Friday, December 17, 2010

BHI releases revenue estimates for FY 2011, FY 2012

At a Joint Ways and Means Committee hearing on Tuesday, December 14, the institute presented its annual revenue estimates. BHI estimates that Massachusetts state tax revenues will come in at $20.363 billion for Fiscal Year 2011, a growth of 9.8% over FY 2010. Revenues will be $21.265 billion for FY 2012, 4.4% above 2011.

Read more about Tuesday's revenue hearing here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jeff Jacoby offers 4 reasons for a sales tax rollback, one based on BHI's work


There is some upside to the passage of Question 3. Consumers will have more dollars to spend in Massachusetts. The money doesn't disappear from the state's economy. It goes somewhere else including making retailers along all of the Massachusetts borders a bit more competitive.

Because a lower tax rate will generate economic growth. An analysis by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University shows that a sales-tax rollback to 3 percent "would create 27,199 private sector jobs, increase annual investment by $73 million, and raise wages by $1.03 billion." Money not confiscated by the public sector would remain in the far more productive private sector, while a sales-tax reduction would give Massachusetts businesses a competitive advantage. And any government jobs eliminated would be more than offset by the creation of new jobs in the private economy
It's time to broaden the debate beyond the diet of fear the public's been served.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo to address BHI's 10th Annual Competitiveness Conference

The Honorable House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo will keynote this year's annual conference announcing the release of the institute's 10th annual report on competitiveness.

Published since 2001, the report features an index that measures the ability of all 50 states to establish policies that sustain long-term economic and personal income growth.

9:30 a.m.
Sargent Hall
First Floor Function Hall, Suffolk University Law School
120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108
RVSP - phone: 617-573-8750;

Sponsored by:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't look to Europe for employment policies

from the New York Times blog Economix, Casey Mulligan: Progressives point out that the Western European economy has a lot going for it: a productive work force, new technologies, universal health care and access to education. Perhaps they’re right that getting our government more involved in the economy and smoothing out capitalism’s “rough edges” would give Americans some of those things, too.

Those same progressives tell us that expanding unemployment insurance and other government programs is an easy way to raise employment in the United States. But they seem to have forgotten that European policies have likely caused Europe’s employment to be less than ours, not more.

Monday, September 20, 2010

NBER: Recession ended in June 2009

IT'S OFFICIAL: The Great Recession ended in June 2009 according to the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The longest recession the country has endured since the Great Depression ended in June 2009, a group that dates the beginning and end of recessions declared Monday.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, a panel of academic economists based in Cambridge, Mass., said the recession lasted 18 months. It started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. Previously the longest post World War II downturns were those in 1973-1975 and in 1981-1982. Both of those lasted 16 months.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mankiw's brilliance

Greg Mankiw nails it
To Obama-administration economists, as well as to many others, the recession that followed the financial crisis of 2008 seemed like a classic case of decline in aggregate demand. Because of the credit crisis, people were not able to obtain loans — for homes, cars, business equipment, or any of the countless other transactions that rely on credit in today's economy. And because people were unable to obtain loans, these sales and purchases couldn't take place, resulting in a significant drop in demand across the economy.

So, inspired by the view that fiscal policy can prop up aggregate demand, Obama's advisors (and their congressional allies) began to design a stimulus plan heavy on direct government spending. A few days before President Obama's inauguration, his economic advisors released a document titled "The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan," in which they detailed some of their economic assumptions. They determined that the "government-purchases multiplier" — that is, the multiplier for direct spending — would be 1.57, while the tax-cut multiplier would be 0.99. In other words, every dollar spent by the government would yield $1.57 in aggregate demand, while every dollar in reduced taxes would yield only 99 cents in increased demand. And because 1.57 is larger than 0.99, the Obama team concluded it was better to increase spending than to cut taxes.

Obama and his advisors arrived at these numbers through a standard macroeconometric model of the sort economists have been using for years. Such models take various past relationships among economic variables (inflation and unemployment, for instance) and extrapolate them into the future. In essence, the economy is modeled as a system of equations, each describing how one variable responds to many others. University of Chicago economist (and Nobel laureate) Robert Lucas famously criticized these models for lacking an appreciation of people's changing expectations; many economists, however, still find such models valuable, and have continued to employ them for forecasting and policy analysis.

The question for economists now is whether the administration's assumptions, and the model based on them, were correct. After all, if we could be sure their model was right, we would know what to conclude when their stimulus plan was followed by 10% unemployment: The patient was sicker than they thought, and unemployment would surely have been higher still if not for the stimulus. (Indeed, since Obama's advisors do believe their model was right, this is the conclusion they have reached.)

The trouble is, we have no way of knowing for sure if the model was in fact correct.

Corporate executive schools Krugman

Warren Meyer:
Here is my first law of economic growth: When we encourage more investment, and ensure this investment is being channeled to the most productive uses, growth will follow.

For all the talk about fiscal stimulus and jobs creation at the federal and state level, almost no one in government is doing anything about reducing the roadblocks to investment. For example, millions of people are newly unemployed, and in past recessions a large number of these folks have eschewed looking for a new corporate job and have started businesses of their own. Unfortunately, such prospective entrepreneurs will face a tangle of registration, regulatory and licensing hurdles, many of which have been backed by established businesses that want to avoid just this kind of new competition. Even steps like the extension of unemployment benefits tend to discourage such entrepreneurship by increasing the opportunity cost of working for oneself.

