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Posts Tagged ‘States’

The showdown in Wisconsin has generated competing claims about whether state and local government bureaucrats are paid too much or paid too little compared to their private sector counterparts.

The data on total compensation clearly show a big advantage for state and local bureaucrats, largely because of lavish benefits (which is the problem that  Governor Walker in Wisconsin is trying to fix). But the government unions argue that any advantage they receive disappears after the data is adjusted for factors such as education.

This is a fair point, so we need to find some objective measure that neutralizes all the possible differences. Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, and this “JOLTS” data includes a measure of how often workers voluntarily leave job, and we can examine this data for different parts of the workforce.

Every labor economist, right or left, will agree that higher “quit rates” are much more likely in sectors that are underpaid and lower levels are much more likely in sectors where compensation is generous.

Not surprisingly, this data shows state and local bureaucrats are living on Easy Street. As the chart illustrates, private sector workers are more than three times as likely to quit their jobs.

This helps explain why the unions are treating the Wisconsin debate as if it was Custer’s Last Stand. The bureaucrats know they have comfortable sinecures and they are fighting to preserve their unfair privileges.

The only bit of semi-good news for Wisconsin taxpayers is that state and local bureaucrats are not as lavishly over-compensated as federal bureaucrats.

This Center for Freedom and Prosperity video looks at all of the data and reveals a pecking order. Federal bureaucrats are at the kings and queens of compensation. State and local bureaucrats are like the nobility. And private sector taxpayers are the serfs that worker harder and earn less, but nonetheless finance the entire racket.

The video closes with a very important point that the right pay level for many bureaucrats is zero. This is because they work for programs, departments, and agencies that should not exist.

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Here are a few predictions for next year. It will be hot in Dallas in July, it will be cold in Stockholm in February, and Governor Jerry Brown of California will ask Uncle Sam for some sort of bailout.

I’m actually not sure about the first two predictions, but I think the last one is as close to a sure thing as you can get. Sven Larson is one of America’s top experts on state fiscal issues (his blog is an excellent resource for people who want to keep informed about the shenanigans of governors and state legislatures), and here’s his assessment of the mess in California.

California state spending has outgrown the state’s tax base by 1.3 percentage points annually for 25 years. Simple arithmetic dictates that in lieu of constant tax increases, this perpetuates a deficit. From 1985 to 2009 state GDP in California grew by 5.5 percent per year, on average (not adjusted for inflation). Annual growth in state spending was 6.8 percent, on average. Three spending categories have dominated this spending spree: public schools, cash assistance and Medicaid. Making up half of state spending, they are outlets for traditional redistributive welfare state policy. …Of the three aforementioned spending categories, two have grown faster than state GDP, i.e., the tax base, throughout the past quarter-century: • Public school spending grew at 6.5 percent per year on average, one full percent faster than state GDP • Medicaid grew at 10.7 percent per year on average, approximately twice the rate of state GDP.

In other words, California is in a fiscal mess because spending has grown too rapidly. It’s unclear why taxpayers in other states should be ripped off so that Golden State politicians can maintain an unsustainable vote-buying racket – particularly when the state goes out of its way to punish economic growth and discourage job creation.

To make matters worse, bailouts (or even the expectation of bailouts) send a terrible signal. Matt Mitchell (no relation) of the Mercatus Center looked at precisely this issue and concluded that state politicians would be even more profligate if they got any indication that they could shift the tax burden to people in other states. He even found an interesting study showing how sub-national governments in Germany responded to this kind of perverse incentive structure. Here’s an excerpt from that research.

States with a softer budget constraint [i.e., greater expectation that the German national government will bail them out], have higher deficits and debts and receive more bailout funds. …The larger the expectation of a bailout, the higher the amount spent in a number of spending categories, and special interests are most likely to benefit from this additional spending. We also find that bailout expectations lead to less efficient state government service provision.

By the way, I don’t want to imply that this is solely a California issue. There are several states that have taxed and spent themselves into fiscal ditches. Indeed, it’s quite likely that Illinois may be the first state to experience a fiscal collapse.

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The Oregon Ducks will compete for the national championship early next month, so they’ve had a good season. Unfortunately, Oregon’s government isn’t doing nearly so well. Politicians approved a big tax hike on those bad, evil rich people in 2009, and Oregon’s spite-filled voters approved that measure earlier this year.

So how’s is Oregon’s class-warfare approach working? Not surprisingly, the politics of hate and envy is generating poor results. Revenues are much lower than forecast, as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the Laffer Curve could have explained. The most noteworthy result is that about one-fourth of rich taxpayers have disappeared. Does the name John Galt ring a bell?

None of this should be a surprise. Maryland politicians tried to rape rich taxpayers a couple of years ago and they also crashed on the Laffer Curve.

As the Wall Street Journal opines, Oregon politicians are getting just what they deserve.

