In this Let People Prosper episode 65, let's discuss the legislative priorities set by the Texas House and Texas Senate in their recently proposed recommended budgets. While there's much to wade through, here’s what I’ve derived so far from the House and Senate recommended budgets. Of course, there will be many discussions over these budgets during the next several months until a final budget is determined and approved by both chambers, but these recommendations give a good indication of the priorities of each chamber, much like your family's budget.
The first thing to note is that both chambers have prioritized public education and property tax relief to a certain extent. Both chambers have relatively large increases in public education, but the details will need to be worked out throughout the legislative session to determine the allocations to public education spending and tax relief.
In general, there should be a push for spending current resources more wisely within public education before considering any new money. In other words, there could be a large amount of money to buy down the school maintenance and operations property tax as outlined in TPPF's property tax plan (view how much you would save over time with our online calculator).
The House budget noted first in the table below shows that the recommendations for state funds and all funds (state and federal) are greater than the Conservative Texas Budget limits based on growth of 8% in population and inflation in the last two fiscal years. The amounts appropriated for 2018-19 budget are from the LBB's Fiscal Size-Up for an apples-to-apples appropriation comparison. I've also noted the Texas Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) amounts. The House budget allocates $9 billion towards pub ed/property tax relief but is contingent on bills passed for those. There aren’t specific allocations of that $9 billion for pub ed or property tax relief.
The Senate budget is noted second and is below our CTB limit for state funds but is above our limit for all funds. The Senate budget provides $6 billion in pub ed/prop relief to the tune of $3.7 billion for increased teacher pay ($5,000) and $2.3 billion for prop relief.
I've excluded $7.1 billion in federal funds from both chambers' 2020-21 budgets for disaster recovery after Harvey as these should be one-time, unexpected expenses.
Overall, the Senate budget is in better shape to meet the CTB limits to keep the average taxpayer's ability to pay for government from unnecessarily growth and doesn't include use of the ESF like the House does of $633 million.
Bottom line: There’s work to do to limit government spending and provide tax relief to #letpeopleprosper.
In this Let People Prosper episode 64, let's discuss the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Policy Orientation, which was a sold out event that helps define the narrative for the 86th Texas Legislature, and highlight the recent spending limit set by the Legislative Budget Board.
The following are the panels that I moderated or participated in some capacity and my key takeaways with resources:
The other big news on Friday was that the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) set the state's spending limit for the upcoming 2020-21 budget. This spending limit is on only general revenue not dedicated by the constitution which is less than half of the total budget. While statutorily the spending limit should be based on growth in personal income, last session the LBB chose the rate based on population growth and inflation. This time the spending limit is 9.89% for the 2020-21 budget, which is based on an increase of 8.39% in population growth and inflation and 1.5% for Harvey.
This is another good sign that the LBB continues to use a measure for the limit that better matches the average taxpayer's ability to pay than the inappropriate growth rate of personal income. This spending limit is in-line with the recent BRE increase of 8.1% in general revenue-related funds and provides funds available to cover needed expenses along with property tax relief. Specifically, the Legislature could use half of the funds of about $4.4 billion for spending and 90% of the rest of the funds of about $4.1 billion to buydown the school maintenance and operations property tax.
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss today's release of the Texas Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate report. This report is key because the state's balanced budget amendment means this estimate provides the projected amount of taxpayer money available for the 86th Texas Legislature to appropriate during the upcoming legislative session that starts tomorrow. The revenue estimate indicates that the Legislature can pass a budget that funds legislative priorities while including taxpayers in the budget process by lowering property taxes within the average taxpayer's ability to pay.
The report notes that the 2020-21 budget will have available an estimated $265.6 billion in all funds (state funds and federal funds) (6.7% increase), $176.9 billion in state funds (7.3% increase), and $119.1 billion in general revenue-related funds (8.1% increase). Included in these amounts is an available fund balance of $4.2 billion remaining from the 2018-19 budget.
The 86th Legislature has a grand opportunity to pass what could be the third straight Conservative Texas Budget (CTB) while prioritizing taxpayers in the budget process to lower property tax bills and improve education.
Specifically, the Conservative Texas Budget Coalition, which includes the Texas Public Policy Foundation and 15 other member organizations, has set conservative spending limits on the 2020-21 budget of $234.1 billion in all funds and $156.5 billion in state funds based on an 8 percent increase in population growth plus inflation over the previous two fiscal years above current appropriations.
There are also 2018-19 supplemental bill limits of $3.6 billion in state funds and about $4.4 billion in all funds to cover unfunded expenses in the 2018-19 budget. But these amounts could be quickly reached as there's a $1.8 billion amount likely needed to fund a delayed payment to transportation and $2 billion in unfunded Medicaid expenses. Legislators will need to appropriate these dollars wisely so the 2018-19 budget can be the second straight CTB.
But the Conservative Texas Budget is a maximum to just keep in line with the average taxpayer's ability to pay. Given skyrocketing property taxes, the Legislature should add taxpayers in the budget process and limit general revenue-related funds spending so that the rest can be used for property tax relief through the TPPF proposal here. Many have claimed that Texas can't afford TPPF's proposal, but this revenue estimate shows that Texas clearly can and must for the sake of prosperity in the Lone Star State.
If the upcoming 86th Texas Legislature limited spending of general revenue-related funds to just 4% growth, that would provide $4.4 billion in new spending on budget items while allowing the rest of the 4% of those funds under the CTB of $4.1 billion to go to lowering the school maintenance & operations (M&O) property tax.
The school M&O property tax is about 45% of the total property tax burden. The $4.1 billion would amount to an almost 8% biennial cut in that portion of the property tax, leaving more money in the pockets of taxpayers. The school M&O property tax would continue to be lowered each session given taxpayers are part of the budget process and fully eliminated within about a decade. This process could be sped up by lowering the rainy day fund cap and using excess funds, which the rainy day fund amount could grow to more than $15 billion, to provide property tax relief.
Although slowing the growth rate of property taxes over time is good step towards reform, taxpayers want lower property tax bills for relief. The TPPF proposal works to lower property tax bills, and the Texas Comptroller's revenue estimate proves that it can and must be done.
In this #LetPeopleProsper episode 62, I wish you all a Happy New Year! Thank you for watching this vlog, subscribing, and sharing it with your family and friends.
