When the Going Gets Tough … Take a Vacation

Congressional Quarterly, in its daily update last Friday, described what is next for Congress:

The House "is done for the next 10 days," having voted to take the next week off (Democrats, to their credit, wanted to cancel the recess for more budget talks). The Senate's "President's Day recess has begun; the next session where something might get done (emphasis added) starts at 2 on Monday, Feb. 25."

Ron Fournier is a veteran political journalist, having worked at The Associated Press in two stints (among other stops) before joining the National Journal. I've always respected his writing.

A short but powerful take from Fournier on the current state of Congress:

The amount of unfinished business is stunning: A vacancy atop the Pentagon’s chain of command, billions of dollars of haphazard budget cuts due soon to take effect, immigration reform, gun control, climate change, and millions of jobless Americans. So what’s a Congress to do?

Take a vacation.

In Washington, it is politely called a 10-day “recess.” Lawmakers explain how hard they work at town halls and fundraisers back home. But their job is to legislate and to fix problems.

If you took 10 days off with critical work undone and deadlines threatening, how would your boss respond?

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IndianaNet and New Legislative Products to Keep You Informed

The Indiana Chamber provides its members and the business community an invaluable daily presence at the Indiana Statehouse. It also offers tools and resources that allow you to stay updated on legislators and Indiana General Assembly activities.

As always, the Chamber also offers the IndianaNet online subscription service, which provides regulatory information, legislative bill tracking, research and customizable reporting. IndianaNet maintains the documents and votes to all introduced bills and resolutions as well as maintaining regulatory information and much more.

For decades, the Chamber has published the Indiana General Assembly Legislative Directory, which includes legislator biographies, photos, committee assignments and much more. The handbook also provides contact information, including social media profiles, and a map showing where each legislator will be seated in the House and Senate chambers.

In addition to the handbook, the new Indiana Legislative Directory App will provide all of the same information in a mobile format. The interactive version will complement the printed guide, with additional real-time features (committee schedules, bills authored by each legislator and more) and updates available through the app. 

Also new for 2013 is the Legislative District Poster Set. The wall-size, color posters (one each for the House and Senate) will identify all 150 members of the General Assembly and the new districts in which they are serving. With 29 newcomers, 25 in the House and four in the Senate, the posters will be a valuable guide to the Legislature.

"All three products will really help anyone interested in  following the Statehouse and what goes on in our government," offers Glenn Harkness, Indiana Chamber technical marketing director. "There are a lot of new faces, a lot of new assignments, and it’s important to know who’s who and what they will be doing."

The directory handbooks start at $7 (bulk discount pricing is available). Poster sets are $29.97 (which includes tax and shipping) and the mobile app is $19.99. Pre-order or inquire (we’re not yet taking orders for the app, but you can notify our customer service team to request more information) online or by calling Nick at (800) 824-6885. The Legislative Directory app is in production and will be available shortly.

The Mona Lisa, The Scream, The Tom Vilsack: All Pricy Pieces of Art

Nice article here by The Washington Times showing what some could argue is government excess by the Obama and Bush administrations. I think it’s certainly worthy to keep funding portraits of Presidents and Vice Presidents for history’s sake. However, does every cabinet official need a portrait at these costs? I get that women in future generations shouldn’t be deprived of John Ashcroft’s rugged good looks — or songbird voice, for that matter — but is this necessary?

The Environmental Protection Agency spent nearly $40,000 on a portrait of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, while a painting of Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley will cost $41,200, according to federal purchasing records. The price tag for a 3-by-4-foot oil portrait of Agriculture Department Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack: $22,500.

All told, the government has paid out at least $180,000 for official portraits since last year, according to a review by The Washington Times of spending records at federal agencies and military offices across government.

Painting people high up in all branches of the federal government is a long-held tradition for Republicans and Democrats alike in Washington. Taxpayers picked up the tab for official portraits of top appointees in the Bush administration, too, including more than $40,000 spent on a painting of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, records show.

A portrait of former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, another Bush appointee, cost about $30,000, according to EPA records.

Like most other agencies, USDA officials wouldn’t say one way or another whether the $22,500 it’s spending to commission a portrait of Mr. Vilsack signals his intent to leave the Obama administration.

“Consistent with previous administrations, the department has commissioned a portrait to be unveiled at some point following Secretary Vilsack’s tenure,” USDA spokesman Justin DeJong wrote in an email to The Times. “USDA solicited bids for the portrait and selected the lowest of five bids.”

In April, Mr. Vilsack hosted the unveiling of a portrait of former Bush USDA Secretary Ed Schaefer, a painting that cost $30,500, while the portrait of another former Bush USDA chief, Michael Johanns, cost $34,425, records show.

