In this Let People Prosper episode, I review my latest piece at the Institute for Family Studies on how the Texas Model supports prosperous families. There's plenty of data to review in the piece, but let's discuss how institutions matter, especially the institution that's one of the most fundamental to our flourishing: the family.
Check out this thread on Twitter where I break down the piece in more detail.
We previously discussed the problems with Texas’ skyrocketing property tax burden. Let’s now consider past failed property tax relief attempts signaling a need for options that will provide permanent relief.
Since Texas’ modern property tax system took shape in 1979 with the passage of the “Peveto bill,” there have been three major attempts by the Texas Legislature to provide relief for taxpayers. Unfortunately, none of the attempted solutions created lasting reductions in property taxes as the attempts failed to address increased spending—the cause of increasing taxes—and instead simply shifted around the burden.
1997 Reform Attempt: Homestead Exemption Increase by $10,000
The 75th Texas Legislature attempted to reduce the rising property tax in 1997 by increasing the homestead exemption for school district property taxes by $10,000. Instead of allowing only $5,000 to be deducted from the taxable value of an individual’s property, the taxpayer could now deduct up to $15,000. The increased exemption was accompanied with homeowners who were 65 and over receiving a freeze on their school district property taxes. The total tax relief package was estimated at $1 billion. However, it resulted in little to no effect as school district property taxes increased by nearly $1 billion and total property taxes increased $1.4 billion the year after implementation and continued rising thereafter.
2006 Reform Attempt: Property Tax-Franchise Tax Swap
After the Texas Supreme Court determined the school finance system was unconstitutional in 2005 from an essentially statewide property tax, the Legislature in a 2006 special session aimed to bring property tax relief. The solution was a reformed business franchise tax to what’s known as the margins tax today and increase the motor vehicle sales tax and tobacco tax while also changing the school finance formulas. While the outcome was an initial reduction in school district and total property taxes, the declines were marginal the first year with taxes being substantially higher than 2006 in 2008. As a result, instead of sustained property tax reduction, Texans experienced an increase in both local property taxes and state taxes. Moreover, the swap exchanged an already poor property tax system with an arguably worse margins tax that should be eliminated.
2015 Reform Attempt: Homestead Exemption Increase by $10,000
Similar to the 1997 reform, the 84th Texas Legislature looked to raise the homestead exemption for school districts property taxes another $10,000 to $25,000. Again, lower local property tax collections were replaced with state funds so as to not decrease school district budgets. Yet, much like 1997, there was no improvement in the tax burden as school property taxes increased by $1.7 billion and all property taxes increased by almost $4 billion the next year.
With past property tax relief failures of increasing the homestead exemption and the franchise tax swap, the time has come for a strategy that employs reducing the growth of government spending at the state and local levels while using state dollars to eliminate property taxes.
Despite the economic success of the Texas Model of relatively fiscally conservative governance, a skyrocketing local property tax burden remains one of the state’s most pressing policy challenges.
While Texans have the luxury of not paying a state personal income tax, which should be constitutionally banned, they’re currently weighed down by more than 5,100 local taxing jurisdictions that boast the sixth highestproperty tax rate nationwide. These locally-determined tax rates along with often subjectively appraised property values combine to give the total property tax levy statewide of $56 billion in 2016—contributing to an average property tax burden of more than $8,000 per year for families of four.
Although many Texans live in uncertainty year-to-year on what their property tax bill will be, much of the damage of such ominous tax burdens are not so uncertain: discouraged economic growth, distorted investment decisions, depressed job creation, and ultimately renting property from the government forever.
While the pain is felt statewide, it’s particularly felt among housing-rich but income-poor individuals, such as the elderly, who often must move as increasing tax liabilities extend beyond their means. In fact, some Texans who have paid off their mortgage now pay more for their property tax liability than prior mortgage payments, forcing them out of their home. The high property tax burden also keeps some people from ever having the means with which to purchase property.
Both of these issues limit the liberty and economic prosperity of Texans from property taxes at often no fault of their own. This is particularly harmful because people aren’t able to ever own their home but rather pay rent to the government forever.
