Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘States’ Category

Like any sensible person, I want victimless crimes to be legalized. In part because I believe in freedom, but also for utilitarian reasons.

  • I don’t approve of drugs and I’ve never used drugs, but I think the social harm of prohibition is greater than the social harm of legalization.
  • I don’t particularly like alcohol and I am almost a teetotaler, but I’m glad there’s now a consensus that the social harm of prohibition was greater than the social harm of legalization.
  • I don’t approve of prostitution and I’ve never consorted with a prostitute (other than the political ones in DC), but I think the social harm of prohibition is greater than the social harm of legalization.

So it won’t surprise you to learn that I want gambling to be legal because the social harm of prohibition is greater than the social harm of legalization.

But that definitely doesn’t mean I want government to be in charge, which is why I’m not a fan of state-sponsored lotteries.

Joe Setyon, in a column for Reason, points out that politicians are the only group that actually benefits from these schemes.

At some point in the near future, the record-high Mega Millions jackpot is going to make someone very, very rich. But as is usually the case when it comes to the lottery, the biggest winner will be the government. …there are a few things us suckers need to keep in mind about the lotto. First, the majority of lottery revenue goes back to the government. In 2015, The Atlantic estimated that 40 percent of all lottery ticket sales are allocated to state governments. …Meanwhile, some states that allow lotteries crush their competition with strict gambling regulations. In Texas, for instance, most forms of gambling are illegal. This means the government has a near-monopoly. The double standard for public and private gambling operations is obvious. Ultimately, the lottery system is a kind of regressive tax on low-income earners. “If the promised return is by far illusory—and it is—it would be hard to argue that those purchases do not constitute a tax on those who believe the state’s hype,” Fiscal Policy Institute research associate Brent Kramer wrote in 2010.

And here’s an article from CNBC that reveals the unpalatable tax consequences for the “lucky” people who happen to win a big prize.

…there’s at least one guaranteed recipient of a chunk of the loot — the IRS. …If you happen to beat the astronomical odds and hit all winning numbers in either game, be aware that the taxation of your prize starts before even reaching you. Whether you take your haul as a lump sum or as an annuity spread out over three decades, your win is reduced by a 24 percent federal tax withholding… The immediate cash option for Mega Millions is $904 million. The federal withholding would reduce that by $217 million. For the $354.3 million Powerball lump sum, it would mean $85 million getting shaved off the top. …However, that’s just the start of what you’d owe. The top income tax rate for individuals is 37 percent… That rate applies to adjusted gross income of $500,000 or more. In other words, hitting either jackpot would mean facing that top rate. …On top of the federal withholding, you’ll owe state taxes on the money unless you live where lottery wins are untaxed. …Translation: You might pay north of 45 percent altogether in taxes, depending on where you purchased the ticket and where you live.

In other words, the government pillages people when they buy tickets.

And then the government pillages the tiny fraction of people who actually win something.

As I wrote above, the only real winners are politicians.

The biggest losers, by the way, are poor people.

Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute summed up this sad state of affairs in a column for the Wall Street Journal.

Powerball—the lottery shared by 44 states, the District of Columbia and two territories—is just one of the sweepstakes run by 47 jurisdictions in the U.S. These games produce nearly $70 billion a year in government revenue and enjoy profits of about 33%—much higher than margins in the private gambling industry. Who are these lotteries’ most loyal customers? Poor people. …the poorest third of Americans buy more than half of all lotto tickets… Scholars have dug up evidence that states intentionally direct such ads at vulnerable citizens. A marketing plan for Ohio’s lottery some years back recommended scheduling campaigns to coincide with the distribution of “government benefits, payroll and Social Security payments.” …the average return from $1 spent on lottery tickets is 52 cents… After a state introduces the lotto, the bottom third of households shift about 3% of their food expenditures and 7% of their mortgage payments, rent and other bills. Effectively, the lottery works like a regressive tax. …Is there any set of policies more contradictory than pushing lotto tickets on poor people, and then signing them up for welfare programs that make them financially dependent on the government?

Here’s some additional analysis from the Wall Street Journal, this time from Holman Jenkins.

