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Archive for the ‘Local government’ Category

There are several options if you want to measure economic freedom and competitiveness among nations (rankings from the Fraser Institute, Heritage Foundation, and World Economic Forum).

You also have many choices if you want to measure economic freedom and competitiveness among states (rankings from the Tax Foundation, Mercatus Center, and Fraser Institute).

But there’s never been a good source if you want to know which local jurisdiction is best.

Dean Stansel of Southern Methodist University is helping to fill this gap with a report looking at the relative quality of government policy in various metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs encompass not just a city, but also economically relevant suburbs).

…the level of economic freedom can vary across subnational jurisdictions within the same country (e.g., Texas and Florida have less-burdensome economic policies and therefore much greater economic freedom than New York and California). However, levels of economic freedom can also vary within those subnational jurisdictions. For example, the San Jose metro area has substantially higher economic freedom than Los Angeles. The same is true for Nashville compared to Memphis. In some places, metropolitan areas straddle state borders, skewing state-level economic data. This report quantifies those intra-state disparities by providing a local-level version of the EFNA, ranking 382 metropolitan areas by their economic freedom levels.

So who wins this contest?

Here are the five most-free MSAs. It’s worth noting that all of them are in states with no income tax, which shows that good state policy helps.

What if we limit ourselves to large cities?

Here are the five most-free MSAs with population over 1 million. As you can see, Houston is in first place and zero-income-tax Texas and Florida are well represented.

Now let’s shift to the localities on the bottom of the rankings.

Which MSA is the worst place for economic freedom in America?

Congratulations to El Centro in California for winning this booby prize. As you can see, jurisdictions in New York and California dominate.

What if we look are larger jurisdictions, those with over 1 million people?

In this case, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario is the worst place to live.

Though if you want to focus on big cities, the NYC metro area deserves special mention.

Now let’s consider why economic freedom matters.

I’ve shared charts showing how more economic freedom leads to more prosperity in nations.

The same thing is true for states.

So you shouldn’t be surprised to discover that it also is true for metro areas.

Last but not least, here’s a map showing freedom in all MSAs.

I’m not surprised to see so much red in California and New York, but I didn’t realize that Ohio (thanks for nothing, Kasich), Oregon, and West Virginia were so bad.

And the good results for Texas and Florida are predictable, but I didn’t think Virginia would look so good.

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I’ve periodically opined about why politicians should not try to control people’s behavior with discriminatory taxes, such as the ones being imposed on soda.

And I’ve cited some examples of how these taxes backfire.

If the following headlines are any indication, we can add Philadelphia to that list.

For instances, this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Or this story from the local CBS affiliate.

These examples reinforce my view that it is not a good idea to let meddling politicians impose more taxes in an effort to control people’s behavior.

Some of my left-leaning friends periodically remind me, however, that there’s a difference between anecdotes and evidence. There’s a lot of truth to that cautionary observation.

To be sure, I could simply respond by saying a pattern is evident when a couple of anecdotes turns into dozens of anecdotes. And when dozens become hundreds, surely it’s possible to say the pattern shows causality.

That being said, it is good to have rigorous, statistics-based analysis if we really want to convince skeptics.

So let’s look at the results of some new academic research from scholars at Stanford, Northwestern, and the University of Minnesota. We’ll start with the abstract, which nicely summarizes their findings about the impact of Philadelphia’s big soda tax.

We analyze the impact of a tax on sweetened beverages, often referred to as a “soda tax,” using a unique data-set of prices, quantities sold and nutritional information across several thousand taxed and untaxed beverages for a large set of stores in Philadelphia and its surrounding area. We find that the tax is passed through at a rate of 75-115%, leading to a 30-40% price increase. Demand in the taxed area decreases dramatically by 42% in response to the tax. There is no significant substitution to untaxed beverages (water and natural juices), but cross-shopping at stores outside of Philadelphia completely o↵sets the reduction in sales within the taxed area. As a consequence, we find no significant reduction in calorie and sugar intake.

Here are some of their conclusions.

We draw several lessons about the effectiveness of local sweetened-beverage taxes from these analyses. First, the tax was ineffective at reducing consumption of unhealthy products. Second, in terms of revenue generation, the tax was only partly effective due to consumers substituting to stores outside of Philadelphia. Third, low income households are less likely to engage in cross-shopping, and instead are more likely to continue to purchase taxed products at a higher price at stores in Philadelphia. The lower propensity for low income households to avoid the tax through cross-shopping leads to a relatively larger tax burden for those households. In summary, the tax does not lead to a shift in consumption towards healthier products, it affects low income households more severely, and it is limited in its ability to raise revenue.

