Tag Archives: New Mexico

Does statehood trigger Leviathan? A case study of New Mexico and Arizona

I was recently asked to review, “The Fiscal Case Against Statehood: Accounting for Statehood in New Mexico and Arizona, by Dr. Stephanie Moussalli for EH.net (the Economic History Association).

I highly recommend the book for scholars of public choice, economic history and accounting/public finance.

As one who spends lots of time reading  state and local financial reports in the context of public choice, I was very impressed with Moussalli’s insights and tenacity. In her research she dives into the historical accounts of territorial New Mexico and Arizona to answer two questions.  Firstly, did statehood (which arrived in 1912) lead to a “Leviathan effect” causing government spending to grow. And secondly, as a result of statehood, did accounting improve?

The answer to these questions is yes. Statehood did trigger a Leviathan effect for these Southwestern states –  findings that have implications for current policy – in particular the sovereignty debates surrounding Puerto Rico and Quebec. And the accounts did improve as a result of statehood, an outcome that controls for the fact that this occurred during the height of the Progressive era and its drive for public accountability.

A provocative implication of her findings that cuts against the received wisdom:  Are the improved accounting techniques that come with statehood a necessary tool for more ambitious spending programs? Does accounting transparency come with a price?

What makes this an engaging study is Moussalli’s persistence and creativity in bringing light to a literature void. She stakes out new research territory, and brings a public choice-infused approach to what might otherwise be bland accounting records. She rightly sees in the historical ledgers the traces of the political and social choices of individuals; and the inescapable record of their decisions. In her words, “people say one thing and do another.” The accounts speak in a way that historical narrative does not.

For more read the review.

 

The battle of the taxes

In my last post, I discussed several exciting tax reforms that are gaining support in a handful of states. In an effort to improve the competitiveness and economic growth of these states, the plans would lower or eliminate individual and corporate income taxes and replace these revenues with funds raised by streamlined sales taxes. Since I covered this topic, legislators in two more states, Missouri and New Mexico, have demonstrated interest in adopting this type of overhaul of their state tax systems.

At the same time, policymakers in other states across the country are likewise taking advantage of their majority status by pushing their preferred tax plans through state legislatures and state referendums. These plans provide a sharp contrast with those proposed by those states that I discussed in my last post; rather than prioritizing lowering income tax burdens, leaders in these states hope to improve their fiscal outlooks by increasing income taxes.

Here’s what some of these states have in the works:

  • Massachusetts: Gov. Deval L. Patrick surprised his constituents last month during his State of the State address by calling for a 1 percentage point increase in state income tax rates while simultaneously slashing state sales taxes from 6.25% to 4.5%. Patrick defended these tax changes on the grounds of increasing investments in transportation, infrastructure, and education while improving state competitiveness. Additionally, the governor called for a doubling of personal exemptions to soften the blow of the income tax increases on low-income residents.
  • Minnesota: Gov. Mark Dayton presented a grab bag of tax reform proposals when he revealed his two-year budget plan for the state of Minnesota two weeks ago. In an effort to move his state away from a reliance on property taxes to generate revenue, Dayton has proposed to raise income taxes on the top 2% of earners within the state. At the same time, he hopes to reduce property tax burdens, lower the state sales tax from 6.875% to 5.5%, and cut the corporate tax rate by 14%.
  • Maryland: Last May, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called a special legislative session to balance their state budget to avoid scheduled cuts of $500 million in state spending on education and state personnel. Rather than accepting a “cuts-only” approach to balancing state finances, O’Malley strongly pushed for income tax hikes on Marylanders that earned more than $100,000 a year and created a new top rate of 5.75% on income over $250,000 a year. These tax hikes were signed into law after the session convened last year and took effect that June.
  • California: At the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, California voters decided to raise income taxes on their wealthiest residents and increase their state sales tax from 7.25% to 7.5% by voting in favor of Proposition 30 last November. In a bid to put an end to years of deficit spending and finally balance the state budget, Brown went to bat for the creation of four new income tax brackets for high-income earners in California. There is some doubt that these measures will actually generate the revenues that the governor is anticipating due to an exodus of taxpayers fleeing the new 13.3% income tax and uncertain prospects for economic growth within the state. 

It is interesting that these governors have defended their proposals using some of the same rhetoric that governors and legislators in other states used to defend their plans to lower income tax rates. All of these policymakers believe that their proposals will increase competitiveness, improve economic growth, and create jobs for their states. Can both sides be right at the same time?

Economic intuition suggests that policymakers should create a tax system that imposes the lowest burdens on the engines of economic growth. It makes sense, then, for states to avoid taxing individual and corporate income so that these groups have more money to save and invest. Additionally  increasing marginal tax rates on income and investments limits the returns to these activities and causes people to work and invest less. Saving and investment, not consumption, are the drivers of economic growth. Empirical studies have demonstrated that raising marginal income tax rates have damaging effects on economic growth. Policymakers in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maryland, and California may have erred in their decisions to shift taxation towards income and away from consumption. The economies of these states may see lower rates of growth as a result.