And even those who do not have property are burdened as renters can reasonably expect property managers to pass the tax along to them and consumers pay more goods and services as business owners do the same.
The culmination of these increases by local tax jurisdictions contribute to the total property tax levy statewide increasing by 233 percent to $56 billion in property taxes collected in 2016—the single largest tax imposed in the Lone Star State. For comparison, there may be a need for increasing spending and therefore taxes to fund increases in population and inflation.
However, in this period, the state’s population growth increased by 47 percent and price inflation increased by 53 percent—collectively well below the increase in property taxes.
On an average annual basis, the total property tax levy increased by 6.3 percent during that period; however, population growth increased by 1.9 percent and price inflation increased by 2.2 percent. Again, these growth rates indicate the mounting burden on Texans compared with a potentially reasonable argument for spending and taxing more.
With many local tax jurisdictions raising property taxes at rates that are outpacing key measures of Texans’ ability to pay, the Texas Legislature has attempted to limit the growth of property taxes but to little avail. The steady increase in the property tax burden despite these unsuccessful attempts signal the real issue: Texas’ local governments don’t have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem.
By first identifying this spending problem, we can begin to discuss real property tax relief.
In this episode, I explore the following questions: What are claimed market failures? Do they exist? Can government intervention correct them? Is there such thing as government failure? It's important to ask these questions to determine whether or not market failure or government failure are the bigger problem in society. Much of this has do with the differences between Mainline Economics (my preference) and Mainstream Economics.
This enters controversial territory in economics and politics by discussing the myths of "market failure." Supposed market failures usually include problems with markets because of asymmetric information (occupational licensing and healthcare), monopolies (utilities and EpiPen), and externalities (pollutants) that can theoretically be corrected by government intervention.
However, I make the case that these issues in markets are generated by government intervention, not unhampered markets, and the introduction of government intrusion to attempt to correct these potential issues only expand government and make the problem worse.
Moreover, there are no free-market government solutions, which is why toxic pollutants should be dealt with by letting markets sufficiently price them or alternatively, though not recommended, by regulation. Policy solutions such as a carbon tax indirectly price externalities and the price will always be wrong because of the "knowledge problem" taught by economist Friedrich Hayek and the poor modeling that's done by so-called experts (see William Easterly's book The Tyranny of Experts). In general, the institutional structure of an economy should be supported by the government through upholding contracts, protecting people, and providing very few public goods.
Instead of resorting to government intervention to solve supposed market failures, we should first understand that the government is likely the problem and Let People Prosper by promoting institutions with strong private property rights and fewer barriers to entry and exit markets.
In this let people prosper episode, I discuss two key reports released today. The first is that the Energy Information Administration reported that the U.S. oil production exceeded Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the top oil producer in the world in August 2018. The second is the Census Bureau released the latest income and poverty-related data that shows less poverty nationwide with little change in Texas' supplemental poverty measure (SPM) while California still has the highest SPM in the nation.
Regarding the EIA's data, the following figure shows this historic moment in U.S. history. Here's the EIA's projection through 2019: "Although EIA does not publish crude oil production forecasts for Russia and Saudi Arabia in STEO, EIA expects that U.S. crude oil production will continue to exceed Russian and Saudi Arabian crude oil production for the remaining months of 2018 and through 2019."
Much of this expansion in oil production has been in Texas. In fact, Texas is producing a record amount of oil at 4.4 million barrels per day as of June 2018 (latest data available), which is about 40% of total U.S. production that month.
The increase in oil production in the last couple of years has contributed to faster economic growth and job creation, thereby helping to reduce the poverty rate. Of course, this is a relatively small direct relationship, but the indirect relationship of more production capacity in the private sector is quite remarkable. Moreover, the regulatory cuts last year and the general increased economic activity and job creation in recent years has helped get people out of poverty.
This is noted by poverty measures improving some in the latest report for the average of the 2015-17 period (see page 26-27 of this report). The Official Poverty Measure (OPM) looks at one poverty level across the entire nation with the federal poverty level of $12,752 for an individual and a family of four (two adults and two kids) of $24,858. The OPM declined to 12.9%, or 41.2 million, nationally for the average of 2015-17.
