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 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 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 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!)
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 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.
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.
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.
President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors recently released a reportshowing that there is a large portion of non-disabled, working-age adults (16 to 64 years old) who are receiving government non-cash welfare payments funded by taxpayers but aren’t working. For example, of those on Medicaid, 53 percent of non-disabled, working-age adults don’t have a job.
These perverse incentives created by relaxed work requirements for able-bodied workers who receive welfare payments not only hurts their financial prospects today and over time, but is an extractive institution hurting civil society.
Institutions are the framework that makes up society. They are the rules of the game. Institutions can include formal laws and rules, but also more informal social norms, families, and churches. Institutions can be considered inclusive, like capitalism, or extractive, like socialism, as noted by Acemoglu and Robinson.
Economist Douglass North remarked in his 1993 Nobel Prize in Economics lecture that “if the institutional framework rewards productive activities then organizations—firms—will come into existence to engage in productive activities.” On the opposite side, if institutions reward unproductive behavior, the result will be more unproductive behavior and increased poverty.
Unfortunately, the institutional framework in the U.S. has many extractive programs in our welfare system that have incentivized unproductive behavior and made many people poor in the process.
As another example of a costly welfare program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides assistance to more than 10 million non-working, non-disabled working-age adults. Of all the childless adult recipients on SNAP, 63 percent do not work, which is higher than the rate of recipients with infants (57 percent)—often the most difficult age to raise a child.
Clearly, the incentives to work while getting welfare are little to none, even when you are able to work and don’t have a child. Welfare should be based on need, and with the unemployment rate at record lows and more job openings than people unemployed, there are few excuses to not work.
Work ethic, personal responsibility, and independence are all informal institutions. They are the rules of our game. These institutions are inclusive, because they allow individuals to be self-sufficient, and become productive members of civil society.
When these incentives and social norms are eroded, our institutions become extractive, redistributing resources from productive workers to welfare recipients. This process is done by government bureaucrats subjectively determining who gets what and when. Moreover, these institutions create a situation that crowds out inclusive social institutions, such as families and private charities and churches, which have been the backbone of civil society for centuries.
Our current welfare system, specifically the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), has been reformed before, making it more inclusive. This includes putting the recipients on a path to individual responsibility and prosperity by increasing work requirements to receive welfare, thereby increasing recipients’ productivity that helps them actually get off government welfare.
Chicago economist Casey Mulligan has explained that the income cliff when someone earns more income and is dropped from government welfare programs acts like an implicit marginal income tax that reduces their incentive to work. It’s time to stop this sort of welfare for non-disabled working age adults. This would not only improve the relatively low but improving employment-to-population ratio for the prime age working group(25 to 54 years old) but also help to reduce welfare and the taxes paid by workers to fund these programs.
The Trump administration’s recent report highlighting these issues and calling for an increase in work requirements of welfare programs for able-bodied people is a step in the right direction to let people prosper.
In this episode, I explain why we need educational freedom to let people prosper. It's unfortunate that so many students are stuck at a particular school based on a zip code. Here is a list of the 1,343 failing schools across Texas.
Sure, some people already have school choice, but some is not enough. It should be everyone. Sure, the government should probably not be involved in education, but because it is we should demand that every taxpayer dollar be spent as families see fit instead of the government.
We should let each student learn in their unique way through student-centered funding achieved with education savings accounts (ESAs). These accounts allow families to use the dollars for a number of educational services, which can include tuition, tutors, books, etc.
Human capital is one of the main drivers of economic prosperity, let's not fail our students any longer by a public school monopoly (read this) and let's not fail our quality teachers with low pay any longer by a public school monopsony (read this).
Watch the episode to learn more.
“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results,” said Milton Friedman. This is certainly true when considering government-mandated paid sick leave.
Connecticut learned that unintended consequences matter after it passed a mandatory paid sick leave law in 2011. And now Austin, which passed its own such ordinance in February, will learn the same thing. Adding to people’s hurt are efforts in Dallas and San Antonio, which are both considering replicating Austin, but the effort in Dallas was stopped in its tracks from too few verifiable signatures.
