Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Taxes (page 1 / 5)

Spread the (Local) Wealth Around

Twitter friend @joeld linked to an article about The Miracle of Minneapolis. The article was asking (and answering) the question of how "the city stayed so affordable despite its wealth and success".

In the 1960s, local districts and towns in the Twin Cities region offered competing tax breaks to lure in new businesses, diminishing their revenues and depleting their social services in an effort to steal jobs from elsewhere within the area. In 1971, the region came up with an ingenious plan that would help halt this race to the bottom, and also address widening inequality. The Minnesota state legislature passed a law requiring all of the region’s local governments—in Minneapolis and St. Paul and throughout their ring of suburbs—to contribute almost half of the growth in their commercial tax revenues to a regional pool, from which the money would be distributed to tax-poor areas. Today, business taxes are used to enrich some of the region’s poorest communities.

Never before had such a plan—known as “fiscal equalization”—been tried at the metropolitan level. “In a typical U.S. metro, the disparities between the poor and rich areas are dramatic, because well-off suburbs don’t share the wealth they build,” says Bruce Katz, the director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. But for generations now, the Twin Cities’ downtown area, inner-ring neighborhoods, and tony suburbs have shared in the metro’s commercial success. By spreading the wealth to its poorest neighborhoods, the metro area provides more-equal services in low-income places, and keeps quality of life high just about everywhere.

... The Twin Cities’ housing and tax-sharing policies have resulted in lots of good neighborhoods with good schools that are affordable for young graduates and remain nice to live in even as their paychecks rise. This, in turn, has nurtured a deep bench of 30- and 40-something managers, who support the growth of large companies, and whose taxes flow to poorer neighborhoods, where families have relatively good odds of moving into the middle class.

My immediate reaction to this plan was negative. "I'm a libertarian! I don't believe in making people share the results of their hard work and effort!" Then I stopped to actually think about it. Local governments are, obviously, different from people.

A metropolitan area is more than the sum of its constituent parts. Good suburbs reinforce each other and the city's urban core. Businesses can be located in one suburb, but draw employees from all over the metropolitan area. In a very real sense, the success of each suburb—or city—depends both on its own decisions and on the decisions, and general health, of the surrounding suburbs.

I think it makes a lot of sense to have the city and its suburbs sharing tax revenue with each other. They each contribute to the local pool of welfare, with businesses and employees constantly crisscrossing boundaries as they live, work, and play each day. It seems to make good sense to make sure that the entire metropolitan area is economically healthy, rather than having some areas that are wealthy just because a business is headquartered there instead of five miles away, inside a different municipal boundary.

I'm now interested in having Wisconsin apply a local version of this Minnesotan law.

The Revenue Deficit From Progressive Tax Rates

The Revenue Deficit From Progressive Tax Rates →

Michael Solon, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Why? A more progressive tax code now leverages the negative impact of slow economic growth. The share of all individual income taxes paid by the top 1% has risen to 41.8% in 2008 from 17.4% in 1980—but almost two-thirds of the income from the top 1% comes from nonwage income, including capital gains, dividends and proprietor's profits.

Individual income taxes as well as corporate taxes are now far more rooted in the shifting sands of volatile business income and capital profits rather than in the terra firma of wage income that stabilizes payroll taxes. From 1960 to 2000, payroll taxes were never lower than in the previous year, individual income taxes dipped only twice, and corporate taxes dropped 11 times. Since 2000, individual income and corporate tax revenues dropped five times, while payroll taxes fell twice. Not only do revenues from individual tax returns drop more often now. They fall more severely, with recent collapses of 14%-20% versus the 3%-5% range before 2000.

If "the rich" pay all of the taxes (and they pay a massive share in the U.S.) than tax revenues will be directly tied to the fates of the rich. Right now, the federal government needs high income earners to continue earning high incomes. As soon as the high incomes take a hit, tax revenue takes a massive hit.

We now have a government that has a massive incentive to ensure that "the rich" never see their incomes drop. We might have a more just government if we evened out the tax code, so that income taxes were spread more broadly and more evenly over the entire country instead of being concentrated over a very small portion of the country.

