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Archive for the ‘Higher Taxes’ Category

The best budget rule in the United States is Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Known as TABOR, this provision in the state’s constitution says revenues can’t grow faster than population plus inflation. Any revenue greater than that amount must be returned to taxpayers.

Combined with the state’s requirement for a balanced budget, this means Colorado has a de facto spending cap (similar to what exists in Switzerland and Hong Kong).

The second-best budget rule is probably a requirement that tax increases can’t be imposed without a supermajority vote by the legislature.

The underlying theory is very simple. It won’t be easy for politicians to increase the burden of government spending if they can’t also raise taxes. Particularly since states generally have some form of rule requiring a balanced budget.

Basically a version of “Starve the Beast.”

Anyhow, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, 14 states have some type of supermajority requirements.

And more states are considering this reform.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the Washington Post.

Florida Republicans are pursuing a plan to make it harder for lawmakers to raise taxes in the state, adding new hurdles for Democrats hoping to enact bold social programs such as “Medicare for all” and more robust education spending. …Florida’s Republican lawmakers have approved a ballot measure that, if approved by the voters, would require a two-thirds “supermajority” of the legislature to enact any new taxes. …In…additional states — …Oregon and North Carolina — conservative lawmakers and business groups are currently advancing similar measures… The supermajority requirements have proved effective at keeping taxes low in the states where they have been implemented, said Joel Griffith of the American Legislative Exchange Council… “These supermajority rules make policymaking incredibly difficult,” said Elaine Maag, senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “If a state can’t increase spending because of these very high bars for raising taxes, they can’t expand programs.”

Dean Stansel crunched the numbers in 1998 and got some encouraging data.

There is some evidence that supermajority requirements have at least helped to restrain the growth of taxes. From 1980 to 1996, state tax burdens as a share of personal income increased by 1.1 percent in states with supermajority requirements. Taxes rose five times faster in states without such requirements. In 10 states, residents face higher top personal income tax rates today than they did in 1990. None of those states require supermajority approval for tax hikes. None of the 13 supermajority states have higher top rates today than they did in 1990, and three of them have lowered their top rate in the 1990s.

Academic experts also have found positive effects.

In a 1990 study published in the William and Mary Law Review, Jim Miller and Mark Crain found some evidence of modest spending restraint.

Seven states require approval of tax proposals by a super-majority vote in the legislature. …According to this hypothesis, the amount of revenue available to politicians resembles a budget constraint, and when this constraint shifts, government spending consequently changes. …the tax-and-spend literature suggests a causal connection that should be controlled. This variable is expected to produce a negative coefficient because in making an increase in revenues more difficult, the requirement tightens the total constraint on spending options. …The super-majority required to increase taxes variable is negative, as expected, although it is significant at only the 10% level in the three models.

In a 2000 study published in the Journal of Public Economics, Brian Knight also determined that supermajority provisions limited taxation.

This paper measures the effect of state-level supermajority requirements for tax increases on tax rates. …A model is presented in which legislatures controlled by a pro-tax party adopt a supermajority requirement to reduce the majority party agenda control. The propensity of pro-tax states to adopt supermajority requirements results in an underestimate of the true effect of these requirements on taxes. To correct this identification problem, the paper first uses fixed effects to control for unobserved attitudes and then employs instruments that measure the difficulty of amending state constitutions. The paper concludes that supermajority requirements have significantly reduced taxes.

In a 2014 study published in State Politics & Policy Quarterly, Soomi Lee concluded that a supermajority has restrained the fiscal burden in California.

My article examines whether supermajority vote requirements (SMVR) to raise taxes in California’s constitution suppresses state tax burdens. The rationale behind the rule is to contain the growth of government by making it costly to form a winning coalition to raise taxes. …I take a different approach from extant literature and estimate the causal effect of SMVR by using synthetic control methods. The results show that, from 1979 to 2008, SMVR reduced the state nonproperty tax burden by an average of $1.44 per $100 of personal income, which is equivalent to 21% of the total tax burden for each year. The effect…has abated over time.

