In this Current Events Friday episode of the Let People Prosper show, James Quintero, Dr. Derek Cohen, and I discuss:
Thanks for watching and be sure to subscribe. #letpeopleprosper
Amazon Favoritism Problem, TX Property Tax Update, & Committee Org Meetings: Let People Prosper Ep 74
In this Let People Prosper episode, James Quintero, Derek Cohen, and I discuss key topics this week for Current Events Friday.
More to come on Monday. #LetPeopleProsper
It's Current Events Friday!
In this Let People Prosper episode 72, James Quintero, Dr. Derek Cohen, and I discuss this week's current events. The big stories this week are Governor Abbott's State of the State, President Trump's State of the Union, and property tax hearing held by the Texas Senate Committee on Property Taxes. We dive into each of these issues to consider which government actions preserve liberty and which ones don't.
Regarding property taxes, there's some hope in sight! Senate Bill 2 could provide historic property tax reform (read my written testimony and watch testimony at time 1:13:10) that would put in place a 2.5% property tax revenue rate that would trigger an automatic election in November for a local government that wanted to increase their revenue above that point. This reform is an essential element for any property tax relief of lowering property tax bills like TPPF’s plan to eliminate the school M&O property tax over time by slowing spending growth.
In this Let People Prosper episode 71, I chat with James Quintero and Dr. Derek Cohen of TPPF about the benefits of bail reform (SB 628 & SJR 37), the costs and benefits of the latest version of reforming the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (SB 393) (more on TRS problems here), and what to expect in Gov. Abbott's State of the State (like a possible emergency item of property tax reform).
In this Let People Prosper episode 70, I chat with James Quintero and Dr. Derek Cohen about the recently released bills that would both provide property tax reform with the same language (Senate Bill 2 & House Bill 2). Read TPPF's press release here.
The press conference attended by Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Chairman Paul Bettencourt, and Chairman Dustin Burrows shows the unity of this particular measure. These bills would provide property tax reforms to increase transparency, change up the appraisal system, and impose a revenue trigger of an automatic rollback election: (1) if revenue is set to grow by more than 8% for local tax jurisdictions with less than $15 million in total revenue from sales and property taxes, and (2) if revenue is set to grow by more than 2.5% for all other taxing entities.
This is a step in the right direction to slowing the growth of skyrocketing property taxes and we look forward to working with leadership and legislators to lower tax bills by limiting state spending as well.
We also discuss the benefits of SB 523, which would restructure occupational licenses for those with particular criminal records.
In this Let People Prosper episode 69, I sit down with James Quintero, director of the Think Local Liberty project, and Dr. Derek Cohen, director of the Right On Crime project, to discuss the Texas budget, ban-the-box, and annexation.
You don't want to miss this first episode of many where we'll address a number of good, bad, and pretty good bills that influence our prosperity throughout session while giving you a heads up on which bills will be heard in committee so you can make your voice heard.
In this episode we discuss the state's recommended budgets by the House and Senate and how they compare with the Conservative Texas Budget, bad bill of HB 495 related to criminal history, and a prosperity-enhancing bill of HB 347 related to annexation that builds on passage of SB 6 during the 2017 special session.
In this Let People Prosper episode 68, I interview James Quintero, Director of the Think Local Liberty project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, about reining in skyrocketing local property taxes, increasing local debt transparency, and highlighting frivolous local spending. High taxes and debt are always and everywhere a spending problem. James makes that point clear in this episode. Don't miss it!
Texas leads the nation in economic growth and international trade. Were Texas a country, it would have the world’s 10th-largest economy—a ranking achieved in no small part by the state’s deep involvement in international trade. Local, national, and international trade provide the ability for more extensive specialization, and each is an important component of Texas’ economy.
Great discussion on these issues with Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Leila Afas of Toyota Motor Co., Representative Matt Shaheen, and Doug McCullough of the Lone Star Policy Institute.
Read the TPPF report on how people prosper from NAFTA and trade.
The Texas Teacher Retirement System has had massive debts for years and there is growing concern the system is moving toward insolvency. There are good options the Texas Legislature can pursue to fix the system, but they all require hard choices. Which path will policymakers take, or will they put it off?
Great discussion with Stephen Gassenberger of Reason Foundation, Monty Exter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Josh McGee of the Texas Pension Review Board on TRS issues and potential solutions.
Check out this recent TPPF-Reason publication that provides an overview of issues facing TRS.
Perhaps no issue unites Texans across the state like the need to reduce property taxes. But any property tax reform will have consequences that affect how we fund education, pay for roads, grow our economy, improve access to health care, and more. Experts and policymakers take on this critical question and look for solutions in the 86th Legislature.
Great discussion with Dr. John Diamond from Rice University's Baker Institute, Senator Paul Bettencourt, Judge Glenn Whitley, and Representative Drew Springer.
Read more about TPPF's plan to cut property taxes and find out how much you would save under this plan over time here.
