Category Archives: local government tax burden

Comparative Public Education Finances in FY 2000 and FY 2020:  A Brief Review

As everyone who has gotten their information from New York’s local media over the past 20 years is aware, the New York City schools and its unionized teachers owe the children of New York City nothing, because the schools are underfunded and understaffed, and teachers unsupported by the rest of us, leading to large class sizes and teachers leaving for better jobs.  There is a constant stream of press releases to this effect, and no elected official seeking to maintain perpetual incumbency dares to contradict it.   And those seeking to advocate for more school funding or better conditions for teachers elsewhere would prefer that the New York City public schools not be discussed at all.

So, it has been left to this unpaid avocational blogger to tabulate and publish the readily available data released by the Census Bureau each year on how much New York City schools actually spend, compared with other places and with the past.  Since others are paid to not make this information available.

The past two years, years of pandemic, have been unusual and unrepresentative, and perhaps not relevant to any discussion of choices that have been made.  Therefore, I’m not going to go into the kind of detailed multi-post comparisons I did last year based on FY 2019 data, and two years before that based on FY 2017 data.  But perhaps a simple FY 2020 to FY 2000 comparison will be easier to digest.  A discussion of seven nine charts (sorry, can’t help myself), a correlation analysis, and spreadsheets with data for every school district in New York and New Jersey for FY 2020 and for FY 2000 (adjusted for inflation into $2020) follow.

Continue reading

The DeBlasio and Cuomo Administrations: A Review

A public chief executive has three jobs: policy, management, and leadership. With leadership being using one’s influence as a public figure, in competition with celebrities and marketing influencers, to change what people voluntarily do on their own, rather than what the government forces them to do or does for them.  For state and local government, the key policy is the budget — who is made to pay how much, and what it is spent on, compared with the past and compared with other places.  Management determines how much in services and benefits people actually get for that spending.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo spent much of their tenures feuding.  They would have you believe it was over policy and ideological differences.  I believe their primary ideology is careerism, the advancement of their own careers to higher office, and this made them rivals — and the rest of us and our futures pawns.  Perhaps that’s why both “President” DeBlasio and “President” Cuomo left office widely despised.  

But what did they actually do?  Even as we just had an election for Mayor, and are currently having an election for Governor, the media doesn’t seem to be talking about it, other than issues of the moment such as bail reform.

Most people can’t do it, but one ought to separate what the pols do from the broader situation. DeBlasio and Cuomo didn’t cause the opioid epidemic, the surge in homelessness, or the COVID-19 pandemic, or in Cuomo’s case, the long-term economic decline of Upstate New York.  But they didn’t cause the economic boom and soaring federal debt that allowed them to pander to every special interest group without completely screwing anyone else except transit riders and the later-born (until the future) either.  With regard to the budget, I’ve created some charts that make a fair and perhaps telling comparison.  This post will briefly describe what I plan to do, with additional posts making the comparisons to follow.

Continue reading

Sold Out Futures by State:  The Sold Out Future Ranking For 2019

Over the past three posts I’ve documented how today’s and tomorrow’s Americans have had their future sold out and cashed in with regard to state and local government debts, inadequate past infrastructure capital construction, and retroactively increased and underfunded public employee pensions.  Over and above the generational inequities at the federal level in government, in the private sector, and even in many families.  Plus climate change, which some have claimed will be so bad I should stop worrying about other aspects of generational inequity.

These aren’t technical issues to be discussed one at a time, as if they were independent of each other.  They are a single ethical issue to be discussed and understood as a whole.  Look at any issue, any institutional decision in government, business and the professions, any social trend of the past 40 years, and examine how it has affected those in different generations – who benefitted, and at whose expense.  And you will find the same thing.  

That is why our society is in decline, something all those crazed about the tribalist cultural issues that consume out geriocratic politics apparently understand, and are desperate to find someone else to blame for.  The Sold Out Futures by state ranking, based on the state and local government part of it, is my contribution to the bigger story, one that remains under Omerta.  

Adding it up, on average today’s and tomorrow’s Americans have inherited a Sold Out Future due to past state and local government deals and non-decisions equal to 47.0% of their personal income in FY 2019.  That is virtually unchanged from the 47.1% I found when I did the same analysis for FY 2012, despite a much stronger economy and another asset price bubble.   

