Three bills that would raise real estate tax credits are on the docket for the Delaware House of Representatives Education Committee.
With the state now projected to have a surplus of nearly $1 billion – the third year in a row for such extraordinary income – a Democrat and a Republic representative are moving to give older residents a bigger tax break.
The committee will meet Wednesday at 3 p.m., its first convening of the 152nd Delaware General Assembly. Livestream it here.
In Delaware, residents who are 65 and older are eligible to receive this tax credit on the amount they pay in school taxes.
The state reimburses local school districts for any loss of income resulting from the credit.
Up until 2017, this tax credit was $500 annually. To fill a significant budget hole that year, the tax credit was reduced by $100, according to Stephanie Becker, communications officer for the Delaware House of Representatives.
Three bills related to the credits have been filed by Rep. Bill Bush, D-Dover, and Rep. Kevin Hensley, R-Odessa.
Sponsored by Hensley, this bill would increase the Senior Real Property Tax credit to $750 from $400.
Becker said Hensley and many of his colleagues believed the 2017 cut would be only a temporary fix.
“Once revenue projections rebounded and the state’s financial situation improved, one of the first things we would make good on was restoring the tax credit to its original amount,” she said.
Because of their life-long contributions, no group of citizens has collectively paid more taxes than Delaware’s seniors, Hensley said in a statement.
A member of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which writes the state budget, Hensley pointed out that Delaware appears to once again be in a position of getting a hefty surplus.
He is among the Republicans who believe that the state’s windfall should mean a break for those who pay taxes instead of all being plowed into state projects.
“With that in mind, we should make the effort to permanently provide modest tax relief to our older population, many of whom are now living on fixed incomes,” he said. “When it comes to my senior tax credit bill, I believe most Delawareans would agree that it is among the most well-intentioned funding expenses our state can make.”
Sponsored by Bush, this bill would increase the Senior Real Property Tax credit from $400 to $500 for seniors who have resided in Delaware for 10 years.
“Rep. Hensely’s bill goes a bit further in raising the credit from $400 to $750,” Becker said. “Both bills will be debated this legislative session and a determination will be made on how much – if any – of a tax credit should be given to Delaware senior citizens.”
For seniors who have held residency in Delaware for more than three years but less than 10 years, the maximum credit authorized, via local school board vote, will be either a 50% of the tax collected or $400, whichever is a lesser amount.
Residents who are 65 and older and have lived in the First State for at least a decade will receive a 50% credit, or $500, again the lesser amount.
A bill filed Friday would raise weekly Delaware unemployment payments from $400 to $450 and, for one year only, save state companies $50 million in 2023 by using state funds to pay unemployment tax increases.
House Bill 49 filed by Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, said Delaware already is paying less in unemployment than neighboring states and that the maximum amount of the payments has not been changed since 2019.
Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek, said he hadn’t seen the bill, but he found it interesting that the idea is being floated now.
“At this time, many businesses are significantly understaffed,” said the House Minority leader. “Why would we motivate people more to stay out of a work force? There are plenty of jobs.”
The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the bill and will testify against it at Tuesday’s hearing, said Tyler Micik, director of Public Policy and Government Relations for the chamber.
The bill said it would make sure that employer payments don’t change by using funds from the Unemployment Trust Fund.
That fund was depleted by the surge of pandemic related unemployment claims, but Gov. John Carney used federal pandemic funds to replace them, the bill summary said.
There is enough money in the trust fund to offer unemployment tax relief measures to Delaware employers by reducing new employer tax rates, reducing or holding constant overall employer tax rates, and reducing the maximum earned rate during the calendar year 2023, the bill says.
The bill will also temporarily simplify the tax rate schedules that are used to calculate unemployment assessments paid by employers.
The state Department of Labor has estimated that the tax assessment changes will reduce the tax obligation of employers an estimated $50 million in 2023, the bill summary said.
If the bill passes and is signed into law by Carney, it will be in effect retroactively to Jan. 1, 2023, and expire Dec. 31. 2023, the bill says.
Medicaid enrollment in the United States is expected to top 100 million in the coming months, a new study shows.
The Foundation for Government Accountability says more than 98 million Americans are enrolled in the federal health care program. Delaware accounts for 307,756 of that figure, as of Oct. 31.
Medicaid, according to the release, provides health care coverage to low-income residents, including adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults, and people with disabilities.
“For years, FGA has been warning about the rising number of people on government welfare programs,” Hayden Dublois, the organization’s Data and Analytics director, said in a release. “Now, we’re nearing a grim milestone – nearly one-third of the country will be on Medicaid.”
