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Archive for the ‘Illinois’ Category

I’ve done a couple of posts comparing Reaganomics and Obamanomics, mostly based on data from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve on employment and economic output.

I even did a TV interview on the subject, which generated some comments on my taste in clothing, and also cited a Richard Rahn column that got Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein upset.

Some of the best evidence about high tax rates vs. low tax rates comes from inside America. Art Laffer (yes, that Art Laffer) and Steve Moore have a great column in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s sort of Reaganomics vs. Obamanomics, looking at evidence from the states.

Barack Obama is asking Americans to gamble that the U.S. economy can be taxed into prosperity. …Mr. Obama needs a refresher course on the 1920s, 1960s, 1980s and even the 1990s, when government spending and taxes fell and employment and incomes grew rapidly. But if the president wants to see fresher evidence of how taxes matter, he can look to what’s happening in the 50 states. In our new report “Rich States, Poor States,” prepared for the American Legislative Exchange Council, we compare the economic performance of states with no income tax to that of states with high rates. It’s like comparing Hong Kong with Greece… Every year for the past 40, the states without income taxes had faster output growth (measured on a decadal basis) than the states with the highest income taxes. In 1980, for example, there were 10 zero-income-tax states. Over the decade leading up to 1980, those states grew 32.3 percentage points faster than the 10 states with the highest tax rates. Job growth was also much higher in the zero-tax states. The states with the nine highest income tax rates had no net job growth at all, and seven of those nine managed to lose jobs.

Tax rates also lead people to “vote with their feet.” Laffer and Moore look at migration patterns.

Over the past decade, states without an income tax have seen 58% higher population growth than the national average, and more than double the growth of states with the highest income tax rates. …Illinois, Oregon and California are state practitioners of Obamanomics. All have passed soak-the-rich laws like the Buffett Rule (plus economically harmful regulations, like California’s cap-and-trade scheme), and all face big deficits because their economies continue to sink. Illinois has lost one resident every 10 minutes since hiking tax rates in January. California has 10.9% unemployment, having lost 4.8% of its jobs over the past decade. …Every time California, Illinois or New York raises taxes on millionaires, Florida, Texas and Tennessee see an influx of rich people who buy homes, start businesses and shop in the local economy.

Competition among the states is leading some states to make further improvements. Some are even trying to get rid of their income taxes.

Republican governors in Florida, Georgia, Idaho, North Dakota, South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin and even Michigan and New Jersey are cutting taxes to lure new businesses and jobs. Asked why he wants to reduce the cost of doing business in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker replies: “I’ve never seen a store get more customers by raising its prices, but I’ve seen customers knock down the doors when they cut prices.” Georgia, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma are now racing to become America’s 10th state without an income tax.

I like the quote from Governor Walker. He seems to know what he’s talking about, so it will be interesting to see whether he survives the upcoming recall election. I guess it depends whether voters understand that big government and high tax rates is a recipe for continued decline.

Some states, such as Illinois and California, are filled with voters who refuse to recognize reality. Think of them as the Greece and Spain of America, perhaps because the number of tax-consumers is greater than the number of tax-producers.

And even though parasites should understand it doesn’t make sense to kill their host animals, this cartoon illustrates how the welfare states lures a growing number of people to ride in the wagon. And this cartoon shows the consequences of too many moochers and not enough producers.

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Illinois is a hopeless state, filled with greedy bureaucrats and senseless politicians. Not surprisingly, it’s also a state that prosecutes people who try to protect themselves from criminals.

Here’s part of a story from the Chicago Tribune, featuring an elderly army veteran who was arrested for shooting a burglar.

An 80-year-old tavern owner in Englewood believes it’s “unjust” that he is facing charges after shooting a burglar, but believes he will prevail in court. “It’s wrong,” Homer “Tank” Wright said as he walked into his bar after being released from jail this afternoon. “Unjust that I can’t protect me.” Awakened by his 75-year-old wife, Wright confronted a 19-year-old burglar who had broken through some plywood over a bathroom window in hopes of stealing liquor, according to police. Wright grabbed his 38.caliber pistol, loaded with four rounds, and shot the intruder in the leg. The suspect was arrested — but so was Wright. …Wright said his bar has been broken into four to six times, and he and his wife had started staying overnight at the property to protect it. “This is our living,” he said, adding that he has had triple bypass surgery. “I’m going to be here. I’m not leaving. This is where I’m planning to stay.”

