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Tax credit reform, yes — but what kind?

Posted March 9th, 2017 to Blog

Reform of business tax credits in Iowa is long overdue, so the natural instinct is to welcome with open arms the interest of state legislators in a review of Iowa’s runaway spending on tax credits.

Yet, optimism must be tempered. There is a great opportunity; there also are pitfalls.

Fooled us once

Iowa’s last look at tax-credit reform came in the wake of scandal in its film industry tax credit program. Despite a strong report with potentially game-changing recommendations from a special task force of state agency heads in 2010, not much came from the Legislature. As we noted then, legislators acted with fierce caution that no doubt sent the business lobbyists off to celebrate.

That time, the review resulted from a scandal of law and ethics. What remained, and remains today, is a scandal of fiscal ignorance and arrogance. Iowa’s spending on business tax breaks has soared in recent years, and this budget choice has been a contributing factor to the stagnant or declining commitment to public responsibilities: education, the environment, health and public safety.

Fool us twice?

Such skepticism should be understandable not only with the anti-bargaining and anti-worker legislation Iowans have seen in this session, but with comments by legislators. In one shot across the bow, Rep. Pat Grassley stressed legislators would put everything on the table, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which benefits low- and moderate-income Iowans.

Past study already has shown that, unlike Iowa’s most lucrative business tax credit, the Research Activities Credit:

•   the EITC has obvious benefits to the economy and Iowa working families.

•   the EITC benefits only people who need the help, where RAC is unlimited and in fact benefits some of the most profitable companies in the country.

•   the EITC benefits people when Iowa’s regressive tax system is otherwise stacked against them, where the RAC benefits those who already do well by Iowa’s tax code.

Already we know that the individual state and local tax system in Iowa — all effectively governed by state law — demands that people at the bottom of the income scale (actually the bottom 80 percent) on average pay 10 percent of their income in tax. At the same time, the wealthiest and most well-connected pay much less — 6 percent at the very top.

Already we know that Iowa’s total state and local taxes on business — again, all effectively governed by state law — are below the national average and by one national business consultant’s measure are among the lowest in the nation.

In a nutshell, heading into this discussion, beware the false equivalencies and more of the same business-lobby spin that has produced the unaccountable and unfair system that makes it difficult to fund critical public services.

And be sure we do not lose some important pieces now in place, including the transparency we have on the RAC with annual reports from the Department of Revenue.

We have called for reform and better oversight for years. If legislators are serious about it, this could be a good thing. If it is merely cover to further burden the poor, reduce transparency, or heap new breaks on corporations that do not pay their fair share, it could be one more step in Iowa’s low-road march to the bottom.

Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project

mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org


Today’s virtual House graphic: Iowa impact of ACA repeal

Posted February 23rd, 2017 to Blog

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Yes, whatever actions are taken on the Affordable Care Act will come from Congress, but state legislators may be left to pick up the pieces. Iowa legislators, are you paying attention? Are you talking to your federal counterparts about this? (Some are in the state this week.)

What many may not know is the impact the ACA has had on reducing the uninsured population in Iowa. The Medicaid expansion under the ACA is one of the big reasons we have seen a greater share of the Iowa population covered by either public or private insurance.

For more information on how the ACA has affected uninsurance in Iowa — and the stakes of repeal without an adequate replacement — see Peter Fisher’s policy brief, Repealing ACA: Pushing thousands of Iowans to the brink.

Editor’s Note: The Iowa House of Representatives now denies the ability of lawmakers to use visual aids in debate on the floor. To help Iowans visualize what kinds of graphics might be useful in these debates to illustrate facts, on several days this session we are offering examples. Here is today’s graphic, to illustrate the impact on Iowa, and potentially on state finances and responsibilities, if the federal Affordable Care Act is repealed.


Today’s virtual House graphic: The real business of business taxes in Iowa

Posted February 22nd, 2017 to Blog

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One of many measures showing Iowa to be low or in the middle of the pack on business taxes is a study by the business consulting firm Anderson Economic Group. In its 2016 business tax rankings, Anderson ranked Iowa business taxes fourth-lowest.

In that analysis, Anderson looked at 11 taxes on business, and examined more than tax collections, but also how taxes paid by business compared to income available to pay the tax. Anderson said it used “taxes paid as share of profits, as this measure directly compares taxes paid to business income available to pay the tax.”