The lesson here is that mandatory paid sick leave lowers standards of living. This results from raising the cost of doing business, and that higher cost leads to fewer jobs and fewer raises, along with higher prices for consumers.
Here in Texas, Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance, and any others that follow, likely violates state law as outlined in the Texas Minimum Wage Act and it infringes upon the rights of businesses in Texas.
In order to assure this doesn’t happen, the Texas Public Policy Foundation represents the Texas Association of Business, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the American Staffing Association in filing a lawsuit against the city in April to stop this ordinance.
The ordinance would require businesses with more than 15 employees to offer 64 hours of paid sick leave per year or employers with 15 or fewer employees to offer 42 hours of it per year.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with paid sick leave, there’s something wrong with the government intervening in the relationship between an employee and employer—and potentially violating state law in doing so.
What’s more, research in this area shows that mandatory paid sick leave ordinances don’t help employers or employees.
Take that Connecticut law. It applies to employers with more than 50 employees, excluding manufacturing firms and nationally chartered nonprofit organizations, which nearly 90 percent of employers already offered paid sick leave—before it was mandatory. While this reduced the negative effects of the Connecticut law, a survey of employers less than two years after the law went into effect found that, as expected, employers had already reduced worker wages or hours and raised consumer prices.
The Austin ordinance, which applies to all businesses, is far more draconian, meaning the effects would likely be much more costly. Government-mandated paid sick leave is bad, but Austin’s ordinance is far worse. The cities of Dallas and San Antonio simply shouldn’t be taking cues from Austin.
The opportunity costs associated with this policy must be taken into account.
If an Austin employer has five workers, would the added cost associated with paid sick leave discourage that employer from hiring an additional worker to increase output? It will certainly be a factor the employer takes into consideration when making decisions.
And because—like a minimum wage hike—paid sick leave is a cost that’s not associated with higher worker productivity or profitability, the employer will have no choice but to find ways to cover those costs. We know that usually ends up being lower wages, fewer jobs available, and higher prices.
And in that way, Austin’s paid sick leave policy will harm the local economy, because it works as an indirect tax on both employers and consumers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employers’ costs of benefits, such as paid leave and health insurance, are 30.5 percent of an employee’s compensation, with paid leave alone being only 7 percent. However, with states like Connecticut and cities like Austin mandating such leave, these costs could skyrocket, leaving even fewer dollars available for raises and jobs.
According to a Freedom Foundation report, more than one-third of businesses surveyed reported having difficulty with mandated paid sick leave. Also, most employers across the country voluntarily offer paid sick leave with the rate ranging from 50 to 89 percent even before a mandatory paid sick leave ordinance.
There’s no justifiable reason for the government to jump in when employers and employees have it worked out. Government mandated paid sick leave hurts economic freedom, and economic freedom is the foundation for greater economic prosperity.
In this episode (YouTube channel Vance Ginn Economics), I explain how institutions matter from an economic, social, and political perspective. This episode is longer than usual (30 minutes) to go through these institutions and explain how the Texas Model supports prosperity while highlighting how it could be improved by limiting spending and eliminating property taxes--starting with school property taxes.
Given how federal institutions have failed for so long, though they are improving now, there is a need to look at the states.
A good comparison is the largest four states in terms of economic output and population of California, Texas, New York, and Florida. These states have very different institutions, whereby Texas and Florida have primarily inclusive (liberty-related) institutions and California and New York have primarily extractive (redistributionary) institutions. The economic results from these are clear over the last decade-plus with Texas and Florida leading the way in most economic indicators, even when considering income inequality and poverty.
I highlight how the Texas Model has led the way in terms of prosperity, but there is more that needs to be done, specifically limiting state and local government spending. Specifically, there is no education spending problem in Texas, as noted by data from the Texas Education Agency, and the state share of education spending hasn't declined. So, the state spending more, as education lobbyists request, will not lower property taxes.
I then go through the option of eliminating school maintenance & operations property taxes over 11 years by limiting spending and using state surplus dollars to permanently buy school property taxes down until they are eliminated. As often asked at these events, I also briefly discuss the option of swapping school property taxes with a sales tax that has a broader base so the rate doesn't increase much if at all then cut taxes with surpluses dollars thereafter.
