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Iowa Policy Project

Iowa Families Struggle to Meet Basic Needs‏

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FRIENDS:

Today we put out the second installment of our Cost of Living in Iowa report, which found 1 in 6 Iowa households do not make what is needed for a basic-needs household budget (3 out of 5 single-parent households).

Basic RGB

As co-author Peter Fisher noted in our news release:
“No one discussing issues such as the minimum wage, and eligibility for child-care assistance, can reasonably ignore the economic realities facing these families.”

Find the report here:

Kind regards,
The IPP Staff

Mike Owen
Executive Director

Keeping Iowa’s Debates Honest, Factual And In Perspective

iowa policy project
FRIENDS:

The Iowa Policy Project has been watching Iowa’s job picture for more than 10 years with a monthly review of the state’s job data as it is released. Along with our annual reports on The State of Working Iowa, this monthly analysis — Iowa JobWatch — has been a frequently quoted feature of IPP work, and has established IPP as a place to turn when media, advocates or policy makers are looking for perspectives about what’s happening in Iowa’s job market.

As we aggressively maintain a nonpartisan approach to our work, the introduction of a blatantly political element to the official job data provided by Iowa Workforce Development has been disappointing. So our Iowa JobWatch reports in recent months have featured the actual count of net job change since Governor Branstad took office in January 2011 — with the caveat that there is a better approach.

The graph below represents the more appropriate alternative to job counting that we have encouraged Iowans, including the Governor, to consider. Provided by the well-respected Economic Policy Institute, this measure looks at net job change dating back to 2000. It shows where jobs dropped in our state during the last recession (red area), and shows how many jobs we are short given the increase in population since the recession began.

140328-NF-deficit

The Cedar Rapids Gazette recently reprinted an Iowa Policy Points blog post from IPP’s Mike Owen about why we need to take care with official data, and what we should be able to expect from official state sources on it.

Three other major Iowa newspapers have printed IPP perspectives on various issues in recent weeks. Last Wednesday, we appeared in two different newspapers about two different issues: the minimum wage and Iowa’s unchecked spending on tax credits. Here are links (Note, if any of these links expire on the newspaper websites, our published guest opinions also may be found on the IPP website):

— In The Des Moines Register, Heather Gibney’s “Iowa View” on the minimum wage: “Opportunity wage is a misleading term.”

— In the Quad-City Times, Mike Owen’s piece on the Research Activities Credit:
“Auto-pilot tax credits add millions to Iowa firms.”

In addition, IPP’s Peter Fisher had a guest opinion a week earlier in the Iowa City Press-Citizen about public-sector pension plans: “Strengthen, don’t break, Iowa’s public pension plans.”

Wage theft was the topic for David Osterberg last Thursday in our regular early-Thursday interview on Mike Devine’s “Devine Intervention” radio program (KVFD Fort Dodge) to discuss wage theft. That recording is available here on our website.

Thank you as always for your interest in our work, and for your support. Remember, you can always make a tax-deductible contribution to us securely online — even set up regular monthly or quarterly donations. Our work doesn’t happen without support from people who want to assure good information is produced and circulated in our state.

Kind regards,
The IPP Staff

Mike Owen
Executive Director

20 E. Market St. • Iowa City, IA 52245
(319) 338-0773 • (319) 331-1287 cell
iowapolicy@gmail.com
www.iowapolicyproject.org

Branstad Counts Funny

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IPP Friends: How to Count Jobs‏

FRIENDS:

Keeping Count of Iowa Jobs — Carefully

Numbers are funny things. Except when they’re not. And when it comes to jobs, they are not something to be treated lightly. That’s why IPP today put out a special Iowa JobWatch — a report that normally goes out only when Iowa Workforce Development releases monthly updates on employment in the state.

Find today’s report here:
http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/IowaJobWatch/IowaJobWatch1311S.html

The Governor’s Office has been peddling a number above 160,000 for jobs the administration claims have been created on the Governor’s watch. The best explanation for that number that we have found is that … well … there isn’t one.

Meanwhile, we have done the math every month for the last 10 years and it’s quite clear: The Governor’s count is wrong. He is claiming almost triple the number of jobs actually added by the Iowa economy since he took office. In our special report today by Colin Gordon, we note the real number: 56,600.