Fortunately, this isn’t like the Trayvon Martin case since both Mr. Wright and the thug are black. So without the distraction of race, we can focus on the genuine injustice of the government making it difficult for innocent people to fight back against crime.

Mr. Wright’s family understands the real issue.

Several of Wright’s relatives cheered in the gallery after the judge ordered him released, drawing a rebuke from deputies. After the hearing, Wright’s grandson Courtney Cook said his grandfather has the right to protect his home and the tavern he has run for 40 years. “You have to look at what’s right and what’s wrong in that situation,” he said. “He’s supposed to protect his home and his family. I mean, you know, is he supposed to be the victim? I mean, you know, just let it keep happening? If it’s going to keep happening, then where’s the law? What good is the law?”

Mr. Wright’s neighbors also have the right attitude.

On his South Side block, Wright is known as a hard-working neighbor who runs a bar that has become a neighborhood institution. Known as “Tank,” Wright has operated the bar next to his home for more than 40 years, neighbors said. …Anita Dominique, head of the block club in the neighborhood, said she has known Wright for more than 30 years. “He is a pillar of our community,” she said. “What does it say to me and other senior citizens that we will be arrested if we defend ourselves?” Neighbors held a news conference this morning to call on prosecutors to drop the charges. “If a man can’t defend himself from harm, what can he do?” asked Darryl Smith. “If he hadn’t defended himself, we would be here for a different reason — because an intruder came in and killed him. “We’re outraged as a community and we’re calling for the state’s attorney’s office to drop the charges,” he added. “This man has done nothing wrong.”

By the way, I’m mocking Illinois, but New York City is equally foolish about penalizing victims.

And you will be flabbergasted by this example of anti-gun zealotry in England.

It’s ironic, in an outrageous way, that the government punishes people for protecting their lives and property, when such actions are only necessary because the government is failing to fulfill one of its few legitimate responsibilities.

This is why I recommend you share this Cato Institute study showing how private guns are frequently used to thwart criminals.

P.S. I suspect these two anecdotes/stories are urban legends, but this interview with a general and this letter-to-the-editor are very much worth reading…and sharing.

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President Obama’s two biggest “achievements” since taking office are the so-called stimulus and government-run healthcare.

But neither one of those policies are popular, so the President largely ignored them during his state-of-the-union address and instead focused on using the tax code to promote “fairness.”

But fairness doesn’t mean treating everyone equally by adopting a flat tax. Instead, it means a class-warfare policy of higher tax rates.

The President’s home state of Illinois is a good test case of this approach. The politicians rammed through a big tax increase early last year, supposedly to stabilize state finances.

Unfortunately, Obamanomics isn’t working very well in Illinois. The state just got downgraded by Moody’s and ranks below even California.

The most damning evidence, though, is what’s happened to the job market. Unemployment is still far too high across the nation, but the vast majority of states are seeing at least modest improvement.

But a tiny handful of states, led by Illinois, are moving in the wrong direction. Here’s a very powerful chart produced by the Illinois Policy Institute. The tax hike is about one-year old, and we’re already seeing strong evidence that jobs are fleeing the state.

Now close your eyes and envision a different map. Instead of American states, imagine a map of the world. And think what it will look like if Obama succeeds in imposing all the tax increases he had endorsed.

I suppose it won’t look as bad as this map because there are plenty of other nations engaging in suicidal tax policy. But it doesn’t take a vivid imagination to understand that Obama’s class-warfare approach would drive jobs and investment to the nations with better tax policies.

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Two days ago, I explained that tax increases are bad policy.

More specifically, I warned that giving more money to government exacerbates fiscal problems because politicians respond to the expectation of more revenue by spending more than otherwise would be the case. And since they usually over-estimate how much revenue a tax hike will generate, that creates an even bigger fiscal mess.

Not surprisingly, I cited Europe to bolster my case. The tax burden has increased enormously in Europe over the past several decades, but that obviously hasn’t prevented a fiscal crisis in nations such as Greece and Portugal. And tax hikes haven’t precluded deteriorating conditions in countries such as Belgium and France.

But I also cited Illinois, which just got downgraded by Moody’s – even though state politicians just imposed a record tax hike.

