Saturday, January 24, 2015

How will Illinois’ High Court Rule on Pension Reform? (an analysis from Crain’s Chicago Business)




“The members of the Illinois Supreme Court are difficult to predict on any one issue but tend to follow clear voting patterns, according to Crain's statistical analysis of decisions. They are also politicians, four Democrats and three Republicans, who face the voters every 10 years in increasingly costly elections in which business interests, personal injury lawyers, unions and political parties play key roles, the publication found. 

“Legal experts say it's a tough call whether a majority of the justices will uphold the ruling in November of a circuit judge in Springfield who voided the pension law, saying it violated the Illinois Constitution… Some experts say the court tipped its hand last year with its 6-1 decision in Kanerva v. Weems, which held that health care benefits for retired state workers are constitutionally protected. 

“However, that case didn't address the question of whether the pension law was justified by the state's police powers, which give broad authority to the General Assembly to act for the general welfare, for example by properly funding education, health care and public safety, especially in light of a pension crisis that threatens to engulf the state's finances. While the justices say they base decisions on the law, there's a political dimension to their roles in a system where judges are elected… 

“The pension case involves both public employee benefits and constitutional issues, two areas in which the court often has been skeptical about plaintiffs' cases in recent years. In seven cases involving public employee benefits since Theis was named to the bench, the court reversed two-thirds of the appellate decisions won by defendants but 75 percent of those won by plaintiffs... Three cases, including two combined into one decision, were reversed on 4-3 votes. The others were more lopsided, but the majority varied from case to case…” 

For the complete article, Click Here.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Another Form of Pension Theft or Taxing Only Public Employees’ Retirement Income




“… [Recently], Carol Marin had a panel that consisted of Democratic Representative Elaine Nekritz and Senator Kwame Raoul. And some Republicans. Carol asked if Elaine has considered alternative revenue sources. Elaine responded by sharing the fact that almost half of retirement income in the state goes to those under 65, suggesting they would tax that.

“No suggestion of a graduated income tax. Or a tax on millionaires. An increase in corporate taxes or a stock transaction tax. The first and only thing that popped out of Elaine’s mouth was a tax on retirement income. 

Watch the video. 

“Carol Marin looks somewhat shocked. Carol asked, ‘Isn’t that Democratic Party heresy?’ Silly Carol. Avoiding taxing the rich and going after retirement benefits isn’t Democratic Party heresy. It’s Democratic Party policy…” (Fred Klonsky).  


“…On changing the current tax structure, an issue proposed by Carol Marin with some suggestion toward a ‘progressive’ plan, Nekritz jumped right in: ‘Yes, I hope we would look at that.  For example, about half 46% of all retirement income that is not taxed in Illinois goes to people under the age of 65.  That's one of the things I think we should be considering and looking at.’ When asked if this idea were ‘Democratic heresy?’ Nekritz replied that it wasn't ‘when you consider we always want to broaden the base to lower the rate, which is always the goal of tax policy…” (John Dillon).  

“In whose world view of fairness is there taxing retirees ahead of billionaires?” (Klonsky).

Commentary:

“There can be no doubt that behind [any attempt to tax retirees (who were public employees)]…, there is [a dissolute] organization at work. An organization which not only [perpetuates] corrupt [dealings via politicians (like Madigan, Nekritz, Biss, et al.)]…, of whom the best that can be said is that they recognize their own limitations, but also have at [their] disposal [bureaucratic alternatives in addition to subornative corporatists, lobbyists and officious reporters]. .. And the significance of this… [maleficent] organization…? It consists in this, that innocent persons [are victimized by prejudicial] senseless [rulings that] are put in motion against them… How is it possible… to prevent gross corruption [in Illinois]…?” (With apologies to Franz Kafka, The Trial). 

Re-amortize the pension debt.
Expand Illinois’ sales tax base.
Enact a graduated rate income tax (CTBA).
Establish a financial transaction tax: a .50 cent tax on every $100 of transacting. “We used to have a financial transaction tax in this country from 1914 to 1966” (Bill Moyers).