But more to the point of job-tracking, we step away from the political lens that others focus through, and instead we look at jobs from the standpoint of economic performance. And when you do that, you see we are still are 55,100 jobs short of where we need to be to (1) recoup the number of jobs lost during the Great Recession, a level Iowa reached this summer, and (2) add enough additional jobs to keep up with growth of the Iowa population.

We have made such points in our JobWatch reports, but we thought recent publicity for the faulty numbers merited a “primer” to help everyone as a reality check. When policy choices are being debated, using solid data is essential. Try your own count at home. We are pretty sure you’ll come up with the same number we do.

131113-jobsdeficit-w

Starting Each Month Further Behind

For those working low-wage jobs and receiving SNAP benefits, November delivered a new blow. All beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — 420,000 people in Iowa — began getting fewer benefits as an improvement from the 2009 Recovery Act expired, even though the recovery is not complete. Find our blog post about the change, A new look for the first of the month, which comes as the House and Senate are still negotiating a new Farm Bill that could cut benefits even further — drastically so, if House leaders get their way.

Thank you as always for your interest in our work!

Kind regards,
The IPP Staff

Iowa Needs SNAP

I would normally not feature a message from IPP so shortly after doing so with their annual look at working Iowa. However, their treatment of  the Republican attempt to make millions of Americans and thousands of Iowans go hungry through major cuts in the food stamp program is important. Hunger in Iowa is not some esoteric idea, it is as close as next door and certainly in every classroom in Iowa. So here is some very important research once more done by our friends at Iowa Policy Project:

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FRIENDS:

So, in the same week we receive fresh evidence that recovery from hard times has not come quickly in the years following the Great Recession, the

U.S. House is considering severe cuts to nutrition assistance through the SNAP program. It’s probably a good idea to look at these related matters in the context that connects them, rather than leaving the “dots” isolated and missing the public policy ramifications.

That’s why we’re here.

This is the time of year when we learn a lot about the state of the economy in Iowa and get a fresh look at trends. Here’s a reminder of what we’ve put out in recent weeks and a heads-up to what’s coming.

The State of Working Iowa 2013
Our annual look by IPP Senior Research Consultant Colin Gordon examines real issues that face Iowa’s working families — data about jobs and wage trends, framed by sensible messages about the consequences for Iowans and policy options. If you missed it Labor Day weekend, you can still find it in two forms:

— a print version of the report (18-page PDF file) plus our news release on the IPP website, www.iowapolicyproject.org, and
— an interactive version of the report on our special State of Working Iowa website — www.stateofworkingiowa.org. There, you can click on interactive versions of many of the graphics and sort the data the way you want.

Food Insecurity in Iowa
As Farm Bill idles, food needs challenge 13 percent of Iowa households
While Congress fails to resolve a stalemate on food assistance and the Farm Bill, long-term trends show hunger rising in Iowa. 

In addition, see our blog:
Why, again, would it make sense to cut SNAP?
Food insecurity has grown in Iowa, we have not recovered from the Great Recession, and SNAP benefits — which only augment household food budgets, support work and are already scheduled for cuts this fall — may be slashed.

Health Insurance Trends
At doorstep to ACA implementation, Iowa sees decade drop in coverage
As the nation prepares for the 2014 implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a steep recession and compensation trends have left 1 in 9 working-age Iowans and children without insurance, according to one the major surveys by the Census Bureau.

Income and Poverty Trends, plus more on Health Insurance
Coming Thursday: New data from Census
Be watching the IPP website — www.iowapolicyproject.org — or our Facebook or Twitter feeds for new information about what’s been happening in Iowa  on income, poverty and health insurance. The Census Bureau will be making its annual release from the American Community Survey on Thursday. Stay tuned!

Thank you as always for your interest and your support of our work.

Mike Owen
Executive Director

The State Of Working Iowa 2013

iowa policy project

Once again our friends at the Iowa Policy Project have released their annual report on working families in Iowa. This is one of their chief research projects every year. While we hear folks like Governor Branstad extol the economy under his watch, the Iowa Policy Project dig under the BS and ferret out the truth. The truth they find is usually in contrast to the rosy picture that the politicians paint. If you plan on talking to your legislator this year, I strongly recommend reading and digesting the report put out by IPP. Remember that facts are stubborn things and in order to find solutions we must understand the problem.

