Short Session Starts With a Flurry of Activity

The Governor and General Assembly have continually heard from Hoosier employers on the need for a skilled workforce – and better aligning state programs with job demand. The good news is bills are being introduced to address those concerns. While only a handful of measures have been released to date, we are seeing legislation related to training tax credits and grants, as well as efforts to streamline current workforce programs. We anticipate a comprehensive workforce bill (1002) will be introduced in the House later next week.

The Governor’s computer science bill (SB 172) requires all public schools to offer a one-semester elective computer science course at least once each school year to high school students. We expect a hearing on this measure in the next two weeks. Both this and the workforce efforts are 2018 Indiana Chamber legislative priorities.

Senate Bill 257 has been introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) to serve as the beginning of discussions on clarifying the exempt status of computer software sold as a service (SaaS) – a Chamber priority. Holdman is also authoring another major piece of tax legislation, SB 242, which contains a variety of tax matters. The House bills are coming in too, with a good number already filed addressing local tax issues.

Speaking of local matters, the Chamber is very pleased to see that the House Republican agenda includes a bill that will make township government more effective and efficient by the merging of townships (approximately 300) where less than 1,200 people reside. Such local government reform has been a longstanding Chamber goal.

In addition to SB 257, other technology-related bills include Rep. Ed Soliday’s (R-Valparaiso) autonomous vehicle (AV) proposal to position Indiana to safely test and implement AV technology with automobiles. The bill also will address truck platooning, which uses GPS and WiFi technology to allow trucks to more closely follow each other for greater efficiency, on Indiana roads.

Rural broadband, high-speed internet and small cell wireless structures technology all will be topics for the Legislature to debate. Certified technology parks also will be discussed with the idea to have an additional capture of sales and income tax revenue for those complexes that perform well.

In health care, enabling employers to ask prospective employees if they are smokers not only heads the Chamber’s wish list but also appears to be gaining traction this go-round. Eliminating the special protections (currently in state statute) for smokers is found in SB 23 and will be guided by Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne). The bill has a pretty good chance of getting a hearing in the Senate – which would be a first. Previously, a measure was taken up in a joint hearing in the House.

Increasing the tobacco tax and raising the legal age for smokers to 21 are policies that likely will be included in a bill to be introduced by Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary). The Indiana Chamber is supportive of both.

Nine utility-related bills are on our radar screen at this point. They range from tweaks of last year’s big legislation (like SB 309, which addressed rising energy costs and a long-standing struggle between the investor-owned electric utilities and larger consumers of energy) to compulsory sewer connection, excavation for infrastructure, regulation of solar energy systems in homeowners’ associations and new water legislation. Separately, Sen. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) has a proposed ban on coal tar pavement sealer, which we oppose.

There are also a number of bills proposing changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws including: Sunday sales, cold beer sales by grocery and convenience stores, and increases in fees and penalties.

The Chamber will be providing more details on all of these bills as the session progresses.

For anyone who wants a refresher about how legislation becomes law, the Chamber has a handy guide free of charge. It includes a diagram of the bill process, a glossary of often-used terms and a look at where bills commonly get tripped up.

Additionally, the Chamber will be providing updates and issuing pertinent documents throughout the session at www.indianachamber.com/legislative.

Three Strikes, Virginians are Out (of Options)

Usually the only time you see three red X’s in a row is if you’re watching "Family Feud" and the family up to bat just struck out.

This time, however, a newspaper in Virginia has used the symbols to declare their endorsement of gubernatorial candidates. As in: none of them. Not the Republican candidate, current Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli; not the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe; and not the Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.

It’s a first for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which recently outlined in an editorial the newspaper’s move not to endorse anyone in the upcoming race for the state’s highest office. The reasons the editorial board gave were broad: for instance, “The major-party candidates have earned the citizenry’s derision. The third-party alternative has run a more exemplary race yet does not qualify as a suitable option. We cannot in good conscience endorse a candidate for governor.”

Read the full editorial for more on the three candidates in the race and the newspaper’s decision.

There are a few themes, however, in the article that are worth highlighting. One such theme: the Democratic candidate lost out on the nomination for the same office years prior, when he and his opponent “spent the campaign spitting on each other.” For that reason, the editorial board notes that he “is not the conciliator necessary in times as nasty as these.”

