The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Chief Economist Vance Ginn and economist E.J. Antoni break down the massive spending proposals in President Biden’s recent address to Congress.
$225 billion toward high-quality childcare and ensuring families pay only a portion of their income toward child-care services, based on a sliding scale
Raising taxes from one pocket to put money in the other is just shuffling dollars. The subsidies will also increase the overall cost of child care for those who need it.
$225 billion to create a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program
Americans should be free to negotiate compensation packages like paid leave as they see fit; it shouldn’t be dictated by a bureaucrat. The consequence of a government-mandated paid family and medical leave will be lower wages and less opportunities for those with less skill and experience.
$200 billion for free universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, offered through a national partnership with states
Parents want valuable schooling options for their kids, especially during critical years of early development, not rhetorical fallacies that something is free. Instead of creating another spendthrift program with a profligate bureaucracy behind it that will reduce the quality of preschool like government has to K-12 education, government should focus on removing imposed barriers of high taxes and marriage penalties that reduce parents’ resources to meet their child’s unique needs.
$109 billion toward ensuring two years of free community college for all students
College, including community college, is not always the right fit. Some people enter trade or technical schools or begin their careers right after high school. This is especially true among those with lower lifetime earnings. “Free” college programs just take tax money from those with lower earnings to pay for the tuition of those who will likely have higher potential lifetime earnings. Government-guaranteed funding for higher education will also further inflate costs and reduce quality as things are rationed without market prices.
About $85 billion toward Pell Grants, and increasing the maximum award by about $1,400 for low-income students
Pell Grants, like many subsidies for higher education, benefit school administrators more than students. As subsidies increase, so does tuition, and so do administrative costs. Students eligible for Pell Grants often take out student loans to cover the remainder of their education expenses and they graduate with heavy debt burdens. To help make higher education more affordable, government should remove demand subsidies and supply restrictions, forcing schools to compete for students by slimming down their bloated administrative departments and by increasing access to lower tuition.
A $62 billion grant program to increase college retention and completion rates
There is no evidence that a lack of funding is causing retention problems at colleges and universities. There is, however, substantial evidence that low-quality government-run primary and secondary schools have failed to provide students with the knowledge and skills to succeed at the college level. The solution is not more government spending, but more educational choice throughout the education system.
A $39 billion program that gives two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in a four-year historically Black college or university, tribal college or university, or minority-serving institution
Subsidies in higher education is what’s leading to the rapid increases in tuition, so doubling down on that is poor policy rather than finding ways to increase competition and lower prices while improving quality.
$45 billion toward meeting child nutritional needs, including by expanding access to the summer EBT program, which helps some low-income families with children buy food outside the school year
This is another government program that is fraught with waste and inefficiency. We would do better to lift burdensome regulations and taxes off the backs of small business, stimulating development, investment, and job growth. A parent with a well-paying job can afford to feed his or her own children.
$200 billion to make permanent the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan’s provision lowering health insurance premiums for those who buy coverage on their own
This sounds like a subsidy for those buying health insurance, but it is actually a subsidy for the insurance companies. After the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which would supposedly reign in profits of the insurance companies, those profits reached record highs. People want more choices for healthcare, not handouts to insurance companies.
Extending through 2025, and making permanently fully refundable, the child tax credit expansion that was included in the COVID-19 relief bill
As Ronald Reagan said, nothing is so close to eternity as a temporary government program. The justification for transitory COVID-19 relief was the pandemic, which is now far past its peak as we approach herd immunity. There is no reason to continue these temporary relief measures going forward.
Making permanent the recent expansion of the child and dependent care tax credit
These tax credits are accomplishing the opposite of the bipartisan welfare reforms of the 1990s. Instead of rewarding work, they reward idleness. These government handouts will serve to trap people in a cycle of poverty and dependency.
Making permanent the earned income tax credit for childless workers
This is another example of a government program taking on a life of its own. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) tripled the credit and gave benefits to childless workers that were previously reserved to working parents. The justification for this ill-conceived measure was the temporary hardship from government-imposed lockdowns; there is no reason to make them permanent but rather open their economies so people can find jobs and prosper. The effect of these government handouts is to keep people in low-wage jobs because the tax credit is quickly phased out as income rises. Once again, these programs cause dependency on government instead of letting people prosper.
The extortionate cost of higher education continues to rise and is unlikely to moderate soon. From 2000 to 2020, college tuition and fees nationwide rose more than three times faster than general price inflation and more than twice as fast as average hourly wages.
Put simply, college is unaffordable to many and becoming more out of reach for many more.
Making matters worse, the Biden administration has proposed to attempt to solve this problem with record levels of new government spending. This is on top of the billions of dollars Congress has already allocated to more than double the Department of Education’s most recent annual budget. Biden wants a 41% increase in the department’s pre-pandemic budget along with “free” college for families earning less than $125,000 annually and “free” community college for all, together with a long list of other costly, socialist-style programs.
Of course, nothing is free, as the cost to taxpayers and students will be much higher in terms of taxes, lower quality education, and waiting lists.
This proposal is another D.C. idea of throwing more money at problems, even though that fails every time. The U.S. spends roughly twice the amount on higher education per student as the average spent by OECD countries. Our problem is not lack of resources, but lack of vision.
Driving higher tuition is excessive government intervention with increases on the demand side from subsidized student loans, Pell grants, and other factors, and suppression on the supply side through restrictions and accreditation limitations on new institutions and opportunities for competition.
So, what justifies more than doubling of the price of higher education?
The quality of instruction has not doubled. Neither has the student-to-teacher ratio. Students are not earning substantially more post-graduation, and in fact are graduating with more debt than ever as the total student loan debt now exceeds $1.7 trillion.
If student outcomes are not improving, then where is the money going? In a word: administrators.
Administrative staff has grown substantially faster than faculty, to the point where there are now more administrators than faculty at a typical university. From 1987 to 2012, colleges and universities nationwide more than doubled their administrative staffs. The portion of college budgets devoted to teaching—which is the actual mission of education—has fallen substantially. The source of this spendthrift administrative growth is government subsidies for higher education.
As grants, student loans, and other state and federal funding have increased, institutions of higher education have lost the need to spend efficiently. They waste these taxpayer dollars on profligate administrative expenditures, knowing full well that Uncle Sam (read: You!) will keep the assistance coming.
The normal free-market mechanism of competition which keeps prices down has been abrogated by this heavy-handed government intervention. The “profits” gained by these public institutions would bring about competitors in the private market, but that’s not possible given the restricted supply and limited accreditations, which is why the inflated demand simply pushes up tuition at rapid rates.
Instead of doubling down on government failures like these, it’s time to do something different. In Texas, we can temporarily limit tuition growth via Senate Bill 167 in the Texas Legislature.
This bill would provide a viable alternative to more spending proposed by the Biden administration.
It temporarily limits tuition at public colleges and universities to price inflation for the next five years. This would better match the cost-of-living adjustment received in wage growth by many families and taxpayers. While the limitation does not include fees, tuition is a much larger portion of the total cost of attending these public schools.
The effect will be to force these public institutions to rein in the number of administrators (and associated costs), along with other inefficiencies. If these institutions foolishly cut spending on instruction, then students and faculty can simply leave and go to another school.
A perfect example of this policy, voluntarily prescribed, is Purdue University—a public institution of higher education in Indiana that is comparable in size to the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. Purdue has kept tuition frozen for the last decade, during which its inflation-adjusted funding from the state legislature has actually decreased.
Clearly, restraining the cost of tuition can be done—not by expanding government intervention, but rather by better managing the resources provided to these institutions, and ultimately through competition. If we want things in higher education to change, then we must change them. Otherwise, they will continue as they are, unaffordable as that may be.