Unlike the other generational inequities in our society in the wake of Generation Greed (and more like the differences between families), the state and local government burden is not the same everywhere in the U.S.   It is greater or smaller depending on where you live.  It attaches to the people there now, unless they move away from it, and may eventually attach to each place’s real estate, since real estate cannot pick up and move.  This final post in the series will rank states, and New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, based on how sold out their futures are.

Continue reading

DeBlasio’s Last New York City Budget: He Predicts Even More Inequality and Gentrification, or Else NYC is Toast, Because Those Cashing in And Moving Out Will Take More Off the Top No Matter What

Mayor Bill DeBlasio released his last budget recently, and it assumes that pre-pandemic trends will continue.  The rich will continue to get richer and the stock market bubble will continue to inflate, thanks to the federal government doing whatever it takes, regardless of the long-term cost, to prevent asset prices from going down.  Despite higher and higher taxes, the rich will stay in New York City and just keep paying.  So will hundreds of thousands of young adults, who will continue to live in less and less space for higher and higher rents and accept higher taxes, fees and fares and diminished public services, including crowding and unreliable service on the subways no elected official is in charge of.  More and more economic activity and educated workers will be concentrated in New York City compared with the suburbs, and in metro New York compared with the rest of the country.

All this will offset the extent to which DeBlasio’s (and all the other NY politicians) public union and contractor supporters will continue to get richer and richer, compared with other workers.   Other workers whose lower pay will keep the cost of living down for public workers and retirees, as the overall inflation rate remains below the long-term trend.  Based on these assumptions, the total city budget will grow more slowly than the total personal income of NYC residents over the long term.  Even if the average New Yorker continues to become worse off, because there will be more and more working adults.

But if that is what has happened, and will continue to happen, then why have NY’s state and local taxes been increased, over and over, and risen as a percent of personal income?  Instead of falling.  Why are debts continually increasing, and with interest payments rising as a share of city residents’ personal income despite rock bottom interest rates (also assumed to be permanent)?   Instead of debts being paid down.  Why does the Mayor plan to hand early retirement deals to city workers age 55 and over yet again, to “prevent layoffs,” after having already agreed to no-layoff guarantees? And why, in this Mayoral campaign, is no one asking questions about any of this – in the place with the highest state and local tax burden in the country, where the media is full of claims that we deserve even less in return because we aren’t paying enough – notably by the police and teachers?

Continue reading

Taxes & Generational Equity: New York State and New York City in 2020

With a deteriorating mass transit system, despite high and rising taxes and fares, and soaring rents (and property tax revenues from renters), young workers have been leaving New York City since 2015, a trend that has accelerated since the COVID-19 pandemic.  And there is talk that the wealthy will move away since they will now have to pay taxes, after not having to pay taxes in the past, according to various headlines over the past two years.  From “not taxing the rich,” according to those headlines, New York is suddenly taxing the rich more than any other state.  Even California.

In reality, of course, New York already taxed the rich, and everyone else, far more than any other state.  And it isn’t close.  As I showed here…

In FY 2017 New York State’s average state and local government tax burden was 13.8% of state residents’ personal income, compared with the U.S. average of 9.8% and 10.3% for California.  If New York City were a separate state, its burden would have been 15.1% of income, and rising, compared with 12.9% on average for the rest of the state.  And at that level, according to any elected officials who didn’t want to face a primary, and most of the local media, city residents deserved deteriorating public services, because they weren’t paying enough.

There is one group of people, however, who face a very different tax burden in New York, compared with other places.

https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/new-york-state-affordable-retirement-social-security

Retiree David Fisher, 69, has lived in New York state since age 27.  He has found that while living there was expensive while he was working, New York is much more affordable in retirement.  This is primarily for three reasons: New York State doesn’t tax Social Security or retirement account distributions, the state has a program to reduce property taxes after age 65, and there’s a low cost of living in the Rochester, New York, area where he lives. 

Retired public employees, like the Senior Voters in our tax analysis of three prototypical Brooklyn couples, have it even better – none of their retirement income, paid for by poorer working serfs, is taxable.