In fact, by the Anderson measure, Iowa ranks below all of its regional neighbors except South Dakota, which is lower only by one-tenth of a percentage point.

This finding is not unusual despite claims from the business lobby about Iowa taxes on business, as we have shown before. The latest examination by a widely known business accounting firm, Ernst & Young, puts Iowa state and local business taxes in the middle of the pack and below the national average, at 4.5 percent of private-sector GDP.

Editor’s Note: The Iowa House of Representatives now denies the ability of lawmakers to use visual aids in debate on the floor. To help Iowans visualize what kinds of graphics might be useful in these debates to illustrate facts, on several days this session we are offering examples. Here is today’s graphic, to illustrate where Iowa rates vs. other states, by responsible measures, on business taxes.


Kansans deliver tax-cut cautions for Iowans

Posted February 15th, 2017 to Blog

As part of Moral Mondays at the Iowa State Capitol, Iowa advocates and lawmakers this week heard a cautionary tale from Annie McKay of Kansas Action for Children and Duane Goossen of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth.

Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, speaks at the Moral Mondays Iowa event this week at the Iowa State Capitol.
Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, speaks at the Moral Mondays Iowa event this week at the Iowa State Capitol.

At a time when Iowa lawmakers are considering significant tax cuts, McKay and Goossen, who analyze and promote child policies and conduct analysis of the Kansas state budget, traveled to Des Moines to outline the effects of what has become known as the “Kansas experiment,” a set of draconian tax cuts passed in 2012.

At that time, Goossen recounted, Gov. Sam Brownback promised the cuts would bring an economic boom to the state, with rising employment and personal income. People would move to Kansas. It would be, the governor said, “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of Kansas economy.”

But, five years on, the promised economic boom has not arrived.

“Business tax cuts were supposed to be magic, they were supposed to spur job growth — and they didn’t,” said Goossen, a former Republican state legislator and state budget director under three governors.

In fact, since 2012 job growth in Kansas has lagged behind its Midwestern neighbors, including Iowa. The state has, however, seen years of revenue shortfalls and damaging budget cuts, eroding critical public services like K-12 and higher education, human services, public safety and highway construction.

In this period, the state has depleted its budget reserves, robbed its highway fund to shore up its general fund, borrowed money and deferred payments in order to balance the budget. Kansas has experienced three credit downgrades. Lawmakers have raised the sales tax twice and repealed tax credits that helped low-income families make ends meet.  (In fact, the bottom 40 percent of Kansans actually pays more in taxes today than before the 2012 tax cuts went into effect.)

These actions have real impacts. Last year, Kansas saw the third biggest drop in child well-being among states as documented by Kids Count. Its 3rd grade reading proficiency ranking fell from 13th to 30th.

“What we did in Kansas – there is no proof behind it,” McKay said.

Iowans today are better positioned to stand up to damaging tax cuts than their Kansas counterparts were five years ago, McKay said. “We did not that have same people power in 2012.” She advised Iowa advocates to make crystal clear how all the issues currently generating widespread interest — education, health and water quality among them — are linked to the state’s ability to raise adequate revenue.

“You are ahead of where we were,” she said. “You have the opportunity to not be like Kansas.”

 

annedischer5464Posted by Anne Discher, interim executive director of the Child & Family Policy Center (CFPC).
adischer@cfpciowa.org

McKay and Goossen’s talk Feb. 13 at the Iowa State Capitol was coordinated by the Iowa Fiscal Partnership (a joint effort of CFPC and the Iowa Policy Project) and supported by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. CFPC, through its Every Child Counts initiative, is one of more than two dozen sponsors of Moral Mondays, a weekly gathering during session to highlight issues that advance Iowa values like equality, fairness and justice.


Today’s virtual House graphic: Iowa impacts of ACA repeal

Posted February 9th, 2017 to Blog

Editor’s Note: The Iowa House of Representatives voted Monday to deny the ability of lawmakers to use visual aids in debate on the floor. To help Iowans visualize what kinds of graphics might be useful in these debates to illustrate facts, we will offer examples. Here is today’s graphic, to illustrate what could be expected to happen in Iowa if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act.