The group’s research shows that as welfare enrollment increases workforce participation decreases and is urging the federal government to take action.
“We’re in the midst of a nationwide workforce crisis, yet the Biden administration is pushing policies to entice people into government dependency at record levels while limiting opportunities to achieve the American Dream,” Dublois said in a release.
According to the release, the organization points to rising enrollment in the program primarily due to the federal government extending the public health emergency related to COVID-19.
The group said that while those emergency measures are in place states will receive additional funding for the program with the caveat that those enrolled remain in the program.
Under the emergency, the group said, 21 million Americans are enrolled in the program who would not have qualified under nonpandemic conditions due to earning too much income or are ineligible.
“The pandemic-era policy keeping more than 21 million ineligible enrollees on Medicaid is costing taxpayers more than $16 billion per month,” Dublois said in the release. “Despite the recently enacted legislation allowing states to redetermine eligibility beginning in April, the Biden administration is slow walking the process and hoping states will be sluggish to act.”
Meanwhile, the dashboard shows, Maryland has 1,749,423 residents enrolled in Medicaid as of Oct. 31; Pennsylvania has 3,625,047 enrolled as of Nov. 30; and New Jersey has 2,206,895 enrolled as of Nov. 30.
DOVER, Del.– The Honorable William L. Witham, Jr. has joined as an Advisory Board member at A Better Delaware, a non-partisan public policy and political advocacy organization that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and greater transparency and accountability in state government.
Chris Kenny, Chairman and Founder of A Better Delaware welcomed Judge Witham to the Board saying, “As a former leader in the US Army Reserve and National Guard. with 34 years of service, “Judge Witham is an exemplary jurist who has served our state with distinction. “He brings a wealth of experience in administrative leadership which will provide ABD clarity in assessing efficiency in state executive departments.”
“As a life-long advocate and advisor in veterans’ affairs, I look forward to being instrumental in advising ABD how best to improve the quality of life for Delaware’s 70,000 active-duty military and veterans,” said Witham.
Witham will serve with Advisory Board member Sam Waltz, founding publisher of the Delaware Business Times and an award-winning respected business and civic leader active in strategic C-level business and change counsel. “Judge Bill Witham is an extraordinary addition to A Better Delaware. Not only is he a man of great personal principles and ethics, as one would expect of a Delaware judge, but he and I together share a passion for the importance of national character and committed, as embodied in service in the US military. Bill and I each are veterans who remain committed to the principles of Citizenship with Service,” said Waltz.
Recently retired, Witham has served over 40 years in Delaware’s justice system. He first joined the bench as an associate judge of the Delaware Superior Court in 1999. In 2005, he was appointed Kent County Resident Judge by Governor Ruth Ann Minner and re-appointed in 2017 by Governor John Carney.
Utilizing 34 years of service in the Delaware National Guard including Deputy Commander of the Delaware Army National Guard and his experience on the bench he instituted Delaware’s first Veterans Treatment Court in 2011. This court provides a therapeutic approach to criminal prosecution of veterans with mental illness who are charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanor crimes away from jail and into rehabilitative programs. He is also a frequent speaker on the issues of veterans involved in the criminal justice system on a state and national level.
“Judge Witham brings to A Better Delaware a wealth of knowledge in veteran’s affairs which will be an invaluable resource as we advocate for the elimination of income tax for active military retired during this legislative session.”- Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director of A Better Delaware.
Over the past decade — during which University of Delaware officials have requested more than a billion dollars in taxpayer funds from the General Assembly to support in-state scholarships, construction projects, and even general operations — the state’s flagship university has quietly shifted hundreds of millions of dollars to investments overseas, according to a review of the university’s tax returns and other financial documents by Delaware Call.
With the university’s offshore investments growing from $14 million in 2010 to a peak of $413 million in 2016, according to UD’s tax records, the university is likely avoided paying millions of dollars in federal taxes using an accounting scheme The New York Times described as “tax wizardry” and which is often out of reach for all but the largest nonprofits. The majority of those investments were and continue to be located in one or more Central American and Caribbean nations.
Since 2016, UD’s offshore investments have slowly declined to $334 million in 2018 and $266 million by June 2020, the most current year for which the university’s tax information is available.
While UD invested hundreds of millions of dollars overseas, it also increased tuition every year between 2009 and 2019, according to reports in the Newark Post, sometimes by 7% or more, resulting in the price of annual in-state undergraduate tuition rising more than 50% — from approximately $9,000 to $14,000 — over the course of a decade.
