January 23, 2015

Thoughts on Gov. Nixon’s State of the State Address

The president’s State of the Union address is always filled with lots of pomp and formality. It’s the closest thing we have to a monarch addressing Parliament. On Wednesday evening, we had the mini version of that same spectacle when Gov. Nixon gave his State of the State address at the Missouri Capitol. In it, he outlined his priorities for the upcoming year. You can watch the speech here or read a transcript here.

There were some appealing aspects to his speech, like his thoughts on how to address our transportation infrastructure. Gov. Nixon stated:

One option is a toll road on Interstate 70. The Highway Commission’s recent report showed that this approach could make I-70 better and safer … and free up tens of millions of dollars for other roads around the state. Trucks and out-of-state vehicles that do the most damage to I-70 would have to pay their fair share. That deserves serious consideration. Here’s another option: the gas tax. Missouri’s gas tax hasn’t gone up a penny in nearly 20 years. It’s the fifth-lowest in the nation.  With gas prices as low as they are now, this is worth a very close look.

Kudos to Gov. Nixon for at least considering user fees as a way to finance transportation in the state. My colleague Joe Miller has written extensively about the benefits of tolling and how gas taxes are a better way to fund roads than the sales tax. Tolling is a fair way of financing improvements to Interstate 70 because it can be done in such a way as to get much, or even most, of its revenues from commercial vehicles, which cause the most damage to our roads and highways.

However, not everything in Gov. Nixon’s address was good policy. The governor still insists on expanding Medicaid.

Now I’d like to talk about another challenge … but an even greater opportunity: Strengthening and reforming Medicaid. Let me remind you, a lot has changed since last year. Since I stood here last year, Missouri taxpayers have sent $2 billion to Washington. Those dollars are being used right now, in other states, to reform and improve their Medicaid systems. That’s 2 billion Missouri taxpayer dollars.  And this year, there’s another $2 billion at stake. If we keep standing still, that’s $4 billion Missourians will have lost to other states by the end of this year. Across the country, people are moving past the politics.

To help you decipher politico speak, when the governor talks about reforming Medicaid, he really means expanding Medicaid. Show-Me Institute Senior Analyst Patrick Ishmael has done a tremendous job explaining why expanding Medicaid is a bad idea. Not only would it strain future Missouri budgets by adding billions in new spending (Medicaid already takes up 22 percent of Missouri General Revenue expenditures, up from 17.5 percent just 10 years ago), but the program doesn’t work. The poor should get decent health care; Medicaid fails on that front.

Gov. Nixon raises the point about Missouri taxpayers sending money to Washington, and by failing to expand Medicaid, other states get to spend our money. This is also false. Patrick lays out why this claim is wrong in his most recent Forbes piece. First, Missouri is a net recipient of federal tax dollars. This means that Missouri gets more in federal aid than it sends out in tax dollars. Also, the money for Medicaid expansion is not like some large pie that gets distributed to the states that participate in the expansion. Each state has its own allotment of money to help pay for expansion. If the state doesn’t expand Medicaid, the money isn’t reallocated. That’s why you are seeing the overall cost of Medicaid dropping. Fewer states are signing up for expansion, and thus the actual cost growth of Medicaid is falling below what was projected. If the money was being redistributed, actual cost growth would be closer to projections.

Gov. Nixon’s speech was a mixed bag. The legislature should feel free to ignore the bad ideas. I hope, though, that the good parts mentioned above do more than just receive serious attention. There are serious issues in this state that need addressing, and we need pro-market solutions.

January 21, 2015

A Bad Idea That Sounds So Good

I love my dog Wiley. She is sweet and loyal and kind. I adopted her nine years ago, and I can’t imagine my life without her. That’s why I can’t begrudge someone who wants to encourage others to adopt pets. Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal wants to do just that with her bill that would offer a $300 tax credit for adopting pets from licensed shelters.