This last study is remarkable. The long-run fiscal outlook is quite grim in California, so just imagine how much worse it would be if the supermajority requirement didn’t exist.

I’ll close with this amateurish visual that I created.

Though the evidence from California shows the kitten shouldn’t be peacefully sleeping if there is a supermajority requirement.

The best way to think of such a provision is that it is akin to putting locks on your doors in a crime-ridden neighborhood. The crooks may figure out how to mug you on the street or break through your windows, so you’re still in danger.

But having locks on your doors is definitely better than not having them.

P.S. It’s not a fiscal rule, but the best tax policy for a state is to have a zero income tax. The second best rule is for a state to have a flat tax.

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New Jersey is a fiscal disaster area.

It’s in last place in the Tax Foundation’s index that measures a state’s business tax climate.

It’s tied for last place in the Mercatus Center’s ranking of state fiscal conditions.

And it ranks in the bottom-10 in measures of state economic freedom and measures of unfunded liabilities for bureaucrat pensions.

All of this led me, last October, to warn that the state was suffering from fiscal decay.

Then, two months ago, James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal wrote about how New Jersey’s uncompetitive fiscal system was encouraging highly productive taxpayers to leave the state.

The Garden State already has the third largest overall tax burden and the country’s highest property tax collections per capita. Now that federal reform has limited the deduction for state and local taxes, the price of government is surging again among high-income earners in New Jersey and other blue states. Taxpayers are searching for the exits. …says Jeffrey Sica, founder of Circle Squared, an alternative investments firm. “We structure real estate deals for family offices and high-net-worth individuals and at a record pace those family offices and individuals are leaving the TriState for lower-tax states. Probably a dozen this year at least,”…In the decade ending in 2016, real economic growth in New Jersey clocked in at a compound annual percentage rate of 0.1, just slightly higher than John Blutarsky’s GPA and less than a tenth of the national average for economic growth. The Tax Foundation ranks New Jersey dead last among the 50 states for its business tax climate. …Steven Malanga calls Mr. Murphy’s plan “the U-Haul Budget” for the new incentives it gives New Jersey residents to flee.

You would think that New Jersey politicians would try to stop the bleeding, particularly given the impact of federal tax reform.

But that assumes logic, common sense, and a willingness to put the interests of people above the interests of government. Unfortunately, all of those traits are in short supply in the Garden State, so instead the politicians decided to throw gasoline on the fire with another big tax hike.

The Wall Street Journal opines today on the new agreement from Trenton.

Governor Phil Murphy and State Senate leader Steve Sweeney have been fighting over whether to raise tax rates on individuals or businesses, and over the weekend they decided to raise taxes on both. Messrs. Murphy and Sweeney agreed to raise the state’s income tax on residents making more than $5 million to 10.75% from 8.97% and the corporate rate on companies with more than $1 million in income to 11.5% from 9%. This will give New Jersey the fourth highest marginal income tax rate on individuals and the second highest corporate rate after Iowa.

New Jersey is pursuing class warfare, but the politicians don’t seem to realize that the geese with the golden eggs can fly away.

The two Democrats claim this will do no harm because about 0.04% of New Jersey taxpayers will get smacked. But those taxpayers account for 12.5% of state income-tax revenue and their investment income is highly mobile. The state treasurer said in 2016 that a mere 100 filers pay more than 5.5% of all state receipts. Billionaire David Tepper escaped from New Jersey for Florida in 2015, and other hedge fund managers could follow. Between 2012 and 2016 a net $11.9 billion of income left New Jersey, according to the IRS. The flight risk will increase with the new limit of $10,000 on deducting state and local taxes on federal tax returns. …About two-thirds of New Jersey’s $3.5 billion income outflow last year went to Florida, which doesn’t have an income tax. …The fair question is why any rational person or business that can move would stay in New Jersey.