Each year I choose a word that keeps me on pace to reach my goals. My word this year is "flourish." I started doing this last year with the word "prosper," which last year was very prosperous for my family, and know that this year will be even better than the last. Try it!
2019 will be a busy year as the Texas Legislature will be in session starting January 8. I look forward to discussing the big issues, like property taxes and spending restraint, and providing updates here with guests along the way. We will also discuss interesting things in Congress with the Democrats taking over the House, President Trump will likely act on trade and regulatory issues, the Federal Reserve will be on the hot seat, and so much more.
May we learn more about our God-given world together. Please send me questions and show ideas along the way. You can always find the show notes on the blog page at vanceginn.com.
Blessings to you and yours! #LetPeopleProsper
There's been much discussion about international trade, particularly NAFTA with trade between the U.S. and Mexico, in the news and social media after President Trump's recent tweet-storm against the "bad deal."
But let's cut to the chase: people prosper from trade.
Sure, President Trump is correct that the U.S. is running a trade deficit with Mexico, whereby imports exceed exports, this year that looks to surpass the deficit of $71 billion last year (see charts below); but this net trade balance is useless.
True prosperity should be measured by the trade value of voluntary exchange of people importing and exporting products. This trade value between Americans and Mexicans was $557.6 billion in 2017 and is already $512.3 billion through just October 2018, meaning this year is likely to be even higher.
For another example, Texas has a trade surplus with Mexico, meaning Mexicans purchase more from Texans than Texans do from Mexicans (see figures below). Consider that in 2017 Texas exports to Mexico of $97.7 billion were greater than its exports to the next 10 countries combined. And Texas imports from Mexico of $89.8 B were greater than its exports to the next 5 countries combined. But again, Texas' net trade balance with Mexico of an almost $9 B surplus is useless.
True prosperity is the trade value of exports plus imports of $187.5 billion between Texans and Mexicans that year. In other words, through voluntary exchange people satisfy their desires or they wouldn't trade, providing a win-win situation, not a zero-sum game.
Comparative advantage discussed by economist David Ricardo in the early 19th Century explained that an individual (or country) will produce whatever she is relatively more productive compared with someone else (another country) and thing. This is similar to competitive advantage whereby an individual is not only more productive but can produce at a lower cost, which may not always be the case with comparative advantage. I explain this and more the Let People Prosper episode 46 above.
These concepts work in the real world to provide abundant human flourishing. Those people and countries that practice protectionist measures to limit trade have been poor or made poorer over time--even contributing to the failure of their nation such as in Rome or Germany.
What's important here is to be as competitive as possible so that one can continue to benefit from trade by increasing productivity and finding other ways to lower production costs. This can be done through policy such as reducing excessive government spending to lower taxes and cut onerous regulations--both tax and regulatory relief have been successes of the Trump administration. However, tariffs and other trade barriers and excessive government spending by the Trump administration and Congress continue to raise the cost of production and ultimately hurt all Americans as these policy actions reduce their purchasing power.
For example, the Tax Foundation notes that the Trump administration’s imposed tariffs have cost Americans $42 billion in higher taxes levied on thousands of products and threatened tariffs could cost them another $129 billion. This could total $171 billion in higher taxes which would be more than the average per year cut in taxes of $150 billion by the 2017 Trump tax cuts.
Adam Smith also taught us in the late 18th Century that the extent of the market determines the division of labor and specialization. So, expanding the extent of the market through trade with people in other countries improves both of these measure of worker productivity while holding down the cost of production and therefore prices so that the least among us and everyone else prosper over time.
Sure, some sectors, and the workers in them, that don't change course to compete in the expanded markets will be hurt, but people are still better off given more opportunities to work in other sectors and the advantages of an increased standard of living with more quality, affordable products and services.
For more on the economics of trade and the benefits of NAFTA and trade in general, please read my paper "People Prosper from Trade: NAFTA and Texas."
I also recommend reading papers presented at the Dallas Fed's recent conference on 20 years after NAFTA. The book "Economics In One Lesson" has great stuff on the economics of trade. Another good book that I read recently on trade was "Specialization and Trade" by Arnold Kling--I have a short review of it and other books at my Goodreads page.
In general, we need freer trade to let people prosper. Thanks for reading and sharing with others!
The latest BLS state-level jobs report for November shows that Texas continues to lead the way in job creation for the last 12 months and keeps the state record low unemployment rate of 3.7%. Here's my statement on the jobs report.
The presentation below provides an overview of Texas’ economic, labor market, and fiscal situation while also comparing Texas with other large states. There are also policy recommendations to strengthen the Texas Model of limited government so that it can foster more individual liberty and economic prosperity.
My prior research on how institutions matter takes a deeper dive into these figures. I recommend reading it along with watching my vlog on the subject. To summarize, Texas should increase economic freedom by eliminating unnecessary government barriers to competition to let people prosper.
Watch my explanation of previous state-level labor reports and other videos at my YouTube channel: Vance Ginn Economics.
In this Let People Prosper episode 61, let's discuss the U.S. Senate's passage (and soon will be in the House) of a landmark criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act, the unanimous vote by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance of recommended changes to the system, and the ninth increase by the Federal Reserve of the federal funds rate target to a range of 2.25-2.5%.
These are all key issues. But I'm particularly proud of the work that TPPF's Right on Crime team did to make criminal justice reform a priority for years and ultimately by the Trump administration. The First Step Act "provides reentry programming to help reduce recidivism, includes modest sentencing reforms, increases public safety, and gives those incarcerated a second chance once they have paid their debt to society." This is truly a step in the right direction as far too many are locked up for far too long and then return to a life of crime after because of the lack of a job and social normalcy.
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance provided a number of recommendations on how to improve student outcomes, how to increase teacher pay, how to more efficiently spend taxpayer money, and ultimately how to provide tax reform. Fortunately, the final version included language similar to TPPF's property tax plan that could provide lower property tax payments for Texans across the state. This is what Texans need and deserve to assure that they have every chance possible without unnecessary government barriers keeping them from reaching their hopes and dreams.
Finally, the Federal Reserve raised their overnight lending rate between banks, known as the federal funds rate, to 2.25-2.5%. This is the 9th increase since December 2015 after the Fed had left this rate in a range of 0-0.25% for seven years. The new rate remains near historic lows, as noted in the chart below.
While the stock market tanked after this report, the fundamentals of the economy remain relatively strong. One reason for the decline in the stock market today was because the price of credit increased today. This raise reduces the net present value of longer term capital investments and profitability along with the expectation of at least two more raises next year.
