Chamber Scores Lawmakers on Voting Records, Honors Five as Legislative Champions

Each year, the Indiana Chamber holds state lawmakers accountable for their voting records on pro-jobs, pro-economy legislation. Today the 2017 results were revealed in the organization’s annual Legislative Vote Analysis, with vote scores ranging from 29% to 100%.

“We want employers and citizens to take note of this report because it makes it very clear which legislators were supportive of bettering Indiana’s economic climate and which were not,” states Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

Bills included for examination in the Legislative Vote Analysis can be traced back to the Indiana Chamber’s economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025 (www.indianachamber.com/2025). The plan contains 36 goals in the four driver areas of Outstanding Talent, Attractive Business Climate, Superior Infrastructure, and Dynamic and Creative Culture.

Separately, the Indiana Chamber acknowledged 11 legislators who made a difference in the 2017 session. Five legislators were named Indiana Chamber Legislative Champions for “taking on tough assignments and working diligently to see much-needed policy cross the finish line or at least meaningful debate started,” Brinegar offers.

These legislators are: Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer (Dist. 89 – Beech Grove); Rep. David Ober (Dist. 82 – Albion); Sen. Jeff Raatz (Dist. 27 – Centerville); Rep. Holli Sullivan (Dist. 78 – Evansville); and Rep. Ed Soliday (Dist. 4 – Valparaiso). (Why each received the honor is listed on page 6 of the report.

Additionally, appreciation was noted for six lawmakers in leadership positions: House Speaker Brian Bosma (Dist. 88 – Indianapolis); Senate President Pro Tem David Long (Dist. 16 – Fort Wayne); House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning (Dist. 91 – Indianapolis); House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown (Dist. 41 – Crawfordsville); Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee Chairman Brandt Hershman (Dist. 7 – Buck Creek); and Senate Education and Career Development Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse (Dist. 14 – Auburn).

All scores and the full report are available at the Indiana Chamber’s web site at www.indianachamber.com/lva.

Base scores for each legislator are calculated as a percentage of votes cast in agreement with the Indiana Chamber’s position on the bills included in the Legislative Vote Analysis. Six pro-economy, pro-jobs bills were double-weighted to reflect their importance. These include legislation for long-term road funding, ISTEP replacement, pre-K expansion for children from low-income families, an appointed State Superintendent of Public Instruction, a broad energy policy and prohibiting a “ban the box” practice against employers seeking criminal history information on an employment application.

A modest adjustment factor (positive or negative) was added to the Legislative Vote Analysis scoring model to factor in very important legislative activities outside of floor votes. These include whether a legislator sponsored/authored these important bills and whether committee chairs held hearings or killed these bills.

Legislators who score 70% or greater for the most recent four-year voting period are eligible for endorsement by the Indiana Chamber’s political action committee, Indiana Business for Responsive Government.

Lawmakers are notified of the Indiana Chamber position and reasoning on the bills in this report through various communications during the legislative session – and prior to key votes being taken. Only floor votes for which there is a public record are used in the Legislative Vote Analysis.

Copies of the Legislative Vote Analysis report are sent to all legislators and Indiana Chamber board members, and made available online for all businesspersons, community leaders and citizens.

This marks the 33rd year the Indiana Chamber has measured state legislators’ voting performance on bills that reflect the organization’s public policy positions.

A Success in Protecting Taxpayer Rights

Protecting and maintaining the rights of taxpayers (as they comply with procedural requirements or seek a determination regarding a tax dispute) became a chief cause of the Indiana Chamber in several cases this session.

First, there was a bill (SB 546) introduced to substantially reorganize the Tax Court. Why? This was our question. It seems that some feel that the governmental entities should win many more cases (meaning that taxpayers should be losing many more cases.) Yes, taxpayers do win more frequently than the officials in charge of assessing taxes. Why? Because the assessment determinations that are disputed are those where the taxpayer feels they are being charged more than the law requires them to pay – nobody needs to appeal when the government has gotten it right.

