Amendment 1 would grant government unions unprecedented bargaining powers as a “fundamental right,” including the power to override voters and state lawmakers. Proponents are selling it as a constitutional ban on passing right-to-work laws – laws that protect employees’ rights to keep their jobs without having to pay fees to a union. Illinois is not among the 28 states that currently have right-to-work laws, so that aspect has little meaning.
The amendment does include three other provisions that together would severely weaken taxpayers’ voices in state government and make it easier for government union bosses to make unaffordable demands in collective bargaining contracts. First, virtually anyone would have a fundamental right to collective bargaining if they could be considered an employee in any context, including even prisoners. Second, bargaining would be expanded beyond just wages, hours and working conditions to include broad new subjects covering public policy decisions or how to run a businesses. Third, the amendment prevents lawmakers from ever limiting or scaling back on these rights in any way.
Even without these provisions, powerful government unions helped public sector wages grow 60% faster than the private sector in Illinois from 1998 to 2019.
Peer-reviewed research shows stronger government worker unions cause the cost of government to increase, with powerful unions putting even more upward pressure on benefits than on wages. Government worker retirement benefits, which flow mostly to government union workers, have left Illinois local governments with $75 billion in pension debt and are already the primary cause of rising property taxes. Government unions helped Illinois politicians build the state and local pension crisis by supporting both unaffordable benefits as well as irresponsible funding games that pushed costs into the future.
Nationwide data from 2010 to 2019 show a significant statistical association between the percentage of government workers who are members of a government worker union and each state’s average effective property tax rate.
School districts sent $8,839,754.35 to the Teachers’ Retirement System of the state of Illinois to cover the cost of excess salary and excess sick time payments given to educators at the end of their careers in years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, according to records obtained by The Center Square. That’s on top of the more than $50 million in penalties districts have paid to TRS since the 2005 law passed, including $23.8 million since fiscal 2014. But districts only paid a fraction of what they actually owed due to exemptions built into the 2005 law.
“In the first 10 years of the program, 2005 to 2015, the excess salary contributions levied against school districts totaled $149.5 million, or an average of $14.95 million per year,” said Dave Urbanek, director of communications for the Teachers’ Retirement System of the state of Illinois. “However, because of exemptions to the 6% threshold built into the law at that time, districts paid only $39 million during that decade, or an average of $3.9 million per year.”
State Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, said some local taxpayers probably aren’t aware of how school districts are spending tax dollars. The majority of school district funding in Illinois comes from local property taxes. Most national analyses show Illinois residents pay, on average, the second highest property taxes in the U.S., behind only New Jersey.
Unrealistic assumptions and missed investment returns have meant Illinois taxpayers paid $13.7 billion more for public pensions than state leaders projected five years earlier. Unless the estimates improve, taxpayers will pay an extra $21.3 billion during the next decade.
Illinois does a particularly poor job of figuring out how much money is needed to pay its public pensions: The past decade has seen the projections miss by 16%, which meant taxpayers needed to give $13.7 billion more than was estimated.
A new study published by Pioneer Institute finds that issuing pension obligation bonds (POBs) to refinance $360 million of the MBTA Retirement Fund’s (MBTARF’s) $1.3 billion unfunded pension liability would only compound the T’s already serious financial risks.
With POBs, government entities deposit revenues from bond sales into their pension funds and use the money to make investments they hope will deliver returns that outpace borrowing costs.
“Virtually every study of POBs finds that timing and duration of the bond issues are critical,” said E.J. McMahon, author of “Rolling the Retirement Dice.” “Bonds floated at the end of a bull market are the most likely to lose money, and that makes this idea a wrong turn at the worst possible time.”
If investments don’t meet a pension fund’s assumed rate of return, it could be left with debt service costs in addition to the pre-existing unfunded liability. In 2015, the Government Finance Officers Association bluntly warned that “State and local governments should not issue POBs.” It reaffirmed its guidance last year.