Some people never learn.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

State taxes do not matter?

Richard W. Rahn at the Cato Institute:
Why is it that some of the states with the biggest fiscal problems have the highest individual state income tax rates, such as New York and California, while some of the states with the least fiscal problems have no state income tax at all?
High-tax advocates will argue that the high-tax states provide much more and better state services, but the empirical evidence does not support the assertion. On average, schools, health and safety, roads, etc. are no better in states with income taxes than those without income taxes.
More importantly, the evidence is very strong that people are moving from high-tax states to lower-tax-rate states — the migration from California to Texas and from New York to Florida being prime examples. (Next year, the combined federal, state and local income tax rate for a citizen of New York City will be well over 50 percent, as contrasted with approximately 38 percent for citizens of Texas and Florida.)
If the citizens of California and New York really thought they were getting their money's worth for all of the extra state taxation, they would not be moving to low-tax states.
The obvious question then is: Where is all the extra money from these state income taxes going? It is going primarily to service debt, and to pay for inflated salaries and employee benefits. It is interesting that the high-tax-rate states also, on average, have much higher per capita debt levels than states without income taxes. (Alaska is an outlier because it has its oil reserve to borrow against and actually gives its citizens a "dividend" each year.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How business leaders view tax credits

The best take-away is from Todd Dagres, General Partner, Spark Capital:

“I am not a big fan of tax incentives because they are a Band-Aid for an unfavorable tax environment.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Introducing the Rahn Curve

Dan Mitchell thinks the size of the U.S. government is too large.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The economics of the World Cup

It's big money, really big but host countries aren't the biggest winners when it comes to direct benefits.
"The only direct funding a host country receives from the proceeds of the World Cup are the ticket sales and the predetermined amount promised by FIFA for hosting. In the past host countries have banked on tourism to compensate for the costs of infrastructure and new stadiums."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mercatus Center: Say goodbye to interstate competition

Veronique de Rugy and Stefanie Haeffele-Balch:
In theory, fiscal federalism is a great tool that holds state and local governments accountable for their policy actions. In practice, it hardly exists. The increasing scope of federal programs and grants has largely eroded its impact on policy decisions by state and local government to the point that tax considerations become almost irrelevant in people’s decisions about where to live.
By removing the natural check that mobility imposes on bad state tax policy, those who favor expanding the scope of federal government activity make it difficult to correct bad state tax policy.
All other things being equal, it remains less costly to live or run a business in a low-tax rate state than in a high-tax rate one. However, when the central government imposes an ever-increasing percentage of each taxpayer’s total tax burden, differences in state taxes become less important. In other words, if your main tax burden is going to be the same wherever you live, why bother even moving to another state, especially if you get to deduct your state taxes from your federal ones? Being able to deduct state taxes from the federal burden obviates any differences between the states.
So say goodbye to Tiebout.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Spending Seesaw


In tough economic times it is all the more important for consumers to distinguish between items they “must have and those they “would like to have.” One cannot be postponed: The other most certainly can wait.

The problem is that all too many consumers do not take the time or trouble to ask themselves “Do I really need this? Can I just as well postpone it or do without?” The choice is often difficult because the options are not always clear. The problem is muddied and magnified when all of the economic experts and most government entities urge consumers to spend themselves silly to help the economy recover. The problem is deepened by desperate merchants who engage in complex price discounting, noisy up-grades, confusing introductory offers and exaggerated advertising claims—the dark side of merchandising.

Thorstein Veblin, the economist, wrote extensively about the phenomenon of “conspicuous consumption” as to pervasive practice by consumers. Will Rogers complained that “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t’ want, to impress people they don’t like.” Where is Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes when we need him?

What inescapably dooms the rational decision to purchase an item is the universal consumer memory lapse about income taxation. Almost everyone assumes that the price tag shown on an item is the actual cost to the purchaser. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the purchaser sees is not what he or she gets! When income is taxed before the consumer makes a purchase, the consumer has already paid a price for the dollars he or she is about to spend.

The actual cost, then, is not 100% of the price tag but more like 120% of the price tag shown for anything, for everybody. Add two extra cost items that add to the bad news:
1. Sales taxes might apply, depending upon local or state laws or the item purchased. These generally range from 5% to 8% of the price tag.
2. Finance charges if the consumer buys on credit or otherwise borrows to get the money to make the purchase.

How does it look for consumers to pay 130% or 140% of the price shown? It ought to feel good because most consumers are doing it. Isn’t it high time for consumers to do a better job of distinguishing between must have and would like? Isn’t it time for consumers to spend less and save more if they can? Alas, consumers are an irrational, disorganized lot to begin with, and an unpredictable prop for the economy.

Now, businesses face a similar challenge and a responsibility to distinguish between things they must have to conduct their operations and the things they would like to have—in order to remain competitive. But businesses have three powerful advantages consumers almost never have.

1. Businesses typically have a basic choice between incurring a current operating expense or investing in assets like equipment and inventory to save on current and future operating expense, or to grow the business. Consumers rarely have such options. The tax laws allow businesses to spread their investment cost over a number of years, but not consumers.

