The PR of disaster recovery in Indiana

In our hyper-polarized society, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Indiana has procured itself a gigantic black eye due to the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" that was recently passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Pence. A media uproar has ensued and threatens to reverse all the other work the state has done in the past 25 years. Hoosier

Indiana has become a convention and tourism magnet in recent years - totally transforming their economy. This incident has captured the nation's attention, and not in a positive way. 

How does an entire industry recover from such a debacle?

My advice: A sustained public relations campaign to boost Indiana's chances from slipping into fly-over state oblivion.

How does Indiana begin this process? I'd suggest getting every stakeholder around the table and listening. Then, get a quick plan together. The very first thing that should materialize out of this plan is an all-out media blitz from the Indiana Chamber, Tourism Bureau and any celebrities they can conjure up.

This citizen army is this only thing that can counteract the thoughtless act of the Indiana legislature. I hope they don't waste time trying to repeal the law or toss people out of office. That will only serve to further polarize the state. 

If I lived in Indiana, I would be emailing, calling, texting and Facebooking all my friends. I'd invite them to welcoming places - and offer to host them. Face-to-face and heart to heart can combat the awkward actions of elected officials.

In a couple of weeks, the world will move on. But if Mike Pence's botched TV interview - where he couldn't answer simple yes-or-no questions about the implications of the law - is the last impression people have, then that would be a shame.

The lovely people of Indiana have worked hard to make it a destination for so many events. They deserve better.

Claire Celsi is a communications consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa. Visit her website, or follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn

Balance begins with taking stock

Rita Perea is President and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Taking stock blog post photo

The coffee shop conversation started when I asked my friend to share her biggest work-life balance challenge with me. I wanted to find out what this incredibly successful executive saw as a barrier to having a healthy, happy, fulfilling personal and professional life.

After setting down her mocha latte, my friend sighed heavily, rolled her eyes and dramatically slumped forward on the coffee shop couch.  “Oh, where do I begin????”

The question about perceived barriers to work-life balance hung in the air as I waited for her to gather her thoughts. The pregnant pause lasted for a long time. She finally straightened up, squared her shoulders and set her jaw. I knew that she was getting into “warrior princess” mode and would be sharing the good stuff with me momentarily. 

My longtime friend looked me in the eye and started, “I think that I do really well to keep things moving forward at home and at work. In both worlds I find that I am continually managing people and projects to not just meet, but to exceed, expectations. It might seem a bit funny to others to think about the task of being sure that the dog gets fed every morning as part of a project, but if you take a 30,000 foot view of it, the project becomes keeping the dog healthy for a long time. That involves the action step of feeding him each day, right? And someone has to step up or be assigned to do that task. For me, chunking things, even my personal life things, out into projects with goals and an informal action plan really helps me keep it all straight and organized. So I use the same sort of project management strategies at home and at work. I feel more balanced when I can be the same person with the same dynamic style at home and at work.”

I nodded as I listened intently and told her that I completely understood. I use the project approach myself with success. I think of all of my personal and professional projects as pieces of a puzzle. The puzzle is my life in totality, both at work and outside of work.  When all of the puzzle pieces fit together well and are aligned, life works well for me.

When a piece is not fitting in, becomes too massive or out of control with too many sub-pieces to manage, life can become seriously unbalanced. Research supports this and informs us that over time an out-of-balance life can lead to exhaustion, irritability, obesity, mental fogginess and, ultimately, the medical condition of adrenal gland fatigue, for both men and women. 

My female executive friend continued, “The thing that throws me off track and makes me crazy is when I get to the tipping point with too many projects that I am managing at home, at work, and in the community. Look, I need to be visible and involved in the community for my job. That is a given and I embrace that. I sit on several community boards and volunteer my personal time to do so. It is hard when a person who is being paid as an employee of the board does not respect that as a volunteer I only have so much time and energy to give to the cause. These community commitments can be fulfilling but they can also add an additional layer of projects to manage in my life. Sometimes I need to take stock of my commitments in a very honest way and make some decisions about if I am the best person for that position on that Board or committee. When I am feeling over committed, I find that it is a good idea to do some soul searching to determine if my time is being used to the best for all concerned, including my family. I am also occasionally assessing if I am robbing someone else of a leadership opportunity that may enhance their career or be a meaningful in their life. If so, it may be time for me to graciously move out of the way.”  

My training as a work-life balance specialist supports this “taking stock” of time commitments strategy that my friend uses. I like to suggest that people begin employing this technique annually, and then incrementally move to a monthly review of both personal and professional time commitments.