Here is an excerpt from the email from Mike Owen concerning the release of the report:

“FRIENDS:

It’s that time of year again! Labor Day weekend, and you know what that means: attention to the real issues that face Iowa’s working families. And you have plenty of information to discuss over brats and burgers this weekend with The State of Working Iowa 2013, the latest edition in our signature series from the Iowa Policy Project.

IPP Senior Research Consultant Colin Gordon once again has put together a strong package of information — data about jobs and wage trends in our state and the nation, framed by sensible messages about the consequences for Iowans.

You can find the report in two places: a print version of the report (18-page PDF file) and our news release at our website, www.iowapolicyproject.org, as usual, and also an interactive version of the report our special State of Working Iowa website — www.stateofworkingiowa.org. At the State of Working Iowa website, you’ll also be able to click on interactive versions of many of the graphics in the report, permitting you to sort data yourself as you like.”

From Colin Gordon’s summary:
Among Gordon’s key findings:

• Almost seven years since the onset of the Great Recession in December 2007, the national economy is far short of pre-recession job levels. For Iowa, the picture is a little better, with the state finally reaching the pre-recession level in June.

• When accounting for population growth, Iowa remains about 52,000 behind the pre-recession mark and at its recent pace could clear the jobs deficit two years from now.

• Long-term unemployment has been stubborn — 33.5 percent in 2010 (over a third of Iowa’s unemployed were jobless for more than six months). That figure had fallen only slightly, to 27.5 percent, by the end of 2012.

• Recovery has eased some of the steep job losses from recession in Iowa, but Iowa still shows a net decline in two traditionally high-quality job sectors, construction and manufacturing.

• Wages not only have stagnated while workers have become more productive.

• The education premium — a return on the investment of higher education — has been uneven and uncertain. While a smaller share of the Iowa labor force would be deemed “low-wage” workers than 30 years earlier, a larger share has at least some college education yet falls within that “low-wage” category.

“In the nation and in Iowa, we see a long trend toward lower-wage service employment,” Gordon said. “Sustained losses in key middle-income sectors — such as manufacturing and public service — have not been accompanied by real opportunities elsewhere in the economy.”

Reading IPP is very basic to being an informed citizen in Iowa. They send out email updates usually around once a month. The subject are always timely, thoroughly researched and pull no punches. You can get on their email list by doing this:

Want email updates from the Iowa Policy Project?

Send an email to: ipp (at) Lcom.net. Put “sign up” as your subject and include your name, organization and any other information you would like us to know. We will send you emails once or twice a month, or as needed to announce the release of a new report.

Dealing with Low Wages in Iowa

Iowa Policy Project

Iowa Policy Project

In adding my congratulations to Mike Owen for his promotion as executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, I also suggest readers check out his latest blog post titled, “We promise: We won’t cook burgers.” It is about the spurious advice of Visa® and McDonald’s®, that their lowly paid workers should become financially sustainable by working a second job. Iowa Policy Project is one of the few Iowa think tanks that has done substantial work studying living wage, low wages, and minimum wage. It is a subject close to my interests, and Mike and his team’s work at Iowa Policy Project have informed some of my thinking on low wage workers. It will be good to have Mike as executive director.

With regard to the Visa® and McDonald’s® suggestion of securing a second job, it seems a bit reactionary to me. Another low wage worker employer, Walmart, has been consistently hammered by progressive writers (see Thomas Stackpole at Mother Jones) for advising their employees on how to leverage the governmental social safety network of energy assistance, SNAP, Medicaid and other programs. The second job suggestion is an alternate version of the Walmart story: we won’t pay a living wage, so employees are on their own to sustain financial viability.

There is more to working a low wage job than pay. There has to be because the cost of living, including health care, transportation, food, shelter, and interest on debt, is more than low wage jobs pay, even two of them. Little would change if the minimum wage were raised to over $10 per hour as some propose. Low wage jobs fall short of a living wage, so people have to adapt, and one of the ways they do is to take advantage of governmental assistance programs. Beside government programs and working additional jobs, what else is there?

Another payday for low paying work is building a social network to help meet basic economic needs— one based in direct human contact, unfiltered by electronic media. A host of services are available because of work relationships in a low wage job. A tattoo artist offers his ink at a discount, people of means offer loans, and gardeners offers to exchange vegetables and baked goods. There is ride-sharing, child care and a network of discovery of ways to escape low paying work for something better. Human society in low wage work places is like a living coral reef, where everyone’s needs can be met at a certain level. These things have little to do with the progressive argument about wages, but they are every bit as important.