In an attempt to discern the origins of the dollars that UD has invested overseas, Delaware Call filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking university officials for more details regarding the school’s overseas investments. UD denied the FOIA request, claiming that it is not obligated to share any documentation regarding its offshore investments because these investments do not include state-allocated funds.
“Pursuant to Delaware’s FOIA, only university documents that relate to the expenditure of public funds are public records subject to disclosure under the Act,” wrote UD Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Becnel-Guzzo, “Your request does not relate to the expenditure of public funds. The University, therefore, has no public records responsive to your request.”
When asked by Delaware Call if any federal funds in the form of Pell grants or student loans were diverted to offshore investments, UD initially declined to comment. After multiple follow-up emails, UD’s media relations manager, Peter Bothum, replied, “No state or federally funded resources are applied to offshore investments,” but provided no evidence that substantiated the claim.
When shown UD’s tax returns, outgoing state Rep. John Kowalko (Newark) said that he was unaware of the university’s offshore holdings but not surprised, calling it “outrageous behavior” for a public institution and slammed the university’s special exemption from open records requests that shield information about these investments from public scrutiny.
“You can’t call yourself a public institution on Thursday when you want taxpayer money and a private institution on Friday when we want to look at your books,” Kowalko said, adding that even state legislators don’t have special access to UD’s finances. “I don’t think for one minute that UD has been a proper steward of taxpayer money. I think they’ve been manipulative.”
How offshore investments help universities avoid tax liability
UD first reported offshore investments on Schedule F of its 2010 tax returns under former president Patrick T. Harker and chief investment officer Mark Stalnecker. Over the following decade, UD’s offshore investments skyrocketed in an apparent attempt to supercharge capital gains through investments that would otherwise carry a tax penalty if traded by a nonprofit inside the United States.
By 2013, UD’s offshore investments had swelled to $136 million while the university’s total investment income grew to nearly $100 million annually and tuition increased by 4%. The next year, UD’s offshore investments ballooned yet again to $398 million while investment income reported on UD’s federal tax form topped $220 million.
The investment returns were a windfall for the university, which was in the middle of a construction boom that included the purchase and demolition of a former Chrysler assembly plant and its transformation into an entirely new campus with manufacturing facilities, modern glass towers, and a $165 million biopharmaceutical center.
In 2016, UD explained that its asset allocations had shifted “dramatically” since 2000 to reduce “the endowment’s investments in domestic stocks and bonds by reallocating to international and nontraditional asset classes.” At the turn of the millennium, UD invested the majority of its assets in US stocks and bonds and virtually none in hedge funds and private equity. By 2016, domestic investments had fallen to 40% of the university’s asset allocations while hedge funds and private equity swelled to 19% and 21%, respectively, according to archived versions of the university’s website.“These funds have been redeployed into the international equity markets and alternative assets such as hedge funds and private equity funds which should not only provide higher returns in a greater variety of investment environments but also help to control overall risk,” reads the current version of UD’s asset allocation page.
Figure 1: UD Endowment Asset Allocations vs Target Allocations as of 6/30/22 (Source: University of Delaware)
Among the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities, it is not unusual to keep hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars invested outside the United States. Just last year, Swarthmore College and Villanova University reported $375 million and $249 million, respectively, in offshore investments, and University of Pennsylvania reported more than $5.3 billion, almost entirely in Central America and the Caribbean. It’s all perfectly legal.
Why have UD and so many other major universities diversified their investments to include significant offshore holdings?
The reason likely lies in a section of the tax code known as the Unrelated Business Income Tax, or UBIT, which is basically a special tax on nonprofit revenue derived from sources unrelated to any tax-exempt purpose. For example, if a nonprofit decided to start a business that generated a profit, then profit from that company would qualify as unrelated business income because it’s not a charitable activity, according to Zac Kester, CEO and managing attorney at Charitable Allies. Nonprofits do this all the time to bolster their impact on a community, like an organization that supports formerly incarcerated people re-entering society and wants to start a landscaping company to help its clients find work.
“The overall concept is that when a nonprofit organization has passive income — things like dividends, interest, rent — it’s not taxed,” says Kester. “But if revenue is not related to the exempt purpose of the organization, then that is taxable under the UBIT rules.”
Unrelated business income also includes many kinds of debt-financed and high-risk investments.
What does this mean? If a university were to profit from certain types of investments traded inside the United States — such as hedge funds, leveraged securities, or many types of private equity — then that university would be obligated to pay the 21% flat federal corporate income tax rate stipulated by UBIT. However, according to The New York Times, by establishing overseas companies known as “blocker corporations,” which often take the form of limited partnerships or limited liability corporations in offshore tax havens, universities can avoid paying federal taxes on leveraged and risky — but also potentially lucrative — investments.
