Archive for the ‘Budget and Tax’ category

ALEC Gets it Backwards in Rich States, Poor States

November 30, 2015

We hear a lot about business climates from people who are looking for ways to cut taxes. But they usually get it wrong. One example is the Rich States, Poor States analysis produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an organization frequently considered a “bill mill” for corporate-friendly legislation.

The centerpiece of Rich States, Poor States is the “Economic Outlook Ranking,” which ranks states on their conformance to ALEC’s preferred policies, with the best state ranked number one. But when we can compare states ranked the best by ALEC with states ranked the worst, it turns out that ALEC’s 20 “best” states have lower per capita income, lower median family income, and a lower median annual wage than the 20 “worst” states. ALEC’s “best” states also have higher poverty rates: 15.3 percent on average from 2007 through 2013, versus 13.7 percent in the “worst” states. The states favored by ALEC include the likes of Utah, South Dakota, and Idaho, whereas ALEC’s “worst” states include New York, California, and Vermont.

Basic RGB*Best and worst states according to the average Economic Outlook Ranking in Rich States, Poor States, 2007-2015. Income measures are an average over the period 2007 to 2014 (2013 for Median Income).

Looking at it another way, the 20 states that performed best on the four measures of income (the actual rich states) actually score much worse on ALEC’s ranking than the 20 states with the lowest income (the actual poor states).


*Average ALEC ranking of the 20 states that performed best on four measures of income — per capita income, median family income, median annual wage, and poverty rate — vs. average ALEC ranking of the 20 poorest states. An ALEC ranking of 1 is best. ALEC ranking is the average of the state’s rank in the first through eighth editions of the Economic Outlook Ranking; rich and poor states are defined on the basis of their average ranking on the four income variables from 2007 through 2013 or 2014.

While Rich States, Poor States purports to provide a recipe for economic growth and “policies that lead to prosperity,” it actually advocates measures to lower wages and reduce opportunity for most Americans. To attain the highest EOR would require a state to have no individual or corporate income tax, no estate or inheritance tax, no state minimum wage, severe tax and expenditure limits, limited public services, and weak labor unions. The evidence and arguments cited to support these policies range from deeply flawed to nonexistent.

We conclude that the actual purpose of Rich States, Poor States is to sell the ALEC-Laffer package of policies — fiscal austerity, taxing lower income people more than the wealthy and wage suppression — in the sheep’s clothing of economic growth. In actuality, the book provides a recipe for economic inequality and declining incomes for most citizens and for depriving state and local governments of the revenue needed to maintain public infrastructure and education systems that are the underpinnings of long- term economic growth.

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, Research Director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project

Don’t compound Iowa tax inequity

November 16, 2015


The first report by a self-proclaimed conservative think tank in Iowa is getting some attention today, and reviving dubious ideas about taxes.

First, we applaud the recognition from Engage Iowa that our state’s various tax rates are not as high as they appear at first blush, because of federal deductibility — which permits tax filers to reduce their state taxable income for federal taxes paid. Ending federal deductibility, which Engage Iowa proposes, is something Iowa should consider. That would allow lowering the top rate to around 7 percent and eliminate the perception problem the group is so concerned about.

Unfortunately, however, this is not a well-thought-out plan to improve fairness and simplicity in Iowa taxes, or to assure adequate revenues for schools and other critical services, which are the best way to promote economic growth.

It compounds the overall regressive nature of Iowa taxes — and does nothing to help low- to moderate-income working families. In fact, for many families it would destroy the most important recent advance — the Earned Income Tax Credit. Some 147,000 recipients making over $10,000 — 70 percent of all EITC recipients — would lose the EITC.

While raising low-income Iowans’ taxes, the plan would buy down income-tax rates for higher-income Iowans with a sales tax increase. This would compound existing inequities in Iowa’s state and local tax system, which taxes the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers at about 10 percent, and the highest earners only 6 percent. The big winners would be those with the highest incomes.

The report’s claims about taxes and migration fly in the face of much published academic research showing that in fact taxes have very little influence on interstate migration. The claims that the flat tax would result in substantial economic gains to the state are highly suspect.

