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Archive for the ‘States’ Category

I’m an over-protective parent. Even now, with my kids ranging between 18 and 23, I will try to herd them together while skiing so I can follow them down the slopes and watch for potential injuries. And I never got them a jungle gym when they were young, even though I somehow managed to survive childhood with one in my backyard.

But at least I recognize what I’m doing. And I certainly would never consider imposing my mother-hen impulses on the overall population.

I’m not surprised to discover, however, that bureaucrats in New York wanted to go way overboard with regulations to ban just about anything with even tiny risks of injury. This list included things such as archery and rock climbing, which might cause me to fret, but also things such as (I’m not joking) kickball and tag.

With those standards, you may as well require kids to be enclosed in bubble wrap every morning.

The only good news is that people found out about the state’s regulatory overreach and the government was forced to cancel the rules after widespread mockery.

Here are some excerpts from a story by NBC in New York.

Day camp games like tag, wiffle ball, Red Rover and kickball are no longer at risk in New York after state health officials yanked a proposal that threatened the future of those mainstays of child’s play.

Towns, villages and other camp operators had begun revamping upcoming indoor summer programs after the Department of Health sent out a long list of familiar games and activities it said presented a “significant risk of injury” and needed to be regulated more closely.

…On Tuesday, Richie, a Republican whose district includes three mostly rural north-central New York counties, said she was pleased by the reversal.

“At a time when our nation’s No. 1 health concern is childhood obesity, I am very happy to see that someone in state government saw we should not be adding new burdensome regulations by classifying tag, Red Rover and Wiffle Ball as dangerous activities,” she said. “I am glad New York’s children can continue to steal the bacon and play flag football and enjoy other traditional rites of summer.”

The proposal would have revised the definition of a summer day camp to include potentially risky organized indoor group activities like archery and rock climbing — as well as things like kickball, tag and Wiffle Ball.

Ritchie said that would have required camps in many smaller towns and villages to add staff such as nurses and pay $200 for a state permit. Other critics argued the regulation was a hysterical approach that stood to take all the fun out of summer.

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When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. That old saying makes a lot of sense. As a tax economist, I’m sometimes guilty of looking at all sorts of issues based on their relationship with the tax code. In my defense, however, the tentacles of the IRS now reach into almost every nook and cranny of our society. And greedy tax collectors on the state and local level make a bad situation even worse. Two things from today’s inbox illustrate my point.

First, you may remember that the IRS is going to be a chief enforcer of Obamacare. Well, our friends at the tax collection agency have just released a draft form for the “credit for small employer health insurance premiums.” We already have a tax system that takes up 72,000 pages and requires more than 1,000 different forms and publications, but now we can add 25 more lines of mind-numbing, eye-glazing bureaucratese, all of which doubtlessly will lead to innocent mistakes that cause many more taxpayers to have nightmarish interactions with the IRS. (click here to see a full-size version of the form)

Second, Hiwa Alaghebandian at the American Enterprise Institute has an article on telecommuting which largely focuses on the environmental and quality-of-live advantages of people working from home. What does this have to do with taxes, you ask? It turns out that greedy state politicians have an annoying tendency of trying to tax people who live elsewhere. This form of taxation without representation imposes both bureaucratic and economic barriers that hinder an otherwise desirable development.

Possibly the biggest barrier to telework are state tax laws. Many states implement some form of double taxation on out-of-state teleworkers. For example, New York applies a “convenience of the employer” doctrine on out-of-state teleworkers who work for a New York–based organization, which requires them to pay income tax to New York for telework days outside of the state. All work done outside of New York is subject to New York income tax, unless the work is done outside of New York out of necessity to the employer . In 2005, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the “convenience of the employer” doctrine in Huckaby vs. New York State Division of Tax Appeals. Thomas Huckaby, a Tennessee resident, worked for a New York–based company, but teleworked 75 percent of the time. On his New York State nonresident tax returns, Huckaby allocated 25 percent of his income to New York, and 75 percent to Tennessee; however, the New York State tax department determined that Huckaby should have paid New York income tax on 100 percent of his income. The court sided with the New York State tax department, stating that the doctrine was constitutionally applied. As many as 35 states have some form of double taxation for teleworkers.