This caused some angst for a lefty blogger in Illinois, who wrote that, “Operational spending is down since the Illinois tax hike.”

I gather he thinks this is some sort of gotcha moment, but two sentences later he admits that, “If Illinois hadn’t increased its taxes, it would’ve had to cut $7 billion more from spending to balance its budget.”

In other words, his post confirms my point about higher taxes translating into higher spending. He openly admits that the tax hike was a substitute for spending restraint.

What makes his concession so remarkable is that my argument wasn’t even based on one-year fiscal decisions. I”m much more concerned with trend lines, and you can see from the chart that Illinois politicians have been promiscuously profligate in recent years.

Indeed, I developed “Mitchell’s Golden Rule” to underscore the importance of restraining the burden of government so that, over time, it grows slower than the private economy. That obviously hasn’t been happening in Illinois in recent decades – and it’s not likely to happen in future decades if politicians figure out ways of grabbing more revenue.

Speaking of revenue, my accidental friend from Illinois also tries to debunk my point about the Laffer Curve by writing that, “The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability has repeatedly said this year that revenues from the tax increase are coming in as the ‘politicians’ expected.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but this is not exactly a rigorous rebuttal. He doesn’t provide a revenue forecast from the pre-tax-hike era or a more recent forecast from the post-tax-hike era, so we can’t make any comparisons. Instead, we’re supposed to blindly accept vague assurances from some Commission.

This doesn’t mean that forecasts don’t exist or that the bureaucrats were wrong about their short-run projections. But that’s not the main issue. The key question is what will happen to revenue over a period of years, particularly once entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses have time to adjust their behavior in response to the more onerous tax regime.

The changes can be enormous, as demonstrated in this post showing how rich people paid five times as much federal income tax after Reagan cut the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent.

It will take a few years before we have a decent idea about the consequences of the Illinois tax hike. But since Illinois is copying European-style fiscal policy, don’t be too surprised if the result is European-style economic malaise.

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I don’t blame the Democrats for wanting to seduce Republicans into a tax-increase trap. Indeed, I completely understand why some Democrats said their top political goal was getting the GOP to surrender the no-tax-hike position.

I’m mystified, though, why some Republicans are willing to walk into such a trap. If you were playing chess against someone, and that person kept pleading with you to make a certain move, wouldn’t you be a tad bit suspicious that they weren’t trying to help you win?

When I talk to the Republicans who are open to tax hikes, they sometimes admit that their party will suffer at the polls, but they say it’s the right thing to do because of red ink.

I suppose that’s a noble sentiment, though I find that most GOPers who are open to tax hikes also tend to be big spenders, so I question their sincerity (with Senator Coburn being an obvious exception).

But even if we assume that all of them are genuinely motivated by a desire to control deficits and debt, shouldn’t they be asked to provide some evidence that higher taxes are an effective way of fixing the fiscal policy mess?

I’m not trying to score debating points. This is a serious question.

European nations, for instance, have been raising taxes for decades, almost always saying that higher taxes were necessary to balance budgets and control red ink. Yet that obviously hasn’t worked. Europe’s now in the middle of a fiscal crisis.

So why do some people think we should mimic the French and the Greeks?

But we don’t need to look overseas for examples. Look at what’s happened in Illinois, where politicians recently imposed a giant tax hike.

The Wall Street Journal opined this morning on the results. Here are the key passages.

Run up spending and debt, raise taxes in the naming of balancing the budget, but then watch as deficits rise and your credit-rating falls anyway. That’s been the sad pattern in Europe, and now it’s hitting that mecca of tax-and-spend government known as Illinois. …Moody’s downgraded Illinois state debt to A2 from A1, the lowest among the 50 states. That’s worse even than California. …This wasn’t supposed to happen. Only a year ago, Governor Pat Quinn and his fellow Democrats raised individual income taxes by 67% and the corporate tax rate by 46%. They did it to raise $7 billion in revenue, as the Governor put it, to “get Illinois back on fiscal sound footing” and improve the state’s credit rating. So much for that. …And—no surprise—in part because the tax increases have caused companies to leave Illinois, the state budget office confesses that as of this month the state still has $6.8 billion in unpaid bills and unaddressed obligations.