Finally, the group’s argument rests on discredited assumptions about Iowa’s so-called “business climate” and ignores the fact that Iowa already is very — perhaps overly — friendly to business. The plan places a great deal of weight on the Tax Foundation rankings, which have been thoroughly debunked. The author could have consulted more credible rankings of business climate, such as the Anderson Economic Group (which places Iowa 20th best, with below-average business taxes) or Ernst and Young, which has Iowa 28th, with an effective rate equal to the national average.

In short, the plan focuses mostly on a perception about Iowa taxes, a perception that is inaccurate but is cultivated by anti-tax forces, rather than ways to improve the stability and sustainability of funding for the critical public services on which all Iowans depend.

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, Research Director of the Iowa Policy Project


Privatizing Medicaid: ‘Why?’ ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ not yet answered

November 3, 2015

060426-capitol-swwWhy do we have Medicaid? It’s a simple question with a simple answer. We have Medicaid because if we don’t, there are millions of Americans, and nearly 600,000 Iowans, who will not be able to get health care. Private industry will not provide it.

Why, we must ask, would we turn over to private industry a critical part of our public safety net to business interests that operate with a principal purpose of making money?

How do we assure that services are provided, that our responsibilities are met, if the people running the operation are not answerable to us?

As the legislative Health Policy Oversight Committee meets today about the Governor’s privatization edict on Medicaid, we need to remind ourselves of these basic questions.

When the Governor cannot detail the purported savings and our common sense tells us otherwise, we need an assurance that data will be available — and publicly available — to monitor what is happening with a service that has been accountable and efficient in expanding health-care access to Iowans who need it. We need to know Iowa is not setting itself to repeat problems that have been demonstrated in other states.

What will pass for public oversight after we’ve turned over the keys to private industry?

Over three dozen people and organizations filed comments (available here) with the oversight committee for today’s meeting at the Statehouse. Many have a firsthand understanding of the purpose and practice of Medicaid as we know it, and serious questions of their own about the uncertain world where the Governor is taking us, on his own.

Clearly, many fundamental questions have not been fully vetted through the legislative process, nor given a hearing before the decision was made within the Governor’s Office.

How we assure health care access to low-income Iowans needs to be the central issue here, not an afterthought.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director, Iowa Policy Project

New rule! Governor wants to make laws himself

October 14, 2015

We all know the drill: The Legislature passes bills and the Governor signs or vetoes them, whereupon they become either laws, or nothing.

Not anymore, apparently.

The move by the Branstad administration to implement a new sales tax break worth an estimated $40 million a year — possibly more — is taking place outside the legislative session. If it succeeds, we have entered a new world of executive authority in Iowa.

Business lobbyists wanted the change, it could not pass the Legislature, and the administration thinks it has found a short cut: Change the longstanding interpretation of the existing law. Presto, tens of millions of dollars will be available for manufacturers. And those same tens of millions of dollars will not be available for schools.*

Consider a Des Moines Register guest opinion by Mike Ralston of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, a lobbying group representing manufacturers who would benefit from the change:

Part of the change affects Iowa’s existing sales and use tax exemption for machinery and equipment used in the manufacturing process.  The change is sound policy.

If that’s the case Mr. Ralston wants to make, let him make it during the legislative session. This rules change skirts the legislative process, and Iowans are noticing. Jon Muller writes in an insightful piece on the Bleeding Heartland blog:

It’s easy to look at political discourse today and conclude everything is a battle between Democrats and Republicans, the left and the right, liberals and conservatives. But far more is going on with this issue. … A Democrat will surely be Governor again someday, and it would be a mistake to set a precedent that allows the Executive Branch to so drastically change the tax climate. If Republicans in the Legislature do not stand up against this unprecedented over-reach of power, they will almost certainly live to regret it.

James Larew, an Iowa City attorney who was general counsel to former Governor Chet Culver, served for four years as Culver’s appointee on the Administrative Rules Review Committee, a panel of legislators who have the authority to delay the rule change from taking effect. He advised the panel: “This is new territory. What is sauce for the goose eventually becomes sauce for the gander, too.” Larew went on:

The balance of political power changes from one election to the next.

The balance of constitutional power — the relationship between the Iowa General Assembly and executive departments of government — is more serious and more lasting.

Broad interpretive powers given up by the Legislature, in one moment of time, concerning one issue, are not easily, later recovered.