Vance Ginn, PhD, is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
By combining property tax reductions and reform with spending limitations, Texas could shift to a more efficient and fairer sales tax system. In this way, Texans can be assured meaningful, lasting property tax relief and an improved Texas Model that will sustain economic prosperity for generations.
Testimony in Support to Texas House Appropriations Committee
Vance Ginn, PhD, is the chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Considering that high taxes and debt are always and everywhere a government spending problem, the state’s current weak spending limit has contributed to excessive government spending that has resulted in less economic prosperity for Texans. Fortunately, the Legislature has taken strides to improve the budget picture during the last three budgets by better following the Conservative Texas Budget, which is why it is crucial to put this responsible, conservative fiscal management in statute.
Testimony in Support Before the Texas House Appropriations Committee
It’s easy to tell who the Texans are in a crowd; you simply shout, “the stars at night, are big and bright”—then wait for about the span of four quick claps.
It’s easy to tell if a budget in Texas is truly conservative—and worthy of the great Lone Star State’s commitment to freedom and prosperity. If the biennial budget grows less than population plus inflation—our formula for a Conservative Texas Budget (CTB)—then it’s a budget that doesn’t grow beyond the average Texan’s ability to pay.
We love budget and tax cuts, of course; the Texas Legislature should take every opportunity to ease the burden on taxpayers, leaving more of their money in their own pockets. Yet the CTB is a useful guideline for lawmakers.
The good news is that both the House and Senate versions of the 2022-23 budget come in well under the CTB level.
This is a big win for Texans (see this thread), and it includes rightfully rejecting funding for Medicaid expansion in the budget, which effectively kills this attempt by the left. There are better, more affordable ways to help those in need rather than just providing government-run coverage that does not result in quality, timely care, as market-based reforms that put patients in charge would do.
There are other conservative policy victories in the budget, as well. It defunds some corporate welfare, it requires proposals of some state agency cuts each session, and it improves the process in determining the use of COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government.
Note that we appropriately don’t count these federal funds in our budget calculations because they haven’t been accepted yet (and much if not all with strings attached should be rejected) and should be used for only one-time expenditures to keep from unnecessarily growing government and then falling into the trap like the state did when the federal funds from President Obama dried up.
Now, some are saying that the budget doesn’t provide additional property tax relief for Texas families. That’s true. But it does preserve property tax relief from the last biennium. This is relief just like it was last session, when $5 billion was allocated toward lowering school district M&O property taxes—which meant taxpayers paid less than otherwise.
The $6 billion in this budget is to fund that same 7-cent property tax rate compression because of rising appraisals across the state. If that $6 billion wasn’t in the budget, then property owners would face a 7-cent tax increase and those funds would go to other programs that grow government.
So, the $6 billion is property tax relief by keeping property taxes and the size of government lower than otherwise—that’s certainly better than the alternative.
The next step in the budget process is for the conference committee on the budget to iron out the differences of a gap of $4 billion more in the Senate budget than the House budget, which the amount of expected federal funds is the main difference. This should include continued spending restraint for actual tax cuts and additional tax relief before the end of session.
There are a few key amendments to the budget by the House that lawmakers should keep, including:
Asking state agencies to provide proposed cuts of 1%, 5%, and 10% each session;
Defunding more corporate welfare; and
Improving federal COVID-19 funds determination.
Overall, this approach to the budget is a key part of TPPF’s Responsible Recovery Agenda that will support more growth, job creation, and economic opportunity in Texas.
It’s never hard to tell who the Texans are in a crowd, and in a crowded legislative session, it’s not hard to tell which budgetary decisions are the right ones. They’re the ones that lead to more freedom and more prosperity for Texans like the Legislature looks poised to do.
Vance Ginn, PhD, is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute in Austin.
Texas’s public higher education systems can withstand a temporary tuition freeze. SB 167 would freeze tuition for 5 years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and tuition would be adjusted by the previous year’s change in the consumer price index (CPI). This sort of freeze will be a step in the right direction, and the temporary nature of the freeze will allow for the results of this action to be evaluated to determine if it is working better than the current flawed approach. Tuition freezes have been successfully instituted by other public colleges.
Testimony in Support to the Texas Senate Committee on Higher Education
In Texas, we dream big. That’s what House Bill 59 does—it imagines a Texas that lightens the tax burden on Texans, upholds property rights and ensures that education is properly funded.
Authored by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, the bill would eliminate the school maintenance and operations portion of your property tax bill on Jan. 1, 2024, and would create a legislative commission that would use the intervening time to study the best way to replace that revenue. This bill would cut local property taxes nearly in half while adhering to the state’s constitutional responsibility of funding government schools.
The key to achieving this, of course, is restraining government spending at the state and local government levels.
The fact is that the skyrocketing local property tax burden remains one of the state’s most pressing policy challenges. Property taxes have been growing faster than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for them. Any growth over population-plus-inflation represents a growth in government above our ability to pay. For more on this formula, which we call the Conservative Texas Budget, click here.
According to the Tax Foundation, Texas has the seventh most burdensome property tax on homeowners. Using a different calculation, Fox News ranks Texas third-worst.
Too many have been forced out of their homes and businesses because of rapidly rising property taxes.
It would be great to eliminate all property taxes, which tend to hurt lower-income earners the most, so Texans can stop effectively renting from the government forever.
A good start in that process would be to eliminate school district M&O property taxes, which account for nearly half of the total property tax burden on Texans. Eliminating just the school district M&O property taxes is rather straightforward because the state determines the funding formulas for the school finance system, and it represents nearly half of the property tax levy across the state.
The question is how to replace this revenue. That’s easy—with a broader-based sales tax.
State sales taxes have grown far less than property taxes, less than personal income, and more closely with population growth plus inflation. This indicates that moving to a system based on the sales tax better aligns with the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for these taxes that fund government spending over time.
There are some important reasons why a sales tax is the better way to fund schools.
First, property taxes are inefficient. Property taxes in Texas are based primarily on subjective valuations by appraisal review boards and tax rates determined by local tax entities with little to no feedback from citizens, creating a highly inefficient collection mechanism.
Next, property taxes are more regressive than sales taxes. 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 high property tax also prevents many low-income earners from purchasing their first home and forces many others who do purchase to struggle to keep their home—they may even lose it.
Finally, during recessions (like the recent pandemic), lower-income earners tend to face the highest levels of unemployment and are least able to shoulder a tax burden. Their property tax burden, however, would increase relative to their income, while their sales tax burden would fall more proportionately with their income.
The sales tax is money that comes directly from the choices of consumers. It ensures that all financial power remains within their control, whereas property taxes are a burden that is forced upon all taxpayers with little means of working around it.
It would work—and result in fully funding schools based on the state’s school finance system.
Economists of the Baker Institute at Rice University studied the economic effects of replacing property taxes with sales taxes over time. They found that just a 3.6% decrease in school district M&O property taxes could contribute to a $14.3 billion increase in economic output and 217,000 new jobs after just the first year of reforms and more thereafter. Imagine if we eliminated that burden!
By combining property tax reductions and reform with spending limitations, Texas could shift to a more efficient and fairer sales tax system. In this way, Texans can be assured meaningful, lasting, property tax relief and an improved Texas Model that will sustain economic prosperity for generations.
Texas’s economy continues improving from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and forced business shutdowns by government since spring 2020. This includes robust job creation in March 2021 as state restrictions ended on March 10, which should further improve economic growth and job creation this year.
To help overcome the challenges still facing many struggling Texans and the assault on prosperity by those in D.C., Texas should commit to the Foundation’s Responsible Recovery Agenda.