That’s not merely a fair question, it’s a description of what’s already happening. And it’s going to accelerate – in New Jersey and other uncompetitive states – when additional soak-the-rich schemes are imposed (unless politicians figure out a way to put fences and guard towers at the border).

A few months ago, I conducted a poll on which state would be the first to suffer a fiscal collapse. For understandable reasons, Illinois was the easy “winner.” But I won’t be surprised if there are a bunch of new votes for New Jersey. Simply stated, the state is committing fiscal suicide.

P.S. What’s amazing (and depressing) is that New Jersey was like New Hampshire as recently as the 1960s, with no state sales tax and no state income tax.

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Even though I wrote about proposed tax increases in Illinois just 10 days ago, it’s time to revisit the issue because the Tax Foundation just published a very informative article about the state’s self-destructive fiscal policy.

It starts by noting that the aggregate tax burden is higher in Illinois than it is in adjoining states.

Just what are Illinois’ neighbors doing on taxes? They’re taxing less, for starters. In Illinois, state and local taxes account for 9.3 percent of state income. The state and local taxes in Illinois’ six neighboring states account, in aggregate, for 8.0 percent of the income of those states.

Here’s the table showing the gap between Illinois and its neighbors. And it’s probably worth noting that the tax gap is the largest with the two states – Indiana and Missouri – that have the longest borders with Illinois.

While the aggregate tax burden is an important measure, I’ve explained before that it’s also important to focus on marginal tax rates. After all, that’s the variable that determines incentives for productive behavior since it measures how much the government confiscates when investors and entrepreneurs generate additional wealth.

And this brings us to the most important point in the article. Illinois politicians want to move in the wrong direction on marginal tax rates while neighboring jurisdictions are moving in the right direction.

Except for Iowa, all of Illinois’ neighbors have cut their income taxes since Illinois adopted its “temporary” income tax increases in 2011—and Iowa is on the verge of adopting a tax reform package that cuts individual income tax rates… Over the same period, Illinois’ single-rate income tax was temporarily raised from 3 to 5 percent, then allowed to partially sunset to 3.75 percent before being raised to the current 4.95 percent rate. A 1.5 percent surtax on pass-through business income brings the rate on many small businesses to 6.45 percent. Now there are calls to amend the state constitution to allow graduated-rate income taxes, with proposals circulating to create a top marginal rate as high as 9.85 percent (11.35 percent on pass-through businesses).

Here’s the chart showing the top rate in various states in 2011, the top rates today, and where top tax rates could be in the near future.

What’s especially remarkable is that Illinois politicians are poised to jack up tax rates just as federal tax reform has significantly reduced the deduction for state and local taxes.

For all intents and purposes, they’re trying to drive job creators out of the state (a shift that already has been happening, but now will accelerate).

Normally, when I write that a jurisdiction is committing fiscal suicide, I try to explain that it’s a slow-motion process. Illinois, however, could be taking the express lane. No wonder readers overwhelmingly picked the Land of Lincoln when asked which state will be the first to suffer a fiscal collapse.

P.S. Illinois politicians claim they want to bust the flat tax so they can impose higher taxes on the (supposedly) evil rich. High-income taxpayers doubtlessly will be the first on the chopping block, but I can say with 99.99 percent certainty that class-warfare tax increases will be a precursor to higher taxes on everybody.

P.P.S. Illinois residents should move to states with no income taxes. But if they only want to cross one border, Indiana would be a very good choice. And Kentucky just shifted to a flat tax, so that’s another potential option.

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A couple of months ago, I thought I did something meaningful by sharing six separate examples of the International Monetary Fund pressuring sub-Saharan African nations to impose higher tax burdens. This was evidence, I suggested, that the IMF had a disturbing agenda of bigger government for the entire region.

I didn’t imply the bureaucrats were motivated by racism. After all, the IMF has pushed for higher taxes in the United States, in China, in Latin America, in the Middle East, and in Europe. (folks who work at the IMF don’t pay taxes on their own salaries, but they clearly believe in equal opportunity when urging higher taxes for everyone else).

