Category Archives: Finance

Highway Trust Fund: Improved Solvency Mechanisms and Communication Needed to Help Avoid Shortfalls in the Highway Account

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-09-316, February 6, 2009

The Highway Account within the Highway Trust Fund is the primary mechanism for funding federal highway programs. The account– administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT)–channels about $33 billion in highway user excise taxes annually to states for highway projects. Although DOT and others projected that the account could run out of funds in fiscal year 2009, the balance fell more rapidly than expected and a shortfall became imminent in August 2008. In September, Congress passed legislation to provide $8 billion to replenish the account, but DOT officials anticipate the account could reach a critical stage again in fiscal year 2009.

This report (1) describes the events that led to the decline in the account balance, including how DOT responded, and (2) identifies potential improvements in mechanisms to manage account solvency. This report also includes information on strategies GAO has reported on in the past that could be used to better align account outlays and revenues. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed information in legal and budget documents, reviewed account estimates, and interviewed agency officials and stakeholders.

MAPLight.org

Source: MAPLight.org, 2009

MAPLight.org, a groundbreaking public database, illuminates the connection between campaign donations and legislative votes in unprecedented ways. Elected officials collect large sums of money to run their campaigns, and they often pay back campaign contributors with special access and favorable laws.

This common practice is contrary to the public interest, yet legal. MAPLight.org makes money/vote connections transparent, to help citizens hold their legislators accountable.

The Database

MAPLight.org combines three data sets:

* Bill texts and legislative voting records
* Supporting and opposing interests for each bill
* Campaign contribution data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics

Combining this data makes visible key information that could never before be determined easily. For example:

* Contributions given by interests supporting and opposing each bill
* Average donations given to legislators voting Yes and No on each bill
* Timeline of contributions and votes for each bill, graphically identifying when legislators received large donations before or after their vote.

Financial reporting and disclosure requirements for trade unions: a comparison of UK and US public policy

Source: John Lund, Industrial Relations Journal, Vol. 40 no. 2, published online February 20, 2009
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The underlying policy objectives and the degree to which they are served by current trade union financial reporting and disclosure regimes in the US and the UK are examined in this article, along with a detailed comparison of the government oversight agencies, annual disclosure forms and member access to union financial records.

Money for Nothing: Do Business Subsidies Create Jobs or Leave Workers in Dire Straits?

Source: Paul E. Miller, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, February 2009

West Virginia spends millions of dollars annually on public subsidies to private businesses in hopes of creating good-paying jobs. Yet evidence abounds of private companies cutting jobs after receiving state tax credits and low-interest loans. In extreme cases, corporations have gained or used their subsidies illegally, as in the indictment last year of the former chief executive of Sequelle Communications. More common, however, are companies that simply fail to deliver on their job-creation promises, often without consequences from the public agencies that fund them.
See also:
Accountability for Economic Development Subsidies
This report examines ways for the state to improve the return on its job-creation investments. Two specific issues are explored: the availability of information to policymakers and the public about business subsidies (transparency), and how well the recipients of business subsidies deliver on their pledges to create jobs (accountability).

Trade Unions, Wage Bargaining Coordination, and Foreign Direct Investment

Source: Roxana Radulescu, Martin Robson, Labour, Vol. 22, Issue 4, December 2008
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Conventional wisdom is that a high trade union bargaining strength and a system of coordinated wage bargaining reduce the attractiveness of an economy as a location for foreign direct investment, although there is limited evidence for this. The paper takes panel data for 19 OECD economies to examine the relationship between trade union bargaining strength, bargaining coordi nation, and a range of incentives for inward foreign direct investment. It finds a strong negative effect of trade union density on inward foreign direct investment, which is dependent on the degree of wage bargaining coordination. A high degree of coordination weakens the deterrent effect of high union density, which is consistent with the notion that under certain circumstances a coordinated increase in wages can increase profits of the multinationals by hurting domestic firms.
See also:
October 2006 version

Transportation & Infrastructure Finance

Source: Sean Slone, Council of State Governments, CSG National Report, 2009

This report examines the transportation funding issues states are faced with, the finance options available to them, and how states can decide which options best fit into their transportation plans. It draws on the work of two federal commissions created by Congress–the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission–as well as the research and assessment of numerous other transportation, law and tax policy analysts, expert panels, and state and federal officials.