Continue reading

Taxes & Generational Equity in 2020: An Updated Turbo Tax Analysis of Three Prototypical Brooklyn Couples

It’s tax time, and it has been six years since I last compared the federal, state and local tax burden on two prototypical Brooklyn couples using Turbo Tax and other information:  the Senior Voters, home-owning former NYC public employees who got to retire at age 56, and the Young Hopefuls, a couple trying to get by while renting and working.  Now that the Senior Voters are age 69 and receiving Social Security, and the Young Hopefuls are age 41 (with Baby Hopeful reaching age 15), it’s time to find out what has changed.  

In the past I showed that the Young Hopefuls, despite much being poorer, would pay a much higher percent of their income in taxes.  A large share of those taxes would go to pay for the pensions and senior benefits of senior voters.  When the cost of health care, child care and housing were included, the Senior Voters would have enough money left for a very affluent, high consumption lifestyle.  The Young Hopefuls would have barely enough money to get by, despite matching the median income of NYC households.  Worse, given soaring public and private debts, the Young Hopefuls will not be getting the same benefits when they are old themselves. Poorer than the Senior Voters had been in young adulthood, and also now in middle age, they will be even worse off at the end of their lives, due to deals a generation of senior voters cut with themselves to put in less and take more out.

As a new twist I have added a third couple:  Chad the Private Equity Guy and his new wife Trixie, originally from metro Chicago and the Chicago Merc, but now working in private equity in NYC while living in a luxury condo in Dumbo.  While the difference in the tax burden on the Young Hopefuls and Senior Voters shows how harshly work income is taxed compared with retirement income, especially public employee retirement income in New York, Chad and Trixie’s tax bill shows how much investment income is favored at the federal level.   And the deals for seniors and the rich have just kept getting richer, even as later born generations of ordinary Americans, on average, keep getting poorer and deeper in debt.   Both political parties have contributed to the trend, a reality that belies their alleged increasing partisan warfare.

So what percent of income would these three couples pay in taxes?

Continue reading

The One-Way Check Valve of New York City’s Fiscal Relationships

The tax revenues from the wealth of New York City are not only for the benefit of people who live in New York City.

That’s what Governor Andrew Cuomo said in 2014 when New York City was booming, Upstate the Downstate suburbs were declining, and newly-elected Mayor Bill DeBlasio wanted to raise the New York City income tax to increase revenues specifically for the city budget.  Cuomo has made the “temporary” higher “millionaires” state income tax rates permanent instead, and sent the money to the rest of the state.  

Money is fungible.

That’s what the Governor said when the “dedicated” MTA tax revenues, collected only in Downstate New York, were transferred to the state budget and spent, in part, in Upstate New York.  Even as the subway system went into deferred maintenance, and most of the MTA capital plan was unfunded and never took place.  The MTA still refuses to publish a 20-year needs statement, showing this planned decline, today.

There is plenty of money, it’s just in the wrong hands.

That’s what Mayor Bill DeBlasio said, before signing labor contracts that ensured that those who benefitted from one retroactive pension increase after another wouldn’t be asked to make any offsetting sacrifices to help to pay for it.  Those members of the political/union class in on the deals could take more without anyone else other than a small number of $billionaries being left with less, he wanted to pretend. 

No blue state bailouts.

That is the attitude of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s view of the federal money being sent to “fiscally irresponsible” declining Blue States, perhaps at the expense of “self reliant” Red States.   

All but the last of these statements were made at a time when educated and talented Millennials, and the businesses that sought to hire them at low wages, were pouring into a small number of large central cities, including New York, even as the cost of real estate soared and the standard of living fell, creating a gusher of federal, state and local tax revenues pushing outward.  The reversal of this started slowly in the mid-2010s, after subway service decline to a “state of emergency” level as inflation-adjusted rents and sales prices peaked in NYC – and then surged during 2020 in association with the pandemic.  

So now, will money flow in the opposite direction, from other parts of the U.S., New York State, and from the political/union class to ordinary New Yorkers?   Or are New York City’s fiscal relationships a check valve that only allows money to flow in one direction?