If you’re wondering why consumers responded so strongly, here’s a chart from the study showing the price difference after the tax was imposed.

The bottom numbers in Figure 3 show that some sales still occurred in the city, but a persistent gap between city sales and suburban sales appeared.

And here’s what happened to sales inside the city (taxed) and outside the city (untaxed).

Wow. This data makes me wonder if suburban sellers will start contributing to the Philadelphia politicians who have generated this windfall?

Others have noticed how the tax is hurting rather than helping.

The Wall Street Journal opined about the failure of Philly’s soda tax.

When Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to pass a soda tax in 2016, Mayor Jim Kenney said it would improve public health while funding universal pre-K. Two years in, the policy hasn’t delivered on that elite ideological goal. But the tax has come at the expense of working people… On Jan. 2, Brown’s Super Stores announced the closure of a ShopRite on Haverford Avenue. The supermarket is close to the city limit, and customers discovered they could avoid the soda tax by shopping outside Philly. …the once-profitable store began losing about $1 million a year. …That means fewer opportunities for workers with a criminal record. Mr. Brown’s supermarkets employ more than 600 of them, with the majority in Philadelphia. Some of the ex-cons have become his most-valued employees.

And Kyle Smith explained in National Review how the tax backfired.

Philadelphia’s outlandish soda tax is what Democratic-party politics looks like when it lets its freak flag fly. So many classic elements are there: (failed) social engineering and “think of the children!” on one side, paid for with a punitive tax on poor people and destroyed businesses, which means destroyed jobs, which in turn means lives upended. …Now that beer is, in some cases, cheaper than soda in Philadelphia, alcohol sales are up sharply. …the total loss attributable to the tax in sales of all items was $300,000 a month per store. Other, untaxed drinks also suffered sales declines within the city, suggesting people were simply saving up their shopping trips for when they left town.

I don’t feel compelled to add much to what’s been cited.

Though I will cite a headline from the Seattle Times to reinforce one of the points in the academic study about consumers bearing the cost of the tax rather than the soda companies.

And my one modest contribution to all this analysis is this comparison of the winners and loser from Philadelphia’s new tax.

For what it’s worth, similar comparisons could be developed for just about every action by every government. Academics call this “public choice” while ordinary people realize it’s just common sense.

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I often write about the failure of government.

In other words, there’s lots of evidence that government spending makes things worse.

Needless to say, this puts a lot of pressure on folks who favor bigger government. They desperately want to find any type of success story so they can argue that increasing the size and scope of the public sector generates some sort of payoff.

And they got their wish. Check out the ostensibly good news in a story from the San Fransisco Chronicle.

Investing billions of dollars in affordable housing and homeless programs in recent years has apparently put the brakes on what had been a surge in California’s homeless population, causing it to dip by 1 percent this year, a federal report released Monday showed. …The report put California’s homeless population this year at 129,972, a drop of 1,560 in the number of people on the streets in 2017. …“I think San Francisco has shown that when targeted investments are made, we see reductions in homelessness here,” Kositsky said. He pointed out that family, youth and chronic veterans homelessness dropped in the city’s last full count — although the number of chronically homeless people went up.

Maybe I’m not in the Christmas spirit, but I don’t see this as a feel-good story.

Are we really supposed to celebrate the fact that the government spent “billions of dollars” and the net effect is that the homeless population dropped just 1 percent?

The story doesn’t contain enough details for precise measurements, but even if we assume “billions” is merely $2 billion, then it cost taxpayers close to $1.3 million to get one person off the street. For that amount of money, taxpayers could have bought each of them a mansion!

In other words, the program has been a rotten investment. Heck, it makes Social Security seem like a good deal by comparison.

To be sure, maybe the number isn’t quite so bad because we’re comparing multi-year outlays with a one-year change in the homeless population. Though maybe the number is even worse because taxpayers actually coughed up far more than $2 billion.

The bottom line is that if my friends on the left see this as an example of success, I’d hate to see their definition of failure.

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I wrote back in 2011 about a bizarre plan in California to regulate babysitting.

You may be thinking that’s no big deal because California is…wellCalifornia.

But other governments also want to control private child care decisions. The latest example is from the District of Columbia, which is going after children’s play groups.

Lenore Skenazy explains the craziness in a column for Reason.