Voters prefer Republican budget ideas, but dislike GOP

Voters prefer Republican budget ideas, but dislike GOP →

Lara Seligman, for The Hill:

55 percent of likely voters opted for a plan that would slash $5 trillion in government spending, provide for no additional tax revenue and balance the budget within 10 years — in essence, the path recommended by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last week.

...

However, as soon as respondents heard the words “Republican” and “Democrat,” the picture changed drastically. A plurality of voters, 35 percent, said they trust the Democrats more on budgetary issues, while 30 percent said they trust the Republicans more. A full 34 percent said they trust neither party. 

These findings buttress the impression that the Republican label itself incites mistrust among many voters.  

Fiscal conservatives either need to figure out how to fix the GOP's image problem or else we need to figure out how to fight under another banner.

What the Tea Party Congress accomplished

What the Tea Party Congress accomplished →

Conn Carroll, writing for the Washington Examiner:

Huelskamp and his Republican colleagues changed all that. The 2011 Budget Control Act cut spending by $1.5 trillion, and the sequester cut it by an additional $1.2 trillion. At the same time, House Republicans were able to preserve nearly all of the expiring Bush tax cuts and cut the debt.

The CBO's Budget and Economic Outlook for fiscal years 2013 through 2023 shows just how much House Republicans have actually accomplished. The federal government is now on track to spend just $46.2 trillion through 2021. That is a $3.6 trillion spending cut. And instead of taxes eating up 21 percent of the U.S. economy in 2021, now the government is set to take in just 18.9 percent. The 2021 national debt is projected to be a bit lower, too, down from the earlier $18.25 trillion in 2011 to just $17.87 trillion today.

Despite all of this supposedly economy-killing "austerity," unemployment has steadily fallen, too. When Republicans took control of the House in 2011, the nation's unemployment rate was 9 percent. Today, it has fallen to 7.7 percent.

This is why I'm not entirely pessimistic about working in politics. Change is slow and hard. But that's a feature of the system, not a bug. If the American populace wants to get engaged and fight battles over the long term, they will be able to have success. The key is not just getting engaged but also staying engaged over a long period of time.

This entry was tagged. Reform Spending Taxes

ObamaCare Work Disincentives: 4 Cliffs That Hit Employees, Firms

ObamaCare Work Disincentives: 4 Cliffs That Hit Employees, Firms →

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated ObamaCare will "reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by roughly half a percent" — about 800,000 full-time jobs. It seems likely that four especially steep cliffs — including two where marginal tax rates can approach 100% or more — will factor into work and hiring decisions.

The 50th employee: For companies with 49 workers that do not offer its employees health coverage, the hiring of just one more worker would carry a penalty of $40,000.

The low-income cliff: At 200% of the poverty level is a dividing line. Deductibles for married couples on one side may be $300 vs. $3,500 on the other, according to one estimate provided to the Kaiser Family Foundation by Towers Watson.

The moderate-income cliff: The cliff is even steeper for families at 400% of poverty. Just past that point, families would lose eligibility for ObamaCare subsidies, which can get quite valuable for older workers.

Older workers' cliff: Lastly, consider a 62-year-old worker with $38,500 in income, $4,000 from investments. Such a worker could qualify for a $6,500 ObamaCare subsidy, paying $3,700 toward premiums with perhaps a $2,000 deductible.

But if she retires and claims Social Security, with roughly $14,000 a year in benefits, her ObamaCare premium subsidy would rise to $9,400 with almost no deductible.

Factoring in a state and federal tax bill of $6,500, that worker would have an after-tax, after health cost (premium and deductible) income of $26,000, vs. $17,100 in the old early-retirement scenario. In other words, the pre-tax gap between working and retiring early would shrink from $20,500 to just $8,900.

This entry was tagged. Obamacare Taxes

Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors

Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors →

The Cato Institute recently released the 2012 version of their annual report card on the nation's governors. As a supporter of the Tea Party movement, it's gratifying to see that the Republican governors are actually improving and are growing more fiscally responsible.

Wisconsin's own Scott Walker earns a "C", for some very good reasons. I hope he can pull that up to an "A" over the next 2 years.

Are Republicans and Democrats Any Different?

