Category Archives: Finance

Transportation Programs: Challenges Facing the Department of Transportation and Congress

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-09-435T, March 10, 2009

A safe, efficient, and convenient transportation system is integral to the health of our economy and quality of life. Our nation’s vast transportation system of airways, railways, roads, transit systems, and waterways has served this need, yet is under considerable pressure due to increasing congestion and costs to maintain and improve the system. Calls for increased investment come at a time when traditional funding for transportation.

Patience is a Virtue: Asset Allocation Patterns of DB & DC Plans

Source: Ilana Boivie and Beth Almeida, National Institute on Retirement Security, Issue Brief, July 2008

From the summary:
We examine whether the move from DB to DC plans has had an impact on the way retirement assets are invested. Individual investors, for instance, may have a shorter term investment horizon than DB plans. This raises questions about the risk exposure and investment performance of DC plans relative to DB plans. The shift from DB plans to DC plans may have reduced the supply of patient capital over time, meaning that businesses may have a harder time than in the past getting the financing for long-term productive investment projects.

Stimulus A “Down Payment” For What States Can Do

Source: Katherine Rogers, State Health Notes, Volume 30, Issue 535, March 16, 2009

State and local health officials applauded the inclusion of significant public health spending in the stimulus bill signed by President Obama last month, which included $650 million for community prevention programs and another $500 million for bolstering the health and public health workforce. However, a new report suggests that prevention and public health programs remain in danger and suggests ways for states to create long-term funding streams.

The report, released March 9 by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), reports that in recent years, significant cuts in federal public health spending may have weakened states’ ability to prevent outbreaks, curb chronic illness and limit the growth of health spending.

The report notes that an estimated 11,000 public health jobs have already been lost, a number that may continue to grow. Another TFAH report released in December found federal funding to states for state and local preparedness has fallen 25 percent since 2005.

President Obama’s First Budget Proposal

Source: Citizens for Tax Justice, March 12, 2009

On February 26, President Obama sent to Congress the blueprint for what could be one of the most progressive federal budgets in generations. The budget calls for national health care reform, expanded education funding, a program to reduce global warming, and several improvements in human needs programs. As a new report from Citizens for Tax Justice explains, it would make the tax code considerably more progressive, and close a number of egregious tax loopholes.

There is, however, a flaw in the budget proposal: It does not raise enough revenue to pay for public services. Instead, its net effect is to cut taxes dramatically.

Financial Regulation After the Fall

Source: Robert Kuttner, Dēmos, January 8, 2009

America’s financial system has undergone a severe shock that is still cascading throughout the real economy. As financial institutions, their investors and homeowners have lost several trillion dollars, the combination of a contraction in asset values, declining consumer and business demand, and a weakened credit system have pushed the economy into a classic downward spiral. In the absence of heroic government measures, the financial crisis will lead to a serious general depression. Yet very substantial public spending and recapitalization of the nation’s financial system, though necessary, are not sufficient. These measures must be combined with comprehensive regulation.

Paying Our Way: A New Framework for Transportation Finance

Source: National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, February 2009

The United States Congress has recognized the dangers of inattention and delay and has asked for assistance to re-envision the way the federal government funds and finances our national surface transportation infrastructure. Congress established the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission to provide recommendations for policy and action. This report offers the results of the Commission’s investigative efforts and deliberations. It provides a new framework for consideration by policy makers with responsibility for financial stewardship of the nation’s surface transportation network–and for all Americans traveling that network through cities and rural areas from coast to coast.

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).