For 45 years, parents have brought their two-year-olds to the Lutheran Church of the Reformation as part of a cooperative play school endeavor. It’s a chance to socialize with other haggard moms and (presumably some) dads dealing with the terrible twos, and it’s volunteer run. …The problem—which isn’t actually a problem, unless you define it as such—is that because the play group has some rules and requirements, including the fact that parents must submit emergency contact forms, as well as tell the group when their kid is sick, the play group is not a play group but a “child development facility.” And child development facilities are subject to regulation and licensing by the government. As Lips points out, this actually creates an incentive for parent-run play groups to be less safe, because if they don’t have rules about emergency contact info, and how to evacuate and such, they are considered officially “informal” and can go on their merry, possibly slipshod, way… Take a step back and you see a group of people—toddlers and parents—enjoying themselves. They’re meeting, playing, and perfectly content. But another group is trying to butt in and end the fun—and the convenience.

And what is that “annoying group”? It’s the bureaucrats who issued the play group a “statement of deficiencies.”

The Wall Street Journal also opined on the issue.

The District of Columbia is literally targeting preschool play dates, claiming that parents need city approval before they can baby-sit their friends’ toddlers. Since the 1970s, parents have organized play dates at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on East Capitol Street. They formed a nonprofit to pay for the rent, insurance, snacks and Play-Doh, and each family chips in about $200 a year to cover expenses. …The fun and games ended Sept. 7 when gumshoes from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education showed up. They claimed the Capitol Hill Cooperative Play School counts as a day care center and is operating unlawfully. If the bureaucrats get their way, the co-op would have to hire a director with a background in childhood education or development, apply and pay for a license, obtain permits and abide by all other day-care regulations.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that day-care regulations in DC are ridiculously expensive and misguided.

Anyhow, the WSJ also observes that the play school could evade red tape by being less-well organized. Heckuva set of incentives!

…the day-care police claim the Capitol Hill Cooperative Play School is “formal” because it has a website, draws participants from a hat to limit play-date sizes, and hosts scheduled get-togethers. In other words, the parents aren’t organized enough for the government’s satisfaction but are too organized to escape its harassment. …State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang is pushing for more government control over the play dates. She wants mandatory emergency drills, sign-out sheets, CPR and first-aid certification for parent volunteers, limits on the frequency and number of hours co-ops can meet, among other requirements. Nannying the nannies will make life tougher on parents—who have a greater interest than the D.C. government does in ensuring their kids are in good hands.

The final sentence of that excerpt is key.

Parents aren’t perfect, but they have a far greater stake in making right decisions than a bunch of busy-body bureaucrats looking to expand their power.

P.S. This is one of the reasons I support school choice (and also object to throwing more money into government schools). Parents are far more likely to do right for their kids than faraway self-interested bureaucrats.

P.P.S. The bureaucratic version of the keystone cops would include the play-group police in addition to the milk police and the bagpipe police.

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Back in 2012, I was both amused and horrified to learn that the Greek government actually required entrepreneurs to submit…um…stool samples if they wanted to set up online companies.

Well, there’s apparently a surplus of that…er…material on the streets of San Francisco. A local radio station even shared a map of places to avoid (or to seek out, who am I to judge?).

It’s become such a big problem that the city’s government decided to act. But instead of enforcing rules against public defecation, they’ve created a new bureaucracy. I’m not joking.

Some people are questioning the city’s priorities, as reported by the Sacramento Bee.

San Francisco’s…flush with potty problems — the city has received 14,597 complaints about feces on its sidewalks since January… Now city leaders have unveiled plans for a six-person poop patrol to try to address the issue… But the very concept of a poop patrol inspired skepticism, mockery and, yes, poop emojis… “Instead of telling people to USE A BATHROOM!! San Francisco is going to send out a pooper scooper Patrol to pick it up,” wrote one person. “Lord help us all.” …Others posting to Twitter had questions. “Will the poop patrol get hazardous duty pay?” asked one person, while another wanted to know.

Business Insider has details about this new “poop patrol.”

In San Francisco, you can earn more than $184,000 a year in salary and benefits for cleaning up feces. As members of the city’s “Poop Patrol,” workers are entitled to $71,760 a year, plus an additional $112,918 in benefits… The staffers will begin their efforts each afternoon equipped with a steam cleaner for sanitizing the streets. The full budget for the initiative, $830,977, signifies a concerted effort to address the city’s mounting feces problem, which has resulted in more than 14,500 calls to 311.

That’s a lot of money, though this is a rare instance of where I won’t make my usual argument about bureaucrats being overpaid.

In any event (as is so often the case), bad government policy is the root cause of the problem.

While the high salaries of sanitation workers may incentivize further cleanup, the city will ultimately have to contend with its affordability crisis if it hopes to eliminate the problem. That would mean addressing restrictive zoning laws that make it both difficult and expensive to add affordable developments.

