When home prices and property taxes diverge

The latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, released yesterday, wasn’t pretty. Housing values continued to fall, their 5th consecutive year-on-year decline. (You can download the data here). The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland had this to say about the release:

According to today’s [Case-Shiller] report, the fourth quarter started with broad-based declines in home prices… On an annual basis, the 10-city composite is down 3 percent and the 20-city composite is down 3.4 percent, and eighteen of the 20 MSAs are also in negative territory.

Basically, there’s blood on the streets everywhere.

The Federal Reserve Board reports in its Flow of Funds data (line 4) that the value of household real-estate assets has declined from $22.7 trillion in 2006 to $16.1 trillion in the third quarter of 2011. That’s a loss of 30 percents. Have revenues from property taxes, which are supposed to reflect the property valuations, mirrored the same decline?

Thankfully not (yet). As we can see in the U.S. Census data graphed below, property taxes have mostly marched steadily northward. We see a slight flattening in 2009, but nothing to match the 30 percent decline in property values. Local governments should see this as a gift from increasingly stretched taxpayers. There may be room to raise tax rates in some places but there will also have to be local belt-tightening as declines in property values feed into declines in tax collections.

Who carries the heavier tax burden: corporations or people?

Ever wonder whether people or corporations carry a heavier tax burden? Well, it’s not even close: people pay more in taxes by a long shot.

First, let’s look at federal tax statistics. In 2008, corporations paid 12.0 percent of federal revenues; the figure for individuals was 45.3 percent. Similarly, total corporate income tax after credits came in at $200 billion in 2008, while total individual federal income tax over the same period was $1.145 billion.

Now let’s look at state tax stats. In 2008 corporations paid 4.27 percent of state and local revenues; over the same period individuals paid 27.9 percent of state revenues. Similarly, state corporate income taxes came in at $52 billion while state personal income taxes came in at $301 billion and state sales taxes came in at $ 278 billion.

Are teachers a protected class?

State and local employees have not been as hard hit as the general economy. At 19 million strong, this workforce comprises about 14.6 percent of total U.S. non-farm employment. It looks as if education workers are particularly being shielded from job cuts.

Chris Mauro, Head of U.S. Municipals Strategy at RBC Capital Markets wrote today in a privately circulated research note (emphasis mine):

[O]n a percentage basis, the state general government (non-education) sector has seen the largest decline in employment since December 2007. As of October 2011, it is down almost 6% from its recent peak.

State taxes on fire

State tax collections are hot, hot, hot. The taxman rustled up 16 percent more in state income taxes for the second quarter of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. Where is this phenomenal growth coming from?

Based on the most recent data collected by the Rockefeller Institute, states are raking in about $900 billion a year from their three major tax categories: the sales tax, personal income tax and corporate income taxes. Revenues from these three taxes total about 6.25% of U.S. GDP.

But it’s the personal income tax (PIT) that’s really driving the show. In the state of New York the PIT makes up about 60 percent of total tax revenues. In Oregon the PIT is an astonishing 72 percent of the state’s tax haul. Although the national employment level improved slowly the PIT was up on average 11.4 percent across the country year over year, according to Rockefeller. This contrasts sharply with the 4.6 percent national increase in state sales tax collections, especially given that 21 states cut their PIT tax rate while only 12 states cut their sales tax rates.

An army of corporate lobbyists in the halls of Congress

Now that the Senate failed to pass President Obama’s jobs legislation last night, various pieces of his plan and other pet projects are likely to be introduced separately. It’s unclear whether an extension of the payroll tax reduction or additional unemployment benefits — two key planks of the President’s plan — will get floor time. But corporate interests are getting plenty of attention from members of the Senate. In particular, an army of corporate lobbyists has been vigorously promoting a tax holiday for U.S. multinationals.

Politico says the senior New York US Senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer:

has been quietly courting some Senate Republicans and Democrats to see whether there is any appetite for merging a GOP-backed idea — a tax holiday for corporations to bring home their overseas profits — with a Democratic-supported plan of creating a national infrastructure bank.

