# Alternative Minimum Tax

Iowa taking full advantage of stimulus unemployment funds

When Congress was debating the stimulus bill earlier this year, Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s, compared various forms of government spending and tax cuts in terms of economic stimulus “bang for the buck.” He concluded (pdf file) that various forms of government spending did more to stimulate the economy than various kinds of tax cuts.

The best kinds of spending in terms of stimulative effect were food stamps and extending unemployment benefits. Every extra dollar the federal government spends on food stamps generates approximately $1.73 in economic activity, and every dollar the federal government spends to extend unemployment benefits generates approximately $1.63 in economic activity. People who need these services are likely to spend additional money quickly, helping preserve jobs in the retail sector.

With this in mind, you might imagine that the states would take full advantage of money allocated to unemployment benefits in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. But you would be wrong, according to this article by Olga Pierce from ProPublica:

So far, only about half of the $7 billion included in the stimulus package [for expanding unemployment insurance] has been claimed by states. […]

Four states have explicitly rejected the funding, but many others have so far failed to pass legislation qualifying them for incentive payments. […]

Under the stimulus bill [2], states can qualify for the extra funding by extending unemployment insurance to new categories of workers. To receive a third of the funding, they must begin using something called an alternative base period, which would allow more low-wage workers to receive unemployment benefits. […]

To get the other two-thirds of the cash, they must adopt at least two other changes from a list that includes covering part-time workers and offering $15 extra per week for each dependent.

If states meet the requirements, they qualify for a federal lump sum payment that will cover the cost of expansion for at least three years, or longer in many cases. It was on those grounds – that after the federal funding runs out states will have to find another way to cover the cost – that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal [3], Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour [4] and others [5] that said they would reject the funding.

Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I believe basic fairness justifies extending unemployment benefits to more part-time and low-wage workers. But even if you don’t care about fairness, Zandi’s analysis shows that extending unemployment benefits will get money circulating in the economy.

Click here for a map and a chart showing how much federal unemployment money each state has claimed.  

As of mid-June, 17 states had claimed none of the stimulus funding for unemployment benefits, and another 12 states and the District of Columbia had claimed only part of that money. In some of those states, Democrats are in charge. Progressives who have ridiculed Republican governors for rejecting stimulus money for unemployment benefits should also hold Democrats accountable on this score.

Fortunately, Iowa is among 21 states that have fully used these stimulus funds as Congress intended. Thousands of Iowans struggling to get by will benefit from the $70.8 million the stimulus bill appropriated to our state for unemployment benefits. Democrats in the state legislature and Governor Chet Culver deserve credit for enacting the necessary legislative changes to collect this funding.

Many of the states that have left stimulus money on the table have significantly higher unemployment rates than Iowa, by the way.

Speaking of boosting the economy, Zandi’s report showed that infrastructure projects were the third-most stimulative form of government spending. Every extra dollar spent on infrastructure generates an estimated $1.59 in economic activity. Remember that next time Iowa Republicans bring out their misleading talking points about the the I-JOBS program. Also remember that Iowa has used the stimulus bill’s transportation funding wisely compared to many other states, according to a recent review by Smart Growth America.

In contrast, most kinds of tax cuts Republicans advocate generate less than one dollar of economic activity for every dollar they cost the government. As a gesture to Republicans, Democrats replaced some spending in the stimulus bill with $70 billion allocated to fixing the alternative minimum tax, even though Zandi’s analysis found that a dollar spent on fixing the alternative minimum tax generates only about 49 cents in economic activity.

It’s too bad the Obama administration made a number of concessions to Republicans on the stimulus bill. Like Bob Herbert wrote a few months ago, when the GOP talks about the economy, nobody should listen.

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Stimulus bill passes: What's in it for Iowa?

President Barack Obama will have a very large bill to sign on Monday. Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill by 246 to 183. As expected, no Republicans voted for the bill. Iowa’s three Democrats in the House voted for it. Looking at the roll call, I was surprised to see that only seven House Democrats voted against this bill (one voted “present” and one did not vote). I did not expect that much support from the 50-odd Blue Dog Democrats. Good for them!

In the Senate, supporters of the stimulus managed exactly 60 votes after Senator Sherrod Brown flew back from Ohio, where he was attending his mother’s wake. All Democrats, two independents, and three Republicans (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter) voted for it. According to Specter, at least a few other Senate Republicans supported the bill but were afraid to vote for it (fearing a challenge from the right in the next GOP primary). I’m no fan of Specter, but I give him credit for casting a tough vote today. As brownsox explains, conservative Republicans in Pennsylvania are eager to take Specter out in the 2010 primary, having apparently forgotten how badly right-wing Senator Rick Santorum got beaten in 2006.

