Category Archives: state tax burden

Will New Jersey’s Phil Murphy Be the First To Tell The Truth about Generation Greed?

Coming into office eight years ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faced a fiscal disaster, following decades of shortsighted but popular policies that robbed the future. He talked like a problem solver, and could have made difficult choices to raise taxes and tolls, and reduce public services for everyone, not just for transit riders.   But since the majority of New Jersey residents don’t follow state and local government closely, this would have meant Christie received all the blame for all that had gone before. So he punted, and shifted costs from the past further into the future, to the extent that this was possible. As a result he won a second term. But the future continues to become the present, and the bills continue to come due. He is leaving office as one of the most despised politicians in the country.

Coming into office today, therefore, New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy also faces a fiscal disaster, this time at the peak of an economic cycle rather than in a deep recession. A fiscal disaster that is certain to get even worse when the next recession hits and the stock market corrects to something like fair value. And he faces those same two options. Raise taxes, cut services, and perhaps tell his public employee union supporters that they have to give up more to get back in solidarity with their fellow state residents. And be blamed for all of the above. Or hope that state residents have gotten used to how bad things are under Christie, kick the can a little further, and try to sneak into a second term before the additional bills come due. And then leave office as despised as Christie and outgoing Connecticut Governor Malloy.

But there is a third option.   Interested Phil?

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Medicaid and the State and Local Government Tax Deduction: The Federal Government Re-Declares War on New York City, Joining the Rest of New York State and New York City’s Political/Union Class

The Republican tax plan includes a repeal of the federal income tax deduction for state and local income taxes, and a partial repeal of the deduction for local property taxes. The Economist magazine likes the idea.

Republicans have since come to view the state and local deduction as something that encourages big government, rather than deterring it. It subsidizes Democratic-leaning states that set their taxes high…States are surely capable of balancing their budgets without receiving a federal subsidy for doing so. There is no real justification for distorting their fiscal decisions one way or the other.”

There is one justification, though no politicians on either side have an incentive to point it out. Thus making the policies that really shift money, and the identify of the beneficiaries, once again the “unsaid.” One reason that high tax states are in fact high tax states is that the federal government drains money out of them. This deduction of state and local taxes from federal personal income taxes is sort of a partial make-good.

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Medicaid: The Rest of New York State (Re) Declares War on New York City

After the 1994 election, the one that saw the Republicans take Congress after decades of Democratic dominance, the New York Times published a “portrait of the electorate” based on exit polls. It showed that the 1960s generation was the one most likely to vote Republican that year. “Those hypocrites” I thought. They were “liberals” in their youth when they wanted to get out of serving in Vietnam, and now they are “small government” “conservatives” when they are at their earnings peak and they don’t want to pay taxes, but I’ll bet they’ll be “liberals” again when its time to collect on federal old age benefits. But they surprised me by being even worse than I thought. They still want even more tax cuts for themselves, and even more old age benefits for themselves, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit. They want to borrow to pay for it. And to ensure our foreign creditors that the money will be paid back by someone else, they also want deep cuts in public services that younger generations need now, and drastic reductions old age benefits — not for themselves but for those to follow them – effective in the future.

With their aging, stagnant populations, the Downstate Suburbs and Upstate New York are now disproportionately occupied by, and almost exclusively represented by, members of Generation Greed. And back in the 1990s I had similar thoughts about their possible upcoming hypocrisy with regard to Medicaid funding, and specifically the local taxpayer share of it. But once again I’ve been surprised, because once again my cynicism was insufficient. They are even worse people than I thought. And it’s past time from them to be called to account for it.

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Education: Census Bureau Government Finances Data for FY 2004 and FY 2014

For the United States and most parts of it, the decade from FY 2004 to FY 2014 saw soaring public employee retirement costs, and weak growth for taxpayer income. In response to these trends state government assistance for public elementary and secondary schools fell relative to the income of all state residents, and total spending on public schools fell as a share of everyone’s income as well. But there was an offsetting factor. School enrollment fell as a share of the total population, and in many cases in absolute numbers, as the very large “Baby Boom Echo (Gen Y, Millennials) Generation exited school with smaller generations behind them.

At the same time, and perhaps driven by the same demographic shifts, state and local government spending on public higher education increased when measured per $1,000 of everyone’s personal income. But how did different states compare, and how was per-student elementary and secondary school spending affected? That is the subject of this post.

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State and Local Taxes in FY 2004 and 2014: Census Bureau Data

When measured as a percent of state residents’ personal income, the combined state and local government tax burden of New York State and, in particular, New York City is uniquely high compared with other states. Reputedly high-tax states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and California aren’t even close. The only states where the tax burden is higher than, or even close to, New York are large, low-population states with extensive tax revenues from oil, gas, or other mineral production: Alaska, Wyoming, and more recently North Dakota, where a “fracking” boom has given way to bust. In these states residents and other businesses pay little in taxes – in Alaska they actually get checks. The Census Bureau data for FY 2004 to FY 2014 shows New York’s tax burden rising further, even as the average U.S. state and local tax burden remained close to 10 percent of personal income, about where it has been for decades. And yet all one hears in New York’s media is demands for still higher funding, and higher taxes, and higher staffing, and higher pay, and richer pensions made by New York’s public employee unions and the politicians they control, particularly in those in the New York State Legislature.

While the U.S. average is stable, the data shows a divergence among states. In many other states with above average state and local tax burdens in FY 2004, those burdens also increased further by FY 2014. And in many states where the tax burden was already below average in FY 2004 it fell even further, even in the face of soaring pension costs that have pressured state and local government budgets throughout the country. In several Midwestern states – Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan – the tax burden fell from somewhat above average as a percent of income to average or somewhat below, despite weak per capita income growth. In these aging states, public spending on seniors is rising, not only through federal programs that our current President has promised to protect (and his party has promised to protect for current beneficiaries but not younger generations), but also for the pensions and benefits of retired public employees. So the shrinking tax burden just adds to the downward pressure on other state and local government services, which benefit other age groups.   What do those three states, plus Pennsylvania which has a below average tax burden despite soaring pension costs, have in common? A spreadsheets, further commentary and charts follow.

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