However, the OPM is a poor measure of poverty because there are different housing costs in each state along with different levels of government benefits.
Several years ago the Census Bureau created the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) that accounts for after-tax income, differences in regional costs of housing and other expenditures, and government transfers (see figure below). The SPM declined to 14.1 percent, or 45.3 million, nationally.
These measures for the 2015-17 period are also available by state. Let's consider the two largest states: California and Texas. California's OPM is 13.4%, which is near the national average, with 5.3 million people in poverty, and SPM is 19%, which is the highest nationally, with 7.5 million in poverty. Texas' OPM is 14%, more than a percentage point higher than the national average, with 3.9 million people in poverty, and SPM is 14.7%, which is near the U.S. average, with 4.1 million in poverty.
These data make sense because Texas is a relatively cheaper place to live that in California so Texans' dollars go a lot further than Californians' even as California has a more liberal welfare state and spends much more per capita.
In this Let People Prosper episode, I'm honored with the "Champion of Freedom" award from Grassroots America--We The People's Executive Director JoAnn Fleming for advancing economic freedom and prosperity in Texas and beyond. I'm thankful to receive this stellar award!
Here's Part 1 with JoAnn Fleming announcing my award and providing some very kind remarks.
Here's Part 2 where I give my acceptance speech. Short and to the point.
I thank God, wife, family, colleagues at TPPF, and all of the freedom fighters working hard to assure liberty is rising! Now let's get to work to assure to expand opportunities to #LetPeopleProsper.
In this #LetPeopleProsper episode, I discuss the good, bad, and my take on the August jobs report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, a good report but weaknesses remain.
Here are the key points of the report:
In general, the increased strength of the labor market has been a product of the regulatory and tax relief last year. A good sign as the Trump administration has started to follow more of hte prosperous Texas model.
Let's hope that continues to #LetPeopleProsper.
In this Let People Prosper episode, I'm interviewed by Josiah Neeley of R Street Institute and Doug McCullough of Lone Star Policy Institute on the Urbane Cowboys podcast about trade, NAFTA, Texas Model, and much more ("Ginn as in Gig").
You can listen to the podcast on Apple iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
In this Let People Prosper episode, I discuss the issue of occupational licensing how burdensome it is for many workers while many of the licenses provide little consumer protection from health, safety, and welfare concerns. This issue was in TPPF's daily newsletter "The Cannon," which I recommend that you subscribe.
In fact, licenses often result in being a barrier to entry for many people wanting to join a licensed occupation, creating a situation where there are costs to consumers, workers, and society at large. This makes licenses the most burdensome labor market regulation in spite of the reasoning for them being from a market failure of asymmetric information.
Often, market failures aren't failures at all but rather the resulting costs are from government failures, which another case for this is with occupational licensing. The case of Bastiat's teh seen versus the unssen.
Instead, more information to consumers and lower barriers to entry for workers would provide an efficient market that doesn't misallocate workers and cost consumers and society in the process.
I discuss recommended solutions that I mentioned in my recent testimony before the Texas Senate Business and Commerce Committee (watch my testimony here starting at 37:45 and read my written testimony here). There was a great discussion among the panelists and legislators about occupational licensing and what you should be done about them.
In this Let People Prosper episode, I discuss how property taxes continue to skyrocket in Texas and highlight options that would provide property tax relief. The key to any long-term tax relief is to limit government spending so that the burden of government can be reduced.
The result of taxing something is that you will get less of it. That's simple, correct? But the details of how to best collect taxpayer dollars to fund limited roles for government gets complicated. I try to break this down simply at the video above.
According to the Texas Comptroller, property taxes and sales taxes are both regressive. Any time you have a flat tax rate, higher income people will pay a lower share of their income on taxes than lower income people. But the costs of property taxes are substantial, with businesses and individuals each paying about half for school M&O property taxes. Sales taxes, on the other hand, allow people the freedom to decide how to spend their money, don not have to tax real estate (capital formation and accumulation--keys to wealth of nations), and are transparent. Individuals pay about 60% of sales taxes collected while businesses submit about 40%, but we know that businesses don't ultimately pay taxes because they just pass those costs along to consumers (us) in the form of higher prices, lower wages, and fewer jobs available over time.
