Tag Archives: Colorado

New Research on Streamlining Commissions

Tomorrow I’ll be at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management Fall Research Conference to present research on streamlining commissions with Carmine Scavo. Carmine and I have written one paper developing a methodology for studying these commissions, and we’re now working on case studies of commissions in nine states.

Well over half of states have appointed one or more streamlining commissions in efforts to find budget savings or to improve state programs. We’re studying streamlining efforts in California, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado, New York, Maine and Virginia. We hope to get an idea of how effectively these commissions have reduced the size of state government and found efficiencies in existing programs. We also hope to identify the characteristics that make commissions most likely to meet their goals.

In our first paper, we hypothesized that commission success would depend on the following characteristics:

1) clearly defined objectives regarding their final product;

2) a clear timeline for this deliverable with an opportunity to publish interim advice. Preliminary findings indicate that the commission should have at least one year to work;

3) adequate funds to hire an independent staff to study some issues in depth;

4) a majority of the commission members from outside the government. The commission chair certainly should be from outside the government in order to help to get around the challenges that inherently restrict the ability to find streamlining opportunities while working in government. Preliminary findings indicate that representatives from the state legislature and administration should be involved as a minority of the membership to ensure that the commission’s recommendations have buy-in from policymakers.

So far, our research indicates that funding for commissions may not be as important as we’d though. Some commissions have achieved successes with essentially no budgets while others that were well-funded developed recommendations that didn’t go anywhere.

Tomorrow we will be presenting our preliminary findings on the California Commission on the 21st Century Economy, the Colorado Pits and Peeves Roundtable Initiative, and the Virginia Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring. Once we finish this research I will write up our findings in more depth here. If any of you will be attending the APPAM conference, I hope to see you there.

New Edition of Rich States, Poor States out this Week

The fifth edition of Rich States, Poor States  from the American Legislative Exchange Council is now available. Utah took the top spot in the ranking of states’ economic competitiveness, as it has every year the study has been produced. Utah excels in the ranking system because it is a right-to-work state, it has a flat personal income tax, and no estate tax, among other factors considered in the study.

The other states that round out the top ten for Economic Outlook include South Dakota, Virginia, Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, and Georgia. On the bottom end of the ranking, the states with the worst Economic Outlook are Hawaii, Maine, Illinois, Vermont, and New York at number 50 for the fourth year in a row.

Several measures of economic competitiveness offer supporting evidence that these states have some of the worst policies for business including Mercatus’ Freedom in the 50 States and the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index.

The authors of Rich States, Poor States, Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore, and Jonathan Williams demonstrate Tiebout Competition in action. They find a strong correlation between the states that have high Economic Outlook rankings with the states that are experiencing the highest population growth through domestic migration. Likewise, the states that experienced the largest losses due to out-migration include Ohio and New York, ranking 37th and 50th respectively.

The study draws attention to the role that unfunded pension liabilities play for states’ future competitiveness, as this debt will require difficult and unpopular policy decisions as current tax dollars have to be used to fund past promises. Laffer, Moore, and Williams draw a comparison between Wisconsin’s recent reforms that put it on a more sustainable path compared to its neighbor Illinois:

In stark contrast to Wisconsin’s successes, the story in Illinois is not so uplifting. Over the last 10 years, Illinois legislators have continuously ignored the pension burden in their state—so much so that Illinois has one of the worst pension systems in the nation, with an estimated unfunded liability ranging from $54 billion to $192 billion, depending on your actuarial assumptions. Furthermore, the official state estimates do not include the $17.8 billion in pension obligation bond payments that are owed. In addition, Illinois policymakers have spent beyond their means, borrowed money they don’t have, and made promises to public employee unions that they cannot fulfill. Not only did Illinois face significant unfunded pension liabilities, but also lawmakers had to confront large deficits and potential cuts to state programs.

While the policies that improve state economic competitiveness are clear, the path to achieving them is difficult after voters grow accustomed to programs that their states cannot afford. However the bitter medicine of reform is worthwhile, as we know that economic freedom is not only better for business, but evidence shows it also improves individuals’ well-being.

Tennessee Valley Authority downgraded by S&P

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)’s bond rating has been downgraded from AAA to AA+, though, “the fundamental financial strength of the TVA is unchanged.” The TVA is a wholly-owned entity of the federal government, and the downgrade reflects, “the negative outlook of the United States as the TVA’s sponsoring sovereign.” Moody’s confirmed the TVA’s AAA rating on the basis that TVA is self-funded and a self-sufficient public power system that finances its operations based on its own user-generated revenues. In the event of fiscal stress, the TVA operates under an implicit federal guarantee.