More on the data and how Texans can get back to work as quickly and safely as possible ⬇️
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted the devastating mental health effects of the pandemic on children. Kids have been subjected to stifling lockdowns even though there has been overwhelming evidence that children are at low to no risk of experiencing severe symptoms or transmitting COVID-19. While the article is certainly correct to emphasize the terrible state of America’s youth, it wrongly places the blame—the pandemic did not do this to our children. Government-imposed lockdowns did.
Isolation has taken its toll on everyone, but most especially the very young and very old.
A study conducted at a pediatric emergency department in Texas found that suicide ideation among 11- to 21-year-olds as well as suicide attempts are up significantly from 2019. Mental health-related emergency department visits for minors jumped 11.3% in the first quarter of 2020 and then another 44.1% through October 2020. Remote learning has negatively affected the mental and emotional health of one in four children.
Instead of normal, healthy human interaction, children have been left to their own devices—literally. These include phones, tablets, gaming consoles, and computers, all of which are poor substitutes for human relationships and interpersonal connections.
But the toll on children goes beyond deteriorating mental health and retrograding social skills. Children are falling behind in the classroom, especially in math. Remote learning and so-called hybrid learning have proved a poor substitute in educating many of the young.
Almost half of parents in a study of low-income families reported experiencing food insecurity. Given the sky-high unemployment caused by government-imposed lockdowns, this is not surprising, especially because low-income earners were more heavily affected by this forced unemployment. Parental angst due to economic issues adds to a child’s already increased anxiety.
Like the isolation imposed on children, the source of the nation’s unemployment also has not been a virus, but government-imposed lockdowns.
The proof of this is the comparison between states that implemented lockdowns and those that did not. The lowest unemployment rates are found in states that have essentially returned to normal, or never imposed restrictions in the first place. The highest unemployment rates are found in states that implemented the harshest lockdowns.
While the tightest lockdowns were all in Democrat-run states, this is not strictly a political issue. Among all Republican trifecta states, (where Republicans control the entire legislature and the governorship) Texas has the worst unemployment, as Texas imposed some of the tightest and longest restrictions. Texas must now catch up to states like South Dakota and Florida, which both returned to normal long before Texas.
Just as unemployment has been highest in states with harsher lockdowns, school closures have been the worst in those same states. And yet, despite the severe costs which the lockdowns have imposed upon children, those lockdowns were seemingly ineffective at slowing the spread and reducing the death rate of COVID-19. (New cases and deaths in Texas are continuing their downward trend since the statewide mask mandate was lifted on March 10.) In fact, the chart below shows a slightly positive, although statistically insignificant, relationship between government-imposed lockdowns and state death rates.
In contrast, there is a strong relationship between the severity of government-imposed lockdowns and both school closures and state unemployment rates. Unsurprisingly, the states that forced businesses and schools to close suffered, and continue to suffer, the highest unemployment.
So, while the government-imposed lockdowns failed to achieve their primary stated objective, those lockdowns succeeded in crashing the best economy in half a century and inflicting our children with low-quality educational experiences and mental-health afflictions. Sadly, even after the government-imposed lockdowns end, children are more likely to have depression and anxiety because of this artificial isolation.
The lockdowns were a mistake, but where do we go from here?
First and foremost, we need to return to normal, and not some kind of Orwellian “new normal.” Families need to be allowed to practice personal responsibility rather than be told how to act by politicians or bureaucrats.
Second, our children will need more mental and emotional support, which starts with healthy and robust families, and is buttressed by private organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) that cater to these family issues at the local level.
Finally, this last year has been a massive case study demonstrating why educational freedom is essential. Giving parents more options in how their children are educated is a powerful way to improve educational outcomes because of the competition that arises when students are not forced to attend a particular school but rather choose one that meets their unique needs.
None of these strategies involve growing government or bureaucracy. In fact, they involve limiting or reducing the roles of governments by strengthening institutions and freeing local communities to help children and families prosper. And given how far many children have fallen behind in the last year, they need all the help we can give them.
A decade ago today, I was a graduate student in the PhD program at Texas Tech University and had just finished judging an undergraduate research poster competition. I was riding the bus back to my apartment when I received a horrible phone call from my mom. She said my dad has passed away in his sleep from SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy: http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/impact/mortality/sudep).
We will come back to that. But first let me tell you about this remarkable person and how he got to this point.
One day in 1972 when my dad was 17 and had just left a place in Brookshire, Texas, my dad was in a terrible traffic accident. He was a passenger in a truck that was struck by what we believe was a drunk driver who had seemingly run a red light. The result was that he had a severe head injury. Little did he know it would change his life forever.
After weeks in a coma and after the doctors telling his family he may not live, my dad woke up and worked every day to live a "normal" life.
Without any memories before the wreck (amnesia) and short-term memory loss thereafter, he battled not knowing anyone in his classes, not knowing he was class president, not knowing he was president of his school's National Honor Society, not knowing he was a football player, and much more. To this day, I still don't know much about him before the wreck.
He once shared a story with me of how he was sitting in class after he returned to school and the principal called someone over the loudspeaker. His friend tapped him on the shoulder and told him that he was just called—he periodically didn't know his own name. He was taken to a room for a National Honors Society meeting and told he should sit at the head of the table. He asked why. They said he was the president and would lead the meeting. Of course, he was unable, but the level of respect he had at Royal High School in Brookshire, TX is remarkable.
This is one of many similar stories. Let me tell you more.
Time passed and he went to school at Sam Houston State University for three years to study drafting before his memory declined so much he started making Bs, Cs, and eventually failing classes, all of which were the first time, I believe, that he earned less than an A. He had to drop out but took what he learned to be a productive draftsman. He would eventually sometimes work two jobs to pay the bills for the family. He later worked at a gas company, Entex, in Houston checking gas meters.
He fell in love with my mom while they were living in Brookshire, TX, and they soon married. They were happy and lived life like any other newly married couple would. My dad acted a little strange from time to time, which is why his nickname was "Weird Harold," but not much else seemed wrong.
Then in the mid-1980s, something started to change.
He started having small petit mal seizures (he would stare into space without being able to speak and would smile big for no reason). No one paid attention the first few times. Eventually, he started having grand mal seizures (features a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions; it's the type of seizure most people picture when the person falls to the ground and convulses). He was in and out of hospitals after having grand mal seizures twice per month or even more frequently.
After a couple years and wrecking three cars, one while working at Entex (now Reliant Energy), he reluctantly filed for disability in 1987 and never worked or drove again.
This crushed him and the numerous drugs he was on and lack of ability to remember things put pressure on his psyche and my parent's marriage—they eventually got divorced, remarried, and divorced again when I was young. He lived off and on with us to help pay bills or with his mom, mainly with my granny during most of my childhood.
When he was at home, we would play baseball in the backyard or at Wilson Park and basketball in the front yard for hours. I have so many great memories of those times. He would go over my schoolwork with me while I was in home school. He was a math guru and taught me tricks along the way. He listened to me beating on the drums when I had little clue how to play and later would go to my rock concerts when I was in the band Sindrome.
I remember picking him up from his mom's and taking him to the neurologist, Dr. Neumark, at St. Luke's Hospital in Houston's Medical Center for years. I learned much about epilepsy, and how it can affect someone's life from reading books, watching my dad have hundreds of seizures over my lifetime, and talking with him about the struggle he had to deal with his situation.
He took roughly 12 pills per day and had a vagus nerve stimulation surgically implanted near his chest that would send electronic impulses to his brain to help him have fewer seizures. It helped reduce the seizures over time from two per month to about one every 3 or 4 months. He would keep track of all his seizures and I remember how proud we were when they were less frequent.
