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Taxes and Spending: The Real Economic Impact

DEFAC estimates show Delaware’s revenues for FY 2020 down by $416M and FY 2021 revenues down by $273.3M, creating a deficit of about $748.7M. Governor Carney expects as much as $500M to $1B in lost revenues.

In 2017, Delaware increased spending and raised taxes to answer a $400M deficit.

Increasing spending with such a high deficit is irresponsible. As for taxes, asking businesses and workers to fork over money when businesses have been forced to exact layoffs, limit operations, or even close seems incomprehensible, but Delaware leaders are considering doing just that.

On Monday, Delaware Department of Labor Secretary Cerron Cade said higher unemployment taxes (paid by businesses) could be implemented to refresh funding for unemployment benefits. According to Secretary Cade, the total for these benefits could be $850M over the next three months alone.

Looming tax hikes aren’t our only concern as we push forward. If we look at how the current leadership has handled deficits in the past, Delawareans can expect to see spending for projects that could have been delayed until the state was stable again. Some argue this is how we jumpstart economic growth.

According to an article in Forbes:

“More government spending has been widely-touted as a cure for unemployment, but support for that view seems to be eroding…there isn’t any net gain from government spending since it’s offset by the taxes needed to pay for it, taxes that reduce private sector spending.”

For example, massive spending hikes in the 1930s, 1960s, and 1970s all failed to spawn economic growth, but in the 1980s and 1990s—when federal government spending shrank—the U.S. economy enjoyed one of its greatest expansions.

Some government spending is beneficial, but only if government spending does not crowd out similar private spending, and only is spent wisely, such as education, job training, physical infrastructure, and research and development. In general, government expenditures can weaken the private sector by unproductively allocating resources and thus slowing income growth.

Government spending is entwined with taxes, and high tax rates reduce incentives to work, save, and invest. This leads to a less motivated workforce and less business investment in new capital and technology. Few government expenditures boost productivity enough to offset that lost due to taxes.

So why do our leaders insist on additional spending?

It boils down to politics. New spending programs seem to benefit those who implement them more than those who pay for them.

In a ploy to avoid cutting spending, the state has requested federal funds. Delaware leaders jointly sent a letter to Delaware’s congressional delegation asking for flexibility with how the state can spend more than $1B in stimulus funds.

The National Governor’s Association (NGA) also submitted a formal request to Congress for federal aid to offset state deficits. This request has been denied for now, with leaders arguing that if states face budget woes, it is due to decades of fiscal mismanagement.

Instead of returning time and time again with more taxes coupled with new spending, the state government can be responsible and allocate surpluses to reserves or implement reviews to assess the need and efficiency of certain programs.

If this had been the response in 2017, we may have been more prepared to weather this storm.

Delaware has been shut down for 38 days with no real end in sight, and the President has recommended an incremental reopening strategy. Seventeen percent of small businesses said that they would have to close down or sell if they experienced two-month loss in revenue, according to the latest Small Business Credit Survey.

They need help, not taxes or spending programs.

Unfortunately, we cannot turn back time. All we can do is move forward in a way that is financially sound in the short- and long-term, and in a manner that does not add undue burden to taxpayers and businesses.