As the Cedar Rapids Gazette opined in an editorial, the change “breaks the rules of good government.” The Gazette wrote:

The Branstad administration should drop its rule change bid and make its case to the General Assembly, which is elected to craft a budget and write tax policy. If it’s truly a great idea that will create jobs, as the department contends, surely the sales job won’t be that difficult.

Many businesses, we often note at IPP and the Iowa Fiscal Partnership, already pay no income tax in Iowa, and they just had their property taxes slashed. The corporate appetite for tax cuts is insatiable. Guess who pays?

*  Note: The Department of Revenue estimate of the cost of this tax break to both the state and local governments is over $40 million for each of the first four full years of implementation, according to a document provided the Administrative Rules Review Committee. The Legislative Services Agency has told ARRC that it does not have enough information to determine the accuracy of that estimate. We have revised the initial version of this blog post to reflect this uncertainty, until state officials agree on an estimate.
Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project


Iowa Cannot Afford Another Wasteful Business Tax Break

October 13, 2015

2010-PFw5464Statement by Peter Fisher, Research Director, The Iowa Policy Project, before the Administrative Rules Review Committee

October 13, 2015

The administration’s proposal to create new sales tax exemptions for Iowa businesses is unnecessary, expensive and counterproductive. The state can ill afford another tax break that will harm essential state services while producing little or no economic benefit.

Iowa business taxes are already quite competitive

  • The most recent study of state and local taxes on business as a percent of state GDP by Ernst and Young and the Council on State Taxation shows that Iowa taxes business at 4.7 percent of GDP, exactly the same as the national average. Iowa ranks right in the middle of the pack.
  • A study by Anderson Economic Group in 2015 calculated state and local taxes on business as a percent of pre-tax profits and found Iowa’s effective tax rate to be 8.7 percent, which placed it 32nd among the states, below the national average.

State and local taxes have little effect on business location decisions

  • State and local taxes are less than two percent of total costs for the average corporation. As a result, even large cuts in state taxes are unlikely to have an effect on the investment and location decisions of businesses, which are driven by more significant factors such as labor, transportation, and energy costs, and access to markets and suppliers.

Enacting a subsidy through administrative rules guarantees complete absence of evaluation and accountability

  • While the sales tax break has been promoted as an economic development incentive, creating it by administrative rule eliminates even the minimal level of accountability established by the Legislature for the periodic review of tax credits. There will be no review, no evaluation of its effectiveness, not even an annual accounting of its cost.

Tax breaks erode support for public investments in our future

  • The proliferation of tax incentives and business tax cuts over the past two decades has resulted in several hundred million dollars each year cut from the state budget. This has undermined the state’s ability to support quality education, from pre-school through public colleges and universities, which in the long run will have serious consequences for state economic growth and prosperity.

REAP: Long on Promise, Short on Support

July 30, 2015

When Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) was established in 1989, the Legislature set its spending authority at $30 million, but funded it at only half that — $15 million. The next year, funding (FY1991) was set at $20 million, an amount we thought was sustainable.

It never again reached that level — though lawmakers attempted to set it at $25 million for the 25th anniversary of the program in the just-completed fiscal year. Governor Branstad vetoed $9 million that year, leaving REAP at $16 million for FY2015, where it stands for FY2016 as well.

Ironically, the 2014 veto came as the state was promoting its voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Twenty percent of REAP goes to these programs. The veto reduced funds available to help farmers implement new nutrient runoff reduction and filtration measures that could contribute to the goals of the nutrient strategy. Actions like these contributed to a long-term REAP shortfall of more than $220 million.

Basic RGB

Basic RGB

See our new Iowa Policy Project report, REAP: A Case Study of Stewardship. With a more clear understanding of how REAP can make a difference in our quality of life, all Iowans may evaluate how it should be funded. In practice, REAP is kept well short of the $20 million annual support that had been envisioned — a nearly 25-year trend that keeps REAP well short of its potential.

IPP-osterberg-75Posted by David Osterberg, IPP co-founder and environmental researcher

On big issues, Iowa leaders emerging locally

July 23, 2015

If state leaders won’t lead, local leaders in Iowa are showing they will take up the job.

On three big issues in the last several months, we have seen this:

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to see a trend.

Public policy matters in Iowans’ lives, in critical ways. We elect people who can take care of it in a way that works for all Iowans, but not enough who will. In the absence of state-level leadership, it’s inevitable, perhaps, that local officials who also are hired to work for their constituents will find a way to help them.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project


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