In 2009 the state legislature raised the tax rate to 10.8% on joint-filer income of between $250,000 and $500,000, and to 11% on income above $500,000. Only New York City’s rate is higher. Oregon’s liberal voters ratified the tax increase on individuals and another on businesses in January of this year, no doubt feeling good about their “shared sacrifice.” Congratulations. Instead of $180 million collected last year from the new tax, the state received $130 million. The Eugene Register-Guard newspaper reports that after the tax was raised “income tax and other revenue collections began plunging so steeply that any gains from the two measures seemed trivial.” One reason revenues are so low is that about one-quarter of the rich tax filers seem to have gone missing. The state expected 38,000 Oregonians to pay the higher tax, but only 28,000 did. Funny how that always happens. …The tax wasn’t enacted into law until June 2009 but was retroactively applied to January 1, 2009. So for the first half of the year wealthy Oregon residents weren’t able to take steps to avoid the tax ambush because they didn’t see it coming. This suggests that a bigger revenue loss from tax mitigation strategies will show up on tax return data in 2010 and 2011. …All of this is an instant replay of what happened in Maryland in 2008 when the legislature in Annapolis instituted a millionaire tax. There roughly one-third of the state’s millionaire households vanished from the tax rolls after rates went up. If Salem officials want to find where the millionaires went, they might start the search in Texas, the state that leads the nation in job creation—and has a top income and capital gains tax rate 11 percentage points lower than Oregon’s.

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There are plenty of reason to like and dislike the tax deal between President Obama and congressional leaders. On the plus side, we dodge a big tax increase for the next two years. We also replace a goofy and ineffective “make work pay” tax credit with a supply-side oriented reduction in the payroll tax rate (albeit only for one year, so there probably won’t be much economic benefit).

On the negative side, the deal extends unemployment benefits, which has the perverse effect of subsidizing unemployment. The deal is also filled with all sorts of corrupt provisions for various interest groups such as ethanol producers.

Then there are provisions such as the 35 percent death tax. Is this bad news, because it is an increase from zero percent this year? Or is it good news because it is much lower than the 55 percent rate that was scheduled to take effect beginning next year? That’s hard to answer, though I know the right rate is zero.

But here’s one bit of good news that has not received much attention. The tax deal ends the “Build America Bonds” tax preference, which was one of the most destructive provisions of Obama’s so-called stimulus. Here’s an excerpt from a Bloomberg report.

Senate Democrats backing the subsidy, which has helped finance bridges, roads and other public works, fell short in a bid to get the program added to a bill extending the 2001 and 2003 income-tax cuts. That failure was the latest in efforts to keep the Build America program alive beyond its scheduled end on Dec. 31. …While Obama and Democrats have supported prolonging the program, they have run into opposition from Republicans critical of the stimulus package. Extensions have twice passed the Democratic-controlled House only to stall in the Senate, where the Republican minority has sufficient power to block legislation. The U.S. government pays 35 of the interest costs on Build America bonds. …State and local governments, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the construction industry are among the program’s advocates.

Build America Bonds are a back-door handout for profligate state and local governments, allowing them to borrow more money while shifting some of the resulting interest costs to the federal government.

But states already are in deep trouble because of too much spending and debt, so encouraging more spending and debt with federal tax distortions was a very bizarre policy.

Moreover, the policy also damaged the economy by creating an incentive for investors to allocate funds to state and local governments rather than private sector investments.That’s a very bad idea, unless you somehow think (notwithstanding all the evidence) that it is smart to make the public sector bigger at the expense of the private sector.

In one fell swoop, Build America Bonds increased the burden of the federal government, encouraged a bigger burden of state and local government, and drained resources from the productive sector of the economy.

That’s stupid, even by Washington standards. So whatever we think of the overall package, let’s savor the death of this destructive provision.

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I take second place to nobody in my view that government is horribly incompetent, but even I’m shocked by this story linked on Drudge. According to a news report out of Indiana, students who take the government’s driver’s ed class are four times more likely to crash than those who don’t take the classes. There almost certainly must be other factors that account for this surprising difference, as suggested in the excerpt below. After all, even I don’t believe bureaucrats can turn people into more dangerous drivers. At the very least, though, this presumably shows that government classes have no positive impact. Maybe the right way to deal with young drivers is to put parents back in charge, backed up by the discipline of auto insurance rates determined by market forces. How’s that for a radical idea?

Indiana lawmakers say they are puzzled by a study that shows teenagers who take driver’s education classes are more likely to crash than those who do not take the classes. The Indiana BMV released the study that it says shows current drivers under 18 who took driver’s ed had nearly four times the crashes than those without the training. Some lawmakers say it might be time for an overhaul. The state’s drivers ed program has not changed in the past 30 years. But the BMV says the numbers might be skewed by the fact that teens with driver’s ed get their permits earlier and have more time on the road.