Hear that refrain that is so prevalent on the national level these days? Refusing to compromise for the greater good – it sounds so familiar.

Then there’s the take on the Republican candidate. The newspaper takes issue, offense actually, at the man’s social issues, such as abortion and homosexual rights. The focus on social issues is also a common source of frustration for the (increasing number of) Americans that consider themselves moderates.

“Cuccinelli’s hostility to marriage equality offends. The rights applying to human beings by definition apply to homosexuals. The concerns relating to Cuccinelli do not relate to McAuliffe and Sarvis.”  

And then there’s the Libertarian candidate. The newspaper notes that he has no experience that would parlay into a governorship of a state (even though the candidate was kept from participating in any of the televised debates so far, so how he stacks up against the other two is mostly a mystery). Instead, the editorial goes on to mention that it takes issue with the libertarian ideology and that the candidate would “be in over his head.”

Smart political candidates will take heed of this clear example of what Americans are fed up with and stay away from the paltriness, pigheadedness and cronyism that is so prevalent in politics these days.

All I can say is: Good luck, Virginia. 

Chamber Poll: Senate Race Tied, Pence Has Advantage in Gov. Race

Richard Mourdock (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) are in a statistical dead heat for the open U.S. Senate seat, with 17% of voters in that race still undecided, according to a new statewide poll released today by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

By a 41% to 39% margin (within the survey’s margin of error), Mourdock enjoys a slight lead over Donnelly.  In addition to the 17% of respondents who are undecided, 3% support Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning.

In the election for Indiana Governor, Mike Pence (R) holds a commanding 50% to 32% lead over John Gregg (D), with Libertarian Rupert Boneham supported by 3%.  In that race, 15% of respondents are still undecided.

The scientific public opinion poll of 600 registered voters statewide was conducted by Market Research Insight from August 6-9, 2012.  The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4% and utilized live interviewer telephone surveys to maximize accuracy. Dr. Verne Kennedy, senior analyst for Market Research Insight, served as project director for the poll. Kennedy has conducted more than 200 public opinion surveys in Indiana over the past two decades.

When poll respondents were asked to identify their political affiliations, results were 46% Republican and 38% Democrat, with 16% identifying as independents. Mourdock and Donnelly achieve similar support levels among their respective party voters, but 41% of self-identified independent voters are still undecided.

“As typical, both Democrats and Republicans are relatively polarized, favoring the candidate for their party,” Kennedy says. The 16% of Indiana voters who say they are completely independent will likely determine the outcome of the Senate race.

“Mourdock has the advantage in the election because more of the 17% of undecided voters on this race identify themselves as Republicans than Democrats,” Kennedy explains. “For instance, among those voters undecided on the U.S. Senate race, 33% indicated their support for Pence for governor compared to 6% who support Gregg in that race.”

The public opinion poll was commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and its non-partisan political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG). Learn more by viewing the polling report and crosstabs.

CEO and NFL Finish in a Tie

I expected voters in our most recent poll to return to their youth and opt for baseball, basketball, football (or the athletic endeavor of their choice) glory. But when you’ve got a large business audience, I guess it should be no surprise that many also aspire for the corner office.

The question, building on Gov. Mitch Daniels’ pending move to the presidency of Purdue University, asked about your ultimate dream job. The answers:

  • Fortune 500 CEO and professional athlete: 29% each
  • University president: 21%
  • Member of Congress: 13%
  • Governor: 8%

The current poll (top right) combines athletics with a much bigger economic impact. Give us your thought on Indianapolis seeking a Super Bowl encore.

WSJ: Pence for President in 2012?

I know, I know. This is likely one of umpteen articles you’ll encounter on this subject, but it’s from the Wall Street Journal so I figure it warrants mentioning. Though Mike Pence is now considered by many to have a firm grip on the 2012 Indiana Governor’s race should he choose to enter, some speculate he may not be such a longshot to earn the GOP nomination for President.

A former radio personality, the 51-year-old Mr. Pence became a darling among fiscal conservatives for opposing two of President George W. Bush’s signature initiatives, the 2001 No Child Left Behind education act and the 2003 Medicare Part D drug benefit. He saw both as violating his party’s small-government principles.

Mr. Pence favors reducing the size of the federal government, and even the power of the presidency. He wants to amend the Constitution both to ban abortions and to allow marriage only between men and women. He says increased security along the Mexican border must precede any immigration overhaul.

