Chamber Public Policy Leaders Meet in Cleveland
Senior government relations leaders from 21 metro regional chambers recently met to discuss priority issues, political activity, and advocacy best practices. The meeting was hosted by the Greater Cleveland Partnership, who also provided an update on how hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention impacted the city’s ongoing growth.
Highlights of the discussion include:
Transportation: Chambers across the country supported regional ballot measures to increase funding for critical transportation and transit projects. Nationwide, voters approved referendum that raised more than $200 billion in revenue, including chamber-backed initiatives Atlanta, Ga.; Austin, Texas; Charleston, S.C.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Los Angeles Calif.; Raleigh, N.C.; San Francisco, Calif.; and Spokane Wash.
Education & Workforce: Improving education at all levels to address workforce needs is crucial to economic vitality. Participants discussed chamber efforts all along the cradle-to-career spectrum, including an early childhood education funding ballot initiative in Cincinnati, K-12 reform in Milwaukee, apprenticeship programs in Denver and Charleston, scholarship programs in Detroit, efforts to upskill workers in Grand Rapids, and efforts to align talent supply with employer demand in Atlanta.
Political Action: Chambers are relying more on Super PACs, organized as 527 or 501(c)4 organizations, to promote key issues and influence elections. Participants also expressed an interest in increasing the scope and effectiveness of candidate development activities. From candidate identification and recruitment to policy education and campaign consulting support, ACCE will develop resources over the coming months to share best practices from around the country.
Advocacy Communications: Email newsletters remain the primary form of communicating policy priorities to members, but policy blogs, video updates and social media are more important than ever. The frequent updates help to raise awareness of chamber priorities and drive additional traffic to chamber websites. In fact, some policy blogs receive more web traffic than the main chamber websites. Examples discussed during the meeting include the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Policy Blog, Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Insights video series and the Indy Chamber’s Team 317 social media ambassadors program.
Special thanks to the Greater Cleveland Partnership President and CEO Joe Roman and Senior Vice President Marty McGann for hosting the event. Additional thanks to the Metro Atlanta Chamber for sponsoring the meeting and MAC’s Chief Policy Officer Katie Kirkpatrick for facilitating the discussion.
For more information about how you can get involved in ACCE’s Government Affairs Division, contact Will Burns at [email protected].
DOL Releases Final Overtime Ruling
Months of anxious waiting have come to an end – the Department of Labor (DOL) last week released the final revisions to its overtime exemption rule. The new rule, which takes effect December 1, doubles the exempt employee annual salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476. DOL estimates that the change will impact 4.2 million workers.
Under current rules, full-time, salaried workers who make at least $23,660 per year may be exempt from overtime pay. DOL’s initial proposal would have increased that floor to $50,440, more than a 110% jump. Additionally, the proposal called for automatic increases to the salary threshold, a large bump on the “highly compensated employees” (HCEs) threshold ($100,000 – 122,128 annually) and also sought feedback for changes to the duties test and nondiscretionary bonuses.
The final ruling inches back from the proposed rule, but the threshold still remains more than double the current level, at $47,476, or $913 per week. The threshold for HCEs also soars to $134,004. The new thresholds will also be set to increase automatically every three years.
These changes come as a big win for labor groups, which have been pushing for an update to the current overtime rules. The hope is that the additional pay will help many laborers lift their families out of poverty – as proponents of the new rules claim the current salary threshold is too close to the poverty level for a family of four.
Many chambers and small business owners expressed concern over the problems that the new regulations may cause. They claim that rather than boosting pay, many workers will find their hours cut, benefits rolled back or flexibility decreased in order to avoid or offset having to pay additional overtime. The administrative burden is also of significant concern – with organizations having to assess each employee’s new eligibility, and in the case of those who will remain below the threshold, time and hassle of tracking and reporting time.
