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Archive for the ‘States’ Category

I wrote last week about the ever-expanding burden of government spending in California.

And that was after writing two columns last year (here and here) about the state’s economic decline.

But sometimes a specific story is more compelling than broad economic trends. So here’s a tweet that caught my eye. It tells us a lot about the nature of government contracting, inefficiency, and cost overruns.

But it also tells us a lot about California (sort of like this story from 2021).

By the way, I don’t know if the above numbers are correct. But even if they are only half right, they are a damning indictment of California budgeting.

As you might expect, bad budgeting and extravagant waste also mean high taxes.

And high taxes mean economic decline, and that’s the focus of today’s column.

In a recent column for the Washington Post, Henry Olsen offers a depressing assessment of the California’s future.

California’s…falling population coupled with its $22.5 billion budget deficit suggest it could experience a swift and wrenching decline. …California offers natural beauty…, but people decide how much they want to pay for these things just like other goods. The state’s…high taxes are a significant deterrent to living there, driving many people to flee. …That outward flow of people is turning into a flood. The state’s population dropped by more than 500,000 people between July 2020 and July 2022. Outmigration to other states fueled the decline: Almost 900,000 more people have moved to other states from California in the past three years than have moved in. …This exodus poses massive risks for the state’s finances because of its reliance on revenue from the rich. As of 2018, almost 35 percent of California’s personal income tax revenue came from the sliver of taxpayers earning $1 million or more. Nearly two-thirds come from those earning more than $200,000. That means a small change in these people’s residence can cost the state billions. …It could take a New York-style collapse to force significant change. Given the direction California is heading, that unhappy prospect is no longer unthinkable.

Writing for the City Journal, Steven Malanga has a similarly grim view.

California’s net domestic outmigration ranks highest among the states…In fact, the biggest leavers by far are lower- and middle-income people. And middle-class losses have grown in the last five years to about 200,000 adult residents. Meantime, some 300,000 adult Californians from lower-income categories have also left in that time… Taxes don’t exist in a vacuum; they are one component of a governing philosophy. High taxes represent an approach that favors bigger, more pervasive government, which takes many other forms besides taxes: a tendency to greater regulation and differing spending priorities than those of lower-taxed states, for example. …Fueled by its taxes on high earners and on businesses, California has an enormous budget. Its general fund alone tops $200 billion. You might expect, for that money, top-notch services from government, but the opposite is true. …Advocates for higher taxes often argue that progressive tax systems like California’s are fairer because wealthier residents pay at higher rates. …And yet high-taxing states like California, New York, and New Jersey also have among the highest rates of outmigration. These states are so “fair” that a significant number of their lower- and middle-income residents can’t wait to leave.

The most important insight of Malanga’s column is that California politicians say that they are trying to punish the rich, but lower-income and middle-class people are suffering a lot of collateral damage.

Which should come as no surprise.

P.S. If you want to enjoy some California-themed humor, click here and here.

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I have a seven-part series (here, here, here, here, here, here and here) comparing Texas and California, mostly to demonstrate that the not-so-Golden State has hurt itself with excessive taxation and a bloated government.

Today, we’re going to augment our comparisons by looking at a very practical example of how California’s approach is much worse.

The National Association of State Budget Officers publishes an interesting document (at least if you’re a budget wonk) entitled State Expenditure Report.

And if you to to Table 2 of that report, you’ll find the most important measure of state fiscal policy, which shows how fast the burden of government spending increased over the past two years.

Lo and behold (but to no one’s surprise), California politicians increased the spending burden much faster than their Texas counterparts.

As you can see, both states were irresponsible the first year, thanks in large part to the all the pandemic-related handouts approved by Trump and Biden.

But California was twice as bad. Politicians in Sacramento used federal handouts to finance a grotesque spending binge (whereas the spending binge in Texas deserves a more mild adjective, such as massive).

Both states were better the second year, with California’s spending burden climbing by 2.2 percent in 2022 and Texas actually delivering a spending cut.

Remember, though, that the spending burden exploded between 2020 and 2021, so the 2022 numbers only look reasonable compared to the bloated trendline.

Now let’s consider whether California’s grotesque spending binge had negative consequences.

The answer is yes, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last year touted a $100 billion budget surplus as evidence of California’s progressive superiority. He was less triumphant…when announcing a $22.5 billion deficit in the coming year, a contrast to Texas’s record $32.7 billion surplus. …California’s problem, as usual, is that Democrats baked too much spending into their budget baseline. They expanded Medicaid to undocumented immigrants over the age of 50, enacted universal pre-school and school lunches, extended paid family leave by two weeks, and boosted climate spending by $10 billion. …Much of Texas’s surplus this year owes to surging sales-tax revenue from inflation and population growth—i.e., Californians moving to Texas and spending their tax savings. Mr. Newsom claimed Tuesday that California has a more “fair” tax system than the Lone Star State and that Texans pay more in taxes. This is disinformation. According to the Census Bureau, California’s per capita state tax collections ($6,325) were second highest in the country in 2021 after Vermont. Texas’s ($2,214) were second lowest after Alaska. …California’s budget problems will grow as more of its rich and middle class move to lower-tax states like Texas.

Per-capita state tax collections are the most striking numbers in the editorial.  The average Californian is paying $6,325 for state government, nearly three times as much as the $2,214 that is paid by the average Texan.

Does anyone think that Californians are getting nearly three times as much value as their counterparts in the Lone Star State?

Based on how people are voting with their feet, the answer is obvious. But if you prefer more technical measures of state government value, California loses that contest as well.

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When I write about fiscal policy, there are two ever-present themes.

And both of these themes can be found in a comprehensive new report issued by the Maine Policy Institute.

The report provides lawmakers with a detailed analysis of the state’s fiscal status and it shows specific spending reforms that would save money and create “fiscal space” for pro-growth tax reforms.

I realize that readers from most places won’t care very much about some of the Maine-specific data, but the report contains some charts that teach a very important lesson that can be applied in other states, as well as in Washington and other national capitals.

Consider, for instance, this chart showing that Maine is getting in trouble because spending in recent years is growing significantly faster than inflation.

The same is true in Washington, except the problem is far worse.

And in other states. And various cities. And other nations.

In other words, governments at all levels and in almost all places have a hard time complying with fiscal policy’s Golden Rule.

That being said, spending caps are a universal solution to this universal problem. Let’s look at Figure 10 from the report, which shows how a TABOR-style spending cap would have produced very good results for Maine.

Once again, we can take this information and apply it very broadly.

A spending cap is the smart and effective way of dealing with irresponsible fiscal policy at all levels of government.

For instance, Switzerland is well know for its spending cap, known as the debt brake. This approach has yielded very good results for the nation’s finances, but less well know is the fact that many subnational governments in Switzerland’s federalist system have their own versions of a spending cap.

The bottom line is that good fiscal policy is universally applicable. And spending restraint is a necessary precondition for that to happen.

P.S. Some people ask whether a balanced budget amendment would be better than a spending cap. This question gives me an excuse to share one more chart from the study. As you can see from Figure 9, annual tax revenues are very unstable. Sometimes they grow rapidly, sometimes they grow slowly, and sometimes they actually shrink (and the same thing is true in Washington).

This means that a balanced budget requirement is very difficult to enforce and often does not produce good results. During boom years, when revenue is rapidly increasing, politicians have too much leeway to increase spending. And during downturns, when revenue if stagnant or falling, politicians claim that spending restraint would be too difficult and they raise taxes instead.

The advantage of a spending cap is that it targets the real problem of spending (rather than the symptom of red ink). Moreover, politicians are subject to a rule that is much easier to enforce (increasing spending by, say, 2 percent every year is very straightforward compared to the wild swings in spending that occur with a balanced budget rule).

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Continuing a tradition that began back in 2013, let’s look at the best and worst developments of the past year.

Since I try to be optimistic (notwithstanding forces and evidence to the contrary), let’s start with the good news.

I’ll start by mentioning that we will now have gridlock in Washington. That’s probably a positive development, but I’ll explore that issue tomorrow as part of my “Hopes and Fears” column for 2023.

For today, let’s focus on three concrete developments from 2022 that unambiguously are positive.

States cutting tax rates and enacting tax reform – Since I’m a long-time advocate for better tax policy, I’m very pleased that more states are moving in the right direction. I especially like that the flat tax club is expanding. I’m also amused that a bad thing (massive handouts from Washington) backfired on the left (because many states decided to cut taxes rather than squander the money on new spending).

Chileans vote against a statist constitution – There was horrible news in 2021 when Chileans voted a hard-core leftist into the presidency. But we got very good news this year when the same voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitution that would have dramatically expanded the power of government.