I discuss other ways to improve the Texas Model as well, such as passing a stronger state spending limit and eliminating the business margins tax. These steps will allow Texas to be even more prosperous by getting government out of the way with an institutional framework that support entrepreneurial activity and human flourishing today and far into the future.
Thank you for watching! Please share as you see fit. Have a prosperous day!
In this episode of the Let People Prosper series, I discuss the economic freedom associated with the Texas Model, which is based on relatively less government spending and taxation along with sensible regulations.
I examine data for more than a decade along with the latest state-level jobs report to highlight how the Texas Model has supported abundant prosperity. Of course, Texas has room for improvement, such as limiting government spending and eliminating property taxes, but there's much Texas gets correct.
Please watch and share this episode.
In today’s episode, I discuss the financial markets and the big news about the release of the state-level jobs report, which Texas continues to be America’s jobs creation engine. I’ll have more on the jobs report soon with graphs but I wanted to give you a quick overview.
Here’s my statement in a TPPF press release: https://mailchi.mp/texaspolicy/texas-....
Thanks for watching! Please subscribe to this YouTube channel and share with friends and family.
In today's episode, I take the normal look at the financial markets, with stock falling primarily from brewing trade war with China.
But the big news today was the Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar revising the Certification Revenue Estimate substantially up for the current 2018-19 budget period, such that instead of a $94 million surplus at the end of FY 2019 there is now an expected $2.67 billion surplus. This is one of the many benefits of the Texas Legislature passing conservative budgets to keep taxes lower than otherwise during the last 2 sessions resulting in faster economic growth and even more tax revenue. While many people will want to spend this additional taxpayer money, and there will likely be a need for a supplemental bill to fund expenditures above appropriations from last session for the $1.8 billion delayed funding to the State Highway Fund and some amount for Medicaid, the focus should be on sustaining a conservative budget and prioritizing extra dollars for tax relief. Options could be to buy down the school M&O property tax over time until it is eliminated or even cutting the business margins tax until elimination.
More money in the hands of Texans in the productive private sector is how people become more prosperous while government simply functions to preserve liberty.
Read blog post with figures here.
Texans pay state and local taxes in one form or another. Given Texans desire prosperity and liberty, an optimal tax system creates the least burden on economic activity while funding limited government spending. While the details of taxation can get complicated quickly, core principles of sound taxation include a tax that’s simple, flat, and broad-based.
Taxes may redirect you from consuming with a sales tax, push you out of your home with a property tax, or incentivize you to purchase less gasoline with an excise tax to fund government spending. Fortunately, Texas is one of only nine states without a costly state or local personal income tax. The table below shows that the 9 states without this tax perform much better economically than those states with the highest personal income tax rates.
State taxes in Texas include the dominant sales and use tax, but there are also the franchise tax, motor fuels tax, and other taxes. The more than 4,100 local taxing jurisdictions statewide collect primarily property taxes, but cities, counties, and special purpose districts can also collect a sales tax.
Achieving an optimal tax system begins with the derivation of taxation. First, politicians determine government provisions from voter demand and rent-seeking activity to win votes. Second, those provisions require government spending. Third, government spending requires some form of funding mechanism, hence taxation.
Therefore, a key to an optimal tax system is to educate voters on the costs and benefits of government provisions while effectively limiting government spending, which can be done by putting laws in place to add budget transparency and reduce rent-seeking behaviors while strengthening limitson government spending.
While the Texas Legislature has appropriately restrained government spending below the key measure of population growth plus inflation in the last two budgets, the state budget is up 7.9 percent above this measure since 2004, meaning taxes are higher and economic growth is lower today than otherwise. So, further spending restraint is necessary to help Texans be more prosperous and Texas more competitive. This could be achieved by limiting state spending to 4 percent and using state surplus dollars to provide tax relief, such as eliminating school M&O property taxes over time, until we can get to an efficient sales tax.
According to the Tax Foundation and noted in the figure below, Texas has the 10th highest reliance on sales taxes in the nation, but the 5th least burdensome state-local tax burden. While a sales tax should apply to the broadest base possible, Texas has sales tax loopholes of about $45 billion in FY 2018. These loopholes should be reduced or eliminated to follow sound taxation with the broadest base and lowest rate possible.