The Chamber strongly believes in the value of a specialized court with tax knowledge and expertise that allows for cases to be resolved in a consistent and uniform manner. That was the original purpose, and is the ongoing function of the Tax Court. The transition to a new judge a few years ago has been a little bumpy, but it is all smoothing out and restructuring the Court was exactly the wrong thing to do.Fortunately, we were able to convince others of this and, consequently, the bill did not receive a hearing.

Then there was the Department of Revenue (DOR) bill (SB 515); generally speaking, it’s a good bill, except that in connection with federal law changes it resulted in making corporate returns due on the same day as federal returns. Existing law gave preparers a 30-day breathing period before the state return came due. Meaning no harm, DOR and administration officials agreed to alter the provision to maintain the more favored status quo.

Another problem bill (SB 501) sought to revamp the property tax appeals procedures; it was later merged into SB 386 in the House. The objectives of the bill were admirable, and it included some real improvements to the process; most notably, it established a uniform June 15 appeal deadline statewide. Previously, the deadline was tied to the assessment notices and varied from county to county. However, the provisions of SB 501/386 extended a bit too far in attempting to streamline the process as it impacted a taxpayer’s ability to correct what are typically clerical type mistakes made by the assessor or other county officials.

These type errors have historically always been correctable for up to three years, but the bill restricted many of them to a period of just 45 days. This over encompassing contraction of rights – restricting the remedy for taxpayers to correct errors – was unnecessary and unacceptable.

The Chamber concentrated its focus late in the session on reinstating the full complement of existing rights back into this procedural recodification. Here again, with the help of several stakeholders, including the Indiana Manufacturers Association and Indiana Farm Bureau, we were successful at protecting the legislation from impinging on taxpayer rights. The Chamber wishes to recognize the efforts of Rep. Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo) in working with the interested parties in the waning hours of the session to successfully resolve these concerns.

Separately, an issue that didn’t make the headlines but you could have felt in your wallet centers on school bonds. The rating entities had concerns about the state’s potential role in ensuring these payments are made by the individual schools. Legislators took care of this with SB 196 and Indiana avoided a rating downgrade. Otherwise, this would have triggered increased interest rates on these bonds and cost taxpayers millions in additional property taxes.

Work Share Continues to Get Cold Shoulder in Indiana

In December, the Chamber introduced the work share policy to the new chairman of the House Labor Committee, Heath VanNatter (R-Kokomo). He made no commitment to hear a bill but indicated that he would keep an open mind.

A work sharing program would allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary economic downturns. Employers then could reduce hours without layoffs, enabling workers to keep their jobs, which hopefully could be returned to full-time status once economic circumstances improve. Also part of the equation: unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours.

After several discussions with the Indiana Manufacturers Association (IMA), the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Chamber, Rep. VanNatter decided to host a meeting with the three parties present. He later informed us that he was being told different things about the issue than what the Chamber was being told and wanted everyone in the room at the same time. Simply stated, the Chamber supports work share, but DWD and the IMA do not.

What Rep. VanNatter was able to do was get the IMA to admit in the Chamber’s presence that it was opposed to the bill. As a result, Rep. VanNatter didn’t feel that he could move forward with the two organizations in disagreement. In a subsequent discussion, he did say that he would like to study the issue (himself) this summer and then make up his own mind.

Over the course of the last five years, the bill has been heard twice but no vote has ever been taken. This is very frustrating for a measure that is a no-brainer and would garner bipartisan support – if it can ever make it to that point!

A Clearer Path for Indiana’s Innovation Sector

Last summer, the Indiana Chamber formed the Indiana Technology & Innovation Council. A large part of the group’s mission it to protect and advance the public policy interests of related organizations. The Indiana Technology & Innovation Council’s Tech Policy Committee developed an agenda going into the 2017 session with several significant objectives.

We are happy to report – thanks to the work of many – that the group’s first legislative session proved to be highly productive and rewarding, with several key policies to advance innovation, technology and entrepreneurship in Indiana set to become law.