More families have school choice – Just like last year, we can celebrate that there was more progress on education this year. In 2021, West Virginia led the way. In 2022, Arizona was the best example. And we’ll discuss tomorrow why there are reasons to be optimistic about 2023.

Now let’s shift to the bad news of 2022.

I thought about listing inflation, which definitely caused a lot of economic damage this year. But the bad monetary policy actually occurred in 2020 and 2021 when central bankers overreacted to the pandemic.

So I’m going to write instead about bad things that specifically happened in 2022.

Biden semi-successfully expands the burden of government – The president was able to push through several bad proposals, such as the so-called Inflation Reduction Act and some cronyist subsidies for the tech industry. Nothing nearly as bad as his original “build back better” scheme, but nonetheless steps in the wrong direction.

The collapse of small-government conservatism in the United Kingdom – Just as today’s Republicans have deviated from Reaganism, the Conservatives in the United Kingdom have deviated from Thatcherism. Except even worse. Republicans in the USA acquiesce to higher spending. Tories in the UK acquiesce to higher spending and higher taxes.

Massachusetts voters opt for class warfare – Starting tomorrow, Massachusetts no longer will have a flat tax of 5 percent. That’s because voters narrowly approved a class-warfare based referendum to replace the flat tax with a new “progressive” system with a top rate of 9 percent. Though bad news for the state’s economy will be offset by good news for moving companies.

P.S. I almost forget to mention that the best thing about 2022 occurred on January 10 when the Georgia Bulldogs defeated Alabama to win the national championship of college football.

P.P.S. While 2022 was a mixed bag, history buffs may be interested in knowing that it was the 100th anniversary of a big tax rate reduction (top rate lowered from 73 percent to 58 percent) implemented in 1922 during the under-appreciated presidency of Warren Harding.

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I wrote a few days ago about how some New York Democratic politicians have awakened to the fact that it’s not a good idea to be too greedy.

After all, if taxes are excessively high, the geese with the golden eggs can simply fly away – and that can mean less tax revenue.

But I warned that saying no to additional tax increases was a necessary but not sufficient condition.

…the “good news” from New York is that politicians want to freeze the current (very bad) policy in place. That’s better than galloping faster in the wrong direction, of course, but a far cry from what’s needed.

Here’s some evidence for my assertion, courtesy of some new data from the Census Bureau. Like we saw last year, New York continues to lose population compared to the rest of the country.

Unsurprisingly, Illinois shows up again as a state with very high levels of out-migration as well.

John Phelan of the Center of the American Experiment put together a ranking of the states based on these annual population changes.

Obviously, people move between states for reasons other than economic policy, but it’s impossible not to notice that there’s an overall trend of red states gaining people and blue states losing people.

In other words, state economic policy matters.

P.S. In the past, skeptics used to claim that state migration trends were simply a story of people moving to states with better climates. That presumably is part of the story, but notice how California (the state that arguably has the nation’s best climate) is now a net loser and routinely gets mocked for driving away jobs and people.

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Looking at reforms at the state level, the past two years have produced very good news on education policy and tax policy.

Regarding the latter, many states have lowered tax rates and several of them have junked so-called progressive tax systems and replaced them with simple and fair flat taxes.

But I’m greedy for even bigger improvements.

I want to see some states move not just to Column 2 in my ranking of state tax policy. I want them to be in Column 1.

And that means they need to get rid of income taxes.

The good news is that some states are having that discussion.

Here are some excerpts from an Associated Press report from Mississippi, written by Michael Goldberg.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves promised to push for a full elimination of the state’s income tax during the 2023 legislative session. The move would make Mississippi the 10th state with no income tax. …Mississippi’s Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation in 2022 that will eliminate the state’s 4% income tax bracket starting in 2023. In the following three years, the 5% bracket will be reduced to 4%. …Supporters of the 2022 Mississippi tax cut said it would spur economic growth and attract new residents to Mississippi. …Republican House speaker Philip Gunn has said full elimination of the state income tax is “achievable,” though he hasn’t committed to doing so in the 2023 session. …Tax-cut proposals are a direct effort to compete with states that don’t tax earnings, including Texas, Florida and Tennessee.

And here are portions of an article in National Review about Colorado, authored by Ben Murrey, which also notes that the TABOR spending limit will need to be strengthened if lawmakers are serious about getting rid of the state’s income tax.

When an interviewer recently asked Colorado’s Democratic governor Jared Polis what the state’s income-tax rate should be, he answered without hesitation: “It should be zero.” …The effort to chisel away at the income tax has already gained steam in the state. Last year, voters reduced the tax with Proposition 116 — a ballot initiative that brought the rate from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent. …Eliminating the tax would provide an enormous direct windfall to Colorado households. …every reduction in income tax will allow Coloradans to keep more of every dollar they earn, and it invites more jobs and opportunities for residents. …To eliminate the income tax entirely, the state would probably need to begin lowering the revenue limit along with the rate reductions in the future. …these two reforms would put the state on a road to zero.

By the way, Colorado voters once again just cut the state’s flat tax in a referendum earlier this month.

Would Mississippi and Colorado be doing the right thing if they joined the zero-income-tax club?

Yes. I cited some evidence on this issue about 10 years ago.

Here’s some updated analysis from Chris Edwards.

The nine states without an individual income tax are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. …What they have in common is providing needed state‐​local services to their residents without complex, anti‐​freedom, and anti‐​growth individual income taxes. Most of the nine run leaner and more efficient governments than most other states. They only partly make up for the income tax revenue gap with other revenues. In terms of overall tax burdens, eight of the nine states are toward the bottom of the 50 states and Washington is in the middle. …Total taxes in the seven states average 8.1 percent of income. The average in the 40 other states is 9.6 percent. Thus, the lack of individual income tax restrains the overall tax burden. …Repealing state individual income taxes is a good goal. …Residents get the state‐​local services they need, but at lower cost. 

Here’s the chart that accompanied Chris’ article. He separates Alaska and Wyoming because they get so much money from energy taxes and are not realistic role models for other states.

The bottom line is that states without an income tax tend to have smaller government.

This is especially true for Florida, Tennessee, South Dakota, and New Hampshire. And Texas may join those states now that it has strengthened its spending cap.

One should-be-obvious conclusion from this data is that states with no income taxes should not make the mistake of adopting that punitive levy. Unless, of course, they want to repeat Connecticut’s unhappy experience.

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According to the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World, New Hampshire was the most economically free state in America in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

But the state famous for “Live Free or Die” has now been replaced by the Sunshine State.

The most-recent edition, which is based on 2020 data, informs us that Florida now enjoys more economic liberty than any other state.

New Hampshire still is ranked very high, coming in at #2, followed by South Dakota at #3. Texas and Tennessee are tied for #4.

What’s the one thing they all have in common? No state income tax.

Meanwhile, the report also highlights the states that (predictably) dominate the bottom of the rankings.

For the purpose of comparing jurisdictions within the same country, the subnational indices are the appropriate choice. …In the United States, the most economically free state was Florida at 7.94, followed by New Hampshire at 7.84, South Dakota at 7.75, and Texas and Tennessee at 7.66. (Note that since the indexes were calculated separately for each country, the numeric scores on the subnational indices are not directly comparable across countries.) The least-free state was again New York at 4.25, following California at 4.59, Hawaii at 4.65, Vermont at 4.70, and Oregon at 4.92. For the first time, we have made a preliminary attempt to include the US territory of Puerto Rico in the US subnational index. It came in with a score of 2.04. The next lowest score was more than twice as high.

Here are the full rankings at the subnational level (i.e., measuring the policies that are under the control of state lawmakers).

For the first time, the report assesses Puerto Rico. Hardly a surprise to see where it ranks.

The report also has an “all-government” ranking, which includes the effect of both national and subnational governments.

On that basis, New Hampshire is in first place.

The all-government index includes…comparisons among Canadian, Mexican, and US subnational jurisdictions that take into account national policies affecting all jurisdictions within each country. …The top jurisdiction is New Hampshire at 8.10, followed by Florida (8.05), Utah (8.03), and then Idaho and South Carolina, tied for fourth (8.02).

The all-government scores allow comparison of all the state and provinces in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

The one clear takeaway is that Mexico desperately needs pro-market reforms.

I’ll close by observing that almost every US state ranks above every Canadian province.

But that wasn’t always the case. Which shows that Justin Trudeau is pushing Canada in the wrong direction even faster than American politicians are pushing the US in the wrong direction.

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I was going to write about Argentina again today, following up on yesterday’s column.