Each time he had one he would be exhausted for several days. He was always energetic and in a fairly good mood, so after he had a seizure, it was very unlike him to sit around most the day and not talk much.
During my days at Tech, I visited home, South Houston, about twice per year (9-hour drive is too long to visit often). While I was home, I would take dad out as much as possible and play pool, watch Astros games, and have fun. Without the independence to drive and few friends to take him anywhere, he spent most of his time at home and I tried my best to get him out and enjoy the world.
He never complained about his situation. He did voice frustration that he couldn't drive or do things others could do, but for the most part, he lived a normal life and could do anything he wanted.
Years passed and he moved in with a friend and me in a townhouse in Lubbock on June 1, 2008. It was my second year of graduate school. We would go eat breakfast in the mornings when I didn't have class. We would go for long walks and talk about my research, politics, and the meaning of life. That was how he relaxed; he would go on long walks. There was nothing better for him than being with family or alone with nature. He could get away from the thought of being disabled or feeling trapped in a body that kept him from doing the things he wanted.
After I moved in with Emily, dad got an apartment in the same complex about 30 yards away. It was the first time he ever lived on his own and had a sense of independence since that cloudy day in 1972 when his life changed forever.
We would barbecue together and he would visit us often. I am so thankful he had the opportunity to know Emily and she will have memories to tell our sons, Bricen Wayne, who is named after my dad Harold Wayne, Cooper Thomas, and our future children.
Dad and I had many great memories together in Lubbock. He had some complications with his epilepsy and I stayed in the hospital with him for a week as they did a number of tests to see if they could surgically repair the place on his brain that caused the seizures. They determined it was too risky because it was near the part of your brain that controls your speech and he went on with his life.
After two and a half years (in December 2010) living near me in Lubbock, dad moved to Houston to live with my sister, Tiffany, and her family. He was excited about living with them and being around his grandkids, but he was upset about leaving his life in Lubbock. Although I missed him every day, I knew he was happy and everything seemed fine.
Then that day came in 2011 when I was on the bus that I received the phone call from my mom. My mom said Tiffany had checked on dad after he seemed to be sleeping unusually late. She found him lying there, not breathing. My first reaction was to my mom telling me he wasn’t breathing was: Why not? What are you doing about it? Is he at the hospital?
My mom had few answers other than: Vance, he passed away.
It was the first time that I had someone close to me die. The person that I did not live with much growing up, didn’t know much about his childhood, but had got to know much more during the previous two-plus years had suddenly, without any warning, passed away!
I was crushed. I screamed uncontrollably at the front of a packed bus and ran off the bus to my truck as soon as it stopped. I sobbed driving home and frantically paced back and forth around my apartment when I made it home.
My dad, one of my best friends, and the person I learned so many lessons from was taken from me. How could I go on? So many things raced through my head and I hoped that I would soon wake up from this nightmare. A truly life-changing event challenged me in ways that I’ve never been challenged. To this day, that moment still gives me chills and makes me teary-eyed.
Dad died from what is known as SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy).
My sister said that he went to sleep the night before without signs of anything wrong. The best explanation from doctors that we have is that he went to sleep, had a seizure, and his organs shut down. It was not painful and he probably did not know anything was going on. Doctors say that even if he was in the hospital there would be little chance they could have saved him. There is little known about SUDEP and what triggers it, which is why we allowed an autopsy and continue donating to the Epilepsy Foundation today.
Somehow, someway, God has a mysterious way of working in our lives.
Prayer, family, and friends helped me through the hurt. Days, weeks, months, and years later I find myself weeping over the loss of my dad. To this day, I feel deep sorrow. However, I think about the numerous lessons I learned from my dad during my 29 years around him and treasure the many memories.
He loved music. He would sing to classic rock songs and loved Journey, Elton John, and many others. He would snap his fingers when dancing and would clap when listening to music. Music helped him release his worries, along with walking. He also loved playing pool.
A man with what some could consider so little left to live for had so much courage to take on the world. No complaining and no handout. He would work every day if he could. Love others unconditionally and never give up is what I take from his life.
There are too many who have less and live with many more problems than we do. If my dad can take on the world with his faith in God and his ability to see the sun shining with so many clouds around, it is easy to find hope and find beauty in this world. There is so much for us to be thankful.
Ten years have passed. Years that I will not be able to tell him the wonderful things that have happened in my life and those in the family.
However, I have faith that he knows. I believe he is still watching over us and that we will see him again someday. I believe he is with Bricen and Cooper always. His bright smile is the picture in my head that I see and it fills the hearts of all those who knew him. Years pass in a flash, but my dad's memory will live on.
Harold Wayne Ginn was a wonderful father, pepaw, and hero. He will always be our family's hero. There is so much to say. His life is a testimony that I hope will bring joy and a stronger faith for others. I know it does for me.
I know he was a Godly, kind, smart, generous, loving, sweet, caring, empathetic, and more man. Thank you, Dad! I love you.
Free-market capitalism is the best path to prosperity.
The Tax Code should not pick winners and losers but rather fund limited roles for government.
Unfortunately, Chapter 313 property tax abatements do pick winners: Big businesses are favored over small businesses.
Businesses that may not be in operation for the long term receive long-term tax breaks.
Nearly two thirds of Chapter 313 projects are for renewable energy, which would likely locate in Texas anyway given Texas’s geography of open lands, a lot of sun, and wind in specific regions.
A third of those renewable energy projects are for foreign companies, like those affiliated with French and Chinese governments.
These agreements can result in increased property values in certain areas, which reduces housing affordability, and decreased property values in others.
Chapter 313 tax breaks socialize the cost of those local school districts’ deals to the rest of the state’s taxpayers by holding school districts harmless.
Many Americans continue recovering from the recession that began in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and forced business closures by state and local governments. The economy had expanded in the second half of 2020 as many of those governments removed or reduced restrictions on the private sector. However, the growth stalled a little at the beginning of 2021 as many governments re-imposed restrictions as cases and hospitalizations spiked.
Fortunately, those governmental restrictions have been reduced again and the economy looks to have picked up, helping Americans regain the tangible prosperity experienced until March of last year. We need more openings and pro-growth policies to let people prosper.
Let’s start with a simple fact: It’s not economic “stimulus” when someone comes along, takes money from your right pocket and puts some of it back in your left pocket (keeping much of it for “other uses”). That’s sleight-of-hand, not stimulus, which is a reason the government can’t stimulate anything other than more government.
That’s more and more true when less and less of the funds go back in your pocket. And make no mistake, President Joe Biden’s plans for a third “stimulus” bill—eclipsing the previous two—isn’t about helping struggling Americans hit hard by the pandemic and the shutdowns. Instead, it’s a massive, pork-laden bill that seeks to keep many of his lavish campaign promises and shore up support among key constituencies.
And nowhere is this more evident than in the area of climate activism.
According to CNBC, “The recovery plan, to be unveiled this week, will likely involve installing thousands of electric vehicle charging stations and building millions of new energy-efficient homes.” (Note to President Biden: Out-of-work Americans can’t afford new electric vehicles.)
Biden’s plan to “Build Back Better” also “supports his broader goal to achieve carbon-free power generation by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050”—an impossible goal that, even if it was achievable, would have little effect on global temperatures.
But that’s not all.
The Washington Post reports that it would spend “hundreds of billions of dollars to repair the nation’s roads, bridges, waterways and rails. It also includes funding for retrofitting buildings, safety improvements, schools infrastructure, and low-income and tribal groups, as well as $100 billion for schools and education infrastructure.”