In other words, higher taxes led to fiscal deterioration in Illinois, just as tax increases in Europe have been followed by bad outcomes.

Whenever any politician argues in favor of a higher tax burden, just keep these two points in mind.

1. Higher taxes encourage more government spending.

2. Higher taxes don’t raise as much money as politicians claim.

The combination of these two factors explains why higher taxes make things worse rather than better. And they explain why Europe is in trouble and why Illinois is in trouble.

The relevant issue is whether the crowd in Washington should copy those failed examples. As this video explains, higher taxes are not the solution.

Heck, I’ve already explained that more than 100 percent of America’s long-fun fiscal challenge is government spending. So why reward politicians for overspending by letting them confiscate more of our income?

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When I read the story from England about needing photo ID to buy teaspoons, I thought British bureaucrats built an insurmountable lead in the U.S. vs. U.K. contest for stupidest government action.

But I should have had more faith in the hare-brained politicians of Illinois. When they’re not busy driving businesses from the state with punitive taxes or lining the pockets of the political elite with graft and corruption, these geniuses display impressive levels of brainless behavior.

In this case, they decided to require identification – and a log – for the purchase of drain cleaner and other caustic products.

Why? Well, because somebody could use them in the commission of a crime. Sort of like the killer teaspoons from England.

Here are some excerpts from a local media report.

A new state law requires those who buy drain cleaners and other caustic substances to provide photo identification and sign a log. It’s getting a rough reception from customers and merchants alike although perhaps none more than a cashier at Schroeder’s True Value Hardware in Lombard. “They’re not very happy about it at all,” said Don Schroeder, one of the store’s owners. …The law, which took effect Sunday, requires those who seek to buy caustic or noxious substances, except for batteries, to provide government-issued photo identification that shows their name and date of birth. The cashier then must log the name and address, the date and time of the purchase, the type of product, the brand and even the net weight. …Jewel-Osco has removed the few items it carried from its shelves, but Schroeder said he does not have that option as a hardware store. He said he does not believe that the precautions written into the bill will prevent such crimes from occurring. “How are they going to find out, by asking every customer, what kid might have done that? It’s not going to solve any problems,” Schroeder said. “It’s not going to cure anything.”

The legislation is disliked by both businesses and consumers, so one might be tempted to think it will be repealed.

But that’s a silly assumption. You have to remember that the bureaucrats in charge of enforcing the law doubtlessly like having another excuse for bigger budgets.

And since Illinois is a state where bureaucrats engage in public protests for more money, they probably have more political influence than the poor saps who actually pay the bills.

One more nail in the coffin of a state that is vying with California to become the Greece of America.

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I’ve already commented on some of the sleazy behavior that infects Chicago politics.

Now we have a jaw-dropping example of what’s wrong with the state of Illinois, as explained by Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal.

Soon the Illinois state legislature will meet in special session to consider the Chicago machine’s latest favor: legislation designed to deliver tax relief to three of the state’s largest companies. These tax breaks for the lucky few come just 10 months after the Illinois legislature approved what has been described as the largest tax increase in the state’s history. …In so doing, Chicago is giving America a window into the logic of crony capitalism: Raise taxes on everyone—and then cut side deals with those big enough to lobby for special relief. The legislature is considering this limited tax relief because three corporate mainstays of greater Chicago have threatened to leave without it. One is the CME Group, operator of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the world’s largest futures exchange by volume. Another is the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), the world’s largest options exchange. The last is Sears, one of America’s oldest and most famous retailing giants.

My initial instinct is to have some sympathy for the companies. After all, America’s corporate tax system is brutally anti-competitive. Heck, government gets a greater share of corporate profit than shareholders!

But the column goes on to explain that at least one of the firms gave lots of money to the very same political predators that created the unfriendly tax system.

CME and the other beneficiaries of this special tax bill would have a far better case, however, if instead of pushing for special treatment for themselves, they used their clout to argue for a more market-friendly environment overall. After all, if the state’s tax treatment is making it hard for Sears and CME, the family restaurant or mom-and-pop shop down the corner is probably feeling the pinch too. Alas, equal treatment is not the Chicago way. Maybe that’s why we heard little from corporate Chicago when Mr. Quinn was campaigning for his tax hikes. To the contrary, back in June the Chicago News Cooperative reported that CME donated $50,000 to Mr. Quinn in the general election and $40,000 in the primary, $200,000 to Rahm Emanuel (a former CME board member) during his run for mayor of Chicago, and $150,000 to the man who really runs Illinois, House Speaker Mike Madigan.