In other words, rather than a university buying and selling investments and paying a flat tax, a company located outside the United States executes those trades in the supposed best interest of the university and pays out a dividend over time, which is untaxed when transferred back inside the country because the school did not, legally speaking, trade any securities, and dividends are treated as passive income, a tax-exempt form of revenue for nonprofits.
How risky are UD’s offshore investments? Because of UD’s exemption from FOIA, there’s almost no way to know for sure. Even state legislators do not have access to that information.
“I’ve made requests that have been declined,” Kowalko said. “We can’t verify anything they say, and I think UD has acted unethically in its refusals to allow a more open accounting of its finances.”
What little we do know can be found in UD’s annual financial audits. UD’s eye-popping returns came crashing down during the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic, with hedge funds being one of the worst-performing asset types, losing tens of millions of dollars in value between June 2019 and June 2020. The following year, UD appears to have almost entirely divested from certain types of hedge funds.
Where are these offshore investments located? That too is unclear. UD’s tax returns only report investment activity by region along with the corresponding amount of investments held in that region. However, according to the Offshore Leaks database managed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, as of 2016 the University of Delaware was apparently connected to at least one apparent blocker corporation, Bermuda-based Dover Street Blocker LP, which itself was connected to Dover Street V Limited Partnership, which was connected to other higher ed institutions, including the University of Vermont and Texas Christian University, both of which report extensive offshore investments in “Central America and the Caribbean,” just like UD.
Another offshore corporation, University of Delaware Dover Inc., was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in January 2007 by Portcullis TrustNet in the town of Tortola. Both Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands are among the world’s most popular and secretive tax havens, according to the Corporate Tax Haven Index developed by the Tax Justice Network.
During his time in the General Assembly, outgoing Rep. John Kowalko filed numerous bills designed to increase transparency at the University of Delaware. Back in 2014, he sponsored House Bill 331, the first of three consecutive bills to amend the Delaware Code relating to the Freedom of Information Act. That bill added language expanding the university’s FOIA obligations to competitive bids and passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. John Carney.
“When you’re putting an enormous amount of money into a public institution — and it is a public institution — as Delaware taxpayers are, then there is no right to a FOIA exemption,” Kowalko said in an interview with Delaware Call.
UD’s exemption from the state’s sunshine laws is unusual. Delaware and Pennsylvania are the only states that shield their public universities from most freedom of information requests. Delaware State University also enjoys a FOIA exemption, although Delaware Technical & Community College, which also receives state funds, is not exempt.
Kowalko’s two transparency bills, however, did not draw as much support. In 2015, Kowalko introduced House Bill 42, which removed the state’s FOIA exemption for UD and DSU; however, the bill languished in the House Administration Committee over concerns there should be exemptions for the intellectual property and proprietary information of faculty and students. Kowalko attempted to address those concerns in 2017 with House Bill 72, but that too died in committee.
Blaming the “Delaware Way,” Kowalko said, “Leadership never allowed my bills out of committee.”
Now, on his way out of office, Kowalko says repealing UD’s “rigged FOIA exemption,” as he put it, would be “good public policy,” and he hopes that his efforts to increase transparency and oversight at UD will be carried on by the rising generation of progressive lawmakers in the General Assembly.
Eleven states will reduce their individual income tax rates on Jan. 1.
Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, and North Carolina will cut the individual income tax rate on New Year’s Day, according to the Tax Foundation. Over the past two years, more than 20 states have cut individual income tax rates.
Three of these states – Arizona, Idaho, and Mississippi –will also move away from a graduated-rate income tax to a flat tax where all income is taxed at the same rate regardless of income level, the Tax Foundation reported.
Only one state, Massachusetts, is increasing its individual income tax, according to the Tax Foundation. The state will change from a flat to a graduated-rate tax of 9% on any household income over $1 million.
Two states, Hawaii and Illinois, expanded their tax credit programs, which reduce the final dollar amount on the tax bill rather than reducing taxable income, according to the Tax Foundation.
States with low or no personal income tax rates are among the fastest-growing populations in the country, according to data from the U.S. Census. Among those states are Florida, Idaho, and North Carolina.
Florida has no income tax, while both Idaho and North Carolina have a flat tax on income, according to data from the Tax Foundation.
Alabama, Delaware, Iowa, Rhode Island, and Nebraska enacted exemptions for a portion to all of retirement income or military pension, according to the Tax Foundation.
Hillsdale College Professor of Economics Gary Wolfram told The Center Square that states with lower income taxes often attract more businesses and economic activity to their economies.