These include enhancing early-stage and scale-up funding for promising Indiana business opportunities, an increased focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, better digital and physical connectivity with other parts of the world, funding for better use of big data and providing funding mechanisms to enhance regional infrastructure projects.

Management and Performance Hub Information Holds Promise
Indiana has been a leader in using government data to improve the delivery of services to its citizens. The Management and Performance Hub (MPH) is an evolving integrated data system that links government agency data and allows for data-driven analytics and research, which can help inform policy and improve the delivery of government services to come from that information. House Bill 1470, Government Data, authored by Rep. David Ober (R-Albion), was the main vehicle to codify the MPH and ensure it has maximum utility for taxpayers, government agencies, the Legislature and other external stakeholders.

The measure started off smoothly, but when it got to the Senate, it was derailed during a hearing before the Senate Commerce and Technology Committee. Based on fear that the information would not be secure or de-identified, the committee amended it to be only a summer study committee issue. Fortunately, the original content was restored by Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek), the bill’s sponsor, on the Senate floor. The Chamber has supported HB 1470 to maximize its utility as a consistent data source and analytical tool for a variety of public issues with multiple stakeholders.

Fortunately, the budget bill, HB 1001, authored by Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) ended up providing good resources to the MPH –$9 million per year for the next two years. This allows MPH the ability to continue to develop to provide timely and accurate information that can help track vital information for the state’s economy, education and a host of other matters where better data can help inform better decisions.

Municipalities Work to Hinder Small Cell Legislation, But It Passes
A bill to more easily move Indiana’s mobile broadband connectivity to the next generation of technology passed the Indiana General Assembly. Senate Bill 213, Wireless Support Structures, authored by Sen. Hershman, focused on streamlining permitting, fees and co-location to increase coverage by current cell towers and facilitate more rapid installation of small cell technology in Indiana communities.

Specifically, an objective was to eliminate excess fees and permitting by local units of government that would hinder installation of small cell antennas. A lot of misinformation was communicated by detractors to say many of the antennas were the size of a refrigerator or Volkswagen, when, in fact, they are much smaller. It is in the providers’ economic interest to co-locate small cell antennas on current towers, light poles or other structures.

This legislation also highlighted an interesting dynamic: Many municipalities who want better broadband in their communities as an economic development tool also want a “say” in the small cell tower locations and to be able to collect fees and issue permits. And those desires are quite strong.

Case in point: There is a provision in the bill that allows Indiana communities to designate local ordinances (and possibly resolutions) to direct where and how those small cell devices can be put in their community by making them an underground or buried utility area. The deadline for seeking this additional protection was May 1. Realizing this, Accelerate Indiana Municipalities (AIM) sent information to its members around the state to quickly pass an ordinance or resolution by that date. Almost 100 locales were considering doing so. But that move may backfire on these same communities whose citizens want
better broadband. What’s more, whether those new ordinances are legal remains to be seen.

The Chamber supports more and better broadband for Indiana and strongly advocated for SB 213 during the process. We appreciate the hard work of Sen. Hershman and Rep. Ober in getting this legislation over the finish line.

Major Tech, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Progress
Several tech innovation issues ended up advancing in the state biennial budget, HB 1001, authored by Rep. Tim Brown.

A Chamber priority was to increase early stage capital in promising Indiana companies. While making the Venture Capital Investment (VCI) Tax Credit transferrable (to attract out-of-state investment to Indiana) didn’t happen, it arguably worked out even better with the creation of the $250 million Next Level Trust Fund. This allows for up to half of the $500 million corpus from the Major Moves highway infrastructure program to be used for investments outside of conservative fixed income investments. It creates a Next Level Indiana Fund investment board with fiduciary responsibility to direct investments in equities or “funds of funds” which could be directed toward promising Indiana businesses.

In addition to the Next Level Trust Fund, legislators adopted options for Indiana public employees and teachers with defined contribution plans to invest up to 20% of their contributions in an Indiana-focused fund.