I’ve made fun of the OccupyWallStreet protesters on many occasions (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), but this column shows that big business oftentimes does engage in corrupt deals with the political class. This is something that should deeply offend all decent people.

I also think it should offend the judiciary. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I’m guessing that state constitutions (like the U.S. Constitution) have clauses providing for equal protection under the law. So why, then, do they allow these corrupt forms of favoritism?

But I’m probably being naive in thinking that Illinois courts would actually care about justice. As such, don’t be surprised to see more stories like this in coming years.

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I’ve always thought of myself as a tough-on-crime kind of guy, but I’m increasingly sensitive to the fact that my attitude is only appropriate when laws are just and moral.

Unfortunately, government increasingly is an abuser of rights rather than a protector of rights. Allow me to elaborate.

I was tempted a few days ago to say that Jay Beeber was an American hero for single-handedly putting an end to the revenue-camera scam in Los Angeles, but I now have someone who truly deserves that label.

Michael Allison is, by all appearances, an ordinary American from a small town in Illinois. He is now is threatened with 75 years in jail because utterly reprehensible (and probably corrupt) officials are upset that he recorded them in the course of their taxpayer-financed duties.

What makes him a hero is that he refuses to let the local government seduce him into a plea deal that would keep him out of jail – but require him to admit guilt to something that shouldn’t be a crime.

Here’s an amazing – and distressing – set of news clips from a local news station.

By the way, here’s another example of a local television station doing an excellent job of exposing a local government that is trying to screw over an innocent and powerless person.

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Now that the debt-limit fight is basically over (the Senate will join the House in approving it later today), we need to immediately prepare for the next stage in the fight to stop big government and restore economic liberty.

President Obama and other leftists clearly have signaled that they want the new “super committee” – which will recommend $1.5 trillion of deficit reduction before Thanksgiving – to be a vehicle for “balance” and “shared sacrifice.” But if you look in a Statism-to-English dictionary, you learn that “balance” is a code word for higher taxes and “shared sacrifice” means class-warfare taxation.

I’ve already explained that a truly balanced approach requires nothing but spending restraint. And I’ve explained why Obama’s class-warfare taxation is misguided.

Today, let’s look at three real-world examples. We’ll start with the President’s home state. Early this year, using sneaky maneuvering, Illinois politicians raised the state’s income tax rate. I warned that this would drive jobs and businesses out of the state. That was an easy prediction, of course, and we’re already seeing results.Here’s a blurb from a Chicago Sun-Times story.

It’s becoming a habit around here — another day, another stalwart of financial services in Chicago threatening to leave town. On Thursday, it was the Chicago Board Options Exchange suggesting that higher corporate taxes in Illinois could cause it to take jobs out of state. The CBOE’s warning came a day after CME Group Inc. said the same thing. CME owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade. The options market, with its headquarters and trading floor at 400 S. La Salle, employs about 580 people, not including traders who use its facilities. A CBOE spokesman said in a statement that “economic realities” could force a move.

Because the CME and CBOE are so high profile, I suspect Illinois politicians will provide some sort of one-off tax holiday or back-door subsidy to prevent this from happening. That won’t solve the problem, of course, which is that high tax rates inexorably will undermine the state’s competitiveness and that ordinary people will pay the highest price.

Yet this is what Obama wants to do to America. The United Kingdom is another example of how punitive class-warfare taxes backfire. Here are excerpts from a story at Tax-News.com.

In a tax-blow to the UK exchequer, the Virgin Group is planning to shift a portion of its operations to Switzerland to maximize tax efficiency. Virgin Enterprises, which owns the trademarks and rights to the Virgin brand will be relocated to Geneva to achieve tax efficiencies not possible in London. According to the conglomerate, the decision is as a result of plans to generate new revenue from franchising arrangements, particularly in emerging markets. …Virgin becomes the latest in a growing list of firms which have moved aspects of their businesses out of the UK for tax purposes in recent years.

Last but not least, let’s look at one example of what happens when nations do the opposite of Obamanomics. Bulgaria recently implemented a low-rate 10 percent flat tax. Is it helping? Well, here’s a passage from another Tax-news.com story.