But the National Association of State Budget Officers has released a new report about spending in the 50 states.

This is an opportunity to see how all the pandemic spending by Washington has encouraged bad fiscal policy at the sub-national level.

To be succinct, the answer is “a lot.”

Figure 1 shows that all the grants and handouts enabled reckless policy. For all 50 states, the burden of spending climbed 24.7 percent between 2020 and 2022.

But not all states are created equal.

So I went to Table 1 of the report to see how much spending increased in various states.

Here are some of the highlights. Special applause for Georgia (home of my beloved Bulldawgs!), which actually reduced the spending burden over the past two years. And honorary mention to North Carolina, which is further enhancing its reputation for sensible fiscal policy.

Colorado also was one of the best states, doubtlessly thanks to TABOR. And New Hampshire also deserves further plaudits for relative frugality.

The big states of Texas and Florida increased spending by less than the 24.7 percent average. As did New York, surprisingly.

I’m sure nobody is surprised to see such bad results from New Jersey and California. And Illinois deserves some sort of Booby Prize for its recklessness.

P.S. I’ll close by shifting to a different topic. As you can see from Figure 5, Medicaid (the government’s health entitlement for poor people) is consuming ever-larger shares of state budgets (and the federal budget).

Medicaid reform (block granting the program) is a very good idea to fix budget problems at the state level and to fix budget problems in Washington. And reduce fraud as well.

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Because I dedicated last week to European fiscal policy, I didn’t get a chance to write about the Tax Foundation’s latest version of the State Business Tax Climate Index, which was released October 25.

Last year, the top-4 states were Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, and Florida. This year’s report, authored by Janelle Fritts and Jared Walczak, says the top-4 states are… (drum roll, please) …exactly the same.

Here’s the map showing how states rank. The best states are blue and the worst states are dark grey.

Coincidentally, the bottom-4 states also stayed constant. New Jersey is in last place, followed by New York, California, and Connecticut.

But there were some very interesting changes if you look at the other 42 states.

Thanks to pro-growth tax reforms, Arizona and Oklahoma both jumped 5 spots in the past year.

The state of Washington suffered a huge fall, dropping 13 spots thanks to the imposition of a capital gains tax (the state constitution supposedly bars any taxes on income – and voters last fall overwhelmingly voted against the capital gains tax – but it appears the state’s politicians and a negligent judiciary may combine to put the state on a very bad path).

It’s also interesting to look at long-run trends. If you compare this year’s Index with the original 2014 Index, you’ll find that three states have jumped by at least 10 spots and three states have dropped by at least 10 spots.

Since I’m a Virginia resident, this is not encouraging news.

P.S. As I’ve noted before, the rankings for Alaska and Wyoming are somewhat misleading. Both states have lots of energy production and their state governments collect enormous amounts of taxes from that sector. This allows them to keep other taxes low while still financing bloated state budgets.

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What’s the reward for a governor who replaces a discriminatory and punitive system with a simple and fair flat tax, particularly in a year when many other states also are enacting better tax policy?

The reward for Kim Reynolds of Iowa is the top score in the Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors 2022, authored by Chris Edwards.

But it’s not just pro-growth tax reform. Iowa’s governor also scored highly because “Iowa general fund spending has risen at just a 2.3 percent annual average rate under Reynolds.”

Chris Sununu of New Hampshire was in second place, followed by the governors of Nebraska, Idaho, and Arizona (which also enacted sweeping tax reform).

And what’s the penalty for being a tax-hiking big spender?

Well, if “general fund spending expanded at an annual average rate of 6.3 percent between 2013 and 2022” and you were governor during those years, then you deserve to be known as the worst of the worst.

Especially if you also pushed big tax increases and you routinely try to sabotage your state’s constitutional ban on income taxes.

So “congratulations” to Jay Inslee. The governor of Washington definitely deserves his F.

Gavin Newsom of California is the nation’s second-worst governor (hardly a surprise).

The governors of Oregon, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota also received failing grades (I am surprised anytime New Jersey and Illinois avoid last place).

For those interested, here are the rest of the governors. Roy Cooper of North Carolina is the highest-scoring Democrat, followed by Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexco.

Bill Lee of Tennessee is the lowest-scoring Republican. Other Republicans with bad grades include the governors of Vermont, Alabama, and Missouri.

For those who follow high-profile officials, Governors Ron DeSantis, Kristi Noem, and Greg Abbott all received unremarkable C grades.

P.S. At the risk of stating the obvious, fiscal policy is not the only thing that matters. Readers who want to assess the overall level of economic liberty in different states should peruse Economic Freedom of North America and Freedom in the 50 States.

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A big division among economists is whether taxes have a big or small impact on incentives.

If taxpayers are very responsive, that means more economic damage (to use the profession’s jargon, a greater level of deadweight loss).

If you’re wondering which economists are right, there’s a lot of evidence that taxpayers are sensitive to changes in tax rates, Especially upper-income taxpayers, in part because they have significant control over the timing, levels, and composition of their income.

This is why entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, and investors respond to difference in tax rates.

And athletes also make decisions based on tax policy. Here’s a tweet about Tyreek Hill, one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League. When deciding which team to sign with for this year, he picked the Miami Dolphins, located in a state with no income tax.

Mr. Hill also had the option to sign with the New York Jets.

But that would have meant letting greedy politicians in either New York or New Jersey (where the Jets play their home games) grab almost 11 percent of each additional dollar he earns.

According to this map, star athletes should be big fans of gray states and steer clear of dark-brown (or is that maroon?) states.

There’s research, incidentally, showing that teams based in low-tax states actually win more games.

P.S. I’ll close by reiterating my caveat about taxes being just one piece of the puzzle. After all, I speculated many years ago that taxes may have played a role in LeBron James going from Cleveland to Miami. But he then migrated to high-tax California. Though many pro athletes have moved away from the not-so-Golden States, so the general points is still accurate.

P.P.S. I feel sorry for Cam Newton, who paid a marginal tax rate of nearly 200 percent on his bonus for playing in the 2016 Super Bowl.

P.P.P.S. Taxes also impact choices on how often to box and where to box.

P.P.P.P.S. Needless to say, these principles also apply in other nations.

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I’ve been pontificating in favor of school choice from the early days of this column, in part because I believe in the benefits of competition and in part because there’s such overwhelming evidence that government schools have deteriorated.

In recent years, I’ve shared good news about states implementing and expanding school choice, with Arizona and West Virginia deserving special praise.

But I’ve always wondered which states do the best job and which states do the worst job with education policy.

Thanks to the Heritage Foundation, we now have an answer. Its Education Freedom Report Card looks at four variables (choice, transparency, regulation, and spending) to rank the states.

As you can see from this map, Florida is in first place for overall education policy, followed by Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, and South Dakota.

The worst state isn’t a state. It’s the District of Columbia.

New York is next, followed by New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The best part of the report is that you can also see how states rank in the four categories.

As a fiscal policy person, I’m naturally interested in how states rank with regards to spending, especially since that variable shows that you can get good results without spending a lot of money (congratulations to Idaho for winning that category, followed by Utah and North Carolina).

Very similar to the “ROI data” on cities that I looked at back in 2015.

But the data that really intrigues me is the ranking on school choice.

For background, here its some of what’s written in the report.

Our report card measures four broad categories (School Choice, Transparency, Regulatory Freedom, and Spending) that encompass more than two dozen discrete factors. ...Florida is the top-ranked state across the board. Families looking for a state that embraces education freedom, respects parents’ rights, and provides a decent ROI for taxpayers should look no further than The Sunshine State.

But I want to focus specifically on school choice. On that basis, Arizona is in first place, followed by Indiana, Florida, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Hawaii is in last place, followed by Massachusetts and North Dakota.

Here’s some discussion of the report’s methodology.

States with more education choice have more educational liberty. “Education Choice” has five sub-categories: (a) Private School Choice, (b) Private School Choice Program Design, (c) Charter Schools, (d) Homeschooling, and (e) Public School Choice.

Charter schools are better than regular government schools, so it’s good they’re included.

And ranking states on their homeschooling laws is even better.

P.S. There are very successful school choice systems in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

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There isn’t much good news coming from Washington, DC, especially since Biden was able to push through a (fortunately watered-down) package of more spending and higher taxes.

But there have been some very positive developments at the state level over the past couple of years.

I’ve already written several times about how school choice has been spreading, led by big reforms in states such as Arizona and West Virginia.

The other big development is that states are lowering tax rates and replacing discriminatory “progressive” tax systems with simpler and fairer flat taxes that are more friendly to growth.