As noted in previous episodes, I have long supported the elimination of property taxes in Texas. There are multiple ways to do so by possibly swapping them (sales tax rates are lower now because of expanded economic growth since these rates were calculated) with a reformed sales tax and/or buying them down permanently over time. The key is to limit government spending so that the burden of government can be reduced.
We know that sin taxes (e.g. carbon tax or cigarette tax) or tariffs are poor forms of taxation. Income taxes are also a terrible form of taxation. Check out the table below that provides information for the 9 states without a personal income tax and the 9 states with the highest personal income tax rates. Those states without a personal income tax blow the others out of the water regarding multiple economic indicators.
Of course, the key is limiting spending. Let's move to a tax system with just a sales tax for more economic prosperity, which eliminating the school M&O property tax would be a great start.
In this #LetPeopleProsper episode, I discuss my last two very busy days.
With the proposed U.S.-Mexico trade deal yesterday, I was on multiple radio stations today across the nation talking about the costs and benefits of the deal and the implications for Americans. I'm still waiting to see all of the details and am lukewarm about it at this point because of the trade barriers imposed on the auto sector that will lead to higher auto prices for consumers and higher transportation prices for many businesses. However, I'm optimistic that much of NAFTA remained intact, e-commerce provisions were included to modernize the agreement, and the contract is for 16 years instead of the 5 years the Trump administration suggested. Here's my recent commentary at The Hill on this issue.
I testified today before the Texas Senate Business & Commerce on deregulating occupational licensing, which is the most onerous form of labor market regulation (here's my testimony). I discussed the high costs of these and made recommendations on taking a broad look at eliminating many of them or reducing their requirements along with moving towards having employers complete a registration or certification with the state government or a private association to signal that they are able to do the job, which signaling is about all many of these licenses are good for. I'll have a paper published on this soon with Dr. Ed Timmons of St. Francis University.
I also testified today before the Texas Senate Administration on the benefits of program-based budgeting and the need for zero-based budgeting. I explain this in detail in the episode, but basically our state budget today is organized by strategy that lacks transparency and makes it difficult to find granular data in the budget, especially to weed out unnecessary programs. By moving to a program-based budget that's been used in Texas before, this granular data would be available to add transparency for taxpayers and legislators while making it easier to start each program at zero and make decisions whether it should be included--otherwise known as zero-based budgeting.
Please watch the video for more. Don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel at "Vance Ginn Economics" and continue to share this with your friends and family. Thank you!
In this episode, I am interviewed by Liz Wheeler of One America News Network on the costs and benefits of the proposed trade deal between the U.S. and Mexico. While consumers will likely pay higher prices for autos, there are benefits of the deal as well. It's important that NAFTA continue as it supports abundant prosperity, especially in Texas.
Here's my press release today and recent research on how people prosper from trade, including NAFTA. A big part of the benefit of today's proposed bilateral trade deal is that it reduces the foreign trade uncertainty holding back economic activity. While tariffs may have contributed to a faster agreement, tariffs are nothing more than a tax and shouldn't be used in such a manner unless willing to increase taxes and raise more revenue to expand government, which isn't something I'm willing to do nor should Americans as it makes people poor.
Hopefully there will be lower trade barriers overall when the agreement is finalized between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. If not, Texans and all Americans will lose in the process.
In this Let People Prosper episode, I discuss today's enactment by the Trump administration of $16 billion more in tariffs on Chinese products by the Trump administration along with my recent presentation before the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce in Houston on the importance of institutions along with the benefits of international trade.
While there are certainly acute costs for specific people in trade activity with people in other countries, the benefits are widely dispersed. This is why it's easy for politicians to point to trade as being the problem, such as auto manufacturing or steel, when the primary problem is poor domestic policies. The facts show that trade, whether by individuals domestically or abroad, are overwhelmingly positive. Alternatively, higher taxes from trade leads to increased uncertainty for entrepreneurs that contributes to less economic activity and job creation.