And he plans a slew of massive tax hikes to help pay for it.
He could raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, which would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, and raise taxes on American individuals. These actions and others would undo key parts of the Tax Reform and Jobs Act of 2017 that combined with deregulation helped launch tangible economic prosperity until the global pandemic.
Each of these initiatives—climate activism, massive “infrastructure” spending and tax hikes—is bad economic policy in and of itself. Together, they’re a trifecta of terrible, guaranteed to overburden our economy and saddle us and future generations with more government, more debt and less opportunity.
History demonstrates that despite the promises of a Green New Deal, new green jobs prove elusive—and the ones that are created are very, very expensive, which requires more government spending of our hard-earned tax dollars that reduces growth and jobs in the process.
Here’s what President Obama said in his 2008 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention: “I’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy—wind power, and solar power, and the next generation of biofuels—an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.”
That never happened.
Obama himself later acknowledged that “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” That went for both the climate jobs (his policies sent solar panel manufacturing to China, for example, and other companies simply misled the government, took the money and declared bankruptcy) and for infrastructure jobs.
The good news is that we know what works. We can truly support more self-sufficiency, dignity, and human flourishing by fully opening the economy up.
Americans aren’t clamoring for a Green New Deal (when they’re told what it will cost), but they sure would like to dine out, see family members again and open up their businesses without the heavy-handed pandemic measures imposed by governments at every level.
It begins with Congress rejecting the third “stimulus” boondoggle. States should also reject some if not all of the latest round of bailout money to keep from unnecessarily expanding government programs and losing some independence to the federal government. And Congress should instead adopt the Texas Model of less spending, lower taxes and more reasonable regulation.
A great next step would be for the Biden administration to lift its “halt” on new oil and gas permits on federal lands and in federal waters.
That action alone would achieve all three of Biden’s stated goals for his “stimulus”: It would reduce emissions by allowing access to cleaner-burning natural gas, it would support many new and existing high-paying jobs for Americans (instead of outsourcing them to other countries, which we’ll be forced to buy our petroleum from), and it would support infrastructure improvement through the taxes producers pay for their use of our roads and bridges.
Another step would be to rein in excessive government spending that is bankrupting our country.
Ultimately, we can regain the prosperity we had before the pandemic—but not with Biden’s progressive plan.
Toyota Financial Services recently announced that as a result of consolidating customer service centers, the Cedar Rapids facility will close and cut 600 jobs, due in part to the private sector employing 5% fewer people than a year ago. The consolidation of customer service centers is a loss for Iowa and a win for other states, such as Texas. Businesses are responding to both economic climates and the new work environment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
States with high tax rates are seeing an exodus of both people and businesses while those with lower rates are seeing them arrive in droves. This is yet another example of how people vote with their feet when the burden of government becomes excessive.
Iowa has made progress in recent years by lowering the individual and corporate income tax rates, but policymakers should beware of becoming too complacent, and they should work to continue reining in spending and lowering rates to attract people and businesses.
Many states have or are gradually lowering their personal and corporate income tax rates. This happened at the federal level during the Trump administration and many people had tangible prosperity that they’d never experienced. But the Biden administration may soon reverse those gains if progressives in D.C. have their way, which makes more competitive tax systems in Iowa and other states essential.
Legislatures in Arizona, Mississippi, and West Virginia are currently considering bills to phase-out their state income tax. For Iowa to remain economically competitive, it must follow suit. Iowa’s tax rates matter because we are in direct competition with 49 other states for businesses, jobs, and people. For example, South Dakota, Iowa’s neighbor, does not tax individual or corporate income, making it far more economically competitive.
Texas, another no-personal-income tax state, is a national leader in terms of economic growth and attracting both people and businesses. Iowa could also learn from Texas’s recent property tax reform in 2019, which limited growth in property taxes without voter approval to 3.5 percent for local governments and to 2.5 percent for school districts. They are even considering improving their tax system by eliminating nearly half of their property taxes.
Higher tax rates not only deter economic growth, but they also penalize hard-working individuals, families, and businesses. Taxes on income are considered the most harmful of taxes as they discourage productivity, hiring, and investing in Iowa.
In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led legislature passed pro-growth tax reform that lowered income tax rates and broadened the sales tax base. Reducing tax rates and practicing responsible spending policies is making Iowa more competitive and economically strong.
As a result of the 2018 law, this year Iowa’s corporate tax rate fell from 12 percent, the highest in the nation, to 9.8 percent—matching Minnesota’s. Even at 9.8 percent Iowa still has the third high corporate tax rate in the nation.
In 2023, the income tax is scheduled to be reduced to 6.5 percent—making it more competitive in the region. The caveat is, for the rate reduction to occur, it must meet two stringent revenue triggers.
First, state revenues must surpass $8.3 billion. Second, revenue growth must be at least 4% during that fiscal year. The use of revenue triggers in state tax policy can be a good idea but creating a high threshold can unnecessarily delay tax rate reductions and reduce the necessary restraint on government spending—the driver of higher tax burdens.
Lowering income taxes should not be hindered by the 4% growth trigger, so repealing it to use any revenue above $8.3 billion for cutting the income tax would reduce a major roadblock to tax relief and provide taxpayers with more certainty they can use to plan for their more prosperous futures.
Gov. Reynolds continues to stress the importance of making Iowa’s tax code more competitive. The Iowa Senate has passed legislation that will repeal both revenue triggers and phase-out the obsolete inheritance tax. Both measures would place taxpayers first and make the state’s tax code more competitive.
Iowa can look to states such as Texas, Indiana, North Carolina, among others that are creating pro-growth tax codes and practicing fiscal restraint. To be an economic leader in the Midwest—and to let people prosper—Iowa cannot afford to become complacent.
Texas’s economy continues improving from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and forced business shutdowns by government since spring 2020. More on the data and how Texans can get back to work as quickly and safely as possible ⬇️
“Hey Florida! Help is Here.”
That’s how Vice President Kamala Harris recently put a 21st Century spin on Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
What does this have to do with the Texas budget and House Bill 3548? Let me explain.
The premise of the Vice President’s tweet is that government’s job is to swoop in and solve all of our problems. The premise of Reagan’s quote is that too often, government is the problem—or at least standing in the way of solutions. Reagan was right, of course; government fulfills some necessary functions, but in most cases, more government means less freedom.
That’s why we at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have labored for years to chisel the idea of a Conservative Texas Budget into the hard granite at the Texas state capitol. Our reasoning is clear — people don’t need more government; they need more opportunity. And our simple formula reflects that: The state’s total budget, which is the footprint of government funded by taxpayers, ought not to grow faster than our population growth plus price inflation. This spending limit is reflected in Rep. Matt Krause’s committee substitute for HB 594, which has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
Growth beyond that equation is an excessive growth of government—meaning bigger state agencies, which inevitably assume more and more regulatory powers to themselves. And a bigger budget also means more taxes, since states (unlike the federal government) can’t hide behind deficit spending. Government shouldn’t grow faster than the citizens’ ability to pay for it.
Now, state Rep. Greg Bonnen, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has had his HB 3548 referred to that committee. And Sen. Kelly Hancock, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has the companion SB 1336 that will be heard before the Senate Finance Committee (of which he is a member). This legislation would improve the state’s current weak spending limit by expanding the base to all general revenue funds and by changing the growth limit to one closely related to ours of population growth times inflation.
It’s important to note that the Conservative Texas Budget is a ceiling, not a floor. It’s a limit on how much the budget can increase, not a target. There’s no limit on shrinking government, cutting taxes and reducing regulations. That course would be best for Texans, and TPPF has outlined many ways in which lawmakers should do so. Our top 10 legislative priorities for this Session, which we call our Liberty Action Agenda, provides a clear path for legislators to shift power and prosperity back to the people of Texas.
