IPP Statement: IPERS is strong

Governor Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds are discussing a potential task force to examine whether to replace the IPERS defined benefit pension plan with a defined contribution plan, like 401(k) plans.

The Iowa Policy Project, which has researched this issue already, today released this statement:

The governor’s proposed task force on public pensions is unnecessary. The evidence is clear that a defined contribution plan is inferior to a defined benefit plan in the fundamental purpose of a pension: to assure a secure retirement for an employee. The IPERS law also clearly states its purpose of reducing turnover and attracting high-quality public workers.

Therefore, any task force should be charged with those two fundamental tasks: (1) assuring a secure retirement for public employees, and (2) enhancing the ability of the state to attract and maintain good workers. Public employment should not be reduced to temp work.

It is noteworthy that the assurances offered current employees — which include the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and state legislators — pit current employees against future employees. It would replace a secure retirement with one at the mercy of the ups and downs of the stock market.

IPERS is strong — stronger than most such systems and stronger than it was after ill-advised underfunding and a recession. As long as legislators do not take the easy way out and choose to underfund this fundamental responsibility again, there is no reason to consider a change. A fair task force will discover this.

The effort to change this stable and secure pension plan for public employees is driven by political arguments — not economic or fiscal arguments. To better understand the issues and the political spin that is clouding them, see also these newspaper guest opinion pieces:

Alarmist rhetoric sells Iowa pension plan short,” by David Osterberg in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 2013

Strengthen, don’t break, Iowa pension plans,” by Peter Fisher in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 2014

 

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

Contact: mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

The case for Governor Branstad’s minimum wage increase

The time is right for Governor Branstad to propose a minimum wage increase. It’s the right thing to do, and the ball is in his court.

Election Night 2014 — the hours that established why Governor Terry Branstad should push for an increase in the state minimum wage.

At first blush, this might not seem obvious. It was a big Republican night, and support of the minimum wage is not a marquee issue for Republicans.

On Election Night, a minimum-wage critic won the U.S. Senate seat of one of the nation’s most high-profile and ardent supporters of a minimum-wage increase, Iowa’s Tom Harkin, and Republicans took control of that chamber. Over in the House, Republicans flipped one seat and now hold three of Iowa’s four, along with a historically overwhelming majority that makes the minimum-wage increase sought by President Obama highly unlikely.

This turns the focus to the Iowa Statehouse, where the power structure remains effectively the same: Republican governor, narrowly Democratic Senate, slightly stronger Republican majority in the House.

With little change in Des Moines, why would passage be more likely now?

For one thing, we have gone one more year without an increase. It has been almost seven years now at $7.25; it is only a matter of time — and we may be there — when Iowa reaches a tipping point where inertia succumbs to an increase in the minimum wage.

For another, the near-certainty that it will not pass in Washington erodes pleas to wait for the feds. Recall that Iowa stopped waiting in 2007, passing the $7.25 wage that took effect in January 2008, almost 19 months ahead of the federal $7.25.

Finally, the tipping point noted above may be signaled in state referendum victories on Election Night for minimum-wage forces in two neighboring “red” states — Nebraska and South Dakota — indicating the time is right politically. Of the states bordering Iowa, only Wisconsin is stuck with us at $7.25.

State minimum wages higher than U.S. minimum on Jan. 1, 2015
State minimum wages higher than U.S. minimum on Jan. 1, 2015 (National Conference of State Legislatures)

An increase would be popular in Iowa. A recent poll showed 53 percent support for an increase to $10.10 an hour.[i] No politician in either party will be disadvantaged in 2016 having supported a minimum wage increase.

On the merits, it is well established that a minimum-wage increase is overdue. It comes nowhere close to a family-supporting income, and it has not kept pace with rising costs for almost seven years. Families depending on minimum-wage income have not seen lower costs of food, fuel, housing, clothing and health care in those years. Passing it now would mean:

  • Fewer Iowans in poverty.
  • A boost to local and state economies as families have more to spend.
  • A fiscal benefit to the state as less is needed to support extremely low-income working families.
  • More resources to support stronger work-support programs to point low-wage workers on a path to the middle class.

