Links on making ends meet in the 2010 budget

With the economic recession continuing to drag down tax revenues, the 2010 budget that the Iowa Legislature approved in April is likely to require significant adjustments.

In June the Legislative Council agreed to cut more than 10 percent from the Legislature’s budget in 2010. The cost-saving measures “include a pay freeze for all legislative employees, reducing travel budgets, and cutting back next year’s legislative session by 10 days.”

A State Government Reorganization Commission will look for other ways to cut spending next year. It will be interesting to compare that commission’s proposals with the kind of cuts Iowa Republicans have been advocating. During the last legislative session, Republicans called for $300 million in spending cuts, but I have been unable to find a link to a document with details about that proposal. (Note: I’ll have more to say in a future post about the state budget reforms Iowa Republicans proposed yesterday.)

After the jump I’ve posted some links and analysis related to the budget constraints facing Iowa and just about every other state right now.

Continue Reading...

Culver endorses big spending cuts, no tax increases

Details about Governor Chet Culver’s proposed 2010 budget will come on Wednesday morning, but today the governor’s office announced plans to impose 6.5 percent spending reductions on 205 state programs in next year’s budget. According to the Des Moines Register,

“We’re not going to tax our way out of a tight budget,” [Culver] said. […]

Culver will continue to ask lawmakers not to raise taxes. His budget will propose no tax increases, according to a copy of the governor’s remarks provided before a speech at the Iowa Business Council’s annual meeting.

Culver would like to protect certain areas from the full effect of the 6.5 percent cut: public safety, workforce development, human services, disaster relief, the teacher quality program, and early childhood education.

He will recommend that $200 million from the state’s cash reserves be used during the next budget year.

Via e-mail I received this joint statement from Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, Senate President Jack Kibbie, House Speaker Pat Murphy, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy:

“In these tough economic times, we appreciate Governor Culver and Lt. Governor Judge taking another step to ensure a balanced state budget by releasing this proposal.

“Because of the deepening national recession, this year will be very tough for many Iowans.  While Iowans had little to do with the mismanagement, greed, and financial carelessness that is causing the worst national economic situation since the Great Depression, we will be sharing in the pain.

“In the coming weeks and months, we are committed to:

·        Listening to our constituents

·        Working with the Governor, Lt. Governor and Republican legislators, and

·        Passing a fiscally responsible state budget that attempts to protect the progress we’re making on creating good-paying jobs, improving student achievement and teacher quality, and ensuring affordable health care.”

As you can see, the Democratic statehouse leaders did not unconditionally endorse the governor’s proposal or the principle of relying solely on spending cuts and tapping reserve funds to balance the budget. Some statehouse leaders have advocated raising the gas tax to help pay for road works.

As I have written before, I think it would be a big mistake to rule out any tax increases for next year.

As a political sound bite, it’s appealing for a governor to say, “I balanced the budget without raising a single tax.” But seriously, does Culver believe that Iowa has no obsolete tax loopholes that cost the state far more than they benefit the economy? The Iowa Policy Project has identified “wasteful, secret subsidies to big companies through the tax code.” (pdf file) How about asking those companies to share in the sacrifices that need to be made in the coming year?

Borrowing money to pay for certain infrastructure projects is reasonable, but a modest gas tax increase could reduce Iowa’s debt burden in future years without much pain. There may be other tax increases that make sense, if the funds raised could be linked to specific spending priorities that create jobs.

Politically, it’s risky for any governor to raise taxes, but Culver should balance those considerations against the risk that large spending cuts could prolong the recession:

Almost every single economist agrees, the last thing we want to do in a recession is slash government spending. We want, in fact, to increase that spending so that it is a counter-cyclical force to a deteriorating economy. So the question, then, is how to most safely generate the revenue to maintain or increase that spending. By  “most safely” I mean how to raise the revenue in a way that will minimize any negative economic impact. And the answer comes from Joseph Stiglitz:

 

“[T]ax increases on higher-income families are the least damaging mechanism for closing state fiscal deficits in the short run. Reductions in government spending on goods and services, or reductions in transfer payments to lower-income families, are likely to be more damaging to the economy in the short run than tax increases focused on higher-income families.”

So, first and foremost, you don’t want dramatic spending cuts (beyond the usual rooting out of waste/fraud) and you don’t want to raise taxes on middle- and lower-income citizens who both need the money for necessities, and are the demographics that will most quickly spend money in a stimulative way. That leaves taxes on the super-rich, and Stiglitz – unlike anti-tax ideologues – has actual data to make his case.

For more information, see Budget Cuts or Tax Increases at the State Level:

Which is Preferable During an Economic Downturn?

I’m sure the Iowa Business Council will applaud Culver’s promise this evening to balance the budget with no tax hikes of any kind.

But economic considerations as well as basic fairness dictate that taxes should be on the table when the legislature drafts the 2010 budget. We should not let the fear of Republican-funded attack ads scare us away from sensible steps to increase revenues.

Continue Reading...