Ann Fader, president of Portrait Consultants in Washington, which represents portrait artists, said that because of policy, she could not discuss any specific government commissions. But she said some agencies start the search for an artist long before secretaries leave because paintings can take from eight to 14 months to complete and frame.

“These are done for future generations to see how we live now, and it’s really a tribute as well as part of a person’s legacy,” she said.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to paint a portrait of somebody as accomplished as these people,” she said, adding that agencies have made a “concerted effort to be cost conscious” over the past few years.

Not everyone agrees.

David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a watchdog group, questioned whether the government ought to be spending tens of thousands of dollars for oil paintings of Cabinet secretaries often outside the public’s view.

“It’s not like people are going to be lining up for an exhibit, ‘HUD Secretaries Through the Years,’” Mr. Williams said. “And just because it’s a Washington tradition doesn’t mean they have to keep doing it.”

Two New Legislative Products to Keep You Informed

Your Indiana Chamber investment provides you with an invaluable daily presence at the Indiana Statehouse. It also offers tools and resources that allow you to stay updated on legislators and Indiana General Assembly activities.

For decades, the Chamber has published the Indiana General Assembly Legislative Directory, which includes legislator biographies, photos, committee assignments and much more. The handbook also provides contact information, including social media profiles, and a map showing where each legislator will be seated in the House and Senate chambers.

In addition to the handbook, the new Indiana Legislative Directory App will provide all of the same information in a mobile format. The interactive version will complement the printed guide, with additional real-time features (committee schedules, bills authored by each legislator and more) and updates available through the app. 

Also new for 2013 is the Legislative District Poster Set. The wall-size, color posters (one each for the House and Senate) will identify all 150 members of the General Assembly and the new districts in which they are serving. With 29 newcomers, 25 in the House and four in the Senate, the posters will be a valuable guide to the Legislature.

"All three products will really help anyone interested in  following the Statehouse and what goes on in our government," offers Glenn Harkness, Indiana Chamber technical marketing director. "There are a lot of new faces, a lot of new assignments, and it’s important to know who’s who and what they will be doing."

The directory handbooks start at $7 (bulk discount pricing is available). Poster sets are $29.97 (which includes tax and shipping) and the mobile app is $19.99. Pre-order or inquire (we’re not yet taking orders for the app, but you can notify our customer service team to request more information) online or by calling Nick at (800) 824-6885. Poster sets are expected to ship in early December with the Legislative Directory and the app available near the beginning of the 2013 session.

What You Should Know About ‘The Cliff’

Much has been written and said about the fiscal cliff. This summary and analysis from the Tax Foundation notes that the current situation "is the culmination of a decade of ‘temporary’ tax and budget bills that have postponed resolution of key policy differences." It looks ahead to the next steps. An example:

Estate Tax Increase
The estate of an individual who dies on December 31, 2012 will pay a federal estate tax (or death tax) of 35 percent on anything above $5.12 million. If the decedent instead passes away the next day, and Congress has not yet acted to change the law, the estate will instead owe a 55 percent tax on anything above $1 million. Even President Obama, no defender of estate tax repeal, considers this level too high: he has urged a compromise proposal of a 45 percent tax on estates over $3.5 million. Republicans generally support complete repeal of the tax.

There are few taxes that are as polarizing as the estate tax. A 2009 poll by the Tax Foundation found that the estate tax is viewed by taxpayers as the most "unfair" of all federal taxes but at the same time the estate tax seems to be a rallying point for those that agitate for redistribution through the tax code.[3] (In 2009, the estate tax raised about $20 billion, from a very small number of estates.) Opponents argue that the estate tax can break down family businesses while creating large compliance costs which are a drag on the economy.

Despite this seeming rift, there is a large and growing body of research by economists that generally lean left-of-center pointing toward repeal of the estate tax.[4] Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, who served as chairman on Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors, authored a paper which argued that the estate tax actually increases inequality by reducing savings and driving up returns on capital (which largely benefit wealthy holders of capital).[5] Economist Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, co-authored a paper in 1981 that showed that the estate tax has severe impacts on the accumulation of privately held capital. Using Summers’ methodology, a July 2012 study by the Joint Economic Committee Republicans showed that since its inception, the estate tax has reduced the capital stock by approximately $1.1 trillion.[6]

The estate tax also encourages firms to structure as corporations instead of as family businesses, because corporations do not pay estate taxes when the person at the helm changes. Family businesses, however, can be subject to rates of over half the value of the estate when a deceased owner transfers the business to their heirs. This observation should be disconcerting to left-leaning voters, who recognize that smaller family businesses have ties to their communities. It should also concern right-leaning voters, who should see this as a distortion of the market process.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the estate tax is how uneven its impact is in practice. By utilizing careful estate planning, many wealthy taxpayers are able to shield much of their income from taxation upon their death. The people that tend to get hit the hardest are those that die unexpectedly, or, like farmers, have their assets tied up in illiquid holdings.[7] The estate planning industry has grown in size over the years as estate law becomes more complex. Three studies have even found that the compliance costs associated with the collection of the estate tax are actually higher than the amount of revenue the tax brings in.[8] Almost the entire estate planning industry can be thought of as economic waste, because it would not exist without the estate tax, and the high-skilled labor and capital utilized in that industry would be applied to other, more productive economic endeavors if the estate tax were repealed.