Business formations in Bulgaria by entities from Romania and Greece have risen markedly in recent, new statistics show – a testament to the reforms put in place by Bulgarian authorities to attract foreign investment. Figures reported in the Bulgarian media show that the number of Romanian companies registered in Bulgaria soared from 33 in 2006, to 272 last year. Meanwhile, the number of Greek formations increased three-fold in the same period, according to tax authority data, to 2,072 in 2010. There were 800 registrations in the first half of this year alone, a trend that is likely to continue for the remainder of the year. Bulgaria offers one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in Europe at 10%. This is 15% lower than the rate offered in Greece, and 6% lower than in Romania.

And let’s not forget that zero-income-tax Texas is doing very well in America while high-tax states such as California (and, of course, Illinois) are losing jobs. But that’s a story for another day.

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It may not be very nice to say “I told you so” when the warnings you issue become reality, but I’m not a nice person (at least when it comes to greedy politicians imposing stupid policy).

So I’ll openly admit that I’m happy to read that entrepreneurs and job creators already are beginning to escape the kleptocrat politicians in Illinois. Here are a few highlights of an article in the News-Gazette.

The founder of Jimmy John’s said he has applied for Florida residency and may recommend that his corporate headquarters move out-of-state as a result of the Illinois tax increases enacted last week. Jimmy John Liautaud told The News-Gazette on Tuesday that he is angry about the moves, which boosted the individual income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent and the corporate income tax from 7.3 percent to 9.5 percent. “All they do is stick it to us,” he said, adding that the Legislature and governor showed “a clear lack of understanding.” …Jimmy John’s, which has its corporate headquarters on Fox Drive in Champaign, has more than 1,000 sandwich shops nationwide, many of them franchise operations. Champaign has been its corporate base, but Liautaud said it will not necessarily continue that way. …Once he collects information on alternative sites, he will present it to the company’s board of directors and ask the board to decide. As for himself, “my family and I are out of here,” he said. …Jimmy John’s employs 100 at the corporate office in Champaign and has 190 other employees who work elsewhere but come to Champaign every four weeks, Liautaud said. …He said he’s sick of being “pummeled.” “I’m not sophisticated enough, smart enough or politically correct enough to absorb it all,” he said. Jimmy John’s offices occupy 23,000 square feet on Fox Drive, and Liautaud said he had considered buying a 20,000-square-foot building just north of those offices. Those plans went out the window with the tax increase, he said. …James North, president of Jimmy John’s, echoed many of the same sentiments. “I absolutely love it here,” North said. “But when you do the math, it doesn’t add up. Florida looks pretty nice right now.”

It goes without saying, of course, that Illinois is not the only short-sighted state. New York politicians also have a fetish for driving taxpayers to other states.

A special welcome to Instapundit and NRO readers, and an addendum. This example of people and businesses escaping bad policy by crossing borders is more than just a cheerful anecdote. It is part of a process known as tax competition, which  is a powerful force for better policy between both states and nations.

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There is a very bizarre race happening in Illinois. The Governor and the leaders of the State Senate and General Assembly are trying to figure out how to ram through a massive tax increase, but they’re trying to make it happen before new state lawmakers take office tomorrow. The Democrats will still control the state legislature, but their scheme to fleece taxpayers would face much steeper odds because of GOP gains in last November’s elections.

As a result, the Illinois version of a lame-duck session has become a nightmare, sort of a feeding frenzy of tax-crazed politicians. Here’s the Chicago Tribune’s description of the massive tax hike being sought by the Democrats.

The 3 percent rate now paid by individuals and families would rise to 5 percent in one of the largest state tax increases in Illinois history. …Also part of the plan is a 46 percent business tax increase. The 4.8 percent corporate tax rate would climb to 7 percent… In addition, lawmakers are looking at a $1-a-pack increase in the state’s current 98-cent tax on cigarettes. …Democrats will still control the new General Assembly that gets sworn in Wednesday, their numbers were eroded by Republicans in the November election. With virtually no Republican support for higher taxes, Democratic leaders contend it will be easier to gain support for a tax hike in a legislature with some retiring members no longer worried about facing the voters.