“States with lower income taxes attract economic activity,” Wolfram said. “The latest census data on state population growth is evidence of the fact. This results in job opportunities and increases in property values that particularly benefit the median income earners.”
States like New York, Hawaii, California, and Oregon with high income taxes have shrinking populations, data from the U.S. Census shows. These states are also among the top ten states with the highest income tax with California having the highest tax rate in the country at 13.3%.
The unexpectedly bright revenue prospects of Wisconsin’s state government represent both an opportunity and a danger. A year from now, how will we know which one it is? By whether the state’s $6.6 billion in surplus revenue was used for epoch-marking reform.
Such reform is the opportunity — the chance to turn Wisconsin away from stagnant mediocrity and toward opportunity and justice.
The danger comes from the use of such money to fund the status quo.
As the Badger Institute illustrates in its new “Mandate for Madison,” the status quo means settling for Wisconsin’s economic output per person, which was once growing apace with our neighbors but has lagged during the recovery and now is second-worst among our Midwestern peers. Likewise, our population is growing at a pace that’s middling even when measured against our slow-growth Midwest neighbors. Projections of our working-age population show much slower growth than that of the United States overall. Nationally recognized measures of Wisconsin’s economic freedom, once growing, have flatlined.
This is why it is dismaying to learn that state agencies’ budget requests would snap up at least half the surplus, all so that Madison can go on doing the same as it is now, only at a price that’s 10.6% higher over the biennium. “More of the same but costlier” will not improve Wisconsin’s trajectory, which now involves seeing the receding taillights of more prosperous neighbors.
Instead, that surplus can fund change that will put Wisconsin at the front of the pack. The Badger Institute this fall published “Mandate for Madison,” a collection of ready-to-deploy policy recommendations for a more prosperous Wisconsin from some of the best thinkers in and about our state. Consult the book at our website for details, but these are reforms that we think will make the greatest change for Wisconsin:
Reform our income tax from being punitive to being fair and competitive:
While Wisconsin has lowered income taxes for some in recent years, the top rate remains high, at 7.65%. That’s a higher top rate than all but eight states, and one of those, Iowa, is moving to a flat rate of 3.9% in 2026. Twenty-five states have lower top rates than they did in a decade ago. Standing still, we’re falling behind.
People can choose where they live, and even as Wisconsin employers find it hard to attract workers, Wisconsin’s tax system not only charges high rates, it increases those rates on people as they earn higher pay.
High rates also are taxes on employers. About 95% of Wisconsin businesses are structured as “pass-throughs,” such as partnerships or LLCs, where the tax on business income is levied on the owner’s individual tax return. About two-thirds of pass-through business income in Wisconsin is exposed to the 7.65% top rate — meaning less earnings to be reinvested in the business, less hiring, less groundwork for growth. The more successful a growing business is, the less affordable Wisconsin remains as a place to do business.
The way to change that is to adopt a fairer structure, one that charges the same rate of all taxpayers. This immediately removes the sharp jump in tax rate that now wallops a successful business or a high-talent employee rising in her career when these taxpayers move from the second-highest bracket to the highest.
In “Mandate for Madison,” the Tax Foundation’s Katherine Loughead lays out options for such a flat-rate tax, with a single rate ranging from 4.15% to 5.1%, depending on what other tax changes are included and how much Wisconsin gives back to taxpayers of what it took unnecessarily. Every taxpayer now in the top two of Wisconsin’s four tax brackets would see a tax cut. That’s about half of all households. Then, by using Wisconsin’s income-linked sliding-scale standard deduction — increasing the deduction and raising phase-out points — our proposal protects taxpayers in the lower two brackets, ensuring that they, who saw tax cuts in recent years, now would see no increase.
It is literally a no-downside proposition. The upside is not just that at least half the state’s taxpayers keep more of their money. It’s that our tax system stops being something that employers flee and, instead, contributes to our competitiveness. Even the option that goes to a 5.1% flat income tax and makes no change to the corporate tax rate moves Wisconsin from being 27th-best among state business climates to ninth-best.
For every Wisconsinite needing a job or hoping her children someday can make a livelihood here without having to move away, that’s a win.
Bring justice to the funding of Wisconsin families’ educational options:
A core American value from our country’s earliest days is that parents can choose the education they think best suits their children. Wisconsin has long respected families’ power to choose the right school by offering open enrollment, public charter schools and, for three decades, the right to take a child’s state educational aid to an independent private school via our parental choice programs.
Families have embraced these choices. Wisconsin’s four parental school choice programs now serve about 52,000 students, a number 6.7% higher than in 2021 and 43% higher than five years ago, even as the number of school-age children in Wisconsin remains flat.