Gambling is what economists call an “inferior good”—demand is higher among those at the lower end of the income scale. As economist Sam Papenfuss argued in a 1998 paper, state-sponsored gambling became popular as a way for high-income taxpayers to recoup some of the money spent on programs for the poor. State-sponsored gambling in the form of lotteries (now in 44 states) arrived on the same antitax wave that gave us property-tax caps and other antitax measures in the 1970s and ’80s. It should not surprise anyone that Democrats, as big supporters of the welfare state, have been the biggest supporters (though by no means exclusively so) of gambling as a way to finance it.

Last but not least, here are excerpts from a column I wrote for the Washington Times more than 20 years ago.

…government-run lotteries represent bad public policy. The No. 1 objection is that they lead to more government spending. …Perhaps even more disturbing, government lotteries victimize the poor. More than any other group, lower-income residents are the ones who play the lottery, often shelling out hundreds of dollars each year in the hope of striking it rich. Yet these are precisely the people who should avoid lotteries. As an investment, lotteries are lousy, paying out only about half of what they take in. …why should state governments be running lotteries? If nothing else, lotteries show how much better consumers are treated by the free market system. Private gambling operations pay out about 90 cents for every dollar wagered (even higher for games such as blackjack), a far better deal than the miserly return provided by government-run lotteries. …This analysis applies to illegal gambling as well. Bookies traditionally allow customers to bet against the point spread for sporting events, and they make their money by applying a 10 percent charge on the money wagered by those who make losing bets.

Two decades later and I wouldn’t change a single thing I wrote.

I don’t like when politicians mistreat rich people, but I get far more upset when they do things that impose disproportionate costs on poor people. This is one of the reasons I don’t like government flood insurance, Social Security, the Export-Import Bank, the mortgage interest deduction, or the National Endowment for the Arts.

And lotteries definitely belong on that list as well.

I’m not a paternalist. I support legal gambling and I don’t want to prohibit poor people from making (what I think) are misguided decisions.

But at least leave the gambling to the private sector so poor people will get back, on average, 90 cents of every dollar they bet.

P.S. I just had a horrifying thought. What if politicians decided to legalize prostitution because they wanted more revenue. But instead of legalizing and taxing (like they do – often to excess – with marijuana), what if they followed the lottery approach and we wound up with government-run brothels?!?

P.P.S. To be fair, the government will continue to give you food stamps if you become a lottery millionaire.

Read Full Post »

I recently wrote about the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, which is a snapshot of current competitiveness (New Jersey is in last place, which shouldn’t surprise anyone).

But what if we want to know which states are moving in the right direction or wrong direction?

If so, the best document to review is Chris Edwards’ Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.

The new edition just came out, so I immediately looked at the rankings. The nation’s best governor – by a comfortable margin – is Susana Martinez of New Mexico.

She is joined by four other governors who earned top marks.

Eight governors, including two Republicans, were in the cellar.

The report has some other data worth sharing.

Here’s a chart that shows what has happened to state spending this century. What caught my eye is the boom-bust cycle of excessive spending growth when the economy is growing (and generating lots of revenue) and cutbacks during the downturn.

Yet another argument for spending caps, such as TABOR in Colorado.

Last but not least, the report included some analysis on tax-driven migration (the topic we covered last week).

Read Full Post »

Back in April, I chatted with Stuart Varney about how some states were in deep trouble because they were being squeezed by having to finance huge unfunded liabilities for bureaucrats, yet they were constrained by the fact that taxpayers have the freedom to move when tax burdens become excessive.

I now have a reason to share the interview because Chris Edwards described this phenomenon of tax-driven migration in a new column for the Daily Caller.