Nonetheless, I thought it was scandalous that the IMF was systematically agitating for taxes in a region that desperately needs more investment and entrepreneurship. And my six examples were proof of a continent-wide agenda!

But it turns out that I wasn’t exposing some sort of sinister secret. The IMF just published a new report where the bureaucrats openly argue that there should be big tax hikes in all sub-Saharan nations.

Domestic revenue mobilization is one of the most pressing policy challenges facing sub-Saharan African countries. …the region as a whole could mobilize about 3 to 5 percent of GDP, on average, in additional revenues. …domestic revenue mobilization should be a key component of any fiscal consolidation strategy. Absent adequate efforts to raise domestic revenues, fiscal consolidation tends to rely excessively on reductions in public spending.

Notice, by the way, the term “domestic revenue mobilization.” Such a charming euphemism for higher taxes.

And it’s also worth pointing out that the IMF openly urges more revenue so that governments don’t have to impose spending restraint.

Moreover, the IMF is happy that there have been “substantial gains in revenue mobilization” over the past two decades.

Over the past three decades, many sub-Saharan African countries have achieved substantial gains in revenue mobilization. For the median sub-Saharan African economy, total revenue excluding grants increased from around 14 percent of GDP in the mid-1990s, to more than 18 percent in 2016, while tax revenue increased from 11 to 15 percent. …Two-thirds of sub-Saharan African countries now have revenue ratios above 15 percent, compared with fewer than half in 1995. …the region still has the lowest revenue-to-GDP ratio compared to other regions in the world. The good news is that there are signs of convergence. Over the past three decades, the increase in sub-Saharan Africa’s revenue ratio has been double that for all emerging market and developing economies.

To the bureaucrats at the IMF, the “convergence” toward higher taxes is “good news.”

However, there is some data in the report that is genuine good news.

In most regions of the world, there has been a trend in recent years toward reducing rates for the CIT and the personal income tax (PIT). In sub-Saharan African countries, the average top PIT rate has been reduced from about 44 to 32 percent since 2000, while average top CIT rates have been reduced by more than 5 percentage points during the same period.

Here are two charts showing the decline in tax rates, not only in Africa, but in most other regions.

By the way, the IMF bureaucrats appear to be surprised that revenues went up as tax rates went down. I guess they’ve never heard of the Laffer Curve.

Despite this decline in rates, total direct taxes (PIT and CIT) as a percentage of GDP have been trending upward.

But the IMF obviously didn’t learn from this evidence (or from the evidence it shared last year).

Rather than proposing lower tax rates, the report urges a plethora of tax hikes.

Successful experiences in revenue mobilization have relied on efforts to implement broad-based VATs, gradually expand the base for direct taxes (CIT and PIT), and implement a system to tax small businesses and levy excises on a few key items.

Wow. I don’t know what’s worse, claiming that tax increases are good for growth, or pushing higher taxes in the world’s poorest region.

Let’s close by debunking the IMF’s absurd contention that bigger government would be good for Africa.

I suppose the simplest response would be to share my video series about the economics of government spending, especially since I cite a wealth of academic research.

But let’s take an even simpler approach. The IMF report complained that governments in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have enough money to spend.

The good news, as illustrated by this chart (based on data from the bureaucracy’s World Economic Outlook database), is that the IMF is accurate about relative fiscal burdens.

The bad news is that the IMF wants us to believe that a low fiscal burden is a bad thing. The bureaucrats at the IMF (and at other international bureaucracies) actually want people to believe that bigger government means more prosperity. Which is why the report urges big tax hikes.

But you won’t be surprised to learn that the IMF doesn’t provide any evidence for this bizarre assertion.

Though I’ve had folks on the left sometimes tell me that bigger government must be good for growth because rich nations in the western world have bigger governments while poor nations in Africa have comparatively small governments.