In a column for Forbes, Patrick Gleason of Americans for Tax Reforms discusses the latest developments in state tax policy – most notably Idaho’s shift to a flat tax.

…he second half of the year is resulting in further income tax relief and strengthening the recent trend of states moving from graduated to flat income taxes. Most recently, Idaho legislators returned to the state capital in Boise on the first day of September for a special session called by Governor Brad Little (R) for the purpose of making Idaho the newest flat tax state. …Governor Little’s proposal, which state legislators passed on September 1, moves Idaho to a flat 5.8% personal income tax. Idaho currently has a progressive income tax code with a top rate of 6%, which kicks in at less than $8,000 in annual income. …HB 1, which Little will soon sign into law, will also cut Idaho’s corporate tax rate from 6% to 5.8%.

North Dakota also is contemplating tax reform.

…in North Dakota, Governor Doug Burgum (R) unveiled a new tax proposal that would also move North Dakota to a flat tax. North Dakota currently has a two-tier income tax with rates of 2.04% and 2.9%. Governor Burgum’s proposal would move to a flat 1.5% income tax.

From a big-picture perspective, the last couple of years have been great news for taxpayers in certain states.

here are currently nine states with a flat income tax, 18 when counting the nine no-income-tax states that charge a flat 0%. Four states (Arizona, Iowa, Georgia, and Mississippi) codified laws in 2021 and 2022 that will phase in flat taxes in the coming years. When Governors Little and Burgum enact their tax proposals as is expected, Idaho and North Dakota will become the the fifth and sixth states in past two years alone to adopt a flat tax, bringing the total number of flat or zero tax states to 24.

I’ll conclude by observing that I put together a 5-column method in 2018 for ranking state tax system.

At the beginning, 18 states were in the two good columns (no income tax or flat tax).

Today, we’re approaching 25 states and a few other states have moved in the right direction (reducing so-called progressive tax systems).

The bottom line is that it is costly to escape bad policy in Washington, but at least we have more options if we want to find good policy at the state level.

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Ideally, the federal government should be limited to the functions specified by the Founders in Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution.

If we are to have any hope of getting back to that system, it may require two practical steps.

  1. If Washington is operating a program, the first step may be to replace it with block grants and let state and local governments decide how to spend the money.
  2. If Washington is providing block grants, the second step may be to phase out that funding and let state and local governments figure out if they want to pick up the cost.

To elaborate, programs that are both funded by Washington and operated by Washington not only suffer from waste (common to all government activities), but also produce the inefficiency and stagnation common to a one-size-fits-all approach.

This is why welfare reform under Bill Clinton was a good idea.

Taxpayers saved some money because the block grant was capped. But the best outcome was that states then could use their flexibility to innovate and find approaches that actually helped poor people by encouraging employment and reducing dependency.

In an ideal world, however, there should not be block grants. State and local governments should decide not only how to operate welfare programs, but also how to finance them.

To understand the problems associated with block grants, let’s look at a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Authored by Jeffrey Clemens, Philip G. Hoxie & Stan Veuger, it finds that pandemic grants were grotesquely inefficient.

We use an instrumental-variables estimator reliant on variation in congressional representation to analyze the effects of federal aid to state and local governments across all four major pieces of COVID-19 response legislation. Through September 2021, we estimate that the federal government allocated $855,000 for each state or local government job-year preserved. Our baseline confidence interval allows us to rule out estimates of less than $433,000. Our estimates of effects on aggregate income and output are centered on zero and imply modest if any spillover effects onto the broader economy.

Needless to say, it’s absurd to spend $433,000-$855,000 to save a job that pays an average of $100,000. Or less.

On net, that’s going to reduce total employment when you count the private-sector jobs that are foregone because politicians are diverting so much money from the economy’s productive sector.

And if you want to know how much money was diverted specifically for state and local governments, Figure 3 shows both Trump’s pandemic boondoggle in 2020 and Biden’s pandemic boondoggle in 2021.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Peter Jacobsen discusses the new study.

The authors find that federal aid to state and local governments to save jobs was incredibly ineffective. In fact, this program was even more inefficient than the notoriously inefficient Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). …The PPP was estimated to have cost somewhere from $169,000 to $258,000 per job each year. This program to save state and local government jobs cost in the range of $433,000 to $855,000 per job each year. This is as much as 5x more waste! …So how did the government spend more than $800,000 per job to save jobs which normally pay five figures? …a business engaging in an ineffective and wasteful policy like this would make a loss on each worker and go out of business. …government is particularly prone to generating these wasteful jobs. …Without a mechanism like profit and loss to evaluate the value of alternative options, we are left with a policy which spends nearly a million dollars to preserve a single job with a salary less than one tenth of that.

I’ll conclude with the should-be-obvious observation that politicians don’t actually care about net job creation. They care about buying votes with other people’s money.

So the state and local bureaucrats who directly benefited (by keeping their over-compensated jobs) presumably will remember and reward the politicians who supported for the boondoggles.

P.S. The rest of us also should care – and oppose spendthrift politicians, but most of us don’t pay enough attention to recognize the “unseen.”

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I thought passage of statewide school choice last year in West Virginia was something to celebrate.

And it was, especially since other states also expanded educational freedom for families.

But there’s even better news from Arizona, where the legislature just enacted, and the governor just signed, the nation’s most comprehensive system of school choice.

Parents will get vouchers of about $7,000 for each school-age child, to be used at the schools that are best for their children.

This is a victory for parents. And a victory for taxpayers.

The Goldwater Institute in Phoenix played a big role in this victory. Here’s their description of the now-universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

In a major victory for families weary of a one-size-fits-all approach to education, the Arizona Legislature today passed a groundbreaking bill which ensures all Arizona families can access school choice. …ESAs, which Goldwater pioneered in Arizona more than a decade ago, put money that would otherwise go toward a given child’s public education into an account that parents can use to customize their child’s education experience to best meet their unique needs. …Families would receive over $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, ‘learning pods,’ tutoring, or any other kinds of educational service that would best fit their students’ needs.

I’m glad to see that homeschooling is on a level playing field.

Here’s some media coverage from KAWC.

Arizona Republican lawmakers late Friday gave final approval to the most comprehensive system of vouchers of taxpayer funds for private and parochial schools in the nation. The 16-10 Senate vote came as proponents said parents want more choice for their children. …The solution that Republicans say HB 2853 offers is to allow each of the 1.1 million students in Arizona public schools to get a voucher they can use to attend a private or parochial school. …Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said the nature of providing resources to parents to make education choices necessarily makes them more involved in their child’s education as they have the resources to choose a school. “Remember: this is for whatever the parent thinks is best for their kid,” he said. “And, for the life of me, I still can’t fathom why anybody would oppose that.”

Sen. Boyer is right. There are no good arguments against school choice.

This is a very simple issue. Government schools are failing. They’ve received more money and more money, yet they keep producing dismal results.

You can blame the natural inefficiency of monopolies. You can blame teacher unions. Heck, you can blame sunspots or space aliens for all I care.

What matters is giving ordinary families an opportunity to get better education for their kids (the same choice that rich – and hypocritical – leftists like to utilize).

Thanks to lawmakers in Arizona, more American families will now have this opportunity.

P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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Politicians mostly care about getting reelected and wielding power, so they pay attention to polls because they want to know what to say.

As a libertarian, I pay attention to polling data because I want to understand where the public has sensible views and where the public has silly views.

And if public opinion is misguided, it tells me to do more work.

But I also follow public opinion research because it is helpful to find out what words and phrases are best to use.

  • People are more supportive of getting rid of the “death tax” than the are of getting rid of the “estate tax.”
  • People are more supportive of an economic system of  “free enterprise” than they are of “capitalism.”
  • People are more supportive of “personal retirement accounts” than they are of “Social Security privatization.”

As a policy wonk, I find it strange that people will like or dislike a policy simply because different words are used.

But I pay attention because I want to figure out the most effective way of advancing economic liberty.

I’m providing all this background because the folks at the Pew Research Center have some new polling data on how Americans view government.

Some of the results are very encouraging, such as the very low level of trust in Washington.

But there’s a somewhat depressing paradox.

Most people have a low opinion of the federal government, but they still want Washington to play a big role.

As is often the case, I wonder whether voters are being asked well-designed questions.

For instance, one of the above examples is that people want a federal government that “effectively” handles threats to public health.

Perhaps it would have been more interesting and illuminating, however, if Pew had asked people whether the CDC and FDA actually are effective? Give their wretched incompetence during the pandemic, I would hope the poll would have found different results.

Likewise, most Americans wants to federal government to help people out of poverty. But what does that actually mean?