In all the areas of government overreach and wasteful spending, this doesn’t come close to taking the cake. Honestly, it’s an appealing prospect. I mean, look at the picture below. Who would be against this puppy getting adopted? It shouldn’t take a tax credit for someone to support adopting puppies.

GoldenRetrieverPuppyDaisyParkerBut this proposed bill wants to do just that, subsidize pet adoption, and the subsidy is the bad idea.

I want dogs to be adopted. I have a soft spot for dogs, and whenever a dog dies in a movie, I turn into Niagara Falls (don’t judge me—a lot of guys cry at the movies). However, the government shouldn’t be in the business of helping people pay for pet adoption. It should be in the business of providing basic goods and services necessary for a functioning society (police, firefighters, and prisons jump immediately to mind). Pet adoption is the purview of individuals and private organizations. If the government kept its spending down to the bare essentials, taxes would be low enough so that taxpayers would have more money to spend on a variety of admirable things: adopting puppies, saving the spotted owl, and preserving the rain forest.

Missouri has issued tax credits to things that frankly don’t need them, like country clubs and movie stars. Adopting pets isn’t nearly an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars as the former two, but it still shouldn’t occur. I hope it will never get the chance.

January 9, 2015

Thoughts on the Latest Rams Press Conference

With the recent news that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is planning to build a new football stadium, the chances of the Rams leaving Saint Louis have increased substantially. Late last year, Gov. Nixon appointed a two-person team whose mission was to investigate options for keeping the NFL in Saint Louis. The team, which consists of former Anheuser-Busch executive Dave Peacock and Clayton area attorney Bob Blitz, presented their report on Friday. Below are key points raised in that report:

  • Plans are for a new stadium located on the riverfront, north of Lumiere Casino and northeast of the Edward Jones Dome.

Stadium2.0

  • The stadium also would be available for professional soccer.
  • It would be a public asset owned by a public entity and leased to the team. Also, the new stadium would come with a new lease, 30 years or more.
  • Cost estimate: $860-$985 million, at least half of which would be privately financed (minimum $200 million from Stan Kroenke and another $200 million from the NFL).
  • No new tax burden, although there would be public money involved.
  • Estimated completion date: 2020.

After listening to the press conference and going over some of the points raised here, I have my misgivings about this project. First, I would like to know specifically where the money is coming from to pay for this new stadium. During the press conference, Peacock said that the sources of public financing would not be ascertained until there was a commitment from the NFL and from the Rams on moving forward with this project. Second, the $860-$985 million price tag would only be for the new stadium. Additional money (it wasn’t said how much) would be needed to upgrade the current Dome so it will be a full-time convention center. How are we going to pay for that as well?

My biggest misgiving is the fact that we will be publicly subsidizing this thing at all. Kroenke’s proposal in Los Angeles would be completely privately financed. Why should the public put up money when Kroenke can afford to pay for the costs himself? The most recent trend in stadium construction is toward private investment. That’s what happened in San Francisco and New York, so why should Saint Louis be different?

I know it is easy to be wowed by beautiful pictures of sparkling developments like the one above. Yet, nice pictures aside, these kinds of plans do not produce the economic benefits that would make these developments worthwhile. I want Saint Louis to remain an NFL town, but I don’t want to spend taxpayer dollars to do it.

January 6, 2015

Rams L.A. Bound?

Edward_Jones_Dome_endzone_view

According to the L.A. Times, Rams owner Stan Kroenke plans to build a new football stadium in Inglewood, California. If the plan is approved by local voters, it would clear one major hurdle for moving the Rams to Los Angeles. The mayor’s office in Saint Louis maintains that it will not get into a bidding war with Los Angeles over the Rams (the proposed stadium in Los Angeles would be built without tax dollars).