Borrow money for infrastructure, but fix what we have first

The highlight of Governor Chet Culver’s “condition of the state” address yesterday (video here and prepared text here) was a proposal to issue state bonds to borrow up to $700 million over the next few years:

Thousands of new jobs will be created, Culver said. Every $100 million spent on highway construction alone means more than 4,000 new jobs, he said.

“We’re cutting back on the day-to-day expenditures of state government,” Culver said in his Condition of the State speech this morning. “But, at the same time, we will be investing in bricks and mortar – to create jobs and keep our economy going.”

Culver said Iowa won’t need to raise taxes to pay for the plan. The state is in the position to issue bonds, which is essentially borrowing money. Existing gaming revenue would repay the bonds, he said.

Predictably, road industry lobbyists like the spending plans while expressing some doubts about the borrowing plans.

Republicans also don’t seem to like the bonding proposal, while statehouse Democrats think it’s a good idea. State Auditor David Vaudt, who may be a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, said he needed to study the details before expressing an opinion, but noted, “What we’ve got to remember is we’ve got to dedicate and set aside a piece of revenue stream to pay that principal and interest.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal made a great point:

Gronstal deflected Republican criticism by pointing out that [Senate Minority leader Paul] McKinley, in his opening day speech, talked about a business he once owned.

“He borrowed every nickel he could and leveraged himself as far as he could because he believed in his future. I believe in Iowa’s future. I believe it makes sense now to borrow money and move this state forward,” Gronstal said.

He added: “This is probably one of the best times in our history to go out and borrow money with a dedicated repayment stream. Do you own a home? Did it make sense for you to borrow money? Or did you just pay cash?”

Gronstal is absolutely right. Iowa has a triple-A bond rating, interest rates are fairly low, and creating jobs is essential to bringing the economy back. Two-thirds of our economy depends on consumer spending, and good jobs generate the money people then spend at businesses in their communities. Construction jobs tend to be good jobs too.

Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen, who is usually a deficit hawk, also likes the infrastructure bonding idea:

The money will be borrowed over the next few years, supervised by an oversight board and repaid with gambling profits, so no tax increases will be necessary. (If we have to have all this gambling in Iowa, wouldn’t it be nice to see something tangible in return?)

It will be the modern-day equivalent of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, which built infrastructure we still use today, such as dams, sewers, parks and shelters. Previous American generations left us wonderful systems of interstates, canals, railroads, river locks and dams. What are we leaving our kids? Potholes, bridge collapses and sewers that pollute river ways.

Iowans are a frugal people. Perhaps we are too frugal. According to state Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald’s office, Moody’s Investors Service says Iowa’s per-capita level of public debt ranked 48th in the country last year. Iowa has $98 of state public debt per person. The national average of state debt is $1,158. You could double Iowa’s $98 of per-capita state debt to $200, and we would then rank 46th.

Culver should have told us that. Clearly, most other states saddle their citizens with more debt than is proposed here. And many are more attractive places to live, too, as our children attest when they leave for the better jobs and brighter lights elsewhere.

It’s funny to watch all these Republican legislators, who borrow all sorts of money to buy, expand or repair homes, businesses and farms, now turn prune-faced when Culver suggests doing the exact same thing in state government.

The Des Moines Register explained how Culver’s plan would work:

* Borrow $700 million in 20-year tax-exempt state revenue bonds

* Secure the bonds with about $56 million a year in gaming tax revenues

* Create a Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Authority to issue the bonds. It will be overseen by a five-member board.

* The authority would be administered and staffed by the Iowa Finance Authority.

How money will be spent:

housing

trails

highways

roads

bridges

mass transit

railways

airports

water quality and wastewater treatment improvements

flood control improvements

energy infrastructure

disaster-relief infrastructure

public buildings

Projects will be judged on:

Whether they are ready to proceed

How quickly the project can be started and completed

Number of jobs to be created by the project

Contribution to sustainability

On the whole, I support the idea. My main concern is that infrastructure money be spent on fixing what we already have, not on building every new road on developers’ wish lists. In the past, our legislators and state officials have focused too much on funding new roads instead of a balanced transportation policy.

The housing slump is likely to continue for at least two more years, and there is no reason to spend large sums to build new highway interchanges and major new roads through undeveloped farmland now. We should spend the money to fix stretches of existing major roads and highways and crumbling bridges, as well as on modes of transit that allow alternatives to driving. These projects will improve the quality of life for large numbers of Iowans while also creating jobs.

As for airports, I would only support spending money on needed repairs and improvements to existing airports. This is not the time to start building a bunch of small regional airports that would benefit a handful of corporate executives.

Culver emphasized that he did not plan to raise taxes, but Gronstal indicated that raising the state gas tax is still on the table.

I would like to hear more lawmakers talk about closing various tax loopholes that mainly benefit wealthy Iowans. The Iowa Policy Project has documented this and various other flaws in our current tax policies.

If you’ve got the time and the inclination, the governor’s official website has a video Culver showed during his address, called “In Deep Water: The Flood of 2008.” Iowa Public Television has House Minority leader Kraig Paulsen’s response to Culver’s address.

Continue Reading...
View More...