2. Businesses are allowed to deduct the current year cost of an expense from their revenue before arriving at their profit—which is then taxed at lower rates than consumer income. Generally speaking, businesses spend on their needs with less costly before tax dollars; and unlike consumers, businesses are not noted for irresponsible, carefree or casual spending, or impose buying—despite all of the current concern about executive compensation.

3. Unlike consumers, businesses can also pass along some or all of their expense increase to customers, in the form of price increases. When times are tough, it is more difficult or impossible to do so. But well-managed businesses are able to use highly skilled professional resources to help them contain and control expenses.
In addition, for a variety of justifiable reasons, the interest charged on consumer borrowing is roughly double the interest charged on business loans. Time payment, or consumer credit card purchases on consumer durables—kitchen appliances, TV’s, home furnishings and the like cost the equivalent of 20% per year. Business loans are typically in the range of 10%.

Home buying interest rates might seem like a glaring expectation. But they are not. Because of the traditionally long periods used in mortgage financing, the published rate of 5% on a 30-year mortgage seems low enough. But the 5% translates into three to four times itself when the period of the loan is normalized to a ten-year payoff.

Businesses account for roughly 25% of the nation’s spending, consumers roughly 50% and government roughly 25%. The fiscal sedative/stimulus spending debate in the government sector is a subject of hourly public debate and needs no further elaboration here. At its core government spending is a must have versus would like seesaw, no less than the challenge in the private sector.

One does not have to be an economic genius or policy maker to know that business investment spending is the most direct and effective way to stimulate the economy and create jobs. That is where the jobs are. That is where employment opportunities are created, now and for the future. What can all of us in America do to encourage business to invest?

The author is an economist and consultant to early stage companies in New England.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

BHI offers testimony on debt restructuring bill before Senate committee

At the request of Chairman Mark Montigny, the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University offered testimony on "An act relative to debt restructuring," this morning at 11:30 a.m. in Room A-1 of the State House in Boston.
Good afternoon, I am Paul Bachman and I am the Director of Research at the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University. I would like to thank the members of the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditure and State Assets for opportunity to testify today and, in particular, Sen. Mark Montigny, chairman.
House Bill No. 4617 would authorize the state treasurer to restructure some $573.7 million dollars in state bonds. Given the current budget problems facing the legislature, restructuring is an attractive option. While the restructuring may serve the best interest of the Commonwealth in the current fiscal year, the state's outstanding debt obligations could become problematic in the medium and long term, particularly in light of the state's current high debt burden relative to other states.
Massachusetts Current Debt Burden
Massachusetts carries one of the highest government debt burdens of all 50 states. The Patrick administration's "FY 2010 Capital Budget & Investment Plan" includes a debt affordability analysis. The report section titled "Existing Debt Burden" cites a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau study that ranked Massachusetts third in the nation in outstanding debt and first in the nation in debt per capita. The report also cites numerous debt measurements by Moody's Investor Services and Standards & Poor's that ranks Massachusetts first in tax-supported debt per capita; second in net tax-supported debt as a percentage of personal income; fourth in total net tax-supported debt and fifth in total gross tax-supported debt.
The A&F report attempts to mitigate these sobering statistics by noting that these figures include certain debt issued by entities other than the Commonwealth for which the Commonwealth is not liable such as the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). The report also notes that the numbers exclude local debt, which can be substantial in other states that have "stronger county governments and other political subdivisions that issue debt to finance capital improvements." The report observes that "it is safe to assume that Massachusetts would likely rank lower when measuring debt as a percentage of personal income or per capita if both state and local debt were taken into account."
Unfortunately, the numbers do not support this safe assumption. The Beacon Hill Institute used U.S. Census Bureau data for FY 2007 to compare the debt burden of Massachusetts to other states using data for both state and local government. At $89.6 billion in FY 2007, Massachusetts state and local debt represented 28% of state personal income compared to an average of 20% for all states. Massachusetts ranked third, behind Alaska at 35.6% and New York at 28.4%. This outstanding debt represents $13,792 per capita, nearly double the $7,990 average for all states, putting us in second place, again behind Alaska.
The A & F report is technically correct that the Commonwealth is not liable for a portion of the debt, which is issued by entities, such as the $4.6 billion in MSBA debt. In fact, the newly created Massachusetts Department of Transportation holds a large portion of this debt, including debt from the MBTA and Massachusetts Transportation Authority. Moreover, the MBTA debt of $6.2 billion for FY 2009 is no longer subject to the statutory bond cap.
However, it is naive to suggest that the state would not ultimately bear at least partial responsibility for the debts of the MSBA or other agencies in the event of a change in status. I am reminded of the Special Investment Vehicles, or SIVs used by banks to remove risky assets from their balance sheets, which eventually wound up back on the balance sheets of many banks. More recently, European Union member states joined the International Monetary Fund to bailout Greece in spite of the fact that Germany and other European states were not liable for this debt.
Thus, I do not think we can rest comfortably with the notion that the Commonwealth is "not liable" for the debts of these entities. Moreover, I think the debt of these agencies should be included in any future debt affordability analysis.
The Beacon Hill Institute's Competitive Index includes a subindex that measures the state's bond rating against other states. The index has shown that Massachusetts consistently ranks between 22nd and 28th over the past five years. The Commonwealth's middle- of-the-pack bond rating doesn't impinge on the state's ability to remain competitive, that is to say to put in place policies that promote economic growth and sustain high levels of income for its citizens. Massachusetts, thanks to the strength of its high tech, finance and human resources sectors, tops our latest ranking. Nonetheless, our index does show that Massachusetts has room to improve (or stay near the top) and our bond rating is one thing we can control to some extent.
The Economic Impact
In isolation, House No. 4617 would have very little, if any impact on the state's ability to issue bonds or to the state economy. However, the bill would allow the legislature and put off unpleasant budgetary decisions in hopes that the extra time will allow the state budget deficit to shrink with a growing economy. A persistent and large budget deficit may tempt the Legislature to use debt restructuring again and again.
Bear in mind that outside factors come into play: 1) federal fiscal policy and 2) a demographic shift. FY 2012 may prove just as challenging as FY 2011 as federal stimulus money dries up and the 2001 and 2003 federal tax cuts expire. Tighter monetary policy, almost a sure thing given the very loose current policy, could also restrain economic growth.
In the longer term, the state cannot push into the future the payment of its relatively high debts indefinitely. Repeated debt restructuring could risk future downgrades to its bond rating and take place in an environment of higher interest rates in the bond market. Also, debt servicing costs would rise and begin to consume an increasing portion of state resources, inhibiting the state's ability to deliver services in the future.
Governor Deval Patrick's Five Year Capital Investment Plan FY2010 - FY2014 "Existing Debt Burden" Administration and Finance (2009) (accessed May 3, 2010).
2 Massachusetts School Building Authority Annual Report 2008 – 2009 (accessed May 3, 2010).
3 Massachusetts Department of Transportation, "Stakeholder Briefing," (October 2009) (accessed May 3, 2010).

