Even with exceptionally low interest rates, the federal government is projected to spend just over $300 billion on net interest payments in fiscal year 2021. This amount is more than it will spend on food stamps and Social Security Disability Insurance combined. It is nearly twice what the federal government will spend on transportation infrastructure, over four times as much as it will spend on K-12 education, almost four times what it will spend on housing, and over eight times what it will spend on science, space, and technology.
Publication Date: 10 Mar 2021
Publication Site: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
In 2019, taxpayers filed 148.3 million tax returns, reported earning nearly $11.9 trillion in adjusted gross income, and paid $1.6 trillion in individual income taxes.
The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a 25.6 percent average individual income tax rate, which is more than seven times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (3.5 percent).
The share of reported income earned by the top 1 percent of taxpayers fell to 20.1 percent from 20.9 percent in 2018. The top 1 percent’s share of federal individual income taxes paid fell to 38.8 percent from 40.1 percent.
The top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97 percent of all individual income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 3 percent.
The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (38.8 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (29.2 percent).
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced average tax rates across income groups.
Gov. Reynolds is proposing a bold tax reform that would increase the incentives to work and invest in the Hawkeye State. Her proposal unveiled last week would reshape the state income tax, gradually consolidating brackets en route to a flat 4% rate by 2026. “When the bill’s fully implemented,” she said, “an average Iowa family will pay more than $1,300 less in taxes.”
The flat 4% levy would drop the state’s top rate by more than a third. Under current law Iowans are set to pay 6.5% on earnings above about $80,000, a threshold that catches much of the middle class. That and three other income-tax brackets would be swept away by Gov. Reynolds’s reform.
The plan would also slash the state’s corporate tax, which is even more punishing. Iowa-based companies pay 9.8% of their earnings above $250,000 in state tax. Ms. Reynolds’s reform would gradually reduce the top rate to 5.5%, capping corporate-tax revenue at $700 million a year and using excess revenue to offset annual rate cuts. An immediate rate cut would be better economically, providing more clarity for corporate investment decisions. But the revenue target should be met if the economy continues to grow.
Illinois allocates more of its budget to pensions than any other state, but pension spending has only skyrocketed. A constitutional amendment is the only way to reform the state’s unsustainable and underfunded pension systems.
Daley College Professor Mike Crenshaw is far from retirement, but he constantly worries whether the State Universities Retirement System will be solvent for him.
“I have 20 years until I can retire, and my biggest fear is that the money’s not going to be there,” Crenshaw said.
Because pension benefits are defined in the Illinois Constitution, only a constitutional amendment approved by voters could change pension structures. Amending the constitution would open the door to changing the compounding raises to simple inflationary adjustments – protecting the systems for retirees and ending the excessive drain on taxpayers.
Puerto Rico received court approval to leave bankruptcy through the largest restructuring of U.S. municipal debt ever, ending years of conflict with creditors as the U.S. territory confronts other stubborn economic problems.
Tuesday’s court ruling approved a write-down of $30.5 billion in public debts built up during an economic decline marked by high joblessness, outward migration and unsustainable borrowing that tipped Puerto Rico into bankruptcy in 2017. The restructuring plan calms tension between Puerto Rico and its Wall Street creditors dating to its debt default, the largest ever on bonds backed by the full faith and credit of a U.S. municipality.
The territory entered bankruptcy with $74 billion in bond debt and a $55 billion gap between the pension benefits promised to employees and retirees and the funding set aside to pay for them. Public agencies were beset by cronyism and failed for years to draw up accurate budgets or account for expenses, according to a 2018 investigation commissioned by the board.
Sprawling bureaucracy and a high cost of doing business discouraged investment, especially after the expiration of some corporate tax breaks in 2006 pushed some pharmaceutical and other manufacturers to depart. To make up for a shrinking tax base, officials borrowed to paper over deficits and skimped on pension contributions.
Many residents of Puerto Rico, political leaders, and some investors have called for an independent audit of how the huge debt was built up, according to Judge Swain’s decision.
As one stalwart finance officer once told me, “Our pension funds basically sucked up all the new revenue we’d been hoping to set aside to properly fund OPEB.” Those and other priorities for spending each incremental revenue dollar continued to crowd out the opportunity to institute consistent actuarial funding for OPEB benefits; the path of least resistance for policymakers who lack foresight and a sense of fiscal responsibility has been to keep kicking the can.
So it is that between 2015 and 2019, the state and local sector had clearly sorted itself into three classes of employers: (1) those who had trimmed or modified their OPEB commitments and liabilities to sustainable levels, (2) those who had begun actuarial funding of an OPEB trust fund, and (3) those doing nothing and leaving the problem to their successors and future taxpayers.