The sentiment coming from the mayor’s office is encouraging. Cities should not be spending public money in order to keep/lure professional sports teams. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the Rams to move. However, Mr. Kroenke obviously feels that Los Angeles is a better venue for his team than Saint Louis. Considering that new stadiums tend to cost more than a billion dollars, the amount of public subsidies needed in order to change Mr. Kroenke’s mind probably would be astronomical. If subsidies were provided, what would taxpayers get in return, an economic adrenaline shot? Not really. Would keeping the Rams here do wonders for the city’s brand, as some have argued? I doubt it. Even when Mayor Slay brags about Saint Louis to the rest of the country, I don’t see the Rams mentioned anywhere (the Cardinals are a different story).

Sports often binds people, families, and communities together. There is no more popular sport in the United States than football, and I enjoy looking back to the time when I was a kid and I went with my father to watch Rams games (believe it or not, there was a time when the Rams were worth watching). Unfortunately, it appears that Saint Louis could end up losing yet another pro football sports franchise. That’s not an appealing prospect, but if public officials hold the line and refuse to grant any more taxpayer support to the Rams, then they should be commended and we should be thankful for their discipline.

 

December 18, 2014

More On the Minimum Wage

To a lot of people, increasing the minimum wage makes sense. Honestly, who doesn’t want low-income workers to make more money? Yet, if you actually take a look at minimum wage laws, you’ll notice that they don’t really help people as much as advertised. In fact, these laws actually can hurt the people they are meant to help. A new study (H/T The Corner) by Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither further reinforces these points.

In their study, Clemens and Wither examined the impact of the federal minimum wage increases during the Great Recession (2007-2009). They found that not only would low-skilled workers be less likely to have jobs after the minimum wage hikes went into effect (a finding also supported by the CBO), but the hikes also would lead to an overall decline in these workers’ incomes even after accounting for the increased wages of those workers still employed.

This leads to another problem with increasing the minimum wage: decreased economic mobility. The study’s authors found that increasing the minimum wage reduced the chances of low-skilled workers eventually reaching salaries of $1,500 a month (they determined that $1,500 a month was the threshold for lower-middle-class salaries). Clemens and Wither believe that this reduction in mobility occurs because an increased minimum wage results in fewer jobs being available for poorer workers. According to the authors, this lack of job opportunities means that there are fewer chances for these people to accumulate the skills and experience necessary in order to earn higher wages in the future. This is conjecture on the authors’ part, but it makes sense if one thinks about it.

At a cursory glance, the minimum wage is a good thing. Unfortunately, there are two sides to the minimum wage, and when you take the other side into account you see that it hurts more than it helps. This study’s review of the academic literature finds that increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would be a better alternative for low-income families than raising the minimum wage, something that we have been saying for a while now.

 

November 21, 2014

This Sounds Familiar

Cassandra was a Trojan princess who had the gift of prophecy. She foresaw that the abduction of Helen would bring about the destruction of Troy. Her curse was that nobody believed her. At the Show-Me Institute, we weren’t blessed with Cassandra’s ability, but when we look at the future of Missouri’s public pensions, we see potential disaster ahead.

Last year, the Show-Me Institute released a report by Dr. Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute. The report showed how Missouri public pension plans are underestimating the total amount of unfunded liabilities (total pension obligations that exceed the amount of assets the pension plan has) that they have. In fact, using more realistic assumptions, five of the state’s largest pensions have unfunded liabilities FIVE TIMES larger than what is reported ($54 billion actual vs $11 billion reported). That is a serious amount of money, and if these pensions do not have the assets to cover their obligations, then the taxpayer (you and me) will be left footing the bill.

State Budget Solutions, to my knowledge, does not have the gift of prophecy either. Yet they see what we see when they look at the status of state public pensions. Their new report discusses the unfunded liabilities of every state’s pension system. The content of the report sounds familiar because, like Dr. Biggs, they find that using more realistic assumptions about plan returns, state public pensions are significantly underfunded. According to State Budget Solutions, Missouri’s pensions aren’t among the worst nationally. That doesn’t mean things are good and the state’s pensions don’t need reform. If I’m stuck holding a stick of dynamite, while my neighbor is holding an atomic bomb, it doesn’t mean I’m going to be okay when the dynamite goes off.