Just the very act of reviewing how you are spending your time and seeing where you can add or shave some off will help you feel as though you have some breathing space.  

My friend concluded our coffee meeting by saying, “At the end of the day, I am my biggest champion or my biggest hinderance to my own work-life balance. It comes back to me.  I am the only one who can do the diligent work of making healthy choices to support this balancing act we call life everyday.  Some days I do it better than other days.  Recognizing this and being gentle with myself is also part of finding that balance.”

If you find yourself continually feeling rushed, stressed, like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, take my friend’s advice. Honestly take stock, assess, analyze and then take action to create more work-life balance in your personal and professional life.

What an Iowa income tax might look like with a fresh start.

We've talked about why Iowa's tax law is bad for business, and about some easy fixes to make it a little better. But let's dream bigger. What would Iowa's tax law look like if you could start over from scratch?

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If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

I would start with the Tax Foundation's Principles of Sound Tax Policy, including

Simplicity: Administrative costs are a loss to society, and complicated taxation undermines voluntary compliance by creating incentives to shelter and disguise income.
 
Neutrality: Taxes should not encourage or discourage certain economic decisions. The purpose of taxes is to raise needed revenue, not to favor or punish specific industries, activities, and products.
 
Broad Bases and Low Rates: As a corollary to the principle of neutrality, lawmakers should avoid enacting targeted deductions, credits, and exclusions. If tax preferences are kept to a minimum, substantial revenue can be raised with low tax rates. Broad-based taxes also produce relatively stable tax revenues from year to year.
 
I would add:
 
Business income should be taxed only once, unless avoiding double taxation does violence to simplicity, neutrality, and broad bases with low rates. 
 
A system designed from scratch would apply the ultimate simplification to Iowa's corporation income tax: it wouldn't have one. Iowa's corporation income tax is rated the very worst, with extreme complexity and the highest rate of any state. 
 
Eliminating the corporation income tax would eliminate the justification for almost all of the various state incentive tax credits, all of which violate the principles of neutrality and simplicity in the first place. For its astronomical rates and complexity, it generates a paltry portion of the state's revenue, typically 4-7 percent of state receipts.
 
For S corporations, a from-the-ground-up tax reform might tax Iowa resident shareholders only on the greater of distributions of S corporation income, or interest, dividends, and other investment income earned by the S corporations. The investment income provision would prevent the use of an S corporation as a tax-deferred investment. The effect would be to put S corporations on about the same footing as C corporations.
 
The Individual Income Tax couldn't be eliminated without radically restructuring both state spending and other state taxes, but it can be made much better.
 
I would start by basing the individual tax base on adjusted gross income -- taxable income before personal exemptions and itemized deductions. That would put non-itemizers on the same footing as itemizers.  I would allow only deductions for gambling losses, non-employee business expenses deductible on federal returns, and investment interest expense, to prevent grossly unfair anomalies that would otherwise result. That's it.
 
It would eliminate all other deductions and credits and put the savings into lowering rates. The Iowa 1040 would then just take federal adjusted gross income, with a few lines for deducting Treasury interest and the some other minor adjustments.
 
There would be no alternative minimum tax. There would be a generous exemption for low-income earners. If the new system keeps an earned income tax credit, the exemption would be high enough to keep taxpayers in the "phase out range" of the credit from paying income tax on top of their credit loss. If there were an earned-income credit, there would be no other credits except for taxes paid in other states and countries.
 
There would be no deduction for federal taxes. This deduction would be built into lower rates. Iowa is almost unique in allowing a deduction for federal taxes, and it makes Iowa's income tax look worse to outsiders than it really is. It is the opposite of simplification.
 
Put all of these things together, and you should be able to get Iowa's individual rate under 5% -- perhaps close to 4% -- without reducing individual tax collections.
 
0% corporate rate, sub-5% individual rate -- now that's a lot easier sell to a business pondering an Iowa location than a 12% corporation rate, 8.98% individual rate, and the occasional tax credit to ease the pain.
 
Of course, we aren't starting with a clean slate.  We have a tax system now that is encrusted with decades of breaks that seemed like a good idea at the time. People who have good deals now will fight to keep them, even if they mean other people have to pay more. But even if we can't reach the promised land of a completely clean, simple and neutral income tax, we can get to a better place if we try heading that way. And a good start is to not head in the wrong direction, by at least not enacting any more special breaks and tax credits.

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