Mr. Pence was also among the first congressmen to jump on the tea-party wave in early 2009, speaking at rallies across Indiana and in Washington.

It was his speech at the Values Voter Summit, a marquee annual event among social conservative groups, which did the most to rouse support. The speech, with its calls to ban all federal abortion funding and stem-cell research, drew standing ovations and chants of "President Pence."

When summit attendees cast ballots in a straw poll for president, Mr. Pence came in first, ahead of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and others.

For many conservatives, Mr. Pence holds much the same allure that Mr. Huckabee did in the 2008 campaign. Mr. Huckabee tapped into support from home-schoolers and evangelicals to pull off a surprise win in the Iowa caucus, though could never catch Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), the eventual nominee.

"The big question with Huckabee is whether he can raise enough money to be a real contender in 2012," says Tom Minnery, head of public policy for Focus on the Family. As a fresher face, he says, Mr. Pence "is someone who could generate a lot of enthusiasm" in Iowa and other early nominating states and possibly show more durability in the long presidential campaign.

The Indiana lawmaker, who first won election to Congress in 2000, also has the backing of budget hawks such as Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman who is now president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth. "Mike has the retail appeal of Huckabee but is an across-the-board conservative with all the credentials. There is no one else like that," says Mr. Chocola.

Feeding speculation about his presidential ambitions, Mr. Pence has visited Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the past year, all states with early roles in the nominating process. And yet Mr. Pence and others in his camp continue to drop hints that he’s shying from a White House run. The thought of a presidential campaign, Mr. Pence said in an interview, "is more humbling than tempting."He says he’s weary of Washington. "I prefer the Flat Rock River to the Potomac River, and the Flat Rock is about a half a block from my house," he said.

Bayh Gone?

Much to the surprise of many Hoosier politicos, Sen. Evan Bayh has decided NOT to run for Indiana governor in 2012 and recapture the office he held in 1989-1997. The Indy Star has the report:

Bayh’s decision ends, at least for now, an era in Indiana politics. The son of former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, he burst onto the political scene in 1986 when at age 30 he won election as secretary of state before sweeping to victory as governor two years later.

Democrats had hoped he’d resurrect them in 2012, as he did in the 1980s, by running for governor. And, while Bayh had turned his back on a third term in the Senate earlier this year, saying he did “not love Congress,” Democrats were optimistic that a chance to return to a job he had clearly relished would prove irresistible.

“If all I cared about is politics I’d run for governor because I loved being governor, and the prospects were probably favorable” that he’d be elected, Bayh said.

But, he added, “I want my kids to know that they were their parents’ top priority, and more important than ambition. I’ve been privileged to be elected five times. You only have your kids once.”

He said he doesn’t know yet what his next chapter will bring when he ceases to be an elected official Jan. 5, when the man who replaces him, Republican Dan Coats, is sworn in to office.

In the article, state Democrats express disappointment as it likely means they’ll have a very difficult time taking back the office. One also wonders how this will impact Rep. Mike Pence’s gubernatorial considerations.

Will Bayh Seek Governor’s Office Again?

Writing for Howey Politics Indiana, veteran reporter/columnist Jack Colwell relays the soon-to-be former Senator’s comments on seeking the Indiana Governor’s office once again, as well as his thoughts on the acrimonious nature of politics at the national level today:

After deciding, Bayh said, he will announce quickly, avoiding his acknowledged mistake in not announcing his Senate decision back in August of ’09, when he told Obama.
    
When Obama asked if he was 100 percent certain, Bayh related, “I made a mistake. I said it’s 98 percent.”
    
Thus, the president and Rahm Emanuel, then White House chief of staff, kept urging him to put off any announcement and reconsider. He put it off, “procrastinating, going back and forth,” until the filing deadline was upon him.
     
Now, some Democrats are angry with Bayh for waiting until it was too late for another candidate to get on the primary ballot. Congressman Brad Ellsworth finally was picked as the nominee by the Democratic State Committee. Ellsworth, who would have won for re-election for his 8th District House seat, was instead trounced Tuesday in a statewide race with Republican Dan Coats. And Democrats lost the 8th District seat.
    
Democratic chances for the Senate wouldn’t have brightened if he had announced much earlier that he wasn’t running, Bayh theorized, because it would have brought a divisive Democratic primary and “Republicans would have had a stronger nominee” than Coats.
    