170119-IFP-ACA-F2xxRepealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without an adequate replacement, as Congress and the incoming Trump administration appear poised to do, jeopardizes the health care coverage and economic well-being of the most vulnerable Iowans. About 230,000 fewer Iowans would have health coverage in 2019 if the law is repealed, including 25,000 children.

In fact, repeal of the ACA could leave tens of thousands of adults uninsured who actually had insurance prior to the ACA. Some 69,000 Iowans covered by an Iowa program, IowaCare, became part of the Iowa Health and Wellness Program with the advent of the ACA, while even more Iowans had insurance with the help of ACA subsidies.

Repeal leaves all three of those programs gone — IowaCare, Iowa Health and Wellness, and the ACA subsidies. Thus, fewer will have insurance than in 2013, prior to the ACA, and low-income Iowans will be worse off. This is an issue that state legislators may be left to address with no help from the U.S. Congress, but is not getting attention at the Iowa Statehouse.

For more information, see this Iowa Fiscal Partnership policy brief by Iowa Policy Project Research Director Peter Fisher.


Today’s virtual House graphic: Iowa’s growing spending on tax credits

Posted February 7th, 2017 to Blog

Editor’s Note: The Iowa House of Representatives voted Monday to deny the ability of lawmakers to use visual aids in debate on the floor. To help Iowans visualize what kinds of graphics might be useful in these debates to illustrate facts, we will offer examples. Here is today’s graphic, to illustrate state trends in spending on business tax credits.

170207-taxcredits-2007-21As the Iowa Policy Project and Iowa Fiscal Partnership have pointed out before, Iowa’s perceived budget shortfalls are largely self-inflicted. Iowa Department of Revenue reports provide a lot of data about tax credits, particularly in reports that are prepared for use by the Revenue Estimating Conference, which determines what revenue lawmakers have available to spend. These reports show the cost of those credits, which are also known as “tax expenditures,” because they effectively spend money through the tax code — revenues that otherwise would be available for fund schools and other public services.

Growth in tax-credit spending has erupted in Iowa over the last decade, tripling from $75 million in FY2007 to $237 million last year. They are projected by the Department of Revenue to reach $279 million in the current fiscal year, and to nearly $300 million in just four years.

For more information about Iowa spending on tax credits, see this page on the Iowa Fiscal Partnership website.


Repealing ACA: Pushing thousands of Iowans to the brink

Likely turmoil in insurance market, higher premiums, and harm to the economy

Instead of incentives to invest, the proposals reward decisions made with no subsidy needed

Updated March 2017

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By Peter S. Fisher

Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without an adequate replacement, as Congress and the incoming Trump administration appear poised to do, jeopardizes the health care coverage and economic well-being of the most vulnerable Iowans. About 230,000 fewer Iowans would have health coverage in 2019 if the law is repealed, including 25,000 children. Thousands of adults working in low-wage jobs — such as those waiting tables, working on construction sites, bagging groceries, or providing care to children, the sick, and the elderly — would lose coverage if the Medicaid expansion is repealed. For families unable to afford health coverage on the individual market prior to health reform, coverage subsidized by tax credits could disappear, and 42,000 individuals would lose their insurance. More people would turn to hospitals and other health providers for uncompensated care, which would likely be provided in emergency rooms, leaving those who are insured to pay the bill through their own premiums, or for health-care providers to swallow the cost. Iowa’s economy would suffer as $626 million in federal funds would be withdrawn from the state, costing Iowa 6,700 jobs. The insurance market would be thrown into immediate disarray, raising premiums and reducing insurance options. Such are the prospects for Iowa as decisions loom in Washington on the ACA.  

The Affordable Care Act dramatically expanded health insurance coverage in Iowa

The number of Iowans without health insurance declined by almost 93,000 between 2013 (prior to implementation of the Affordable Care Act) and 2015, the second year in which the ACA and the insurance exchange were fully implemented in Iowa. This represents a 37 percent decline in the number of uninsured. Statewide, the percent of persons without insurance declined from 8.1 percent to 5 percent. Increased coverage came in two ways: (1) about 47,000 more individuals purchased private insurance directly, with subsidies available to most of those through the ACA, and (2) about 70,000 more Iowans obtained health insurance from Medicaid.