Advocates of smaller government often lament that politicians of both major par- ties tax and spend too much. While that is certainly true, Cato report cards have found that Republican governors are a bit more fiscally conservative than Democratic governors, on average. In the 2008 report card, Republican and Democratic governors had average scores of 55 and 46, respectively. In the 2010 report card, they had average scores of 55 and 47, respectively.

This pattern is even more pronounced in the 2012 report card. This time around, Republican and Democratic governors had average scores of 57 and 43, respectively. And, as in prior report cards, the difference between the two parties is slightly more pronounced on taxes than on spending.

The fiscal differences between governors of the two parties have increased a bit. In this year’s results, there are fewer governors than in prior reports who are out of step with the typical policies of their parties. In both the 2008 and 2010 reports, for example, Democrat Joe Manchin earned an “A,” while Republican Jodi Rell earned an “F.” But in this year’s report, all four “A” governors are Republicans and all five “F” governors are Democrats.

Romney's Tax Cut

Romney's Tax Cut →

David Henderson rounds up links to various economists and think tanks that have studied the Romney tax plan. They all agree that it's not impossible, that it could work, and that it is very similar to the Simpson-Bowles plan (which President Obama summarily ignored).

After laying out the details of the Romney plan, Reynolds does a comparison:

When it comes to tax policy, the main difference between Romney's and Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and Bipartisan Policy Center's Debt Reduction Task Force advisers is that Romney proposes 1) a slightly lower corporate tax rate, and 2) a much lower bottom rate of 8 percent rather than 12 percent. (The fact that there would be six rates rather than three is insignificant.)

Simulating the Economic Effects of Romney's Tax Plan

Simulating the Economic Effects of Romney's Tax Plan →

The Tax Foundation runs the numbers on Romney's tax plan.

The debate over Mitt Romney’s tax plan has largely revolved around the short term concerns of who gets what and how much, rather than the more long term concerns of economic growth, job creation, deficit reduction, and tax reform. This is unfortunate, especially in a time of record unemployment and debt levels. These serious issues have been put aside to focus particularly on the results of a single study by the Tax Policy Center (TPC), which finds Romney’s tax plan would require raising taxes on low- and middle-income earners to pay for tax cuts for high-income earners. However, to get there, TPC assumes that tax rates do not matter for economic growth, i.e., Romney’s plan to cut income tax rates by 20 percent across the board will have no effect on labor supply or saving and investment decisions. Only among Washington score keepers does such an assumption make sense, but it certainly has no credibility among academic economists.

So, what will be the effect of Romney's tax plan?

The results are considerably different from TPC’s. We find that fully 60 percent of the static revenue loss from Romney’s plan is recovered when the dynamic effects of economic growth are taken into account. We find that while the cuts in the individual income tax rates do not “pay for themselves,” they do grow the economy 1.8 percent over the long run. The biggest boost to the economy comes from the 10 point cut in the corporate rate, which grows GDP by 2.3 percent, the capital stock by 6.3 percent, and the wage rate by 1.9 percent. The corporate rate cut is so economically beneficial that it does pay for itself, when all federal revenue effects are considered. So does the elimination of taxes on capital gains and dividends for middle-income earners and the estate tax.

These benefits are widely shared. Every income group experiences at least a 7 percent increase in after-tax income.

That's reform I can get behind.

The Romney Tax Plan: Not a Tax Hike on the Middle Class

The Romney Tax Plan: Not a Tax Hike on the Middle Class →

Romney's tax plan is revenue neutral because he lowers rates while simultaneously eliminating exemptions, deductions, and other "giveaways to special interests". It's what I really want out of tax reform and it's one of the things that makes me look forward to a Romney administration.

Alex Brill, of the American Enterprise Institute, breaks down how the Romney plan would work and why the math, contra the Brookings Institute, doesn't point to a tax hike.

In summary:

Romney has proposed a bold tax reform that would broaden the tax base and lower statutory tax rates across the board. While maintaining preferential rates for savings and investment, his proposal repeals the tax expenditures that distort economic decisions and add complexity to tax returns.

Although Obama has no such plan for tax reform, his vision for the tax system appears clear. He has refused to endorse the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which would also have lowered statutory tax rates and broadened the tax base. Instead, his near-singular focus has been to raise statutory tax rates for high-income households and to leave untouched hundreds of special tax breaks for various political constituencies.