The tone deaf suggestions of Visa® and McDonald’s® demonstrate a lack of understanding of how people operate. Namely, if the company articulates the deceit, people may start believing it, maybe they will stay with the company a bit longer, and the cost of employee turnover can be reduced. A cynical view? Not really.

Working two jobs may be a necessity for many, but if we are on our own, as corporations want us to be, life becomes less about the job and more about who we know that can help us when we need a hand. Thanks for the suggestions and financial planning tools corporations, but no thanks, we can get by with a little help from our friends.

Change At Iowa Policy Project

iowa policy project

We would like to note that the folks at Iowa Policy Project have announced a change at the top.

It is not a huge change. David Osterberg has stepped down as the executive director. Mike Owen, Mr. Osterberg’s long time assistant, has moved up to the executive director spot.

The Iowa Policy Project and its subsidiary Iowa Fiscal Partnership, has a tremendous reputation for integrity. Over the years IPP has really demystified the effects of potential policies and thus helped to deflate much of the unfounded overblown rhetoric which sometimes comes with some often half-baked ideas. This year analysis of the medicaid expansion and the property tax cuts were especially enlightening.

Mr. Osterberg will not entirely leave. He will be stepping back to a research role. Make no doubt though, his replacement is more than capable of continuing the excellent work we have come to rely on. Mike Owen has a long record in journalism and public policy.

Much of IPP’s focus is on the effect of policy on Iowa Families. The staff that has done so much work on the research over the years remains in place. That includes Peter Fisher, Heather Gibney and Heather Milway. Their work speaks for itself.

So with this announcement we would like to say thanks for what you have done, Mr. Osterberg. And we look forward to continuing thorough research to tell the stories that we don’t hear from politicians with Mr. Owen in charge.

Minimum Wage: Off the Pace Again

 

iowa policy project

Once again the policy analysts at the Iowa Policy Project dig way below the surface to give us the facts.  As we all know, it is better to go into a discussion armed with facts and not talking points. For the past 12 years the IPP has been arming us with facts and actual repercussions.  And once again we thank them greatly for allowing us to use their hard work.

Note: This brief is available on our website at this link: http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2013docs/130305-minwage.pdf

 

March 5, 2013

IPP POLICY BRIEF

Minimum Wage: Off the Pace Again

Five Years Past Increase, Buying Power Eats Through Wage Floor

By Heather Gibney

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Iowa was among the leading states with its minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for non-tipped workers. That was then. This is now.

When 10 states raised their minimum wage on January 1, Iowa was not one of them. Iowa’s minimum wage has remained at $7.25 for five years, since the last increase — from $6.20 on January 1, 2008, the second part of a two-step increase approved by Iowa lawmakers in 2007. The federal wage did not catch up until July 2009, when it reached $7.25. Since then, neither the federal nor state minimum wage has changed to help Iowa families working at or near that hourly level. Every year that goes by without increasing the minimum wage affects Iowa families who are trying to keep their heads above water. The cost of living increases nearly every year, so the buying power of every dollar continues to erode.

Today, the federal minimum wage is near its historic low — having lost 22 percent of its buying power from its peak in 1968, as shown in Figure 1. (note: see figures at link). If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be worth $9.25 per hour today.

Recognizing that the federal minimum wage is too low, 19 states and the District of Columbia have a higher minimum wage than the federal, states with the highest being Washington at $9.19 per hour and Oregon at $8.95. Under the federal minimum wage law, a full-time Iowa worker earning a minimum wage makes $290 per week or about $15,000 per year before taxes, credits and cash assistance. There are some exceptions: Tipped employees in Iowa such as waiters or waitresses earn $4.35 an hour, while new employees under 20 years of age can be paid as low as $4.25 per hour for their first 90 days of employment.[1]

In Iowa, nearly three-fourths of Iowa’s working single parents earn less than a family supporting wage. A single parent with two children has basic, no-frills monthly expenses of about $3,545, or $42,540 annually, according to IPP’s most recent Cost of Living in Iowa report. [2] This means that this family would have to make $48,111 a year before taxes were taken out and credits and cash incentives were included in order to support themselves — a supporting wage of $24.06 an hour.[3]