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At the same time that options expanded for people to access publicly funded or subsidized coverage, the number of Iowans obtaining health insurance through their employer actually increased by 28,000 over the two-year period. The ACA, in other words, does not appear to have caused employers to eliminate health insurance and push employees onto public plans.

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The most dramatic decrease in the number of uninsured occurred for non-Hispanic white Iowans, among whom the number dropped by 85,000, accounting for 92 percent of the decrease statewide. The uninsured rate for this population declined from 7 percent to about 4 percent. The ACA had much less dramatic effect in reducing the uninsurance rates among Hispanics, African Americans and other non-white Iowans, where the uninsured share remained at 12 percent or higher.

The percent of the population that was uninsured dropped in nine of the 10 most populous counties in Iowa, in most cases by a substantial amount. The uninsured rate in the more rural remainder of the state also declined dramatically, from 9.2 percent to 5.3 percent. All told, about 41,000 fewer Iowans in the 10 largest counties were uninsured in 2015, while 52,000 fewer Iowans in the remainder of the state had coverage.

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Repeal would increase the number of uninsured Iowans

The ACA has made good-quality health insurance available to thousands of low-income individuals and families in Iowa who otherwise could not afford coverage. About 55,000 Iowans purchased insurance on the exchange during the 2016 enrollment period, and 85 percent of them qualified for the premium tax credit.[1] The average monthly premium for those purchasing insurance on the exchange was $425, with $303, or 71 percent of this cost, covered by the credit. The ACA subsidy that is now in danger reduced the average cost to ACA enrollees to $122 per month.  Nearly 28,000 people in this group also received cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which lowered deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for them by roughly $28 million that year.

The Urban Institute has estimated that if the ACA is repealed, 230,000 fewer Iowans will have health insurance coverage in 2019 than if the law is left as is.[2] Of these, 42,000 are individuals who will receive tax credits for the purchase of health insurance if the ACA continues, credits worth on average $4,281 per recipient per year. The credit covers over two-thirds of the cost of health insurance on average. Few people could afford to keep their coverage if they lose that subsidy.

As a result of these losses in coverage, the Urban Institute projects that ACA repeal would increase the number of uninsured in Iowa from 153,000 to 383,000, a 150 percent increase.[3] This includes an increase of 25,000 in the number of uninsured children, as well as 68,000 more uninsured parents.[4]  The percentage of Iowa children without health insurance would more than double, from 3 percent to 6.2 percent.

Taking Medicaid coverage away from thousands of adults would likely lead to an increase in the number of uninsured children. This is because adults who are uninsured are less likely to enroll their children in Medicaid or hawk-I.[5]  For many children in Iowa, this will mean not just poorer health, but poorer long-term prospects overall. Research has shown that better health care as a child is associated with greater educational attainment and higher earnings as an adult.[6]

Repeal of the Medicaid expansion would cut eligibility below pre-ACA levels

In 2014 Iowa created its own version of the Medicaid expansion, called the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan. As of January 2017, 151,000 people were enrolled in the Wellness Plan. See Appendix Table for enrollment by county. All of those individuals now in the Wellness Plan are at risk of losing health insurance if the Medicaid expansion portion of the ACA is repealed.

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Prior to the ACA, Iowa had created a Medicaid waiver program called IowaCare that extended Medicaid benefits to many adults not eligible under traditional Medicaid.[7] There were 69,000 people enrolled in IowaCare in FY2013.[8] With the advent of the ACA in 2014, those enrolled in IowaCare were automatically shifted to the Iowa Wellness Program, and IowaCare ceased to exist. If Congress repeals the Medicaid expansion, all those in the Wellness Program would be at risk of losing coverage. People losing coverage would include those formerly in IowaCare, unless the state re-created such a program under a waiver request once again and got approval for that waiver from the federal government. This is unlikely. Thus the repeal of the ACA could leave tens of thousands of adults uninsured who actually were insured prior to the ACA, or who could have been covered if IowaCare still existed.  This would leave low-income Iowans worse off than they were in 2013, prior to health reform taking effect.

Working Iowans would be hurt by Medicaid expansion repeal

The majority of the non-elderly adults receiving Medicaid are working Iowans. In 2015, 61 percent of Medicaid recipients age 18 to 64 were working at least part time. A third of those were working full time at low-wage jobs that left them earning near the poverty line. Many of these adults get their health coverage through the Iowa Wellness Program and are thus at risk of becoming uninsured if the Medicaid expansion is repealed.

