Republicans are winning in state government because their tax policies are winning

Link: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2022/03/06/republicans-are-winning-in-state-government-because-their-tax-policies-are-winning/

Excerpt:

Tax cuts remain a powerful tool to entice people and firms, and the pandemic has triggered a new tax war. After the lockdowns, states and cities predicted unprecedented revenue drops. Instead, economies bounced back quickly from the pandemic, partly because of widespread adoption of remote work and extensive federal aid from the Trump and Biden administrations — hundreds of billions of dollars in unemployment benefits (which kept individuals spending money), business loans and funding for local governments to fight COVID-19.

The March 2021 Biden stimulus then provided local governments with an unprecedented $350 billion to bolster their budgets. The revenue gusher has produced state budget surpluses where experts had only recently predicted steep deficits.

Nearly a dozen states, mostly Republican-governed, have used the windfall to cut taxes. Idaho reduced its corporate and individual tax rates and shrank its income-tax brackets from seven to five, producing a $163 million tax cut for residents and businesses. The state also sent $220 million in rebates to everyone who filed tax returns in 2019.

….

Advocates for higher taxes often say that the levies don’t drive away wealthy individuals or businesses. When New Jersey raised taxes on the wealthy in November 2020, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said, “When people say folks are going to leave, there’s no research anywhere that suggests that happens.”

Yet New Jersey, with taxes on the wealthy and on businesses long ranking among the nation’s highest, ranked a dismal 42nd in economic growth over the five years preceding the pandemic, according to one study, and it has been an economic laggard for two decades. Voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic state showed their disapproval in giving incumbent Murphy an extremely narrow victory in his November reelection bid. Polls showed that most voters favored the Republican position on cutting taxes over Murphy’s.

Author(s): Steven Malanga

Publication Date: 7 Mar 2022

Publication Site: Dallas Morning News

Texas teacher pension system makes investment in risky special purpose acquisition company

Link:https://reason.org/commentary/texas-teacher-pension-system-makes-investment-in-risky-special-purpose-acquisition-company/

Excerpt:

The Texas Teacher Retirement System recently announced that it would make its first investment in a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) totaling $200 million. Pension funds across the nations have spent the last decade seeking out higher investment yields from alternative investments like private equity in response to stagnating returns from more traditional investments. Recently a few funds have started to experiment with even more non-traditional vehicles such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs to improve investment results. Texas’ SPAC investment signals pension funds’ continued interest in these alternative assets.

….

SPACs are a perfect example of a high-risk, high-reward investment. Risk and transparency issues associated with this type of investment have even motivated the creation of SPAC insurance. Companies like HubInternational sell this insurance to investors for each stage of the SPAC process, ensuring they come out whole. Public pension funds like Texas TRS could theoretically buy this type of insurance on their SPAC investments, thus reducing the risk of the investment. The problem is the cost of SPAC insurance is rising fast, and the return adjusted for these costs is dwindling.

The risks associated with SPACs should make public pension funds very weary. Rather than continuing to take on riskier strategies to achieve lofty investment return goals, policymakers and those managing the retirement investments of public workers should lower assumed rates of investment returns and make other funding reforms that secure the long-term stability of retirement systems.

Author(s): Swaroop Bhagavatula

Publication Date: 21 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Reason

Wall Street’s Shift South Runs Into Texas, Florida Culture Wars

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-10-05/wall-street-s-shift-south-runs-into-texas-florida-culture-wars

Excerpt:

Wall Street’s three biggest municipal-bond underwriters have seen business grind to a halt in Texas after the state blocked governments from working with banks that have curtailed gun-industry ties. In June, as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was on the hunt for a new campus in Dallas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott took a shot at ESG initiatives by banning state investments in businesses that cut ties with oil and gas companies.

That’s not to mention the brawls over Covid vaccines and mask mandates, deadly Texas blackouts along the country’s most isolated power grid and new state laws that restrict voting and all but ban abortion. It’s all happening just as Wall Street’s shareholders push the industry to fight climate change, racism and the gender gap.

….

So far, most big banks haven’t taken public positions on the new abortion restrictions. They’re being cautious about requiring Covid-19 vaccinations for employees in places where officials have assailed mandates. But the new Texas gun law is running into both the industry’s efforts to advance social causes and its ability to work with the second-largest state for muni-bond issuance. 

JPMorgan Chase & Co. — which has 25,500 Texas employees, its most in any state outside New York — has said it can’t bid on most business with public entities in Texas because of ambiguities around the law. The biggest U.S. bank is assessing its potential next steps, said a person with knowledge of the company’s thinking. 