In the past, Governor Branstad has made it clear the issue was not his priority but he has not ruled it out.[ii]

For all of these reasons, the time is right for Governor Branstad to move ahead. It’s the right thing to do, and the ball is in his court.

[i] http://globegazette.com/news/iowa/poll-majority-of-iowans-favor-raising-minimum-wage/article_1b688a49-214b-5688-bfff-9e74ead757bd.html

[ii] http://whotv.com/2014/01/31/minimum-wage-branstad-hasnt-ruled-out-increase/

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

Hyperbole Alert: The drumbeat to cut corporate taxes in Iowa

Want to talk reform? Then recognize the real problems — we receive less in corporate tax than we used to, and don’t collect a lot because of the swiss-cheese nature of our tax code.

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

TWELVE PERCENT!

The figure practically screams at you, even when it’s not in all caps, when the conversation comes to corporate tax rates in Iowa.

Here’s the thing: It’s not a real number. Not really.

That is what is known as Iowa’s “top marginal rate” on corporate income tax. And it’s not a real number because it simply does not — cannot — reflect what a business pays on all its profits. Yet that is the implication when people (especially politicians) or corporations complain about it.

A top Iowa columnist, Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, this week discussed the political battles over Iowa’s latest gigantic subsidies to Egyptian fertilizer company Orascom. In his piece he expressed a note of concern about the hyperbole in those battles. Then, he turned the discussion to Governor Branstad’s desire for cuts in corporate income taxes.

It is in that discussion where the hyperbole typically has been the strongest in Iowa. We are often told — as Dorman noted — that Iowa’s top corporate income tax rate is the nation’s highest. Note the emphasis added on “top.” More on that in a moment. Dorman also noted, accurately, that Iowa “has four brackets and a tangle of special interest credits.”

Because of the latter, any serious concern for our corporate friends should evaporate. Because they’re really being taken care of quite nicely, thank you, by their friends in the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office.

Now, about that “top rate.” It applies only to Iowa-taxable corporate profits above $250,000. Iowa doesn’t tax any profits from sales outside the state, so the rate doesn’t apply at all there, which for many businesses is a significant share of profits. For all taxable profits below $250,000, rates are lower — 6 percent on the first $25,000, 8 percent on the next $75,000 and 10 percent on the next $150,000.

Before these rates kick in, the business gets to deduct half its federal income tax from taxable income, and may have other deductions or ways to shelter income from state tax.

Then, after the rates are computed and the taxes determined, the tax credits enter the picture — and state revenues exit. The state just expanded the potential for those credits by $50 million, raising the cap on a select group of credits. In the case of the Research Activities Credit, these credits not only erase all tax liability, but offer state checks for the remaining amount of the credit. Through that program in 2012, Iowa paid out almost $33 million to 130 firms that paid no income tax, because those companies had more credits than tax liability.

And you can bet the corporate execs and their accountants fully understand all these nooks and crannies in our tax code. But if you want to give them a free million or so, they’ll take it. They are smart folks, and they have proven themselves to be more skilled negotiators than Iowa’s economic development moguls.

Want to talk reform? Then recognize the real problems — that we receive less in corporate tax than we used to, and that a lot of corporate tax is not collected because of the swiss-cheese nature of our tax code. That gives us all something to talk about.

Just be ready for the hyperbole from those who don’t want to change that part of our system.

Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director


For more information about Iowa business taxes, see these Iowa Fiscal Partnership reports:
— “Reducing Iowa Commercial Property Taxes,” by Heather Milway and Peter Fisher, April 24, 2013.
— “Amid Plans to Relax Limits, Business Tax Credits Grow,” by Heather Gibney, April 16, 2013.
— “Corporate Taxes and State Economic Growth,” by Peter Fisher, revised April 2013.
— “A $40 Million Budget Hole: Persistent and Growing,” IFP backgrounder, February 25, 2013.
— “Tax Credit Reform Glass Half-Full? Maybe Some Moisture,” IFP backgrounder, revised March 23, 2010.
— “Single Factor to Consider,” IFP backgrounder, April 2, 2008.