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I’m glad I read Instapundit, because my day has been made brighter by the news that Arizona’s statists have given up on their money-grubbing speed camera program. Here’s a cheerful story which explains that widespread noncompliance was the key.

Dozens of photo-enforcement cameras on freeways throughout the state are coming down this week.

A total of 76 cameras will cease operation on Thursday.

…While the cameras have done a good job at snapping speeders, drivers have been ignoring the tickets.

According to the Department of Public Safety, the cameras led to more than 700,000 tickets in the first year of operation. Many of those people, however, never paid the fines.

…Any driver who ignored a photo-enforcement ticket was supposed to have been served. One problem was that process servers were inundated and simply couldn’t get to everybody. If a person was not served, his or her ticket became invalid after three months.

The speeding tickets should have generated about $90 million in the first year of the program. About one-third of that was actually collected.

And here’s a website with further details, including about how one group of activists were vandalizing the revenue cameras. As the person who wrote the article says, “I say to the people of Arizona: Bravo! How very American of you.”

The State, as an institution, thrives on confrontation. The best antidote is peaceful non-compliance. Simply ignore the State, disengage, and the State is rendered impotent.

Through the highway camera system, it was hoped that an additional burst of revenue would roll in. Instead, it became a massive drain on the state’s budget. Not only did it not bring in the hoped-for revenue, it didn’t even make enough money to pay for expense of installing and maintaining the cameras.

The citizens simply ignored the tickets that arrived in the mail. The state of Arizona doesn’t have the money nor the resources to follow up on the unpaid tickets. To top that all off, a group of activists went around vandalizing the traffic cams ‘” icing on the cake.

Allow me to conclude with my personal experiences. I’ve been nailed by speed (revenue) cameras twice. In both cases, the speed limits were set absurdly low. In one case, it was a 45-mph limit on a stretch of interstate highway. In the other case, a 25-mph limit on a six lane major artery. Sadly, I had to pay. But the real outrage is that there is no plausible explanation for those speed limits/camera placements other than to rip off drivers. I just hope someday I have jury duty and the case is about somebody arrested for vandalizing a camera.

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With apologies to Dr. Seuss, maybe that will be the name of a future book I’ll write about the anti-competitive impact of high tax rates. And one of my chapters will be about what we can learn from the states. Richard Rahn’s column in the Washington Times reviews some of the key evidence on this issue, noting that states without income taxes are enjoying better economic performance than states with income taxes. Not surprisingly, he also finds states with the highest tax rates are the ones in the most trouble.

Why is it that some of the states with the biggest fiscal problems have the highest individual state income tax rates, such as New York and California, while some of the states with the least fiscal problems have no state income tax at all? High-tax advocates will argue that the high-tax states provide much more and better state services, but the empirical evidence does not support the assertion. On average, schools, health and safety, roads, etc. are no better in states with income taxes than those without income taxes. More importantly, the evidence is very strong that people are moving from high-tax states to lower-tax-rate states – the migration from California to Texas and from New York to Florida being prime examples.

…It is interesting that the high-tax-rate states also, on average, have much higher per capita debt levels than states without income taxes.

…There have been a number of both empirical and theoretical studies showing the negative impacts of state income taxes and particularly those with high marginal rates on economic growth within the state. A recent study published in the Cato Journal by professors Barry W. Poulson and Jules Gordon Kaplan, which was carefully controlled for the effects of regressivity, convergence and regional influences in isolating the effect of taxes on economic growth in the states concluded: “Jurisdictions that imposed an income tax to generate a given level of revenue experienced lower rates of economic growth relative to jurisdictions that relied on alternative taxes to generate the same revenue.”