As stated by David Madland, Director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Nick Bunker, Special Assistant with the Economic Policy team at that Center a few years ago: “The costs of public-sector pensions are often implicated in the conservative budget critique... [Most pension systems across the country are] underfunded…  [A] pension funding shortfall is a not an immediate crisis but rather a problem with a long-time horizon. Pension plans have sufficient funds to pay all benefits for years to come… The extent of the shortfall is often overblown. Claims that public-sector pensions face shortfalls… assume pension funds will only earn the so-called riskless rate of return, which economists calculate in the range of about 4 percent to 5 percent. This ignores that pension funds have actually earned returns well above that riskless rate for many decades—above 9 percent since 1984—and are likely to continue to do so.” 

What’s more, add to this data that “government employees and public-sector unions are the folks conservatives love to ‘tar’ for the unpleasant fiscal situation in state and local governments. But there is little evidence that government workers or public-sector unions are responsible for budget deficits. Employee compensation has remained a constant share of state expenditures, and state and local workers are actually underpaid relative to comparable private-sector workers. Instead, the short-term deficits [were] primarily the result of the Great Recession [and a lack of proper funding to the public pension systems for decades]” (Madland, Bunker).  

Conclusively, “claims that public-sector pensions will bankrupt state and local governments are exaggerated… Policymakers [who] attempt to reduce their budget deficit by cutting solely public employee compensation [through healthcare/pension theft and unfair taxation]—rather than by considering a balanced approach of appropriate cuts in several areas of the budget and revenue increases—[will create] large-scale job losses among public-sector workers, [jeopardize the subsistence of thousands of retirees and their families] and [generate] more pain for the overall [state’s] economy” (Madland, Bunker).


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Unfair Taxation from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy/ Illinois has fifth most regressive state/local taxation in nation from Capitol Fax




EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

The 2015 Who Pays: A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All Fifty States (the fifth edition of the report) assesses the fairness of state and local tax systems by measuring the state and local taxes that will be paid in 2015 by different income groups as a share of their incomes.1 The report examines every state and the District of Columbia. It discusses important features of each state’s tax system and includes de­tailed state-by-state profiles that provide essential baseline data to help lawmakers understand the effect tax reform proposals will have on constituents at all income levels.

The report includes these main findings:

• Virtually every state tax system is fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families. The absence of a graduated personal income tax and overreliance on consumption taxes exacerbate this problem.

• The lower one’s income, the higher one’s overall effective state and local tax rate. Combining all state and local income, property, sales and excise taxes that Americans pay, the nationwide average effective state and local tax rates by income group are 10.9 percent for the poorest 20 percent of individuals and families, 9.4 percent for the middle 20 percent and 5.4 percent for the top 1 percent.

In the 10 states with the most regressive tax structures (the Terrible 10) the bottom 20 percent pay up to seven times as much of their income in taxes as their wealthy counterparts. Washington State is the most regressive, followed by Florida, Texas, South Dakota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ari­zona, Kansas, and Indiana.

• Heavy reliance on sales and excise taxes are characteristics of the most regressive state tax systems. Six of the 10 most regressive states derive roughly half to two-thirds of their tax revenue from sales and excise taxes, compared to a national average of roughly one-third. Five of these states do not levy a broad-based personal income tax (four do not have any taxes on personal income and one state only applies its personal income tax to interest and dividends) while four have a personal income tax rate structure that is flat or virtually flat.

• State personal income taxes are typically more progressive than the other taxes that states levy (e.g. property, consumption). Sales and excise taxes are the most regressive, with poor families paying almost eight times more of their income in these taxes than wealthy families, and middle income families pay­ing five times more. Property taxes are typically regressive as well, but less so than sales and excise taxes.