How much money does Texas have and what will it do with it? It’s perhaps the most important question the legislature deals with each session – and it all starts with deciding on the state’s priorities. TPPF convenes the important voices who will help answer that question in 2019.
Watch this fantastic discussion with Chairman John Zerwas, Representative Donna Howard, and Chairman John Whitmire as we discuss key issues facing Texas in the upcoming budget.
In this Let People Prosper episode 67, let's discuss the importance of sustaining and improving the Texas Model of no personal income tax, relatively low taxes, relatively less government spending, and sensible regulation that allow entrepreneurs opportunities not available elsewhere. This can be boiled down to: Institutions Matter. Let's recall previous discussions highlighting these key points while noting how Texas led the way in job creation again in 2018.
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.
More on this comparison here.
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.
Despite the economic success of the Texas Model of fiscally conservative governance, a skyrocketing local property tax burden remains one of the state’s most pressing policy challenges. Property taxes have been growing faster than Texan’s ability to pay for them, increasing the need to eliminate them.
You get less of whatever you tax. This key economic insight suggests the best type of taxation does the least economic harm, achieved by limiting government spending to only securing liberty. The evidence is clear that Texas should never have a personal income tax. There is nearly a consensus that is true, but there is a growing consensus that Texas should eliminate property taxes that keep Texans renters forever.
Property taxes are an inefficient type of tax. They are based on primarily subjective valuations by appraisal review boards and determined tax rates by local tax entities with little to no feedback from citizens. Given the rising property tax burden and its inefficient collection mechanism, they should be eliminated in exchange for a more efficient, slower-growing sales tax based on objective market transactions that would help appropriately remove taxes on capital (i.e. property)—the driver of the wealth of states.
Property taxes are more regressive than a sales tax. Opponents of a sales tax say it is too regressive, whereby people with lower incomes people pay a larger share of their income to taxes than those with higher incomes. The Texas Comptroller’s recent report confirms that both sales taxes and property taxes are regressive, according to the “suits index” (see following two tables), but suggests property taxes are less regressive. However, this analysis (and others like it) do not account for the fact that sales taxes are paid once at purchase yet property taxes are paid annually, hurting low- and fixed-income Texans the most because the costs compound over time. A property tax also keeps people from getting their first home and kicks many people out of their home and business. Appropriately accounting for these cumulative costs indicates a property tax is more regressive.
Texas should ultimately have only a single-legged barstool in the form of a broad-based sales tax. Some talk about the need for a three-legged stool of taxation. These legs include a sales tax, property tax, and a personal income tax. Because Texas appropriately doesn’t have the latter, the argument is that there is a need for the other two. But that’s incorrect. Texas needs the most efficient tax system possible to fund limited government. That’s done by expanding the sales tax base as wide as possible to not pick winners and losers to keep the rate as low as possible.
There are paths to swapping out city and county property taxes with a higher local sales tax rate if the state doesn’t broaden the base. This is also a good option as it provides a direct funding source for local governments’ maintenance and operations if, and only if, they eliminate the property tax with a revenue neutral swap. Ideally, the sales tax rate would not be allowed to ratchet up further after the swap and the property tax could never come back.
The school district maintenance and operations property tax, which comprises about 45 percent of the total property tax burden in Texas, could also be swapped out with a sales tax. A broader sales tax base could allow the rate to fall. Here is an overview of possible rates and sales tax bases to eliminate the school district M&O property tax in Texas with 2017 data, which the ideal option would be to expand the base and not tax property, as property is capital that supports economic prosperity.
Texas should limit spending to limit taxes. While sales tax collections can be more volatile than property tax collections from economic changes, sales taxes better reflects taxpayers’ ability to pay than a property tax that they have little control over. Also, property taxes often don’t reflect the economic climate but rather the whims of appraisal districts and local officials that hurt property holders in the process when their incomes are falling. More importantly though, Texas governments must practice spending restraint so that excessive spending doesn’t drive taxes higher than taxpayers’ ability to pay. High taxes are always and everywhere a spending problem.
This is why there is need to limit spending growth to no more than population growth and inflation, two key measures that reflect the ability to pay from more people and wage growth that’s highly correlated with inflation. By practicing spending restraint, excess taxpayer dollars can be used to lower the sales tax rate after a swap or could even be used to cut the school M&O property tax in the meantime until the elimination of school districts’ maintenance and operations property taxes.
By practicing fiscal restraint and eliminating all taxes in Texas except for a broad-based sales tax, the Texas Model would support even greater prosperity for all Texans.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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).
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.
In this Let People Prosper episode, I cover my updated presentation that provides information about Texas’ economic and fiscal situation, compares Texas with other large states, and suggests key public policy recommendations to strengthen the Texas model so that it can foster more individual liberty and economic prosperity.
Institutions matter as noted by the recent state business tax climate index by the Tax Foundation, which Texas dropped to 15th best nationwide. Texas should increase economic freedom by eliminating unnecessary government barriers to competition to support prosperity.
Watch my explanation of this state-level labor report and other videos at my YouTube channel: Vance Ginn Economics.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.