If Governor Quinn and Democratic leaders win their race to impose a massive tax hike, that will then trigger another race. Only this time, it will be a contest to see how many productive people “go Galt” and leave the state. John Kass, a columnist for the Tribune, points out that the Democrats’ plan won’t work unless politicians figure out how to enslave taxpayers so they can’t escape the kleptocracy known as Illinois.

The warlords of Madiganistan — that bankrupt Midwestern state once known as Illinois — are hungry to feed on our flesh once again. This time the ruling Democrats are planning a…state income tax increase, with more job-killing taxes on corporations… A few tamed Republicans also want to join in and support a tax deal, demonstrating their eagerness to play the eunuch in the court of the pasha. And though they’ve been quite ingenious, waiting for the end of a lame-duck legislative session to do their dirty work, they forgot something important. They forgot to earmark some extra funds for that great, big wall. You know, that wall they’re going to need, 60 feet high, the one with razor wire on top and guard towers, equipped with police dogs and surrounded by an acid-filled moat. The wall they’re going to have to build around the entire state, to keep desperate taxpayers from fleeing to Indiana, Wisconsin and other places that want jobs and businesses and people who work hard for a living. …With the state billions upon billions in debt, and the political leaders raising taxes, borrowing billions more and not making any substantive spending cuts, we’ve reached a certain point in our history. The tipping point. Taxes grow. Employers run. The jobs leave. High-end wage earners have the mobility to escape. What’s left are the low-end workers who are stuck here. …the Democrats aren’t about to disappoint their true constituents. So they don’t cut, they tax. Because the true constituents of the Democratic warlords are the public service unions and the special interests that benefit from all that spending. Why should politicians make cuts and anger the people that give them power, the power that allows them access to treasure? …we reach another tipping point: The point at which those who are tied to government, either through contracts or employment, actually outnumber those who are not tied to government. Do the math on Election Day.

Illinois is America’s worst state, based on what it costs to insure state debt. The greedy politicians in Springfield think a tax hike will give them enough money to pay bondholders and reward special-interest groups. But that short-sighted approach is based on the assumption that people and businesses will cheerfully bend over and utter the line made famous by Animal House: “Thank you, sir! May I have another?”

Moving across state lines is generally not something that happens overnight. But this giant tax hike is sure to be the tipping point for a few investors, entrepreneurs, rich people, and employers. Each year, more and more of them will decide they can be more successful and more profitable by re-domiciling in low-tax states. When that happens, Illinois politicians will get a lesson about the Laffer Curve, just as happened in Maryland, Oregon, and New York.

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The mid-term elections were a rejection of President Obama’s big-government agenda, but those results don’t necessarily mean better policy. We should not forget, after all, that Democrats rammed through Obamacare even after losing the special election to replace Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts (much to my dismay, my prediction from last January was correct).

Similarly, GOP control of the House of Representatives does not automatically mean less government and more freedom. Heck, it doesn’t even guarantee that things won’t continue to move in the wrong direction. Here are five possible bad policies for 2011, most of which the Obama White House can implement by using executive power.

1. A back-door bailout of the states from the Federal Reserve – The new GOP Congress presumably wouldn’t be foolish enough to bail out profligate states such as California and Illinois, but that does not mean the battle is won. Ben Bernanke already has demonstrated that he is willing to curry favor with the White House by debasing the value of the dollar, so what’s to stop him from engineering a back-door bailout by having the Federal Reserve buy state bonds? The European Central Bank already is using this tactic to bail out Europe’s welfare states, so a precedent already exists for this type of misguided policy. To make matters worse, there’s nothing Congress can do – barring legislation that Obama presumably would veto – to stop the Fed from this awful policy.

2. A front-door bailout of Europe by the United States – Welfare states in Europe are teetering on the edge of insolvency. Decades of big government have crippled economic growth and generated mountains of debt. Ireland and Greece already have been bailed out, and Portugal and Spain are probably next on the list, to be followed by countries such as Italy and Belgium. So why should American taxpayers worry about European bailouts? The unfortunate answer is that American taxpayers will pick up a big chunk of the tab if the International Monetary Fund is involved. Indeed, this horse already has escaped the barn. The United States provides the largest amount of  subsidies to the International Monetary Fund, and the IMF took part in the bailouts of Greece and Ireland. The Senate did vote against having American taxpayers take part in the bailout of Greece, but that turned out to be a symbolic exercise. Sadly, that’s probably what we can expect if and when there are bailouts of the bigger European welfare states.