Bernie Sanders presumably would answer yes because he wants higher taxes and more redistribution, while I might answer yes because I want lower taxes and smaller government.

But I’m digressing. They key issue I want to address is the paradox of people having disdain for the federal government while still supporting government involvement.

And this brings me to this polling data about most people thinking Washington is involved in areas that should be left to state governments.

Indeed, the Pew report shows that the federal government is viewed most unfavorably and local governments get the best grades.

To me, this suggests that a “federalism” agenda could be popular.

And I frequently make the case for decentralization (on a wide range of issues, such as Medicaid, the pandemic, food stamps, infrastructure, etc).

To be sure, federalism is not a slam-dunk. After all, Pew shows that most Americans can’t identify a single area where their state governments do a good job.

I’ll close by observing that Switzerland is the gold standard for federalism, and that nation is very successful.

Heck, there’s even IMF research showing decentralization produces better results.

So what’s the key takeaway?

Well, federalism has declined in the United States and we are getting worse results. But perhaps a restoration campaign would be politically successful. After all, welfare reform was popular in the 1990s. Why not expand the idea?

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I’ve already shared the “feel-good story” for 2022, so today I’m going to share this year’s feel-good map.

Courtesy of the Tax Foundation, here are the states that have lowered personal income tax rates and/or corporate income tax rates in 2021 and 2022. I’ve previously written about these reforms (both this year and last year), but more and more states and lowering tax burdens, giving us a new reason to write about this topic.

The map is actually even better than it looks because there are several states that don’t have any income taxes, so it’s impossible for them to lower rates. I’ve labelled them with a red zero.

And when you add together the states with no income tax with the states that are reducing income tax rates, more than half of them are either at the right destination (zero) or moving in that direction.

That’s very good news.

And here’s more good news from the Tax Foundation. The flat tax club is expanding.

I prefer the states with no income taxes, but low-rate flat taxes are the next best approach.

P.S. According to the Tax Foundation, New York and Washington, D.C. have moved in the wrong direction. Both increased income tax burdens in 2021. No wonder people are moving away.

P.P.S. If I had to pick the states with the best reforms, I think Iowa and Arizona belong at the top of the list.

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Federalism is very desirable because it allows different parts of the country to make different decisions, and this helps to teach us about what works. And what doesn’t.

It also means Americans can “vote with their feet” by migrating across local borders and state borders.

This happens a lot, as illustrated by this map from the Census Bureau.

While this map is fascinating, it also can be deceiving because some counties have very few people and others have millions of people.

It appears that internal migration might be a wash for states such as California and New York, for instance, since parts of both states are both green and purple.

If you look at a state-level migration map, however, you’ll find that both states lost population.

Why? Because big losses in some heavily populated cities (circled in red above) easily outweighed population gains in rural counties.

So why are people leaving some places? Are there lessons to be learned?

One obvious takeaway is that Americans are fleeing states governed by the left, as Kerry McDonald explains for the Foundation for Economic Education.

US Census Bureau data released in December showed that restrictive states such as California, Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts lost population between July 2020 and July 2021, while states with less-restrictive virus policies like Texas, Arizona, and Florida gained population during that time. …Fight or flight is a tough choice for families, but at least it’s a choice that Americans can enjoy thanks to federalism and the ability to vote with our feet.

And Americans are fleeing localities governed by the left, as Michael Barone explains in the Washington Examiner.

…the biggest losses, in both population and percentage loss, came in four of the nation’s six largest metropolitan areas: San Francisco/San Jose (-2.6 percent), New York (-1.8 percent), Chicago (-1.1 percent) and Los Angeles/Riverside (-0.8 percent). Each of the first three, in just 15 months from April 2020 to July 2021, lost a population that equaled 20 percent of their total population gain in the 20 years between 2000 and 2020. …it’s also noteworthy, and probably more permanent, that people with modest educations and incomes have fled far beyond the exurbs. …the nation’s population growth and its economic dynamism had been concentrated disproportionately in the exurbs, which typically have reasonable tax rates and development-friendly regulations. …the self-harm that liberal and progressive politicians have inflicted…voters even in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are recoiling.

The moral of the story is that voters sometimes make the mistake of voting for tax-and-spend politicians, but at least they have enough sense to then escape the places being harmed by statist policies.

P.S. Switzerland in the gold standard for federalism in the world, but Canada also deserves favorable attention. And I recently learned that there’s real federalism in Spain.

P.P.S. Sadly, federalism has declined in the United States.

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How do we know people don’t like taxes?

  • They tend to reject candidates who support higher taxes, as George H.W. Bush and other politicians have learned.
  • Then tend to vote against higher taxes when given an opportunity (though they sometimes will vote to tax other people)
  • They tend to migrate from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax jurisdictions for direct and indirect reasons.

Today, we’re going to elaborate on the final reason.

Let’s start with this chart from one of the daily missives from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. As you can see, it’s not just people that move. It’s their money as well.

The bottom line is that the two states – California and New York – with ultra-high tax rates are losing the most taxable income.

Let’s call this the revenge of the Laffer Curve because it shows us that high tax rates can backfire.

Jon Miltimore addressed this topic in a new column for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Here are some of the highlights, starting with some data on how some poorly governed cities are losing residents.

Three of the top five metros that saw sharp declines between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021 were in California. Leading the way was the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area, which lost 176,000 residents, a 1.3 percent drop. Next was the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley metro, which saw a decline of 116,000 residents (2.5 percent decline), followed by San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, which shed some 43,000 residents (2.2 percent drop). …The New York-Newark-New Jersey metropolitan area saw a decline of 328,000 residents, the highest in the nation in raw numbers. The Chicago area, meanwhile, saw a decline of some 92,000 residents.

Here’s a chart from his article.

I’m definitely not surprised to see New York, San Francisco, and Chicago on the list. After all those cities have crummy governments.

The other two cities, by contrast, just have the misfortune of being in a poorly governed state.

Jon explains a big reason why this domestic migration is taking place.

…the reasons people choose to migrate tend to be complex and varied… However, we can see the US flight from its largest metropolitan is part of a bigger trend. North American Van Lines (NAVL), a trucking company based in Indiana, puts out an annual report that tracks migration patterns in the United States. The states with the most inbound migration in 2021 were South Carolina, Idaho, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida. The leading outbound states were Illinois, California, New Jersey, Michigan, and New York. The pattern here is clear. Americans are fleeing highly-regulated, highly taxed states. They are flocking to freer states. …We heard a great deal about “the Great Reset” during the pandemic. …It may be that “the reset” involves Americans abandoning high-tax, high-regulatory cities and states for freer ones.

To be sure, there are factors other than taxation. And there are factors other than government policy (people really like California’s wonderful climate, for instance, but they will escape when policy becomes unbearable).

The bottom line is that people are slowly but surely voting with their feet against statism. They are choosing red states over blue states. There’s a lesson for Joe Biden, though he’s probably not listening.

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My main objection to government employees is that they work for bureaucracies that should not exist (especially the ones in Washington).

That being said, I also don’t like how bureaucrats are overpaid compared to workers in the productive sector of the economy.

How much are they overpaid? The Committee to Unleash Prosperity has a daily newsletter, and here’s a chart from yesterday’s edition that compares compensation levels for private-sector employees and state and local bureaucrats.

Just in case you are wondering whether these numbers are accurate, you can go this website from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, scroll down to the “Pay and Benefits” section, and then click on “Data Finder” for “Employer Costs for Employee Compensation.”

You will then find that average hourly costs (including benefits) for state and local government workers are about $55, compared to about $38 for workers in the economy’s productive sector.

Government employee unions and other defenders of the status quo often will argue that such numbers are comparing apples and oranges because bureaucrats tend to be older and working in fields that require greater skills.

Those are legitimate arguments (indeed, similar to the arguments that debunk the idea of a gender pay gap).

But a legitimate argument is not the same as a compelling argument. The Department of Labor’s data on voluntary quit rates definitely suggests that bureaucrats (both federal and state/local) have a big compensation advantage over workers in the private sector.

If you want a concrete example of how government workers receive windfalls, Adam Andrzejewski opined last year about lifeguards in Southern California. Here’s some of what he wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

Being a lifeguard isn’t easy, but in Los Angeles it can be lucrative. Auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found 82 county lifeguards earning at least $200,000 including benefits and seven making between $300,000 and $392,000. Thirty-one lifeguards made between $50,000 and $131,000 in overtime alone. After 30 years of service, they can retire as young as 55 on 79% of their pay. The Los Angeles County Lifeguard Association makes all this possible. …By comparison, the top-paid public lifeguard in Florida made $118,000, including benefits—though the pay goes further in the Sunshine State, which has no income tax. Even in New York City, the top-paid lifeguard made only $168,000. Think of the Los Angeles Country Lifeguard Association as the teachers union of “Baywatch.”