The Lubbock Chamber quickly expressed their “disappointment” over the final ruling, saying the federal government may have been hasty in making their decision before a study of the full economic impact could be done. Likewise, the Columbus Chamber issued their own statement of concern about the impact on small businesses and the workers they employ, also suggesting the Secretary of Labor should “conduct a detailed and extended economic analysis."
Compliance will be a major concern for businesses of all sizes, and many chambers will help educate their members. The Greater Des Moines Partnership and other chambers have already announced seminars and trainings around the new rules to help member businesses understand what they will be required to do – to assess their employees for raises, reclassification, or other changes.
Still, some hope to block or adjust the new rule before it goes into effect at the end of the year. Lawmakers in the House and Senate also introduced last week the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, in order to ensure what they call a more “balanced and responsible approach” to updating the federal rules. House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections Chairman, Tim Walberg (R-MI) stated “Our nation’s outdated overtime rules are in need of modernization, but it must be done in a responsible way that doesn’t stifle opportunities for working families to get ahead.” Stay tuned to the ACCE Government Relations Division for more on that.
In the meantime, several organizations have provided resources that may be helpful to chambers and their members:
- Society for Human Resource Management FLSA Overtime Rule Resources
- The DOL has provided guidance specific to nonprofits on the new pages: overview and guidance.
- Venable LLP has a an overview webinar covering all relevant FLSA rules in this area as they apply to nonprofits and also tips on governing compensable time for non-exempt employees.
Road Work: Michigan Chambers Help with Transportation Funding
After a long and hard fight in the legislature and at the ballot box, Michigan finally has a long-term plan for road funding.
Transportation funding has been a top priority for several years, but the final solution wasn’t found until after voters in May struck down a measure that would have increased the state sales tax by 1% to help raise $1.2 billion for transportation. In the worst defeat for a Michigan ballot measure in 52 years, 80% of voters said no. While it was clear that this particular plan was not what voters wanted, the public and the business community were still clamoring for a solution to solve a looming transportation crisis.
According to a study released in the spring, 38% of Michigan’s major roads are in poor condition, 45% are fair, and only 17% are good. Under current funding, the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council estimates that 53% of those major roads will be in poor condition by 2025. With the “Pure Michigan” campaign spending money to draw travelers to Michigan, and countless other industries relying on surface transportation, it was clear that funding infrastructure improvements was overdue.
Transportation has long been a major priority for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. A 2015 member survey found that transportation was a top concern, with 64% saying that poor road conditions had an impact on their business. So, when a balanced package was being considered in the legislature to raise the $1.2 billion with a combination of new revenue and existing state dollars, the chamber moved to support the measure.
Grand Rapids joined five other regional chambers in support of a common sense, long-term funding solution calling for $600 million in dedicated funding from existing state revenues, and $600 million in new money. The other five chambers were The Chamber of Commerce – Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.
According to Josh Lunger, director of Government Affairs in Grand Rapids, “the unified show of support was helpful in advancing the plan.” On Nov. 4, the Michigan Legislature passed the compromise package which was signed a week later by Gov. Rick Snyder. The $600 million in new revenue will come from $400 million from increasing the gas tax 7.3 cents per gallon and creating diesel parity, and $200 million from a 20% increase in registration fees.
The revenue increases take effect in January 2017. Moving forward, Lunger stressed the importance of working hand in hand with legislators to effectively plan for future budget pressures and the shift of $600 million in “existing state dollars". He urges deliberate and thoughtful consideration to determine where best to make changes so that important programs, such as Early Childhood Education and Workforce Development, are not compromised.
Charlotte Chamber: All in for transportation funding
As part of their Grow America tour, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary (and former Charlotte Mayor) Anthony Foxx met with local business and civic leaders in Charlotte this week. Their tour serves to promote the President's proposal to rebuild or replace America's crumbling infrastructure.