Basic RGBAmong the adult Medicaid recipients in Iowa who are working, about 45 percent work in 10 industries. They are waiting tables, working on construction, bagging groceries, or serving children, the sick, and the elderly. They are working in jobs that pay little and provide few if any benefits.

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Uncompensated care would rise with repeal

The ACA expanded insurance coverage to thousands of Iowans who would otherwise have sought emergency room or other care that they could not pay for, but which hospitals and doctors nonetheless are obligated to provide. This “uncompensated care” was greatly reduced by the ACA. With repeal and the loss of insurance coverage for 230,000 Iowans, it is estimated that total uncompensated care in Iowa in 2019 (assumed to be the first year in which repeal is fully in effect) would more than triple, from $345 million to $1.2 billion.[9] Over a 10-year period, a $10 billion rise in uncompensated care in Iowa is anticipated. All Iowans would feel the effects, as hospital fees and insurance rates would rise to make up for these costs, and as hospitals retrench.

The decline in health insurance coverage and the rise in uncompensated care could be especially challenging for Iowa’s rural hospitals. Rural hospitals are more likely to be in a precarious financial situation if they are in a state that did not expand Medicaid, and repeal would throw all Iowa hospitals into that situation. Since 2010, 80 rural hospitals across the country have closed, the majority in non-expansion states.

Repealing the ACA would cause immediate harm

Repeal of the ACA would likely follow the provisions of the repeal bill passed by Congress last year. This would eliminate immediately the individual mandate to purchase insurance or pay a penalty, while retaining popular provisions such as the requirement that insurance companies not deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The result is that many healthy individuals would drop their coverage.  Insurance companies would be left with the sickest and most expensive customers, which would prompt some to leave the state’s individual insurance market or to raise rates for remaining customers if they stayed.  The health insurance market would thus be devastated quickly, even though full repeal of the subsidies and other provisions of ACA would be delayed, possibly until 2019.

Repeal would also endanger some of the ACA’s most important consumer protections. No “replacement” plan has been proposed, but it is likely that the quality of insurance policies in the individual market would deteriorate, with rising deductibles, the return of limits on how much insurers will pay out in benefits each year or over a person’s lifetime, and failure to cover such things as maternity care, mental health, or prescription drugs.

With repeal of the individual mandate and the subsidies, it would be untenable to maintain the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing health conditions. In Iowa, the number of adults with pre-existing conditions that would have led to denial of insurance coverage prior to the ACA has been conservatively estimated at 448,000, or about 24 percent of non-elderly adults in the state.[10] Ensuring the individual insurance market is accessible and affordable for this group, should they need to purchase coverage there, has been a major achievement of the ACA , but one made possible only because of the mandate and the marketplace subsidies, which broadened the pool of individuals the insurance companies were covering to include many healthier adults. Without the broader pool, insurance companies will not continue to offer quality, affordable policies, to the detriment of all those buying health insurance in Iowa.

Contrary to what some in Congress have been saying, the exchanges are not in a death spiral — higher premiums causing healthy individuals to forgo insurance, leaving the insurance companies with a more costly pool, leading to higher premiums, etc. Enrollment through the exchanges has increased each year since inception in 2014, and 2017 enrollment is ahead of last year’s. There is evidence that the premium increases this year are a one-time correction for underpricing in previous years, not the beginning of a trend.[11] In fact it is repeal, not continuation, of the ACA that would push the exchanges into a death spiral.

Repeal would shower benefits on the wealthy

Repeal of the taxes financing the ACA would lavish tax cuts on the highest-income households in the country. The Medicare taxes imposed by the ACA fall only on individuals with incomes above $200,000 or couples with incomes above $250,000. The 400 richest households in the country would receive a $2.8 billion windfall in 2017 if these taxes were ended, for an average tax cut of about $7 million a year for each household.[12] Without the revenue from these and other taxes imposed by the ACA, it would be difficult or impossible to finance a replacement.

Repeal would harm Iowa’s economy

The repeal of the ACA would have a substantial impact on the Iowa economy, cutting off billions in federal money flowing into the state, and reducing income and employment, not just in the health care industry, but throughout the economy.