New Jersey’s richest person, David Tepper, moved with his hedge fund business to Florida in 2016. That single move cost the state of New Jersey up to $100 million a year in lost income taxes. Yet, this year, New Jersey’s Democratic governor Phil Murphy hiked the top income tax rate from 8.97 to 10.75 percent. Murphy wanted to raise revenue, but the hike won’t do if it prompts more of the rich to leave. The top 1 percent in New Jersey pay 37 percent of the state’s income taxes. Connecticut is also losing its wealthiest residents after tax hikes by Democratic governor Dan Malloy. In recent years, the state has lost stock trading entrepreneur Thomas Peterffy (worth $20 billion), executive C. Dean Metropoulos ($2 billion), and hedge fund managers Paul Tudor Jones ($4 billion) and Edward Lampert ($3 billion). Those folks all fled to Florida, which has no income tax or estate tax. …High taxes are driving the wealthy out of California. Ken Fisher moved Fisher Investments from California to Washington state, which also has no income tax. The billionaire said he wanted a lower-tax location for his 2,000 employees. Mark Spitznagel moved his Universal Investments from California to Florida, saying that “Florida’s business-friendly policies, which are so different from California’s, offer the perfect environment for this.” The “tax freedom exodus” will accelerate in the wake of the 2017 federal tax law. The law capped the deduction for state and local taxes, which subjected 25 million mainly higher-income households to the full tax burden imposed in high-tax states.

It’s important to ask, though, whether these moves are a trend or just random.

In a more detailed study he produced, Chris crunched that national data and found there is a relationship between tax burdens and migration patterns.

It’s not a perfect relationship, of course, since there are many factors that might lead households to move across state lines.

But tax is definitely part of the equation, especially since high-tax states no longer receive a big indirect subsidy from Uncle Sam.

A column in the Wall Street Journal explores this aspect of the issue.

…real-estate professionals say they are beginning to see early signs of an exodus to low-tax states. “I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of clients who want to purchase in Palm Beach to establish residency in Florida,” says Chris Leavitt, director of luxury sales at Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Palm Beach. …Real-estate developer David Hutchinson, president of Ketchum, Idaho-based VP Cos., is touting the tax advantages of living in Nevada on his company website… The border between California and Nevada bisects Lake Tahoe. Californians to the west can pay a state income-tax rate of up to 13.3%, while Nevada residents just 30 minutes to the east pay no state income taxes.

A Democratic political consultant warns that his party could be hurt.

With state deductions now capped at $10,000, the cost of living in states such as California and New York – where state taxes are notoriously high – is increasing substantially. This has the potential to lead both middle-class families, and even the wealthy, to begin questioning whether it is time to move to a more tax-friendly state. …In one high-profile example of the impact of high taxes, professional golfer Phil Mickelson recently slammed California’s taxes and threated to leave the state. “If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate’s 62, 63 percent,” Mickelson said. …New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo – seeking re-election this year and a potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender – recognizes the threat that tax migration may pose. “If you lose the taxpayers, you lose the revenue,” Cuomo said in December.

Though maybe it would be better for Governor Cuomo to say “lost the revenue.”

Here’s another chart from Chris Edwards’ study. The light-blue states are attracting the most new residents (i.e., taxpayers) while the bright-red states (like New York) are losing the most residents (former taxpayers).

Needless to say, the states with better tax policy tend to be net recipients of taxpayers, and taxable income.

In closing, it’s important to understand that tax-motivated migration also exists between countries.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the New York Times.

When a country begins to fall into economic and political difficulty, wealthy people are often the first to ship their money to safer havens abroad. The rich don’t always emigrate along with their money, but when they do, it is an even more telling sign of trouble. …In a global population of 15 million people each worth more than $1 million in net assets, nearly 100,000 changed their country of residence last year. …In 2017, the largest exoduses came out of Turkey (where a stunning 12 percent of the millionaire population emigrated) and Venezuela. As if on cue, the Turkish lira is now in a free fall. There were also significant migrations out of India under the tightening grip of its overzealous tax authorities… Millionaire migrations can be a positive sign for a nation’s economy. The losses for India, Russia and Turkey were gains for havens like Canada and Australia, joined lately by the United Arab Emirates. …Millionaires move money mainly out of self-interest, to find more rewarding or safer havens. There aren’t a lot of them, but they can tell us a great deal about what is going wrong — and right — in a country’s economic and political ecosystems. Leaders who create the right conditions to keep millionaires home will find that all of their residents — not just the wealthy ones — are richer for it.

I like footloose millionaires because – as discussed in the article – they act as canaries in the coal mine. When they start moving, that sends a helpful signal to the rest of us.

And I also cheer migrating millionaires since they can cause big Laffer-Curve effects. And that puts an external constraint on the greed of politicians.

