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Posts Tagged ‘State Government’

I’ve posted more than 3,500 items since I started International Liberty. And if you look at the earliest posts, way back in April of 2009, you’ll find that one of the very first of them made the link between big government and big corruption.

My premise was very simple. When government is very large, with all sorts of power to provide unearned wealth via taxes, spending, and regulation, then you will get more sleaze.

Sort of like the way a full dumpster will attract lots of rats and roaches.

A story in Fortune reports that government corruption at the state level is very costly.

…corruption is everywhere, in one form or another. And it’s costing U.S. citizens big time. A new study from researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Indiana University estimates that corruption on the state level is costing Americans in the 10 most corrupt states an average of $1,308 per year… The researchers studied more than 25,000 convictions of public officials for violation of federal corruption laws between 1976 and 2008 as well as patterns in state spending to develop a corruption index that estimates the most and least corrupt states in the union.

Most Corrupt StatesHere’s the list of the 10-most corrupt states. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern.

Southern states are over-represented, it appears, but that’s obviously not an overwhelming factor since Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas (among others) didn’t make the list.

But it turns out that there is a factor that seems to be very prevalent among corrupt states.

The researchers also found that for 9 out of the 10 of the most corrupt states, overall state spending was higher than in less corrupt states (South Dakota was the only exception).

The authors suggest an attack on corruption could lead to a lower burden of government spending.

Attacking corruption, the researchers argue, could be a good way to bring down state spending.

I don’t disagree, but I wonder whether there’s an even more obvious lesson. Maybe the primary causality goes the other direction. Perhaps the goal should be to lower state spending as a way of reducing corruption.

Returning to the analogy I used earlier, a smaller dumpster presumably means fewer rats and roaches.

That’s not the only interesting data from the study. Fortune also reports that infrastructure projects and bloated bureaucracies are linked to corruption.

The paper explains that construction spending, especially on big infrastructure projects, is particularly susceptible to corruption… Corrupt states also tend to, for obvious reasons, simply have more and better paid public servants, including police and correctional officers.

I’m not surprised by those findings. Indeed, I would even argue that a large bureaucracy, in and of itself, is a sign of corruption since it suggests featherbedding and patronage for insiders.

For more info on the size of government and corruption, here’s a video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. It’s several years old, but the message is even more relevant today since the public sector is larger and more intrusive.

P.S. Speaking of corruption, there’s actually a serious effort on Capitol Hill to shut down the Export-Import Bank, which has been a cesspool of corruption and cronyism.

P.P.S. Switching to a different topic (though it also fits under corruption), we have another member for our potential Bureaucrat Hall of Fame. Or maybe this person belongs in a politician-ripping-off-the-system Hall of Fame.

Here are some of the details from an Irish news report and you can judge for yourself.

Ireland’s outgoing European Commissioner, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, is entitled to a total €432,000 EU pay-off over the next three years to help her adjust to life after Brussels. …EU commissioners leaving office are entitled, subject to certain conditions, to a “transitional allowance” over three years varying between 45pc and 65pc of salary. Mrs Geoghegan-Quinn’s entitlement amounts to 55pc of her salary, or €137,000 per year.

Huh?!? A transitional allowance? For what? That’s more than $500,000 in American money.

Is it really that difficult to end one’s term as an overpaid European Union Commissioner?

But what really makes Ms. Geoghegan-Quinn an inspiration to other bureaucrats (and a nightmare for taxpayers) is that she’ll also have her snout buried deeply in Ireland’s public trough.

And from this autumn, she can also resume collecting her Irish TD and ministerial pensions totalling €108,000 a year – giving her total pension entitlements worth over €3,000 a week.

Though to be fair, she’s simply doing what other politicians already have done. Not only in Ireland, but also in America.

Government has become a racket for the benefit of insiders.

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There are all sorts of ways to measure the burden of government spending.

The most obvious approach is to look at the share of economic output consumed by the public sector. That’s what I did, for instance, when comparing fiscal policy in France and Switzerland. And it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that Switzerland’s comparative frugality helps to explain why its economy is much stronger than the French economy.

It’s also good to know whether a country is heading in the wrong direction or right direction. If one country has a bigger government but has implemented reforms that slow the growth of the public sector, it may have a better future than another country where government currently is a smaller burden but the long-term fiscal outlook is grim.

For this reason, I was very interested in the data showing that most European nations actually increased the size of government in recent years – notwithstanding all the hyperbole about “savage” and “draconian” austerity.

That’s why the “exceptions to the rule” in Europe – such as Estonia and Germany – are so noteworthy. While their neighbors are doing the wrong thing, these countries are being at least semi-responsible and trying to rein in the burden of government spending.

The same thing is true for state governments, which is why this new map from the Tax Foundation is worth sharing. It shows how fast spending has increased in each state over the past 10 years.

Louisiana gets the worst grade for profligacy, followed by Wyoming and New Jersey, while Alaska has been the most frugal, followed by West Virginia and South Carolina.

State Spending Map

It would be interesting to see annual numbers. Is Louisiana’s poor performance due to Governor Jindal, for instance, or in spite of him? Likewise, has Chris Christie made any difference in New Jersey?

Looking at states that have done well, did Governor Palin make a difference in Alaska? And did Governor Sanford make a difference in South Carolina? Again, without seeing the annual data, there’s no way of answering these questions.

Moreover, it might be interesting to also know what has happened to local government spending, particularly since some states may have artificially low or high numbers depending on whether there have been changes in how overall spending is allocated.

Last but not least, we should remember that the key goal of fiscal policy is – or should be – to have government grow slower than the private sector. To determine whether states are satisfying my Golden Rule, you need the Tax Foundation data on spending, but it needs to be augmented by similar data for economic output.

And if you look at personal income growth on a state-by-state basis, adjust it for inflation, and then compare it to spending growth, you get some interesting results.

It turns out that North Dakota is the state that most satisfies Mitchell’s Golden Rule, followed by South Dakota and Alaska. West Virginia and South Carolina stay in the top 10, but they drop to 4 and 9, respectively.

New Jersey, meanwhile, takes over as the worst state, followed by Arizona and Louisiana.

Not only has New Jersey been the biggest failure based on my Golden Rule, it also doesn’t have a lot of breathing room. If you look at this info-graph on state debt, you can see that it has the nation’s 7th biggest debt load. In other words, the Garden State’s politicians have been making a bad situation even worse.