In my last post, I mused that the successes of states that have lowered or eliminated their state income taxes may prompt other states to adopt similar reforms. If the states that have taken the opposite approach by raising income taxes see slowed economic growth as a result, they will hopefully serve as a cautionary tale to other states that might be considering these proposals.

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.

Welcome Ben Vanmetre

Neighborhood Effects readers may have noticed a new author has joined us. Ben Vanmetre has already contributed a couple of excellent posts. Ben is a Mercatus MA fellow. Like many fellows, he has already developed an impressive CV in his nascent career. You can read Ben’s published papers, book reviews, and OpEds at his personal website. And you can learn more about the Mercatus Masters or Ph.D. programs at the Mercatus Graduate Student Programs website.

Note to readers: Ben joined us at an opportune time as I spent much of last week in the picturesque mountains of New Mexico not blogging (and, unfortunately, not catching any fish). I should be resuming my regular pace as soon as I adjust to the lack of sunshine in Arlington, VA.

How a US downgrade affects the states

Last night’s news of a downgrade of long-term US debt from AAA to AA+ by S&P will have a ripple effect. But whether or not interest rates rise depends on how the market incorporates this information and whether it has anticipated this.

As far as states go, in July, Moody’s put five states on a downgrade watch list: Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and New Mexico. And they gave six reasons: 1) employment volatility; 2) high federal employment relative to total state employment, 3)  federal procurement contracts as a percent of state GDP, 4) Size of Medicaid expenditures relative to state spending, 5) variable interest rate debt as a percent of state resources and 6) the size of the operating fund balance as a percent of operating revenues.

On August 4th these states were removed from the list and retain their AAa rating.

Places with a lot of exposure to risk, or a “high dependence on federal economic activity,”  include Virginia and Massachusetts. This doesn’t mean that these states and their local governments will see their interest rates rise, or be downgraded, or that they are in any danger of default.  It simply means their books will be scrutinized with this risk exposure in mind.

 

 

 

Purchasing Preference Laws: Who Wins and Who Loses?

Like many states, New Mexico has what is known as a “government purchasing preference law.” This is a statute that requires the state to give preference to local businesses when it purchases products and services on the market.

Many businesses in New Mexico object to the law because they feel it isn’t as strong as the laws of other states. Writing in the Albuquerque Journal (I can’t seem to find a link) business leaders Sherman McCorkle and Dale Dekker argue:

The current law has not achieved its intended purpose. Out-of-state companies are   able to easily qualify as “resident businesses” and reap the rewards of this status.

Nevertheless, local businesses are penalized when they attempt to do business in other states with more stringent residency requirements. According to McCorkle and Dekker:

Basically local companies are hit by a double whammy — they aren’t able to truly benefit from the New Mexico preference law yet they’re penalized in other states because New Mexico has a preference law.

In an attempt to “level the playing field” the state’s business and organized labor communities have met with State Senator Tim Keller to draft an updated government purchasing preference law that is modeled after other states’ laws.

According to McCorkle and Dekker, “When public money is spent in-state all New Mexicans benefit.”

Really? All New Mexicans? Of course, New Mexico businesses benefit from a leg-up against the competition. (At least in the short run; one could argue that over the long-run businesses that are sheltered from the rigors of competition eventually stagnate).

But what about the customers? Do New Mexico taxpayers really benefit when they have to pay extra for government services?

The data suggest otherwise. In an article in the journal Public Choice, economists Steven Craig and Joel Sailors studied the impact of purchasing preference laws on state expenditures. They found that states with such laws spend about 3 percent more per capita. Moreover, they found that the tax base does not rise enough to pay for the extra spending and that revenue must be raised as well. 

As far as economic theory is concerned, purchasing preference laws make little sense. The aggregate costs to taxpayers/consumers outweigh the aggregate benefits to local businesses. And when other states have similar laws, local monopolies dominate everywhere. In addition, there tend to be higher production costs when firms are sheltered from competition as well as rent-seeking costs when firms sink resources into lobbying for such protection. This was bad economics during the mercantilist era and it is bad economics today.

A real step toward reform would be a strong interstate agreement against all purchasing preference laws.

More on Texas and California

The cover story of this week’s Economist discusses Rich States, Poor States, the report published earlier this year by the American Legislative Exchange Council.  The subject of an earlier post, the book attributes Texas’ rapidly growing domestic-born population to low tax rates and favorable business conditions and suggests that California’s loss of domestic population is due to a state government that has grown unsustainably large.

The article points out that in addition to increasing numbers of native-born Americans, Texas along with many other states is experiencing large increases in its population of immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America.  While these large numbers are presenting some challenges to the state’s healthcare and education systems, another piece points out:

Texas has proved far better than the other border states (California, New Mexico, and Arizona) at adapting to the new, peaceful reconquista. In California, Proposition 187, which cracked down hard on illegal immigration, was heartily backed by the then Republican governor and passed in a referendum in 1994, though it was later struck down by a federal court. This kind of thing has only ever been attempted in Texas at local level, and even then only very rarely.

For the most part, Texans seem to see immigrants as adding to the diverse skills in the labor market, increasing the size of the economic pie for all of the state’s residents, rather than acting as a drain on fixed resources.

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