Sounds like they all belong in the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame.

P.S. Click here to learn why state and local governments sign contracts providing absurd levels of pay and benefits.

P.P.S. Workers in the private sector work more hours, so annual pay gaps are not as large as hourly pay gaps.

P.P.P.S. Putting lifeguards to shame, one state employee in California raked in more than $800,000 in one year.

P.P.P.P.S. Adding insult to injury, the lavish retirement benefits of state and local bureaucrats often are dramatically underfunded.

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I regularly share reports that measure how states rank for economic policy.

Now we can augment this collection.

A website called Money Geek has issued a report, authored by Jeff Ostrowski, which ranks states that are most friendly and least friendly to a hypothetical middle-class family.

This map has the details. The best states (led by Wyoming, Nevada, and Alaska) are dark blue, while the worst states (led by Illinois, Connecticut, and New Jersey) are dark grey.

Here are some of the main findings, including the fact that people “vote with their feet” by moving to low-tax states.

Illinois has the highest tax burden in the U.S., with an estimated tax amount of $13,894 for the hypothetical family. Wyoming only imposes approximately $3,279 for the same family, making it the top state in terms of tax-friendliness. 4 out of 5 of the most tax-friendly states saw population growth at or above the national average (Wyoming, Nevada, Florida and Tennessee). Illinois and Connecticut received a grade of E for being the least tax-friendly states in the nation. Illinois experienced a population decline, while Connecticut’s population grew by just 0.1% — lower than the national average of 0.2%.

Interesting results. First and foremost, we have more evidence that Illinois is a basket case.

And it has a governor who wants to make a bad situation even worse.

I also think it’s worth noting that all the best states have no income tax.

The reports has lots of interesting data, but it doesn’t tell us everything we should know.

Before I explain why the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, read the report’s methodology.

To calculate the least and most tax-friendly states, we researched income, sales and property tax rates by state. Using expenditure and income data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, we constructed a hypothetical family with one dependent, gross income of $82,852, and a home worth $349,400 (the median new home price at the time we conducted our research). We then estimated the state taxes this hypothetical family would pay in each state. We ranked the states based on…the size of the tax payment.

There’s nothing wrong with this methodology, assuming the goal is simply to measure the tax burden on a particular type of household.

But if the goal is to rank tax systems, there are three reasons why the report is incomplete or misleading.

First, it is not a measure of how tax systems affect economic performance. The most bizarre results in the report is that California, with a very punitive, class-warfare tax system, ranks above Texas, which has no income tax.

Why is this misleading? Because it’s important not only to measure how much of a family’s income is grabbed by government, but also whether a government has policies that make it more difficult to earn money in the first place.

In other words, there’s a reason that taxpayers and businesses are moving from California to Texas, notwithstanding the results from Money Geek.

Second, it doesn’t tell us anything about whether states are providing good services in exchange for the taxes that are being collected.

In an ideal world, states would use tax revenues to finance genuine “public goods.” In reality, taxes often are used to funnel undeserved money to powerful constituencies such as state and local bureaucrats.

And it’s worth noting that there are big differences in how states perform on basic functions such as education, infrastructure, and crime control (and the same is true for cities).

Third, it is not adjusted for the cost of living in different states. A family in Nebraska with a $350,000 house and about $83,000 of income obviously lives much better than a similar family in New Jersey. Why? Because money goes much farther in states with a lower cost of living.

This map from the Tax Foundation shows that red and orange states can be much more expensive than green and blue states.

P.S. If you want a ranking of economic liberty for metropolitan areas, click here.

P.P.S. Click here if you want a ranking of states based on occupational licensing (a form of employment protectionism).

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I wrote two months ago about Iowa lawmakers voting for a simple and fair flat tax.

I explained how this reform would make the state more competitive, but I want to build upon that argument with some of the Tax Foundation’s data.

Starting with this map from the State Business Tax Climate Index, which shows Iowa in 38th place for individual income taxes.

That low ranking is where the state’s tax code was as of July 1, 2021, so it obviously doesn’t reflect the reforms enacted earlier this year.

So where will the state rank with the new flat tax?

The Tax Foundation crunched the data and shows the state will jump to #15 in the rankings.

The above table shows that the jump is even more impressive when you factor in some modest pro-growth changes that took place a few years ago.

What a huge improvement over just a few years. The only state that may beat Iowa for fastest and biggest increase in tax competitiveness is North Carolina, which jumped 30 spots in just one year.

P.S. Politicians in New York must be upset that there’s no way for them to drop lower than #50. But at least they can take comfort in the fact that they are worse than California.

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State Tax Progress

Last year I shared a very encouraging map, which identified the many states that have been cutting tax rates.

After the November elections, I wrote a couple of encouraging columns about voters making sensible decisions when given the ability to vote for higher or lower taxes.

Later that month, I updated my five-column table showing which states have the best and worst tax systems.

And I ended the year with a look at the Tax Foundation’s State Tax Business Climate Index.

All things considered, not a bad year. At least at the state level.

Well, we may see more progress this year.

Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has a column in the Wall Street Journal about an ongoing revolution of pro-growth tax cuts at the state level.

…in the 50 states there is a dramatic increase in tax competition to provide the best government at the lowest cost. …Americans have noticed that high-tax states don’t provide better roads, education or other services. Florida (with 22 million residents) has no income tax and the state spends half as much as New York (20 million residents). New York has a top state income tax of 8.82% (soon rising to 10.9%) and was the only state to raise its personal income-tax rate during the pandemic. …state leaders have discovered that…marginal income-tax rate…reduction is enabled by spending restraint. North Carolina provided the best example of this strategy over the past seven years. …Louisiana, under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt, has set a path to reduce its income tax every year triggers are met. These triggers could take Louisiana’s income tax to zero by 2034… Ten other states have begun the march to a zero rate.

The column also mentions other states, such as Iowa, that hopefully will replace discriminatory regimes with simple and fair flat taxes.

Not everyone is happy about these developments.

In a column for the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell points out that some of the tax cutting was enabled by Biden’s big handouts to state governments.

Democrats in Congress have made it much easier for state-level Republicans to slash taxes this year… That’s because Democrats have shoveled a ton of federal money onto the states… Big budget surpluses have inspired the governors of Missouri, South Carolina and Iowa to propose cuts to their income tax rates. Utah’s Senate recently approved a $160 million tax cut, with its state House of Representatives expected to make the proposal even more expansive. And Mississippi is working to cut taxes on food sales and car tags — and to phase out its income tax entirely. …Even blue and purple states may jump on the traditionally conservative tax-cut bandwagon, too. …after President Biden took office, Democrats decided to go big with their stimulus bill… Democrats sent states and localities an additional $500 billion, including direct state and local covid relief grants, plus separate funding for education, transit and other programs. …many states have more cash than they know what to do with. …total state and local receipts were 26 percent higher in 2021 than they were in 2019.

Here’s the part she doesn’t like.

Republicans are taking these deficit-financed federal dollars, passing them on to constituents in the form of lower taxes and reaping the political benefits — all while being able to blame Democrats for the enormous cost they add to the federal debt. …perhaps red states reasonably assume that Democrats won’t learn their lesson — and will keep the federal dollars flowing, even if doing so hands Republicans home-state political victories.

Interestingly, congressional Democrats recognized this might be a problem.

But the anti-tax cut language they included in their handout legislation has not been effective.

Democrats did include legislative language that forbade any pandemic relief funds from being used to “either directly or indirectly” finance tax cuts. But enforcing that provision was always going to be difficult… Federal judges have already blocked Treasury from enforcing the no-tax-cut provision in at least 15 states… More litigation is pending, but these developments have emboldened Republicans, who are eager to use Democrats’ sloppy bill design against them.

All of this may be a quandary for libertarians and conservatives.

Biden’s boondoggle stimulus was bad legislation. And the same can be said for major parts of Trump’s pandemic emergency spending bills.

Yet one fortunate side effect is that state governments have had so much money that some of them have been cutting taxes.

But some of them also have been spending more money, and that won’t lead to good results.

All things considered, this really shouldn’t be a quandary. We got two bad things (more federal spending and more spending in some states) and one good thing (tax cuts in some states).

P.S. At some point, the politicians in Washington will have to restore some fiscal sanity, but I’m not holding my breath for good policy.