The Texas Comptroller notes that sales and property taxes in Texas are regressive. A flat tax rate results in higher income people paying a lower share of their income on taxes than lower-income people, but higher income people pay much more in taxes. The costs of property taxes are substantial, with businesses and individuals each paying about half for school M&O property taxes, and they hurt lower-income property owners and even renters as these taxes subjectively skyrocket.
Sales taxes, on the other hand, allow people freedom with their money to spend or save, do not have to tax capital, and are transparent. Individuals pay about 60 percent of sales taxes collected while businesses submit the rest, but businesses don't ultimately pay taxes as they pass costs along to people through higher prices, lower wages, and fewer jobs. An example of this is the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows Texas to expand the sales tax base to all online transactions, which most are already taxed online at places like Amazon and WalMart, but any additional tax revenue should be used for tax relief because Texas state and local governments already spend too much.
A sales tax is pro-growth because it allows individuals to choose what’s best for themselves. Other forms of taxes that try to socially engineer behavior, such as a gas tax or carbon tax, end up distorting economic activity and hurting lower-income households most.
In conclusion, by effectively limiting government spending that allows a move to an optimal tax system based on a sales tax of final goods and services, Texans will flourish and other states will have an optimal system to follow.
I recently posted a commentary with economist Bob Murphy on the failures of a carbon tax at TribTalk. Today, TribTalk posted not just one commentary by my good friend Josiah but another commentary on the need for a carbon tax.
While they claim a need for a carbon tax and that it is a free market tool, the need is highly questionable and a tax isn't free market. Fortunately, there's no political will to pass a carbon tax in Texas or in D.C., but the discussion will continue.
Instead of government intrusion and possibly making the situation worse, we should do what's been proven to work is let prices reflect whatever values determined in exchange along with technological innovation that has made us more prosperous in terms of wealth and environmental quality.
Here's my quote in TPPF's The Cannon (read and sign-up for daily newsletter here): "While proponents of a carbon tax continue to push variations of it, there's no hiding how a carbon tax is a tool to control people in their daily lives, especially given U.S. energy-related carbon emissions are already down to 1992 levels."
Finally, check out my recent paper on the flawed assumptions and high costs of a carbon tax.
Texas ports contribute $650 billion in trade and support 1.6 million Texas jobs. But as goods travel through Texas ports, Texans and all Americans are paying a higher price than necessary from an uncompetitive market of harbor pilots.
Ships entering a U.S. port must be guided by a licensed harbor pilot, which is noted as “compulsory pilotage” in Chapter 61 of the Texas Transportation Code. Pilots are tasked with guiding, not helping steer, ship captains with navigating harbor waters and docking safely. They can provide a valuable service not only to the ship and its cargo, but also to the safety of other ships on the open waters and communities near ports.
However, the harbor pilot market is in need of competition from current barriers of a too restrictive state license and the collusive nature of licensed pilots on commission boards deciding who can get a license.
The Texas State Pilots Association grants a monopoly in most ship traffic coming into Texas ports. Rates and pay are regulated by a commission board, usually the same board that oversees the port. Harbor pilots must receive federal and state licenses, with the federal license allowing them to guide ships under the U.S. flag and the state license allowing them to guide ships under the U.S. and foreign flags—in other words, the state license is more valuable than the federal license.
Licensed harbor pilots dominate these commission boards, contributing to a conflict of interest. They can essentially give themselves a raise, decide which fees to charge shippers, and restrict interested people from obtaining a license.
Because a harbor pilot is compulsory for mariners, the state license restricts the number of pilots, and admittance into the association is limited, annual salaries of harbor pilots are driven arbitrarily higher from monopoly power to more than $400,000, or $192.31 per hour. Pilotage-related fees can add up to 10 percent of U.S. shipping costs.
These monopolistic wages reduce investment, decrease job creation, and encourage shippers and other industries to use ports in other areas, or different modes of transportation. The potential net result is lower economic prosperity. In fact, the American Great Lakes Port Association noted that research shows pilotage costs in Great Lakes-Seaway have contributed to less economic growth, employers moving elsewhere, and fewer jobs created in the region.