And since New Jersey also has a punitive death tax, the obvious message is that productive people should flee the state. Which is exactly what’s been happening. Thanks to migration, about $70 billion of wealth escaped between 2004 and 2008 alone.

But be careful where you move. Other states that get black marks on both spending and debt are Ohio, Illinois (gee, what a surprise), and New Mexico.

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I shared some fascinating details the other day about how federal taxes inhibited the development of America’s beer industry.

And I’ve used a story about buddies sharing beer to illustrate the dangers of redistribution and class warfare.

But this blog hasn’t paid much attention to wine. Well, thanks to this new map from the Tax Foundation, that oversight has been addressed.

I reckon the politicians in Kentucky don’t have much use for those effete, wine-sipping bi-coastal elites?

P.S. If you like maps, here are some interesting ones, starting with some international comparisons.

Here are some good state maps with useful information.

There’s even a local map.

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I’m a proponent of a pro-growth and non-corrupt tax code.

I mostly write and talk about the flat tax, though I’d be happy to instead accept a national sales tax if we could somehow get rid of the 16th Amendment and replace it with something so ironclad that even Justices such as John Roberts and Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t rationalize that the income tax was constitutional.

But since there’s no chance of any good tax reform with Obama in the White House, there’s no need to squabble over the best plan. Instead, our short-term goal should be to educate voters so that we create a more favorable intellectual climate for genuine reform in 2017 and beyond.

That’s why I’ve argued in favor of lower tax rates and shared the latest academic research showing that tax policy has a significant impact on economic performance.

But tax reform also means getting rid of the rat’s nest of deductions, credits, exemptions, preferences, exclusions, shelters, loopholes, and other distortions in the tax code.

Why? Because people should make decisions on how to earn income and how to spend income on the basis of what makes economic sense, not because they’re being bribed or penalized by the tax code. That’s just central planning through the back door.

And if you don’t think this is a problem, I invite you to peruse three startling images, each of which measures rising complexity over time.

  1. The number of pages in the tax code.
  2. The number of special tax breaks.
  3. The number of pages in the 1040 instruction booklet.

Today’s Byzantine system is good for tax lawyers, accountants, and bureaucrats, but it’s bad news for America. We need to wipe the slate clean and get rid of this corrupt mess.

But as I explain in this appearance on Fox Business News, we won’t make progress until we control the burden of government spending and unless we make sure that deductions are eliminated only if we use every penny of revenue to lower tax rates.

I’ve previously explained why it’s okay to get rid of itemized deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and state and local tax payments.

Let’s now take a moment to explain why the internal revenue code shouldn’t be artificially steering capital toward state and local governments at the expense of private investment.

Under current law, there’s no federal income tax imposed on interest from municipal bonds. No matter how rich you are, Uncle Sam doesn’t tax a penny of the interest you receive if you use your wealth to lend money to state and local governments.

Should the tax code steer money to Detroit politicians?

This “muni-bond exemption” has two unfortunate effects.

  • It makes it easier and cheaper for state and local governments to incur debt, thus encouraging more wasteful spending by cities such as Detroit and states such as California.
  • By making the debt of state and local governments more attractive than private business investment, the loophole undermines long-term growth by diverting capital to unproductive uses.

The politicians at the state and local level certainly understand what’s at stake. They’re lobbying to preserve this destructive tax break. Here are some excerpts from a story in the New York Times.

Mr. Firestine [of Montgomery County, MD] is on the front lines of a lobbying campaign by local and state governments, bond dealers, insurers and underwriters that is trying to pre-empt any attempt to limit or even kill the tax exemption. …At present, the federal government forgoes about $32 billion a year in taxes by exempting the interest that investors earn from municipal bonds. …The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, known as the Simpson-Bowles commission, has suggested taxing all municipal bond interest, not just the interest paid to people in the top bracket. …Officials of some other government groups, like the New York City Housing Development Corporation, have formed a coalition with Wall Street groups like the Bond Dealers of America to lobby on the issue. But there is the sense of an uphill battle. …Capping the tax exemption would cause high-bracket taxpayers to look for higher-yielding investments, he said, and the county would have to offer more interest to lure them back.

Based on the last sentence in the excerpt, I gather we’re supposed to think it would be bad news if we got rid of this tax preference and taxpayers shifted more of their money to private-sector investments.

Needless to say, that’s misguided. Only in the upside-down world of Washington do people think it is smart to create tax preferences that lead to more wasteful spending by state and local governments, while simultaneously imposing punitive forms of double taxation on saving and investment in the private sector.

By the way, this shouldn’t be an ideological issue. If this amazing chart is any indication, leftists who want workers to enjoy more income should be clamoring the loudest for a tax system that doesn’t tilt the playing field against capital formation.

P.S. While simplicity is a good goal for tax policy, you will understand why it shouldn’t be the only goal if you check out this potential Barack Obama tax reform plan.

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As a public finance economist, I normally focus on big-picture arguments against excessive government.

If the public sector is too large, for instance, that undermines economic growth by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy.

The damage is then compounded by a needlessly destructive and punitive tax system.

But I’ve also discovered that it helps to personalize the analysis by pointing out examples of ridiculous and wasteful behavior by government.

From England: The world’s most useless sign

That’s one of the reasons I share horror stories as part of the U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest.

Some actions by government, however, belong in a different category. I’m not sure what word I would choose to describe them – perhaps venal, evil, despicable, reprehensible, or disgusting would be good options.

Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, but is there any other reaction when the government persecutes a family with possible jail time for rescuing Bambi?

Here are some absurd and disturbing details from the Indianapolis Star.

When Connersville police officer Jeff Counceller first encountered the baby deer, she was curled up in the corner of a front porch.It was clear the fawn was injured. Counceller could see the wounds… If left to its own, the animal would surely die… So the Councellers took in the deer, which they named Dani, cleaned and dressed its wounds and nursed it back to health, all with the intention of turning it out into the wild once it was big enough and strong enough to have a chance on its own. …she was unable to stand, and her maggot-infested wound was ugly. The Councellers contacted DNR at the time but were told to return the deer to the wild and let nature take its course. “It would have been a death sentence,” Jeff said.

So the family did what any decent people would do. They nursed the deer back to health. But decency and government often are in conflict.