This summer, the Legislative Services Agency is conducting a deep study of the impact of the VCI. That report is due in October 2017 and based on information that comes from that report, we hope to better advocate for the enhancement of the tax credit during the 2018 session, if warranted. In SB 507, authored by Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport), the expiration date of the VCI tax credit of 2020 was eliminated so the tax credit now has more certainty for the future.

House Bill 1001 also funded $30 million for the 21st Century Research and Technology Fund. Additionally, $15 million for each of the next two years was allocated for the Business Promotion and Innovation Fund, which combined several requests. It gives authority to the Governor and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) to incentivize direct flights from international and regional airports in Indiana, encourage regional development activities (aka Regional Cities), advance innovation and entrepreneurship education programs through strategic partnerships and support international trade.

The Indiana Biosciences Research Institute was funded for $20 million for year two of the budget. This should pay dividends down the road to further grow Indiana life sciences opportunities.

Better Performance Metrics to Recertify Technology Parks
Certified technology parks (CTPs) around the state will benefit from House Bill 1601, authored by Rep. Todd Huston (R-Fishers). The bill requires IEDC to develop new metrics for performance of CTPs as they are up for recertification.

The IEDC will work with local units of government to develop the metrics. They will include the criteria used to evaluate each category of information by a CTP and a minimum threshold requirement to be recertified in each category.

This is good for both state and local governments to ensure the CTPs are truly being an effective driver of economic activity for that community and region. The bill did not receive any no votes during the legislative process and was supported in a bipartisan fashion. The Chamber backed the bill and appreciates the good work that Rep. Huston and Sen. Hershman, the Senate sponsor, did to ensure its passage.

After Session: A Look at What Passed and What Didn’t

Now that the legislative session has concluded, learn the final status of key bills monitored and advocated for/opposed by the Indiana Chamber in 2017 (links are PDFs):

2017 passed bills

2017 defeated bills

Indiana Chamber Applauds Final General Assembly Road Funding Plan

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar comments on the long-term road funding agreement, which was unveiled late this afternoon by Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long:

“We laud the compromise reached by House and Senate fiscal leaders that will fund Indiana’s infrastructure needs for the foreseeable future. We are very pleased to see such a substantial long-term funding plan to address the many maintenance and new construction needs that exist throughout our state. This legislation was the Indiana Chamber’s top priority for this session.

“This thoughtful approach also makes sure to fund both state and local road projects – which we know is very important for Hoosier companies – and that everyone pays their fair share through a user-fee based model.

“This agreement has been the product of several years of research and discussion and we congratulate everyone involved. We strongly encourage the members of the General Assembly to support this legislation with their vote Friday.”

A Pleasant (Revenue) Forecast

The revenue projections for the next two fiscal years were updated on Wednesday, giving the General Assembly revised numbers to use in finalizing a state budget before the session wraps up next week. The update also readjusted the current Fiscal Year 2017 numbers; the FY17 numbers that were reduced by nearly $300 million dollars in December were now adjusted back upward by $124 million (so FY17 won’t turn out as bad as previously thought).

That FY17 readjustment serves as a foundation for the forecasters’ confidence that the slow but steady economic growth will continue at a moderate pace over the coming biennium. The pleasant result: a modestly higher revenue forecast for FY2018 and FY2019. The forecast increase resulted from projected growth in sales tax collections (2.7% in FY18 and 3.4% in FY19), sales tax being the source that Indiana is most dependent on, and the larger percentage increase but smaller cumulative dollar increase anticipated in income tax collections (3.4% in FY18 and 5.9% in FY19) – the source that represents the next largest contributor to the state coffers.

The bottom line is that the forecast adds $200 million, only about six-tenths of one percent of the roughly $32 billion that the lawmakers now can expect to see collected in tax revenue over the next two years. While it is a small addition, it is still $200 million that they hadn’t planned on when they put together the budget numbers in HB 1001.