Repeal of the ACA would result in the loss of $626 million in federal funds in 2019, and a total of $7.4 billion from 2019-2028.[13] That would reduce payments to health care providers throughout the state, who in turn would reduce purchases from vendors and cut employment. Ripple effects would follow: vendors would cut payroll, and the reduced spending by employees both of the health care providers and of the vendors would mean reduced purchases of goods and services in Iowa, and reduced state taxes. Repeal of the ACA (including the taxes that finance it) would cost Iowa 6,700 jobs,[14] not just in the health care sector, but also in sectors such as construction, retail, finance and services.

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[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ASPE Issue Brief, March 11, 2016. Health Insurance Marketplaces 2016 Open Enrollment Period: Final Enrollment Report For the period: November 1, 2015 – February 1, 2016.

[2] Linda J. Blumberg, Matthew Buettgens, and John Holahan. Implications of Partial Repeal of the ACA through Reconciliation. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, December 2016. Available online at http://www.urban.org/research/publication/implications-partial-repeal-aca-through-reconciliation

[3] Linda J. Blumberg, Matthew Buettgens, and John Holahan. Implications of Partial Repeal of the ACA through Reconciliation. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, December 2016. Available at http://www.urban.org/research/publication/implications-partial-repeal-aca-through-reconciliation

[4] Matthew Buettgens, Genevieve Kenney, and Clare Pan. Partial Repeal of the ACA through Reconciliation: Coverage Implications for Parents and Children. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, December 21, 2016. Available at: http://www.urban.org/research/publication/partial-repeal-aca-through-reconciliation-coverage-implications-parents-and-children. 

[5] Government Accountability Office. Medicaid and CHIP: Given the Association between Parent and Child Insurance Status, New Expansion May Benefit Families. February 2011. Available at:  http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11264.pdf .Georgetown Center for Children and Families, Medicaid Expansion: Good for Parents and Children. January 2014. Available at: http://ccf.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Expanding-Coverage-for-Parents-Helps-Children-2013.pdf  

[6] Medicaid’s Long-Term Earnings and Health Benefits. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 12, 2015. Available at: http://www.cbpp.org/blog/medicaids-long-term-earnings-and-health-benefits   Medicaid at 50: Covering Children Has Long-term Educational Benefits. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 7, 2015. Available at: http://www.cbpp.org/blog/medicaid-at-50-covering-children-has-long-term-educational-benefits

[7] Traditional Medicaid covers low-income individuals who are aged, blind, disabled, pregnant women, children, or parents of children on Medicaid.

[8] https://dhs.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/IowaCare_Narrative.pdf

[9] Matthew Buettgens, Linda J. Blumberg, and John Holahan. The Impact on Health Care Providers of Partial ACA

Repeal through Reconciliation. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute, January 2017.

http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/86916/2001046-the-impact-on-health-care-providers-of-partial-aca-repeal-through-reconciliation_0.pdf

[10] Gary Claxton, Cynthia Cox, Anthony Damico, Larry Levitt, and Karen Pollitz.Pre-existing Conditions and Medical Underwriting in the Individual Insurance Market Prior to the ACA. Kaiser Family Foundation, December 12, 2016. Available at: http://kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/pre-existing-conditions-and-medical-underwriting-in-the-individual-insurance-market-prior-to-the-aca/

[11] Sarah Lueck. “Commentary: Even as Insurance Market Improves, GOP’s ACA Repeal Would Kill It.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 17, 2017. Available at: http://www.cbpp.org/health/commentary-even-as-insurance-market-improves-gops-aca-repeal-would-kill-it

[12] Brandon DeBot, Chye-Ching Huang, and Chuck Marr  ACA Repeal Would Lavish Medicare Tax Cuts on 400 Highest-Income Households. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 12, 2017 Available at: http://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-tax/aca-repeal-would-lavish-medicare-tax-cuts-on-400-highest-income-households

[13] Includes Medicaid expansion funding and insurance subsidies. Linda J. Blumberg, Matthew Buettgens, and John Holahan. Implications of Partial Repeal of the ACA through Reconciliation. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, December 2016. Available online at http://www.urban.org/research/publication/implications-partial-repeal-aca-through-reconciliation

[14] Josh Bivens. Repealing the Affordable Care Act Would Cost Jobs in Every State. Economic Policy Institute, January 31, 2017. http://www.epi.org/publication/repealing-the-affordable-care-act-would-cost-jobs-in-every-state/

 

pfisher240200Peter S. Fisher is Research Director for the Iowa Policy Project. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is professor emeritus of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa. A national expert on public finance, Fisher is frequently quoted in the Iowa and national media on issues involving tax policy and economic development strategies. His critiques of various state business climate rankings are posted on a website, Grading the States, at www.gradingstates.org.