Trouble is, what the Councellers did is against the law. Now, more than two years after rescuing the deer, more than six months after conservation officers began an investigation, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources wants them prosecuted. …DNR officials began an investigation that entailed half a dozen visits to their home and numerous calls to local authorities. In July, the agency issued an eight-page report and asked for a special prosecutor from another county to handle the case. Why the charges are being sought now — six months later — isn’t clear.

Bureaucrats wanted to kill this baby deer

Bureaucrats wanted to kill this baby deer

I think the answer is obvious. The bureaucrats from the Department of Natural Resources are sulking because their imperious demands weren’t obeyed.

So they’re lashing out at an innocent family, as indicated by the following excerpts.

…when the DNR came calling, the Councellers say they were almost ready to release Dani back into the woods. They were just waiting for the summer drought to pass and the nearby corn crops to mature enough to offer cover and food for Dani. They say they weren’t aware it was illegal to keep the deer.

That’s when the bureaucratic nightmare began.

When the DNR began its investigation, the Councellers say the conservation officer suggested they obtain a rescue permit. But that was denied. Soon, the DNR said the deer must be euthanized, that it was a safety threat to humans.

Fortunately, an unknown good Samaritan intervened and freed Dani before the government could kill the helpless animal.

But on the day of Dani’s scheduled execution, the deer turned up missing, its enclosure left open. The Councellers say they didn’t arrange the escape or know how the deer was freed but acknowledge that they didn’t probe too deeply to find out.

But no good deed goes unpunished when spiteful bureaucrats are involved.

…there was nothing but silence from the DNR until the Councellers received notice of the charges earlier this month. They plan to fight the case, even though jail is unlikely and the lawyer costs — which could reach $5,000 — are significantly higher than a likely fine. It’s a matter of principle, they say. They don’t want to plead guilty for trying to help an animal and when they had no criminal intent.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the community is on the side of the deer (and the persecuted family). Indeed, there’s even a Facebook page for folks who want to register their displeasure with this example of government thuggery.

“People are outraged at the DNR and that the government has nothing better to do than harass these people,” said John Waudby, an Indianapolis man who created the Facebook page after hearing about the story. “Anybody in their right mind would have done the same thing.”

All things considered, this story from Indiana shouldn’t be part of the government stupidity and incompetence contest. Given the venality of the bureaucrats, it belongs with this list of horrifying examples of government thuggery.

In a just world, a court will immediately dismiss the charges against the Counceller family.

I would urge that the family then be awarded damages, but that’s not the right response. The bureaucrats would merely shrug and let taxpayers pick up the cost.

The only good outcome is to unceremoniously fire every bureaucrat who played a role in this outrageous episode.

Like most bureaucrats, I suspect the pinheads at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources are overpaid. So losing their pampered positions would be genuine punishment and it would send a message to the rest of the paper pushers not to harass innocent and good people.

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One of my favorite Cato publications is the Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors, which is produced by my colleague Chris Edwards.

The report card uses variables such as the burden of government spending and the degree of class warfare tax policy to determine which states are moving in the right direction and which ones are moving in the wrong direction.

The new version was released today and it shows that Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rick Scott of Florida are the best governors in the nation.

Here are the top 8.

The top Democrat, for those who care about party affiliation, is John Lynch of New Hampshire.

What about the worst governors? Well, that field is more crowded, but somebody has to be the worst of the worst, and that honor goes to Pat Quinn of Illinois, who seems determined to have his state beat California in the race to Greek-style default and fiscal chaos.

No Republican was in the bottom 8, but Bill Haslam of Tennessee was in the bottom 10, and Gary Herbert of Utah and Jan Brewer of Arizona also had dismal D grades.

As Chris explains in his report, legislatures play a role in how well (or poorly) a state does in the report card – much as Bill Clinton’s reasonably good performance presumably was impacted by the GOP Congress. But Chris also looks at policies proposed by governors, so that enables a more accurate measure of each governor’s fiscal philosophy.

The Fiscal Policy Report Card is a great resource document, enabling apples-to-apples comparisons among states, just as the Economic Freedom of the World makes it easy to compare nations.

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I have a handful of simple rules for good tax policy.

  • Keep government small, since it’s impossible to have a reasonable tax system with a bloated welfare state.
  • Keep tax rates low to minimize penalties against income, production, and wealth creation.
  • Since capital formation is critical for long-run growth, don’t double-tax income that is saved and invested.
  • Eliminate corrupt and distorting loopholes that encourage people to make decisions that are economically irrational.

Some of these principles are interrelated. I don’t like loopholes in part because of the reasons I just listed. But I also don’t like them because politicians often claim that they need to boost tax rates to make up for the fact that they lose revenue due to various deductions, credits, exemptions, and preferences.

And sometimes a deduction in the tax code even leads to bad policy by state and local government. Today, I want to discuss preferences in the internal revenue code for state and local taxes. And I’m motivated to address this issue because some of the politicians on Capitol Hill have pointed out an inequity, but they want to fix it in the wrong way.

Under current law, state and local income taxes are fully deductible, but state and local sales taxes are only temporarily deductible. The right policy is to get rid of any deductibility for any state and local tax. But since that would create a windfall of new tax revenue for the spendaholics in Washington, every penny of that revenue should be used to lower tax rates.

Not surprisingly, the crowd in Washington doesn’t take this approach. Instead, they want to extend deductibility for the sales tax. And they may even be amenable to raising other taxes to impose that policy.

Here are some excerpts from a story in The Hill.

More than five dozen House members are pressing leaders of a tax panel to preserve a deduction for state and local sales taxes. The bipartisan group of lawmakers say it would be unfair to voters in their states not to extend the sales tax deduction, given that taxpayers would still be able to deduct state and local income taxes. …Eight states in all — Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming — currently use a sales tax, but either don’t have or have a very limited state income tax. …The letter comes as many lawmakers hope to finish off an extenders package once Congress returns to Washington after November’s elections. Lawmakers will have to grapple with expiring Bush-era tax rates — just one part of the so-called fiscal cliff — when they return, and tax extenders could be tacked on to a broader package. The Senate Finance Committee has already passed an extenders package of its own, which included a two-year extension — at a cost of an estimated $4.4 billion over a decade — of the sales tax deduction.

I have some sympathy for these members of Congress. They represent states that have wisely decided not to impose income taxes, yet the federal tax system rewards profligate high-tax states such as New York and California with a permanent deduction for state and local income taxes.

