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BPAA Biweekly State Policy Updates - February 11

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ALCOHOL UPDATE

  • Bloomberg Government reports - Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors Fight to Save Expiring Tax Breaks: A coalition of alcohol producers, including Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, are turning up the heat on Congress to make permanent new tax cuts they won as part of the 2017 tax overhaul. The 2017 law gave beer, wine, and spirits producers a two-year federal excise tax reduction worth $4.2 billion—with the deepest cuts going to small domestic brewers, whose tax rates were halved to $3.50 from $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels. The benefit is set to expire at the end of 2019, and brewers, cider makers, vintners, and distilleries are intent on maintaining it. “Now it’s our time to go back up to the Hill and show them this was a great idea,” said Jim McGreevy, president and CEO of the Beer Institute, which represents both large and small brewers. At the very least, the coalition—which includes other trade groups like the Brewers Association, WineAmerica, the Wine Institute, the Distilled Spirits Council, the American Craft Spirits Association, and the U.S. Association of Cider Makers—want the tax breaks extended. But the industry prefers that they be made permanent, so producers have the certainty for making long-term business decisions.

LABOR UPDATE

  • Politico Pro reports - Minimum Wage Takes the Stage: House lawmakers will hold a hearing today to weigh raising the federal hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2024, up from the current $7.25, as proposed by House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) in his Raise the Wage Act, H.R. 582. The federal minimum hasn't received a bump since 2009.
    • Here's where the debate stands:
      • Business groups argue that increasing the federal minimum will prompt employers to cut workers' hours or eliminate jobs altogether to absorb increased labor costs. A new study from the National Federation of Independent Business forecasts that, if passed, the legislation will mean 1.6 million fewer jobs in the United States by 2029. Officials at the Chamber of Commerce have said that they are open to negotiating with Democrats on the issue, but that they won't support a $15 minimum and that they won't support any hike without concessions for small businesses.
      • Meanwhile, more than 100 economists signed onto a letter Wednesday to President Donald Trump expressing support for a $15 minimum, arguing that even if workers' hours were cut as a result, they "could still break even, or come out ahead, in terms of annual earnings." The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute argued in a recent report that a $15 minimum would increase pay for 28.1 million workers, and that wages for those workers would rise on average by 20.9 percent.
      • Morning Shift asked Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry about the likelihood that a minimum wage hike will clear the Republican-controlled Senate. In reply, she noted that a minimum wage hike would reduce the number of working people who make so little that they qualify for government assistance--an argument that might appeal to conservatives.
  • Americans are wary of paying for Trump's family leave proposal: President Donald Trump gave a ringing endorsement for federal paid family leave at his second annual State of the Union address on Tuesday. Many Americans are not so sure. A recent poll shows that public support mostly depends on one thing: how much it will cost. "I am also proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child," Trump said in his address on Tuesday.
    • Trump did not elaborate on details in his address. In last year's annual budget, the president called for six weeks' paid family leave for new mothers and fathers. Most Americans — 74 percent — support 12 weeks of federal paid family leave for new parents or individuals with medical conditions, according to a recent survey from the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The support drops, however, once costs are mentioned. Cato's survey found that 54 percent of individuals support a federal paid leave program if it meant they would have to pay $200 more in taxes per year. That falls to 48 percent if they had to pay $450 more in taxes annually and dips to 43 percent if their tax bill increased by $1,200 per year.
    • Those cost estimates are based on the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act. That proposal would cover workers for up to 66 percent of their wages, limited to $1,000 per week, for 12 weeks. The price points were generated using a cost calculator for paid family leave that was developed by the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave. Read more at CNBC.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce - Increasing the Minimum Wage: Focus on Economics, Not Politics: Let’s consider a thought experiment: What would happen if the federal government more than doubled the cost of a critical component of the economy like gasoline from the current national average of $2.25 to $4.66? Uproar, outrage, and perhaps even riots in the street (see “yellow vests” protests in France). Few would call that good economic policy. Yet this seems to be what some have in mind when it comes to the minimum wage. The House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on legislation that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15.00 per hour. While one can have a legitimate conversation about the “right” minimum wage level, $15.00 would seem motivated more by politics than actual economics. The arguments against such a dramatic spike are well known, and supported by the bulk of economic research. These include:
    • Small businesses do not have the resources to absorb such a dramatic increase in costs.
    • A $15 wage will lead to reduced hours, fewer jobs created, cut backs in operations, and quite likely job losses.
    • Increasing the minimum wage will require employers to raise the wages of millions of employees making between the current minimum wage and the new wage, not just those who are currently making the minimum wage, resulting in an impact far greater than advocates acknowledge.
    • Increasing the minimum wage, which is effectively a starting wage level for low and unskilled workers, will freeze those workers out of the market as employers look for employees who can justify being paid the higher wage. 
    • Read more at USChamber.com.
  • Bloomberg Government reports - Overtime: OIRA also received last week a proposal from DOL to "clarify, update and define" the basic and regular rate for calculating overtime pay. Under current law, employees must receive overtime pay for more than 40 hours of work in a workweek at a rate at least one and one-half their regular rate of pay ("time and a half"). "The speculation is that the rulemaking will address whether the amount of a tuition reimbursement, the value of an employee discount, or the cost of an employer-provided gym should be part of the regular rate or excluded from it," Alfred Robinson Jr., an attorney with Ogletree Deakins, told SHRM's Allen Smith last year.

TAX UPDATE

  • Politico Pro Tax reports - Congress has another four days to get a spending bill to President Donald Trump's desk. And if Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has his way, that measure would also include an extension of a couple dozen expired tax breaks.
    • Grassley isn't alone in those hopes, either. The so-called tax extenders have long had bipartisan support in the Senate, and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, has joined Grassley in reaching out to the House to see if there's any interest in restoring the tax extenders within the next week, according to people watching the matter.
    • And that's where the problem lies: House Republicans historically have been more skeptical of the extenders than their counterparts across the Capitol, and the new Democratic majority in the House hasn't shown the same sort of interest in the tax breaks as Senate tax writers. In other words, Grassley faces some distinct obstacles in getting extenders across the finish line by Feb. 15, and his office is acknowledging that he will look to future vehicles if need be.
  • Top Senate tax writer says GOP will not tweak state and local deduction limits: Americans hoping to get full state and local tax deductibility back will have to wait. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley will not tweak the new state and local tax deduction cap while he leads the panel, a spokesman for the Iowa Republican said Thursday. U.S. residents are filing taxes for the first time this year under the new GOP-written tax code, which limited the deduction for those taxes to $10,000. "The Senate Finance Committee won't be revisiting the SALT deduction reforms made in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act under Chairman Grassley's leadership," Grassley spokesman Michael Zona said.
    • The statement comes a day after President Donald Trump said he would be "open to talking about" revising the deduction limit. Democrats slammed the policy change passed in December 2017 — and 11 Republicans from the high-tax states of New York, California and New Jersey voted against it. Multiple freshman House Democrats who unseated GOP lawmakers in those states in November ran in part on repealing the deduction limits. Read more at CNBC.
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