Author(s): Max Abelson, Amanda Albright

Publication Date: 5 October 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg

A New Study Confirms That Reopening Texas ‘100 Percent’ Had No Discernible Impact on COVID-19 Cases or Deaths

Excerpt:

More than two months later, the public health disaster predicted by Abbott’s critics has not materialized. A new analysis by three economists confirms that his decision had no discernible impact on COVID-19 cases or deaths in Texas.

“We find no evidence that the Texas reopening led to substantial changes in social mobility, including foot traffic at a wide set of business establishments in Texas,” Bentley University economist Dhaval Dave and his two co-authors report in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. “We find no evidence that the Texas reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases during the five weeks following the reopening.” They say their findings “underscore the limits of late-pandemic era COVID-19 reopening policies to alter private behavior.”

Dave, San Diego State University economist Joseph Sabia, and SDSU graduate research fellow Samuel Safford looked at smartphone mobility data from SafeGraph and COVID-19 data collected by The New York Times. They compared trends in Texas before and after Abbott’s order took effect on March 10 to trends in a composite of data from other states that retained their COVID-19 restrictions but were otherwise similar.

Author(s): Jacob Sullum

Publication Date: 21 May 2021

Publication Site: Reason

The COVID-19 Disaster That Did Not Happen in Texas

Excerpt:

Most businesses in Texas had been allowed to operate at 75 percent of capacity since mid-October, when Abbott also allowed bars to reopen. It was implausible that removing the cap would have much of an impact on virus transmission, even in businesses that were frequently hitting the 75 percent limit.

While Abbott said Texans would no longer be legally required to cover their faces in public, he urged them to keep doing so, and many businesses continued to require masks. At the stores I visit in Dallas, there has been no noticeable change in policy or in customer compliance.

Conversely, face mask mandates and occupancy limits did not prevent COVID-19 surges in states such as Michigan, where the seven-day average of newly confirmed infections has risen more than fivefold since March 1; Maine, which has seen a nearly threefold increase; and Minnesota, where that number has more than doubled. Cases also rose during that period, although less dramatically, in other states with relatively strict COVID-19 rules, including DelawareMarylandMassachusettsNew JerseyPennsylvania, and Washington.

Florida, a state often criticized as lax, also has seen a significant increase in daily new cases: 34 percent since mid-March. But Florida, despite its relatively old population, still has a per capita COVID-19 death rate only a bit higher than California’s, even though the latter state’s restrictions have been much more sweeping and prolonged.

Author(s): Jacob Sullum

Publication Date: 21 April 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Eviction Moratorium Deemed Unconstitutional by Federal Judge in Texas

Excerpt:

Judge J. Campbell Barker of the Eastern District of Texas, sided with plaintiffs who challenged the CDC’s eviction moratorium on Constitutional grounds. We’ve embedded the opinion for Terkel v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the end of this post. Even though some will be inclined to dismiss the ruling as politically-motivated (Barker was a Trump nominee), recall that it was the Trump Administration that first launched the eviction freeze. It initially ran through December 31, and covered tenants who gave their landlord a declaration attesting that the made less than $100,000 a year, had suffered a large hit to their income, were seeking assistance and would pay as much rent as they could. The Biden Administration planned to extend the moratorium to the end of March.

Bear in mind that the eviction halt dumped the cost of keeping coronavirus-whacked workers housed on landlords, rather than having the government provide income or rental subsidies.

Before we turn to the reasoning of the ruling, keep in mind that Judge Barker did not issue an injunction against the CDC’s moratorium, since the CDC apparently made noises at trial that they’d withdraw the moratorium if they lost. However, Barker told the plaintiffs they could come back and seek an injunction if the CDC didn’t play nice. There is no indication yet as to whether the Administration will appeal.

Author(s): Yves Smith

Publication Date: 26 February 2021

Publication Site: naked capitalism

Finicky COVID-19 vaccines raise the stakes of power outages

Link: https://www.theverge.com/science/2021/2/16/22285394/covid-vaccine-power-outage-freezer?mc_cid=cd30d3af2c&mc_eid=983bcf5922

Excerpt:

Winter storms paralyzing the United States have left millions without power and sent health officials scrambling to protect freezers full of COVID-19 vaccines, which have to be kept at extremely low temperatures or risk going bad.

Rolling blackouts through Texas took out at least one set of freezers full of the Moderna vaccine; 5,000 doses were sent to a university, a jail, and a handful of hospitals before they expired. The Oregon Health Authority is moving vaccines to places with power, although the agency isn’t disclosing which storage sites have their systems down. As part of its storm preparations, Kentucky made sure places holding COVID-19 vaccines had contingency plans.