This is a very misguided policy. It means that greedy politicians such as Governor Brown of California or Governor Cuomo of New York can raise tax rates and tell voters not to get too upset because they can deduct that additional burden. This means that a $1 tax hike results in a loss of take-home pay of as little as 65 cents.

This is what a fair tax code looks like

But you don’t cure one bad policy with another bad policy. A deduction for state and local sales taxes just augments the IRS-enforced preference for bigger government at the state and local level.

The right answer is the flat tax. Put in place the lowest-possible tax rate, which is feasible because all loopholes are wiped out.

In the case of state and local tax deductibility (or lack thereof, with any luck), that’s a win-win-win situation.

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If you saw my speech to Capitol Hill staff on the topic, you know I’m strongly opposed to schemes that would allow greedy state politicians to impose taxes on online sales that occur outside their borders.

I reiterated these sentiments in a debate that was posted today by U.S. News & World Report. Here’s some of what I wrote.

The debate over the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act is not about a level playing field. It is an attempt by politicians to grab more tax revenue to facilitate bigger government. …they want to create an elaborate and intrusive system to force out-of-state merchants to act as tax collectors. …To understand why this is a radical step, imagine if you took a trip to Las Vegas and played blackjack, but then got arrested when you returned home because your state doesn’t allow gambling. That would be an outrage because a state only has sovereign power to enforce laws (good ones or bad ones) on things that take place within its borders. And it would be equally outrageous if state governments tried to force Las Vegas casinos to discriminate against non-Nevada residents.

I also explain why this type of system is bad news for reasons other than fiscal policy.

This legislation also has very troubling implications for privacy. It can only work by creating a massive database that matches online purchases with the state and local sales tax rates for every consumer. I don’t know about you, but I’m not confident that this type of untested system will be secure. We’ve already seen major leaks of confidential data from both government and private companies. This database will be a magnet for identity thieves and other hackers looking for credit card information.

If you agree, feel free to give me an “up” vote on this U.S. News page featuring all the debate participants.

I’ve had good luck in these debates, coming in first place in debates on double taxation, European fiscal policy, flat tax, and Obamanomics, so I don’t want to break the streak.

Otherwise I may have to cry and sulk, like I did after Richard Epstein and I lost the Keynesian stimulus debate in New York City (you can click here to see why we should have prevailed!).

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I’ve almost exhausted my interest in California’s suicidal fiscal policy. How many times, after all, can you write about politicians over-taxing and over-spending to the point of economic ruin?

But everyone has a cross to bear in life, and (if you allow me to mix my metaphors) griping about bloated government is my Sisyphean task.

So here’s a good cartoon about the bankruptcy of Stockton, California. I assume the California egg is supposed to be Governor Brown, but that’s not important. The obvious lesson is that the entire state will follow Stockton into collapse unless there’s a dramatic shift in policy.

As explained in this video, the main problem with state and local governments such as California and Stockton is that there are too many bureaucrats and they are paid too much (this cartoon makes the same point in a more amusing fashion).

But to be more specific, what’s killing them are the promises for retiree pensions and health care.

Interestingly, the federal government also is heading toward a fiscal cliff because of promises to spend money on retirees, but the nitwits in Washington have created entitlements for the entire population and not just for a privileged class of bureaucrats.

So the moral of the story is that as goes Stockton, so goes California. And as goes Greece, so goes America.

P.S. You can see some other cartoons from Lisa Benson here, here, herehere, and here.

P.P.S. Here’s a great Chuck Asay cartoon about California.

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I wrote last week about the destructive and self-defeating impact of high state taxes. Simply stated, when states such as California, Illinois, and New York get too greedy, the geese with the golden eggs fly across the border.

And that was one of my main points in this CNBC debate about state governments and class-warfare tax policy with Jared Bernstein.

Since you never get the opportunity to make all your points in an interview, here are a few additional thoughts.

  • Jared admits that tax rates can get too high, but then he claims that the Laffer Curve only exists “in the heads of people like Dan and Arthur Laffer.” Those are mutually inconsistent statements.
  • Jared seems to think it’s important that big business is siding with big government in Oklahoma and supporting the income tax. But that’s hardly a surprise since large companies often prefer corporatism.
  • Jared actually cited Massachusetts and New Jersey as low-tax states, a point that even the host thought was a bit kooky. I guess this means France is a low-tax country in Jared’s fantasy world.

But I also think I made a mistake. When asked how states can get rid of their income taxes, I mentioned that sales taxes do less damage – per dollar raised – than income taxes. That’s true, but I should have stated first and foremost that states should reduce the burden of government spending.

One final point. This cartoon shows what eventually happens in a tax-and-spend society.

P.S. Jared was the co-author of the infamous study claiming that Obama’s so-called stimulus would keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent. Look at this chart and draw your own conclusions.

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The fiscal nightmare in Europe should be all the proof that’s needed about the dangers of wasteful spending and punitive tax rates. Unfortunately, if his proposals for bigger government and class-warfare tax policy are any indication, President Obama still seems to think those policies would be good for America.

“Let’s mimic California and France!”

American states also are a laboratory, showing that states with better tax policy create more jobs and grow much faster. And many state policy makers have learned the right lesson.

Here’s some of what the Wall Street Journal said in an editorial this morning.

Last week Governor Sam Brownback continued the post-2010 reform trend among GOP Governors by signing the biggest tax cut in Kansas history. The plan chops the state income tax rate to 4.9% from 6.45% and eliminates income taxes on about 190,000 Kansas small businesses. …Mr. Brownback says the income tax cut will put Kansas “on a road to faster growth.” Although no one in Europe or the White House agrees with the philosophy, tax-cut initiatives have been spreading in the states. Already this year Tennessee has eliminated its gift and estate tax, Arizona has cut its capital gains tax (to 3.4% from 4.54%), and Idaho and Nebraska have cut income tax rates. Oklahoma is expected to cut tax rates. The tax cutting Governors all say they hope to be more like no-income-tax Texas, which has far outpaced other states in job creation.

Sadly, the folks in the White House aren’t hopping on the tax cut bandwagon.

Instead, they want America to be more like the President’s home state of Illinois, a fiscal basket case. But it’s not just Illinois that’s in trouble because of a bloated and expensive public sector.

It turns out that millions of Americans are voting with their feet to escape states with excessive taxes.

