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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 About 230,000 fewer Iowans would have health coverage in 2019 if the law is repealed, including 25,000 children.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groceries, or providing care to children, the sick, and the elderly — would lose coverage if the Medicaid expansion is repealed.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

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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.

Of course the $33 million matters, Governor

Posted November 1st, 2016 to Blog

It seems no Governor Branstad costume is complete without rose-colored glasses, even after Halloween.

For on the final day of October, as goblins prepared to venture out to neighbors’ houses for treats, the Governor offered news on his unilateral decision to privatize Medicaid: It will cost the state an extra $33 million this fiscal year, payments to private companies not previously anticipated.

But he’s telling us not to worry about that spending. For example, the Des Moines Register story prominently noted reassurances from the Governor and his chief of staff, Michael Bousselot:

But the situation will not negatively impact the state budget because Medicaid cost savings will exceed $140 million when compared to the old Medicaid program, they said.

 

Hmmm. So, we’re going to spend $33 million more — $33 million we weren’t planning to spend — and that doesn’t “negatively impact” the state budget?

That is not what we’re told when it’s $33 million for schools, or cracking down on polluters or businesses that deliberately stiff their employees for wages owed. For those things, we just don’t have the money.

Think of it this way: Last month, the Revenue Estimating Conference projected that the state would take in $72 million less in FY2017 than it had estimated in March. That means those funds will not be coming in and may affect what can be spent. Now, we learn of an extra $33 million charge. Already, some $100 million less for the current year.

Of course the $33 million matters. There is an impact on the budget bottom line, and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

Budget projections are always a difficult thing. But from the start of the Governor’s decision to privatize Medicaid, without legislative consent, we have been asked to accept optimistic assessments of what to expect. And if the optimism is misplaced? Education funding and other general-fund priorities inevitably lose.

Medicaid privatization already has scared a fair number of Iowans about their access to health care. Those fears are not resolved. Neither are concerns about the fiscal side of this issue.

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

A new baseline: Drop in number of uninsured Iowans

Posted September 13th, 2016 to Blog

Nineteen out of 20 Iowans are now covered by health insurance, thanks in large part to the Affordable Care Act and Iowa’s Medicaid expansion. The latest census data, released today, show that the percent of Iowans who were uninsured dropped from 8.1 percent in 2013 to just 5.0 percent in 2015. While 248,000 Iowans were without insurance in 2013, by 2015 the number had dropped to 155,000.

Only four states have a lower percent of the population without health insurance: Massachusetts, Hawaii, Minnesota and Vermont, plus the District of Columbia.

Across the country, the gap has widened between states that expanded Medicaid and those that did not, as shown below. Twenty-eight states, including Iowa, chose to expand Medicaid eligibility in 2014 or 2015 to families with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level. The uninsured population has declined faster in the last two years in the states that chose to expand.

In Iowa, the 2015 census numbers establish a baseline for evaluating the effects of Iowa’s Medicaid privatization, which took place early this year. It will be interesting to see if the uninsured population continues to decline in 2016.

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, Research Director

pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

For more on this issue, see:
Census Data Show States Not Expanding Medicaid Falling Further Behind, by Matt Broaddus, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities


Fix both ‘cliff effect’ and low minimum wage

Posted August 3rd, 2016 to Blog

As the debate over a Polk County minimum wage continues, the so-called “cliff effect” is being cited as a reason to limit the increase in the wage. This is unfortunate. Capping the wage at a low level would hurt thousands of families, including many with burdensome child care costs.

cliffs3The “cliff effect” results from the design of Iowa’s Child Care Assistance program (CCA), which pays a portion of the cost of care for low-income families. Iowa has one of the lowest eligibility ceilings in the country: 145 percent of poverty. When a family’s income hits that level ($29,120 for a single mother with two children), benefits disappear.

While most work support programs, such as food assistance, taper off gradually, with CCA you just fall off a financial cliff — the “cliff effect.”

We do need to fix that program. But the failure of state lawmakers and the governor to address the CCA cliff effect is not a good reason to forgo needed wage increases for thousands of working families. An estimated 60,000 workers would benefit from an increase to $12 an hour in Polk County; 88,000 by an increase to $15 (phased in over several years).

Of those who would benefit from a higher minimum, 36 to 38 percent are in families with children. To put the CCA cliff in context, recognize:

•     Thousands have high child care costs and incomes below 145 percent of poverty but do not receive CCA. A 2007 study estimated that only about 1 in 3 Iowa families eligible for CCA were actually receiving it. The two-thirds with low wages but without assistance still need higher wages.

•     Second, a low wage cap would not help many families barely above 145 percent of poverty, but still facing child care costs of $4,000 to $5,000 a year per child. These families, in many cases married couples with one or both working at a low wage, can’t make ends meet.