Unfortunately, there has been little progress into actually achieving pension reform in Missouri. At the very least, the state needs to work to stop additional liabilities from being added to the already enormous amount the state already owes. Shifting to a defined contribution plan or a cash balance plan would be a good place to start. Then, policymakers can work on addressing the gap between pension assets and the monies these plans owe.

Cassandra warned of danger, and she was not believed. That was her curse. Hopefully, Missouri can avoid Troy’s fate.

November 6, 2014

Proposed Property Tax Increase Fails in Columbia

Since the proposed property tax increase failed in Columbia, it seems the city is heading for a disaster of biblical proportions. I mean Old Testament, real wrath of God type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes . . . the dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together . . . mass hysteria! Okay, not really. In fact, if you read my commentary on the ballot measure, you’d know that crime, especially violent crime, and the total number of fires are actually declining in Columbia. This is a good thing.

However, what if you’re among the more than 10,000 residents who feel that Columbia needs a bit more in the way of police and fire protection? I’d say don’t despair. There are other means by which the city can increase revenues without resorting to a property tax increase.

For instance, the city could look at the fire expense reimbursement that it receives for services that it performs for the three colleges located in town. According to the Columbia budget, these reimbursements are declining and have been for the past couple of years. Columbia can renegotiate with these colleges in order to get higher reimbursements.

Columbia also could look into privatizing its water and electric utilities. The sale of these types of utilities can bring in an immediate infusion of cash to cities’ bank accounts. For example, the city of Florissant, Missouri, privatized its water utility in 2002 and received $14.5 million from the sale. More recently, the residents of Arnold approved the sale of their sewer system, which brought the city $13.2 million. Not only can the sale of the utilities themselves bring in more money to the city, but privatization can also expand the city’s property tax base, which would generate more revenue in the future.

The instances of crime and fire have declined in Columbia, yet for those who believe that public safety is underfunded, there are other ways to raise revenue besides a tax increase. Maybe it’s time they explore them.

 

November 5, 2014

Thoughts on Gov. Nixon’s Rams Press Conference

With the Rams poised to do a power run out of town, are public officials planning to blitz unwary taxpayers and their pocketbooks? Earlier today, Gov. Nixon huddled with the press discussing his game plan on how to keep the Rams in Saint Louis. Due to an arbitrator’s ruling, the Rams are allowed to shift to a year-to-year lease on their current stadium in 2015 since it is not “top-tier.” During the press conference, Gov. Nixon announced that he would be appointing former A-B executive Dave Peacock and Clayton attorney Bob Blitz to research options designed to keep the Rams in Saint Louis.

Details on any proposal are light, but Gov. Nixon did say that Saint Louis will remain an NFL city and that “we’re going to be partners here” in regards to upgrading the stadium. He mentioned that current funding streams will be available once payments on the original dome expire. Presently, the city, county, and state spend a combined $24 million annually on paying off the debt accrued in building the Edward Jones Dome. Gov. Nixon also was quick to point out economic benefits that having a sports team would bring.

I agree with Gov. Nixon’s desire to keep the Rams in Saint Louis. I too hope they stay, but if taxpayers are going to approve further public subsidies to the Rams, they should do so with their eyes wide open. It’s one thing if people want to pay to keep the Rams in Saint Louis because of a desire for increased civic pride or prestige. It’s another thing to claim that subsidizing construction will lead to economic growth for the area. In fact, public financing of a new stadium will not lead to increased economic growth. A study conducted by Robert A. Baade and Victor A. Matheson found that “Researchers who have gone back and looked at economic data for localities that have hosted mega-events, attracted new franchises, or built new sports facilities have almost invariably found little or no economic benefits from spectator sports.”

Again, I want the Rams to stay in Saint Louis, but I don’t want my tax dollars to be used to keep them here. New stadiums in New York and San Francisco are both 100 percent privately financed. Why should the Rams be treated any better?

Spring Internships With the Show-Me Institute

Internship Banner Spring 2015

The Show-Me Institute is now accepting applications for our spring 2015 internship program. All the information you need about the internship is available here. Please submit the required application by Dec. 5. The spring intern positions can be full- or part-time.