P.P.S. I suspect we’ll see even more interstate tax migration over the next few years. Simply stated, many people would rather live in libertarian-oriented states rather than greed-oriented states.

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I wrote last year about an encouraging trend of lower tax rates at the state level.

As you can see from this map, one of the states moving in the right direction is Iowa.

But Governor Kim Reynolds isn’t satisfied with just lowering tax rates, which is a worthy goal, of course.

She is now proposing to get rid of the state’s so-called progressive tax and replace it with a flat tax.

This would be very good news for Iowa’s economy and Iowa’s taxpayers.

An article in the Quad-City Times explains Governor Reynolds’ proposal.

In four years, every Iowan’s income would be taxed at 4% by the state under a new proposal from Gov. Kim Reynolds. Reynolds introduced her flat income tax proposal during last week’s annual Condition of the State address to the Iowa Legislature, encouraging the lawmakers to pass her idea.“Flat and fair,” Reynolds proclaimed during the speech. …Ten states currently have a flat state income tax, including Iowa’s eastern neighbor, Illinois. The list includes more blue states like Michigan and Massachusetts, but also red states like Kentucky and Utah. …Under Reynolds’ new plan, top state income tax rate would be eliminated each year over the next four years, until in 2026 every Iowa worker, regardless of income level, pays 4 percent. …The plan would reduce state revenue by $226 million in the first year, and by $1.6 billion at full implementation… Reynolds said during her speech. “Yes, we’ll have less to spend once a year at the Capitol, but we’ll see it spent every single day on Main Streets, in grocery stores, and at restaurants across Iowa. We’ll see it spent in businesses instead of on bureaucracies.” …Republican legislative leaders praised Reynolds’ proposal and said they are eager to begin working on legislation.

The article also explains the previous tax reform, which focused on lowering marginal tax rates.

In 2021, Iowa had nine state income tax rates, tied for the second-most in the country. Most Iowa workers’ income was taxed at between 4.14%, with rates increasing as income increased, up to a top rate of 8.53% for those earning over $78,435 of taxable income. As a result of tax reform passed by the Iowa Legislature and signed into law by Reynolds in 2018, the number of tax brackets will be reduced to four, ranging between 4.4 and 6.5%.

I showed last year how that legislation moved Iowa up one level in a ranking of state income taxes.

Well, here’s an updated look at the state’s total improvement if the governor’s plan for a flat tax is enacted.

Iowa jumps from the worst column to the next-to-best column.

And if I ranked states by the rate of their flat tax, Iowa’s 4 percent rate would be lower than the rates in North Carolina, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Utah, and Massachusetts.

Not as good as the states with no income taxes, but still impressive.

P.S. I’ll be curious to see how much Iowa will improve in the Tax Foundation’s rankings if the proposed flat tax gets approved.

 

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When I wrote about the 2018 edition of Freedom in the 50 States, Florida ranked as the nation’s most libertarian state.

In the 2021 version, New Hampshire takes the top spot (reclaiming the lead it had back in 2016).

Here’s a map showing the 10 best and 10 worst states. One obvious takeaway is that New Hampshire deserves extra praise because it is in a region where there seems to be a general disdain for economic and personal liberty.

And here’s a table showing how all the states rank.

As you can see, Florida is still a very good state.

Indeed, Florida is getting better over time. All that happened in the new edition of Freedom in the 50 States is that New Hampshire got better even faster.

This seems to be a pattern.

You can see from Figure 9 that the best states have been getting better over the past 10 years while the worst states are stagnating.

If you want some background on the publication, here’s how the authors (Will Ruger and Jason Sorens) describe their index.

…the 2021 edition examines state and local government intervention across a wide range of policy categories—from taxation to debt, from eminent domain laws to occupational licensing, and from drug policy to educational choice.We…strive to make it the most comprehensive and definitive source for economic freedom data on the American states.Although the United States has made great strides toward respecting each individual’s rights regardless of race, sex, age, or sexual preference, some individuals face growing threats to their interests in some jurisdictions. Those facing more limits today include smokers, builders and buyers of affordable housing, aspiring professionals wanting to ply a trade without paying onerous examination and education costs, and less-skilled workers priced out of the market by minimum-wage laws. Moreover, although the rights of some have increased significantly in certain areas, for the average American, freedom has declined generally because of federal policy that includes encroachment on policies that states controlled 20 years ago.

For more information, here’s how the states rank for economic freedom.

And here are the rankings for personal freedom.

Let’s look at the some other tables.

Since I’m most interested in fiscal policy, I’m reflexively drawn to Table 7. Kudos to Florida, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and South Dakota (the absence of a state income tax really helps). And I’m surprised to see Massachusetts in the top 10 (it helps to a have a flat tax).

For what it’s worth, Hawaii really stinks. And I’m not surprised to see New York next to last.

Here’s a look at how states have changed since 2000.

No big surprises, though it’s interesting to note that North Dakota (which was ranked #1 back in 2013) has suffered a relative decline (now ranked #15) simply because its improvement has been rather modest compared to the big improvements in other states.

P.S. For those interested in methodological issues, here’s a look at the formula used to determine which states have the most freedom and least freedom.

P.P.S. If you look at the weighting for personal freedom, you’ll find that educational freedom is 2 percent of a state’s score. Given the importance of school choice (for both individual education outcomes and national economic competitiveness), I wonder if that variable is insufficiently appreciated.

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Yesterday’s column included a map showing which states gained and lost the most population over the past year.

I speculated that some of America’s internal migration was driven by differences in tax policy.

So it’s appropriate today that I share this map from the Tax Foundation’s annual State Business Tax Climate Index, showing Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, and Florida with the best scores and Connecticut, California, New York, and New Jersey with the worst scores.

Comparing today’s map with yesterday’s map, I immediately noticed that two states losing a lot of people – New York and California – also are states that have very bad tax systems.

And if you examine other states, you’ll confirm that there’s a relationship between tax policy and people “voting with their feet.”

Does that mean taxes are the only thing that matters? Of course not.

But as Janelle Cammenga and Jared Walczak explain in their report, they definitely have an effect on where money gets invested and where jobs get created.

Taxation is inevitable, but 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. …all types of businesses, small and large, tending to locate where they have the greatest competitive advantage. The evidence shows that states with the best tax systems will be the most competitive at attracting new businesses and most effective at generating economic and employment growth. …State lawmakers are right to be concerned about how their states rank in the global competition for jobs and capital, but they need to be more concerned with companies moving from Detroit, Michigan, to Dayton, Ohio, than from Detroit to New Delhi, India. …Tax competition is an unpleasant reality for state revenue and budget officials, but it is an effective restraint on state and local taxes.

One of the more interesting parts of the report is that you get to see where states rank when considering different types of taxes.

Here’s Table 1, which has the overall ranking in the first column, followed by the rankings for the main revenue sources for states.

If you read the report’s methodology, you’ll notice that there are different weights.

The worst tax (assuming a state wants a competitive system) is the personal income tax, followed by the sales tax and corporate income tax.

No state ranks in the top 10 for all five categories, though Florida, North Carolina, and Utah have relatively good scores across the board.

P.S. One important caveat is that the report does not list energy severance taxes, which are major sources of revenue for states such as Alaska and Wyoming. To be sure, those taxes that largely are borne by out-of-state consumers, so there’s a reason for the omission. Nonetheless, those taxes enable excessive government spending, which is why I think South Dakota and Florida actually have the nation’s best fiscal systems.

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I’ve written many times about how Americans are moving from high-tax states to low-tax states.

Now we have even more evidence because the Census Bureau has issued its annual report on state population changes, along with this accompanying map.

You don’t need to be an expert in map reading to see that California, Illinois, and New York are losing people at the fastest rate (orange states).

Likewise, the states gaining population at the fastest rate (purple states) include Texas.

This chart from the Wall Street Journal shows the biggest changes, as measured by the number of people moving in and out.

To be sure, taxes are not the only factor that drive internal migration.

But it’s also clear that people tend to move to lower-tax states, either because they overtly want to keep more of their money, or because they are attracted to the job opportunities that tend to be more plentiful where taxes are lower.

As you might expect, the coverage from Fox News highlights the fact that people are leaving blue states and moving to red states.

Between 2020 and 2021, the country has seen the lowest population growth since its founding, at only a 0.1% increase, but the biggest declines have occurred in Washington, D.C., and Democrat-led states, according to a report Tuesday by the Census Bureau. …New York with a 1.6% decline, Illinois with a 0.9% decline, and Hawaii and California that both saw a 0.7% decline. Meanwhile, the states that saw the biggest increase in population growth were Republican-run states, starting with Idaho at a 2.9% increase, followed by Utah with 1.7%, Montana with 1.7%, Arizona with 1.4% and South Carolina with 1.2%. …Florida and Texas, each saw a population growth of 1%.

