Category Archives: State & Local Finance

Navigating State and Local Finances

Source: Susan Kellam, Kim Rueben, Therese J. McGuire, Urban Institute, September 28, 2007

From the abstract:
Past trends will not foretell the future, but charting how state and local finances weathered the 2001 recession suggests viable ways to navigate going forward. Lacking the deficit finance ability of the federal government, states and localities must set a spending course based on anticipated taxes and revenues. An unexpected crisis–like the stock bubble burst at the beginning of this century and the subsequent economic slowdown–that throws budgets into fiscal chaos requires such unpopular bailouts as tax increases or cuts in services and welfare. Did that happen?

State Expenditure Growth Slowing

Source: Elizabeth C. McNichol, Nicholas Johnson and Sarah Farkas, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 31, 2007

State expenditure growth is projected to slow significantly for fiscal year 2008, which is the 12-month period that began July 1, 2007 in most states. During May, June, and early July, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities conducted a phone and email survey of state legislative and executive budget officials to learn states’ actual General Fund spending for fiscal year 2006, their best estimate of fiscal year 2007 spending, and the fiscal year 2008 spending included in their recently enacted budget. The preliminary results of this survey show that in fiscal year 2008, General Fund spending will grow about 5.3 percent — well below the rates of growth in fiscal years 2006 and 2007.

State and Local Governments: Persistent Fiscal Challenges Will Likely Emerge within the Next Decade

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-07-1080SP, July 18, 2007

Our simulations for the state and local government sector indicate that in the absence of policy changes, large and growing fiscal challenges for the sector will begin to emerge within the next few years. … As is true for the federal sector, it is the growth in health-related costs that is a primary driver of the fiscal challenges facing the state and local government sector. In particular, two types of state and local expenditures will likely rise quickly because of escalating medical costs. The first is Medicaid expenditures, and the second is the cost of health insurance for state and local employees and retirees. Conversely, we found that other types of expenditures of state and local governments—such as wages and salaries of state and local workers, pension contributions, and investments in capital goods—are expected to grow slightly less than gross domestic product (GDP). At the same time, most revenue growth is expected to be approximately flat as a percentage of GDP. As such, the projected rise in health-related costs is the root of the fiscal difficulties these simulations suggest will occur.

FY 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2007

From the press release:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today final Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) awards totaling $1.7 billion, including a total of almost $411 million to the nation’s six urban areas at highest risk of a terrorist attack: New York City/Northern New Jersey; the National Capital Region; Los Angeles/Long Beach; the California Bay Area; Houston; and Chicago.

HSGP grants enhance the ability of states, territories, and urban areas to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks and other disasters. Including this funding, by the end of FY 2007, DHS will have invested $23 billion in local planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises for state and local governments since September 11, 2001.

Making the “Internet Tax Freedom Act” Permanent Could Lead to a Substantial Revenue Loss for States and Localities

Source: Michael Mazerov, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 11, 2007

Key Findings
+ Making the 1998 “Internet Tax Freedom Act” permanent — as proposed by S. 156/H.R. 743 — could adversely affect state and local government revenues, and therefore the availability of funds for important services like education, health care, and law enforcement, in three ways:
+ Potentially block states and localities from extending their normal sales taxes to music, movies, and television programming delivered over the Internet, which is rapidly becoming a major marketplace for such services.
+ Allow Internet access providers to try to escape a host of general taxes that other businesses must pay, such as sales taxes on equipment purchases;
+ Deprive nine states of $80m-$120m in annual revenues from non-discriminatory and heretofore grandfathered taxes on Internet access services;
+ The enactment of this legislation is unwarranted:
+ Studies by GAO and U. of Tennessee economists show that existing taxes on Internet access have not adversely affected household subscriptions to access or the availability of broadband access in particular locations.
+ All of the 14 developed nations that outrank the U.S. in broadband adoption do tax Internet access services. Taxation is not the issue.

Taxing the Poor: A Report on Tobacco, Alcohol, Gambling, and Other Taxes and Fees That Disproportionately Burden Lower-Income Families

Source: Michael L. Davis, National Center for Policy Analysis, NCPA Policy Report No. 300, June 2007

Press release
As Congress seeks to fund the expansion of government-provided health care for children by increasing taxes on tobacco and possibly alcohol, a new report from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) notes these taxes disproportionately impact the poor. The report notes that governments at all levels are raising revenues in a number of regressive ways, particularly through a lottery and excise taxes on products such as alcohol and tobacco and essential services such as utilities and gas.

Many States’ Poor Populations Lose If Cigarette Taxes Are Hiked to Pay for Health Insurance

Source: The Tax Foundation, News Release, June 29, 2007

Most states will pay more in tax than they receive in federal spending from Senator Gordon Smith’s proposal to expand federal health spending with money from a higher federal excise tax on cigarettes.

The five states that would come out furthest ahead are New Mexico, Alaska, Kansas, Arizona, and California. They combine comparatively low smoking rates with fairly large populations of households eligible for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

The five states that would fare the worst are New Hampshire, Vermont, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Iowa. Iowa and Vermont have low levels of children in poverty and above-average cigarette consumption, while Missouri has a very high smoking rate.

The study is titled “A State-by-State Estimate of the Impact of SCHIP Expansion and a 156 Percent Cigarette Tax Hike,” by Tax Foundation economist Gerald Prante. It is number 88 in the Tax Foundation Fiscal Fact series.

Interpreting Local Government Financial Statements

Source: Stephen J. Gauthier, Government Finance Review, Vol. 23 no. 3, June 2007

The published financial report of a local government provides a wealth of information to anyone with an interest in the government’s economic condition. Taking advantage of this information, however, poses a real challenge to many users of these reports. This article aims at helping potential users of local government financial statements to meet this challenge.

Fiscal Management Implications of the TABOR Bind

Source: Christine R. Martell and Paul Teske, Public Administration Review, Vol. 67 no. 4, July/August 2007
(subscription required)

Following a wave of state-adopted tax and expenditure limitations (TELs), in 1992 the state of Colorado amended its constitution with the strictest TEL to date. Called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and known as TABOR, the amendment has limited the size and scope of Colorado governments. Praised as a restraint on unbridled government growth in good economic times, TABOR reared its highly restrictive head as the state economy turned downward. The central issue explored is how binding tax and expenditure limitations affect the state’s ability to weather economic recessions and employ sound fiscal management practices. As in most institutional arrangements, the devil is in the details. The analysis presented here reveals that binding limitations create perverse incentives for budgetary actors to earmark, privatize, and shift responsibilities to other jurisdictions, which ultimately combine to reduce the state government’s ability to perform and to maintain sound fiscal management practices.

The Problems With Property Tax Revenue Caps

Source: Karen Lyons and Iris J. Lav, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, June 21, 2007

Several states (Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Texas) have recently considered imposing severe caps on property tax revenue. These caps restrict the amount that property tax revenue can increase from year to year to a low fixed percentage, a formula based on the inflation rate, or some combination of the two.

While such caps may hold down property taxes, they are likely to impair local governments’ ability to provide education, public safety, and other services residents demand and need. They also are likely to make the local revenue system more regressive.

Property tax caps do nothing to change the main drivers behind higher property taxes. They cannot slow the increase in the cost of health care or fuel, for example, which reflects forces outside of the control of local officials. Nor do they change the demand for local public services, such as quality K-12 education, public safety, and good roads.