The dollar auction is a truly evil game. I used to forbid people from playing it at Mathcamp. That’s not a joke.
I had a really ugly graph on that post, and yes, I’ve gotten better with the graphs over the years. The ugliness of that graph was a partial inspiration to seek solutions. (Other ugly graphs as well).
You can barely see it, but there was a POB between 2003 and 2005. It barely made a dent in the unfunded pension liability.
And what then? In the ten years since 2005, Illinois underfunded the TRS pension fund by at least a billion dollars a year.
With regards to contributions, there was a choice on the part of the “government”.
With regards to all the other reasons for shortfalls — investment experience, experience in salary changes and longevity — the government had less direct control. But they definitely had a choice with regards to how much of the budget to apply to the pensions.
And every damn year, the Illinois government made a conscious decision to shortchange the pension. That was not an accident.
POBs are most often used by governments that were shortchanging the pensions, or goosing the benefits in insane and seemingly sane ways, to paper over said shortchanging. This farce lasts only so long.
The “tax exclusion” for employer‐sponsored health insurance shields workers from paying income or payroll taxes on such benefits. The exclusion is an accident of history that predates modern health insurance and is roughly as old as the income tax itself. It fuels excessive health insurance coverage, medical spending, and health care prices and ties health insurance to employment. It has required Congress to intervene countless times to address problems it creates.
The exclusion requires a worker to let her employer control a sizable share of her earnings, to enroll in a health plan that is likely not her first choice, and to pay the remainder of the premium out of pocket. Overall, the tax code effectively threatens U.S. workers with $352 billion in additional taxes in 2022 if they do not let their employers control $1 trillion of their earnings. The additional tax that workers pay if they do not accept those terms constitutes an implicit penalty.
The tax code thus limits a worker’s ability to make her own health decisions. In the United States, compulsory health spending accounts for 83 percent of overall health spending, the ninth highest share among 34 advanced nations. The tax exclusion is the single largest contributor to compulsory health spending.
Reforming the exclusion would free U.S. workers to control $1 trillion of their earnings that employers currently control, give consumers more health care choices, and make health care more accessible. Building on the bipartisan success of tax‐free health savings accounts appears to present the best politically feasible opportunity for reform. The United States will not have a consumer‐centered health sector until workers control the $1 trillion of their earnings that the exclusion forces them to let employers control.
When is a tax break actually a tax penalty? When it’s the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance.
That’s what Michael Cannon, Cato Institute’s director of health policy studies, convincingly argues in his recent paper, End the Tax Exclusion for Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance. His paper is a compact lesson in the ways that some supposed tax breaks can effectively function as tax penalties, not only distorting markets, but invisibly penalizing people for their choices. And it’s a reminder of the ways that seemingly minor, offhanded policy decisions, made with little thought to long-term consequences, can exert a haunting influence long after they are made.
The tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance is exactly what it sounds like: a carve-out for health coverage offered through the workplace.
But he argues that, in practical terms, this tax break actually acts as a stealth penalty on workers who want to make their own health insurance choices. Typically even a generous employer only offers a handful of health plans, and those plans are unlikely to take the exact form an employee would otherwise choose on his or her own. If an employee wants to purchase any other plan, however, he or she would have to do it with money first received—and taxed—as cash compensation. Thanks to taxation, it would be worth a lot less. Thus the tax exclusion acts as a tax penalty on any employee who wants to choose their own health insurance.