Which helps ordinary taxpayers like you and me since politicians generally use higher tax burden on the rich as a softening-up tactic before grabbing more money from the masses.

Read Full Post »

Politicians who preach class warfare repeatedly assert that we need higher taxes on “the rich.”

Indeed, that’s been the biggest political issue (and oftentimes biggest economic issue) in every recent tax fight (the Trump tax reform and Obama’s fiscal cliff), as well as the issue that generates the most controversy when discussing tax reform.

So it seems almost inconceivable that the class-warfare crowd would support a change to the tax code that would only benefit the top-10 percent, right?

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening in the fight over the deduction for state and local taxes.

Democrats want to restore an unlimited deduction, thereby enabling people to shield more of their income from tax. But, as the Tax Foundation notes, that change only produces benefits for upper-income taxpayers.

Itemized deductions such as the SALT deduction are mostly utilized by higher-income individuals. As such, any change to the SALT deduction will chiefly impact them. In addition, the value of a deduction increases as a taxpayer’s statutory tax rate increases. A deduction against the top rate of 37 percent is more valuable than a deduction against the 32 percent tax rate. We estimate that eliminating the SALT deduction cap would have no impact on taxpayers in the bottom two income quintiles and a negligible impact on taxpayers in the third and fourth quintiles. …However, taxpayers in the top 5 and 1 percent of income earners would see an increase in after-tax income of 1.6 percent and 3.7 percent respectively.

And if restoring the deduction is “paid for” by raising the corporate tax rate, the net effect is to raise taxes on the bottom-90 percent in order to give a tax to top-10 percent.

Or, to be more precise, to give a tax cut to the top-1 percent.

Some of you may be thinking that the Tax Foundation leans right and therefore can’t be trusted.

So let’s look at some research from the Tax Policy Center, which is a joint project of the left-leaning Urban Institute and left-leaning Brookings Institution.

Only about 9 percent of households would benefit from repeal of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s (TCJA) $10,000 cap on the state and local property tax (SALT) deduction, and more than 96 percent of the tax cut would go to the highest-income 20 percent of households… For all middle-income taxpayers, the average tax cut would be $10. Those in the top 1 percent would pay an average of $31,000, or 2 percent of after-tax income, less.

And here’s the TPC chart showing how almost all the tax relief goes to upper-income taxpayers.

So what’s going on? Why are Democrats fighting for an idea that would give the rich a $31,000 tax cut while only providing $10 of relief for middle-class taxpayers?!?

The simple answer is that they think the loophole is a very valuable way of facilitating higher taxes and bigger government at the state and local level. And they’re right, so I don’t blame them.

But it’s nonetheless very revealing that they are willing to jettison their tax-the-rich rhetoric when it interferes with their make-government-bigger agenda.

P.S. This “SALT” debate strikes me as being similar to the Laffer-Curve debate, which requires folks on the left to choose whether it’s more important to punish rich people or to get more revenue to spend.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, I wrote about the newest edition of Economic Freedom of the World, which is my favorite annual publication.

Not far behind is the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, which is sort of the domestic version of their equally fascinating (to a wonk) International Tax Competitiveness Index.

And what can we learn from this year’s review of state tax policy? Plenty.

…the specifics of a state’s tax structure matter greatly. The measure of total taxes paid is relevant, but other elements of a state tax system can also enhance or harm the competitiveness of a state’s business environment. The State Business Tax Climate Index distills many complex considerations to an easy-to-understand ranking.

That’s the theory, but what about the results?

Here are the best and worst states.

If you pay close attention, there’s a common thread for the best states.

The absence of a major tax is a common factor among many of the top 10 states. …there are several states that do without one or more of the major taxes: the corporate income tax, the individual income tax, or the sales tax. Wyoming, Nevada, and South Dakota have no corporate or individual income tax (though Nevada imposes gross receipts taxes); Alaska has no individual income or state-level sales tax; Florida has no individual income tax; and New Hampshire, Montana, and Oregon have no sales tax.

By the way, both Utah and Indiana are among the nine states with flat tax systems, so every top-10 state has at least one attractive feature.