Using either that measure or the federal poverty level, the minimum wage does not keep a full-time worker out of poverty. The most current official poverty guidelines for a single parent with two children is $18,498 — $3,000 more than for full-time minimum-wage work and much less than a family supporting income. Poverty guidelines are the basis for determining eligibility for public programs designed to support struggling workers. [4]

The calculations that underlie the federal poverty guidelines assume that food is a larger expense than it is today and it ignores the fact that housing and transportation take up a much larger portion of a family’s budget than they did in the 1960s when the guidelines were developed. In addition, poverty guidelines do not account for taxes, cash assistance, the increasing costs of child care and healthcare, and changes in consumer spending.[5] Even this inadequate poverty level exceeds the minimum wage. Up until about 1980, an adult earning minimum wage with two children could support her family at about the poverty level. But as Figure 2 shows, this is no longer the case. (note: see figure 2 at link to IPP).

What a Higher Minimum Wage Would Mean in Iowa
In 2012, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012 was introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives — this would have incrementally raised the federal minimum wage to $9.80 per hour by 2014. The rate would then have been indexed to inflation each year thereafter to keep up with the cost of living, a practice that 10 states have already adopted. A 2012 study from the Economic Policy Institute[6] estimated that this bill if enacted would have affected 332,000 Iowans, 81 percent of whom are 20 or older, and 45 percent of whom work full time.[7]

In the recent State of the Union address, President Obama made the case that raising the minimum wage was a necessary step in the effort to grow our economy. He proposed raising the wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour and indexing it yearly to keep up with the cost of living. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has introduced a bill to raise the wage in three increments to $10.10, and index it. [8] Passage of any of these proposals in the U.S. Congress, however, is in doubt.

Raising the minimum wage would restore much of its historic value and make an enormous difference to millions of families. More than 30 million American workers would get a raise under the bill. More than half of these are women (17 million). The vast majority (88 percent) are adult workers, not teen-agers, and 23 million children (30 percent of all children) have parents who would get a raise. Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would give $51.5 billion in raises to millions of workers over the course of three increases, and increase GDP by nearly $33 billion as workers spend their raises in their local businesses and communities. This economic activity would generate an estimated 140,000 new jobs over the course of three increases.[9]

These benefits would come at little risk of the pitfalls forecast by opponents, who can be counted upon in every minimum-wage debate to warn — without evidence — that jobs will be lost. Despite economists’ thorough study of the employment impact of the minimum wage, this ill-advised argument continues to drive opposition rhetoric against minimum-wage improvements. The Center for Economic and Policy Research[10] has examined the most recent empirical research on the minimum wage since the early 2000s to determine the best current estimates of the impact of increases in the minimum wage on the employment prospects of low-wage workers. It found that minimum wage increases are consistently associated with statistically significant and economically meaningful increases in the wages of affected workers. Employers and workers are able to adjust to an increase in the minimum wage through several different channels — explaining why the employment effect is so small.

The American Dream is supposed to be about creating a better life for yourself and your children. If you work hard and play by the rules, achieving your goals should not be out of reach. Unfortunately, millions of hard-working Americans cannot lift themselves out of poverty because they are working at such low-wage jobs. Even if they work all year long, they cannot make ends meet, much less join the middle class. Increasing the minimum wage puts money back into people’s pockets, improves the economy, and helps struggling communities thrive again.

[1] J.T. Rushing, “States Raising Minimum Wage,” The Gazette, January 1, 2013. http://thegazette.com/2013/01/01/states-raising-minimum-wage/

[2] Lily French, Peter S Fisher and Noga O’Connor, “The Cost of Living in Iowa,” Iowa Policy Project, May 2012. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2012docs/120531-COL.pdf

[3] Lily French, Peter S Fisher and Noga O’Connor, “The Cost of Living in Iowa,” Iowa Policy Project, May 2012. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2012docs/120531-COL.pdf

[4] However, these guidelines are flawed because they do not take into account regional differences in basic living expenses and were developed using spending patterns from over 45 years ago that are less relevant to today’s household budgets.