The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce was in attendance and is in support of congressional action on infrastructure funding. (Click here to hear reactions from chamber leaders invited to attend.) According to Bob Morgan, president of the chamber, the Charlotte region currently has two million residents, and is expected to reach four million within the next 20-30 years. As the fourth fastest growing state in the nation, funding infrastructure to support that growth is a major concern. Although the Charlotte region has great plans for economic growth and infrastructure improvement, their ability to execute those plans relies heavily on federal action.
The president's proposal, which includes $478 billion in transportation infrastructure investment over six years, serves to solve the transportation funding problem. The Highway Trust Fund is expected to once again run out of money in May 2015 if congress does not act. There is still much debate over the best way to pay for increased transportation funding, but one thing is clear: something needs to be done, and soon.
Although transportation funding is a priority in Charlotte, it is also vital to all cities, regions and states across the country. A nationwide coalition of Chambers has banded together in support of congressional action on this issue. To find out more information about the coalition, their letter to congress, and how you can join the Charlotte Chamber in support of this issue, visit acce.org/transportation.
The Facts Are In: Evidence-Based Policymaking Works
Policymakers today face tough budget and policy choices that affect the outcomes they can deliver for citizens. By using "rigorous evidence" to inform these decisions, policymakers can achieve better results by funding public programs that are proven to work. "Rigorous evidence" is data from programs that has been evaluated multiple times and found to be reliable by using rigorous testing methods such as randomized controlled trials and statistically controlled evaluations.
New Mexico has become a national leader with its sophisticated evidence-based approach that measures the costs and benefits of public service programs to improve policy and budget decisions. Since state policymakers began partnering with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in 2011, they have a clearer picture of the value of taxpayer investments and they can direct resources to the most effective programs. By using the Results First model, New Mexico has:
- Helped inform legislative funding decisions to direct $49.6 million to evidence-based programs that will deliver high returns for New Mexico residents.
- Shifted funds from ineffective programs to alternative programs that analysis shows will improve outcomes for citizens.
- Compared the long-term costs and benefits of critical programs in adult and juvenile justice, child welfare, mental health and substance abuse, and early childhood.
In a Sept. 17 letter to the director of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce said "The goals of Results First are aligned with many of the Chamber's policy priorities, including transparency and accountability in government, fiscal responsibility, reducing crime and recidivism, and improving education and child welfare outcomes. Because of this alignment, the Chamber's Board has voted to approve an official position supporting Results First."
New Mexico legislators continue working closely with the state's Sentencing Commission and Corrections Department to support ongoing criminal justice reforms and to explore effective means for reducing crime at lower costs. The same approach will be used in other policy areas such as juvenile justice, behavior health, and public education. Details of the New Mexico experience are available in a new 12-page report, "New Mexico's Evidence-based approach to Better Governance," by the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. It highlights next steps for using the Results First approach and how other state policymakers can benefit from it. The report also offers insights from New Mexico's experience and key considerations for using the approach.
With Results First, governments can reduce wasteful spending, expand innovative programs, and strengthen accountability. For details about building a system of evidence-based governing, see Evidence-based Policymaking: A Guide for Effective Government from the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. This 25-page report explains five key components of evidence-based policymaking:
- Program assessment. Systematically reviewing available evidence on the effectiveness of public programs.
- Budget development. Incorporating evidence of program effectiveness into budget and policy decisions, giving funding priority to programs that deliver a high return on investment of public funds.
- Implementation oversight. Ensuring that programs are effectively delivered and are faithful to their intended design.
- Outcome monitoring. Routinely measuring and reporting outcome data to determine whether interventions are achieving desired results.
- Target evaluation. Conducting rigorous evaluations of new and untested programs to ensure that they warrant continued funding.
Local governments face a slow, uphill battle for recession turnaround
Expanding on a 2013 publication, Pew Charitable Trusts has released a report exploring local governments' slow recovery from the Great Recession. According to the report, Recovering From Volatile Times, more than half of the 30 major U.S. cities reviewed saw governmental revenue decline from 2011 to 2012, double the number from 2010 to 2011. Although nine cities had surpassed their pre-downturn revenue peak in 2011, four of them fell back below that level again in 2012.