Here are some passages from a CNS report on some fascinating data from the Tax Foundation.

New York State accounted for the biggest migration exodus of any state in the nation between 2000 and 2010, with 3.4 million residents leaving over that period, according to the Tax Foundation. Over that decade the state gained 2.1 million, so net migration amounted to 1.3 million, representing a loss of $45.6 billion in income. Where are they escaping to?  The Tax Foundation found that more than 600,000 New York residents moved to Florida over the decade – opting perhaps for the Sunshine State’s more lenient tax system – taking nearly $20 billion in adjusted gross income with them. Over that same time period, 208,794 Pennsylvanians moved to Florida, taking $8 billion in income. …California is also known for more onerous taxes and regulations, and the foundation shows similar trends of migration from there to other states like Texas and Arizona. The Tax Foundation ranked the Golden State sixth highest in the nation for state and local tax burden in 2009. Between 2000 and 2010, the most recent data available, 551,914 people left California for Texas, taking $14.3 billion in income.  Texas has no state income tax or estate tax. …Another 28,088 from California relocated to Nevada and 30,663 to Arizona, a loss of  $699.1 million and $707.8 million in income respectively.

While these are remarkable numbers, they shouldn’t be a surprise. I’ve written about the failures of New York and California, and I’ve also commented on the success of Texas.

And for those who prefer international evidence, I’ve cited the differences between successful low-tax jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Singapore and decrepit high-tax nations such as France.

This doesn’t mean that fiscal policy is a silver bullet. There are reasonably successful nations with big governments, but they compensate with ultra-free markets in other areas. And there are also low-tax nations that languish because of mistakes such as excessive regulation and failure to protect property rights.

But all other things being equal, big government and high tax rates are a recipe for decline. Yet that’s the only item on the White House menu.

P.S. If you think people should have the right to lower their tax burdens by moving from California to Nevada, shouldn’t they also have the right to do the same thing by moving from the United States to Singapore?

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Putting Republicans in charge is never a guarantee of good public policy. It was during the Bush years, for instance, that the nation was saddled with a prescription drug entitlement. The GOPers in the White House and on Capitol Hill also recklessly increased the burden of government spending. And they expanded the “affordable lending requirements” on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, thus helping to create the housing crisis.

More recently, a majority of Republicans in the House and Senate voted to expand corporate welfare by increasing the authority of the corrupt Export-Import Bank. And that’s after voting last year to increase housing subsidies!

But this doesn’t mean all Republicans are bad. Ronald Reagan unambiguously was a net plus for freedom, and congressional Republicans mostly tried to do the right thing in the mid-1990s.

The main thing to understand is that there is an ongoing fight inside the Republican Party between those who want to do the right thing and those who see politics as a means of accumulating and exercising power.

The latest example of this battle is taking place in Oklahoma, where the Governor has proposed to eliminate the state income tax and her main opponents are members of the corrupt GOP establishment.

The Wall Street Journal has editorialized on the issue, and makes all the correct points.

Do Republicans stand for economic growth and tax reform, or not? That question is on the table in Oklahoma, where GOP Governor Mary Fallin has a plan to cut and eventually eliminate the income tax. Her main opposition: fellow Republicans in the state Senate. …Ms. Fallin points to decades of evidence that America’s nine no-income tax states have had superior population, income and job growth. The case for a Sooner State tax cut has taken on new urgency because neighboring Texas has no income tax and Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska are working toward or have already enacted rate cuts this year. …A cavalcade of lobbyists, including local Chambers of Commerce, teachers unions and welfare groups are fighting the tax cut. The Tulsa and Oklahoma City Chambers are pleading for corporate welfare that benefits politically connected large corporations, rather than rate cuts for all businesses.

I’m no longer surprised when I read about the Chamber of Commerce supporting bad policy. Big business rarely is a friend of freedom.

But I am very disappointed to read that economists at some of the state universities have climbed into bed with the political elite.

Last week economists on the public payroll from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State came out against the tax cut. Cynthia Rogers of OU said that the evidence on whether income-tax cuts help the economy is “inconclusive.” Maybe in the faculty lounge. But Oklahomans can see the jobs bonanza across the border in Texas, which pays its bills with a sales tax. …Meanwhile, states with some of the highest income-tax rates—California, Maryland and Illinois—have had the toughest time keeping out of the red. New Hampshire, Tennessee, Florida and others that don’t levy an income tax manage to balance their budget nearly every year.

The WSJ makes a very good point about real-world evidence. Texas and California are both role models, and they demonstrate that states with no income taxes kick the you-know-what of states with class-warfare fiscal systems.

Unfortunately, some Oklahoma Republicans care more about political power than the well-being of the people.

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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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Tax competition, as I have explained to the point of being a nuisance, is an important restraint on the greed of the political class. Simply stated, politicians are less like to over-tax and over-spend if they know that geese with the golden eggs can fly across the border.

This is mostly an issue in the world of international tax policy, but the same principles apply for sub-national governments inside a nation.

State and local governments should compete with each by offering the best fiscal climate. Sadly, just as high-tax nations such as France and Germany are trying to hinder global tax competition, high-tax state governments are seeking to undermine fiscal rivalry inside the United States.

More specifically, they want to create a state sales tax cartel that would allow governments to force out-of-state businesses serve as deputy tax collectors. Greedy politicians are fearful that online shopping deprives them of revenue, so they are pushing for a privacy-threatening database that will enable them to track and tax these transactions.

I explained this issue last week for a standing-room-only audience on Capitol Hill.

The entire discussion is posted online, including the very astute observations of my former Heritage Foundation colleague, Adam Thierer, now at the Mercatus Center.

Investor’s Business Daily also has opined on why this is a bad idea, but if you want to get really worried, the clowns at the United Nations want to power to tax and regulate the Internet.

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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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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 written before about whether California is the Greece of America, in part because of crazy policies such as overpaid bureaucrats and expensive forms of political correctness,

And we all know that California has one of the nation’s greediest governments, imposing confiscatory tax rates on a shrinking pool of productive citizens.

So it is hardly surprising that the Golden State is falling behind, losing jobs and investment to more sensible states such as Texas.

But not everybody is learning the right lessons from California’s fiscal and economic mess.

There’s a group of crazies who want to increase the top tax rate by five percentage points, an increase of about 50 percent. And they have made Kim Kardashian the poster child for their proposed ballot initiative.