Understandably, the fiscal leaders caution against any major changes to what they have formulated to this point, but as the budget negotiations continue into the last days, they are certain to hear this additional money referenced as justification for some new or additional funding requests. Read the details from the forecasters’ presentation.

Ways and Means Chooses Not to Act on Internet Sales Tax Collection Bill

For unknown reasons, the House Ways and Means Committee – after taking testimony – elected not to take a vote on SB 545 last week prior to the deadline for committee passage.

The bill represented a well thought out and sound approach for collecting Indiana sales tax on online transactions. While the bill died in committee, there remains the possibility that its provisions could find their way into another bill before the session ends. The Chamber will continue to advocate for this bill to be incorporated into another piece of legislation.

Road Funding Set for Conference Committee Showdown

The Chamber was pleased to see the Senate pass a long-term road funding bill (34-13). During the floor vote, the Chamber lobbying team worked to get additional votes for what might have been a much closer margin. Five Republican senators voted against the Chamber on HB 1002: John Crane (Avon), Mike Delph (Carmel), Aaron Freeman (Indianapolis), Jean Leising (Oldenburg) and Andy Zay (Huntington). One Democrat, David Niezgodski (South Bend), voted with the Chamber.

There are differences between the House and Senate proposals, however:

  • House version raises just over $1.1 billion per year; the Senate about $672 million a year.
  • House version converts all sales tax collected (well over $300 million) on fuel sales to road funding; the Senate does not.
  • House version has $15 annual registration fee for regular automobiles and $150 for electric cars; the Senate adds $75 fee for hybrids (the Chamber supports this addition).
  • House version has a 10-cent fuel tax increase for both gasoline and diesel fuel, with annual increase based on index from 2019-2024. The Senate phases in the fuel taxes: five cents per year for two years; diesel tax is three cents a year for two years. Both are indexed at no more than one cent a year per gallon from 2019-2014.
  • House version requires the Indiana Department of Transportation to seek a federal tolling waiver; the Senate says it may seek the same waiver but with the approval of the Governor.
  • Senate version contains a $5 per new tire sale use fee in addition to the current 25-cent fee; the House does not.
  • Senate version increases registration fees for trucks in lieu of additional diesel taxes.
  • Senate version adds a 10-cent per gallon aviation fuel excise tax, with revenue from that going to the airport development grant fund.

The “swim lanes” of the bill are now clearly defined. Work will continue during the next two weeks by the Chamber and our coalition partners to reconcile the differences between the two versions. We believe Indiana will finally end up with a long-term sustainable transportation infrastructure funding bill, one of our Indiana Vision 2025 goals.

Call to Action: Please contact your legislators to encourage them to support HB 1002. Let them know today that long-term funding is important to you and your company!

Mixed Bag With Tech, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Priorities in Senate Budget

The long-awaited announcement of the Senate initial version of the budget came late
last week. In it, there are several technology-related issues that were either included or dropped from the bill, as well as some funding amounts also reduced from the House version:

  • Transferability of the Venture Capital Tax Credit was deleted. The Chamber would like to see it included to increase the flow of venture capital funds for promising qualified businesses.
  • Funding of the 21 Fund (21st Century Research and Development Fund) remains at $20 million a year. The Chamber prefers $30 million a year.
  • Funding to backstop the initiation of direct flights to Europe was reinstated, although it is $4 million rather than $10 million over the two years. A good start.
  • Funding for the Management Performance Hub (MPH) was reduced to $6 million for two years, which is less than what the House reduced from the Governor’s original amount.
  • Keeps $20 million for the two years for the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute
  • Removed the Next Level Trust Fund, which would have provided investment guidelines and supervision to direct a portion of the Major Moves Trust Fund to invest in promising Indiana opportunities.
  • It allocates $1 million for the biennium for the Launch Indiana program.

We will work to keep the things we like in the bill and try to restore other items that were reduced or removed as it advances through the Senate and goes to conference committee. The Chamber will continue to educate legislators on these important economic development priorities currently in the bill.