While Chairman Bonnen’s and Sen. Hancock’s legislation would set an improved formula closer to ours into stone and ensure that future Legislatures comply, we are pleased to see that both the House’s and the Senate’s introduced (proposed) budgets fit within our guidelines. Our math says that a total of $246.8 billion in all funds for 2022-2023 would represent a 5% increase over the last biennium, matching the growth in population plus inflation. Both proposed budgets came in under that number after excluding $6 billion toward maintaining property tax relief from last session instead of growing government.
Historically, lawmakers have been too ready to increase the Texas budget and grow government. But in 2015, we introduced the Conservative Texas Budget, giving legislators a clear bar. Prior to this, the average growth rate of the biennial budget from 2004 to 2015 was 12%. With the Conservative Texas Budget in place, the average growth rate was just 5.5%. More importantly, before 2015, the average growth rate of appropriations exceeded that of population plus inflation by almost 5 percentage points, while since then, growth has been limited to an average of almost a full percentage point below population and inflation.
The Conservative Texas Budget provides a path toward responsible state spending. It has proven to be successful at restraining excessive growth in government in the past, and it will continue to do so in the future if followed each session.
That’s why Chairman Bonnen’s and Sen. Hancock’s legislation, which codifies much of the Conservative Texas budget, is so important. It’s the help Texas families truly need.
“Stimulus” checks are in the mail to many (but not all) Americans, and the news is awash in stories about the best ways to spend that $1,400, and even speculation about whether we’ll see a “stimmy rally” on Wall Street.
But Texans are smart enough to know that no check from the government comes without strings attached.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion monstrosity is filled with a progressive “wish list;” only about 9% of the funds have to do with the pandemic.
Additionally, it will add substantially to the national debt, saddling us and our kids and grandkids with the tab while moving toward another redistribution recession as these funds reduce incentives to work, open states, and move off of government dependence.
And to make things worse, President Biden is already planning huge tax hikes to pay for more that would ultimately be paid by workers.
It’s no different for the states, which will also be receiving ARPA funds soon. There’s no such thing as free “stimulus” money; there are always strings attached. That’s why Texas’s leaders must be very careful with the roughly $43 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) they’re slated to receive. We must use the money wisely, and possibly, not to use it at all.
Some of the money is already earmarked. As for the more flexible funding the state will receive, Texas can expect about $17 billion to state government and $10 billion to local governments.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, along with its counterparts in 20 other states, are already questioning the biggest string attached to the funding—Congress’ stipulation that it not be used “to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue.”
They rightly argue in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that this provision oversteps the federal government’s authority and could be used to prevent any state from cutting any tax. We need answers from her as soon as possible, especially as legislative sessions in Texas and elsewhere are quickly coming to an end.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki seemed to confirm this interpretation of the bill. “The original purpose of the state and local funding was to keep cops, firefighters, other essential employees at work and employed, and it wasn’t intended to cut taxes,” she said.
The best strategy for the Texas leadership would be to follow a pro-growth course that lets people prosper without government interference. This approach would seek to keep taxes lower than otherwise, reduce debt obligations and fund only one-time expenditures. And Texas should reject all or most funds with strings attached.
We don’t need to adapt our approach to taxes and spending to fit the vision of progressives in Washington; we already have the successful Texas Model, thank you very much.
We must ensure that we don’t spend taxpayer money in ways that will create fiscal cliffs later on. Boosting public education funding with ARPA, for example, would result in public education “cuts” once that money is gone, and those “cuts” would be met with loud demands for more money from Texans, as was the case after receiving President Obama’s “stimulus” funds in 2009.
We must stick with one-time purchases, or paying off things, if possible, like loans to the federal unemployment insurance trust fund of at least $6.6 billion, paying down state debt that was borrowed at a high interest rate, better funding and reforming other post-employment benefits, or funding startup costs for market-based options in education and health care.
And we would like to see a high level of transparency and accountability. Ideally, all spending related to ARPA would be separated from the rest of the state’s budget and documented clearly on a government website.
But we have something even bolder to suggest: Texas should use some of the funding to extend the border wall, addressing another growing crisis.
The best way to help Texans recover from the economic devastation wrought by the government’s response to the pandemic is simply to let them return to work. ARPA ignores this. Instead, it’s a distraction from the onerous hikes in taxes, spending, and regulation by the Biden administration.
So, if Texas is going to accept this money (and rejecting it in full or in part should be strongly considered given the many restrictions and strings attached), let’s use this taxpayer money wisely, and ensure it goes to help keep Texas Texan.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led legislature have mainly been following fiscal conservative principles of limiting spending and reducing tax rates. Gov. Reynolds even received an “A” grade from Cato Institute’s 2020 Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors for her fiscal conservatism.
As a result of conservative budgeting practices, Iowa’s fiscal house was not only prepared for the economic emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it remains in strong condition. Iowa’s budget has a $305 million surplus, and over $770 million in reserves.
Still, there is room for improvement.
Families across Iowa, whether in good or bad economic times, practice priority-based budgeting. Families must make decisions, often difficult ones, on how best to spend their hard-earned dollars. The same is true for small business owners across Iowa who must prioritize their spending to not only keep their doors open but meet payroll and provide for themselves.
As households across Iowa prioritize spending, governments should do the same, and even more so given it’s not their money. This results in a sound reason for government to practice priority-based budgeting or zero-based budgeting, whereby legislators take a close look at how every taxpayer dollar is spent.
Gov. Reynolds has proposed an $8.1 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022. Although this increase from the $7.77 billion FY 2021 budget does not seem like much, this growth is more than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay, as appropriately measured by population growth plus inflation.
This would compound the higher taxes that Iowans are paying to fund their government.
From 2013 to 2020, Iowa’s budget has grown 1.6 times faster than population growth plus inflation. This means that the cost of government is increasing at a faster rate than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for government. This does not include the high property tax burden placed on taxpayers by local governments or the $9 billion in federal funds that Iowa received in FY 2019.
If the budget had matched population growth plus inflation over that period, it would have saved a family of four, on average, $430 per year. This may not appear to be a large savings, but for most families an extra $430 is a vehicle payment or extra money to place in savings. Either way, it is more choices of how to spend their hard-earned dollars.
Both Gov. Reynolds and legislative leaders have voiced their concern that Iowa needs a more competitive business tax climate, which the Tax Foundation ranks 40th in the nation. Taxes and spending are two sides of the same coin and Iowa’s high individual and corporate income tax rates will not be reduced if spending is not limited.
Controlling spending will take discipline.
Iowa’s budget has a 99 percent spending limitation in law, which means that the legislature must spend at least 1 percent less than projected revenues. Strengthening the spending limit with a constitutional amendment and limiting spending to no more than population growth plus inflation would help keep spending in line with the average taxpayer’s ability to pay. This is an important measure because it accounts for more people paying taxes and higher wages that are highly correlated with inflation.
The Tax Education Foundation’s Conservative Iowa Budget sets the maximum threshold on appropriations based on population growth plus inflation over the last year. Specifically, the maximum threshold on 2022 General Funds is $7.88 billion after an increase of 1.38 percent. Achieving this feat will help keep more money in Iowans’ pockets so they have abundant opportunities to prosper.
Controlling spending is the most difficult thing for a government to achieve because the demands on government continue to grow. Numerous special interests are also applying pressure on the legislature for greater spending, which often crowds out the voice of taxpayers.