My take is that the Fed left rates too low for too long when you compare it with an indicator of a more market-driven, "neutral" rate derived by the Taylor rule. As you'll notice in the figure below, the Taylor rule suggests a neutral rate above 4%, which is almost twice as high as the federal funds rate. By the Fed's distortion of the markets with imposing an ultra-low interest rate policy and multiple rounds of quantitative easing, there are many assets that are bound to be highly inflated and we should expect corrections in these markets as the rate is raised to a more normal level. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as letting the air out of these inflated markets will help steady the markets and ultimately the economy for a firmer foundation for the long run. Interestingly, stocks remain much higher than they were when President Trump took office, which are positive signs of a growing economy as the economic institutions were strengthened from regulatory and tax relief even as burdens were imposed by excessive government spending and trade protectionism.
More to do to #letpeopleprosper.
What's Next for Healthcare After Texas District Judge Strikes Down Obamacare?: Let People Prosper Episode 60
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss the recent decision to strike down the Affordable Care Act, AKA "ObamaCare," by a federal district judge in Fort Worth, Texas and note that this is a historic moment along with the economics of it (more here and the YouTube videos below).
Here is the press release by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which led this lawsuit with the stellar work by General Counsel Rob Henneke and 20 states, to note this historic win towards economic freedom, prosperity, and access to affordable quality care for many more people than today.
Ultimately, this will likely be a long process until the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case and possibly overturns ObamaCare, allowing for the opportunity to devolve power to the states and ultimately to the people exchanging in a freer market.
In the meantime, we should expect no changes to insurance coverage, including pre-existing conditions. Long term, we must move to a healthcare system based on markets that allow prices to work with families, charities, and state governments helping the neediest among us and the disabled.
This is a historic time for America! #LetPeopleProsper
In this Let People Prosper episode, I am interviewed by Liz Wheeler on her show the Tipping Point on One America News.
We discuss the high cost of deficits and debt and the need for government spending relief along with the latest farm bill which continues the expansion of welfare.
In this Let People Prosper episode 58, let's discuss education-related issues in Texas of school finance reform, property tax relief, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas pension solvency.
To sum up, taxpayers have increased funding for public schools for years (see here and here) and now it's time for those elevated current dollars to be spent wisely to the classroom for improved education outcomes. School finance also includes property tax relief which should be accomplished by following the TPPF plan of actually lowering property taxes. And the latest TPPF-Reason Foundation paper highlights the mounting problems with the TRS pension that must be addressed soon before the pocketbooks of teachers and all taxpayers are hit.
There's much on the line for education in Texas. Serious discussion about spending taxpayer dollars wisely, lowering property taxes, and assuring the TRS pension system is solvent through reform are essential elements of improving education in the Lone Star State.
In this Let People Prosper episode 57, let's discuss the following: 1) latest news on the stock market volatility from uncertainty regarding international trade and the Federal Reserve actions; 2) my latest co-authored piece at the Dallas Morning News on the economic freedom of Buc-ees and what could be done to increase prosperity; and 3) what's next for Texas' rainy day fund.
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss the large selloff in the stock market as international trade issues along with some signs of slower economic growth and higher interest rates give traders anxiety while incorporating how these influence lower gasoline prices. If you want to learn more, you don't want to miss this full episode. Thanks for watching and sharing with your friends and family! I'm truly blessed to have such amazing support.
While there have been some potential good signs on the trade front with a possible agreement between President Trump and President Xi, there continues to be much uncertainty about the actual agreement and the fact that it is only good for 90 days and does little to reduce higher imposed cost of trade between the two countries. In general, this needless trade dispute is far from resolved and has contributed to a steep drop in the stock market today, but there are some promising aspects of the agreement.
“Just because the U.S. and China have agreed to call a truce in their trade war doesn’t mean that it’s over: This was a classic exercise in can-kicking,” economist Tyler Cowen explains in Bloomberg Opinion. “Nonetheless, most cans have quite a few kicks in them, and overall this is good news for the global economy. Instead of sweeping everything under the rug, as was the case before Donald Trump took office, America and China have found a new way of addressing conflict by talking openly.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, "at the meeting in Argentina, Mr. Trump and his negotiators agreed to suspend a planned Jan. 1 increase in tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25%, from 10%, as the two sides negotiate over Chinese economic policies."
Overall, tariffs are a destructive and counterproductive trade policy, and both the U.S. and China should work toward reducing them to zero. There’s a lot of work left to do on this deal to ensure that Americans can trade with the Chinese without taxes and uncertainty that will only drive up prices and decrease prosperity.
This action in the international trade arena has had costs not only of higher prices for Americans because of raising taxes through tariffs but also in raising the value of the dollar. Of course, the dollar market has many factors, which also include the Federal Reserve's potential actions of continuing to raise their overnight lending rate target. As U.S. interest rates go up compared with other countries, which essentially all developed countries have historically low interest rates, and people want to park their currency in dollars to reduce global risk, the value of the dollar appreciates compared with a host of major currencies, particularly the European euro.
When the value of the dollar goes up, the price of oil falls as oil is priced globally in dollars. In other words, a higher valued dollar makes it more expensive for people in other countries to purchase oil so demand falls contributing to a lower price of oil. Also contributing to this is higher inventories of oil from near record levels of production in the U.S. from innovative techniques through fracking.
This has contributed to the lowest level of gasoline prices this year, translating "to savings of about $200 million a day for Americans, said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. DeHaan predicted that gasoline prices will fall further in coming days, but how long that will last is unclear." Given much of my academic research is in the oil and gas markets, there is much to the story of how the oil market works based on supply, global demand, and precautionary demand primarily driven by geopolitical issues.
Supply is increasing, global demand is waning, and precautionary demand is heightened by the previous two factors outweigh this push upward in price. Considering that gasoline is a byproduct of oil, there is, on average, about a 2% increase in the retail price of gasoline for every 10% increase in the price of oil, and a symmetric response for a decline in the oil price over time.
Ultimately, imposing tariffs on other countries naturally leads them to do the same to us. And families pay the cost. Instead of resorting to flawed mercantilist trade policy, America should lead the way in promoting free trade, which history shows supports freedom and human flourishing. This should also stabilize the stock market from such wild swings driven by policy uncertainty on a the trade and interest rate fronts. Gaining trust in money issues must also come in the form of reining in bloated federal government spending of taxpayer dollars today and in the future from rising debt.
