2015 Piglet Book Proposes $2.6 Billion in Savings

With the Senate budget looming on the horizon, it is time to consider how to make Ohio fiscally responsible. In that spirit, The Buckeye Institute released its 2015 Ohio Piglet Book, detailing close to $2.6 billion in wasteful and excessive state spending.

10% of these savings come from eliminating special favors to private companies. Ohio spends close to $220 million on subsidies, grants, and other forms of corporate welfare. The government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in private industry, yet this is exactly what occurs when politicians issue grants to specific businesses. Using taxpayer money to support government-favored businesses is ethically inappropriate and economically harmful.

Just as private industry should guide investment, private charity should guide culture and philanthropy. Artistic and cultural endeavors can and should be driven by voluntary donors rather than by government fiat. This would save a further $55.7 million.

The most dramatic savings come from a disciplined, proactive approach to limited spending growth. It is reasonable, of course, to expect agency budgets to rise along with prices and a growing population, which makes inflation rates and population-growth good guides for tracking public spending growth. This pace would suggest that agency budgets should increase, for the most part, by not more than 3% per year.  While many agencies managed to do this well or better, overall $1.9 billion of the budget comes from growth above this benchmark.

The principles outlined in the full report would move Ohio towards a responsible, pro-growth budget. Governor Kasich and the General Assembly should reconsider their plan for 2016 and 2017, cutting back on what they do not need, and abdicating roles for which the public sector is less qualified.

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You’re Invited to An Evening with Steve Moore and Paul Atkins

On Tuesday, May 19, The Buckeye Institute will be hosting Steve Moore from the Wall Street Journal and former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins at the Cleveland Marriott East in Beachwood, OH. Moore and Atkins will be speaking about regulations that are hurting Ohio’s prosperity and what can be done to reform them. Please join us at 5:30pm for a cocktail reception; the program will begin at 6:30pm followed by a private dinner. Seats are limited. Register now.

About the Speakers

Stephen Moore is a distinguished visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation who previously served as the senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page and a member of the Journal’s editorial board. Mr. Moore continues to be a regular contributor at the Wall Street Journal and other outlets, including Fox News, CNN, and CNBC. He was founder and president of the Club for Growth, and is the author of many books.

Paul Atkins is chief executive of Patomak Global Partners LLC, a financial services consulting firm that provides strategic regulatory advice, risk management and compliance services, and enforcement and litigation support. Mr. Atkins served as a commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from 2002 to 2008 and as a member of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) from 2009 to 2010.

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Ohio Supreme Court calls a foul on Cleveland’s jock tax

On April 30th, former Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer likely did end zone dances that would make Chad Ochocinco blush.  Their cause for celebration was the Supreme Court of Ohio’s ruling that the city of Cleveland must return a few thousand dollars of income tax to each of their bank accounts.  While their multi-million dollar NFL salaries dwarf the refund checks, the ruling was a moral victory for these gridiron veterans.

Jeff Saturday’s lawsuit provides the clearest picture of the problem.  The Colts played one game against the Browns in 2008, and Cleveland’s income tax was withheld from Saturday’s paycheck for that game—despite the fact that he had remained home in Indianapolis for physical therapy!

The policy in question is the so-called “jock tax,” which allows Cleveland to collect income taxes on the earnings of any professional athlete who plays in the city.

Jock taxes are not unique to Cleveland.  According to the Plain Dealer, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis all levy jock taxes.  However, the Ohio Supreme Court decided that Cleveland’s method of assessing the jock tax is unconstitutional.

The justices unanimously agreed that while Cleveland may tax out-of-state athletes for the portion of their incomes earned within the city, Cleveland may not tax any portion of their incomes that were not earned within the city.  Previously, Cleveland’s method of assessing the jock tax did, in fact, fall on income earned outside of the city limits.

This overreach violates The Buckeye Institute’s tax principles of simplicity and fairness.  The jock tax is difficult to calculate because it must be apportioned properly to the athlete’s share of income earned in each city and must be calculated for many different jurisdictions.  The city’s income tax also exempts the first 12 days of income earned in Cleveland—except for certain people like athletes and entertainers.  This is fundamentally unfair because it places different tax burdens on taxpayers with similar earnings.  More importantly to the justices, Cleveland’s implementation of the tax violates the due process clause of the United States Constitution.