…Income taxes, as contrasted with consumption (i.e., sales) taxes and modest property tax rates, are far more costly to administer and do far more economic damage (by discouraging work, saving and investment) and are far more intrusive on individual liberty. The states without state income taxes overall have had far better economic performance for most of the past several decades than have the income tax states – particularly those with high marginal taxes.

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The New York Times has a story about the budget debacle in Illinois, which is a classic case of a state with too much government and too many overpaid bureaucrats. Other than being an example of what not to do, the most interesting aspect of what’s happening in Illinois is trying to guess whether it is in better or worse shape than California. According to the credit default swaps market, Illinois is in slightly worse shape. Both states rank below Iraq and above Romania:

Even by the standards of this deficit-ridden state, Illinois’s comptroller, Daniel W. Hynes, faces an ugly balance sheet. Precisely how ugly becomes clear when he beckons you into his office to examine his daily briefing memo.

He picks the papers off his desk and points to a figure in red: $5.01 billion.

“This is what the state owes right now to schools, rehabilitation centers, child care, the state university — and it’s getting worse every single day,” he says in his downtown office.

…For the last few years, California stood more or less unchallenged as a symbol of the fiscal collapse of states during the recession. Now Illinois has shouldered to the fore, as its dysfunctional political class refuses to pay the state’s bills and refuses to take the painful steps — cuts and tax increases — to close a deficit of at least $12 billion, equal to nearly half the state’s budget.

Then there is the spectacularly mismanaged pension system, which is at least 50 percent underfunded and, analysts warn, could push Illinois into insolvency if the economy fails to pick up.

…[S]igns of fiscal crackup are easy to see. Legislators left the capital this month without deciding how to pay 26 percent of the state budget. The governor proposes to borrow $3.5 billion to cover a year’s worth of pension payments, a step that would cost about $1 billion in interest. And every major rating agency has downgraded the state; Illinois now pays millions of dollars more to insure its debt than any other state in the nation.

“Their pension is the most underfunded in the nation,” said Karen S. Krop, a senior director at Fitch Ratings. “They have not made significant cuts or raised revenues. There’s no state out there like this. They can’t grow their way out of this.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/03/business/economy/03illinois.html

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Chris Christie of New Jersey has done a remarkable job so far, but his biggest battles are still ahead of him. A key fight is whether the state will impose a cap on property taxes. As the Wall Street Journal opines, this reform has worked very well in Massachusetts and is critical to curtailiing the greed of government employee unions in the Garden State.

The Governor wants to cap annual property tax increases at 2.5%, on the model of the successful cap that Massachusetts imposed in 1980. Over the next 27 years, property taxes in the Bay State rose 22% compared to 68% nationwide and 102% in New Jersey.

The cap is crucial to preventing local Garden State school districts, which are dominated by teachers unions, from raising taxes and thus defeating whatever spending restraint Mr. Christie can impose on Trenton. The unions know this, which is why they’ve spent some $7 million in TV ads portraying Mr. Christie as the scourge of police, firefighters and children. The Governor’s approval rating has held up well despite the onslaught, which may reflect that voters understand the state’s new fiscal reality. New Jersey’s property taxes and its overall state and local tax burden are the nation’s highest, and the state hasn’t created a single net new private job in a decade.

Democrats who run the state legislature have counter-offered with a 2.9% cap, but with so many spending exceptions that it’s more fig leaf than cap. Their bill would allow lawmakers to raise property taxes above the cap to pay for pensions, health care and utility costs and, here’s the kicker, even in order to promote the health, safety or welfare of the municipality.

…This showdown is worth watching because Mr. Christie has shown admirable political grit so far, and success in New Jersey would bolster the nerve of other reform governors. One temptation for Mr. Christie would be to settle for too little reform when his political capital is at its highest, which was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original mistake in California. …Mr. Christie’s best reform opportunity is now, and taxpayers everywhere should hope he succeeds.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704103904575337084021966948.html

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