Achieving freer trade, raising interest rates to a more normal level, and reining in government spending would put the U.S. a sounder foundation for economic growth contributing to more job creation and economic opportunity for more people to prosper.
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss my recent trip to Washington D.C., where I spoke at the American Legislative Exchange Council's meetings about the importance of institutions and did an interview with Freedomworks, and then discussed the federal budget with Russ Vought, who is the Deputy Director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget.
Let's also discuss the latest economic reports about the continued strength of the U.S. economy in terms of GDP growth and personal income, and examine trade issues being discussed at the G-20 Summit.
Below are a few pictures from my recent trip to D.C.
Below is the file for my presentation before the American Legislative Exchange Conference's Fiscal Policy Reform Working Group in Washington, D.C. This presentation is based on my TPPF research paper titled "Do Institutions Matter for Prosperity in Texas and Beyond."
I've also provided a more in-depth presentation in this episode of my YouTube series "Let People Prosper" at the channel "Vance Ginn Economics."
Be Fruitful & Multiply--Work Matters But Government Should Give Nothing A Chance: Let People Prosper Episode 54
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss the news circling social media about the meaning of work and how government should influence it.
I make the case that work is essential, as God commanded us to "be fruitful and multiply," but that doesn't mean the government should get involved. In fact, we satisfy our desires to have leisure and consume by working, so we should find something we are great at and develop a passion for it over time. If the government picks winners and losers, those opportunities will be fewer and we will all be poor in the process.
Per the valuable discussions about loneliness, tribalism, and work by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse in his book Them, Jonah Golberg in his book Suicide of the West, Oren Cass in his recent book Once and Future Worker, Arthur Brooks in his recent NYT op-ed, and Brad Wilcox in his recent WSJ op-ed (recommend reading them all), my recent commentary at the Institute for Family Studies builds on my recent research paper on how we can help heal our fractured society by limiting govt, not by expanding it. Texas has provided a relatively consistent model of limited government that has long-supported prosperity, which is supported by the most recent latest state-level jobs report.
While there are attempts to increase the size and scope of government to reduce or eliminate social ills and encourage work, a major problem is a decline of strong inclusive institutions of the family and capitalism as extractive institutions of bureaucrats & socialism cut deep into the flesh. By strengthening inclusive institutions, civil society can heal and government can return to preserving liberty.
A suggested policy recommendation by others, like Cass, is to impose wage subsidies to increase worker pay while not decreasing the incentive for workers to not hire as many people at a higher wage. However, if the government incentivizes work that artificially distorts the marketplace, then there will be worse outcomes along the way.
Government should try a new approach: Give Nothing A Chance.
Too often government tries to do something when that action creates worse situations, such as with occupational licensing (see my latest paper on how occupational licensing keeps people poor here). In general, what we are dealing with is a battle between socialism (redistribution through government is a recipe for poverty) and capitalism (efficient allocation through voluntary exchange is a recipe for prosperity).
We would be wise to remember that there is "NO SUCH THING AS FREE STUFF," including: wage subsidies, earned income tax credits, welfare, college, health care, public schooling, printing money, government spending, debt, occupational licensing, govt pensions, vehicle safety inspections, zoning laws, forced annexation, regulations, minimum wage, etc.
By fundamentally reforming the failed policies of the past and today that has contributed to the poor situation for many people, we can begin to prosper again. This happens not by increasing the size and scope of government through more extractive institutions, but by properly upholding private property rights and limiting government to preserving liberty as inclusive institutions become the norm instead of the exception.
We can do this so that there are more opportunities to #LetPeopleProsper
There’s much to every person’s journey. Mine has many cycles that made me the man I am today.
The document below tells my story of a key cycle that highlights a peak, trough, and subsequent peak on the anniversary of this life-changing event. I've included pictures throughout that will hopefully give you a good perspective.
Moral of the story: Even “rockstars” can make a difference! #LetPeopleProsper
Eliminating Property Taxes in Texas Starts With Limiting Government Spending: Let People Prosper Episode 53
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss one of the things that's on most Texans' mind: property taxes. I recently testified before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance's Revenue Workgroup on the problem and solutions to wretched property taxes in Texas. Here's my written testimony and you can watch my oral testimony at time 59:45 here.
Texas’ property tax system has turned property owners into renters, where government is their landlord and Texans who struggle to pay annual tax bills face confiscation of their properties. Additionally, the growth of government is harming taxpayers and the economy through higher taxes and more regulation.
The goal must be to eliminate all property taxes as they violate property rights, destroy economic growth, and disproportionately hurt the poor while being subjectively determined as they support excessive local government spending. A good place to start down that road is by ending nearly half of the property tax burden in Texas through the elimination of the school maintenance and operations (M&O) property tax, which is supported by the 18 groups in the Conservative Texas Budget Coalition. This is relatively easier than other local tax jurisdiction because the state already determines the school finance formulas and has a way to distribute funds to school districts.
First, we must identify the problem.
From 1996 to 2016, total property taxes across the state have increased by 233% while the school portion of the property tax increased by 201%. Personal income has increased by 199%; however, the best metric of the average Texan's ability to pay taxes is measured by the compounded growth of population plus inflation for that period, which was only 123%. This means that the total tax levy increased by 1.9 times more than pop+inf and the school district tax levy increased by 1.6 times more than the average Texan's ability to pay.
It's no wonder that many people are being forced out of their homes and businesses because of skyrocketing property taxes. This is a travesty what government is doing to people who are trying to leave a legacy for their kids and grandkids.
This points to the disease of the symptom of high taxes: excessive government spending. Taxes (and deficits) are always and everywhere a spending problem. To gain control of skyrocketing taxes, we must first get control of the driver of the problem in excessive government spending.
This brings us to a solution: By limiting state and local government spending, Texas can use taxpayer dollars collected at the state level to eliminate the school maintenance and operations (M&O) property tax, which is nearly half of the property tax burden, very soon. While other options have been tried in the past, like raising the homestead exemption and swapping the property tax with a reformed franchise tax ("margins tax"), those didn't permanently reduce property taxes--making those attempts a failure in the eyes of most taxpayers.
Fortunately, there are solutions.
One option is to permanently buy down the school M&O property tax with state surplus dollars until it is eliminated. Here's how:
Another option is to replace the school M&O property tax by broadening the sales tax base and limiting state and local government spending. Here's how that could work:
Clearly there is no silver bullet. This will be a difficult hill to climb whichever option is chosen.