If you want to get in the weeds of public finance theory, the IMF bureaucrats are misinterpreting Wagner’s Law.

But there’s no need to delve into theory. When people make this assertion to me, I challenge them to identify a poor nation that ever became a rich nation with big government.

It’s true, of course, that there are rich nations that have big governments, but all of those countries became rich in the 1800s when government was very small and welfare state programs were basically nonexistent.

So let’s take the previous chart, which supposedly showed too little spending in sub-Saharan Africa, and add another column (in red) showing the level of government spending in North America and Western Europe in the 1800s.

The obvious takeaway is that African nations should cut taxes and reducing spending. The exact opposite of what the IMF recommends.

In other words, the IMF’s agenda of bigger government and higher taxes is a recipe for continued poverty.

But keep in mind that fiscal policy is just one piece of the puzzle. As explained in Economic Freedom of the World, a nation’s prosperity also is affected by regulatory policy, trade policy, monetary policy, and quality of governance.

And nations in sub-Saharan Africa generally score even lower in those areas than they do for fiscal policy. So while those countries should reduce their fiscal burdens, it’s probably even more important for them to address other policy mistakes.

To end on an upbeat note, here’s a video from Reason about how free markets can help bring prosperity to Africa.

I also recommend this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity since it does a great job of debunking the argument that higher taxes and bigger government are a recipe for prosperity.

And this video about Botswana is a good case study of how African nations can enjoy more prosperity with market-oriented policy.

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I wrote last July about how greedy politicians in Seattle, Washington, were trying to impose a local income tax.

That effort has been stymied since there’s anti-income-tax language in the state constitution (Washington is one of nine states without that punitive levy), but that doesn’t mean the city’s tax-and-spend crowd has given up.

There’s a proposal for a new scheme to impose a “head tax” on successful companies.

The top three percent of the high grossing businesses in Seattle will carry the load of Seattle’s proposed employee head tax. Backers are calling it the “Progressive Tax on Business.” The tax will apply only to those companies with $20 million or more annually in taxable gross receipts as measured under the City’s Business and Occupation tax. The city estimates that will be 500 businesses. …the tax is based on total revenues and not net-income. …Councilmember Mike Obrien has been pushing to a head tax for two years and doesn’t believe businesses will leave Seattle because of it.

I suppose this might be a good opportunity to point out that this tax is bad for growth and that it will encourage out-migration from the city.

Or perhaps I could make a wonky point about how this tax is related to the income tax in the same way a gross receipts tax is related to a sales tax.

But I’m motivated instead to focus on the very heartening response to this tax grab by both business and labor.

Here’s how the city’s leading employer is responding.

Amazon is…making its opposition known to a proposed Seattle tax by bringing a halt to all planning on a massive project scheduled for construction in Downtown Seattle, and may tweak its plans to occupy a new downtown skyscraper. “I can confirm that pending the outcome of the head tax vote by City Council, Amazon has paused all construction planning on our Block 18 project in downtown Seattle and is evaluating options to sub-lease all space in our recently leased Rainier Square building,” says Amazon Vice President Drew Herdener. …Jon Scholes, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, said the City Council should take heed of Amazon’s decision.

But some of the class-warfare politicians are oblivious to real-world concerns.

Two supporters of the tax, City Council members Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien, seemed unmoved by Amazon’s decision. “I understand Amazon doesn’t like it. I’m sure they would love to go to a city that has no taxes. And maybe they will find that place,” O’Brien said. …Added Sawant, “Amazon is perfectly capable of paying that, double, even four times that.” She also called Amazon’s tactic “extortion.”

I don’t know if Sawant is an idiot or a demagogue. What’s she’s basically arguing is that if a victim runs away from a mugger, the victim is an extortionist.

Wow, that’s a novel (and French) way of looking at the world.

That being said, there’s probably nothing surprising about the business community resisting a tax on business. So here’s the part of the story that really warms my heart.

Private-sector workers also are protesting.