Yes, there’s this simple concept called supply and demand. And when San Francisco politicians don’t let people use their property to create more housing, then ever-higher prices are an inevitable result. But I guess they are too busy dealing with real problems…such as toys in Happy Meals.

To be sure, I’m not under any illusion that abolition of zoning laws and creation of a laissez-faire housing market would completely solve the poop problem. Much of that anti-social behavior is probably linked to mental illness and/or drug abuse.

But less zoning would mean less s**t. Seems like a compelling bumper sticker to me.

P.S. I don’t know if this story belong in my series on “Great Moments in Local Government” or if the poop patrol belongs in the “Bureaucrat Hall of Fame.”

P.P.S. Things can always get worse. Senator Kamala Harris has a hare-brained proposal that would trigger even higher prices for rental housing.

P.P.P.S. San Francisco also has a poop problem even when people use toilets instead of sidewalks.

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When I first created the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame, I confess that my standards were a bit slack. I awarded membership to government workers that are grossly overpaid (see here and here, for instance), but otherwise didn’t really do anything special to merit awards.

In recent years, I’ve been more judicious. I only give the “honor” to bureaucrats who go above and beyond the call of duty.

  • A new Jersey bureaucrat got almost $250,000 per year for simultaneously holding six different government jobs.
  • Figuratively screwing taxpayers wasn’t good enough for a welfare bureaucrat in Pennsylvania.
  • The civil servant at the Veterans Administration who overlooked deadly waiting lists but had…um…time on his hands for other things.

There’s even a foreign wing in the BHoF

We’re going to expand our list today, but by using a different approach. We’re going to have a poll so you can decide which bureaucrat is most worthy.

Is Darryl De Sousa the most deserving?

Federal prosecutors have charged Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa with three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal taxes… De Sousa, 53, willfully failed to file federal tax returns for 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite having been a salaried employee of the Police Department in those years, prosecutors said Thursday. …“There is no excuse for my failure to fulfill my obligations as a citizen and public official,” he said in a statement. “My only explanation is that I failed to sufficiently prioritize my personal affairs.” …Mayor Catherine Pugh expressed “full confidence” in De Sousa. …De Sousa earned $93,104 in 2013, when he is first accused of failing to file taxes. He earned $101,985 in 2014 and $127,089 in 2015. …The Police Department routinely suspends with pay officers accused of a misdemeanors pending the outcome of the case. De Sousa remained on the job Thursday. He currently earns a salary of $210,000 a year.

Does Thomas Tramaglini merit this award?

The Kenilworth school superintendent charged Monday with defecating in public was caught in the act at the Holmdel High School football field and track after surveillance was set up due to human feces being found “on a daily basis,” police said. Thomas Tramaglini, 42, …was running at the track on the athletic fields at 5:50 a.m. before he was arrested. Track coaches and staff at Holmdel High School told the district’s resource officer that they found human feces on or near the football field and track daily… Tramaglini is also charged with lewdness and littering.

Should Donn Thompson win the prize?

Los Angeles firefighter Donn Thompson had a busy year in 2017. If his pay stubs are to be believed, he literally never stopped working. Data obtained by Transparent California…show that Thompson pulled down $300,000 in overtime pay during 2017, on top of his $92,000 salary. Over the past four years, Thompson has earned more than $1 million in overtime… To earn that much in overtime pay, Thompson would have had to work more hours than actually exist in a single year. Either the highly paid firefighter found a way to stretch the space-time continuum or something fishy is going on. …earning $302,000 at a rate of $47.40 per hour would require working more than 6,370 hours. Add that to the 2,912 hours he worked as a salaried employee, and you get more than 9,280 hours worked, despite the fact that there are only 8,760 hours in a year. …Thompson…might very well be the highest paid firefighter in American history. …During 2017, the Los Angeles Fire Department had 512 employees who cashed in with at least $100,000 in overtime pay… Thompson was one of 26 employees to get at least $200,000 in overtime pay.

This is a tough contest.

In Baltimore, I suspect ordinary people don’t get a mulligan when they commit a crime, so Mr. De Sousa’s kid-glove treatment stands out. I’m also impressed (in a bad way) that his salary soared from $93K to $210K in just five years. Nice work if you can get it.

On the other hand, Mr. Tramaglini has…um…layed down a special type of marker. Was he inspired by fellow bureaucrats from the Postal Service and Environmental Protection Agency?

But let’s not forget Mr. Thompson. Claiming to have worked more hours than actually exist is rather extraordinary. Though ripping off taxpayers apparently is a tradition for firefighters, particularly in California.

As they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often.

If you like making your opinion heard, my most recent poll was about which state will be the first to suffer political collapse. And my favorite poll was to pick the best political cartoonist.

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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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