Who would take Governor’s deal?

Why are state employees the Governor’s target? Revenues are up, and the Governor is happily giving away millions to companies that don’t pay income tax. Why should state workers take a $1,000 pay cut?

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

There’s a little gamesmanship about public-worker benefits this week that is avoiding a critical question: How will the state compensate workers for giving up negotiated health benefits?

Governor Branstad on Monday repeated his plans to push for a 20 percent premium contribution by state employees in the next contract, putting out a pledge to pay that amount himself right now. For the Governor it’s $224 per month.

IPP’s Andrew Cannon has done a good job of exposing the fact that public worker health benefits in Iowa, while more generous than those offered in the private sector, don’t make up for lower pay in comparable positions or positions requiring comparable qualifications/education. On balance, there is a penalty for working in the public sector.

Governor Branstad doesn’t talk about the wages/salary side. He is ignoring the fact that, unlike his pay and that of state legislators, state employees’ benefits in place are a result of bargaining — a point acknowledged far too little, but thankfully was cited this week by the Muscatine Journal’s Steve Jameson. State employees agreed on the pay levels they receive in the context of other benefitsthey al so receive.

Oddly, when the Governor says state workers should pay $1,000 toward their health insurance, he is peddling it all as savings to the state. Actually, we should expect salaries to go up to compensate for lost benefits.

Also, why are state employees the Governor’s target? Revenues are up, and the Governor is happily giving away millions to companies that don’t pay income tax, and leaving corporate tax loopholes open as well. So explain again, please: Why should state workers take a $1,000 pay cut?

Who would take that deal?

By Mike Owen, Assistant Director

Quality of life — the path to good jobs and schools

A whopping 63 percent of Iowans voted in 2010 for a constitutional amendment that would dedicate funding to improve Iowa’s waters and land. Now, that is a mandate.

Will Hoyer
Will Hoyer


Governor Branstad wants Iowans to focus “like a laser beam” on jobs and education. If we are to do so, he must get us to examine how we’re managing our precious land and water. He cannot expect to achieve his job goals without those important parts of the picture.

What happens when people don’t want the jobs that are available because the air is so dirty that people get sick? What happens when well-educated, highly qualified job candidates pass up Iowa for another state that demonstrates a commitment to clean water and air? A variety of aspects make Iowa a desirable place to bring a business or a family. Most focus on quality of life.

If our children are educated in world-class schools they will have job opportunities everywhere. Companies across the country and across the world will be clamoring to hire hard-working, well-educated Iowa kids and those kids will have choices. Will they want to live in a state that demonstrates a commitment to clean air and clean water? Will they want a place that invests in parks and recreational opportunities? Absolutely.

As The Des Moines Register has pointed out, Iowa consistently ranks near the bottom in per-capita spending on recreation and conservation.

Politicians often talk of a “mandate” when they win an election with 52 or 53 percent of the vote. Why, then, can they not look back on the November 2010 election and recognize that a whopping 63 percent of Iowans voted for an amendment that would dedicate funding to improve Iowa’s waters and land? Now, that is a mandate.

Nobody will argue against creating jobs or improving education. It is a mistake to assume we can do either without other things that attract new people to Iowa and keep them here.

We educate smart people. If a smart Iowa-educated college grad can choose between a job in an Iowa town where the smell of a large hog confinement or industrial grain processor pollutes the air, or where nobody feels safe getting in the river water that runs through downtown, and a comparable job outside Iowa where clean air and water are the norm, we know what the choice will be.

We must invest in children’s education here in this state but we also must invest in protecting the environment so those children grow up healthy. We must invest in creating good jobs where people can work eight hours a day but we must also invest in protecting the environment where those workers live 24 hours a day.

Posted by Will Hoyer, Research Associate