Merci, Jacques et Marie

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Kent GardnerThe French have voted with their hearts and picked Francois Hollande as President. And who can blame them for wanting to be more like Italy and less like Germany? More Roman Holiday and less The Spy Who Came In from the Cold?

We should be grateful to the French. We need exemplars—countries whose policies we embrace and countries whose polices we avoid. France seems determined to set a bad example, if they expect Hollande to follow through on his promises. This is a nation that hasn’t run a budget surplus in 35 years, where labor costs have been rising in the face of blistering global competition, and where the public sector controls more than half of the economy. Hollande promises to hire more public sectors workers, raise the marginal tax rate to 75%, and reverse Nicholas Sarkozy’s feeble encroachment on the entitlement mindset of the French worker. Read more »

Cutting the Budget’s Gordian Knot

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerThe financial problems of the nation and many large states—California, Illinois, New Jersey and certainly New York—present a problem that is challenging economically and hazardous politically. Since it’s impossible to separate the economics from the politics, it is truly a Gordian knot – rather than untying the knot, Alexander the Great sliced the Gordian knot in two with a single, bold stroke of his sword.

The Congressional Budget Office forecasts the federal deficit to decline from about $1.5 trillion in 2009 to $608 billion in 2014, then rise to nearly $800 billion in 2020. This is a hefty deficit, particularly when you consider that we had a surplus as recently as 2000. Then consider that the cumulative public debt, which currently stands at $7.5 trillion, is expected to nearly double by 2020 to $14 trillion.

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New York Wins Again

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Democrat & Chronicles.

Kent GardnerNew York swept the annual property tax competitions sponsored by the Census Bureau. Scored by the Tax Foundation, New York counties dominated the competition in the “property tax as a share of median home value” event, capturing all of the top ten places. Camden, New Jersey was pushed off the top ten after a spirited showing from New York’s Chemung County. Newcomer to the Top Ten, Chemung ranked #16 in 2007.

In the “property tax per dwelling” event, New York’s perennial champions, Nassau and Westchester counties, took the top two spots with Rockland and Putnam counties also placing. The remainder of the Top Ten was dominated by New Jersey, always a contender in the nation’s tax competition.

What a contest to win! Is there hope of ever losing this competition? What must we do to cut the cost of state and local government? Does it matter?

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Something’s Gotta Give: New York in Crisis

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerI’ve been in a funk since the 2009-10 state budget passed. The state’s elected leaders entered the budget negotiations confronting a potential $20 billion deficit, up from the $14 billion estimated when the Governor released his original budget proposal. That is, the state would have run a $20 billion deficit in 2009-10 if spending and revenue continued without changing anything structural (like tax rates or spending formulae). The faltering economy could no longer satisfy the state’s addiction to ever-greater spending.

Given such a dire forecast, we all wondered how the state would manage to find the money to avoid a major reduction in spending. Imagine our surprise when the Legislature and Governor pulled a rabbit out of the budgetary hat and increased budgeted spending by $12 billion, nearly 9% more than in 2008-09.

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Making Sense of Health Savings Accounts

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Originally published in Rochester Business Journal
1/9/2009, 1/16/2009, 1/23/2009

Kent GardnerPart One

Early signals from our health insurer led us to expect another double-digit increase in our insurance premiums—perhaps a 15% hit. Frankly, I thought that we were just being softened up for something lower—If I were led to expect 15%, then a mere 11% bump should make me (relatively) happy. I was stunned when the final price of the most popular of our plans would go up 21% in 2009.

The big increase in price led us to explore cheaper plans, particularly a policy that includes a “Health Savings Account” (HSA). The discussion below refers to the specific plans we were offered by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

CAUTION: The remainder of this column discusses insurance premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket maxima and other arcane health insurance jargon. Readers looking for lighter fare might prefer IRS Publication 17 or, perhaps, a William Faulkner novel.

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The state’s deficit problem is political, not technical

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerThis week’s conference on the state’s budget crisis—sponsored by the Empire Center on State Policy and the Center for Governmental Research Inc.—was organized around a technical question: What can be cut from New York’s budget to fix a deficit estimated (today, at least) at $12.5 billion? Yet the overriding problem is not technical but political. My colleague Erika Rosenberg, moderator of one of the sessions, asked the panelists this question: “What’s it going to take for the Legislature to make the unpopular decisions that are needed to balance the budget?”

Gov. David Paterson made the correct technical decision in calling the Legislature back for a special session on Nov. 18. Yet the brutal reality of New York politics eliminated any possibility of progress. With control of the state Senate still in question and the political risks starkly clear, the session never convened.

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