Decreased property values has had a staggering impact on these numbers, as many localities face collecting lower property taxes. Many cities saw property tax revenues hit their low point several years after the housing crisis, as the process for valuing homes, assessing taxes owed, and then collecting them takes time.
As many federal assistance programs hit their expiration date, cities face the road to recovery with decreasing support. State funding also has scaled back dramatically, placing a higher burden on local governments, which are already tightening their belts. In Phoenix, for example, a $201 million loss in intergovernmental aid amounted to 10 percent of the city's total revenue in 2012.
Not all cities saw year-over-year losses from 2011 to 2012 though, as Boston, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, New York and Seattle exceed their prerecession revenue peaks mostly due to gains in sales and income taxes as well as increased charges and fees. Minneapolis was able to gain benefit from large construction projects - the city approving $1 billion in residential and commercial projects in 2012. Cities that collected sales and income taxes saw an average rise in sales tax of four percent from 2011 to 2012 and an income tax increase of three percent.
Spending cuts and cautious investments were also a theme from 2011 to 2012. Overall spending fell in nearly half of the 30 major cities reviewed, and those that did increase only did so by an average of two percent. With weak revenues forcing low levels of spending, some critical services remain in jeopardy. Half of the cities cut public safety spending, with six reporting the lowest level of spending in that category in six years.
While the report focuses on 2012, many cities are still struggling to reach prerecession levels for both spending and revenue. The effects of the weak national recovery are still impacting local governments, but with the housing market on the rise and declining rates of unemployment, there just might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Florida Chamber Strives to Keep Pedestrians Safe
In a study by Smart Growth American and the National Complete Streets Coalition, the Tampa - St. Petersburg area was ranked the 2nd most dangerous city for pedestrians. The Florida Department of Transportation reports that from 2009 to 2013, there were 123 combined pedestrian and bicycle crashes along Gulf Boulevard, resulting in five fatalities. For an area that relies heavily on tourism to sustain the economy, this is not good news.
After attempts to improve safety along the stretch of beaches from St. Pete Beach to Clearwater Beach through engineering measures, such as installing flashing lights at crosswalks and even providing pedestrians flags to wave to alert drivers as they cross the street, additional effort was still needed. The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, Florida DOT and Center for Urban Transportation Research have partnered with area hotels to hand out cards containing safety tips to remind visitors how to safely move about.
Roughly 30,000 rack cards and 20,000 smaller cards about the size of a hotel room key were printed and distributed in 2013. Both of these materials contain 'WalkWise tips' including suggestions to avoid use of cell phones, follow Walk/Don't Walk signals and wear bright colors. Hotels and area authorities hope that these small reminders will keep pedestrians alert and vigilant to dangers around them and reduce the number of incidents.
An additional 10,000 cards were printed for 2014 and early reports indicate that the situation is improving. The Department of Transportation hopes to decrease the number of pedestrian fatalities by 20 percent by 2018.
To read accounts of this initiative, explore the links below:
The St. Petersburg Tribune, 'Gulf Boulevard hotels give tourist tips on crossing dangerous street"
10 News Tampa Bay Sarasota, 'Hotel cards promote safety on Gulf Boulevard'
Bay News 9, 'Pinellas beach hotels offering safety tips to visitors'
Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP): Aligning Community Expectations with Airport Roles
Is an airport a vital player in your region’s economic strategy? Are there ever ‘issues’ with your airport and its services?
If you answered yes to either, you should make time to join a conversation about the Airport Cooperative Research Program hosted by researchers from Mead & Hunt.
The Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) is an industry-driven, applied research program that develops near-term, practical solutions to problems faced by airport operators. Mead & Hunt, Inc. is a nationally recognized aviation consulting firm leading this research team. This project will address common “disconnects” between community expectations and the realities faced by airport management about the roles that general aviation and commercial service airports play in their communities.