Continue reading

The New York City and State Budget Crisis: The Circumstances Beyond Their Control Are Only Beyond Their Control Because They Cut Deals to Make them Beyond Their Control

It’s a never-ending cycle.  When the economy is up and tax dollars are rolling in, the political/union class and executive/financial class negotiate deals with themselves to take more out, and/or put less in, to the City of New York, the State of New York, and agencies such as the MTA, because there is “plenty of money” and no one needs to be made worse off to pay for it.  Secret deals that are barely reported by what is left of the real news media, the portion of it that is willing to question what is going on and who is benefitting.  Irrevocable deals, deals guaranteed by contract, or by the constitution, even if those who received little or nothing in exchange, were not party to the negotiations, were not really represented there, and didn’t even know about them, are forced to pay for them.

Then a recession happens, and a budget crisis follows.   And the serfs – those who didn’t benefit from the deals, later-born New York taxpayers and service recipients, later hired public employees, those without special deals and privileges – are made even worse off due to circumstances beyond our control, as blame is cast in a circle.   

But are those circumstances really beyond anyone’s control? Even if the New York State constitution seems to put them there, that constitution could be changed, with the vote of two consecutive legislatures and a voter referendum.  One New York State legislature ends December 31st.  Another begins January 1st.  Changes to the state constitution could be on the ballot in November, 2021, as New York City residents went to the polls to vote for Mayor and City Council – if the powers that be wanted that happen.

Continue reading

Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Personal Income Data for 2019: So This is What Was Meant by the “Fairest City in America!”

Two kinds of people have been getting richer.  The top executives who sit on each other’s boards of directors and vote each other a higher and higher share of private sector pay, to the detriment of investors, consumers, and other workers.  And retired and soon-to-retire public employees in places like New York City, who cut deals with the politicians they control to retroactively increase their already comparatively rich pensions, to the detriment of public service recipients and taxpayers.  There is the executive/financial class, the political/union class, and the serfs.  

The serfs continue to become worse off, adjusted for whatever point we are in the economic cycle.  In fact the economic cycle is part of what the executive/financial class and the political/union class use to put the serfs further down.  At the peak of a boom, they sign irrevocable deals to give themselves more because there is “plenty of money” and no one needs to be made worse off to pay for it.  But then a recession hits, and the serfs end up with higher taxes, diminished services and public benefits, and diminished pay and benefits funded by their employer, due to “circumstances beyond our control.”  Those cutting the deals never give anything back, since they have “a contract” that others, who received nothing in exchange, have to make good on.  Among the worst off victims – those in later-born generations, since those in older, earlier-born generations generally “grandfather” themselves from all related sacrifices as well.

Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Personal Income data was recently released for 2019, almost certainly the peak of the economic cycle that started from the bottom in 2010.  And it shows that here in Downstate New York, we have reached a milestone.  The average (mean) earnings (cash plus employer benefits) those working in the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sectors (including both employees and the self-employed) was $122,813 that year. The rest of the private sector averaged $81,575.  The mean earnings for state and local government workers Downstate, meanwhile, was $124,095.  That is not only 52.1% higher than the mean for the rest of the private sector, including all the one-percenters outside finance, a record high difference.  But also – for the first time – more than the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sectors. So that is what was meant by “fairness” around here!

Continue reading

Graphic Summary: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Over the past six weeks, I’ve posted a series of analyses of state and local government finances using data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, starting with the 2017 Census of Governments and including similar data for prior years.  The posts include well over 200 pages of text, 296-plus charts, 25 tables, 34 spreadsheets with that data, those tables and those charts, plus additional spreadsheets. It is the fifth time I have done this, based on the Census of Governments, which comes out every five years.

Did you read them all?

If not, I will now attempt to summarize what the data said about state and local government in New York City compared with the rest of the country, prior to the cornonavirus crisis, with a series of selected charts and a sentence or two each.  Most of the data is for all the governments in a state or county added together, with revenues and expenditures divided by the personal income of everyone in that state or county, to adjust for the relative cost of living and ability to pay. The first post in the series, which includes spreadsheets with revenue and expenditure data on the full scope of state and local government activities, and explains where the data comes from and how it is tabulated, is here.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/background-and-databases-2017-census-of-governments-finance-data/

Continue reading