Construction workers shouted down Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant on Thursday as she attempted to speak in favor of Seattle ‘s proposed new “head tax” at an open-air news conference. The construction workers shouted “No head tax!” each time Sawant tried to speak in favor of the measure… The conference, held outside Amazon’s Spheres, was intended to show support for the head tax and opposition to Amazon’s announcement of a construction pause on a massive downtown construction project. But the group of about 20 construction workers showed up and drowned out Sawant’s message. …construction workers…praised Amazon for providing well-paying jobs to thousands of Seattle-area residents.

Unsurprisingly, Ms. Sawant doesn’t care about workers. She simply wants the money so she can buy votes.

Amazon would pay more than $20 million of that total under the proposal. …Sawant maintains that Amazon could easily afford to pay that amount.

Let’s close with some good news. Seattle isn’t normally considered a hotbed of free market thinking (though a disproportionate share of my readers are in the state of Washington).

So I’m guessing Ms. Sawant and her greedy colleagues probably are not very happy about this (admittedly unscientific) polling data.

This is very encouraging. Hopefully it’s a sign of the good things that can happen with private workers (unionized or not) and private employers join forces to protect themselves from politicians.

It will be interesting to see how the City Council responds. If they move forward with this tax grab, Seattle truly will be in the running to the Greece of America.

And if that trend continues, don’t be surprised if Amazon’s soon-to-be-announced second headquarters eventually morphs into its primary headquarters (hopefully without any cronyism).

P.S. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that the state of Washington should never, ever, allow a state income tax.

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When I did a poll earlier this year, asking which state would be the first to suffer a fiscal crisis, I wasn’t terribly surprised that Illinois wound up in first place.

But I was surprised by the margin. Even though there’s a good case to be made for basket-case jurisdictions such as New Jersey, California, and Connecticut, Illinois not only got a plurality of votes, it received an absolute majority.

Based on what’s happening in the Land of Lincoln, it appears that state politicians want to receive a supermajority of votes. There’s pressure for ever-higher taxes to finance an ever-more-bloated bureaucracy.

And taxpayers are voting with their feet.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized about the consequences of the state’s self-destructive fiscal policy.

Democrats in Illinois ought to be especially chastened by new IRS data showing an acceleration of out-migration. The Prairie State lost a record $4.75 billion in adjusted gross income to other states in the 2015 tax year, according to recently IRS data released. That’s up from $3.4 billion in the prior year. …Florida with zero income tax was the top destination for Illinois expatriates… What’s the matter with Illinois? Too much for us to distill in one editorial, but suffice to say that exorbitant property and business taxes have retarded economic growth. …Taxes may increase as Democrats scrounge for cash to pay for pensions. …Illinois’s unfunded pension liabilities equalled 22.8% of residents’ personal income last year, compared to a median of 3.1% across all states and 1% in Florida. …Illinois’s economy has been stagnant, growing a meager 0.9% on an inflation-adjusted annual basis since 2012—the slowest in the Great Lakes and half as fast as the U.S. overall. This year nearly 100,000 individuals have left the Illinois labor force.

Here’s a chart showing a very depressing decline in the state’s labor force.

By the way, I wonder whether the chart would look even worse if government bureaucrats weren’t included.

The Chicago Tribune has a grim editorial about what’s happening.

From millennials to retirees, …Illinois is losing its promise as a land of opportunity. Government debt and dysfunction contribute to a weak housing market and a stagnant jobs climate. State and local governments face enormous pension and other obligations. Taxes have risen sharply; many Illinois politicians say they must rise more. People are fleeing. Last year’s net loss: 33,703.

In an editorial for the Chicago Tribune, Kristen McQueary correctly worries about the trend.