I’m relatively clueless about popular culture, but even I’m aware that there is a group of people know as the Kardashian sisters. I don’t know who they are or what they do, but I gather they are famous in sort of the same way Paris Hilton was briefly famous.

And they have cashed in on their popularity, which may not reflect well on the tastes of the American people, but it’s not my job to tell other people how to spend their money.

But not everybody share this live-and-let-live attitude, which is why the pro-tax crowd in California produced this video.

I suppose I could criticize the petty dishonesty of the proponents, since they deliberately blurred of the difference between “tax rates” and “taxes paid.”

Or I could expose their economic illiteracy by pointing out that higher tax rates would accelerate the emigration of investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and other rich taxpayers to zero-tax states such as Nevada.

But I won’t do those things. Instead, like the Nevada Realtors Association and Arizona Business Relocation Department, I’m going to support this ballot initiative.

Not because I overdid the rum and eggnog at Christmas, but because it’s good to have negative role models, whether they are countries like Greece, cities such as Detroit, or states like California.

So here’s my challenge to the looters and moochers of the Golden State. Don’t just boost the top tax rate by five-percentage points. That’s not nearly enough. Go for a 20 percent top tax rate. Or 25 percent. After all, think of all the special interests that could use the money more than Ms. Kardashian.

And if somebody tells you that she will move to South Beach or Las Vegas, or that the other rich people will move to Texas, Wyoming, or Tennessee, just ignore them. Remember, it’s good intentions that count.

In closing, I apologize to the dwindling crowd of productive people in California. It’s rather unfortunate that you’re part of this statist experiment. But you know what they say about eggs and omelets.

By the way, here’s some humor about the Golden State, including a joke about the bloated bureaucracy and a comparison with Texas.

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Over and over again, I tell people to ignore whether politicians have a D or an R after their names. That’s because Democrats sometimes do the right thing and Republicans often do the wrong thing.

My latest example of Republicans doing the wrong thing come from Florida, where GOP politicians decided that free markets should not be allowed to function and that all taxpayers should be put at risk to subsidize hurricane insurance (primarily benefiting upper-income people).

The Wall Street Journal opined today on why this is a mistake.

…evidence continues to build that the state’s taxpayers will get walloped sooner or later. The state’s own hurricane reinsurer now admits its 12-month funding shortfall for claims is $3.2 billion. That estimate is based on the taxpayer-backed Florida Hurricane Catastrophic Fund’s cash on hand, its investment income and the amount banks estimate the fund could raise in municipal bond markets, if needed. Uh-oh. The Cat Fund was supposed to be a reinsurer of last resort but was expanded far beyond a prudent size in 2007, thanks to former Governor Charlie Crist. …Florida consumers will ultimately pay the bill. If the Cat Fund must issue bonds, it levies “assessments”—a code name for a tax—on the state’s property and casualty insurance holders to pay interest and repay principal. Only workers’ compensation and medical malpractice insurance holders are exempt—Mr. Crist’s nod to the tort bar. Lest you think $14 billion is enough, consider that Category 5 Hurricane Andrew caused $26.5 billion in damage in 1992, according to the National Hurricane Center. Wilma, which hit in 2005 as a Category 3, cost $21 billion. If the fund couldn’t pay its claims, some of the state’s insurers would likely go bust. The Cat Fund’s chief operating officer, Jack Nicholson, characterizes that problem as potentially “significant.” He is promoting legislation to reduce the fund’s size and shore up its finances. The time to do that is before the next big one hits, but Florida’s ruling Republicans continue to behave as if this is someone else’s problem.

I’ll go one step farther than Mr. Nicholson. Florida politicians shouldn’t just “shore up” the Fund. They should abolish it.

Private markets should determine the cost of insuring beach houses, resort hotels, and other properties susceptible to hurricane damage.

Yes, small subsidies don’t do as much damage as big subsidies, but you wouldn’t want a doctor to remove only 50 percent of a tumor during a cancer operation. That would be a big mistake, creating a much bigger risk that the growth would return to its original size.

The same principle exists with government interventions. Once politicians decide that it is okay to provide special favors for one group of people (usually big campaign contributors), it is very difficult to limit the size of the handouts.

But the moral of the story is that big government is a mistake – even when (or especially when) bad policy is being imposed by Republicans.

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I’ve had several reasons to mock California in the past couple of years (see here, here, here, and here).

But I never thought state politicians would be crazy enough to impose harsh regulations on babysitting.

Filling out a time card for your babysitter sounds absurd, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in a new law moving through the California state legislature. Here’s how a critic described some of the key provisions in a column for a local newspaper.

How will parents react when they find out they will be expected to provide workers’ compensation benefits, rest and meal breaks and paid vacation time for…babysitters? Dinner and a movie night may soon become much more complicated. Assembly Bill 889 (authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, will require these protections for all “domestic employees,” including nannies, housekeepers and caregivers. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is quickly moving through the Senate with blanket support from the Democrat members that control both houses of the Legislature.

Parents might even need to hire two babysitters if they intend to be out of the house for more than a couple of hours, though I actually hope the author is wrong in this description of the legislation (surely they’re not this crazy!).

…household “employers” (aka “parents”) who hire a babysitter on a Friday night will be legally obligated to…provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks, in addition to workers’ compensation coverage, overtime pay, and a meticulously calculated timecard/paycheck. Failure to abide by any of these provisions may result in a legal cause of action against the employer including cumulative penalties, attorneys’ fees, legal costs and expenses associated with hiring expert witnesses.

I have no problem, however, believing that California politicians are creating a system designed to facilitate costly and absurd lawsuits. I’m sure the trial lawyers are getting a good return on their campaign contributions.

The only good news is that we can safely assume that there will be rampant non-compliance from parents and baby sitters. The bad news is that this legislation almost surely will have a deleterious impact on more permanent forms of care-giving, such as nannies and housekeepers. That will be especially unfortunate for lower-income people who tend to benefit from these types of jobs.

..the unreasonable costs and risks contained in this bill will discourage folks from hiring housekeepers, nannies and babysitters and increase the use of institutionalized care rather than allowing children, the sick or elderly to be cared for in their homes.

When the Golden State falls apart and goes bankrupt, this legislation (assuming it is approved) will be a good example of the failure of left-wing statism.

P.S. Since we are picking on California, here are a couple of posts that use humor to make fun of the folks on the left coast (here and here).