Most states have begun to look at and even implement innovative ways to fund transportation. Their efforts come with the realizations that raising fuel taxes is politically difficult and that the future revenue yield from existing funding sources will be inadequate to maintain the nation’s existing transportation systems and to increase capacity for the future.

Addressing the Ongoing Crisis in the Housing and Financial Markets

Source: Douglas W. Elmendorf, Congressional Budget Office, Testimony before the
Committee on the Budget United States Senate, January 28, 2009

A strong financial sector is a necessary component of a robust economy. Financial markets and institutions channel funds from savers to borrowers who need the money to build businesses and hire workers and to buy homes and other goods and services. Indeed, credit is often required to support the ordinary operations of businesses–for example, to finance their inventories and to meet payrolls before payments are received. If the customary means of obtaining credit break down, the disruption to
households’ and businesses’ spending can be severe.

Thus, the ongoing crisis in the U.S. financial system has significantly depressed economic activity during the past year and a half, and it poses a serious threat to the nation’s ability to quickly return to a path of solid economic growth. Losses on mortgages, on assets backed by mortgages, and on other loans to consumers and businesses, together with an associated pullback from risk taking in many credit markets,
have raised the cost and reduced the availability of credit for borrowers whose credit ratings are less than the very highest. To be sure, among the fundamental causes of the crisis was the provision of too much credit at too low a price as well as insufficient capital. However, the sudden shift to a much higher price for risk taking has led to a significant reduction in wealth and borrowing capacity; it has also forced a number of financial institutions to close and others to be merged with stronger operations. Those forces, in turn, are weighing heavily on consumption, the demand for housing, and businesses’ investment.

Integrating Public Property in the Realm of Fiscal Transparency and Anti-Corruption Efforts

Source: Olga Kaganova, Urban Institute, April 2008

From the abstract:
The area of government property asset management is relatively new in public management. Most public wealth is concentrated in public property, and expenses associated with it constitute a substantial part of public budgets. The chapter ventures into two international “hot topics”: practical enhancement of public financial resources through better management of property asset and curbing corruption in the historically corrupt area of government-owned property. The chapter provides a conceptual and methodological framework for governmental decision-makers and their advisors and ends by formulating and discussing a number of issues that require further professional and public debate.

This chapter is published in Finding the Money: Public Accountability and Service Efficiency through Fiscal Transparency, Gabor Peteri (Editor), Open Society Institute (OSI), Budapest, 2008.

Not the Macquarie Model: Using U.S. Sovereign Wealth to Renew America’s Civil Infrastructure

Source: Richard G. Little, Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy, University of Southern California, December 2008

As this paper is written, the United States finds itself at the vortex of multiple converging forces that could change permanently the manner in which the nation’s civil infrastructure is funded and paid for. Simply put, there is recognized need for comprehensive reinvestment in the infrastructure of the United States and the magnitude of the shortfall between needs and spending is daunting. Taken together, annual investment in public and quasi-public infrastructure systems of 4 to 6 per cent of GDP ($500 – $700 Billion) will probably be necessary for the foreseeable future. At the same time, no funding source, either dedicated such as the Highway Trust Fund, or general, such as the Budget of the United States, is projected to have the capacity to generate funds sufficient for infrastructure investment at these levels. Private capital, broadly deployed through various forms of public private partnerships (PPP or P3) could address a portion of the shortfall but PPPs have generated considerable opposition in the U.S. and the long-term viability of this model in the face of the on-going financial crisis is unclear.

Higher Education Funding Disconnect: Spending More, Getting Less

Source: Jane Wellman, Change, November-December 2008

The rich and famous are much in the news these days–colleges and universities that is, the ones with endowments in the hundreds of millions or more and whose run-up in assets has raised questions about their non-profit status from both state and federal lawmakers. The U.S. Senate Finance committee wants to know, for example, why institutions that are reported to average 20 percent annual increases in the market value of endowments of $500 million or more still need to raise tuition and fees every year. And the Internal Revenue Service is preparing for intensive audits of more than 400 institutions, looking at revenue-generating activities housed within them and how those activities fulfill the public or charitable purposes of the institutions. Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed in Massachusetts to levy state taxes on the Commonwealth’s wealthiest non-profit private institutions.