It’s one thing to harbor natural skepticism toward government. It’s quite another to take the dramatic step of moving your family, your home, your livelihood to another state to escape it. But it’s happening. The naysayers and deniers blame the weather. They eye-roll the U-Haul rebellion. They downplay the dysfunction. Good riddance to those stingy taxpayers, they trumpet. But that is a shallow, ignorant and elitist viewpoint that dismisses the thoughtful and wrenching decisions thousands of once-devoted Illinoisans have made. For four years in a row, Illinois has lost population in alarming numbers. In 2017, Illinois lost a net 33,703 residents, the largest numerical population decline of any state. That’s the size of St. Charles or Woodridge or Galesburg. Wiped off the map. In one year. …Policy choices have consequences. …People are fleeing Illinois. And still, Democratic leaders in Chicago and Cook County, and their supporters, generally deny that high taxes, underfunded pensions, government debt and political dysfunction are the reasons for the exodus — or that it’s acute.

Newspapers in other states have noticed, as evinced by this editorial from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

When the progressive political class preaches equality and prosperity, but bleeds productive citizens dry by treating them as little more than human ATMs, there should be little surprise when those same citizens take themselves (and their green) to greener pastures. Perhaps no state in the nation is seeing a bigger such exodus than Illinois. …On the flip side, all of the states surrounding Illinois saw their populations increase… Illinois is experiencing a self-inflicted storm of fiscal distress. …While state income taxes in Illinois don’t reach they level impose in states such as New York and California, that’s not for a lack of trying. The state raised its rate by 32 percent over the summer, and Democrats want to even more progressive tax rates to pay for all the goodies they’ve promised to Big Labor in order to grease their re-elections. …Illinois is a financial basket case — which is what you get when you combine political patronage with powerful public-sector unions that control leftist politicians. The state should be a case study for other jurisdictions on how not to conduct public policy. After all, who will pay the bills when the taxpayers flee?

Steve Chapman, in a column for Reason, expects more bad news for Illinois because of pressure for higher taxes.

With the biggest public pension obligations, the slowest personal income growth, and the biggest population loss of any state, it has consistently recorded achievements that are envied by none but educational to all. The state is in the midst of a debilitating fiscal and economic crisis. …Illinois has endured two income tax increases in the past seven years. In 2011, the flat rate on individual income jumped from 3 percent to 5 percent. In 2015, under the original terms, it fell to 3.75 percent—a “cut” that left the rate 25 percent above what it was in 2010. Then last year, over Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto, the legislature raised the rate to 4.95 percent. None of these changes has ended the state’s economic drought, and it’s reasonable to assume they actually made it drier. …well-paid people can’t generally leave the country to find lower tax rates. They can leave one state for another, and they do. …A 2016 poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University found that nearly half of residents would like to leave the state—and that “taxes are the single biggest reason people want to leave.”

The Wall Street Journal opined on the state’s slow-motion suicide.

The only…restraint…on public union governance in Illinois…the state’s flat income tax. …Democrats in Springfield have filed three constitutional amendments to establish a graduated income tax… Democrats are looking for more revenue to finance ballooning pension costs, which consume about a quarter of state spending. …Connecticut and New Jersey provide cautionary examples. Democrats in both states have soaked their rich time and again, and the predictable result is that both states have fewer rich to soak. Economic growth slowed and revenues faltered. This vicious cycle is already playing out in Illinois amid increasing property, income and business taxes. Over the last four years, Illinois GDP has risen a mere 0.9% per year, half the national average and the slowest in the Great Lakes region. Between 2012 and 2016, Illinois lost $18.35 billion in adjusted gross income to other states. …Democrats claim a progressive income tax will spare the middle-class, but sooner or later they’ll be the targets too because there won’t be enough rich to finance the inexorable demands of public unions. …Once voters approve a progressive tax, Democrats can ratchet up rates as their union lords dictate.

While a bloated and over-compensated bureaucracy (especially unfunded promises for lavish retiree benefits) is the top fiscal drain, the state also loves squandering money in other ways.

