Infrastructure: Elixir for Long-Term Pension Liabilities?

Source: Daniel Bauer, PA Times, January 4, 2019

Two primary drivers critically impacting both budgetary considerations and public policy processes for the foreseeable future regardless of revenue and service selection are pension liabilities and infrastructure. One tends to be historical in context while the other is futuristic in its scope. Both pension liabilities and infrastructure face headwinds. Both issues transcend interest groups. Both issues potentially advocate fairness and social equity across a broader spectrum of citizens arguably more so than others.

In this continuing series of articles exploring public infrastructure, the combination of unfunded liabilities for both public pension funds (estimates range from US$1-$3 trillion) and infrastructure (estimates ranging from US$1-$5 trillion) conjure up public policy and financial dilemmas constraining even effective discourse. Over the long-term, as difficult as it is to imagine, maybe one unfunded liability poses an opportunity to resolve the other unfunded liability. Can infrastructure be an elixir for long-term pension liabilities? ….

Separated Children Placed in Office of Refugee Resettlement Care

Source: Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), HHS OIG Issue Brief, OEI-BL-18-00511, January 2019

Key takeaway:
The total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by immigration authorities is unknown. Pursuant to a June 2018 Federal District Court order, HHS has thus far identified 2,737 children in its care at that time who were separated from their parents. However, thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the Court, and HHS has faced challenges in identifying separated children.

Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich Get Richer

Source: Center for Public Integrity, 2019

An in-depth look at how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 avoided scrutiny and made the rich richer.

The first part in our new series, “Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich get Richer,”  investigating the origin and impact of the 2017 tax law: 

THE TRUMP TAX LAW HAS BIG PROBLEMS. HERE’S ONE BIG REASON WHY
Source: Peter Cary, Allan Holmes, Pratheek Rebala, Center for Public Integrity, January 15, 2019

There’s no shortage of agenda items for the new Congress that’s just been seated in Washington. But lost among the anguished cries to reopen the government and enact ethics reform will be a lesser-advertised but crucial item: addressing major problems in the 2017 tax bill that President Donald Trump signed into law a year ago.

That the law needs fixing is not in dispute. Why it needs fixing is most vividly illuminated by contrasting it with another massive piece of tax legislation, the Reagan-era Tax Reform Act of 1986.

In the months leading up to passage of the 2017 tax act, Trump administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress giddily compared the scope of their bill to that very law. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, called their new bill, “the first action in 31 years since President Reagan’s reforms in 1986.” Then-National Economic Director Gary Cohn said the legislation represented the “most significant tax reform legislation since 1986.”

Measured by the magnitude of changes to the tax code, that is true. But in terms of how the bills were developed, deliberated and drafted by Congress — not to mention their substance — the bills could not be less alike. And therein lies an illuminating — some would say frightening — story.

Evaluation of GSA’s Management and Administration of the Old Post Office Building Lease

Source: Office of Inspector General of the General Services Administration (GSA OIG), JE19-002 (Redacted), January 16, 2019

From the press release:
GSA Inspector General Evaluation of Old Post Office Building Lease Finds Agency Improperly Ignored Constitution

The Office of Inspector General of the General Services Administration today issued its “Evaluation of GSA’s Management and Administration of the Old Post Office Building Lease.”

The Old Post Office (OPO) building, located on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., was erected in the 1890s. In 2008, Congress directed the General Services Administration (GSA) to redevelop the property, which had become costly to maintain. GSA selected Trump Old Post Office LLC as the developer in 2012, and executed a lease of the building with that entity as Tenant in 2013. The Trump International Hotel officially opened there in October 2016. The next month, Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States.

The Inspector General report concludes that, following the 2016 election, it was necessary for GSA to consider whether President-elect Trump’s business interest in the OPO lease might cause a breach of the lease upon his becoming President. The evaluation found that GSA, through its Office of General Counsel (OGC) and its Public Buildings Service, recognized that the President’s business interest in the lease raised issues under the Foreign Emoluments and Presidential Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution that might cause a breach, but decided not to address those issues. The report also found that the decision to exclude the emoluments issues from GSA’s consideration of the lease was improper because GSA, like all government agencies, has an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution, and because the lease, itself, requires that consideration. In addition, GSA’s unwillingness to address the constitutional issues affected its analysis of Section 37.19 of the lease, a provision addressing participation by elected officials. This analysis led to GSA’s conclusion that Tenant’s business structure satisfied the terms and conditions of the lease. As a result, GSA foreclosed an early resolution of these issues and the uncertainty over the lease remains unresolved.

What are the costs of the government shutdown?

Source: Robert Polner, Futurity, January 16, 2019

The current government shutdown is now the longest on record, sidelining roughly 800,000 non-essential workers in nine agencies out of about two million full-time federal employees in all (excluding postal workers and soldiers). ….

…. The shutdown’s impact extends, Light estimates, to more than 4.1 million contract workers and grantees, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other workers. Like those non-critical workers sitting at home, contract workers, who are largely in service jobs, do not expect to be paid until Congress and the president come to an agreement to resume appropriations.

When they’ll achieve a compromise is anybody’s guess. The sticking point in this shutdown is the more than $5 billion in border-wall funding that President Trump has requested.

Meantime, fallout spreads: the appropriations freeze is bringing complications for traditional government services, from public-health inspections of food and environmental hazards to security screening.

Here, Light talks about the shutdown’s broad repercussions and if he can predict a possible end date: ….

The 2019 government shutdown is just the latest reason why poor people can’t bank on the safety net

Source: Jamila Michener, The Conversation, January 14, 2019

….People living in poverty are now bracing for that kind of chopping as a result of the partial government shutdown that began in December. By the three-week mark, most safety-net benefits were still being funded. But should the impasse drag on, that could change.

In my view, the added economic hardship brought on would highlight an enduring aspect of American public policy: Government benefits can be unreliable. They can be cut or eliminated arbitrarily….

How Illinois Bet on Video Gambling and Lost

Source: Jason Grotto and Sandhya Kambhampati, ProPublica Illinois, and Dan Mihalopoulos, WBEZ January 16, 2019

This story is the first in an ongoing series, “The Bad Bet: How Illinois Bet on Video Gambling and Lost,” that investigates video gambling in Illinois.

Legalizing video poker and slots was supposed to generate billions of dollars for the state. A decade later, that hasn’t happened. Now, legislators want to double down on gambling.

Understanding Trends in Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States

Source: Lawrence F. Katz, Alan B. Krueger, National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper No. 25425, January 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This paper describes and tries to reconcile trends in alternative work arrangements in the United States using data from the Contingent Worker Survey supplements to the Current Population Survey (CPS) for 1995 to 2017, the 2015 RAND-Princeton Contingent Work Survey (CWS), and administrative tax data from the Internal Revenue Service for 2000 to 2016. We conclude that there likely has been a modest upward trend in the share of the U.S. workforce in alternative work arrangements during the 2000s based on the cyclically-adjusted comparisons of the CPS CWS’s, measures using self-respondents in the CPS CWS, and measures of self-employment and 1099 workers from administrative tax data. We also present evidence from Amazon Mechanical Turk that suggests that the basic monthly CPS question on multiple job holding misses many instances of multiple job holding.

Related:
The economists who predicted a surge in gig jobs say they were wrong
Source: Steve LeVine, Axios, January 7, 2019