Author(s): Nicole Wetsman

Publication Date: 16 February 2021

Publication Site: the Verge

Did your pipes burst during Texas’ winter storm? Here’s what to expect from insurance

Link: https://news.yahoo.com/did-pipes-burst-during-texas-220107004.html

Excerpt:

Chris Pilcic, a public affairs specialist for State Farm, said to first keep calm. Then, turn your water supply off and let all the remaining water in your pipes drain out

Next step, look over your damage, both to your property and your personal belongings. And then call your insurance agent.

“The average frozen pipe claim we paid in Texas last year was $10,300,” Pilcic said on Wednesday.

What comes out of your pocket will depend on your coverage and deductible.

Author(s): Nichole Manna

Publication Date: 17 February 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo News

Despite Starkly Different COVID-19 Policies, the U.S. and the U.K. Saw Similar Drops in Cases Around the Same Time

Excerpt:

Despite the stark difference in policy, both countries saw remarkably similar COVID-19 trends this winter. According to Worldometer’s numbers, the seven-day average of new cases peaked in the U.K. on January 9; it peaked in the U.S. two days later. That number then fell sharply in both countries. As of yesterday, it was down 81 percent in the U.K. and 73 percent in the U.S.

Daily deaths are also falling in both countries. As of yesterday, the seven-day average in the U.K. was down 61 percent from the peak on January 23. In the U.S., it was down 43 percent from the peak on January 26. Given the dramatic drop in daily new cases that began more than a month ago, daily deaths should continue to fall.

…..

The same story of starkly different policies and similar outcomes emerges from a comparison of Texas and California, the two most populous states. While California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a new lockdown on December 3, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did not impose new restrictions, and the state remained largely open. Yet since mid-January, the two states have seen almost the same drop in the seven-day average of newly reported cases, which has fallen by 85 percent in California and 81 percent in Texas.

Author(s): JACOB SULLUM

Publication Date: 22 February 2021

Publication Site: Reason

U.S. insurers brace for hefty claims from Texas storm once thaw sets in

Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-weather-texas-insurance/u-s-insurers-brace-for-hefty-claims-from-texas-storm-once-thaw-sets-in-idUSL1N2KO3AX

Excerpt:

U.S. property insurers are bracing for claims for damage from collapsing roofs, bursting pipes and lost business as Texas takes stock of its losses from a winter storm that has crippled its electrical grid.

Insurers’ losses could stretch into billions of dollars, said Moody’s analyst Jasper Cooper.

Insurers in Texas, the second-largest property insurance market among U.S. states, are used to grappling with historic storms, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

But this winter storm is unique because of its grip across the state. It crippled the electric grid and left hundreds of thousands of homes without power for four days.

Author(s): Suzanne Barlyn

Publication Date: 18 February 2021

Publication Site: Reuters

Confessions of a Lapsed Allocator

Link: https://www.institutionalinvestor.com/article/b1lhkrw4kqnn5m/Confessions-of-a-Lapsed-Allocator

Excerpt:

Public pension investment professionals spend too much time and effort fighting to do their jobs. Internal bureaucracy probably took up 25 percent of the total work hours of my small team. 

And it’s not about being lazy or unwilling to work hard. Consider, for example, an in-demand fund that had been in process for some time and finally created capacity — but required one month for work to be finished up before closing. Every week needed for internal paperwork, presentations, and hoop-jumping, well, that meant one less week of actual due diligence and investment debate. Or maybe we would have just passed on the manager, which is also suboptimal as it’s often the best-performing managers that require the most flexible processes.

This is counterproductive. And that’s not just an opinion. Research shows that the impact of due diligence in alternatives is meaningful for returns. Spending more hours doing actual research before making a decision results in higher returns, and the effect is more pronounced the greater the dispersion of returns. The act of getting that decision approved shouldn’t consume so much of a limited staff’s time. 

Author(s): Christopher Schelling

Publication Date: 5 May 2020

Publication Site: Institutional Investor

Texas storm may cost insurers record first-quarter losses – A.M. Best

Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-weather-texas-insurance-idUSKBN2AJ2IS

Excerpt:

 Insurers could suffer record first-quarter catastrophe losses after the historic Texas winter storm, which crippled the state’s electrical grid and caused extensive property damage including collapsed roofs and broken pipes, insurer credit rating agency A.M. Best said on Friday.

The storm occurred during a quarter that is typically the most benign for catastrophe losses, and could become the costliest winter weather event in Texas history, A.M. Best said in a report.

The Texas Department of Insurance plans to collect data from property insurers to assess costs stemming from the crippled electrical grid, roofing collapses, broken pipes and other problems, a spokesman said.

Author(s): Suzanne Barlyn

Publication Date: 19 February 2021

Publication Site: Reuters