Is it something we said?

Massachusetts ranks 47th according to Chief Executive magazine.

Details here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Government failure: Too many vaccines on the shelf

WASHINGTON, May 3 (Reuters) - The United States still has 71 million doses of H1N1 swine flu vaccine that have not been used, but it is not yet time to throw them out, the federal government said on Monday.

States and other providers should hang on to the vaccine and continue to offer them to people until drug companies can start distributing seasonal vaccine for the coming influenza season in the autumn, said Health and Human Services Department spokesman Bill Hall.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance committee, released a letter on Monday that he sent to HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her how much vaccine was left over and when it would expire...

Sebelius said last month that 162 million doses were produced and distributed, but only 90 million actually got into people's arms or noses.

Full article here.


How else could we say it?
MANDEL: "We all know that state and local government finances are a mess. This chart helps explain why."

Chart is here.
Key paragraph:
Now, I’m not anti-government, by any means. But this trend is disturbing. In times of crisis and economic struggle, government workers should not be getting bigger pay increases than the private sector. The domestic private sector has really been struggling for a decade, both in terms of job and pay. But the public sector kept paying higher compensation.

The arithmetic is very clear. State and local governments can’t keep funding higher wages and better benefits for their workers, while the private sector struggles. As a wise man once said, you can’t wring blood from a stone. And you can’t ask troubled taxpayers to pony up bigger pay gains for government workers than they are getting themselves.
Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Proposition 13 is not a good target for California's failures

The time to blame Proposition 13 for California's status as a failed state has long passed. The public understands this; the ruling elite refuses to believe it in the slightest.
Is it possible that California's pro-13 majority, denounced for decades as shortsighted and greedy, is actually on to something? The reason people refuse to believe that California's taxpayers keep too much money and its tax collectors don't get enough is, as Brown now says, that there's "so little confidence in state government."

The core of that distrust is the belief that California's public sector suffers not from the lack of money but from the failure to use the ample funds it does receive efficiently and beneficially. There's no shortage of facts about the revenue and spending sides of government, California-style, to justify that suspicion.

California, in the first place, is not a state with low taxes. It's not even a state with especially low property taxes. In 2007, the year of the most recent Census Bureau data comparing state finances, California's state and local governments levied $1,141 in property taxes per capita, less — but only 11% less — than the corresponding average, $1,288, for the 49 other states and the District of Columbia.

If we broaden the view to look at all taxes (property, income, sales and excise taxes) paid to state and local governments by individuals and corporations, California's governments received $4,731 per resident, 14% more than the $4,160 average outside California. Only eight states and the District of Columbia had a higher per capita tax burden.

Not only is California a high-tax state, it is even more conspicuously a high-revenue state. Things that aren't taxes, such as fees for government services, often have a high degree of "taxiness," as Stephen Colbert might say. The Golden State, routinely described as desperately short of funds because of Proposition 13, brought in $12,776 per capita in governmental income from all sources — taxes, fees, federal aid, charges for government-administered insurance and revenue from government-owned utilities — in 2007. Only three states and the District of Columbia received more.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On revising state constitutions, the shorter the better?

An interesting post at Marginal Revolution:
Using public choice economics, how might we redesign the Constitution of California? Lawmakers from both parties have proposed this idea, plus there were (failed) attempts to call a new constitutional convention through a referendum. Did you know that the operative constitution from 1879 is the third longest in the world, after Alabama and India?