•     Third, the other 62 to 64 percent of low-wage workers do not have children, and many families whose children are older do not need child care. A cap on the minimum wage hurts all of them.

Moreover, we need to keep in mind that the cliff is not as sudden as it appears. Because Iowa moved to one-year eligibility, a family whose income rises enough to push them above 145 percent of poverty can continue to receive assistance for another year. In that time, they may find ways to adjust, such as quitting the second or third job or reducing hours or overtime, to stay eligible for CCA but have more time with their children. This is surely a benefit from a higher minimum wage.

Policies that move families toward self-sufficiency are widely supported. We want workers to increase their earnings by furthering their education, finding higher paying jobs, gaining experience that earns them promotions — and have time to care for their families.

Yes, we should fix our child care assistance program, which can penalize all of those efforts. But we should also fix a minimum wage stuck at a level well below what even a single person needs to get by. Past failures to fix one problem should not end up as an excuse to fix neither.

2010-PFw5464Posted by Peter Fisher, Research Director of the Iowa Policy Project

pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

Related:

“Reducing Cliff Effects in Child Care Assistance,” Peter Fisher and Lily French, Iowa Policy Project, March 2014, PDF


A squeaky wheel is heard — but not fixed​

Posted April 27th, 2016 to Blog

Davenport has been the squeaky wheel on school funding inequity in Iowa, and the Iowa House this week tried to apply a drop of oil. Problem is, the whole axle is rusty, and cracked.

By law, 164 school districts — about half of Iowa’s 330 districts — are held $175 below the maximum per-pupil spending amount used to set local school budgets. In fact, almost 84 percent of school districts in the state are $100 or more below the maximum (graph below).

Basic RGB

On Tuesday, the House passed an amendment, H8291, that dealt only with the squeakiest wheel — Davenport — and only for a one-year fix.

Davenport is not buying. In a Quad-City Times story, Davenport lawmakers were not happy. Their school superintendent, Art Tate, called it “no help at all,” and for good measure, put the focus where it needs to be.

Wrote Tate in an email to the Times: “It does not address the moral imperative to make every student worth the same in Iowa.”

The larger question, given that moral imperative, is why more districts aren’t more active on this issue. One reason could be that Iowa’s inequities, while real, do not rise to the level of what might be found in other states.

Another reason might be that just fighting for basic school funding is hard enough, when the Legislature is setting a seven-year pace of funding growth below 2 percent despite faster growth in district costs, strong state revenues and approval of more business tax breaks.

160324-AG-SSA-history

We’re in the closing days, perhaps the closing hours, of the 2016 legislative session, with exceedingly few successes for education and working families. It’s too late in this session to expect real reform of the school funding system, pleas for which have come for many years — and focus on more than the per-pupil cost. There are other equity problems, the largest of which is in funding transportation services.

The weak House attempt at a one-year fix for Davenport, however, is a sign that the squeaky wheel is being heard. Think of what might happen if more wheels squeaked.

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

A squeaky wheel is heard — but not fixed​

Posted April 27th, 2016 to Blog

Davenport has been the squeaky wheel on school funding inequity in Iowa, and the Iowa House this week tried to apply a drop of oil. Problem is, the whole axle is rusty, and cracked.

By law, 164 school districts — about half of Iowa’s 330 districts — are held $175 below the maximum per-pupil spending amount used to set local school budgets. In fact, almost 84 percent of school districts in the state are $100 or more below the maximum (graph below).

Basic RGB

On Tuesday, the House passed an amendment, H8291, that dealt only with the squeakiest wheel — Davenport — and only for a one-year fix.

Davenport is not buying. In a Quad-City Times story, Davenport lawmakers were not happy. Their school superintendent, Art Tate, called it “no help at all,” and for good measure, put the focus where it needs to be.

Wrote Tate in an email to the Times: “It does not address the moral imperative to make every student worth the same in Iowa.”

The larger question, given that moral imperative, is why more districts aren’t more active on this issue. One reason could be that Iowa’s inequities, while real, do not rise to the level of what might be found in other states.

Another reason might be that just fighting for basic school funding is hard enough, when the Legislature is setting a seven-year pace of funding growth below 2 percent despite faster growth in district costs, strong state revenues and approval of more business tax breaks.

160324-AG-SSA-history

We’re in the closing days, perhaps the closing hours, of the 2016 legislative session, with exceedingly few successes for education and working families. It’s too late in this session to expect real reform of the school funding system, pleas for which have come for many years — and focus on more than the per-pupil cost. There are other equity problems, the largest of which is in funding transportation services.

The weak House attempt at a one-year fix for Davenport, however, is a sign that the squeaky wheel is being heard. Think of what might happen if more wheels squeaked.

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