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Research Roundup: Budget Accountability, Public Pensions, the Impact of State Policy on Economic Growth and More

In this week’s Research Roundup:

A report by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) on Nevada’s regressive and deeply flawed state tax structure, reports by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the roots of the federal deficit and how tax credits and expenditures reduce state revenue, an analysis of the National Broadband Map by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, a survey of the enforcement of state wage and hour laws by the National State Attorneys Generals Program at Columbia University Law School, an analysis of public employee pensions in Washington state by the Economic Opportunity institute, a report by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies on the spread of poverty across the state, a study by Tulane University’s James Alm and Janet Rogers of Nevada's Department of Budget and Planning on the historic effects of state fiscal policy on economic growth, a policy brief from Demos evaluating several different federal budget proposals by their effects on the middle class, and a report by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation on the states that are doing the best jobs on transportation policy.


Bridging the Gap: Building a Sound Tax System for the Silver State – The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) recently released this report that examines the regressive and “deeply flawed” state’s tax structure and finds that “with the nation’s fastest growing population from the 1940s to 2003, an overreliance on gaming revenue that peaked in the late 1970s, and a K-12 student population that rose approximately 40 percent in the last decade, Nevada has found itself increasingly in a position where this kind of deficient tax structure creates unparalleled economic and social problems.” The offers some sound, progressive measures to begin to alleviate these pressures, including replacing the modified business tax with a traditional and graduated corporate income tax, extend the state and local options sales taxes to additional service categories, and reform and expand mining taxation.

Economic Downturn and Bush Policies Continue to Drive Large Projected Deficits – The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examines the roots of the federal deficit and offers initial steps the government can take to address the fiscal outlook moving forward. The authors find, “the fact remains: the economic downturn, President Bush’s tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years.” The report further calls for Congress to let the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 expire.

Promoting State Budget Accountability Through Tax Expenditure Reporting – In this publication, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that tax expenditures, or “tax credits, deductions, and exemptions that reduce state revenue,” cost states billions of dollars annually and are typically not subject to accountability requirements. Most states are severely lacking when it comes to reporting tax expenditures and seven states, Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming, do not report on tax expenditures all together. The authors find, “evaluating tax expenditures produces information helpful in generating debate about tax-side spending. Legislators, advocates, the media, and others can use this information to debate productively the value of particular tax expenditures and to prioritize them alongside annual appropriations,” and offer policy recommendations to improve the process, including establishing sunset dates, creating a performance review process, capping the total cost of expenditures, eliminating supermajority requirements, and require economic development subsidy accountability.

Challenges in Using the National Broadband Map’s Data – The Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies examines the National Broadband Map, as generated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with assistance from the Federal Communications Commission. The paper commends the federal agencies for their efforts, but points out that the mapping data has many known and yet-to-be discovered defects, including measurement errors and sample selection, both of which can cause severe problems with empirical analyses. Part of the problems stems from the different data collection procedures, computation algorithms, and provider participation that varied by state and designee.

Enforcement of State Wage and Hour Laws: A Survey of State Regulators – This report finds a troubling level of inconsistency in state agencies’ enforcement of wage and hour laws, ranging from fairly comprehensive mandates to no state enforcement capacity at all. The survey by the National State Attorneys Generals Program at Columbia University Law School notes, “This creates a regulatory race to the bottom by states as they seek to compete to attract businesses.” Of immediate concern is the growing incidence of violations under current economic conditions: there has been a sharp increase in the number of low-wage workers since 2009, yet many states have chosen to cut or freeze resources for enforcement of the laws that protect those workers.

Public Pension in Washington State: Insuring Economic Security for Retirees – This report on public employee pensions in Washington state by the Economic Opportunity institute finds that the state has 99% of its public pension obligations funded, concluding that “public pension systems are a driver for jobs and economic growth – enabling the next generation of Americans to also achieve a middle class quality of life.”

The State of Poverty in Ohio: A Path to Recovery – This annual report by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies explores the shape, causes, and spread of poverty across the state of Ohio. This years’ report concludes provide an update on poverty in the state, including the magnitude, characteristics, causes, and impact of poverty across Ohio. The report finds that “From 1999 to 2009, the Ohio poverty rate increased from 10.6% to 15.2%, with an additional half million people (539,000) moving into poverty.” Poverty rates were found to be highest in the southeastern, Appalachian area of Ohio and in the state’s six largest cities.

Do State Fiscal Policies Affect State Economic Growth? – This academic study by Tulane University’s James Alm and Janet Rogers of Nevada's Department of Budget and Planning goes through 50 years of state economic data (1947-1997) and concludes that state fiscal policy and political climates have a distinct impact on the rate of economic growth. The authors assert that there is evidence that “a more ‘conservative’ political orientation is associated with lower rates of economic growth.”

Budgeting For America's Middle Class: A Report Card Comparing Federal Budget Proposals – In this policy brief, Demos evaluates several different federal budget proposals in “eight categories: jobs and public investment; health care affordability; Social Security income; education; defense policy; fair and adequate revenues; and long-term debt reduction. The highest-scoring plans prioritize immediate stimulus over deficit reduction in order to put millions of Americans back to work.” The authors find that the best way to reduce the deficit and put the country on a sustainable path to recovery and prosperity is to put Americans back to work.

Measuring Transportation Investments: The Road to Results – This report by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation aims to identify the states that are doing the best job putting the “essential tools in place to make more cost-effective transportation funding and policy choices.” In doing so, it identifies six broad goals for transportation policies and investments in the states: safety, support for jobs and economic activity, mobility and efficiency of travel, access for different populations, environmental impact, and infrastructure preservation.