Yet families’ ability to access these choices is stymied by systemic inequality on two fronts.
First, children whose parents choose an independent private school are valued much less in state-aid terms than children whose parents choose district schools. The average per-pupil funding in Wisconsin’s incumbent district schools is just over $15,000 a year per child, all in, with individual districts spending from $11,000 to $22,000 per pupil. Children whose parents opt to take state aid to a private school via parental choice get only $8,399 for K-8 students and $9,045 for high schoolers. Since schools must accept this voucher as full payment in nearly all cases, this radically limits the ability of independent schools to serve Wisconsin children.
It also treats families unequally. As the head of a network of nonprofit schools in Green Bay put it, “A child is a child is a child,” yet the state is saying some children are worth about 40% less. “I’m not really sure what goes into the state deciding how much a child is worth in private education versus public education,” she said. “I just know that it’s unjust.”
Second, while the state offers aid to cover the cost of schooling to families of all income levels so long as parents use a traditional district school or independent charter schools, it excludes families from the parental choice programs if their income is as little as 220% of the poverty line — $58,300 for a family of four in Green Bay, for instance. This blocks working- and middle-class families from choosing an independent school if they cannot swing the cost of tuition or find philanthropic help — even as the state’s highest income families, who can afford to move to a better school district, are fully subsidized, so long as they choose traditional district schools or an independent charter.
Wisconsin’s revenue situation gives us a chance to permanently repair this injustice — first, by parity in funding for Wisconsin children, based on the principle that students all have an equal value in the eyes of the law and that where a child receives a publicly funded education should not determine the amount of that funding.
Second, as justice in funding permits independent schools to serve more Wisconsin families, a uniform eligibility for publicly funded education options can be extended to all families. Every Wisconsin family now lives under Wisconsin’s mandatory attendance laws and is obliged to pay taxes. All should be eligible for the choice that has for decades been a principle of Wisconsin education.
Many needed reforms don’t require a lot of money:
Our “Mandate for Madison” includes many other reform ideas. Few of them require much additional state spending. For example:
On health care, enabling market innovation is first a matter of not impeding the emergence of direct primary care, improving transparency and getting out of the way of professionals practicing their skills.
On our safety net, we should consolidate existing ample funding streams and restructure them, re-establishing work and education requirements, so we no longer discourage work and marriage.
We could go on, but the point is clear: Most of Wisconsin’s problems can be addressed by government performing better rather than growing larger.
Justly funding Wisconsin’s commitment to empowering families’ educational choice will take some money — spending that will enable more access to the superior results already seen in independent schools.
But this means there is an ample surplus that’s been taken from taxpayers available to return to them through tax reform, reform that will put Wisconsin on a path of greater prosperity for all. We should take that path.
From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware
WILMINGTON, Del. — As we look forward to ushering in the new year, the team at A Better Delaware has been hard at work developing our 2023 New Year’s resolutions. There’s a lot of work to be done to create an environment where Delawareans and their businesses can thrive — but with a new year comes new opportunity, and we’re excited to lead the fight in 2023 for A Better Delaware.
Better Health Policy
To create A Better Delaware, we need smarter health care policy that puts patients first and removes barriers to access that impede innovation and increase costs. Delaware ranks 5th highest in the nation for health care costs per capita. According to Forbes, 10.1% of Delaware adults chose not to see a doctor in 2020 because of costs. One recent study shows that Delaware has the second-longest emergency room wait time in the country at 195 minutes. Certificate of Need (CON) laws, which require health care organization to seek permission from the state prior to making acquisitions, expansions, or creations of new healthcare facilities, hinder growth, limit capacity and raise costs on consumers. States subject to CON laws suffer an average of five percent higher spending for physician care.
In 2023, A Better Delaware will advocate for reforming the Health Commission, the Health Resources Board, and all CON laws in the state. Such a change would drive down costs to both consumers and health care providers and increase access to affordable healthcare in Delaware. We’ll also encourage the state to enforce existing regulations requiring hospital billing price transparency and expand options for health insurance plans by including plans offered across state lines that include essential health benefits.
Better Tax Policy
While Delaware has built a global reputation as a business-oriented state, it’s still one of a few states to employ the harmful and costly gross receipts tax. The state taxes products at each step of the supply chain rather than at the point of sale, which is why many refer to it as Delaware’s “hidden sales tax.” The gross receipts tax causes prices to soar, harming businesses and consumers alike. That isn’t the only burdensome tax that makes Delaware an expensive place to live and do business. According to The Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, Delaware ranks as having the 44th highest individual income tax burden in the nation and leads the country with the highest corporate tax. At 4%, Delaware’s realty transfer tax remains the highest in nation. Recent attempts in the legislature to reduce the realty transfer tax, individual income taxes, and corporate taxes have stalled.