Mitt Romney's effective tax rate is very low: Most economists think it should be.

Mitt Romney's effective tax rate is very low: Most economists think it should be. →

Matt Yglesias, not known as a Republican booster, defends Mitt Romney's tax rate.

The main reason Romney's effective rate is so low is that the American tax code contains a lot of preferences for investment income over labor income. That's something that strikes many people as unfair on its face, and particularly unfair since it often means very low rates for extremely rich people like Romney. And Romney himself as a rich guy who's also a member of the political party seen as favoring the rich, and who's been recorded as whining that the working poor are undertaxed is perhaps not an ideal messenger for a defense of this policy.

But this is definitely an issue where the conservative position is in line with what most experts think is the right course, and Democrats are outside the mainstream.

10 stunning and myth-busting charts on the U.S. tax system

10 stunning and myth-busting charts on the U.S. tax system →

The Tax Foundation just posted a ton of super-informative, myth-dispelling charts on the U.S. tax system. Here are a few that popped out at me, but there are plenty more at the Tax Foundation website.

  1. The U.S. income tax code is very progressive.
  2. And it is more progressive than what it used to be.
  3. Even with tax breaks, the system is progressive.
  4. The rich pay twice as high a tax rate.
  5. Want to tax millionaires and and billionaires? Better be quick about it.
  6. Income inequality? This explains some of it.
  7. Also, the aging of America skews income distribution.
  8. Education also plays a huge role in income inequality.
  9. Oh, by the way, tax hikes on the rich are also tax hikes on business.
  10. Taxing the rich won’t solve the debt problem.

Those charts are very interesting.

This entry was tagged. Taxes

The Fiscal Costs of Nonpayers

The Fiscal Costs of Nonpayers →

This is an interesting study, from the Tax Foundation.

The record growth in the percentage of Americans who pay no federal income taxes because of the generosity of the credits and deductions in the tax code has received much attention recently.

We find that the growth of nonpayers is strongly associated with increases in transfer payments and the national debt. Indeed, the twenty-year growth in nonpayers is associated with more than $213 billion in increased transfer spending and a 14 percentage point increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2010 alone. These findings imply that when voters perceive the cost of government to be cheaper than it really is, they demand ever more government benefits because they either don’t feel the cost directly or believe that others will be paying those costs.

Our results indicate that the dire fiscal straits we are now in, and which much of Europe is struggling with as well, can only be responsibly addressed through a more balanced tax burden. In particular, so long as income taxes fund the largest part of government spending, exempting half the population from income taxes is not a sustainable fiscal model. Debt accumulation and eventual default await those democracies that fail to connect a majority of voters to the cost of government spending.

Fiscal Reality Wins a Victory in Wisconsin

Fiscal Reality Wins a Victory in Wisconsin →

This is why I worry about government spending levels. Wisconsin either needs to cut spending or raise taxes (or both) an average of $1522 more per household, per year. For the next 30 years.

Wisconsin voters know they are struggling. They sense that unchecked growth of local and state governments will grind them down even more. Government as usual was not an option.

But they need to know how bad things really are.

For example, without major reforms, the public pensions officially accounted at 100 percent funded actually need $1,563 more from the average household every year for 30 years just to pay benefits already promised, according to an updated study for the National Bureau of Economic Research by Robert Novy-Marx and Joshua Rauh.

Public retiree health-care funding is more than $2.3 billion short, according to the Pew “Widening Gap” study, and the state only paid 45 percent of the last payment due. Somebody is going to have to make up the difference.

More Evidence That Spending Cuts Are the Best Way to Shrink Our Debt

More Evidence That Spending Cuts Are the Best Way to Shrink Our Debt →

Veronique de Rugy talks about the immense size of our deficit and the impossibility of paying it off by raising taxes on "the rich".

This is where the middle class comes in. Politicians know the real potential for tax revenue lies with the middle class. Middle-income Americans far outnumber the rich and, at least for now, are taxed at relatively low rates. But even if we tapped the middle class, we’d have to raise tax rates by a staggering amount.

To balance the budget, we’d have to triple tax rates on every household earning over $100,000. Alternatively, we could merely double tax rates, but we’d have to do it on every household earning over $75,000. Not only are there not enough rich households to tax, there are barely enough middle-income households.

