer, business, individual and health care provider in America.

The Act is over 900 pages long, and it includes some provisions that have received considerable attention, such as individual and employer mandates to obtain insurance coverage. Many other provisions have not received such attention, yet they will have a significant impact on individuals and employers. There is also a perception among some that the Act does not become effective for several years. While this is true for certain provisions, such as the excise tax on high cost health insurance plans, several other important provisions will require many employers to review and revise their employee benefit plans as early as September 2010.

It is important that Chamber members and other Indiana employers understand the many changes under the new health care reform Act and the impact these changes will have on their business. To assist in this regard, the Chamber and Ice Miller are hosting the third in a series of seminars on health care reform on April 29, 2010, at the Hilton in downtown Indianapolis.

This seminar will include presentations on the following topics:

  • Background on the Health Care Reform Debate
  • Overview of Key Parts of the Act and a Timeline for Implementation
  • Impact on Employers and Benefit Plans
  • Impact on Taxpayers and Taxes

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller will discuss the litigation filed by Indiana and several other states to challenge certain aspects of the Act.  Additionally, the conference will include two panel discussions with distinguished speakers.  One panel will feature representatives from Anthem, Eli Lilly (invited), the Cook Group, the Indiana Hospital Association and the Indiana State Medical Association discussing the Act’s impact on the health care industry. The second panel discussion will focus on the Act’s impact on large and small employers and union employees and will include speakers from Fairfield Manufacturing, Womack Restaurants, and the Indiana Chamber. There will also be focus group sessions during the conference lunch on topics of interest to certain groups. Ice Miller lawyers with applicable experience will facilitate discussions and answer questions on the following topics:

  • Benefit plans, wellness programs, and other cost reduction efforts
  • Business and funding opportunities created by the new law
  • Impact on health care providers

This seminar provides a unique opportunity to learn about the sweeping changes and to hear how other individuals and businesses plan to deal with these changes. We urge you to attend.