Recently, two economists from Rice University estimated that if the buy down option or the swap option over time was chosen, the Texas economy could expand by about $12.5 billion above expected growth and private sector job creation could increase by 183,000 net jobs above expected growth soon after reform.
The Texas Model is strong, but there's more that must be done. These options would provide a clear path to more prosperity and less of a burden of holding property until you can finally own it when property taxes are eliminated entirely.
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss how the recent election gives us insight on how we need more civil discourse to find ways to strengthen institutions so people can flourish.
My recent paper on how institutions matter provides a good overview of what I discuss in this episode along with economic data to support the theory. Here is a graphic that explains rather well the ecology of human development.
The data provide overwhelming evidence that the Texas Model of inclusive institutions with a relatively low tax-and-spend burden, no individual income tax, and sensible regulation provides an institutional framework supporting more job growth, higher wages, lower income inequality, and less poverty than in comparable states and the U.S., in most cases. Texas is doing something right. Other states and D.C. would be wise to consider adopting Texas’ inclusive economic and political institutions that champion individual liberty, free enterprise, and personal responsibility.
This is a path to providing an economic environment that allows entrepreneurs the greatest opportunity to thrive and for prosperity to be generated for the greatest number of people. Despite this success, improvements are needed to keep the Texas Model competitive and create even more opportunities for all to flourish. These improvements to Texas’ institutional framework include:
• limiting the growth in government spending,
• eliminating the state’s onerous business franchise tax,
• reducing barriers to international trade,
• reducing the escalating burden of property taxes, and
• relieving Texans from burdensome occupational licenses.
Even with these improvements, the data overwhelmingly show it was not a miracle in Texas, but rather abundant prosperity generated by Texans from a proven institutional framework called the Texas Model.
By strengthening institutions to let people prosper, we can also engage in more civil discourse so that we have many opportunities to work together.
In this Let People Prosper episode, I discuss last Friday's strong U.S. jobs report. With tomorrow's election on many people's mind, this will be a key indicator that things are going well, and in many respects that's correct. But there's much more for government to do to provide an institutional framework that's conducive to economic prosperity by restraining government spending, lowering tax burdens, liberating markets in healthcare, allowing education freedom, and more.
My hope is that classical liberalism with a good dose of fiscal conservatism will be the winner after tomorrow's election. Regardless, let's discuss the jobs report that highlighted how many people are flourishing.
Don’t miss my discussion with @AmRenConsulting on Friday's strong U.S. jobs report. Another indication that pro-growth measures of tax & reg reforms by the Trump administration continue to benefit Americans. More to do though to control govt spending by Congress and Texas Legislature.
Here are details of the strong U.S. jobs report reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 1) Lowest unemployment rate at 3.7% in half of a century, 2) avg 211K jobs added last 12 mos, 3) 79.7% 25-54 yr old emp-pop rate highest since March 2008–almost back to 80% before Great Recession, and 4) Private hourly earnings 3.1% best since 2009.
Interesting data tweeted by Heather Long: "New stat from data guru @hsilverb: Big businesses are paying lowest taxes in 25 years. US business in the S&P 500 paid the lowest tax rates in Q1 2018 and Q2 2018 since at least 1993 (with the exception of Q4 2008, the only negative income quarter in S&P 500 history)."
This is good news considering U.S. long had highest corporate tax rate in developed world which was simply passed along to people as businesses submit taxes but people pay them through higher prices, lower wages, and fewer jobs available. The lower rate from 35% to 21% after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act contributes to a more pro-growth economic environment so people prosper.
Below tells the story of the net job gains in each industry, highlighting how this is an across the board gain in jobs.
Overall, a solid jobs report that indicates how we must build on the stronger institutions of the last two years by really focusing next on reining in government spending so families and civil society can flourish.
Check out the article by economist Stuart Greenfield below.
It's interesting how his progressive views, and CPPP—but I repeat myself, has started appropriately considering growth of government spending at no more than population growth and inflation. They just happen to want to use a measure of price inflation for state-local expenditures that grows at a more rapid rate than the more typically used consumer price index, which matches their desire to increase spending and ultimately taxes.
Of course, the State-Local Implicit Price Deflator supported by Greenfield in the piece below closely measures prices of goods and services purchased by government with little to no voluntary exchange because they are dominated by government intrusion—both the demand and supply. So, those who want spending to rapidly grow can ratchet spending up to increase demand or regulate the supply to get their desired level of spending, which would most often be MORE!
Instead, let’s consider the often recommended measure of population growth plus inflation, which is recommended by the Conservative Texas Budget Coalition for a Conservative Texas Budget.
State population increases may require more government provisions. Inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index is closely tied to wage growth (see figure below). The addition of these two measures allow for some level of economies of scale. Thus, the metric of pop+inf gives a relatively good indicator of Texans’ ability to pay for their government instead of how much government can inflate their spending by controlling demand and supply.
Given it's Halloween, here’s the spooky part: Governments in Texas already spend too much. In fact, the state's budget is up 7.3% more than population growth plus inflation since 2004. This amounts to $15 billion more in taxpayers dollars spent this two-year budget cycle than if the Legislature had increased the budget by no more than pop+inf since 2004. Or, this means that Texas families of four must spend $1,000 more in state taxes, on average, this year alone.
They’ll really go nuts when there is the necessary push for a budget that doesn’t increase at all, or…wait for it…shrinks! Because we all know the government currently spends way too much. Meaning we are taxed way too much!
The best measure of government is their spending of our hard-earned tax dollars. Guess that’s too spooky for some.
Here is the article by Stuart Greenfield at Quorum Report
Greenfield: "How much more can be cut from the Texas budget"
In response to the TPPF-led “conservative budget,” economist Stuart Greenfield argues that “what these proposals don’t recognize is that growth in population varies over space and that using the CPI understates the increase in prices local governments experience. But what’s a methodological error among conservative friends?”
Before beginning my analysis of state spending over this century, I would like to wish both Ursula Parks, director of the LBB and Mike Reissig, Deputy Comptroller the best as they head off into the joys of having a defined benefit plan pension for the rest of their lives. I would also like to thank them for their willingness to assist my less than sterling efforts at providing readers of the QR analysis on various public policy issues.