Private city in Honduras

Private city in Honduras →

Small government and free-market capitalism are about to get put to the test in Honduras, where the government has agreed to let an investment group build an experimental city with no taxes on income, capital gains or sales.

The laws in the city will be separate from those in the rest of Honduras. Strong said that the default law that will be enforced in the city will actually be based on Texas state law, which has relatively few regulations.

“It will be Texas law with more freedom of contract. Texas scores well on state economic freedom rankings,” he explained.

This will be an interesting experiment to watch. Hong Kong 2.0?

Obama and the Buffett Rule

Obama and the Buffett Rule →

I've listened to the weekly Presidential radio addresses, since at least 2005. (Yes, I know that makes me something of a masochist.) Which means that I've heard the last 3 or 4, from President Obama, on the subject of taxes and the Buffet Rule. I've been irritated by them and have wanted to do a take down of them. Thankfully, Reason magazine did it for me.

If there were some kind of award for the most misleading statements in a single four-minute speech, President Obama would have earned it with his weekly address this weekend, timed for tax day.

“We can’t afford to keep spending more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans,” Mr. Obama said.

This is really something. First of all, who is the “we” in that sentence? The many Americans who don’t pay any income taxes at all, or who take more from the government in welfare or entitlement benefits than they pay in taxes? Second, it’s great to see Mr. Obama start to crack down on unaffordable government spending. But it’s hard to define tax cuts as spending unless you start from the concept that all money belongs to the government to begin with. It’s one thing to conceive of some special tax break as a “tax expenditure.” But it’s not “spending” for the government to allow an individual to keep money that the individual earned or owned in the first place.

This entry was tagged. Barack Obama Taxes

A Guide to Budget Rhetoric

A Guide to Budget Rhetoric →

Arnold Kling offers some perceptive words Congressional budgeting and campaign rhetoric.

Because the budget is so far from being sustainable, budget rhetoric needs to be re-interpreted.

When their side refuses to cut spending because it would be "cruel," they are ensuring that future spending cuts will be even crueler.

When our side refuses to raise taxes, we are ensuring that future tax increases will be higher.

Until the baseline is a sustainable budget, the rhetoric will be the opposite of reality.

Milton Friedman on Wealth Redistribution

I'm a sucker for Milton Friedman videos and I'm a sucker for people explaining the secondary effects of economic regulations: the unseen that comes after the seen. Friedman does that here, schooling a student on how a 100% inheritance tax on wealth would destroy our society.

This entry was tagged. Taxes Wealth

The S&P Downgrade

The S&P Downgrade →

An oldie from August, that I've been hanging on to, for some reason. Veronique de Rugy breaks down S&P;'s memo about why they downgraded US debt to an AA+ rating.

The bottom line:

In other words, to avoid a downgrade, it would have been key in S&P’s opinion to show signs of willingness to cut (contain) Medicare and other entitlement spending. That didn’t happen, since many lawmakers in Congress (Democrats mainly, though not exclusively) refuse to talk about how much we can really afford to spend on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs.

As a result, it is difficult to claim that the Republicans’ unwillingness to raise revenue is the only reason for this downgrade. It seems to me that there is enough blame to go around.

Three Policies That Gave Us the Jobs Economy

Three Policies That Gave Us the Jobs Economy →

Amity Shlaes on what sparked the job growth of the 1980's.

The era didn't start well. The mid-1970s were a dead period. Then suddenly, from 1977 to 1978, new private capital devoted to venture capital increased by 15 times, to $570 million in 1978 from $39 million the year before.

In 1977, public underwritings of firms with a net worth of less than $5 million amounted to a meager $75 million. By 1980 that figure was $822 million, as Michael K. Evans, founder of Chase Econometrics, points out. The venture-capital boom continued down the decades, serving computing, technology, biotech and many other areas.

But what caused this boom? Three policy changes. The first was a [capital gains] tax cut for which this newspaper campaigned. ...

A second policy change came in pension law. ...

A third factor, and one that ensured the boom would continue, was a law ... [that] clarified murky intellectual property rights so that universities and professors, especially, knew they owned their own ideas and could sell them. ...