The Ohio Supreme Court did not eject the jock tax from Cleveland’s tax game entirely.  Instead, Cleveland must revise their game plan so that the jock tax stays in bounds, although city tax officials estimate that such changes will result in a loss of about $1 million of revenue per year.  Regardless, the ruling will go down as a win for all out-of-state athletes who play in Cleveland, and for all proponents of fair and simple tax policy

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Putting money in your pocket: New study finds consumers benefit from shale gas boom

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research underscores the economic benefits of shale drilling and strengthens the case against Governor Kasich’s proposed severance tax increase.  Imposing such a high severance tax on shale gas drilling would curtail production in Ohio and reduce or eliminate the benefits for Ohio natural gas consumers.

The NBER working paper estimates that the shale gas boom provided natural gas consumers with $74 billion per year in economic benefits from 2007 to 2013. Researchers Catherine Hausman and Ryan Kellogg credit these benefits to technological improvements in shale drilling (often called “fracking”).  Drillers leveraged this technological innovation to produce a much greater supply of natural gas, which drove prices down by 47% over those six years.

Interestingly, Hausman and Kellogg found that gas producers did not share in the same benefits that gas consumers enjoyed, because the detrimental impact of low prices outweighed the boost in production.  Overall, producers were on the losing end to the tune of about $26 billion.

More relevant for Ohioans is the finding that the Midwest region was second only to the south central United States (like Texas and Oklahoma) in the share of consumer benefits.  Midwestern natural gas consumers reaped a great share of shale rewards because of our region’s high levels of industrial activity and use of natural gas for electricity generation.  The study also presents strong but ultimately inconclusive evidence that the shale gas boom helped to grow manufacturing and create blue-collar industrial jobs.

This independent analysis supports The Buckeye Institute’s position that Ohio policymakers should not support an increased severance tax on shale drilling.  Because of the shale boom, families are saving money on their gas bills and manufacturers are putting Ohioans back to work.  Meanwhile, gas producers are distressed by low prices.  Imposing a heavy severance tax will force these struggling producers to cut back or leave, which ultimately hurts Ohio families and weakens state economic growth.

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Why is government transparency important?

According to the Tax Foundation, Ohioans pay approximately $4,217 per person in state and local taxes each year.  In total, the State of Ohio will collect just under $22 billion in revenue from in-state sources in 2015, and billions more will be collected by various local governments.  These same officials also have great power to make policies—from local zoning decisions to statewide occupational licensing rules—that affect a taxpayer’s ability to make a living and stay out of prison.  These facts invite several important questions, including:  How is this money being spent?  Would those funds have been put to better use in the hands of private citizens and businesses?  Who gets to make these policies, and who do these policies really benefit?

None of these questions can be answered without a comprehensive and well-enforced system of government transparency.  That is why The Buckeye Institute created a first-of-its-kind transparency database in 2010.  Concerned Ohio taxpayers have searched this pioneering database over 12.3 million times since its inception.

The Buckeye Institute has continued to make government transparency a top priority by partnering with the office of Treasurer Josh Mandel to help create the Ohio Checkbook.  This online, searchable database is a best-in-class state transparency tool that is promising to shine sunlight into the most opaque parts of the state’s coffers.  Additionally, Buckeye’s Statehouse Liaison and Policy Analyst, Greg Lawson, recently testified on two major pieces of transparency legislation.  One testimony was in regards to Representative Dovilla’s OpenOhio bill, which would allocate funds to maintain the Ohio Checkbook.  Lawson also testified on the benefits of Representative Duffey and Hagan’s DataOhio bill, an initiative to create a local government spending database.  [s1] Both of these bills would offer great leaps forward in making Ohio’s governments more transparent for citizens.

Aside from The Buckeye Institute and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s office, Auditor of State Dave Yost continues to be a strong watchdog over government waste and abuse.  His office provides downloadable local government financial data, public records training for government employees, and cost-saving resources.

And last but not least, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office continues to be an important resource for Ohioans who need help obtaining public records from obstinate government officials.  The Attorney General’s office also publishes the Ohio Sunshine Manual, an essential document for any citizen hoping to arm themselves against public officials who don’t want to comply with sunshine laws.

As James Madison said, “[a] popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  The Buckeye Institute is proud to carry on its legacy of arming the people of Ohio with the power of this government knowledge.