In 2023, A Better Delaware will advocate to reduce the gross receipts tax to improve business competitiveness and grow local employment, use record surpluses to give individuals relief on their individual income taxes and unleash private investment in the economy, and reduce the realty transfer tax and corporate tax rate.
Better Government Accountability and Transparency
Delaware has a serious problem with accountability and transparency, as noted by The Center of Public Integrity, which ranks Delaware 48th in the nation for transparency with a score of “F.” In 2021, a bill proposed in the state Senate would have granted public bodies the power to deny FOIA requests they deem unreasonable, cumbersome, or abusive. While that bill failed, other efforts to increase transparency in the First State didn’t make it any further. One bipartisan effort to create an independent Office of the Inspector General was blocked by the House Administration Committee — a common tactic to kill unwanted bills.
In 2023, A Better Delaware is committed to advocating for a nonpartisan Office of Legislative Ethics and Inspector General. These offices would solely exist to hold elected officials accountable and give citizens recourse when they witness or fall victim to waste, fraud, abuse, or misconduct. A Better Delaware will also advocate expanding Delaware’s FOIA laws to include communications between and with Delaware legislators, allowing citizens to serve as a check on those they choose to represent them. The state’s FOIA system should also be updated to the 21st Century, and many basic documents should be made available electronically and preemptively, negating the need for FOIA requests altogether. The state must also enforce Medicaid compliance by ensuring Medicaid applicants are effectively screened before their benefits are approved or denied.
Better Budget Controls
The United States is in the midst of a recession with an inflation rate at a 40-year high. Delaware, meanwhile, has a budget surplus exceeding $1 billion. Unlike 24 other states with similar surpluses, Delaware has failed to enact any meaningful tax cuts for its citizens or businesses. Despite several bills being proposed in 2022 to cut taxes, none passed.
In 2023, A Better Delaware will continue to advocate liberating Delaware’s citizens and businesses from burdensome, unfair, and regressive taxes. The state should use its surpluses to pay down the outstanding public pension debt, invest in the rainy-day fund, and smooth the budget. Without change, people and businesses will undoubtedly leave Delaware for more tax-friendly states.
Better Energy Policy
Delawareans pay the 12th highest energy rates in the country. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Delaware produces less energy than any other state. In 2020, the state used nearly 70 times more energy than it produced. Delaware’s renewable portfolio standard requires that renewable energy sources generate 40% of electricity retail sales in the state by 2035, with at least 10% coming from solar energy. But in 2021, just five percent of the state’s total in-state net generation came from small- and large-scale solar-powered facilities. To meet the lofty goals, the state has thrown its support behind several multi-billion-dollar offshore wind projects being developed off Delaware’s coastline. While the projects face stiff opposition from coastal residents and those who doubt offshore wind’s long-term efficacy, the state should be front and center in any discussions affecting the state’s power systems.
To achieve this, A Better Delaware will advocate that the state creates an Energy Advisory Council, which should generate a realistic, science-based energy plan to be approved by the General Assembly. The legislature should oppose any delegation of legislative authority to executive branch agencies, and DNREC’s plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 must be stopped in favor of a free-market approach to automobile innovation — especially as the average electric car price sails above $66,000.
Better Education Policy
In 2022, just 30% of Delaware students in grades three to eight met grade-level math requirements, while 42% were proficient in English language arts. During the same period, students’ SAT scores ranked 43rd in the nation. This news comes as the state faces a shortage of more than 500 teachers — a number that’s expected to grow. To improve Delaware’s education system and ensure students are prepared for the future, we must be able to determine what works and doesn’t work in our schools. To do this, we need to be able to track outcomes.
A Better Delaware will advocate that the Department of Education provide a web page that lists average test scores for all students at individual schools so parents and policymakers can easily compare school performances. The Department of Education should also provide more robust and easily digestible information and financial incentives for school choice options and transportation. In light of the state’s teacher shortage, Delaware should expand pathways to becoming a teacher, accept out-of-state certifications and ease its restrictions on educator licensing. Despite extreme disparity in performance among Delaware public school districts, many are unaware that the state allows for school choice. A Better Delaware will work to ensure that parents understand the options available to their children.