Last, but certainly not least, pilot fees paid by shippers are eventually passed on to the consumer. These higher prices reduce consumers’ purchasing power and standard of living.
A step toward breaking up the monopolistic situation in the harbor pilot market would be for commission boards to provide a more competitive, objective environment for those seeking a harbor pilot license. Better yet, the state should issue a license to whomever complies with required criteria instead of a commission board deciding whom can get one.
The American Pilots Association states that pilots would not be able to act independently, in the public interest, or have enough investment if there was competition. However, almost every other industry allows competition, and even those industries with restrictive licensing requirements have specific requirements that help avoid nepotism. In Florida, a study found that opening the harbor pilot system to competition could lower annual port costs by $35 million and create roughly 5,000 jobs in related industries.
As with all occupational licensing, Texas should consider whether licensing harbor pilots protects people from health and safety risks. Specifically, assuming there is a risk and a need for licensing, Texas could simply abide by the federal license or at least reduce the requirements of the state license.
Ultimately, competition in the market of harbor pilots would support improved quality and safety at a lower price as has been the proven result from unhampered markets throughout history. This would not only benefit those who would like to be a harbor pilot but can’t get access to a license but also Texans from a lower cost of living.
Let people prosper by adding competition in the harbor pilots market.
You can find each of these at my YouTube channel: Vance Ginn Economics. Please subscribe.
In each episode, I will discuss how we act to satisfy our desires given scarce resources around us withing a number of institutions. This episode is on the Texas labor market and how it compares with other states. The Texas model of limited government works.
Review my presentation on the topic here.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has contributed to economic prosperity for Texans and all Americans, which is why any renegotiation should be toward freer trade.
I was quoted in this Houston Chronicle article.
I had the honor of presenting at the @SMUONeilCenter's event: “#Trump & the Texas Economy.” Watch my presentation (first presenter) along with others as we discuss #Texas, taxes, spending, #NAFTA, #tariffs, & #energy.
Texas’ public education spending, in inflation-adjusted dollars, has increased in recent years with little-to-no improvement in the quality of education received. A problem with the philosophy of throwing more money at the education problem expecting a different result is that it doesn’t work.
As you can see in Figure 1, per-student education expenditures have been volatile and are currently on the rise. This is interesting as a recent University of Texas study finds that 47 percent of Texas voters believe too little is spent on education.
Where is the money going?
From FY 1993 to FY 2015, student enrollment at public schools in Texas increased by 48 percent while non-teaching staff increased by 66 percent and teachers increased by only 56 percent. Public education spending should be dedicated to benefitting students, not excessively expanding administrative staff at schools.
Moreover, Texas teachers are only receiving roughly 21 percent of classroom expenditures, which is abysmal considering the importance of teachers. The average Texas teacher makes $51,891 per year, which may not be enough to attract the most talented teachers possible. If the increase in non-teaching staff had matched the increase in the student enrollment, Texas teachers could be earning an additional $6,318 per year.
Despite what a plurality of Texans think, Texas should not just continue increasing per-student public education expenditures without focusing on the level of student achievement. By making major reforms to the state’s school finance system through student-centered funding and considering a simpler funding source, more students, teachers, and Texans can flourish.
Don't miss this 30-min episode on state of #Texas economy with moderator Dennis McCuistion with guests: Economist Ray Perryman, SMU Professor Cal Jillson, and me. We discuss jobs, education, fiscal policy, & more!
Here's the webpage's blurb about the episode:
Overall the Texas economy is sound and from 2005-2015 has been among the national leaders in economic output and personal income gains. Despite its reputation as a predominantly energy state, Texas’ businesses and industries are among the most diversified in the U.S. which position the state to better withstand economic downturns .
Joining Host Dennis McCuistion to talk about the state of the economy and offer projections for its future are:
Job creation is high and industry is sound. Technology and healthcare are also doing well; we have a young workforce and more corporate expansions are setting the tone for the entire economy. Texas is America’s job engine. In 2007- 2017 one out of every four jobs was created in Texas, a state that has less than 10% of the population. The Texas model supports prosperity, with the highest economic freedom of almost all states. Unemployment is under 5%., better than all comparable states- including New York, Florida, and California.