Mission accomplished — no cuts needed

Posted December 30th, 2016 to Blog

Tax-cutters are in hog heaven in Iowa these days. They soon assume the levers of power at the State Capitol and they are planning to use them — no matter the consequences.

But if they truly believed their own mantra about the economic glories of low taxes, they would be shouting “Mission Accomplished” from the top of the Capitol dome. For all their talk of making Iowa “competitive,” they would realize we are already there, and have been for many, many years.

Once again, the national accounting firm Ernst & Young has examined the range of state and local taxes affecting businesses in every state plus Washington, D.C., and found Iowa is in the same place it always lands — the middle of the pack.

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Twenty-three states and D.C. tax business more heavily than Iowa, which is tied for 25th with six other states including neighboring Minnesota. Even South Dakota, despite a low-tax image trumpeted by western Iowa politicians, is slightly higher than Iowa.

That is because responsible tax policy demands a comprehensive look at the impact of all pieces of the tax structure, as Ernst & Young does. Cherry picking only one tax that appears high — appears being the key word because this can be complex — ignores other offsets in the tax code.

Yet, the post-election rhetoric has been a lot about tax cuts — tax cuts we cannot afford.

To the extent state and local taxes matter in business decisions — and there is considerable evidence that they do not, despite the political spin — Iowa already is well-situated. In other words, the concept of “competitiveness” can be overstated easily. A tax structure would have to be markedly different from others, producing high-tax results that we certainly don’t see in Iowa, to make a difference in business expansion and location decisions.

As we pointed out in 2014, Iowa is a low-tax state. This remains so. Why aren’t our elected officials promoting that if it is so important to them?

Having already implemented what the Governor promoted as the largest tax cut in Iowa history with massive property tax giveaways benefiting big-box retailers in 2013, and recognizing state revenues are coming in more slowly than expected, our leaders need to take a deep breath.

We cannot afford new tax cuts for business. For stronger economic growth, let’s turn the page and look at things that matter.

owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project
mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Oversight on the overseers of tax credits

Posted December 19th, 2016 to Blog
You might have heard about a big meeting at the State Capitol today.

No, not that one, about whose portrait will hang in the Iowa House and Senate behind the presiding officer.

The meetings where there’s always some mystery are the annual reviews of selected tax credits. Only a few credits are reviewed each year by a panel of legislators. One meeting was in November; the other is today.

One tax giveaway — er, tax credit — on the agenda for today is the Research Activities Credit, or RAC.
No such review since these sessions started has produced meaningful reform, but the exercise does put information on the table and does put a spotlight on spending choices being made outside the budget process.

What we already know from previous evaluations and annual reports about the RAC is that it is costly — over $50 million a year — and that routinely at least two-thirds of the cost (and usually over four-fifths) goes to companies as so-called “refunds.” These are not refunds of taxes owed, but of tax credits the companies didn’t need because they owe so little, or no, corporate income tax.

Remember that when you hear the Iowa Taxpayers Association and others bleating about Iowa’s corporate taxes, which are actually low.
For perspective on the RAC, the $42 million given away in tax credit refunds under this program in 2015 would have paid for about 1 percent more in school aid, at the same time schools were told we didn’t have the money for it. Of course we did. Our legislators just chose to give it away, mainly to huge, profitable corporations.
In Room 103 of the State Capitol, 1:15 p.m., the public and legislators can hear from the Department of Revenue about the Research Activities Credit. And the session that follows at 2:15 on the Earned Income Tax Credit may be worth listening to as well, for contrast, as the EITC is a demonstrated boost to the economy while the RAC has never been demonstrated to be more than a drain on revenue.

