Category Archives: state tax burden

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.

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Medicaid by State and Age Group in FY 2019:  Curiouser and Curiouser

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid no longer provides state-level data on Medicaid expenditures and beneficiaries by age group, but it does provide state-level data on enrollment, expenditures, and expenditure per enrollee by “basis of eligibility.”  Spending per enrollee isn’t as good as spending per beneficiary in analyzing how much is being charged by the health care industry, because expenditure per enrollee is affected by the number of people enrolled who do not currently require expensive care.  And basis of eligibility is not as good as more detailed age groups, but it at least does provide separate data for children (under 18), non-disabled adults (18 to 64), seniors (65 and over), and disabled adults and children.  

When I looked at the per enrollee New York State data for FY 2019, however, I found it was reported to be far below the level of 2018, and even below the U.S. average for children and non-disabled adults.

Why?

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Medicaid By State in 2020:  At Least Some of the Data Is Back

I once wrote a post on how New York’s Medicaid spending, by age and by type of service, compared with the national average and nearby states, every couple of years.  The “State Datamart” that allowed crosstabulations of the number of Medicaid beneficiaries and expenditures, by age and by type of service, disappeared after FY 2012, after fewer and fewer states had been included for several years.  That data had allowed expenditures per beneficiary, by age group and by service type, to be calculated for each state, and the number of beneficiaries in each age group to be compared with the total population in that age group, and the population in poverty in that age group, by state.

Today there is a different set of data that has been posted, and I plan to tabulate what is available and write a couple of posts.  The PDF report is here.

And the data is at http.//macpac.gov/macstats.

It isn’t what I was once able to get, but it is more than I’ve been able to find for many years.  A quick comparison of total Medicaid expenditures in 2020, as a percent of the personal income of residents of each state, and what it cost those residents in state and local taxes, follows.

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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.

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Sold Out Futures:  A State-By-State Comparison of State and Local Government Debts, Past Infrastructure Investment, and Unfunded Pension Liabilities Through FY 2019

In two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, with society under stress, we have seen increasingly strident political fights over whose cultural attitudes and preferences should be imposed on others, who should get to contribute less to the community, and who should get to take out more.  In the shadows, however, is a bipartisan consensus as to who should be made worse off and be sacrificed the rest of their lives to pay for it all.  Ordinary people in later born generations, those who will be living in the United States in the future.   The pandemic has given politicians of all alleged views, and the interest groups that back them, an excuse to do, to an even greater extent, what they have done for 40 years.  Cash in the common future to address the perpetual “emergency” of the present.

So it was in Washington in 2020 when The Donald and the Republicans, having already sent the federal debt soaring to cut taxes for the rich and then ran a federal deficit equal to one-quarter of the U.S. economy.

And so it is in Washington today, where Biden in the Democrats claim their plans will be “paid for” – meaning the burden shifted to the future would only be as great as it was under Trump and the Republicans.

It is in this context that for the fifth time, I have reprised an analysis of state and local government finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau, for all states and for New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, with data over 49 years, to determine the extent to which each state’s future had been sold out due to state and local government debts, inadequate past infrastructure investment, and underfunded and retroactively enriched public employee pensions.   You’d think that the extent of disadvantage for the later-born, and who benefitted from creating it, would be the number one issue in every state election, and the number one topic of debate in the media.  Instead, it remains under Omerta, especially here in New York.  Shouted down under the comforting culture war issues that Generation Greed prefers.  So, although standing up for the later born and common future may amount to nothing more than standing on the beach shouting into a hurricane as a social tsunami heads for shore, over the past month I have updated the “Sold Out Future” analysis with data through FY 2019.  This post, a national summary and explanation of where the data comes from and how it was used, and the next three, will show what I found.

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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy Should Have Told the Truth About Generation Greed

Four years ago, I asked if newly-elected New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy would be the first to tell the truth about Generation Greed.

Telling his new constituents exactly what share of their state income taxes, local property taxes, transit fares and toll payments were going not to public services and benefits they were getting today, but rather to costs shifted forward to the present by past New Jersey politicians, and the older and former state residents and special interests they had pandered to.  Costs from past debts, inadequate past infrastructure investment, and underfunded and retroactively enriched public employee pensions.  The tell would be to reduce taxes, tolls, and transit fares to a level that only reflects the public services and benefits that the State of New Jersey and its local government are providing to New Jerseyans today.  So people would see what the public services they are now getting actually cost.  And then fund all the costs from the past with a separate, additional income tax, property tax, transit fare and toll surcharge that everyone could see. The Generation Greed surcharge.  It would be right in their face, not in some report no one reads, day after day and year after year.

Governor Murphy (like the rest of them) chose not to go that route.  And despite an economic upturn, stock market bubble, and gusher of federal money that the later-born will be sacrificed to pay back someday, that temporarily made his options and decisions much less painful than they could have been, and will ultimately be, he was nearly thrown out of office, barely winning re-election against Republican challenger Jack Cittarelli.  Meanwhile, Democratic New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney has apparently been ousted by a truck driver and politician novice running a low-cost campaign.

The top issue, according to pollsters, was taxes.  Even though New Jersey’s total state and local government tax burden, as a percent of state residents’ personal income, doesn’t come close to what we’ve been forced to pay in New York.  Even at their lower tax total, today’s New Jerseyans apparently don’t feel they are getting fair value for their money.  Well of course they aren’t. 

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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