• Personal income taxes vary in fairness due to differences in rates, deductions, and exemptions across states. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit improves progressivity in 25 states and the District of Columbia, while nine states undermine progressivity by allowing taxpayers to pay a reduced rate on capital gains income, which primarily benefits higher-income households.

• State consumption tax structures are highly regressive with an average 7 percent rate on sales and excise taxes for the poor, a 4.7 percent rate for middle-income people, and a 0.8 percent rate for the wealthiest taxpayers. Because food is one of the largest expenses for low-income families, taxing food is particularly regressive; five of the ten most regressive states tax food at the state or local level.

• Taxes on personal and business property are a significant revenue source for both states and locali­ties and are generally regressive in their overall effect, particularly for middle-income households. A homestead exemption (exempting a flat dollar or percentage amount of property value from a property tax) lessens regressivity. A property tax circuit breaker that caps the amount a property owner pays in property taxes based on their personal income can also reduce regressivity; none of the 10 most regres­sive states offer this tax break to low-income families of all ages.

• States commended as “low tax” are often high tax states for low- and middle-income families. The 10 states with the highest taxes on the poor are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington. Seven of these are also among the “terrible ten” because they are not only high tax for the poorest, but low tax for the wealthiest…

For the complete report, Click Here.


Illinois has fifth most regressive state/local taxation in nation from Capitol Fax:
  
“...Illinois has the most unfair tax system in the Midwest. As a percentage of their income, the poor pay more, and the rich pay less in taxes here than in any of our neighboring states.” said David Lloyd, director of the Fiscal Policy Center. “That’s what happens when taxes are not based on ability to pay, but rather on a flat rate.”

Illinois’ tax system is regressive, because the lower one’s income, the higher one’s tax rate. This is in part because Illinois, unlike most other states, does not have an income tax where taxpayers with higher incomes pay a higher rate and taxpayers with lower incomes pay a lower rate. Without such a fair income tax, there is nothing to offset the higher share of income that poorer taxpayers pay in sales and property taxes.

How Illinois taxes residents matters for a variety of reasons. In recent years, anti-tax advocates have pushed for tax policies across the country that would reduce tax rates for the wealthy and businesses. In Illinois, the recent income tax cut disproportionately benefits the wealthy, while many of the proposed ideas to partially offset the deep revenue losses would increase taxes on poor and middle-income families.

There’s also a more practical reason for Illinois and all states to be concerned about regressive tax structures, according to ITEP. If the nation fails to address its growing income inequality problem, states will have difficulty raising the revenue they need over time. The more income that goes to the wealthy (and the lower a state’s tax rate on the wealthy), the slower a state’s revenue grows over time.

“In recent years, multiple studies have revealed the growing chasm between the wealthy and everyone else,” said Matt Gardner, executive director of ITEP. “Upside down state tax systems didn’t cause the growing income divide, but they certainly exacerbate the problem. State policymakers shouldn’t wring their hands or ignore the problem. They should thoroughly explore and enact tax reform policies that will make their tax systems fairer” (Capitol Fax).

Commentary:

It is true pension reform will not address the current unfunded liability and the state's legislators should focus upon structural reforms for revenue and pension debt, but they have no political will to do it. Solving the shortfall between available assets and accrued liabilities is not the issue. It’s a symptom of a greater cause. Pension systems carry liabilities into perpetuity because they are “perpetual government agencies” (The Teachers’ Retirement System of Illinois). There is never a need to match assets and liabilities ever.

It is also true that most state legislators lack the political backbone to address the causes of the budget problems but prefer scapegoating public employees and their pension systems instead. They are abetted by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, Illinois Policy Institute, and the Chicago Tribune, to name just a few wealthy groups that perpetuate unfairness. Illinois legislators do not want to pay what is owed to the public pension systems even though past legislators, especially past governors, were the cause of the public pension systems’ lack of funding throughout the decades.

What is needed to solve the budget problems in Illinois is a better revenue base to pay the state’s self-induced debts. What is easier to do is to evade serious problem solving of the budget issue and to incriminate the state’s public employees instead.