October 29, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Proposed Olivette Charter Amendment

Next Tuesday, voters in Olivette will decide on whether to approve Proposition 1, which states (in part):

Any real estate, now or hereafter owned by the City of Olivette or any agency or instrumentality of the City, which is principally used or held out for use as a public park, shall not be sold, leased, given away or otherwise disposed of, and shall be used only as a public park, nor shall any structure be built in any such park to accommodate activities not customarily associated with park use or outdoor recreation, unless such sale, lease, disposal, gift or structure is approved by a majority of the qualified electors voting thereon.

To say this language is broad is like saying the Great Wall of China is long. True, but it is also kind of an understatement.

I get why people would be in favor of this measure. They want to have a say in case the city wants to do something drastic, like sell a public park. However, the problem with this amendment covers more than just selling a park. If passed it would require the city to seek voter approval if the city wanted to lease park management to private operators for a whole assortment of activities.

For example, if Olivette wanted to let a private operator open a restaurant on park grounds, like Saint Louis does for the Boathouse in Forest Park, then it would have to be approved by the voters. If Olivette wanted to let a private company open an ice rink in one of their parks, like Saint Louis does with Steinberg Skating Rink, then it would have to go to the voters. There are other successful examples of  private groups operating recreational services,  like Saint Louis does with the golf courses in Forest Park. Olivette residents won’t have to worry about golf courses, but they just go to show that if Proposition 1 is passed then any lease or contract will have to go to the voters.

The ultimate decision on whether to adopt the charter amendment is up to the residents of Olivette. I believe that voters should have a direct say if, for instance, a city decides to sell their municipal parks. However, I also think that city officials should have more leeway when it comes to leasing the park or contracting for services.

October 21, 2014

Chart Correction on Show-Me Institute Essay

An astute reader brought our attention to an error in one of our charts. The chart in question was in the foreword that I co-wrote with David Stokes to Professor Howard Wall’s essay discussing the negative effects of earnings taxes on city population and employment growth. There was an error in calculating one of the averages. The corrected chart is below:

Wall Chart 1e

Instead of losing population between 1990-2000, the cities without an earnings tax gained population over that period. This new result strengthens Professor Wall’s conclusion that earnings taxes negatively impact a city’s growth.

October 19, 2014

Missouri Is One of the Top States . . . in Corporate Welfare

Typically it’s a good thing to be ranked high. That’s certainly the case for college football and the Forbes 400. However, a high ranking isn’t always a good thing. According to a report from the Mercatus Center (H/T AEI), Missouri has given $5.2 billion in subsidies to private businesses. This gives Missouri the dubious distinction of being the ninth most generous state in terms of corporate welfare. Now, I like being in the top 10 as much as the next guy, but not for this reason.

Statesubsidies-600x431

Tax credits and enterprise zones are among the items included in calculating the total amount of subsidies provided to these companies. We have written extensively on how these and similar programs do not generate the type of growth that supporters of these programs claim. Unfortunately, policymakers seem to be big fans of these types of subsidies, as are the companies that benefit from receiving them.

Guess which company is the biggest beneficiary of corporate welfare. I’ll give you a minute. Need a hint? They build airplanes. Give up? I’ll show you.

C3-Top-20-Parent-Companie-vero_0

Boeing collects more in corporate welfare than the next two companies combined. Missouri did its part in improving the company’s bottom line when it gave Boeing a massive handout so that it would locate additional aircraft manufacturing here. However, the state is unlikely to get enough money in return in order to justify these subsidies. To generate sufficient returns, Boeing’s investment in the area would have to be in excess of what they made in profits for all of last year. Color me skeptical that they’ll make an investment that large.

Instead of giving out all of this taxpayer money to specific businesses, why doesn’t the government just cut taxes for all businesses? The state would make itself more attractive to businesses, and it would avoid the management problems that occur with these tax credits.

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