Bayh noted that I have written he would have won re-election. He said he probably could have, but he would have had to concentrate from May to November on “destroying my opponent” and suffer “personally unpleasant” attacks from the opponent, not very satisfying for someone sick of partisan warfare in the Senate.
    
It’s not his father’s Senate.
   
He said that when his father, Birch Bayh, was in the Senate, “some of his better friends were Republicans. They’d come over for dinner.”
    
He recalled how Sen. Everett Dirksen, then Senate Republican leader,  “came up to him (Birch Bayh) on the floor of the Senate and asked what he could do to help with his re-election. That would never happen today.”
    
Bayh said he is “independent, moderate” and found fewer and fewer on either side of the aisle who would abandon partisan bickering to seek reasonable compromise.
    
“Some of this was unavoidable,” Bayh said of Democratic losses.
    
After financial panic and severe recession, slow recovery was certain, Bayh said, but the slowness was blamed on the president and Democratic-controlled Congress.
    
Usual mid-term election losses for the president’s party were made worse, he said, by Democrats who pressed to do too much on health care reform “in the teeth of the worst economy” and brought on “resurrection of the ‘big taxer, big spender’ image.”

Shake-Up: What Will Happen if House Changes?

Indiana political reporter/commenter Brian Howey asks some relevant questions in his latest column about what Gov. Daniels will do should Republicans overtake the Indiana House tomorrow — namely regarding issues very near and dear to the Indiana Chamber: education and township government reform. Howey Politics Indiana reports:

A Republican majority in the House will mean that the thrust of reforms will return to the legislative theater, with education taking center stage. "America is about to make big changes and the forces defending the status quo are pretty isolated," Daniels said in an interview Wednesday in his Statehouse office. He emphasized that he, President Obama, U.S. Education Sec. Arne Duncan and Indiana Supt. Tony Bennett are all on the “same page." States that drag their feet on education reforms will "get left behind," Daniels said.

In the 2011 Indiana General Assembly, Daniels said of his first educational mission, "I would organize it as teacher quality. This means paying the best teachers more, paying the teachers in the most important subjects more. Or at least have the freedom to do that. And teachers earning job security because the kids learn, not because they’ve been around for years. Pure seniority doesn’t work. We have teachers of the year who get laid off.”

The State Board of Education has changed the ways schools will be graded, going to an A through F format. He said it would not be fair to hold schools accountable without taking down "all sorts of mandates and handcuffs, whether it’s by statute or regulation."

The governor wants to "take the lid off charter schools" so they don’t struggle. This would mean ending a six-month delay in payments from the state. He added that school corporations won’t sell or give charter schools empty school buildings that taxpayers have already paid for. "We’ll address that and give them a fair shake," he said.

"I’m going to propose that Indiana students can graduate in less than 12 years," Daniels said, adding that he’s been approached by scores of students who tell him they had amassed enough credit hours to have graduated one or two semesters earlier. He said seniors frequently tell him "I’m cruising" at a cost of between $8,000 and $10,000 per year to taxpayers.

He said the state had "accidentally" created a competitive environment between public schools when the state assumed all K-12 school funding, taking it off the property tax rolls. "There are now billboards where schools are saying, ‘Check out our test scores.’"

"We should say schools can’t charge tuition," Daniels said, suggesting that if an Indianapolis Public School student wants to enroll at Ben Davis, "there will be more freedom and more options." Essentially, the money should follow the student.

"We don’t tell people where they have to buy their groceries," Daniels said, "but we tell them where they have to go to school."

Some Democrats have charged that Daniels is intent on destroying public education. "That is somebody who is thinking about adults and not the kids,” he said. “We’re going to shape it around the kids."

As for the Kernan-Shepard reforms on local government, Daniels said he would like to start "with the four bills that passed the Senate twice." Those deal with nepotism among public employees, conflicts of interest (such as police and firefighters and other municipal employees serving on city and county councils that set pay), eliminating township advisory boards and moving from three county commissioners to a single county executive.

Daniels added, "I will raise the issue of township trustees."

Going Clean in Colorado

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper may have the right idea (as well as a fun name to say) regarding his campaign commercials in his bid to become Colorado’s next governor. While the ad doesn’t really say much about what he’ll do if elected, it is critical of negative campaigning and may resonate well with voters. The spot was recently featured on The Fix.