I see a few options on the table:

1. Eliminate the 2/3 legislative majority required to pass a new budget.

2. Eliminate popular referenda.

3. Move closer to a Swiss-like "veto only" system for referenda.

4. Eliminate the power of referenda to authorize state-level expenditures.

5. Cap state-level expenditures.

6. Regulate state treatment of pensions more strictly, to encourage fiscal responsibility.

7. Amend the constitution to make it harder to...amend the constitution.
As Tyler notes California has the third longest constitution in the world. Reformers should aim for shorter, distinct Constitutions that affirm limited government. I think California needs to eliminate popular referenda that mandate the legislature to spend on specific programs.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wall Street Journal on Obama's new PLA rule

WALL STREET JOURNAL: "We'd list more but newsprint is expensive."
Only 15% of the nation's construction workers are unionized, so from now on the other 85% will have to forgo federal work for having exercised their right to not join a union. This is a raw display of political favoritism, and at the expense of an industry experiencing 27% unemployment. "This is nothing but a sop to the White House's big donors," says Brett McMahon, vice president at Miller & Long Concrete Construction, a nonunion contractor. "We've seen this so many times now, and how many times does it have the union label? Every time."

It's also a rotten deal for taxpayers. White House economist Jared Bernstein blogged that these agreements "significantly enhance the economy and efficiency of Federal Construction projects." In fact, the carve-outs put an end to open, competitive federal bidding, which means higher project costs. They also mean taxpayers must finance the benefits and work rules of union members.

Mr. Bernstein could check all this with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which last year commissioned an independent study showing the Obama project labor agreements would likely raise the VA's construction costs for hospitals by as much as 9% in three of five markets—Denver, New Orleans and Orlando. In two others, New York and San Francisco, the study predicted a mixture of small cost increases and small cost savings.

The study reported "strong evidence to suggest that the result of a PLA [project labor agreement] that dictates work rules, double benefits, team structure and activities on non-union type contractors will be that production costs will increase—given these union-related requirements." It also rebutted a favorite liberal argument that such agreements lead to less labor strife, noting that there are "many examples for projects where there have been strikes but also no strikes—unrelated to whether or not a PLA is in place."

The Veterans study mirrors academic work showing that project labor agreements raise the costs of construction by 10% to 20%. The Beacon Hill Institute at Boston's Suffolk University in 2006 investigated the costs of building 126 Boston-area schools. It found project labor agreements raised winning bids for school construction projects by 12% and actual construction costs by 14%.

Boston's Big Dig, Seattle's Safeco field, Los Angeles's Eastside Reservoir project, the San Francisco airport, Detroit's Comerica Park—all were built under PLAs marked by embarrassing cost overruns...
Recent Beacon Hill Institute publications on Project Labor Agreements:

BHI Survey: Overwhelming majority of state voters oppose a key feature of Project Labor Agreements

Cato Journal: Why PLAs are not in the public interest

Project Labor Agreements on Federal Construction Projects: A Costly Solution in Search of a Problem

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cow tax and tax administration in Massachusetts

Move afoot to repeal the cow tax in Massachusetts.
“For me to go out and count every chicken that is moving or standing still is a lot of work,” said Ms. Dumont.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Should the United States someday suffer a budget crisis, it will be hard not to conclude that Obama and his allies sowed the seeds, because they ignored conspicuous warnings. A further irony will not escape historians. For two years, Obama and members of Congress have angrily blamed the shortsightedness and selfishness of bankers and rating agencies for causing the recent financial crisis. The president and his supporters, historians will note, were equally shortsighted and self-centered -- though their quest was for political glory, not financial gain.

Let's be clear. A "budget crisis" is not some minor accounting exercise. It's a wrenching political, social and economic upheaval. Large deficits and rising debt -- the accumulation of past deficits -- spook investors, leading to higher interest rates on government loans. The higher rates expand the budget deficit and further unnerve investors. To reverse this calamitous cycle, the government has to cut spending deeply or raise taxes sharply. Lower spending and higher taxes in turn depress the economy and lead to higher unemployment. Not pretty.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Repeal Davis-Bacon? One way to save money

DAMON W. ROOT of Reason Magazine takes on the rent-seekers:
For nearly 80 years, contractors working on federally funded construction projects have been forced to pay their workers artificially inflated wages that rip off American taxpayers while lining the pockets of organized labor. The culprit is the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires all workers on federal projects worth more than $2,000 to be paid the "prevailing wage," which typically means the local union wage.

Here's what happens. Unskilled construction workers possess one clear advantage over their skilled, unionized competitors: They're willing to work for less money. But Davis-Bacon destroys that advantage. After all, why would contractors working on a federal project hire any unskilled workers when the government forces them to pay all of their workers what amounts to a union wage? Contractors make the rational choice and get their money's worth by hiring skilled unionized labor even when the project calls for much less.

Davis-Bacon is a blatant piece of special-interest, pro-union legislation. It hasn't come cheap for taxpayers. According to research by Suffolk University economists, Davis-Bacon has raised the construction wages on federal projects 22 percent above the market rate.
BHI's research on the prevailing wage.
Related material here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rush Limbaugh cites BHI op-ed

Rush Limbaugh, the master of EIB, cites today's National Review Online op-ed by David Tuerck and Grover Norquist on the false promise of jobs in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
WABC 3/18/2010 12:13:50 PM: ...What is up with Grover Norquist look at it from has a piece up today at national review online good though they budget for MSN at the health-care legislation will cost up to 700,000 jobs but will let you and that doesn't include the doctors were such are probably the auto of stories about nurses want to quit hospitals around the country hospitals rather than the original that's on top of the all know what this means yet is this just happened the national Council of rows of dosage of their opposition to the health-care bill setting immigration restrictions which disallow undocumented workers combined coverage on this federal money or troops you learned earlier support for the gangs is not as congenital as the label for a dog of a transfer payment for giveaways for our people and on the 21st of some to the immigration privately delivered until the storm Washington in the hope that quarter million people there or a big march and rally demanding illegal immigration amnesty on the day there theoretically would be voting on the health-care bill I stumbled up in the morning and helped her build file that they have the votes in the heavily actual numbers of the deadly when it was revealed as a woman or a everyday lives they have told you has been about dispiriting you depressing to hear that it's a lost cause but you give up regulators locally defined today they just gobble down about the only form of the CBO but they're no closer than they were and that's what all this means all this trickery while the chicanery all this behind the scenes look on the effort to create momentum word doesn't exist balder asking the president to delay his departure some to later in the week and reason are doing that is because the people who have the votes on something by somebody and it's going to complicate the summit is what's what's...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BHI releases study on jobs and Obamacare

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will destroy jobs not create them. That's the finding of a new study from the Institute.

Monday, March 8, 2010

No relief! States increase sales taxes

FORBES: U.S. Sales Tax Rates Hit Record High
During 2009 seven states and the District of Columbia raised sales tax rates, with one jurisdiction--North Carolina--actually doing it twice. Only four states hiked rates in 2008 and only one in 2007. Given state budget problems, the 2009 state sales tax increases aren't surprising. States have also been raising income tax rates on the wealthyand on corporations and boosting excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco. With states now facing record budget shortfalls, more tax increases seem likely.

State level sales tax generally accounts for only about two-thirds of the total sales tax bill. The rest comes from levies assessed by counties, municipalities, Indian tribes and special-purpose taxing districts funding mass transit, urban renewal and even stadiums. Among lower level jurisdictions such as counties and towns, Vertex counted 649 new or increased sales tax rates during 2009 and just 192 reductions.

The result is a wide range of combined sales tax rates across the country. At the bottom: 0%, found in all of Delaware and New Hampshire, and most of Montana, Oregon and Alaska. The country's highest rate now is 12%, in the tiny portion of tiny Arab, Ala., (population 7,500) sticking into Cullman County. The rest of the northern Alabama town, in no-sales-tax Marshall County, pays just 8%.

Right now Chicago has the highest big-city rate, 10.25%. But in a move forced by Cook County lawmakers, the rate is scheduled to drop on July 1 to 9.75%, matching that of Los Angeles. In New York City the total bite is 8.875%. Other high big-city rates include San FranciscoandSeattle(9.5%), New Orleans (9%), Houston, Dallas and Charlotte (8.25%), Las Vegas (8.1%) and Philadelphia and Atlanta (8%).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

BHI Survey: Don't mandate key feature of PLAs

A poll conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center for the Beacon Hill Institute shows that Massachusetts voters, while holding a favorable impression of organized labor, oppose a key feature of a union-only Project Labor Agreements that have received the imprimatur of the Obama administration. Project Labor Agreements, which are often applied to public construction projects such as the Big Dig, require that all workers be hired through union halls.
Opposition to the idea of requiring construction contractors to hire through union hiring halls runs counter to voters’ otherwise sympathetic attitudes to unions. The same survey showed that a majority (52%) of Massachusetts voters have a favorable opinion of unions. It also found that only 19% of voters believe that public sector union workers are overpaid.

The requirement that construction contractors hire their workers through union hiring halls is opposed by almost every segment of the electorate. Eighty‐eight percent (88%) of Republicans, 76% of Independents and 52% of Democrats oppose the requirement. Even among households with union members, 59% are opposed. Opposition is consistent across voters segmented according to age, gender, race and attitudes toward candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate. Only the 15% of voters who have a "very favorable" view of unions support the requirement.
Press release.

More from the Boston Herald.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Up in smoke: Cigar taxes to hurt local businesses

Governor Patrick wants to raise state taxes on cigars.
Jetmira Kaziu is the COO of Cigar Masters, a cigar bar and lounge in the Back Bay. As a smoking bar, by law, at least 60 percent of its revenues must come from tobacco sales. Kaziu is worried that if the excise tax increase passes, she will feel like she’s stealing from her customers because they could easily get their favorite cigars cheaper elsewhere. Maintaining that 60-percent requirement would be difficult.
Glance: Cigars Taxes

“We are in between two states, New Hampshire, which doesn’t have any tax, and Rhode Island, which has just a 50-cents tax,” Kaziu said.

“So that means that all my customers, they’ll buy their regular cigars from the states next to us or probably go online and buy them, and as such we might even go out of business … and obviously the employees thrown out on the street in this economy is not such a viable thing to do.”

Joe Corrado, a 24-year old bartender, is a regular at Cigar Masters. He’s there a couple times a week, spending $30-50 a week, and he says if the excise tax hike passes, he would still most likely be a fixture in the bar, but his habits would change.

“Where I’m smoking $10 to $12 cigars now, I might bump down to the lower grades,” he said. “Or alternatively, I have aunts and uncles and friends that make frequent trips to New Hampshire, 40 minutes away or less, they make a day of it and stock up for the month.”
The governor acts as if the law of diminishing returns doesn't apply to state tax revenues.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Plight of the states: What happens when the feds stopping sending money?

Edward Glaeser:
I don’t think that states should cut spending now, but I’m not happy with the idea that the federal government is stepping in and eliminating the states’ need to handle their own obligations. In principle, states can create sufficient rainy-day funds and allow for sensible borrowing during economic downturns. Moreover, handling state budget shortfalls with federal bequests creates all manner of oddities.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

As a watchdog, CBO fails

Former BHI intern, SUNY-Albany PhD candidate and owner of the Sociological Imagination, Josh McCabe doubts whether the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) lives up to its reputation as a fiscal watchdog, particularly when it comes to health care.
In reality, the CBO is underestimating their underestimation. Skopol’s fiscal watchdogs must be asleep on the job. Evidence from my home state of Massachusetts confirms my view that healthcare costs will only vastly increase if the package passes. Despite the fact that Obama is basically proposing a federal version of the plan already in place in Massachusetts, nobody likes to talk about the Massachusetts healthcare experiment for partisan reasons. Republicans don’t want to talk about it because it was pushed by then Republican Governor Romney while Democrats don’t want to talk about it because it’s largely a failure. Despite assurances otherwise, the number of new coverage mandates has continued to expand and now Governor Patrick wants to institute ad hoc price controls on insurance rates because nothing has been done to curb rising costs.
Read the whole blog entry.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thanks to a rap tune, Hayek is hot again!

Hayekians, along with a few fly girls, strike back: In the long run, it's your theory that's dead

I'm sure the success of this viral video was not designed.

More on the making of this video with creator and economist Russ Roberts here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

No PLA for new Rockland school project

The Rockland School Building Committee has voted to turn down a request to slap a PLA on a new school project in town.

The Patriot Ledger:
The school building committee had a wealth of information for weighing the pros and cons, Chairman John Rogers said.
“A lot of Rockland people pay taxes and are not in the union; they deserve a crack at a cut of (the project),” said Rogers, who described himself as “not anti-PLA.”
Rogers said he voted in favor of a project labor agreement for redevelopment of the South Weymouth Naval Air Station several years ago, when he was serving on the board overseeing the redevelopment. He believes the school-project circumstances are different.
He said he was concerned about whether the committee would be able to successfully defend itself if it approved a project labor agreement and that approval was challenged in court.
A previous court decision suggests that the court would analyze the complexity, duration and size of the project.
“The cost of legal fees to defend a court challenge was also a consideration for committee members,” Rogers said.
“Union people can still bid on the project,” he said.
More from the Brockton Enterprise.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cato Journal publishes BHI research on Project Labor Agreements

The latest issue of Cato Journal dedicated to current labor issues is now out and it includes the latest from BHI: "Why Project Labor Agreements Are Not in the Public Interest" by executive director David G. Tuerck.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Laffer throws Obama a curve

No rosy scenario:
Arthur Laffer, creator of the Laffer Curve that showed how low tax rates boost economic growth, is warning anyone who will listen that the economy is headed for a “train wreck” in 2011 that will make the current recession look tame by comparison.

The famed economist, whose supply-side, tax-cutting policies enacted by President Reagan in 1981 put the economy on a record-breaking, 25-year economic trajectory of growth and prosperity, is telling Americans not to be lulled by sporadic signs of growth this year, because the economy is headed for a sharper decline next year when tax rates are expected to jump sharply, sending the economy into a new tailspin.

“It will make the decline in U.S. output from 2010 to 2011 worse than the decline in output in 2008 and 2009 which will catastrophic,” Laffer said in an interview with HUMAN EVENTS.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Explaining the Shadow Budget

Director of Research Paul Bachman describes the Shadow Budget and its application to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in an interview with Jim Musser of the Mercatus Center.

The "Shadow Budget" is part of a proposal outlined in BHI's latest study, Massachusetts Fiscal Policy: The Legend v. the Facts.

The study also hypothesizes how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would have performed it a Tax and Expenditure (TEL) were in place since 1999.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Economists voice support/opposition to Big Ben's reappoinment

Of course economists have an opinion in favor of Ben Bernanke on one hand and opposition on the other hand.

Why do economists disagree?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

David Tuerck interview with WORLD Magazine

David Tuerck explains Massachusetts and its reputation
I don’t think a shift is taking place. First, Attorney General Martha Coakley is a terrible campaigner and Brown is an attractive guy. Also, as I said, President Obama went farther to the left than the union rank-and-file would have liked. Keep in mind that Massachusetts approved Proposition 2½ over 25 years ago and that puts a strong limit on property taxes. We also voted to cut the income tax eight years ago. When we have a statewide issue—like this one—Massachusetts can go to the right.

Stossel updates Ricardo

When Nixon was president, we imported 25 percent of our oil. Since then, our "leaders" have wasted billions on subsidies for alternative energy. The result? Today we import nearly 70 percent of our oil.

Terrible as that sounds, I say, "So what?" Interdependence is just fine! And journalist Robert Bryce, author of Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusion of Energy Independence, agrees. He'll be my guest on Stossel tonight (Fox Business Network, 8 Eastern, and again Friday at 10).