History has demonstrated that governments cannot spend and tax their way to prosperity. Iowa only needs to look at our neighbors in Illinois to see the consequences of out-of-control spending.
Policymakers should consider the Conservative Iowa Budget and work to further limit spending. Keeping spending levels low will not only serve the taxpayers’ interests, but it will also make Iowa more economically competitive so that they have more opportunities to achieve their hopes and dreams.
John Hendrickson is policy director at Tax Education Foundation of Iowa and Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation based in Austin, Texas. He is the former chief economist of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Trump administration.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our routines, but it doesn’t change the laws of economics. Yet it seems government is in the business of doing something when it really should do nothing, such as the recent proposals by President Biden and Congress to spend more and raise the federal minimum wage in the name of pandemic relief.
These actions would not only make a bad economic situation worse, especially for the ones the policies are intended to help, but they would destroy the unity that the president says he wants.
We’ve already seen the devastation that government action can cause during the pandemic, as the broad U6 unemployment rate remains at an elevated 11.1% and almost 800,000 people are filing initial jobless claims every week. The government shutdowns are an unfolding tragedy, and we won’t know their full extent for years to come.
But, as usual, there’s another attempt to put a patch on the American economy with an unnecessary, poorly crafted monstrosity of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which includes raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by June 2025.
This boondoggle sends taxpayer money to people through checks when real personal income reached a record high in 2020. Its higher unemployment payments will distort incentives to work. And it will bail out profligate state and local governments when they’ve already received nearly three times more in taxpayer funds than their estimated losses.
Collectively, this package could delay the needed reopening of our economy, the only real path to regain Americans’ taken prosperity.
The focus of a package—if it must be done—should be to get the vaccines out as quickly as possible to open America now so that people can regain their prosperity they had before the pandemic. Better yet, a pro-growth approach of spending restraint, tax relief, and deregulation would be a better federal response.
In fact, the latter two measures (tax relief and deregulation) were practiced by the Trump administration and it contributed to records of the highest real median household income and lowest poverty rate in 2019. And while President Trump’s budgets found more fiscal savings than any other president, Congress continued to spend excessively—thereby bankrupting us and our country in the process.
But what’s getting a lot of media attention recently without much consideration of its cost is the Raise the Wage Act that the Democrats in Congress are trying to push through. This arbitrary hike of the federal minimum wage would be a mistake as it would separate us in terms of economic status and further divide us as a nation. That’s not what I would consider as “unity.”
According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, about two-thirds of Americans supported increasing the minimum wage to $15. But at what cost, given that nothing is free?
For example, the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that passing the Raise the Wage Act could mean as many as 2.7 million workers lose their job and earn the real minimum wage of $0. This would also come at the cost of $54 billion more to the national debt, further bankrupting us. And while the number of people lifted up from poverty could be 900,000, many of them will face higher prices, higher taxes, and higher interest rates making it harder for even those lucky enough to not lose their jobs to make ends meet.
But this analysis misses two key points that should not be overlooked: 58.5% of Americans earning the minimum wage are between 16 to 24 years old, and costs of living vary greatly across states, with California being 50% more expensive than Texas.
This means that those who will be hit hardest by raising the minimum wage are those just trying to get their foot on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and typically have other sources of income. In fact, raising the minimum wage can benefit high-wage, highly skilled people at the expense of low-wage, low-skill people as employers move from labor to capital in their operations. This actually increases income inequality.
And states that have done a good job in keeping the cost of living low, like Texas (due to more pro-growth policies resulting in increased economic freedom) are hit hardest compared with those that don’t, like California. We should let federalism’s system of “laboratories of democracy” continue to prove that people vote with their feet, as the number of Californians moving to Texas increased by 36% in 2018.
America may still be suffering through the chaos of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we need more of it. President Biden should give doing nothing a chance, especially his policies that will bankrupt the country and force increased unemployment.
Given the economic situation with many unemployed Texans struggling from business closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions and following recent power outages, the Legislature should consider less spending, taxing, and regulating so Texans have more opportunities to prosper.
Invited testimony submitted to the Texas House Committee on Appropriations – S/C on Article II
Given the economic situation with many unemployed Texans struggling from business closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions and following recent power outages, the Legislature should consider less spending, taxing, and regulating so Texans have more opportunities to prosper.
Invited testimony submitted to the Texas House Committee on Ways & Means
Many Americans are recovering from the economic destruction that started in March 2020 due to shutdowns by state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy has improved, but the pace has slowed because of increased restrictions by many state governors making it more difficult to regain the tangible prosperity experienced last February.
I highlight data on economic growth and employment and provide pro-growth policy recommendations to help quickly recover.
More on the data ⬇️
Words mean things—and that’s just one of the flaws in Pedro L. Gonzalez’s latest piece in Newsweek, titled “The Conservative Case for a $15 Minimum Wage.”
There’s nothing conservative about the class envy Gonzalez leans so heavily upon. Nor is there anything conservative about his reliance on the left-leaning, union-friendly Economic Policy Institute to downplay the negative effects of an artificial increase in the minimum wage. Finally, it’s simply bizarre to claim that using the power of government to force specific economic outcomes is in any way “conservative.”
Let’s start with the clear (and undisputed) facts. Raising the minimum wage—especially now, in the midst of a government-induced economic slowdown—would devastate small businesses. It would hurt those it is intended to help the most, by eliminating jobs, reducing the hours of those who still have them, and by cutting off the lowest rungs of the ladder to success. (When I say “undisputed,” I mean it—the real question for most economists is whether the tradeoffs are worth it.)
We’ve already seen the devastation that government action can cause during the pandemic, as the broad U6 unemployment rate remains at an elevated 11.1% and almost 800,000 people are filing initial jobless claims every week.
Yet Gonzalez brushes these economic realities aside and begins with exactly the kind of argument you might expect from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders—a Democratic Socialist, and the furthest thing from a conservative you’ll find in the Senate. It’s class envy—the “CEOs make more than you” argument.
“This is,” he writes, “… the consequence of policies that intentionally greased the wheels of greed.”
It’s workers versus the bosses in Gonzalez’s mind.
“Lawmakers and lobbyists have deliberately guided the ‘Invisible Hand’ to pad the pockets of the very few at the expense of the many,” he writes. “The former receive acclaim as captains of industry while the latter subsidize their bailouts and are told to bootstrap themselves.”
He’s not completely wrong there; but that’s not an argument against free markets. Rather, it’s a damning indictment of the kind of government intervention Gonzalez is calling for. The bailouts are the problem, not the bootstraps.
And that brings us to the second point. For EPI—and by extension, for Gonzalez—the rigged economy shouldn’t be fixed, just re-rigged, with the labor movement as the primary beneficiary. According to its website, EPI believes “A strong, effective labor movement is essential for democracy and to ensure an equitable sharing of income and wealth,” and “Economic policy should focus on improving conditions for working people.”
Yet the tired labor vs. management dichotomy misses what is truly the heart and soul of the U.S. economy—small businesses. Tens of millions of Americans are both, workers and managers. They don’t merely own the means of production, they are the means of production.
Yet millions of those small businesses--nearly a third, in fact—have either closed because of the government-ordered shutdowns or fear they will soon be forced to. A minimum wage increase, advocated by Gonzalez and EPI, would shutter many, many more of them.
This is quite literally government picking winners and losers—something incompatible with conservatism. So is the one-size-fits-all, top-down approach. And that’s my third point: This is in no way a conservative policy position.
The fact is that one size never fits all. That’s especially true with the minimum wage. We know that 58.5% of Americans earning the minimum wage are between 16 to 24 years old. And we know that costs of living vary greatly across states, with California being 50% more expensive than Texas.