3. Republicans getting duped by Obama and supporting a VAT – The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Obama Administration is contemplating a reduction in the corporate income tax. This sounds like a great idea, particularly since America’s punitive corporate tax rate is undermining competitiveness and hindering job creation. But what happens if Obama demands that Congress approve a value-added tax to “pay for” the lower corporate tax rate? This would be a terrible deal, sort of like a football team trading a great young quarterback for a 35-year old lineman. The VAT would give statists a money machine that they need to turn the United States into a French-style welfare state. This type of national sales tax would only be acceptable if the personal and corporate income taxes were abolished – and the Constitution was amended to make sure the federal government never again could tax what we earn and produce. But that’s not the deal Obama would offer. My fingers are crossed that Obama doesn’t offer to swap a lower corporate income tax for a VAT, particularly since we already know that some Republicans are susceptible to the VAT.

4. Regulatory imposition of global warming policy – This actually is an issue we needed to start worrying about before this year. The Obama Administration already is in the process of trying to use regulatory edicts to impose Kyoto-style restrictions on energy use, and 2011 may be a pivotal year for this issue. This issue is troubling because of the potential impact on economic growth, but it also represents an assault on the rule of law since the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency are engaging in regulatory overreach because they did not have enough support to get so-called climate change legislation through Congress. The new GOP majority presumably will try to use the “power of the purse” to limit the EPA’s power grab, and the outcome of that fight could have dramatic implications for job creation and competitiveness.

5. U.N. control of the Internet – The Federal Communications Commission just engaged in an unprecedented power grab as part of its “Net Neutrality” initiative, so we already have bad news for both Internet consumers and America’s telecommunications industry. But it may get worse. The bureaucrats at the United Nations, conspiring with autocratic governments, have created an Internet Governance Forum in hopes of grabbing power over the online world. This has caused considerable angst, leading Vint Cerf, one of inventors of the Internet (sorry, Al Gore) to warn: “We don’t believe governments should be allowed to grant themselves a monopoly on Internet governance. The current bottoms-up, open approach works — protecting users from vested interests and enabling rapid innovation. Let’s fight to keep it that way.” International bureaucracies are very skilled at incrementally increasing their authority, so this won’t be a one-year fight. Stopping this power grab will require persistent oversight and a willingness to reject compromises that inevitably give bureaucracies more power and simply set the stage for further demands.

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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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I ran across two interesting lists showing how politicians at the state and local level are often just as bad as the ones in Washington, DC. First, Forbes has an article identifying the 10 states with the highest income tax rates. The top rate is a big deterrent to entrepreneurs and investors, but it’s also important to look at the income level where the top tax rate takes effect. Yes, Hawaii, Oregon, and California have terrible tax policy, but Iowa, Maine, and Washington, DC, deserve special scorn for raping the middle class.

Hawaii:                       11% (income over $400,000 (couple), $200,000 (single))
Oregon:                      11% (income over $500,000 (couple), $250,000 (single))
California:                   10.55% (income over $1 million)
Rhode Island:             9.9% (income over $373,650)
Iowa:                          8.98% (income over $64,261)
New Jersey                 8.97% (income over $500,000)
New York:                   8.97% (income over $500,000)
Vermont:                     8.95% (income over $373,650)
Maine:                        8.5% (income over $39,549 (couple), $19,749 (single))
Washington, D.C.:      8.5% (income over $40,000)

Looking at the other major source of revenue for state and local governments, the Tax Foundation identifies the cities with the highest total sales tax rate - a number that often includes three separate levies by state, county, and city governments. Here are the top 10. Or should I say worst 10?

Birmingham AL              10.000%
Montgomery AL             10.000%
Long Beach CA                9.750%
Los Angeles CA               9.750%
Oakland CA                    9.750%
Fremont CA                     9.750%
Chicago IL                     9.750%
Glendale AZ                    9.600%
Seattle WA                     9.500%
San Francisco CA           9.500%

One thing that stands out is that California is on both lists, which helps explain why the state is such a basket case. Seattle deserves a special mention because at least there is no state income tax in Washington.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no sales tax or income tax in New Hampshire. Live Free or Die!

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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. …signs 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.”

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