Tag: stimulus

Crist and Cato

Florida’s airwaves are alive with the sound of Governor Charlie Crist’s radio advertisement trumpeting his grade of “A” on Cato’s “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.”

I am pleased that Gov. Crist values Cato’s ratings because we work hard to make them accurate and nonpartisan. But the radio ad is making many fiscally conservative Floridians scratch their heads because of the governor’s recent policy actions.

The governor earned his Cato grade in last year’s report mainly because of his large property tax cuts and moderate spending approach. The grade was based purely on quantitative data on revenues, general fund spending, and tax rate changes.

However, since I wrote the report in mid-2008, the governor seems to have fallen off the fiscal responsibility horse.

In particular, Crist approved a huge $2.2 billion tax increase for the fiscal 2010 budget, even though he had promised that $12 billion in federal “stimulus” money showered on Florida over three years would obviate the need for tax increases.

About $1 billion of the tax increases are on cigarette consumers, which will particularly harm moderate-income families. The rest of the increases are in the form of higher costs for often mandatory services, such as automobile registration, which is really just a sneaky form of tax increases.

These tax increases will be particularly painful to Floridians in the short-term because of the recession. But Crist has also jeopardized the state’s long-term finances with his expanded subsidies for hurricane insurance. Hurricanes are a major challenge in Florida, but giving big subsidies to coastal property owners, driving private insurers out of the state, and guaranteeing a massive state bailout when the next hurricane hits strikes me as the height of fiscally irresponsibility.

More on the Crist campaign here.

Emergency Aid to Seniors? No Way

Social Security benefits are indexed for inflation, but because inflation has been roughly zero for the past year, the adjustment formula implies no increase in benefits this year. Nevertheless,

President Obama on Wednesday attempted to preempt the announcement that Social Security recipients will not get an increase in their benefit checks for the first time in three decades, encouraging Congress to provide a one-time payment of $250 to help seniors and disabled Americans weather the recession.

Obama endorsed the idea, which is expected to cost at least $13 billion, as the administration gropes for ways to sustain an apparent economic rebound without the kind of massive spending package that critics could label a second stimulus act.

This is outrageous on four levels:

1. If the president thinks the economy needs more stimulus, he should say that explicitly and have an honest debate.

2. This is the wrong kind of stimulus. Any further stimulus should consist of reductions in marginal tax rates, such as a cut in the corporate income tax (or better yet, repeal).

3. All Social Security recipients already have a moderate guaranteed income, and many have significant income beyond their Social Security benefits. This kind of transfer has no plausible justification as redistribution for the needy.

4. Sending checks to seniors is a blatant attempt to buy their support for Obamacare, which promises to cut Medicare spending substantially.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

Perpetuating Bad Housing Policy

Perhaps the worst feature of the bailouts and the stimulus has been that, whatever their merits as short terms fixes, they have done nothing to improve economic policy over the long haul; indeed, they compound past mistakes.

Here is a good example:

For months, troubled homeowners seeking to lower their mortgage payments under a federal plan have complained about bureaucratic bungling, ceaseless frustration and confusion. On Thursday, the Obama administration declared that the $75 billion program is finally providing broad relief after it pressured mortgage companies to move faster to modify more loans.

Five hundred thousand troubled homeowners have had their loan payments lowered on a trial basis under the Making Home Affordable Program.

The crucial words in the story are “$75 billion” and “pressured.”

No one should object if a lender, without subsidy and without pressure, renegotiates a mortgage loan. That can make sense for both lender and borrower because the foreclosure process is costly.

But Treasury’s attempt to subsidize and coerce loan modifications is fundamentally misguided. It means many homeowners will stay in homes, for now, that they cannot really afford, merely postponing the day of reckoning.

Treasury’s policy is also misguided because it presumes that everyone who owned a house before the meltdown should remain a homeowner. Likewise, Treasury’s view assumes that all the housing construction over the past decade made good economic sense.

Both presumptions are wrong. U.S. policy exerted enormous pressure for increased mortgage lending in the years leading up to the crisis, thereby generating too much housing construction, too much home ownership and inflated housing prices.

The right policy for the U.S. economy is to stop preventing foreclosures, to stop subsidizing mortgages, and to let the housing market adjust on its own. Otherwise, we will soon see a repeat of the fall of 2008.

Tuesday Links

  • Why Congress should not renew the PATRIOT Act’s “lone wolf” provision.
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Keep Dreaming, Mr. Vice President

According to The Hill, in a conference call yesterday with the nation’s governors, Vice President Joe Biden said that “In my wildest dreams, I never thought it would work this well.”  The “it” would be the administration’s $787 billion so-called “stimulus” package.

At the same time, USA Today reported:

Nearly $10 billion in stimulus aid to repair the nation’s tattered highways has largely bypassed dozens of metropolitan areas where roads are in the worst shape, a USA TODAY analysis shows… The problem is a byproduct of a stimulus package designed to spend as fast as possible to revive the economy. Many roads are in such bad shape that repairs would take too long and cost too much to qualify for funds, says John Barton, head of engineering for Texas’ Department of Transportation. The result is that counties with the worst roads won’t get much more repair money than counties with better roads. The 74 counties with half of the nation’s bad roads will split $1.9 billion, records show; counties with no major roads in bad shape will split about $1.5 billion.

A few weeks ago I was driving on I-70 somewhere around Washington, PA arra_signand got stuck in a traffic jam over what appeared to be a small bridge maintenance job.  A sign, also funded by taxpayers, proudly declared that the maintenance was made possible by the “stimulus” legislation.  What irritated me more than the traffic jam was the fact that the stretch of I-70 I was on is a notoriously white-knuckle ride.  The pavement is old and the two lanes are squished between cement dividers, leaving little room for error.  A reasonable person might conclude that fixing I-70 would be a priority.  But reasonable and Congress go together like wolves and sheep.  To me it was further evidence of the inefficient, politicized nature of federal infrastructure spending.  (It also brought to mind former pork-barrel congressman Bud Shuster’s lightly traveled I-99 in central PA.)

In a different article USA Today also reported:

The $787 billion economic recovery package also is stimulating growth in the federal government as agencies hire thousands of workers and spend millions of dollars to oversee and implement the package, according to government records and spokesmen… That’s helped fuel the continued growth of the federal government, which increased by more than 25,000 employees, or 1.3%, since December 2008, according to the latest quarterly report. During that time, the ranks of the nation’s unemployed increased by nearly 4 million, Labor Department statistics show.

Apparently for VP Biden, “stimulus” success means inefficient infrastructure spending and more federal employees.