In Shakespeare’s Most Famous Soliloquy, Hamlet states, “to be or not to be that is the question.” This soliloquy must have been modified by the recently organized Conservative Resolution Underfunding Many Basic Services (CRUMBs), whose motto is “to spend or not to spend, what a stupid question.” Alternatively, the group might have named itself, Conservative Actions Killing Education (CAKE), as in Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake.”
My humor aside, the Conservative Texas Budget Coalition has offered another conservative budget proposal that would reduce the growth in state expenditures and impose restrictions on local government property tax increases. Their proposed “solution” would over time increase the state’s proportion of expenditures for public education and reduce the growth rate in local property taxes.
Who could ask for anything more?
From FY00-17, state expenditures grew at an average annual rate of 4.9 percent. In FY18, expenditures grew by 3.5 percent. This rate was less than the rate of increase experienced from FY00-17 in the state’s population (1.8 percent) and the increase in the State-Local Implicit Price Deflator (3.0 percent).
So yes, the state’s expenditures for FY18 were conservative. Is a conservative budget the way to ensure continued growth in the Texas economy? That is a point of contention between those advocating for additional state expenditures for public education, health services, et al., and the Conservative Texas Budget Coalition, which advocates for a budget that increases by population and inflation so that taxes can be reduced.
Like Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, state expenditures can be divided into three parts, Public Assistance Payments (primarily Medicaid), Public Education, and Other Expenditures. Total All Funds (AF) state expenditures over the 18 fiscal years of this century were $1.6 trillion.
Figure 1 shows how these expenditures were divided among the three groups.
Other Expenditures (Transportation, Public Safety, Higher Education, Salaries) comprise the largest percentage of state expenditures this century, the trend in this expenditure category has been in decline.
As shown in Table 1, Other Expenditures accounted for 45.0 percent of All Funds expenditures in FY00. By FY18, this percentage had declined to 36.9 percent.
One should also note that along with a decline in the proportion of All Funds expenditures devoted to other expenditures, the proportion of All Funds expenditures for public education also declined. The proportion of state expenditures devoted to Public Assistance Payments increased from 28.3 percent in FY00 to 40.1 percent in FY18. This increase in proportion was an increase of almost 42 percent.
Almost half (49.0 percent) of the increase in state expenditures between FY00 and FY18 was accounted for by the increase in Public Assistance. Only 20.2 percent of the increase in All Funds expenditures were for Public Education.
Along with reporting the current/nominal dollars of state expenditures, most analyses take into accountthe growth in both the state’s population growth (1.8 percent/year over the century) and the increase in prices.
Unfortunately, most of these analyses use a less precise measure (Consumer Price Index) of how state-local expenditure prices have changed. Over 40 percent of the CPI is comprised of consumer spending for housing. Not even Allen ISD spends 40 percent of its budget on housing its football team.
Had the reports used the appropriate measure of State-Local Government prices, the Government Consumption Expenditures and Gross Investment: State and local (implicit price deflator, they would find that the prices state-local governments pay for goods and services are higher than the CPI. One can view how the CPI and State-Local Implicit Price Deflator (S-L IPD) have varied over time. In 2017 the S-L IPD was 16.1 percent greater than the CPI in 2017.
Figure 2 shows how the population and the differing price indices affect real expenditures. Using the appropriate price deflator has a significant effect determining real expenditures. As shown in Figure 2, between FY00 and FY18 nominal or current dollar AF expenditures increased by 134.5 percent. When adjusted for the state’s increasing population (1.8 percent per year) and the increase in the CPI (2.1 percent per year) since FY00, the CPI-adjusted AF increase was 17.3 percent. Using the more precise S-L IPD (3.0 percent per year) shows a decrease in real AF state expenditures of 0.4 percent since FY00. So the state spent 0.4 percent less in FY18 than it spent in FY00. Talk about being parsimonious!
I would hope that in the future greater concern is shown on using the correct measure for inflation that state and local governments face. According to Fiscal Size-Up 2018-19, 28.5 percent of state All Funds Appropriations for 2018-19 are for purchasing medical services, i.e., Medicaid. In the CPI the relative importance of medical care is 8.7 percent, one-third the importance in the state budget. This difference in importance understates how inflation affects real state-local expenditures over time.
Using the incorrect price index affects two other areas that are being debated during this election season. These areas include state expenditures for public education and local government property tax increases. Analyzing state public education expenditures finds different groups using different student counts (ADA, WADA, Enrollment) and different price indices (US CPI or Texas CPI). Again, using either of these price indices understates the increase in costs faced by local school districts.
Those advocating for reducing the growth rate in local government tax increases would limit this growth to the growth in population and increase in inflation. To exceed their 2.5-4 percent increase in local property taxes would require voter approval. What these proposals don’t recognize is that growth in population varies over space and that using the CPI understates the increase in prices local governments experience. But what’s a methodological error among conservative friends?
Future articles will address these two issues and show how using state population growth, and the CPI will have adverse an impact on the areas of the state that have experienced most of the state’s population growth. The other article will show that using the CPI instead of the S-L IPD understates the “true” decline in the state’s financing of public education. Bet y’all can’t wait for these page-turners.
Dr. Stuart Greenfield holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas. He worked for three Comptrollers of Public Accounts, and since retiring from the state in 2000, Greenfield teaches economics at ACC and UMUC.
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman's recent concern about the $779 billion budget deficit in FY 2018 under President Trump. Unfortunately, he wasn't worried about the 4 years of more than $1 trillion in deficits under President Obama and he in fact wanted even higher deficit spending. This episode provides a lesson in economics on the aggregate demand-aggregate supply model of how these policies should work in theory but how this mainstream view misses a lot that actually results in my preferred mainstream view of how the economy actually works and the burden higher government spending and resulting deficits put on economic activity and our prosperity.
Last Friday the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that there was an increase of 3.5% in real GDP growth in the third quarter of 2018, indicated that 2018 may be above 3% growth for the first time in more than a decade. This issue along with the rising deficit gave rise to Krugman's tweet below.
Here's what Krugman tweeted: "Reaction to the GDP numbers: quarterly growth rates don't mean much. For one thing they fluctuate a lot -- e.g. rapid growth in 2014, signifying little. For another, you can always juice the numbers for a few quarters by running big deficits. What about the long term"?