The unfunded liabilities of Illinois? suburban and downstate public safety pensions rose to $13 billion in the last year of compiled results reported to the state, continuing a 29-year climb that underscores the deep strains on local government budgets.
The unfunded tab for the 295 firefighter funds and 352 police funds outside of Chicago grew to $13 billion in fiscal 2019 from $12.3 billion in 2018 and $11.5 billion in 2017. Police accounted for $7.5 billion of the total and firefighters for $5.5 billion, according to a new report from the state legislature?s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
The rising tab could help the Illinois Municipal League?s case in arguing for lawmakers during their 2022 session to loosen funding requirements.
The League wants a re-amortization of the funding schedule that would extend the target date for achieving 90% funding beyond fiscal 2040, and lower the funding target to 80% from 90%. While both would ease the burdens on governments market participants have warned they are Band-Aid fixes that don?t solve the underlying funding strains.
If inflation pushes up interest rates and accelerates wage growth, that could take some of the pressure off of public pension plan performance. Since the Great Recession, pension plans have been steadily lowering their assumed annual rate of return to better match the low-interest rate environment. Pension plan actuaries factor that rate when in calculating a government’s annual pension bill. Lowering that rate results in a higher bill because governments have to make up the difference.
More stable returns. Rising inflation can result in higher returns from a pension plan’s fixed-income assets. Unlike the volatile equities market, the nice steady investment return from fixed-income securities is much nicer to rely on from a planning perspective. In fact, bonds used to be pensions’ bread and butter until interest rates began falling in the 1990s.
That could result in lower pension bills for governments with healthy plans. Or in the case of struggling plans like Chicago or Kentucky, it could at least slow the pace of their rising pension bills.
Higher worker contributions. What’s more, noted Brainard, accelerated wage growth also means those workers paying into pension plans will be contributing slightly more. “What wages will do when inflation is 2% is a lot different than when it’s 6%,” he said.
The federal government provided $512 billion in direct financial assistance to help state and local governments cover their expenditures and revenue losses associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So far, about $400 billion of that total has been disbursed. Here are some notable trends showing how lower levels of government have spent some of their relief funds using a database compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
In fact, the state originally did intend to pay off the Federal Reserve loan with other federal bailout money from ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act, according to The Bond Buyer. But the “Treasury threw a wrench in repayment prospects” when the initial federal guidance barred the use of ARPA aid for debt repayment. “The state lobbied for a change in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. But as state tax collections turned rosier, state leaders opted instead to cover repayment with tax collections,” says The Bond Buyer.
The bottom line is that all of us, as federal taxpayers, will bear the cost of the federal bailout, for Illinois and other states, whether through higher taxes to repay the Treasury or inflation created by Federal Reserve money creation. And Illinois will be worse off because only Illinois borrowed extra and incurred interest costs.
So, no, Governor Pritzker, paying back this loan ahead of schedule doesn’t mean Illinois achieved a “level of fiscal prudence not seen in our state for decades.”
Reports say the pension will run out of money in less than four months, according to Philadelphia’s PBS station, WHYY. One of the primary reasons for this situation appears to date back to 2009, when the pension board adjusted the pension calculation procedure. These adjustments seem to have made it easier for some police officers to spike their pensions.
Under the 2009 change, police officer pensions in Chester were calculated using the salary of the final year of service, which may have encouraged some officers to work overtime as much as possible in their final year in order to inflate their pensions, according to the state’s appointed receiver. In October 2021, this rule was changed so that calculations will now be based upon the last three years of service.
This one-year policy, combined with the practice of spiking among approximately 80 police officers, appears to be the cause of the pension system’s lack of funding. Officials are hoping to recoup some of the overpayments to retirees, and they are expecting future payments to be reduced significantly.
Nationally, the U.S. population only grew by 0.1 percent between July 2020 and July 2021, the lowest rate since the nation’s founding. Pandemic-induced excess deaths, virtually nonexistent international in-migration, and an already-declining birth rate yielded an almost flat population trend nationwide. This, however, belies state-level and regional differences. Whereas the District of Columbia’s population shrunk by 2.8 percent between April 2020 (roughly the start of the pandemic) to July 2021, New York lost 1.8 percent of its population, and Illinois, Hawaii, and California rounded out the top five jurisdictions for population loss, Idaho was gaining 3.4 percent, while Utah, Montana, Arizona, South Carolina, Delaware, Texas, Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina all saw population gains of 1 percent or more.
The picture painted by this population shift is a clear one of people leaving high-tax, high-cost states for lower-tax, lower-cost alternatives. The individual income tax is only one component of overall tax burdens, but it is often highly salient, and is illustrative here. If we include the District of Columbia, then in the top one-third of states for population growth since the start of the pandemic (April 2020 to July 2021 data), the average combined top marginal state and local income tax rate is 3.5 percent, while in the bottom third of states, it is about 7.3 percent.