Daily Kos diarist thereisnospoon, a self-described “hack” who conducts focus groups for a living, is giddy about the potential to make Republicans pay in 2010 for voting against “the biggest middle-class tax cut in history.”

On the whole, this bill is more good than bad, but I agree 100 percent with Tom Harkin’s comments to the New York Times:

Even before the last touches were put to the bill, some angry Democrats said that Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders had been too quick to give up on Democratic priorities. “I am not happy with it,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa. “You are not looking at a happy camper. I mean they took a lot of stuff out of education. They took it out of health, school construction and they put it more into tax issues.”

Mr. Harkin said he was particularly frustrated by the money being spent on fixing the alternative minimum tax. “It’s about 9 percent of the whole bill,” he said, “Why is it in there? It has nothing to do with stimulus. It has nothing to do with recovery.”

The $70 billion spent on fixing the alternative minimum tax will produce little “stimulus bang for the buck” compared to most forms of spending. The upper middle class and upper class earners who will benefit are likely to save rather than spend the money they get back.

As exciting as it is to see increased funding for high-speed rail, I fear that the bulk of the much larger sum appropriated for roads will go toward new highway construction rather than maintaining our existing infrastructure.

But I’ve buried the lede: what will the stimulus bill do for Iowa?

Iowa Politics linked to two White House documents about the impact in terms of spending and jobs created. This pdf file estimates the number of jobs created in each state and in each Congressional district within that state. It estimates 37,000 jobs created in Iowa: 6,600 in the first district, 7,000 in each of the second and third districts, 6,700 in the fourth district and 6,200 in the fifth district.

Prediction: Tom Latham and Steve King will take credit for infrastructure projects in their districts during the next election campaign, even though both voted against the stimulus bill.

This pdf file shows how much money Iowa will receive under different line items in the stimulus bill. Even more helpful, it also shows the figures for the original House and Senate bills, so you can get a sense of which cuts were made. The bill that first passed the House would have directed $2.27 billion to Iowa. The first Senate version reduced that number to $1.8 billion. The final bill that came out of conference directs about $1.9 billion to Iowa.

If you delve into the details of this document you’ll understand why Harkin isn’t thrilled with the bill he voted for. They took out school construction funds and extra money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), for crying out loud.

“Bizarro Stimulus” indeed.

Iowa Independent reports that Harkin and Chuck Grassley “agree that the newly conceived formula used to distribute the $87 billion Medicaid portion of the bill shortchanges Iowa.”

After the jump I’ve posted statements from Representatives Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley on the stimulus bill. Both talk about the jobs that will be created in Iowa. Loebsack emphasizes the tax cuts that 95 percent of American families will receive as a result of this bill. However, he also expresses his concern about what he views as inadequate funding for modernizing schools in the final bill.

Braley’s statement highlights an amendment he wrote providing low-interest loans for biofuels producers.

I would have been happy to post a statement from Leonard Boswell too, but his office has repeatedly refused my requests to be added to its distribution list for press releases. Hillary Clinton may have a prestigious job in Barack Obama’s cabinet and Joe Lieberman may be welcome in the Democratic Senate caucus, but Boswell’s press secretary seems ready to hold a grudge forever against the blogger who supported Ed Fallon.  

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Tom Harkin is right

Senator Tom Harkin was right to warn in a conference call with reporters today that the economic stimulus bill may be too small.

He is also right to be concerned about the tax-cut provisions. Tax cuts that put more money into the hands of people in high income brackets (such as fixing the alternative minimum tax) will not necessarily boost consumer spending.

He is right about this too:

Harkin said the bill must be seen as more than an immediate jump-start for the ailing economy, and therefore lawmakers should not be timid about its potential.

“This is not just a stimulus bill to put someone to work right now,” Harkin said. “That’s important and we will do that. But we are also going to do things that lay the groundwork for a solid recovery in the future.”

Harkin wants the bill to put more money into renewable fuels and less money into so-called “clean coal”:

“We’re putting money into clean coal technology,” he said. “There’s no such thing.”

You said it, senator.

Speaking of how there’s no such thing as clean coal, if you click here you’ll find another clever ad from the Reality Coalition.

Speaking of senators who are right about things, Here’s John Kerry on the stimulus:

Reacting to Wednesday night’s vote in the House – where not a single GOP member supported the stimulus package – Kerry told Politico that “if Republicans aren’t prepared to vote for it, I don’t think we should be giving up things, where I think the money can be spent more effectively.”

“If they’re not going to vote for it, let’s go with a plan that we think is going to work.”

The Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate suggested tossing some of the tax provisions in the stimulus that the GOP requested. “Those aren’t job creators immediately, and even in the longer term they’re not necessarily. We’ve seen that policy for the last eight years,” he said.

What was that thing Americans voted for in November? Oh yeah, change.

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