Here was my tweeted response to his tweet that received a lot of attention: "Who is this @paulkrugman who wasn’t worried about budget deficits during #Obama’s 4 years of more than $1 TR deficit but is worried about #Trump’s $779 B? Recall #Krugman was in favor of LARGER deficit spending to “stimulate” the economy under #Obama. Principles matter."
I recommend going to my tweeted response and viewing the comments and discussion. It was a rather lively discussion with some good info in there along the way, but much of it was just noise.
This recent WSJ opinion piece by Nobel prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps explains the fantasy of fiscal stimulus quite well along with the nice figure below that shows stimulus doesn't correlate with faster economic growth.
What we really need for more prosperity is a government that simply sets the rules of the game such that the institutional framework allows for civil society to flourish along with the resulting prosperity for people. Government under presidents of each main party have fallen victim to the "stimulus" argument when in fact it should be about providing the most pro-growth economic environment while running balanced budgets. A good model would be to look at Texas.
In this Let People Prosper episode, let's discuss how the best path to prosperity is capitalism and that starts with a job. The more ways that we can free up the labor market from government barriers to opportunity, such as the minimum wage and occupational licensing, the more prosperity we can all enjoy.
My recent op-ed in the Investor's Business Daily titled "Amazon's Minimum Wage Revelation: It's About Competition, Not Workers" notes the opportunity costs associated with a government-mandated minimum wage compared with a private market decision: "Just as the company's management had the freedom to consider the firm's profitability and outlook in deciding whether to offer the higher wage, other private employers should have the same freedom. Amazon apparently thinks they shouldn't, hence the lobbying for a national mandate. Those lobbying efforts could end up doing even more harm."
My recent paper with Dr. Edward Timmons titled "Occupational Licensing: Keeping People Poor" notes the huge cost that many licenses have on people whether they be workers, consumers, or employers. We highlighted this in a recent op-ed: "Between 1993 and 2012, Texas added licensing requirements for 22 low-income occupations. Data from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation indicate a 460 percent increase in the number of licenses issued by the department, far surpassing the state’s population growth of 37.5 percent in that period. By making it harder for aspiring workers in Texas to enter the job market, licenses artificially inflate wages — and this means higher prices for the services provided. National estimates suggest that licensing inflates wages of professionals by about 15 percent. And this means consumers pay higher prices. In addition, individuals looking to enter a new field may be prevented from achieving their dreams."
For the sake of human flourishing, we should be doing all we can to reduce government barriers to prosperity that are socialist programs like the minimum wage (price of labor control) and occupational licensing (quantity of labor control).
Commentary at McAllen Monitor.
Texas has job openings; Texas has workers willing and eager to fill them. Where’s the disconnect that has resulted in labor shortages in a number of fields? It could be occupational licensing.
In many ways, the Texas model of limited government is a blueprint for D.C. and other states. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ latest reading of Texas’ economy is very positive. Personal income growth in the second quarter of 2018 was 6 percent — the highest in the nation. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently noted that Texas’ annualized private sector job creation rate of 3.9 percent is about double the national average of 2 percent.
Yet there are labor shortages in several fields. There are not enough qualified workers to fill the jobs available. If this problem persists, the ability of Texas to sustain its economic momentum will be restrained.
One qualification, which often presents an unnecessary, artificial barrier to employment and prosperity, is occupational licensing.
These laws say that willing workers must get a permission slip from state bureaucrats in Austin. To obtain the permission slip, aspiring workers need to pass exams, pay fees, complete minimum levels of education and training, or meet other entry requirements.
In 2015, more than 24 percent of workers in Texas had a license. That makes sense for family doctors and surgeons. But hairdressers, auctioneers and (in some states) interior designers? Not so much.
We highlight the problems presented by overly burdensome occupational licensing in Texas in a new report published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
According to the Institute for Justice’s ranking of occupational licensing for states, Texas is right around the middle of the pack — ranked 21st in the burden presented by licenses for low-income occupations. And unfortunately, Texas has mostly been moving in the wrong direction.
Between 1993 and 2012, Texas added licensing requirements for 22 low-income occupations. Data from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation indicate a 460 percent increase in the number of licenses issued by the department, far surpassing the state’s population growth of 37.5 percent in that period.
By making it harder for aspiring workers in Texas to enter the job market, licenses artificially inflate wages — and this means higher prices for the services provided. National estimates suggest that licensing inflates wages of professionals by about 15 percent. And this means consumers pay higher prices.
In addition, individuals looking to enter a new field may be prevented from achieving their dreams.
Proponents of these licenses claim that it protects the public’s health, safety, or welfare. But the risk of harm presented in these professions varies dramatically. Bad haircuts aren’t fatal. Neither is poor auctioneering or interior decorating.
It’s important to note that occupational licensing is often at best used as a signaling device for quality service, but it’s not the only way to regulate a profession. Proponents claim there’s only a binary choice between occupational licensing and no regulation at all, but there are many other ways to protect consumers.
Private certification can be used to signal to consumers who provide quality service; auto mechanics use this method quite effectively. The government can perform random safety inspections, as it does in the food services industry. The market can also regulate and provide information to consumers about bad actors via online ratings services like Yelp.
Licensing also serves to constrain consumer choice in the market for health care.
In Texas, patients have a difficult time seeing nurse practitioners without significant interference from physicians. Consumers should be granted the ability to obtain quality care from highly trained medical professionals like nurse practitioners for basic health care, especially in areas with doctor shortages.
The Texas model has achieved some amazing results over the years. We should not let occupational licensing get in the way of Texans achieving their hopes and dreams.
Edward Timmons, Ph.D., is director of the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at St. Francis University; and Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Economic Prosperity and senior economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
As many across the country argue for an increased federal minimum wage, such as the Fight for $15, Amazon announced on October 2 that they were raising their base pay to $15 per hour. While altering their own business costs is one thing, Amazon also plans to join others in lobbying Congress to mandate a higher minimum wage for Americans.
Amazon’s move to raise its base pay isn’t surprising; the company recently passed the trillion dollar value threshold, second to only Apple. While Amazon may be applauded for raising workers’ pay, its lobbying efforts aren’t as worthy.
Just as the company’s management had the freedom to consider the firm’s profitability and outlook in deciding whether to offer the higher wage, other private employers should have the same freedom. Amazon apparently thinks they shouldn’t, hence the lobbying for a national mandate.
Those lobbying efforts could end up doing even more harm.
Despite the commonly held perception that minimum wage laws reduce income inequality and provide the poor with a better life, the real effects are the opposite.