But if you peruse the bottom-10 states, you’ll find that every one of them has an income tax with “progressive” rates that punish people for contributing more to the economy.

Indeed, half of the states on that unfortunate list are part of the “Class-Warfare Graduated Tax” club.

Not a desirable group, assuming the goal is faster growth and more jobs.

The Tax Foundation’s report also is worth reading because it reviews some of the academic evidence about the superiority of pro-growth tax systems.

Helms (1985) and Bartik (1985) put forth forceful arguments based on empirical research that taxes guide business decisions. Helms concluded that a state’s ability to attract, retain, and encourage business activity is significantly affected by its pattern of taxation. Furthermore, tax increases significantly retard economic growth when the revenue is used to fund transfer payments. Bartik concluded that the conventional view that state and local taxes have little effect on business is false. Papke and Papke (1986) found that tax differentials among locations may be an important business location factor, concluding that consistently high business taxes can represent a hindrance to the location of industry. …Agostini and Tulayasathien (2001) examined the effects of corporate income taxes on the location of foreign direct investment in U.S. states. They determined that for “foreign investors, the corporate tax rate is the most relevant tax in their investment decision.” Therefore, they found that foreign direct investment was quite sensitive to states’ corporate tax rates. Mark, McGuire, and Papke (2000) found that taxes are a statistically significant factor in private-sector job growth. Specifically, they found that personal property taxes and sales taxes have economically large negative effects on the annual growth of private employment. …Gupta and Hofmann (2003) regressed capital expenditures against a variety of factors… Their model covered 14 years of data and determined that firms tend to locate property in states where they are subject to lower income tax burdens.

None of this research should come as a surprise.

Businesses aren’t moving from California to Texas because business executives prefer heat and humidity over ocean and mountains.

The bottom line is that tax rates matter, whether we’re looking at state data, national data, or international data.

Let’s close by sharing a map from the report. Simply stated, red is bad and teal (or whatever that color is) is good.

P.S. My one complaint about this report from the Tax Foundation is that it doesn’t include the overall fiscal burden. Alaska and Wyoming score well because they have small populations and easily fund much of their (extravagant) state budgets with energy-related taxes. If data on the burden of state government spending was included, South Dakota would be the best state.

P.P.S. Unsurprisingly, Americans are moving from high-tax states to low-tax states.

P.P.P.S. It’s also no surprise to find New Jersey in last place.

Read Full Post »

If the goal is higher living standards, then higher levels of productivity are necessary. And that requires entrepreneurship and innovation.

But bad tax policy can be an obstacle to the economic choices that create a better future.

I’ve already shared lots of research showing how punitive tax rates undermine growth, but it never hurts to add to the collection.

Let’s look at a new study by Ufuk Akcigit, John Grigsby, Tom Nicholas, and Stefanie Stantcheva. Here’s the issue they investigated.

…do taxes affect innovation? If innovation is the result of intentional effort and taxes reduce the expected net return from it, the answer to this question should be yes. Yet, when we think of path-breaking superstar inventors from history…we often imagine hard-working and driven scientists, who ignore financial incentives and merely seek intellectual achievement. More generally, if taxes affect the amount of innovation, do they also affect the quality of the innovations produced? Do they affect where inventors decide to locate and what firms they work for? …In this paper, we…provide new evidence on the effects of taxation on innovation. Our goal is to systematically analyze the effects of both personal and corporate income taxation on inventors as well as on firms that do R&D over the 20th century.

To perform their analysis, the economists gathered some very interesting data on the evolution of tax policy at the state level. Such as when personal income taxes were adopted.

By the way, I may have discovered an error. They show Connecticut’s income tax being imposed in 1969, but my understanding is that the tax was first levied less than 30 years ago.

In any event, the authors also show how, over time, states have taxed upper-income households.

They look at 20th-century data. If you want more up-to-date numbers, you can click here.

But let’s not digress. Here are some of the findings from the study.