For example, in my recent paper I note that the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, which got rid of tariffs among these countries, supports at least 14 million jobs in the U.S., with many of them in Texas. We should not look at trade deficits but rather trade flows.
Watch the YouTube video above and view the presentation below to learn more.
In this Let People Prosper episode, I discuss the latest state-level jobs report for July 2018 issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics while highlighting how economic freedom and the recent federal changes to the State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT) matter to our prosperity.
As noted in my previous blog post (see presentation), Texas continues to be America's jobs creation engine as the Lone Star State has created 23% of all new civilian jobs added nationwide and created the most nonfarm jobs of 377,100 in the last 12 months.
In general, states with more economic freedom and lower taxes have performed better in terms of economic growth and job creation over time than states with less economic freedom and higher taxes. Hundreds of papers have found this connection when considering the Economic Freedom of North America report by the Fraser Institute.
Watch the episode to find out more. Have a blessed day and let people prosper.
(Tip: Get checked by a dermatologist periodically, especially if you have fair skin like I do. That's the reason for the band-aid on my left cheek--praying for no issues!)
This presentation provides information about Texas’ economy, labor market, and fiscal situation and key public policies that would strengthen the Texas model to foster more individual liberty and economic prosperity.
In this episode, I discuss today's decision by the San Antonio City Council with a 9-2 vote to pass a city ordinance mandating private businesses provide paid sick leave of 64 hours for those with more than 15 employees and of 48 hours for those with 15 or fewer employees.
As I noted in a previous blog post, this sort of forced activity by government is bad for employers (raises costs), bad for employees (reduces negotiating power), bad for consumers (increases prices), and bad for the Texas economy (less economic activity).
Instead, San Antonio and Austin, which passed this ordinance earlier this year, should find ways to provide a pro-growth economic framework to let people prosper instead of making people poor while likely violating state law (Texas Minimum Wage Act).
In today's Let People Prosper episode, I first give an overview on the U.S. markets: General overview was that stocks were down primarily from increased trade tensions with Turkey, dollar appreciated, oil fell to $65 per barrel, and the 10-yr Treasury note rate declined to 2.86%.
Americans' wages are up around 3 percent over the last twelve months. But the cost of living, measured by the consumer price index (CPI), is up by almost that rate. In other words, you can purchase the same basket of goods you did last year but probably not much more. A recent Wall Street Journal article says that "Rising U.S. Consumer Prices Are Eroding Wage Gains."
However, is this really true? Which prices are going up and why?
Let's discuss! #LetPeopleProsper
AUSTIN – Today, Texas Public Policy Foundation announces that Senior Economist Vance Ginn, Ph.D., has been named a Champion of Freedom by Grassroots America-We the People, one of the state’s leading conservative grassroots organizations.
“We are thrilled to announce Vance Ginn as a 2018 Grassroots America Champion of Freedom,” said JoAnn Fleming, executive director of GA-WTP. “To read, hear, and observe Vance assert the fundamentals of economic freedom one can never question that he believes these principles down to his very core. Vance’s gift is his ability to translate abstract economic principles into concrete, understandable applications for maximum liberty, while doing so with infectious enthusiasm and good cheer. Vance is a happy warrior, arming citizen activists with usable information as they battle government bureaucracy and prosperity-stealing over-regulation and taxation. Dr. Vance Ginn is a tremendous asset to the growing Texas conservative grassroots movement.”
“Vance’s important work continues to advance the goals of the Texas Public Policy Foundation – promoting liberty at every level, from local governance to state and federal issues,” said TPPF Executive Director Kevin Roberts, Ph.D. “This honor from Grassroots America-We The People is an unexpected but richly deserved award. We thank Grassroots America for its own work of holding government officials accountable and ensuring that government itself remain efficient, open and limited.”