This study will:
- Identify the “Top 10” issues – the most significant controversies that arise as a result of confusion over the various roles played by airports.
- Develop a Handbook to describe best practices for communicating the diverse roles of the airport to the general public, elected officials and the business community.
- Enhance the Handbook with a user-friendly database that incorporates information and resources supporting the various components of the Handbook
What does ACRP want from you?
- One hour of your time to participate in a conversation on the phone
- Date: Thursday, October 9
- Time: 2 pm EST
Space is limited. To sign up and participate, just complete this brief survey that will provide your contact information to the research team.
Why does ACRP need your help?
The resulting Handbook will be used to help industry professionals respond to questions and criticisms with specially-designed resources and tools. ACRP needs your help to:
- Identify the “Top 10” issues from your unique perspective
- Understand what kind of tools and resources will be most helpful
Teleconference log in information will be provided approximately one week prior to the call.
Please note this is NOT an ACCE sponsored event… we are passing along the information because we believe the issue is very important to so many communities.
Will There Be Immigration Reform in 2014?
It’s a challenge to provide a timely update on federal immigration reform, as there are new developments on a daily basis. But one thing that is certain…there is considerable public pressure on the Administration and Congress to stop talking about it and get something done. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that Americans now assign about equal importance to the two major aspects of immigration reform being debated in Washington. Forty-four percent say it is extremely important for the U.S. to develop a plan to deal with the large number of immigrants already living in the United States, and 43% say it's extremely important to halt the flow of illegal immigrants into the country by securing the borders. This is a shift from the past, when Americans were consistently more likely to rate border security as extremely important.
Here are some of the latest developments:
- The Senate passed its version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, but the House leadership responded by saying they would deal with the issue in multiple bills rather than an omnibus reform package. They have said their approach will not be a big “1,000-page bill’, but rather it will take a sequencing approach. Both Democrats and Republicans in the House have been working on separate versions of reform bills for several months, and in late January, the House GOP unveiled its immigration reform principles.
- Some business groups have said there is much to like in the House Republican’s list, including this from Tom Donohue, president & CEO of the U.S. Chamber, “This is a very encouraging sign that House lawmakers are serious about fixing our broken immigration system.” (More on the U.S. Chamber and immigration reform below.)
- Mary Ann Miller, CEO of the Tempe, AZ Chamber wrote a guest commentary in her local newspaper “Republican Standards for Immigration Reform Would Benefit Business” praising the Republican standards.
- But national Tea Party Groups continue to oppose proposed immigration reforms calling on their Congressional members to address other, more pressing issues such as the debt ceiling, the deficit and tax reform first.
- Despite House Speaker John Boehner’s comments in February that the House Republicans didn’t trust Obama enough on border security issues to pass immigration reform, the Speaker now seems to be more committed to passing something. Following a meeting with President Obama earlier this month, he said, “We agree immigration reform is a priority. He wants to get it done. I want to get it done. But he’s going to have to help us in this process.” He declined to say what Obama could do to win the GOP’s trust on the issue.
- The sticking point for House Republicans is amnesty. Boehner told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he believes any reform package needs to include a pathway to citizenship for illegals but that doesn’t mean amnesty. Boehner added, “Some want to call it amnesty, but I reject that premise…if you come in and plead guilty and pay a fine, that’s not amnesty.”
However, Republican Senators Ted Cruz (TX) and Jeff Sessions (AL) contend that previous immigration ideas pushed by the House leadership that allow for illegals to obtain U.S. citizenship are indeed amnesty plans. Mr. Sessions distributed a “Myth vs. Fact” document to counter what he called GOP leadership spin on immigration reform. The document claims “any plan that provides special privileges to those who are in the country today but does not extend the same privileges to those coming into the country illegally tomorrow is amnesty.”