FEWER JOBS, FEWER HOURS
Minimum wage laws have proven detrimental by reducing job creation and the total hours worked for low-skilled workers, who are primarily paid the minimum wage and have less than a high school diploma or little work experience. And the laws raise prices for everyone — thus widening income inequality.
A labor market without government impediments functions like any other market. Employers and workers negotiate a wage, benefits, hours worked, and other measures of compensation until there’s mutual benefit. If they don’t agree, the worker isn’t hired. This is the same kind of mutually beneficial exchange that occurs when you go to the farmer’s market or department store, and it shouldn’t be any different in the labor market.
When this unhampered negotiation is restricted by government barriers such as an arbitrary minimum wage law, there is a misallocation of resources that hurts employers and workers.
For example, no matter what the minimum wage is, $15 or $150, the market will correct itself through higher prices and fewer jobs. In other words, the poor will stay poor, as they see their hard-earned dollars able to buy less and find fewer job opportunities.
VULNERABLE LOW-SKILL WORKERS
Lower-skilled workers are especially vulnerable to the proven job losses caused by federal minimum wage increases because employers who can’t afford the increases in the cost of production simply close up shop, reduce employee hours, or even switch to automation.
A recent study on the effects of minimum wage raises in California using data from 1990 to 2016 showed that a 10% increase in the minimum wage could contribute to a 3.4% reduction in employment. Key industries hit hardest are restaurants and retail stores that typically operate on razor-thin profit margins and often hire low-skilled workers and those new to the workforce.
And minimum wage laws actually make income inequality worse.
As noted from research by the American Action Forum, a large share of the added wage value from minimum wage hikes goes to workers already paid well.
For example, McDonald’s has been replacing cashiers with kiosks in many of their locations nationwide. The kiosks are designed, built, and maintained by high-skilled, high-wage workers while cashiers are typically low-skilled, low-wage workers.
In other words, jobs are created for computer programmers and robotics experts, while jobs are destroyed for those with fewer skills and less workplace experience. The result is an increase in income inequality.
MINIMUM WAGE MISTAKE
So why would Amazon lobby for a policy that has such broad negative effects on the economy?
Maybe because Amazon is a mammoth corporation that has seen tremendous success in recent years. A higher federal minimum wage would probably not hurt its bottom line much.
But Amazon’s competitors might not be so lucky, particularly if they are small businesses just starting out. A higher federal minimum wage could create artificial barriers of entry that would make it easier for Amazon to stay at the top while making it harder for its competitors to succeed.
When it comes to wages, what works for one employer doesn’t necessarily work for another.
We can applaud Amazon for giving its own workers raises; that doesn’t mean Amazon should be lobbying to demand raises for everyone else’s workers, too.
By strengthening the employee-employer relationship through economic freedom — not minimum wage laws — to let people freely negotiate, employees and employers can prosper.
This commentary was published at TribTalk.
We’ve set some pretty high goals for Texas’ budget for the upcoming biennium. And to achieve them, Texas need to overhaul its arcane and opaque budget-making process.
On Sept. 25, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Heartland Institute, and 16 other member-groups of the Conservative Texas Budget Coalition held a press conference to introduce its legislative priorities for Texas’ 2019 legislative session.
These groundbreaking priorities would limit government spending below population growth and inflation and provide enormous tax relief for families across the state.
Every odd-numbered year, state lawmakers craft Texas’ two-year budget through the General Appropriations Act, which typically just increases funding to government agencies above their prior biennial levels. If lawmakers suspect that spending increases are unnecessary, the burden of proof is on lawmakers to prove they should spend less.
It’s not an ideal process. And it’s made worse by the fact that lawmakers and their constituents often have no idea whether government agencies are spending their money efficiently. When Texas funds departments, it uses a largely unaccountable process known as strategy-based budgeting.
As the name suggests, lawmakers designate dollars to agencies to accomplish broad strategies such as providing education, delivering health care, or paving roads. While these objectives are certainly important, the process makes it all but impossible for legislators to know whether government agencies are effectively pursuing these goals, let alone accomplishing them.
In fact, many lawmakers have no clue how much spending is dedicated to each agency’s programs, where the money comes from, or whether the money is spent productively.
This lack of transparency is a major reason why spending in Texas has exploded over the last 14 years. State spending is up nearly $15 billion more in the current budget than it would be if it had matched increases in population growth and inflation since 2004. This costs the average Texas family of four more than $1,000 in higher taxes each year.
And even though many lawmakers wish to tame runaway government spending, they lack the necessary information to determine which programs should be reformed, trimmed or eliminated.
One way lawmakers can attain greater fiscal transparency is by replacing Texas’ current strategy-based budget with a program-based budget.
Under a program-based budget, legislators and their constituents can track every taxpayer dollar they send to Texas’ various agencies and which specific programs and initiatives they are funding. This will allow both lawmakers and taxpayers to identify misspent funds and root out inefficiencies.
Another reform to enhance accountability would be to transition Texas’s finances to a zero-based budgeting process. Under this type of budget process, each agency begins with a budget of zero dollars and must make a clear and compelling case to lawmakers why taxpayers should be spending money on its various programs. They must defend its purpose, its goals and how it spends money to achieve these goals.
This increased transparency will allow lawmakers to more effectively scrutinize each agency’s performance and remove programs that fail to serve the public’s needs.
Zero-based budgeting has a long history of successfully trimming wasteful spending.
In 2003, Texas faced a $10 billion budget shortfall and needed to find a way to balance the budget because of a constitutional balanced budget requirement?. In response, then-Gov. Rick Perry sent every government agency a budget of zero dollars and ordered them to find efficiencies to close the state’s deficit.
Not only did these reforms eliminate Texas’ shortfall, they drove agencies to make long-lasting, needed changes to their programs. They cut unnecessary initiatives, streamlined operations and consolidated duplicative programs. Overall, these reforms helped the state balance the budget by reducing spending for the first time since World War II – and not raising taxes.
Zero-based budgeting has also allowed lawmakers to eliminate wasteful spending in Georgia, Chicago, and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
These examples show that proper fiscal transparency and accountability can help Texas’ elected legislators craft a strong conservative Texas budget. Not only would this rein in the excessive size of government, it would help provide an opportunity to deliver substantial tax relief for all Texans.
Achieving the Coalition’s priorities would put the Lone Star State on a path to increased, long-term prosperity.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.