The issue at hand is the state’s regressive tax rate that no one wants to confront. The public lacks awareness and understanding about the main causes of the state’s budget deficits. Legislators, the Civic Committee, et al. have capitalized on the public's ignorance of the essential causes of the state's financial debacle by calling for budget cuts and radical pension reform as the solutions. They are diversionary, scapegoating tactics that will bring intentional, financial harm to public employees/retirees and allow legislators to escape legal and ethical responsibility.

“At the core of the budget ‘crisis’ facing [Illinois] is [its] regressive state tax structure… that is, low-and-middle-income families pay a greater share of their income in taxes than the wealthy… [A regressive tax] disproportionately impacts low-income people because, unlike the wealthy, [low-income people] are forced to spend a majority of their income purchasing basic needs that are subject to sales taxes” (United for a Fair Economy).

Instead of reforming the state's tax system, legislators (and their wealthy subsidizers) have focused on radical pension reform and severe budget cuts to services that the rest of us need. What do the wealthy and their puppet legislators propose? They propose sweeping, radical pension reform that will destroy the public employees’ defined-benefit pension plans, even though they know current unfunded liabilities will not be resolved by pension reform.

In addition, Illinois legislators propose budget cuts that will undermine healthcare for children, the elderly and low-income families; budget cuts that will prolong and increase the state’s unemployment; budget cuts in public safety and transportation; budget cuts in education; and budget cuts that will stifle economic recovery while increasing profits for the wealthy elite.

It is true that if the State of Illinois “does not [create] a contemporary tax system, one that is both sound and responsive to the needs of state, basic and necessary programs face the chopping block” (Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, CTBA).

Consider, for example, budget cuts in K through 12 and higher education: “Disparities in [the state’s] school funding and, therefore, quality of education, would be significantly reduced if the primary basis for school funding was on state revenues,” and that is why Illinois is “next to last in a ranking of states based on funds spent on education” (CTBA). As it is now, property taxes used as the main sources of revenue for school funding guarantee income inequalities among school districts throughout the State of Illinois.

Let’s be concerned about why the State of Illinois cannot obtain more revenue. Besides federal sources of income, the state uses only 11 sources of revenue: personal income tax (but note that Illinois was tied for the fourth lowest individual tax rate on households in the top income bracket), corporate income tax (note the recent extortionate tax breaks given to some Illinois corporations), sales tax (note that Illinois does not tax services like most other states for another significant source of revenue), corporate franchise tax and fees, public utility taxes, vehicle use tax, inheritance tax, insurance taxes and fees, cigarette taxes, liquor taxes and other miscellaneous (or rather unsubstantial) tax sources (Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability).

In regards to sales taxes, “a majority of states apply their sales tax to less than one-third of 168 potentially-taxable services… [States that do not tax services, such as Illinois], probably could increase [its] sales tax revenue by more than one-third if [it] taxed services purchased by households comprehensively” (the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Consider that a broader-based taxation system would provide a decrease in taxes for low-income and many middle-income families. Taxing services alone “would generate enough revenue to stabilize the General Revenue Fund and prevent structural deficits that lead to cuts in basic needs and social service programs” (CTBA). As long as our legislators play their political ping pong game with one another, it is impossible to obtain any just resolutions to the state’s perpetuated budget problems.

So why can’t the State of Illinois provide a fair and sound tax system, one that is “efficient with minimal impact on the economic decisions that taxpayers have to make” (CTBA), one that captures increased revenues in times of economic growth, one that maintains revenue collections during poor economic times, one that is simple and not liable to inconspicuous error, one that is transparent and builds trust with the state’s government officials (CTBA), and one that helps 99 percent of the state’s population?

The answer is most legislators in the State of Illinois prefer the easy way out of a difficult and challenging situation. Illinois legislators will not address the most important causes of the state's budget deficits: the state's flat-rate taxation and pension debt because of their own self-interests and the wealthy one percent that bankrolls them.