Ginn will be honored with the award at GA-WTP’s annual Champions of Freedom Banquet, to be held on Sept. 8 in Tyler, Texas. Other honorees for 2018 include Teresa Beckmeyer of Lone Star Voice, Jim and Elizabeth Graham of Texas Right to Life, Aaron Harris of Direct Action Texas, Rachel Malone of Texas Firearms Freedom, Dr. Laura Pressley of True Texas Elections and Pastor Dave Welch of the Texas Pastors Council.
Previous honorees include Sen. Ted Cruz, Congressman Louie Gohmert, members of the Texas House Freedom Caucus and Pastor Rafael Cruz.
Grassroots America – We the People, Inc. is the largest constitutional conservative citizen organization in East Texas and one of the largest in Texas.
In this Let People Prosper (LPP) episode, I tell my story and why institutions matter so much to me and my worldview.
I've realized that I haven't told you about me yet after 27 episodes, so I decided to change that in episode 28. I've been blessed by the grace of God throughout my life to overcome the many trials and tribulations that have come along the way. But through it all, I'm so thankful for my family and friends.
I was born November 12, 1981 to wonderful parents in South Houston, Texas who didn't have much money but had much love to let me prosper as a child. My experiences in private, public, and home schools gave me a different perspective on how institutions matter. My time as a drummer in the band Sindrome in Houston while living the life of a rockstar challenged my future goals. But a major car accident along with prayer helped to change my direction forever to a life of purpose to help others. My tool to do so is economics, which is why as a first generation college graduate I chose to earn my doctorate in economics at Texas Tech University so I can do all I can to learn more about our world to let people prosper.
You can view more of this story with pictures at a previous blog post here. Thank you for watching these episodes and reading my blogs. I am truly honored.
If there's ever anything you'd like for me to discuss, please write me a comment or send me an email. There's much more for us to do to learn more about human action and which institutions can best let people prosper.
Limit Government to Support Prosperity Conversation with Chief Economist Jonathan Williams: LPP EP 27
In this episode, I talk with Jonathan Williams, Chief Economist of the American Legislative Exchange Council (see full bio here), about the positive economic effects of the recent Tax Cuts & Jobs Act along with how the Texas Model works well but should be improved.
Don't miss his latest Rich States, Poor States publication that gives an economic outlook for each state and then ranks them. Here is the recent commentary I co-authored with Jonathon on not believing the hype about a carbon tax.
Check out more of his work and more of the fantastic information at ALEC at the website www.alec.org.
In this episode, I have a conversation with Dr. Brandon Logan, who is the Director of the Center for Families & Children at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, about his fantastic work in helping kids and families prosper more throughout their lives.
The most essential institution is the family, and with government crowding out many of a family's basic functions, civil society suffers. By letting people prosper through limited government, whereby parents have the freedom to raise their child as they see fit without abuse, families can have the best opportunities to flourish.
Here's more on Dr. Logan: Before joining the Foundation, Brandon represented hundreds of children as attorney and guardian in child welfare courts throughout Texas. He is certified as a Child Welfare Law Specialist by the National Association of Counsel for Children. Brandon has also represented parents, grandparents, and foster families in custody and adoption cases across the state.
Brandon earned his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University. He holds a law degree and doctorate in human development and family studies from Texas Tech University, where he also taught courses in child welfare policy and family dynamics. His academic work includes child maltreatment, abuse trauma and treatment, and family and father engagement.
Brandon and his wife, Mindy, were raised in the same small West Texas town and are blessed with five young children – four boys and a baby girl.
In this episode, I discuss the current state of the markets, give a quick recap of the jobs report, and primarily discuss the recent announcement by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to lower the assumed rate of return and what the implications are for teachers and taxpayers.
I gave the following presentation at a policy forum on property tax reform at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
Here's an overview of the forum from the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce:
Property tax relief and slowing the growth of property taxes proved to be a topic capable of bringing approximately 120 business leaders and elected officials together at the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce on Friday, August 3. Four experts on property taxes presented their perspective on the issues and then responded to questions from Tarrant County Property Tax Assessor/Collector Ron Wright. The event was the first ever sponsored by the Coalition of East Tarrant Chambers.