Citing a different report, he Wall Street Journal opined a few days ago about the implications of migration for Illinois.

The Land of Lincoln is one of only three states, including West Virginia and Mississippi, to have lost population since 2010. But its population over age 55 has grown as Baby Boomers have aged. …Illinois is losing young people while Florida is gaining them. State development specialist Zach Kennedy notes that “the U.S. population actually grew in the prime working age, young adult age cohorts, 25 to 29, 30 to 34 and 35 to 39 year olds.” Illinois was among the few states to see a decline in these age cohorts. …“Only New Jersey lost more college-aged individuals out of state who never returned,” Mr. Kennedy says. Hmmm. What do the two have in common? …a shrinking population of prime-age working people and children means a smaller tax base will have to support growing retirement liabilities. Folks who stick around will have to pay higher and higher taxes. …each Illinois household on average is on the hook for $110,000 in government-worker retirement debt, up from $90,000 in 2019. …The per-household pension burdens in Iowa and Wisconsin were $3,500 and $3,200, respectively. Both states have gained young people. State and local government in Illinois is run by public-worker unions, and people are fleeing the economic and fiscal consequences.

The most important sentence in the preceding excerpt points out that “Folks who stick around will have to pay higher and higher taxes.”

And that will encourage even more of them to leave, which leads to even-further pressure for higher taxes on the chumps who remain.

Needless to say, that won’t end well, for Illinois or other blue states. Either they go bankrupt or future politicians do a big blue-state bailout.

P.S. This helps to explain why curtailing the federal tax code’s subsidy for excessive state and local tax burdens was so important.

P.P.S. This is also why federalism is both good politics and good policy.

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Motivated in part by an excellent graphic that I shared in 2016, I put together a five-column ranking of state personal income tax systems in 2018.

Given some changes that have since occurred, it’s time for a new version. The first two columns are self explanatory and columns 3 and 5 are based on whether the top tax rate on households is less than 5 percent (“Low Rate”) or more than 8 percent (“Class Warfare”).

Column 4, needless to say, is for states where the top tax rate in between 5-8 percent.

The good news is that the above table is better than the one I created in 2018. Thanks to tax competition between states, there have been some improvements in tax policy.

I recently wrote about Louisiana’s shift in the right direction.

Now we have some good news from the Tarheel state. The Wall Street Journal opined today about a new tax reform in North Carolina.

The deal phases out the state’s 2.5% corporate income tax between 2025 and 2031. …The deal also cuts the state’s flat 5.25% personal income tax rate in stages to 3.99% by July 1, 2027. …North Carolina ranks tenth on the Tax Foundation’s 2021 state business tax climate index, and these reforms will make it even more competitive. …North Carolina has an unreserved cash balance of $8.55 billion, and legislators are wisely returning some of it to taxpayers.

What’s especially noteworthy is that North Carolina has been moving in the right direction for almost 10 years.

P.S. Arizona almost moved from column 3 to column 5, but that big decline was averted.

P.P.S. There are efforts in Mississippi and Nebraska to get rid of state income taxes.

P.P.P.S. Kansas tried for a big improvement a few years ago, but ultimately settled for a modest improvement.

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Immediately after election day in early November, I applauded voters in the (very blue) state of Washington. They wisely expressed their opposition to a plan by state politicians to impose a capital gains tax.

And it wasn’t even close. Voters said no by a landslide margin in a state that went heavily for Biden.

Today, we’re going to look at more good news from a statewide initiative.

Voters in Louisiana last Saturday had a chance to vote for some pro-growth tax reform. And, as reported by KPVI, they made a wise choice.

Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment that decreases the maximum individual income tax rate from 6% to 4.75% beginning next year. …fifty-four percent of voters agreed to Amendment 2, which affects taxpayers making more than $50,000 and couples making more than $100,000 annually. …The free market Pelican Institute also supported Amendment 2. “For too long Louisiana has been lagging behind our neighbors, but the people of Louisiana voted to start our comeback story by passing amendment 2 to simplify our tax code and lower our income tax rates to the lowest in the Southeast of states that levy the tax,” Pelican Institute CEO Daniel Erspamer said in a statement.

The good news gets even better.

Voters imposed a cap on income tax rates, with a maximum of 4.75 percent.

But the legislature is putting the rate down to 4.25, as noted by the Tax Foundation.

Let’s close by looking at some excerpts from an editorial by the Wall Street Journal.

…voters on Saturday approved a constitutional amendment that will reduce corporate and individual income tax rates while simplifying the code. …The tax reform, approved with 54% of the vote, eliminates the deductibility for federal taxes while reducing the top income tax rate on individuals making more than $50,000 to 4.25% from 6%. Rates will also decline for lower earners. The current five corporate tax brackets would be consolidated into three with the top rate falling to 7.5% from 8%. Most Louisianans will get a small net tax cut, and the implementing legislation includes triggers that would reduce rates more if revenues meet growth goals.

For what it’s worth, allowing state deductibility of federal taxes is almost as misguided as federal deductibility of state and local taxes.

So Louisiana voters opted for a win-win situation of lower rates and getting rid of a loophole.

P.S. In a payoff to their wealthy constituents (and to make life easier for profligate governors, state lawmakers, and local officials), Democrats in Congress are pushing to re-create a big deduction for state and local tax payments.

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There’s a political party in the United States – the Democrats – that represents rich people and it is trying very hard to cut taxes for those rich people.

Since I don’t resent rich people (indeed, I applaud them if they earn their money honestly), I generally want lower taxes for upper-income taxpayers. But I don’t want special tax breaks for rich people. Instead, I want to cut their taxes in ways that promote greater national prosperity so that I’ll benefit as well.

Sadly, those aren’t the options the Democrats are choosing.

They are putting all their energy into a dramatic expansion of the state and local tax deduction. This is the tax break that rich people get when they use state and local tax payments to reduce the amount of taxable income they report to the IRS.

It was curtailed as part of the 2017 tax law and now Democrats want to expand it.

The restored tax break would be available to everyone, they say, but let’s look at who really benefits.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is a middle-of-the-road group, and it points out that more only 2.5 percent of the tax cut would go to people making less than $100K per year.

The Tax Policy Center is a left-of-center organization and it also points out that expanding the deduction for state and local taxes means a windfall for the rich.

Here’s TPC’s chart showing that almost all the gains go to those in the top quintile.

While Democrats in Congress are pushing this big tax cut for the rich, some folks on the left are not very happy about what’s happening.

I often disagree with Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post, but she makes some excellent points in her recent column on the SALT deduction.

Wrong. A disaster. Obscene. These are among the ways liberal budget wonks have described Democrats’ determination to give a huge windfall to the rich by repealing the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions. …Households making $1 million or more a year would receive roughly half the benefit of this policy, according to estimates from the Tax Policy Center. About 70 percent of the benefit would go to households making at least $500,000. …Nearly every millionaire (93 percent)…would get a tax cut, with an average size of $48,000. …As a result, the top 5 percent of households would still likely see their taxes go down on net, after accounting for all tax provisions in the budget bill.

The New York Times made similar points about Democrats in an editorial earlier this year.

…the party is flirting with a major change in tax policy that would allow the wealthiest Americans to pay lower taxes. …Proponents of an unlimited SALT deduction say they are seeking to help middle-class taxpayers. If so, they should go back to the drawing board. The top 20 percent of American households, ranked by income, would receive 96 percent of the benefits of the change… The primary beneficiaries would be an even smaller group of the very wealthiest Americans. The 1 percent of households with the highest incomes would receive 54 percent of the benefit, on average paying about $36,000 less per year in federal income taxes.

Honest folks on the left aren’t just upset that congressional Democrats are pushing a big tax cut for rich people.

They’re also upset that this big tax cut is crowding out some other priorities for the left – such as additional spending.

This tweet from Jason Furman (a former top economist for Obama) captures this sentiment.

The bottom line is that the most important constituency for many elected Democrats is not poor people.

It’s rich people and the politicians at the state and local level who represent those rich people.

I’ll close by observing that I don’t want more spending and I also don’t want a special tax break that subsidizes bad policy by state and local politicians, so I’m  obviously not in full agreement with Mr. Furman.

So the best result is for Biden’s entire agenda to implode. That would be a win for American taxpayers, a win for the American economy, and a win for long-suffering residents of blue states.

P.S. Yes, resentment against success motivates many people on the left, but elected Democrats are not the same as left-wing activists.

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