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My default assumption is that all politicians will do the wrong thing when they have to choose between defending freedom and appeasing special interests. Even the ones that spout good rhetoric often do the wrong thing, particularly after a couple of years in office (sort of like being assimilated by the Borg, for you Star Trek fans). So I did not hold out much hope that Chris Christie would have any positive impact on New Jersey. I’m glad to report that (at least so far) I was wrong. Here’s a excerpt from a National Review article about what he’s accomplished. The excerpt is long, but the details are important. And since I obviously had to summarize, you should read the entire article to more fully appreciate how Christie seems to be the real deal.

…on February 11, Christie addressed a special joint session of the state legislature, replacing the vague promises of the campaign trail with first principles, and elaborating the constraints under which he was determined to govern:

“Our constitution requires a balanced budget. Our commitment requires us to begin the next fiscal year with a prudent opening balance. Our conscience and common sense require us to fix the problem in a way that does not raise taxes on the most overtaxed citizens in America. Our love for our children requires that we do not shove today’s problems under the rug only to be discovered again tomorrow. Our sense of decency must require that we stop using tricks that will make next year’s budget problem even worse.”

And in an extraordinary move, he then declared a fiscal state of emergency, announcing that by executive order he would impound $2.2 billion in appropriations from a fiscal year that was already seven months gone. That figure represented virtually every dollar the state was not legally obligated to pay out for the remainder of the year. In Bagger’s words, it was “everything that wasn’t nailed down.”

“By doing that so quickly and so dramatically, and by executive action, it really set the stage,” Bagger says. “It was just a very clear declaration that there’s a new reality.”

There was much wailing and teeth-gnashing about the cuts among Democrats. Sweeney accused Christie of “pick[ing] someone else’s pocket,” and senate majority leader Barbara Buono went so far as to say the executive order had “declare[d] martial law” in New Jersey.

This raised the stakes significantly for the FY 2011 budget battle, which was then only beginning. In the year to come, the state would face an $11 billion deficit that made the previous shortfall look like a gratuity. It was a big hole, and Christie needed Democratic votes to close it.

But he had no intention of mollycoddling the other side. On March 16, the governor went back before a joint session of the legislature and introduced a $29.3 billion budget that doubled down on his most controversial measures, trimming fat — and muscle, and sinew — from virtually every department and every entitlement in the state.

The budget did small things, like reducing overtime hours, shrinking the state’s fleet of official vehicles, replacing paper with digital filing, and consolidating government office space. It cut the pay and pension eligibility for members of a number of state boards and commissions, many of whose duties required them to do little more than attend once-monthly meetings. It saved $216 million by eliminating a number of wasteful programs, and another $50 million by privatizing others.

But the budget did big things as well. It shrank the state’s major spending programs — including many that were, the governor admitted, not without merit — by reducing base appropriations and either scaling back or eliminating scheduled funding increases. It converted the state’s property-tax rebate system — long funded by borrowing, at interest, to cut checks to homeowners — with tax credits. It cut $466 million in local aid, against Trenton’s trend of corralling more and more municipal tax dollars for the purposes of redistribution, while pushing a constitutional amendment that would limit towns’ ability to raise property taxes in the future.

And like Corzine before him, Christie deferred payments to the state’s pension program to secure $3.1 billion in savings, under the justification that it was imprudent to sink more money into a failing system. But unlike Corzine, Christie pushed through tough pension reforms that rolled back overgenerous payment increases, limited payouts for unused sick leave, and enrolled new workers into 401(k)s. He’d also signed a law requiring public employees to pay at least 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health benefits, which would save the state and local governments hundreds of millions each year.

But what caused the first and most strident wave of opposition to Christie’s agenda was his decision to slash funding for public education, by some $820 million.

…A near-pristine version of Christie’s budget passed at 1:13 a.m. on June 29, less than 24 hours before the constitutional deadline.

…But as significant as his early victories have been, Christie must now turn to pushing the structural reforms that will institutionalize his vision of leaner, meaner state government.

…Even as he was fighting the budget battle, the governor was barnstorming the state to talk up perhaps the most significant of these reforms: his “Cap 2.5” initiative, which would constitutionally limit the ability of municipalities to raise property taxes.

The cap is popular among residents, most of whom pay the preponderance of their non-federal tax liability in property taxes.

…But Christie’s amendment is at the mercy of the Democratic legislature, whose assent is required for a popular referendum on it. …Christie has vowed not to give up the fight.

Other battles loom wherein the governor’s chances for success are highly uncertain. He has promised yet more pension and compensation reforms, moves that could break his tenuous alliance with the reformist elements in the Democratic party and push his openly hostile relationship with labor beyond Thunderdome.

…Senator Kean, who hopes to move from minority to majority leader, has confidence that Christie will continue to stick to his guns.

“The governor has an internally strong constitution — that’s who Chris is — and he has an externally strong constitution in the constitution of the State of New Jersey,” Kean says.

“I think he is absolutely the genuine article. That’s why we won’t ever go back to the status quo, at least not under Chris Christie’s governorship.”

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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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