However, some of Texas’ workforce measures have plenty of room for improvement, especially the share of its labor force without a high school diploma. Education is an issue. Texas ranks #1 in workforce factors and 34 in education.
While Texas was among the national leaders in economic output and personal income gains from 2005-2015, its share of the population living in poverty, remains above the national average.
Texas’ uninsured rate was 17.1 percent in 2015, nearly double the U.S. rate of 9.4 percent
The 2015 home ownership rate in Texas was 61.9 percent, the ninth-lowest rate among states.
Join our experts to hear their input about our present tax structure, education, water, technology and climate issues and some of the other challenges down the road as well as potential solutions.
Be sure to watch more McCuistion TV programs on our website, www.McCuistionTV.com.
The Texas School Finance Summit was recently hosed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texans for Education Opportunity, EdChoice and Reason Foundation.
The purpose of the event included the following: To provide students with a 21st century education, Texas needs to modernize its broken school finance system. As the state’s school finance commission prepares to convene, now is the time to begin looking forward to the future of education funding in Texas.
Here are links to a video of each panel with a list of panelists:
This commentary was originally featured in The Texas Tribune on October 23, 2017.
Some folks never miss an opportunity to discount Texas’ prosperity by ascribing the Lone Star State’s good fortune to its oil and gas deposits. A recent example from The New York Times, “Why Texas No Longer Feels Miraculous,” argues that the oil and gas sector boom led to the “Texas Miracle” even as conservative fiscal policies hurt Texans.
But Texas’ prosperity isn’t a short-term miracle. It’s a sustained growth period supported by an institutional framework known as the “Texas model” — a model that continues to serve the state as it depends less and less on oil and gas.
If the naysayers were correct, the steep decline in oil prices from the summer of 2014 to early 2016 should have led to an economic catastrophe in the state. It didn’t. Though certainly not immune to fluctuations in the oil and gas sector, Texas is much more resilient than it was in the 1980s. Thirty-plus years ago, oil and gas represented roughly one out of every four dollars of production in the state and the sector employed 5 percent of the labor force. Today, it’s only half as important and employs just 1.8 percent of working Texans.
That’s not to say there are fewer employed Texans. The best path to individual prosperity is a job, and Texas has been America’s jobs engine. The state’s unemployment rate has been at or below 5 percent — the rate some economists consider full employment — for 39 straight months, dating back to July 2014 when oil prices started falling. The U.S. average unemployment rate has matched this feat for only 24 consecutive months.
And Texas employers have created 23 percent of all U.S. civilian jobs since December 2007, when the last national recession began, in a state with only 9 percent of the nation’s population. Despite the loss of 7,300 net nonfarm jobs last month from what’s likely a one-month repercussion of Hurricane Harvey in late August, employers have added 256,100 jobs in the past twelve months, for a healthy average of 21,342 jobs per month — all while the price of oil averaged $50, less than half its 2014 peak. This should put the false argument about Texas’ utter dependence on oil and gas activity to rest.
To see the true impact of the Texas model, all you have to do is compare the state with California. Together the two states are home to 1 in 5 Americans and account for 25 percent of the nation’s economic output. Both are majority-minority. And they have diametrically opposed governing practices.
Texas ranks third best in economic freedom based on government spending, taxation and regulation according to the Fraser Institute, while California is eighth worst. Of the more than 150 independent studies on the relationship between state-level economic freedom and various economic outcomes, an overwhelming majority find that states with higher economic freedom have greater prosperity.
Business climate rankings also reflect these policy differences. Texas tops the list by U.S. corporate executives and the Business Facilities Magazine, with the 13th-best business tax climate in the nation according to the Tax Foundation. Meanwhile, California doesn’t make it into the top 10 in either ranking of business climate and has the third worst business tax climate.
There’s certainly room for improvement in Texas — the state should expand education freedom and structurally reform property taxes, for example — but overall the American Dream is alive and well here. Before people write-off the Texas model as some miracle based on oil and gas activity, they should do their homework. If they do, they’ll notice that Texans are flourishing — and that other states and D.C. should follow Texas’ lead.
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.