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Welfare reform in Maine provides lessons for Ohio

Ohio, like many other states, has had its welfare rolls expand while its labor force has declined.  A new report from The Buckeye Institute highlights several welfare program reforms championed by Maine Governor Paul LePage that could serve Ohio and other states well.  Governor LePage’s efforts are aimed at ensuring that limited resources are better targeted to reach those with the most need while avoiding misuse that keeps individuals trapped in government-run assistance programs and out of employment.

Welfare reforms critical to Maine’s development include:

  • Requiring drug testing for anyone receiving TANF Program cash assistance who had a previous drug conviction and connecting likely drug users with assistance to get clean;
  • Tracking and blocking the use of TANF cash benefits, especially electronic benefit cards (EBT), at locations such as casinos or liquor stores;
  • Beginning a pilot program that includes a photo ID on EBT cards to reduce fraud;
  • Hiring additional fraud investigators;
  • Enhanced coordination between the Maine Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education to get those on Food Stamps employed more rapidly.

Report author Greg R. Lawson said,

“Moving people into jobs is not merely a matter of dollars and cents, it is also a moral issue.  We should be empowering Ohioans to break out of poverty while assuring government assistance remains a safety net rather than a safety hammock.”


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Ohio’s Severance Tax Policy Should Look Beyond 17th Century Economics

In his 2015 State of the State Address, Governor Kasich argued that Ohio needed to increase the tax on oil and gas extraction—the severance tax—because removing oil and gas from the ground makes Ohio poorer.  Is this true?  Is Ohio poorer because of oil and gas extraction?  This debate isn’t new.  In fact, there was once a school of thought, the mercantilists, who made similar arguments in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fortunately, the work of great economists such as Adam Smith soundly proved the error of this thinking. What was true in the days of Adam Smith is true today.  Ohio benefits from the economic growth induced by the shale boom.  Increasing the severance tax will discourage shale-drilling activity, which will be the true culprit in making Ohio poorer.

Mercantilists did not see free trade as mutually beneficial because they thought one party could gain only at the other’s expense.  They were strong nationalists who wanted to maximize the national wealth by tightly controlling the economy.  These ideas and motives led them to implement misguided policies that restricted trade in order to hoard gold and silver.

But this was a flawed doctrine that only hindered its adherents in their stated goal of maximizing national wealth.  Adam Smith correctly explained that when producers and consumers freely trade, both parties win.  This leads to economic growth and true prosperity, regardless of how much gold is in the king’s vault.

Governor Kasich argued that, “Ohio’s being made poorer as a result of the depletion of our resources… Much of the wealth the shale boom is generating is being shipped out of our state, being shipped out of Ohio.”

His proposed remedy is to dramatically increase the state severance tax on horizontal drillers so that, like the mercantilist philosophers in days of old, the state can build up its savings with the tax revenue.  He views the shale oil and gas deposits sitting in the ground as part of Ohio’s wealth.  Because of this view, Kasich hopes to maintain this wealth by taxing shale production and saving the revenues.

But as Adam Smith ably proved, this economic view is erroneous.  Oil and gas deposits do not create wealth for Ohio by merely sitting in the ground beneath thousands of feet of rock. It’s the extraction of the deposits, thanks to new horizontal drilling technology, that makes them profitable.  Horizontal drillers add value to those oil and gas deposits by using advanced machinery, skilled labor, and technical know-how to bring them to the surface and make them usable.  In the process, these drillers generate business for Ohio-based companies and create high-paying jobs for Ohio citizens.  In turn, the state government, local governments, and local schools receive higher tax revenues as well.

Increasing the severance tax discourages shale-drilling activity, which consequently discourages growth.  Moreover, any surplus to the state from this tax increase will be more than offset by the loss of jobs, investment, and spending that would have been created by keeping those resources in the private economy.  Those who benefit directly from the shale boom re-invest some of their proceeds, resulting in even more wealth and job creation.  Their income also becomes their spending, which becomes income for people who then benefit indirectly from shale production.  In this way, all Ohioans share in the benefits of the shale boom without the need for state intervention.

The Kasich administration has repeatedly overestimated the level of oil and gas production in Ohio, and consequently, has repeatedly overestimated the amount of severance tax revenue the state would receive.  Significantly increasing the tax will surely maintain this pattern.  The Governor further argued for his proposal by emphasizing that, “If you don’t drill, you don’t pay.”  But the last thing that Ohio should want is for companies not to drill, and to instead take their valuable economic contribution elsewhere.

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