[5] Lily French, Peter S. Fisher and Noga O’Connor, “The Cost of Living in Iowa,” Iowa Policy Project, May 2012. http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2012docs/120531-COL.pdf

[6] Doug Hall and David Cooper, “How Raising the federal minimum wage would help working families and give the economy a boost,” Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief #341, August 14, 2012. http://www.epi.org/files/2012/ib341-raising-federal-minimum-wage.pdf

[7] Doug Hall and David Cooper, “Characteristics of workers who would be affected by increasing the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by July 2014,” Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief #341, August 14, 2012. http://www.epi.org/files/2012/minimumwagestateimpact.pdf

[8] Congressman George Miller, “Sen. Harkin and Rep. Miller Statement on President Obama’s Minimum Wage Proposal,” February 13, 2013. http://georgemiller.house.gov/press-release/sen-harkin-and-rep-miller-statement-president-obama%E2%80%99s-minimum-wage-proposal

[9] Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller, “Raising the Minimum Wage: Please cosponsor the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013,” Congress of the United States, February 25, 2013.

[10] John Schmitt, “Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?” Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 2013. http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/min-wage-2013-02.pdf

Heather Gibney joined the Iowa Policy Project as a research associate in September 2012. She received her master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Northern Iowa and undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Criminal Justice from the University of Iowa and Mount Mercy University.

The Iowa Policy Project Formed in 2001, the Iowa Policy Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. Reports are available at http://www.IowaPolicyProject.org. The Iowa Policy Project is a 501(c)3 organization. Contributions to support our work may be tax-deductible.

Mike Owen
Assistant Director

20 E. Market St. • Iowa City, IA 52245
(319) 338-0773 • (319) 331-1287 cell
ipp@Lcom.net
www.iowapolicyproject.org

IFP POLICY BRIEF: Commercial Property Taxes: Reform First

iowa policy project

By Peter S. Fisher

Peter Fisher is research director of the Iowa Policy Project, part of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership, a joint public policy research and analysis initiative of IPP in Iowa City and another nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. He earned 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.

Debate Goes On Ignoring Underlying Issues That Demand Attention

The annual debate about commercial property taxes in Iowa is under way, and once again the discussion ignores the larger picture — that overall business taxes in Iowa are below average among states — and fails to consider reforms that should be addressed first.

It has become routine practice throughout Iowa, for example, to grant large property tax rebates to new commercial properties through Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Millions of dollars per year flow back to commercial projects, sometimes eliminating nearly all property taxes for 15 or 20 years — which can be to the disadvantage of an existing commercial project not in the TIF. At the same time, some of Iowa’s largest and most profitable companies are paying no state corporate income tax due to the generosity of Iowa’s business tax credit programs. And many large multistate companies continue to exploit loopholes in Iowa’s corporate tax system to shift profits out of state and avoid paying their share of Iowa’s corporate tax, while instate business competitors cannot.

Rockwell-Collins has not paid any state corporate income tax for at least the last three years, and in fact, received state subsidy payments of as much as $13.8 million last year through the Research Activities Credit, yet it would benefit substantially from the property tax rollbacks and credits being discussed in the Legislature. At the same time, local services could suffer from the loss of revenue, at least under some proposals. Similarly, Wal-Mart and its stores throughout Iowa, which exist because they are profitable, would receive a reduction on the $12 million in property taxes they currently pay to support state and local services. Other national companies that use tax loopholes to escape Iowa income taxes would benefit as well. Nearly identical companies doing business in Iowa may have dramatically different property taxes based upon whether they are part of a TIF district, with TIFs often eroding local property taxes and playing one Iowa community off against another. That violates a primary tax principle of fairness — that taxes should be based on ability to pay, and that those of similar standing and with similar ability to pay should have similar tax responsibilities.

Is Iowa really not competitive for new commercial investment, as some claim, given the ability of cities to reduce their property taxes to almost nothing? Should corporations not paying their share of the corporate income tax benefit from further state largesse in the form of property tax cuts? TIF reform, caps on the refundability of tax credits, and measures to close the loopholes in Iowa’s corporate tax system (which could be corrected by combined reporting, as is done in the majority of states with corporate income taxes) should be undertaken before any further reduction in business taxes at a cost of cuts to local services.

Recent Legislative Proposals
In fiscal year 2009, property taxes levied amounted to $4,023 billion, with 31.2 percent, or $1.254 million, coming from commercial and industrial property. During the 2012 session, the Iowa House and Senate passed different versions of commercial and industrial property tax rollbacks — either of which could significantly affect the ability of both state and local governments to address health, education, and safety needs of Iowans (which make up 80 percent of the Iowa budget).

