RE: Budget Misery – Moderate Solutions
Many of the biggest budget items for states—Medicaid, bond payments, pension obligations to retirees—are virtually impossible to reduce. Big , broad-based tax increases, although difficult to avoid under many states’ balanced budget laws, will simply discourage investment and growth. Without indulging into liberal (“tax the evil corporations”), moderate (“run government like a business”), and conservative (“cut taxes to increase revenue”/”privatize all education”) fantasies, states looking to balance their budgets aren’t totally out of luck.
He offers six suggestions for balancing budgets, two of which address some familiar problems here in Rhode Island: pension reform and eliminating “special tax abatements and business ‘relocation/retention’ grants.” As to the latter, Lehrer explains:
In efforts to attract new enterprises, revitalize decrepit areas, boost politically favored types of business, nearly all states run massive corporate welfare programs including “enterprise zones,” “TIF (tax increment financing) districts,” “job retention tax credits,” state “HUB (historically underutilized business) zones.” Although a few states simply give grants to private businesses, most of these programs involve issuing bonds, building infrastructure, or granting tax credits that benefit only a particular business or development. The practice produces headlines for politicians but largely serves to let political leaders decide on the location of development that would happen anyway. These business subsidies tend to feed on themselves: cities like Chicago and Syracuse, New York have made such widespread use of them that almost all new development requires some sort of tax abatement or other assistance since unabated tax rates are so high as a result. Although it appears almost certain to cause some short-term pain, many states would almost certainly increase revenue while cutting base tax rates if they simply quit the abatement drug cold turkey. Certain areas, many of them in need of help, probably would lose out. But, in the end, the free market would make better decisions about business locations than central government planners ever could.
As we’ve argued before, the goal should be to make the state more business friendly in general by lowering taxes and regulatory barriers across the board. This can be accomplished by simplifying and streamlining, not creating a web of loopholes and “incentives” that result in one-off deals benefiting a particular business instead of all.