- Meanwhile, House Democrats have said they plan to launch an official petition drive to force the Republican majority to vote on the Democratic version of an immigration bill…as soon as they get finished forcing a vote on a minimum-wage increase. The maneuver known as a ‘discharge petition’ is a way for the minority party in the House on its priorities. If they are able to get signatures from the majority of the members of Congress, the House leadership has to bring up the legislation.
The Democratic immigration reform bill, which is similar to the bill passed by the Senate, has 192 Democratic sponsors, but just three Republican sponsors, making it questionable whether they will be able to reach the 218 needed to succeed in their petition drive. Republicans dismissed the discharge effort, saying House Democrats won’t be able to get enough support to force the issue. “This scheme has zero chance of success — a clear majority in the House understands that the massive Senate-passed bill is deeply flawed,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner.
- While Congress continues to bicker, President Obama tweeted that he is the ‘champion in chief for comprehensive immigration reform.’ But it would seem he comes under fire on his executive immigration policies from both sides.
- Activists point to the administration’s record-setting level of deportations. The President has been under fire for years over the Homeland Security Department’s informal quota of trying to deport about 400,000 immigrants every year. Republican opponents accuse him of inflating the numbers, while immigration rights advocates say the number is too high.
- On the other side of the coin, a recent audit conducted by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement regularly cuts a break for businesses that violate immigration hiring 40 percent from what they should be and that the government should be doing more to go after unscrupulous employers.
- Finally, the U.S. Chamber has said it will use all of its influence to persuade Congress to pass immigration reform in 2014. “Rewriting the immigration law won’t be any easier in 2016 or 2018, so the GOP should take the plunge now. There will never be a perfect time for reform….The fact remains it is in our national interest to get it done,” said Donohue in his annual speech on the state of American business. Click here to see a transcript of his comments.
Federal Transportation Budget Proposes Reforms, Revenue and Innovation
The Obama administration has released the details of its four-year, $302 billion transportation plan as part of its 2015 Budget Request to Congress. The President’s plan is important because it goes beyond setting spending levels for fiscal year 2015, which is the predicted date of the Highway Trust Fund’s insolvency. Simply extending the current MAP-21 Plan would require requires an infusion of $19 billion next year or $100 billion over 6 years. In his proposal, which is an $87 billion increase over current spending levels, funding for transportation projects would come from $150 billion in transition revenue generated from business tax reforms and current revenues from the federal gas tax.
From the Department of Transportation press release:
In addition to closing the $63 billion hole in the Highway Trust Fund and reversing our infrastructure deficit, the President’s proposal will also:
- Improve transportation efficiency with a new Interagency Permitting Improvement Center to help us continue streamlining permitting processes so we can deliver projects faster and work towards the President’s goal of cutting timelines in half;
- Boost the safe transportation of energy products with a comprehensive approach --from increased inspections and investigations to new research and cross-agency projects--so the United States can continue on track toward becoming the world’s top oil producer by next year;
- Increase freight capacity to allow us to move 14 billion additional tons of freight in this country by 2050;
- Build ladders of opportunity through infrastructure investment that is not just about pouring cement and lifting steel, but about helping people get home faster and connecting them with jobs, schools, and a better quality of life.
As for what’s likely to happen next, because the bipartisan budget passed by Congress in December also set top-line budget amounts for the year (FY15) to come, it’s uncertain if the House or Senate will introduce or pass their own budget resolutions this year. Still, whether the ultimate legislative vehicle is the reauthorization of MAP-21 or appropriations bills later this year, it’s essential that Congress and the President come to agreement on a way to continue supporting communities’ efforts to maintain their transportation infrastructure and prepare for the future.
Here are couple of links to read more about the Federal Transportation Plan:
- Transportation For America’s Analysis of the President’s Proposed Budget
- The Department of Transportation’s detailed version of the 2015 FY Transportation Budget