Experience has once again verified Friedman’s and Lucas’s theories, reducing to nothing the naïve propositions of Modern Monetary Theory, a recent delusion of the American Left. According to this unscientific, ahistorical theory, legislatures can control the production of money and distribute it in a way that satisfies all needs, with no destructive consequences from expanding the money supply. The question of reimbursing a gigantic public debt is not supposed to arise, because no one can force the government to pay what it owes. But this magical solution, adopted in part by Joe Biden, ignores the fact that public debt produces inflation and that a debt that is not repaid, as in the case of Argentina, eventually ruins the currency. All this was well known, at least by economists, so it is surprising that governments in America and Europe had not taken it into account of late. They have short memories. From the 1980s until recently, inflation had been constrained thanks to public policies inspired by Friedman—but policymakers had forgotten its threatening presence, as if it belonged only to the past. We can liken inflation with pathogens: smallpox has disappeared, but vaccination is what made it disappear; stop vaccinating, and the evil can return. In the 1980s, central banks helmed by Friedman’s disciples, such as Paul Volcker in the United States or Jean-Claude Trichet in Europe, raised interest rates and defeated inflation by reducing the money supply. Today, economic policymakers will need to apply the same remedy as in 1980. Central banks are working on this, but their conversion comes late; they have waited for inflation to establish itself before responding, a delay that will make the remedy more painful.
Days after Obama lamented Democrats’ 2010 electoral “shellacking,” his commission released a plan to slash Social Security benefits and raise the program’s eligibility age. Economist Paul Krugman noted at the time that the commission also suggested using newly gained revenue to finance “sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.”
The plan ultimately did not receive the fourteen commission votes it needed to move forward, and a few years later in 2012, the House voted down a version of the proposal. That didn’t stop the Obama-Biden administration’s push: right after winning reelection — and after cementing much of the George W. Bush tax cuts — they tried to limit cost-of-living increases for Social Security, to the applause of Republican lawmakers.
Like Obama, Biden campaigned on a promise to protect Medicare and Social Security. But as we have reported, Biden is already affirming big Medicare premium increases and accelerating the privatization of that health care program. Biden also has not pushed to fulfill his promise to expand Social Security, even though there is new Democratic legislation that would do so.
And now with Graham’s comments, Republicans are banking on him becoming the old Joe Biden on Social Security if they win in November.
It’s not an insane political bet. After all, Biden for decades proposed cuts and freezes to Social Security and publicly boasted about it. Indeed, Biden spent most of his career depicting himself as an allegedly rare and courageous Democrat who was willing to push off his party’s base and tout austerity.
Business owners are likely saving more than $10 billion annually in federal taxes through state laws that circumvent the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of state data.
The state laws blunt the cap’s effect on owners of closely held businesses such as law firms, hedge funds, manufacturers and car dealerships, while workers earning wages generally can’t take advantage. The strategy, now available in 27 states, converts business owners’ personal income taxes into deductible business taxes that escape what is known as the SALT cap on state and local tax deductions.
Much of the money flows to high-income people in California, New York and New Jersey, while those in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Connecticut are likely saving hundreds of millions of dollars as well. It isn’t just a phenomenon in high-tax Democratic states. The proliferating workarounds mark a rare case where a state-tax policy trend has been swift, national and bipartisan, and Utah, Georgia, Arizona, South Carolina and Kansas now have similar laws.
For states, approving the workarounds has been easy, because their residents benefit and state tax collections are barely altered. For business owners, the chance to lower federal tax bills is attractive, and industry groups are lobbying in the states that haven’t yet enacted workarounds.
Corporations too are projected to pay more, with payments predicted to grow by 6 percent, amid a projected 10 percent increase in profits.
Some companies’ tax bills are being pushed up by supply chain problems, CBO said. Normally, firms with big inventories are allowed to consider the last item they bought to be the one they just sold.
But when they dig deeply into or completely exhaust their inventories, they must recognize items bought long ago that may have cost them significantly less to purchase. Because the original price was lower, their profit looks bigger, and they owe more in taxes.
Also, provisions created as part of the 2017 tax overhaul targeting companies that stockpile profits in overseas tax havens are bringing in more revenue than forecasters anticipated.
“CBO continued to refine its treatment of income and deductions from foreign corporations and branches, including how it estimates taxes collected on global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI),” the agency said.