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The Beacon Hill Institute in Massachusetts has just released a very good – but very depressing study. The research finds that costs have jumped under Romneycare, but that’s not surprising. After all, politicians always underestimate the cost of new entitlements.

The important revelation in this new research is the degree to which the system has been propped up by the federal government (i.e., taxpayers in the rest of the nation).

That’s probably good news for Bay State politicians, who get to shift a fiscal burden to people outside the state, And it’s probably good news for Mitt Romney, because it somewhat disguises the magnitude of the disaster he imposed on the taxpayers of his state.

But it doesn’t bode well for the United States. Who will be available to bail out Obamacare? The Chinese? Martians? The Federal Reserve creating money out of thin air?

While you ponder those questions, here are some key excerpts from the study.

In this study, the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University (BHI) attempts to fill the gap by calculating the effect of health care reform on state and federal governments and the private health insurance markets, including employee contributions to their private insurance plans. We find that, under health care reform:

• State health care expenditures have risen by $414 million over the period;

• Private health insurance costs have risen by $4.311 billion over the period;

• The federal government has spent an additional $2.418 billion on Medicaid for Massachusetts.

• Over this period, Medicare expenditures increased by $1.426 billion;

• For a total cumulative cost of $8.569 billion over the period; and

• The state has been able to shift the majority of the costs to the federal government.

The federal government continues to absorb a significant cost of health care reform through enhanced Medicaid payments and the Medicare program. …We estimate the effects of health care reform by comparing the actual value of each variable with the value it would have had, based on recent trends, had health care reform not been implemented.

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Or is it another example of the “wussification of America?” I don’t know how to classify this story, other than it is a sad commentary on what is happening to America. Bureaucrats in Maryland, who obviously have too much time on their hands, are issuing rules governing sunscreen on summer camps.

Have we really reached the point where we need to regulate approval for sunscreen use? And have we terrified ourselves to the point where we assume camp counselors are potential pedophiles (or, are we stupid enough to think rules like this would stop a real pedophile?). In any event, this story would have been perfect for my post comparing bureaucratic stupidity in the US vs bureaucratic stupidity in the UK.

Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post.

Maryland health officials were making revisions late Friday night to a new policy that would have severely restricted who could apply sunscreen to children attending summer camps. The new policy, which was issued last month, ordered summer camp operators to steer away from assisting kids with applying sunscreen and to get parents’ permission before letting any child use sunscreen at camp. …The guidelines said, “Camp staff should limit touching the camper as much as possible. Under no circumstances should campers assist each other in the application of sunscreen.” The policy also prohibited camps from supplying sunscreen to campers. …Health officials had argued that their motivation was strictly about safety. “Our intention is certainly not to discourage the use of sunblock,” Mitchell said. “It’s really to walk a fine line between protecting kids’ skin and making sure they feel personally safe.” Mitchell said he did not know of any cases of inappropriate touching by counselors that might have led to the new regulations. At camps across Maryland, parents are receiving permission forms asking whether their child may use sunscreen while at camp. At the Barrie Day Camp in Silver Spring, for example, parents who allow their child to use sunscreen must also check off on whether the sunblock may be applied with or without assistance from staff members. “The camp is just doing what the state ordered them to do,” said Paul Basken, a father of two children who attend Barrie camp. “But this can’t be serious. I mean, if I didn’t feel safe about the camp, I just wouldn’t send my kids there.” …The rules are “absurd,” said Maral Skelsey, a dermatologist in Chevy Chase. “This is the biggest known carcinogen that children are exposed to. We should be asking camp counselors to take an active role in promoting skin protection.”

Our Founding Fathers must be looking down at us, shaking their heads and wondering “where did we go wrong?”

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Forget the victory over the union bosses in Wisconsin. Yes, that was important, but school choice is an ever bigger threat to the left.

Breaking the government education monopoly would reveal the inefficiency and incompetence of government, while simultaneously threatening the power of the National Education Association, which is a major source of money and power for the left.

Even more important, school choice would give poor kids a much better education, thus increasing their ability to achieve the American dream.

Helping poor people lead better lives, though, is not a priority for the left. If people are less dependent on government, they probably are less likely to reflexively support those who want to make government even bigger.

This is why it is good news that the promise of school choice in Pennsylvania (which I wrote about last year) is about to become a reality.

The Wall Street Journal’s excellent editorial page has the key details.

The most promising development is occurring in Pennsylvania, where a state-wide voucher bill supported by new Governor Tom Corbett is moving through the Republican-controlled legislature. Children in the Keystone State’s 144 worst schools—where students scored in the lowest 5% on recent state exams—would be eligible for a voucher. …in 1996, but unions blocked the idea by claiming that lack of spending was the real education problem. Time has proven that wrong again. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, a state think tank, “taxpayer spending on public schools has doubled to $26 billion per year” over the past 15 years. Pennsylvania taxpayers spend more than $13,000 per student, or “$2,000 more than the national average and more than 39 other states.” In some of the worst school districts, per pupil spending approaches $20,000. Yet scores on national tests have been flat for years, with only 40% of Pennsylvania 8th graders at or above proficiency in reading and math. Even state tests, which have lower standards, show that only about half of Pennsylvania 11th graders are proficient in reading and math.

What’s especially encouraging about the developments in Pennsylvania is that some traditionally left-wing folks have realized that it’s time to put the best interests of kids above the interests of the teacher unions. I particularly admire the role of a black state senator.

Mr. Williams, who is black, has taken some heat for his pro-voucher stance from local civil rights groups. “The NAACP nationally is opposed to this and locally is opposed to this, and they call me all sorts of funny names,” he tells us. “But the truth is that a lot of the people in the NAACP don’t acknowledge that they send their own kids to private schools. They’ve left. They’ve moved away.” Several local labor groups in Philadelphia have also broken with the teachers union and endorsed vouchers. “We believe that children from all economic backgrounds deserve a chance for a bright future,” said John Dougherty of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. “School choice programs will give them that chance.”

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Kudos to Governor Walker of Wisconsin. Republicans rarely have the intelligence or the fortitude to win battles that reduce the burden of government, but it appears that he is on the verge of prevailing in his effort to limit special privileges for government workers. Fugitive Democrats from the State Senate apparently are giving up on their plan to block the Governor’s reforms by hiding in Illinois.