The House version, when fully phased in by FY2022, would have resulted in $486 million less in property tax collections and $237 million less in funding available to local governments, provided the state honored new commitments for $249 million in property tax replacement from state sources. The Senate version, when fully phased in by FY2022, would have resulted in $419 million less in property tax collections and $91 million less in funding available to local governments, provided the state honored new commitments of $328 million in property tax replacement funds from state sources. Since they did not reach agreement, neither version was enacted into law, but these issues are again before the General Assembly.

Iowa’s Business Taxes: Already Low
When one considers the whole range of state and local taxes that fall on businesses, Iowa is a low-tax state. In a report on overall taxes, including property taxes, paid by businesses, the nationally recognized accounting firm of Ernst and Young recently showed that only 15 states taxed businesses at a lower rate than Iowa as a percent of private-sector GDP.[1]

Commercial Property Tax Break Will Spur Little or No Growth
A state or local government’s tax rate — be it corporate income or commercial property or the combination of all taxes on business — is a tiny portion of a business’ overall costs. Taken together, state and local taxes on business are, on average, only about 1.8 percent of total business costs.[2] The commercial property tax by itself would be an even tinier fraction of a business’ overall costs. The notion that cutting commercial property taxes further by reducing assessments will bring in new economic activity and new revenue is a pipe dream.

If Iowa is to make changes in its property tax treatment of commercial and industrial property, the first thing it should do is look to finance the cost of these changes through closing existing tax loopholes and subsidies. There are many provisions within Iowa’s tax code that are designed to stimulate economic activity but also substantially erode overall tax collections, often to the benefit of very narrow business interests. Because these credits are part of the tax code, they are not subject to annual appropriation or review. Before lawmakers consider changes to commercial and industrial property taxes or to corporate or individual income taxes, they need to review and consider reforms to and eliminations of special business tax exemptions and credits.

Footnotes:

[1] Ernst and Young for the Council on State Taxation. Total State and local business taxes: State-by-state estimates for fiscal year 2009. March 1, 2010. <http://www.cost/org/StateTaxLibrary.aspx?id=17768>, as cited in “Iowa’s Businesses Already are Taxed Lightly,” Iowa Fiscal Partnership, February 9, 2011. <http://www.iowafiscal.org/2011docs/110209-IFP-biztaxes-bgd.pdf>.

[2] Peter S. Fisher, “Corporate Taxes and State Economic Growth,” Iowa Fiscal Partnership, February 2011. <http://www.iowafiscal.org/2011docs/110209-IFP-corptaxes.pdf>.

 

State Of Working Iowa

As they do year after year, the folks over at Iowa Policy Project have put together a well researched paper concerning the state of work in Iowa at the end of each year. They have been doing this end of year report since 2001. This year as in the past, IPP puts together the facts and offer common sense solutions which are quite practical and doable.

But the powers that be in the state will probably not pay any attention to IPP’s analysis or suggestions. Instead i think we can look forward to another couple years of the House trying to push through ALEC solutions to problems that don’t exist. I also expect Governor Branstad to try to do what he can to give tax breaks to the wealthy and apply whatever brakes he can to public unions. He is after all, a founding member of ALEC, but has been surpassed in the pursuit of ALEC goals by the likes of Walker of Wisconsin and Snyder in Michigan and Scott in Florida.

I recommend that if you are truly interested in a solid research and solutions you read IPP weekly. But the end of the year report is a must for anyone who wants to get a good grasp on where Iowa is at the start of the legislature.

Here are some of the key findings, but I highly encourage you to read the full report found here or as a PDF here
Also be sure to visit their site at http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/

Among the key findings:

• Iowa’s current recovery is slower than that following other recessions; at recent slow-growth trends, it will still take about a year and a half to reach pre-recession job levels.

• Underemployment has remained up throughout recovery, illustrating a greater severity of damage from recession than typical unemployment data, which miss those discouraged enough to leave the work force, and those working part-time jobs below their skill level and desire for full-time work.

• Across the last generation, and especially across the last two business cycles, we have seen a steady loss of good jobs in Iowa. The steepest losses since 2007 have been in higher-wage sectors such as manufacturing and construction.

• Iowa’s median wage in 2011 remained below the U.S. average for both men and women, and ranked Iowa in the bottom tier among nine states in the region.

• Over a quarter of Iowa workers toil for less than $10.73/hour, the wage needed to lift a full-time worker to the poverty threshold for a family of four.

A tip of the hat to author Colin Gordon on an excellent report.