We use OLS to study the baseline relationship between taxes and innovation, exploiting within-state tax changes over time, our instrumental variable approach and the border county design. On the personal income tax side, we consider average and marginal tax rates, both for the median income level and for top earners. Our corporate tax measure is the top corporate tax rate. We find that personal and corporate income taxes have significant effects at the state level on patents, citations (which are a well-established marker of the quality of patents), inventors and “superstar” inventors in the state, and the share of patents produced by firms as opposed to individuals. The implied elasticities of patents, inventors, and citations at the macro level are between 2 and 3.4 for personal income taxes and between 2.5 and 3.5 for the corporate tax. We show that these effects cannot be fully accounted for by inventors moving across state lines and therefore do not merely reflect “zero-sum” business-stealing of one state from other states.

Here are further details about the statewide impact of tax policy.

A one percentage point increase in either the median or top marginal tax rate is associated with approximately a 4% decline in patents, citations, and inventors, and a close to 5% decline in the number of superstar inventors in the state. The effects of average personal tax rates are even larger. A one percentage increase in the average tax rate at the 90th income percentile is associated with a roughly 6% decline in patents, citations, and inventors and an 8% decline in superstar inventors. For the average tax rate at the median income level, the effects are closer to 10% for patents, citations, and inventors, and 15% for superstar inventors.

At the risk of understatement, that’s clear evidence that class-warfare policy has a negative effect.

The study also looked at several case studies of how states performed after significant tax changes.

…case studies provide particularly clear visual evidence of a strong negative relationship between taxes and innovation. When combined with the macro state-level regressions, the instrumental variable approach and the border county analysis, the results overall bolster the conclusion that taxes were significantly negatively related to innovation outcomes at the state level.

Here’s the example of Delaware.

For what it’s worth, we have powerful 21st-century examples of the consequences of bad tax policy. Just think New JerseyCalifornia, and Illinois.

But I’m digressing again.

Back to the study, were we find that the authors also look at how tax policy affects the decisions of people and companies.

We then turn to the micro-level, i.e., individual firms and inventors. …we find that taxes have significant negative effects on the quantity and quality (as measured by citations) of patents produced by inventors, including on the likelihood of producing a highly successful patent (which gathers many citations). At the individual inventor level, the elasticity of patents to the personal income tax is 0.6-0.7, and the elasticity of citations is 0.8-0.9. …we show that individual inventors are negatively affected by the corporate tax rate, but much less so than by personal income taxes. …We find that inventors are significantly less likely to locate in states with higher taxes. The elasticity to the net-of-tax rate of the number of inventors residing in a state is 0.11 for inventors who are from that state and 1.23 for inventors not from that state. Inventors who work for companies are particularly elastic to taxes.

And here are additional details about the micro findings.

…patenting is significantly negatively affected by personal income taxes. A one percentage point higher tax rate at the individual level decreases the likelihood of having a patent in the next 3 years by 0.63 percentage points. Similarly, the likelihood of having high quality patents with more than 10 citations decreases by 0.6 percentage points for every percentage point increase in the personal tax rate. …We find that a one percentage point increase in the personal tax rate leads to a 1.1 percent decline in the number of patents and a 1.4-1.7 percent decline in the number of citations, conditional on having any. …the likelihood of having a corporate patent also reacts very negatively to the personal tax rate… A one percentage point decrease in the corporate tax rate increases patents by 4% and citations by around 3.5%. The IV results are of similar magnitudes, but again even stronger. According to the IV specification, a one percentage point decrease in the corporate tax rate increases patents by 6% and citations by 5%.

Here are some of the conclusions from the study.

Taxation – in the form of both personal income taxes and corporate income taxes – matters for innovation along the intensive and extensive margins, and both at the micro and macro levels. Taxes affect the amount of innovation, the quality of innovation, and the location of inventive activity. The effects are economically large especially at the macro state-level, where cross-state spillovers and extensive margin location and entry decisions compound the micro, individual-level elasticities. …while our analysis focuses on the relationship between taxation and innovation, our data and approach have much broader implications. We find that taxes have important effects on intensive and extensive margin decisions, on the mobility of people and where inventors and firms choose to locate.

In other words, the bottom line is that tax rates should be as low as possible to produce as much prosperity as possible.

P.S. If you check the postscript of this column, you’ll see that there is also data showing how inventors respond to international tax policy. And there’s similar data for top-level entrepreneurs.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: