Topic: Tax and Budget Policy

Unfunded State Health Costs: Still $1.4 Trillion

The New York Times and Washington Post report today on a new study by the Pew Center on the States regarding unfunded state and local pension and health costs for retirees.

Let’s just look at the health costs. Pew finds that state governments have promised their workers $370 billion of retiree health care that they have not put money aside for. Unless those benefits are cut, that figure represents the looming hit on future taxpayers.

But Pew only looks at state governments, which employ 4.3 million people, according to Census data. Local governments employ 11.8 million people. If the local health care problem is as big as the state problem, the total state/local unfunded amount would be $1.4 trillion.

Interestingly, that is precisely the figure that Jagadeesh Gokhale and I came up with when we looked at this problem last year. We estimated that state and local governments have racked up about $1.4 trillion in unfunded retiree health costs.

Our study and the Pew study highlight two fundamental problems. First, governments have been irresponsible in making huge promises to workers regarding future benefits, but then not funding them as private benefit plans would.

Second, “public sector employees are far more likely to receive retirement benefits [than private sector employees] and the gulf between private and public sectors continues to grow,” according to Pew. For example, 82 percent of government workers receive retiree health benefits, compared to just 33 percent of private sector workers.

The solution is to cut back sharply on the gold-plated benefits received by government workers, while privatizing as many state and local activities as possible.

Prior posts: here, here, and here.

Universal Coverage Is the Health of the State

California’s health care sector is as bloated and inefficient as the rest of the country’s, meaning that it already bleeds the taxpayers dry.  But that’s just not good enough for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). 

He and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D) have cobbled – and the state Assembly has approved – a package of health care reforms that would further kneecap the taxpayers, march them down to Death Valley, and bury them up to their necks to be eaten alive by special-interest fire ants.  But perhaps I understate.

Unless the Senate or the voters stop the plan, it will carve up taxpayers by regulating health insurance to protect favored insurers from competition; regulating employee benefits to protect favored employers from competition; imposing enormous taxes on young and healthy Californians; creating taxes and subsidies that seem deliberately designed to keep low-income Californians poor; imposing on all Californians the sort of punitive mandates that never have achieved universal coverage and never will; and fraudulently foisting part of the cost onto taxpayers in other states.  And all in the face of a $14 billion deficit.

Just goes to show what Republicans and Democrats can do when they work together toward a common disaster like universal coverage.

Swiss Canton Voters Overwhelmingly Adopt 1.8 Percent Flat Tax

More than 90 percent of voters in the Swiss Canton of Obwalden have voted for a flat tax of just 1.8 percent. This is positive news for tax competition within Switzerland, and it doubtlessly will put even more pressure on Europe’s welfare states to reform oppressive tax regimes. Presumably voters in other Cantons will now petition for a chance to vote for low-rate flat tax systems, and maybe it is just a matter of time ‘til one of them decides to completely eliminate the income tax. Swissinfo reports:

Obwalden has become the first Swiss canton to adopt a flat income tax rate, with more than 90 per cent of the electorate voting in favour of the move. The decision, announced by the authorities after a vote on Sunday, comes after a court ruled the canton’s previous degressive tax model unfair. From next January Obwalden will impose a rate of 1.8 per cent on all categories. The new model also exempts the first SFr10,000 ($8,700) of income from taxation, a measure designed to benefit those on lower incomes the most. …In Switzerland there is high competition among the cantons to set the lowest tax rates to attract wealthy individuals and companies. …European neighbours have frequently expressed outrage that their rich citizens are opting to empty their pockets into Swiss coffers rather than their own. But Switzerland has defended its position as providing healthy competition.

Bulgaria Now an Official Member of the Flat Tax Club

The Sofia News Agency reports that a 10 percent flat tax has cleared a final hurdle in the Bulgarian Parliament. The article notes that the new tax system requires a signature from the President, but this is expected to be a formality. So it’s time to play the unofficial theme song of the global flat tax revolution and welcome the 23rd jurisdiction to the club:

Bulgaria’s parliament passed on second reading on Monday the amendments introducing a flat tax rate in the country. …The amendments are final and only a veto from president Georgi Parvanov can stop them from becoming law, although he has given no indication he plans to do so. …The leaders of the three parties in Bulgaria’s ruling coalition have agreed in summer on the tax reform, with a flat rate of 10%, the lowest in Europe, replacing the progressive taxation system with three brackets. Since Estonia introduced a flat tax system in 1994, enjoying stable GDP growth, eastern European countries have been attracted to the flat tax that promises to attract foreign investments and increase transparency.

It’s Always in the Last Place You Look

Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters writes, “In the first five years of his presidency, Bush could barely find his veto pen. Now, however, freed of the burden of defending a free-spending Republican Congress, Bush has discovered his inner Reagan.”

Maybe the veto pen really was lost for years, and it just turned up in the White House Book Room.

Talk About a Friday News Dump

The Senate passed the Farm Bill this afternoon by a margin of 79 to a brave 14 (roll call vote here). Readers of this blog will be sufficiently familiar with our views on U.S. farm policy so I won’t reiterate them here. Suffice it to say that it will be interesting to see if President Bush makes good with his veto threat.

Happy Holidays to the American taxpayer/consumer/trade partner from the U.S. Senate!

California Speaker Confuses Taxation with Wealth Creation

California is facing a budget shortfall, and one of its most powerful lawmakers thinks the state legislature can meet that shortfall by creating wealth. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) said lawmakers would have to consider raising a host of taxes, including those on Internet purchases and on foreign companies that do business in California.

“We’ve got to close those tax loopholes,” Nuñez told reporters at a news conference. “We can generate billions by doing that.”

According to Dictionary.com, the first three definitions of “generate” are:

  1. to bring into existence; cause to be; produce.
  2. to create by a vital or natural process.
  3. to create and distribute vitally and profusely.

No doubt the speaker wants to distribute those billions vitally and profusely. But raising taxes won’t create billions of dollars. 

Taxes find wealth that others have already created and take it. As in pilfer.  Lift.  Ransack.  Plunder.  Loot.  Steal.  Jack.  Nab.  Grab.  Purloin.  Swipe.  Snag.  Extract.  Nick.  Confiscate.  Seize.  Pinch.  Usurp.  Arrogate.  Dispossess.  Expropriate.  (Yoink.)