There simply is no “conservative case” for a minimum wage increase. Yet a closer look at American Greatness, the website where Pedro Gonzalez serves as assistant editor, seems to indicate that it’s less interested in conservative ideas than in redefining the word.
Look, we know what works. The Trump economy focused on freeing Americans to pursue their own dreams. In February 2020—before the pandemic and the government shutdowns—the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.5% (well below what most economists consider full employment). The rate for the nation in January 2021 was 6.3% after many have dropped out of the labor force.
What we need is a clear path to economic recovery—a recovery based on letting people prosper. And that’s what we at TPPF have outlined in our Responsible Recovery Agenda that’s meant for Texas but is applicable to other states and even D.C. It’s conservative—in the real meaning of the word.
Texans are ready to return to work.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and forced business shutdowns by state and local government mandates, Texas’s unemployment rate in December sits at a staggering 7.2%, compared to 3.5% the previous year. Not only is unemployment high, but many businesses have failed or are on the verge of failing.
What can we do about it?
TPPF’s Responsible Recovery Agenda would help speed up the recovery so Texans can regain their prosperity through a pro-growth approach of spending less, taxing less, and regulating less. Having state government do less now—while understanding in some areas that will be difficult—is the solution to doing more for Texans tomorrow.
Spend less. Gov. Abbott noted in his recent State of the State speech that “we must balance the state budget without increasing taxes.” So far, this has been the case for the current 2020-21 budget and for the House and Senate versions of the 2022-23 base budget of about $251 billion. This amount is under TPPF’s Conservative Texas Budget of $246.8 billion because $6 billion is for maintaining property tax relief from last session instead of growing government.
Continuing to reduce spending and accepting budgets below this representation of the average taxpayer’s ability to pay (meaning population growth plus inflation) will allow Texas to start making strides toward economic recovery. This should include strengthening the state’s weak spending limit for the long run as would be the case with HB 594 (Krause) and HB 910 (Parker).
Tax less. Although taxes are necessary to fund government programs, they distort and limit economic activity in the private sector. During a time when many Texans are struggling to make ends meet, tax increases must be off the table. In fact, there should be a continued push for tax relief.
While SB 2 last session provided historic reforms to the property tax system, there are already those interested in rolling back those reforms which must be maintained and even improved upon. One way is to clarify the “disaster loophole” that some local governments are using to substantially raise property taxes.
By appropriately limiting spending, more tax relief is possible while continuing the action last session of moving Texas’s tax system more toward an efficient, fair, and pro-growth sales tax system. Movement is afoot in the Legislature to limit state spending so surplus dollars can replace school districts’ maintenance and operations property taxes, which comprise nearly half of total property taxes paid statewide. This could be done through different approaches like HB 958 (Oliverson), HB 59 (Murr), or others on the way.
Another tax to consider cutting is the business franchise tax, often called the margins tax. This tax limits a firm’s ability to hire workers and grow their business from its costly gross receipts-style tax and unnecessary complexity of tax compliance.
Regulate Less. Texas continues to excessively regulate entrepreneurial activity, many of which are unnecessary and harmful to the state’s economic freedom. The state has looked to cut regulations before the COVID-19 pandemic, but much more can be done given what we’ve learned since.
Some occupational licenses and other regulations were suspended during the efforts to relieve the economic burden holding back resources and services during the pandemic. Gov. Abbott recently said, “That is why I am asking the Legislature make permanent some of the regulatory relief that I authorized. This will cut red tape and unleash the full might of the Texas economy.” We agree.
Having unnecessary barriers to earn a living especially hurts those who do not have the time or money to get “certified.” While some regulations make sense, the Texas Legislature should take a look at each of the more than 263,000 restrictive regulations to ensure that each protects Texans and serves its intended purpose. If that’s not the case, then the regulation should be suspended, or better yet, eliminated.
An innovative idea is HB 819 (White) which would create economic zones to waive some regulations and occupational licenses in low-income areas so that people have more chances to flourish. Other bills have been filed to help remove excess barriers limiting opportunity.
Texans’ improved livelihoods through a robust recovery by opening fully and removing governmental obstacles should be a top priority. The Responsible Recovery Agenda is a roadmap that emphasizes how to do this through spending less, taxing less, and regulating less.
It feels like there’s hope on the horizon. As Gov. Abbott said in his recent State of the State speech, “With each passing day of more vaccinations and increased immunity, normalcy is returning to Texas.” The Texas economy is recovering and at long last, some normal activity is returning. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we can at least see a clearing ahead.
Yet too many Texans could be left behind.
“The situation in the Houston area is particularly desperate, with almost half of residents struggling to pay basic expenses in the week ending Dec. 7, according to a Census Bureau survey,” Pew reports.
Lawmakers can help, but the help must be the right kind. History shows that our poorly designed welfare system traps too many people in poverty or near-poverty. Economists like me will tell you that people respond to incentives, and the welfare system disincentivizes self-sufficiency.
So, the best response is to unleash opportunities for people to prosper. We can reverse those incentives and show our fellow Texans that they can achieve their American dream.
How? Through what we’re calling the Opportunity Project that provides a path to dignity, self-sufficiency, and prosperity.
Let’s start with more effective training for better jobs.
We can tailor our state’s workforce development efforts more narrowly to the jobs that are out there and the skills that are needed. Texas is a prosperous state with many job opportunities, but a portion of the populace lacks the skills necessary to get and keep these jobs.
But we know what helps. Welfare-to-work programs, with the vital participation of the private sector, can change lives.
Generally speaking, such programs target disadvantaged populations, provide training in a marketable skill in addition to “soft-skills” instruction, and offer wraparound services (such as child care, transportation vouchers, housing assistance, etc.), job placement services, and follow-up services to help graduates stay on a path to success.
One example is the earn-while-you-learn program established by the Texas Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) in San Antonio. The employers in the consortium offer a competitive wage that gives program participants the safety net they need to leave low-paying jobs or welfare. The payoff for employers is a steady stream of well-qualified workers.
Next, let’s lower barriers to entrepreneurship by rolling back restrictive regulations like occupational licensing.
Nationally, nearly 22 percent of jobs require an occupational license. That makes sense for doctors, but many other occupations are questionable at best—such as cosmetologists having to complete 10 times more days of training than EMTs.
And it’s not just the silly licensing rules; many licensing schemes exclude those who have a criminal conviction. We believe in second chances; that should also apply to occupational licensing, especially when the license has no direct relationship with the long-ago crime.
Finally, where we can, we must keep the existing welfare system from unintentionally trapping people in a life of helplessness.
Welfare should be reprioritized to count as “successes” those who move off and stay off it rather than those enrolled. We can streamline and simplify the sign-up process and implement efficiency audits of programs to ensure those Texans who need help receive it, while clearly defining the pathways out of welfare dependency.
Where the system creates a welfare benefits “cliff”—in which families lose benefits arbitrarily or too quickly when they re-enter the workforce—we should demand a smoothed approach that doesn’t disincentivize work.
Of course, a strong and vibrant economy is key to making this work.
Gov. Abbott made this point: “Texas has been ranked the number one state for business for 16 straight years. For the past eight years, we led the nation in economic development, and we have led America in exports for 18 straight years. The Texas model. It inspires entrepreneurs and innovators and attracts job creators from across the entire country.”
Strengthening the Texas Model is the best way to uphold this, with lower taxes (and no personal income tax), fewer unnecessary regulations, and a commitment to limited government. This framework provides more economic freedom and greater opportunity for all Texans.
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, but recovery is on the way. Let’s work to assure every Texan can participate when the economy opens and thereafter.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.