You never know what legislators at the table will have to say about these issues, but we may get some insights.
As for that other meeting, we all now how it will come out.
owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen
Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project
Project Director of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership
mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Connecting the dots: Tax breaks and school funding

Iowa’s revenue shortfall largely self-inflicted — education, other priorities suffer

A penchant for tax cuts over the past 20 years has left the state with a long-term revenue shortfall

Basic RGB

 

By Peter Fisher and Mike Owen, Iowa Policy Project

Iowa legislators frequently use projections of scant revenue growth to defend what has become chronic underfunding of education and other priorities. What they seldom acknowledge is that their dilemma is largely self-inflicted. A penchant for tax cuts over the past 20 years has left the state with a long-term revenue shortfall.

Indeed, the Revenue Estimating Conference in October projected that the state would take in $72 million less in FY2017 than it had projected in March. Adding $33 million to the cost of Medicaid privatization announced last month leaves the state with $100 million less for current obligations than lawmakers expected when they approved a budget offering schools only a 2.25 percent increase in per-pupil spending (Supplemental State Aid, or SSA). Over the last seven years, SSA has averaged below 2 percent. These trends are unlikely to improve for schools without large cuts elsewhere in the budget — or addressing the elephant in the room: rampant spending on business subsidies.

Iowa's growing spending on business tax credits, FY07-FY21, actual and projected

Business tax credits create part of the problemBasic RGB

Why is revenue growth a problem when Iowa has recovered better than most states from the Great Recession? Answers can be found in the growth in business tax breaks.

Business tax credits drained $200 million from the state treasury in fiscal year 2015, grew to $232 million in FY16, and are expected to cost $275 million this year. The six largest credits (or groups of credits) account for 87 percent of the total (see table).

Spending on business tax credits has grown 267 percent since 2007. Caps on individual credits and groups of credits have done little to slow growth. The cost of credits has far outstripped growth in general fund spending overall.

New tax breaks have worsened the problem

Recent measures have added greatly to the problem. The massive commercial and industrial property tax bill passed in 2013 was responsible for a $268 million cut in funds that otherwise would have been available to adequately fund education, natural resource programs, and other priorities in FY16. The impact in the current year was projected at $304 million.[1] The property tax breaks are larger than the sum of all business tax credits.

Assuming the property tax estimate holds, the combined cost of those business tax breaks identified above will drain about $579 million in revenue from the state general fund this fiscal year. At a time when the state is struggling to fund education at all levels, those business tax breaks take on added importance. And they tell us something about the state’s priorities.

Iowa business taxes are already quite competitive

Iowa has been right in the middle of the pack in how it taxes business for a long time. The most recent study of state and local taxes on business as a percent of state GDP by Ernst and Young and the Council on State Taxation shows that Iowa taxes business at 4.5 percent of GDP, just below the national average.[2]  A study by Anderson Economic Group in 2015 found Iowa’s effective tax rate on businesses to be 8.7 percent of profits, which placed it 32nd among the states, and again below the national average.[3]

State and local taxes have little effect on business location decisions

State and local taxes are less than 2 percent of total costs for the average corporation.  As a result, even large cuts in state taxes are unlikely to have an effect on the investment and location decisions of businesses, which are driven by more significant factors such as labor, transportation, and energy costs, and access to markets and suppliers. 

Tax breaks erode support for public investments in our future

The proliferation of tax incentives and business tax cuts over the past two decades has resulted in several hundred million dollars each year cut from the state budget. This has undermined the state’s ability to support quality education, from preschool through public colleges and universities. This poses serious consequences for state economic growth and prosperity.




[1] Legislative Services Agency, Fiscal Services Division. Summary of FY2017 Budget and Department Requests. December 2015, pp. 17 and 55. Includes the effect of SF 295 on state school aid as originally estimated.
[2] Ernst and Young and the Council on State Taxation, Total state and local business taxes: State-by-state estimates for fiscal year 2014. http://www.cost.org/Page.aspx?id=69654

[3] Anderson Economic Group, 2015 State Business Tax Burden Rankingshttp://www.andersoneconomicgroup.com/Portals/0/AEG%20Tax%20Burden%20Study_2015.pdf

 

Peter Fisher is research director and Mike Owen is executive director of the Iowa Policy Project (IPP) in Iowa City. IPP and another nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in Des Moines, the Child & Family Policy Center, provide reports and analysis as the Iowa Fiscal Partnership. Find reports on state budget and tax issues at www.iowafiscal.org. Contacts: pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org and mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org.