There is no evidence that giving multinational corporations a big tax break on profits earned overseas will create jobs or stimulate the economy. But some, like former director of the Congressional Budget Office Douglas Holtz-Eakin, believe that a tax holiday will actually create economic growth. Holtz-Eakin writes in Bloomberg:

When national and state data diverge

In our turbulent times, middle-income households are falling behind and national data depicts an economy that’s stagnating. But tax revenue data for many states hints that some earners have had substantial increases in their incomes.

Let’s start with the national numbers. There has been a lot of reporting this week about median personal income dropping since the official end of the recession in June 2009. Robert Pear wrote in the New York Times:

Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent, to $49,909, according to a study by two former Census Bureau officials. During the recession — from December 2007 to June 2009 — household income fell 3.2 percent.

Muniland Absurdity of the Year Award

The small town of Collingswood, New Jersey is facing some rough sledding in the next 90 days as it attempts to raise cash to pay off loan guarantees it made on behalf of a local condo and commercial development.

The private project, The Lumberyards, originated in 2006 with funding from TICIC, a consortium of New Jersey banks that provided $18,000,000 in construction loans to Lumberyard Condominiums. After completing about one third of the project the developers encountered weak demand when the housing market and economy softened following the 2008 financial crisis. The developers are now broke and have turned to the town of Collingswood, their municipal guarantor, to repay the loan to TICIC.

Moody’s downgraded the town six notches due to its weak financial position and the difficulty it will face in repaying the loan to TICIC. Moody’s picks up the tale:

The ebb and flow of tax collections

The Rockefeller Institute of Government publishes some useful statistics on the collection of state taxes, and I’ve been puzzling over them for a few weeks. What I was trying to reconcile was the difference between the states’ aggregate tax collections and the official economic pronouncements that dated that the recession’s end at June 2009. When the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee, the official scorekeepers of the business cycle, made its pronouncement, The Economist sketched out some of the reactions to it:

The response to this announcement, already echoing through the blogosphere, is that hey, it doesn’t feel like the recession is over! The dating committee realises this:

In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity. Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month.

Who are the “job creators?”

As the congressional supercommittee begins its budget-cutting efforts, state and local governments are worried about looming cuts to their federal grants. From Bloomberg:

In statehouses across the U.S., a budget-cutting congressional supercommittee and the sputtering economy threaten a fledgling recovery from the worst fiscal crisis in more than 70 years.

To create a more balanced approach that includes revenue increases as well as spending cuts, President Obama has proposed to raise taxes on the highest earners by reducing their tax exclusions and deductions (of which the municipal bond tax exclusion is a relatively small part).

Thumbs down on Obama’s muni tax

Thumbs down on Obama’s muni tax

Unsurprisingly, the Treasurer of California and Bloomberg’s editorial board are pushing back on the Obama administration’s proposals to reduce the municipal bond tax exemption for those earning more than $200,000 per year. I wrote previously how the Republicans are cool to the proposal. The California Treasurer says that the increased tax would raise municipal borrowing costs and estimates that over time the act could add $2.7 billion to $7.7 billion to statewide borrowing costs. Bloomberg’s editorial board goes further and suggests that any changes to municipal bond taxation should be done as part of a broader tax reform effort. From Bloomberg:

How disruptive would this new tax, which the administration estimates will bring in $30 billion a year, be for the muni market? A report from Morgan Stanley Research saw little impact, pointing out that the premiums investors demand to hold munis over Treasuries “have little direct relationship with tax rates historically.” A report from Citigroup Global Markets, by contrast, argued that curbing the exemption would “increase state and local borrowing costs significantly.”

On balance, we suspect the impact on interest rates will be relatively small initially. (Certainly the proposal has had little effect on the market since the announcement, according to Bloomberg pricing data.) Of course, that could change rapidly if historically low Treasury yields rise and munis start to look less attractive.

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