The TVA doesn’t think the downgrade will have any material impact on its finances as the authority’s stand-alone credit rating remains unchanged (at least  in the short-term, according to S&P) and it doesn’t rely on federal subsidies.

S&P downgraded several other power authorities in the United States: Texas, Oregon, Arizona, New York and Florida, Arizona and Colorado.

 

Midwestern population shifts

Metropolitan areas the cities and the suburbs that suround them have grown by 10.8 percent over the last decade. Rural areas only grew by half as much in the same period. In addition, demographic trends show America is becoming more diverse and less racially-segregated. This trend is alongside another shift – the move away from  northern central cities such as Detroit and Chicago -towards southern and western metro areas. The WSJ’s interactive map of the top 50 cities is worth exploring. New York and San Francisco have been flat over the decade. Cleveland saw a major decline in population while Colorado Springs has surged.

Race to the Top a Mixed Bag

After Delaware and Tennessee were awarded funds from the newest federal aid to education program, Race to the Top (RTTT), many states are still competing in an attempt to be awarded funds in the second round.

RTTT has several advantages over the former federal education program, No Child Left Behind, in that Race to the Top encourages innovation and competition at the state level rather than prescribing one top-down solution for all schools.

However, RTTT suffers from the problems that will plague any top-down education reform, in that it exponentially increases the bureaucracy of education. Because federal regulators do not have the local knowledge necessary to evaluate programs in individual schools, they must rely on statistics to evaluate school performance. A Washington Post blogger opines:

Part of the problem for D.C. may have been the trouble it has had in developing a data information system. Millions of dollars have been spent over the years but still no real system exists. And using “data” to drive reform is one of Duncan’s core principles, even though we all know that data is vulnerable to manipulation.

[…]

Duncan uses a lot of jargon too, but it is easy to understand what he is trying to do with education: expand charter schools, increase student standardized testing, link teacher pay to test scores and close down the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Unfortunately, what is not easy to understand is why President Obama’s education secretary is pushing those initiatives. This administration was supposed to bring some reason back into education reform after the failed era of No Child Left Behind.

Furthermore, the lack of local knowledge regarding schools at the federal level forces federal officials to allocate RTTT funds based on metrics that may not reflect the actual quality of state and local education reforms. The lack of transparency behind the allocation of federal funds led Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to consider dropping out of the second round of the competition. The New York Times reports:

Colorado, which had hoped to win $377 million, ended in 14th place. Now Mr. Ritter says the scoring by anonymous judges seemed inscrutable, some Coloradans view the contest as federal intrusion and the governor has not decided whether to reapply for the second round.

“It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,” Mr. Ritter said.

Colorado is not the only state where the initial results of the Obama administration’s signature school improvement initiative, known as Race to the Top, have left a sour taste. Many states are questioning the criteria by which winners were chosen, wondering why there were only two that won and criticizing a last-minute cap on future awards.

RTTT’s emphasis on accountability and competition between schools offer some improvement over No Child Left Behind’s focus on multiple-choice standardized testing. However, RTTT’s failures so far demonstrate the reasons that education policy should not be managed at the federal level.

Shooting the Rocky Mountain Cocker Spaniel

cosprIn November, voters in Colorado Springs voted against a measure that would triple the city’s property taxes, and as a result, local government has begun to issue many painful cuts in services. The city was the birthplace of the nation’s most restrictive Tax and Expenditure Limit, so it is no surprise that residents were not in favor of the steep increase.

Colorado’s Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) prevents the state and municipalities from raising taxes without voter consent. The issue of whether state-level TELs should limit home rule by constraining local spending is controversial, but as the law stands it undeniably gives voters control of budgeting.

The official reaction to this vote has been ugly. Budget officials seem to be punishing their constituents for their fiscal preferences by shooting the cocker spaniel, as their Boston counterparts threatened.  The expression refers to politicians who generally threaten to take away valued services, but in this case they are following through. Colorado Springs politicians are choosing to make the necessary budget cuts by turning off street lights, cutting park budgets, and even removing city trash cans, in what seems to be an effort to anger residents rather than make the most efficient cuts possible.

Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal interviews a resident on the issue:

“They’re going for the things that are easy to cut rather than the things that are hard to cut. And the things that are hard to cut deal with human beings and personnel.”

Fowler says the city needs to look much harder at pay-cuts and lay-offs. But city officials have decided that its employees shouldn’t take pay cuts just because residents want to keep taxes low. So instead, Parks and Recreation took a big hit. That department’s budget was recently slashed by 75 percent.

Perhaps these extreme, if inefficient, measures in Colorado Springs will lead voters to pass a tax increase in the next election. Or these budget-cutting tactics could end the careers of incumbent politicians.