I won’t fully believe it until they’re back in their chairs and casting votes, but at the very least Governor Walker is showing why it is important to stand up to greedy special interests. Let’s hope Republicans in Washington can display the same courage in their fight to trim a tiny amount of spending from this year’s spending – even if it means a government shutdown.

Here’s a report on the Wisconsin fight from today’s Wall Street Journal.

Playing a game of political chicken, Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to stymie restrictions on public-employee unions said Sunday they planned to come back from exile soon, betting that even though their return will allow the bill to pass, the curbs are so unpopular they’ll taint the state’s Republican governor and legislators. …The Wisconsin standoff, which drew thousands of demonstrators to occupy the capitol in Madison for days at a time, has come to highlight efforts in other states to address budget problems in part by limiting the powers and benefits accorded public-sector unions. Sen. Mark Miller said he and his fellow Democrats intend to let the full Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget-repair” bill, which includes the proposed limits on public unions’ collective-bargaining rights. The bill, which had been blocked because the missing Democrats were needed for the Senate to have enough members present to vote on it, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber. He said he thinks recent polls showing voter discontent with Mr. Walker over limits on bargaining rights have been “disastrous” for the governor and Republicans and give Democrats more leverage to seek changes in a broader two-year budget bill Mr. Walker proposed Tuesday. …Mr. Walker’s bill would prohibit bargaining over health care and pensions for about 170,000 public employees in the state and would allow public employees to opt out of paying dues or belonging to a union. The bill also would end the automatic collection of dues by the state, and require that every public-employee union get recertified to represent workers through an annual election. …Mark Jefferson, head of the Wisconsin GOP, said…even after Mr. Walker’s plan is passed, the state’s public workers will still have more collective-bargaining rights than most federal workers, who can bargain over working conditions but not pay and benefits.

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This is one of those a-picture-says-a-thousand-words moments.

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This blog repeatedly has chronicled the huge discrepancy between the gold-plated compensation for government employees and the meager salaries and benefits of people in the productive sector of the economy, including a video conclusively demonstrating that bureaucrats are overpaid.

This message is now resonating all across the nation. Even the New York Times, as shown by the excerpt below, now realizes that taxpayers are sick and tired of paying exorbitant taxes to finance excessive pay for the bureaucracy.

But public awareness is only a small step in the right direction. What really matters is public policy. Will the bureaucracy be downsized? Will salaries be frozen for several years? Will absurd pension plans be replaced by 401(k) systems? And what will happen to unaffordable health plans for government workers?

We’re going to see some interesting battles at the state and local level. One of the many great things about federalism is we get an opportunity to see some governments do the right thing and some do the wrong thing. And as we watch states like California descend into bankruptcy, this teaches everyone about the policies that should be avoided.

But the long-overdue day of reckoning won’t happen if Obama and the other politicians figure out how to bail out reckless state and local governments. That’s already happened once, since funneling federal money to the states was one of main goals of Obama’s failed stimulus.

But sending more money to the states would be akin to providing an alcoholic with a case of booze. If House Republicans have any brains, they will make sure taxpayers in places like Texas don’t pay more to subsidize politicians and special interests in places such as Illinois.

Cross your fingers that they hold firm. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the change in the public mood. Here are a few passages from yesterday’s story in the New York Times.

Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable, as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city and town budgets, and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy. In California, New York, Michigan and New Jersey, states where public unions wield much power and the culture historically tends to be pro-labor, even longtime liberal political leaders have demanded concessions — wage freezes, benefit cuts and tougher work rules. …a growing cadre of political leaders and municipal finance experts argue that much of the edifice of municipal and state finance is jury-rigged and, without new revenue, perhaps unsustainable. Too many political leaders, they argue, acted too irresponsibly, failing to either raise taxes or cut spending. A brutal reckoning awaits, they say. …Fred Siegel, a historian at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, has written of the “New Tammany Hall,” which he describes as the incestuous alliance between public officials and labor. “Public unions have had no natural adversary; they give politicians political support and get good contracts back,” Mr. Siegel said. “It’s uniquely dysfunctional.” …In California, pension costs now crowd out spending for parks, public schools and state universities; in Illinois, spiraling pension costs threaten the state with insolvency. And taxpayer resentment simmers.

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Since I’m involuntarily forced to finance National Public Radio, I guess I should be happy that free-market views occasionally are allowed on air. Click here to listen to a segment where I talk about earmarks, “phonemarks,” and special interest corruption in Washington.

The risky part of a pre-recorded interview is that you never know what the journalist will use. If the person interviewing you is biased, they can use a quote out of context to make you appear stupid, or use an incomplete quote to distort the meaning of your words. That did not happen in this case. The NPR interviewer, at least to my ear, was quite fair.

I wish the segment had been longer, however, so I could have explained why even “honest” earmarks are wrong. Let’s say that Congressman Smith or Senator Jones inserts an earmark, or makes a phonemark, to get funding for a sewer system. It’s quite possible that such a request is completely untainted by corruption (other than the run-of-the-mill practice of trying to buy votes with other people’s money).

But that doesn’t make it right. One of the reasons why federalism is such a good idea is that money is much more likely to be spent wisely is if it is raised at the state and local level and people at those levels decide how it should be allocated.

This doesn’t mean there is no corruption, insider deal-making, or special-interest shenanigans. That’s an inevitable part of government. But federalism at least makes it easier for people to monitor how their money is being spent – and to escape if they think their state or local government is going overboard with bad behavior.

In other words, centralization of government is a bad idea. This is why big government in Washington is worse than big government at the state and local level. And it’s why big government from the European Union in Brussels is worse than big government in Rome, Berlin, or Stockholm.

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Make sure you don’t save an injured deer in Virginia. Not only will the bureaucrats take the animal away from you, but they’ll nail you with three misdemeanor charges just for good measure. I guess the legal approach would have been to let the dogs kill the helpless creature. Here’s part of the WTOP.com report.

A Broadway man who nursed a young deer back to health has lost the animal to Virginia wildlife officials and faces three misdemeanor charges. Doyle Ritchie says he didn’t realize he was breaking the law when he kept the deer in his backyard after it was hit by a car and later attacked by dogs. But recently, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries took the deer and Ritchie was charged with the misdemeanors, including illegal possession of a wild animal.

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I take second place to nobody in my view that government is horribly incompetent, but I even I’m shocked by this story I saw 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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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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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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