Here are some excerpts from a piece in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Illinois is the dependency capital of the Midwest. No other state in the region has more of its population dependent on food stamps… So what’s driving the state’s dependency crisis? State bureaucrats using loopholes and gimmicks to keep more people dependent on welfare. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, nearly 175,000 able-bodied childless adults are on the program. These are adults in their prime working years — between the ages of 18 and 49 — with no dependent children and no disabilities keeping them from meaningful employment. …the state has relied upon loopholes and gimmicks to trap more and more able-bodied adults in dependency. Federal law allows states to seek temporary waivers of the work requirement in areas with unemployment rates above 10 percent or with a demonstrated lack of job opportunities in the region. …the Illinois Department of Human Services…used old data and it gerrymandered the request in whatever way was necessary to keep more able-bodied adults on welfare. …State bureaucrats have gamed the system and as a result, thousands of able-bodied adults will remain trapped in dependency, with little hope of better lives.

Let’s close with some excerpts from a very depressing column in the Chicago Tribune by Diana Sroka Rickert.

…this is a state government that has been broken for decades. It is designed to reject improvement in every form, at every level. …The Thompson Center…is a near-perfect representation of state government. It is gross, rundown, and nobody cares. …there is a disturbing sense of entitlement among some state employees. …Underperformers aren’t fired; they’re simply transferred to different positions, shuffled elsewhere on the payroll or tucked away at state agencies. …this is a state government that is ranked last by almost every objective and measurable standard. A state government that fails every single one of its residents, day after day — and has failed its residents for decades. A state government that demands more and more money each year, to deliver increasingly less value.

Keep in mind, incidentally, that all this bad news will almost certainly become worse news thanks to last year’s tax reform. Restricting the state and local tax deduction means a much smaller implicit federal subsidy for high-tax states.

P.S. If you want good news on state tax policy, South Dakota may have the nation’s best system. And North Carolina arguably has taken the biggest step in the right direction. Kentucky, meanwhile, has just switched to a flat tax.

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I’ve been in Prague the past few days for a meeting of the European Resource Bank. I spoke today about a relatively unknown international bureaucracy called the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and I warned that it is going through a process of OECD-ization, which is simply my way of saying it is pursuing bad policy.

I’ll write about that issue in the near future, but today’s topic is based on a presentation from Michael Jäger of the Barvarian Taxpayers Association. He shared some depressing data on how the German government imposed a surtax for the ostensibly limited purpose of helping the finance the reunification of West Germany and East Germany.

But limited apparently means forever.

You’ll notice two things in the chart he shared..

  • First, the German government has been the big winner from this new levy, collecting €214 billion euros over the past 15 years and spending less than €157 billion euros. In other words, the politicians now have a lot of extra loot to spend elsewhere.
  • Second, revenues continue to rise even though the ostensible purpose of the tax is disappearing. Herr Jäger is pressuring the German government to eliminate the tax, but Frau Merkel apparently has little interest in reducing the nation’s tax burden.

To save non-German speakers from having to translate, the dark blue bars are “federal allocations to new states” and the light blue bars are “revenues from the solidarity surcharge.”

The big lesson to learn from this data is that temporary taxes are like temporary programs. They will last forever unless politicians somehow can br pressured to reduce their grip on the economy.

And that’s not easy, though I told some participants in the conference that it could be done. The United States government actually repealed a temporary telephone tax that was imposed to help finance the Spanish-American War.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the tax wasn’t repealed until last decade, more than 100 years after that war ended. I’m not joking.

Another painful lesson is that taxes on the rich often wind up penalizing other people. The Spanish-American War telephone tax was supposed to hit rich people since they were the ones who first utilized telephone technology.

But then the rest of us eventually got telephones as well, and we also had to pay the tax.

Just as the income tax was first imposed on just a tiny handful of very wealthy people, but it eventually morphed into a malignant tax code that now bedevils tens of millions of households with modest incomes.

Something to keep in mind when the crowd in Washington says we should have a value-added tax. Based on what’s happened in Europe, I guarantee it would just be a matter of time before that tax became more onerous to finance an ever-expanding burden of government spending.

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