Vance Ginn, Chief Economist with the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, presented TPPF's view of how to completely eliminate school maintenance and operations property tax. Dr. Aaron Reich, President of the Arlington ISD Board of Trustees, talked about the complications of the Texas system for funding property taxes and how it seems to short change districts like Arlington. He made the point the state uses taxes collected as "school" taxes for other state expenses like health care and transportation. County Judge Glen Whitley represented the perspective of cities and counties and made the point that without a state income tax, which he does not favor, Texas has a two-legged stool which is hard to sit on. He took great exception to the idea of eliminating property taxes and replacing them with more sales tax could be made to work. State Representative Matt Krause brought the perspective of the legislature to the discussion. He shared about the state's overall shortage of funds and how growing Medicaid expenses are crowding other important items in the budget.
Follow this link to read a summary of the presentations.
Click here to view the video of the entire Forum.
In this episode, I discuss today's U.S. jobs report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of July. Overall, there were many good signs, such as the increases in the 25-54 years old employment-population ratio, but weaknesses remain. By cutting government spending and ending trade uncertainty, the Trump recovery can continue with rather robust job creation.
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted how the $4 trillion in total unfunded public pension debts of cities and states nationwide equals Germany’s economy. The WSJ figure below highlights how this massive sea of red ink means that there could be a tremendous burden on taxpayers as contributions rise or on public sector employees’ as funded ratios decline without major reforms.
In other words, public sector employees and taxpayers may soon be in a world of hurt because of decades of poorly managed and constructed defined-benefit pension plans.
The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, or TRS, recently lowered its assumed rate of return for its pension fund from 8 percent to 7.25 percent. The TRS figure below shows that the lower rate is more consistent with the average annual returns in the past 20 years of around 7 percent, but it remains well above the 5.8 percent average return in the last decade.
While some Texas teachers and unions worry about potential benefit cuts, teachers shouldn’t fret about changes to current benefits from the lowered assumed rate of return but rather note that the increased transparency helps better reflect longer-term solvency issues.
The lowered return indicates unfunded liabilities amount to a staggering $45 billion, pushing the funded ratio below 80 percent, which that some consider actuarially sound. However, if the funded ratio is below 100 percent, then some teachers are at risk of not receiving their retirement because of insufficient funds to pay them.
The goal of public pensions should always be a 100 percent funded ratio so teachers and taxpayers aren’t shortchanged.
To better fund teachers’ pensions, TRS has stated they will request more contributions from the Texas Legislature this upcoming session. These added contributions could come from current teachers or taxpayers through increased state or school district spending, but that’s up to legislators.
While Texas has historically had terrific credit ratings, it risks a downgrade if the Legislature doesn’t solve what could be a looming pension crisis. Total state unfunded pension liabilities now amount to more than $60 billion after the recent TRS decision. These unfunded liabilities, if not covered, will require more resources from teachers and taxpayers.
Lowering the rate of return to a more accurate assumption is a step in the right direction, but more reform is necessary.
To assure a 100 percent funded ratio, the Legislature should consider transitioning pension plans to cash balance plans. Or, to avoid getting back into the current situation from mismanagement of the portfolio over time, legislators should consider hybrid contribution plans or defined contribution, 401K-style, plans.
Traditional opponents of defined contribution plans say they cost more to the state, are less stable for retirees, and generate less returns over time. However, most of these are unfounded and those that are legitimate have solutions. A well-designed defined contribution plan can be even more beneficial to teachers so that they are in control of their retirement while practically eliminating the risk to taxpayers.
The looming debt crisis could hurt teachers and taxpayers if the can is continually kicked down the road. Before the can makes it off the cliff, legislators should act and reform the system.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.
Free market economist with leanings towards Chicago/Austrian schools of economics. Hard rock drummer. Classical liberal. First generation college graduate at Texas Tech University. Hometown: Houston. Recovering academic. Work at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin to research ways to #LetPeopleProsper. Live the dad life in Round Rock, TX. Views=mine.