2011 and 2012 marked the first time in a decade that the estate tax rate and exemption level have been the same for more than one year. For 2010, the president and Congress (unintentionally) allowed the estate tax to expire completely, an outcome unexpected by most observers. While a repeat in 2013 may be desirable, exactly what happens remains to be seen.

Why Consolidation is Right for Muncie/Delaware County

James Gooden, a Muncie native and consultant for GEA Architects, penned a thoughtful column for the The Star Press contending the time has come for Muncie and Delaware County to merge into a single unit of local government. The Indiana Chamber has been working to reduce government duplication statewide for years now, and we’re happy to see this getting more press.

Why should we merge Muncie and Delaware County into a single unit of local government?

It should be done because the current form is archaic and it is not in sync with present or future lifestyles and employment trends. Along with having high value for education, quality health and wellness facilities, and lifestyle opportunities, communities with effective and creative government are attractive as places to work and live: All are appealing traits to potential investors.

It bears recognizing that effort to bring new investment to ECI in no way diminishes the importance of the significant roll that current manufacturing, agriculture, retail and service sectors play in our economy. All are poised for growth. While, now, only about 1 percent of the county’s workforce is engaged in farming the land, the diverse business of agriculture stands out because it has been a mainstay since the pioneer days of the 19th century, but the industry has changed with the times — local government has not.

Town and country are today a homogenized community. Yet, we still operate local government in a horse-and-buggy fashion and that prompts a couple of pertinent examples. Recently, the rebuilt West Jackson Street bridge, opened to traffic after a long closure. In a related Star Press article, County commissioner Todd Donati pointed out that all bridges (except those carrying state highways) are constructed and maintained by the county. Conversely, the streets (except those carrying state highways) leading to and away from the bridges in Muncie are constructed and maintained by the city. How absurd is that (?)

Striving to Shrink the Red Tape for Companies

The Indiana Chamber hosted Congressman Todd Rokita (4th District) on Monday for the one-year anniversary of the Red Tape Rollback program. Rokita and the Chamber teamed together in the spring of 2011 to strive to identify and do something about unnecessary and overly burdensome federal regulations that kill jobs and negatively impact the economy.

In the initial 12 months, 71 Hoosier companies and individuals contacted the congressman’s office about 41 different regulatory issues. The work of Rokita and his staff has yielded 18 Red Tape Rollback victories thus far, with efforts continuing on other issues.

An annual report outlines the concerns and the accomplishments. It’s not too late for you to let us know about federal regulations and their impact on your business.

In case you’re not convinced there is a problem, consider that the most recent edition of the Code of Federal Regulations consists of more than 101 million words. That compares to just over 4,500 words in the U.S. Constitution.

Register Now for the D.C. Fly-in; Get Your Voice Heard

With next Tuesday’s primary just around the corner, political talk is dominating water cooler — and Twitter — chatter around the country. But regardless of who’s in office, legislators need to hear the voices of Indiana’s business community.

Please join us on our D.C. Fly-in on September 19-20. See just a few testimonials of past participants:

“The Indiana Chamber’s Washington D.C. Fly-In is a great way to gather information about pending legislation and regulations that are relevant to businesses in Indiana. It also provides an excellent opportunity to meet with Indiana’s Congressional Delegation and discuss a variety of current issues. I consider the Fly-In to be one of the most important ways that we make our voices heard in Washington.” – Tom Easterday, Executive Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc.

“Employers large and small who participate in the Fly-In put a face on the challenges impacting Indiana businesses and make a very real difference. No other organization brings such a diverse group of highly respected business leaders together, from across our state, to engage elected officials on the key issues impacting our ability to create jobs.” – Tom Hirons, President & CEO, Hirons & Company Communications Inc. 

“The Indiana Chamber of Commerce DC Fly-in offers a once a year opportunity for Indiana Business Leaders to hear from and speak one on one to all the members of Indiana’s Congressional Delegation… Lugar, Coats, Pence, Visclosky, Pence, Donnelly…All the Democrats and Republicans representing our State’s interest on Capitol Hill. This Congressional access is not available anywhere else to Hoosier business leaders. Plus, the event offers the opportunity to network with other like-minded Chamber members to collaborate to make certain our message is heard AND acted upon. Members of Congress are often more responsive to ‘live’ business leaders that make the effort to come see them than the career lobbyists that they more often hear from.”, David Wulf – VP, Administration, Templeton Coal Company