Bryce points out that while Saudi Arabia and Iran are oil exporters, they are gasoline importers. "If even Saudi Arabia and Iran are energy interdependent, why wouldn't we be?" he says. "Energy interdependence" is just a way of saying "division of labor" and "comparative advantage."

Our biggest foreign oil suppliers are Canada and Mexico. Do they threaten us? Venezuela or Iran might, but they need the oil money. They would hurt themselves if they tried to cut us off.

Even if they did try, we'd still get their oil. All the world's oil ends up in the same bathtub. The dictator sells to someone who sells to someone who will then sell to us. Chasing energy "independence" is pointless. Free trade is better. It makes us richer and more secure.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Let's add a little economics to health care economics

Veronique de Rugy: Economists have shown that if a good’s price is zero or decreasing, then the demand for this good will likely increase. In 2008, consumers were only directly responsible for 11.9 percent of total national healthcare expenditures, down from 43 percent in 1965, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This means that someone other than consumers pays roughly 88 percent of all healthcare costs, giving consumers little incentive to mind costs and much incentive to over-consume

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New proposed sheet metal apprenticehip rules fail efficiency test

BHI Executive Director David G. Tuerck presented testimony before the state's Board of Examiners for Sheet Metal Workers. The board is considering a proposal that will increase the ratio of three (3) sheet metal workers to one (1) apprentice. Does this make economic sense?

At a hearing of the board in Springfield, BHI argued:
These changes are, by any account, a step in the wrong direction. The national unemployment rate for construction workers currently stands at 19%. The prevailing wage law creates rigidities in construction wages that already make it impossible to relieve this problem by reducing labor costs for public projects. This new regulation will simply increase labor costs and thus further aggravate the current unemployment problem in construction.

The regulation will have adverse long-run effects as well. It effectively restricts labor supply for sheet metal workers at a time when experienced workers are reaching retirement age in greater numbers than before. By attempting to shift the composition of the workforce from younger to older workers, the regulation promises ultimately to invite labor scarcities and escalating labor costs.
Entire testimony is available at

Do taxes matter?

Apparently for retailers in Massachusetts this past holiday season. Business is down!
Holiday sales at local merchants dropped 2.6 percent compared with the same period in 2008, the third straight year of declines in Massachusetts, according to a survey released yesterday by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Results of the 2009 survey of 3,100 business owners were in line with the association’s projection of a 3 percent drop for November and December sales. That comes on top of a 7 percent plunge during the same months in 2008.

Some businesses, including jewelers and home goods shops, saw a small uptick in Christmas sales, but the recession, coupled with an increase in the state’s sales tax, made it another tough year for Massachusetts merchants, according to Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

“Retailers were more prepared this year with lower inventories and lower expectations,’’ Hurst said. “This year’s decline isn’t as bad as 2008, but that was really the worst holiday season that the retail sector had seen in a long time.’’

Research firm ShopperTrak yesterday reported that sales across the country rose 1.7 percent for the 2009 holiday shopping season while traffic at shopping centers dropped 2.9 percent for the same period. Winter weather also seemed to take a toll in New England, with BJ’s Wholesale Club blaming a severe snowstorm before Christmas for taking away sales.

Hurst and other local merchants suggested Massachusetts fared worse than other states because of the sales tax increase. State lawmakers hiked the sales tax in August to 6.25 percent from 5 percent.
BHI's analysis of last year's tax hike is here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Impending chaos the result of EPA new power on GHG?

It's not just business that wants to slow down the Environmental Protection Agency and its new rules to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. States want the EPA to take another look.
A growing number of state regulators are urging the Obama administration to slow the rollout of proposed federal rules curbing industrial greenhouse-gas emissions, saying the administration's approach could overwhelm them with paperwork, delay construction projects and undercut their own efforts to fight climate change.

The concerns echo some criticisms that business groups -- including the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers -- have voiced about the potential consequence of new regulations, though the states generally don't challenge the legality of the proposed regulations, as some business groups have. Indeed, many state regulators continue to say they support the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to regulate greenhouse gases. Their concerns, they say, have more to do with how quickly such rules should be phased in, and how to pay for an expansion in regulatory oversight at a time when their budgets are in the red.

Regulators from around the U.S., including Kansas, Pennsylvania, Florida and California, are calling on the EPA to go slowly with its new rules, and in some cases warning that they lack funding to regulate some of the new emissions sources that would be covered.

The states' warnings vary in urgency, with some saying the EPA's proposal can be easily tweaked and others urging the agency to reconsider the proposal, predicting dire consequences. South Carolina regulators, in a letter to EPA dated Dec. 23, said the proposal will cause chaos and warned that many construction projects -- and jobs -- are at risk.
Read: BHI's Comments on Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Clean Air Act;
Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking RIN 2060-AP12

Robert Pozen on TARP

Robert Pozen:
The lesson from these transactions is clear. If the Treasury bails out large banks in the future, it should demand the same terms as those received by sophisticated institutional investors. Some of the rescued banks will become profitable, while others will become insolvent. Taxpayers need to maximize their gains on the successful turnarounds to compensate for their losses on the bailouts that inevitably fail.
Pozen, chairman of MFS Investment Management, is the author of Too Big to Save: How to Fix the U.S. Financial System

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Those expensive public pensions

Chris Edwards thinks state and local governments can realize large savings by trimming compensation packages for public employees.

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