Better Workforce Development
Delaware’s unemployment rate is the 48th worst in the nation. As Delaware’s trades rebound from the pandemic and billions of dollars come to the state in federal infrastructure funds, it’s time for lawmakers to free businesses from the strict regulations that prevent them from filling jobs, including apprenticeship ratiorequirements. Apprenticeship programs train skilled workers by combining classroom instruction with on-the-job training under experienced journeymen. Many employers in Delaware want to hire and train new apprentices but are restrained from doing so because current regulations require multiple journeymen or full-time workers to also be hired — a cost many small businesses can’t afford.
To unleash the potential of Delaware’s economy, the state should reform business regulations that place undue burdens on small businesses. Licensing fees for specialized fields should be reduced to remove barriers to work, and apprentice ratios should be increased to create a faster pathway to licensing in the trades.
Happy New Year!
While this list is far from comprehensive, implementing even one of these simple, common-sense policy proposals would go a long way toward creating A Better Delaware. Throughout the next year, we will continue to fight for your bottom line, for freedom and opportunity, and for responsive, accountable, and transparent government.
Our overarching New Year’s resolution is simple: We will continue to do all in our power to advocate for Delaware taxpayers and businesses and make Delaware a better place to live, work, and start or own a business. We wish you and your family a safe and prosperous New Year as we continue fighting for you in 2023.
Using billions of emergency pandemic bill dollars to plug gaping holes in their budgets, local governments across Wisconsin and the country are setting themselves up to ask for tax increases or slash services as basic as police and fire protection when the federal funding runs out.
Just how steep this fiscal cliff will be is only beginning to be realized. Early research indicates that at least half of the more than $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) allocated in the American Rescue Plan Act is eligible to be used to provide government services, award salary increases or even pay down employee pension debt.
A review of the few progress reports available through the U.S. Department of the Treasury shows that six of the seven Wisconsin cities and counties reporting, including Milwaukee, made SLFRF money available for use in propping up their budgets, more than $700 million of it.
Milwaukee expects to use $245 million of its $394 million SLFRF grant to close gaps in the 2022-24 budgets. After that, without help from the state, city Budget and Management Director Nik Kovac told the Badger Institute, the city will have little choice but to lay off perhaps hundreds of employees “across all departments.”
“This fiscal cliff, precipice, whatever you want to call it, we want to put it front and center,” Kovac said in an interview. “Using ARPA funds for this purpose is not a best practice, but the alternative is worse.”
In an issue paper released in April, Beverly Bunch, a public management and policy professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield, said poor documentation of the ground-level spending was obscuring what could be a significant problem for local governments.
“The fiscal cliff is real,” Bunch told the Badger Institute. “State officials need to be concerned about it.”
Local governments are coming to this pass, as is often the case with big government programs, because of the good intentions of the benefactors. As the Badger Institute reported more than a year ago, communities that had never seen sums like those from the $1.9 trillion Rescue Plan Act were having a difficult time trying to spend the money within the federal guidelines. Many were forced to spend valuable ARPA funding just to administer their ARPA funding.
Since Congress passed ARPA on March 11, 2021, Wisconsin governments of all sizes have managed to spend just $813 million, or 32%, of the $2.53 billion allocated to them, according to a document provided to the Badger Institute by the state Department of Administration. The state is due to receive another $2.5 billion, which must be spent by the end of 2026.
Just months into the allocation of this federal windfall, the U.S. Treasury Department quietly changed the spending rules for states, counties and cities. Governments could appeal to ARPA officials for revenue replacement, or an estimate of revenue lost because of the pandemic.
The wrinkle in revenue replacement was that counties and cities did not have to document their revenue loss. The Treasury Department’s new and relaxed formula for claiming lost revenue allowed governments large and small to divert huge portions of their SLFRF allocations away from the programs prescribed in ARPA guidelines and into the day-to-day operation of their governments.
The SLFRF guidelines already allowed for spending that was tied tenuously at best to emergency COVID relief. Gov. Tony Evers’ administration, for example, committed $100 million to a statewide broadband expansion program that will end up costing $3,225 for each of the roughly 31,000 residential and business locations to be served.
Revenue replacement now allows huge sums of SLFRF money to be tucked into local budgets, an accountability and transparency problem that concerns Bunch.
“Allowing ARPA money to be added to general funds concerns me because it’s harder to find and it loses its character as a federal emergency measure,” she said.
Of the more than 1,900 government entities in Wisconsin that received at least some ARPA money, the Treasury Department has just seven progress reports on its website.
They include a state performance report dated July 31 and reports for the first part of 2022 for the cities of Milwaukee and Madison and for Milwaukee, Dane, Brown and Waukesha counties.
A review of those reports offers a glimpse into how local governments are now relying on revenue replacement to augment their budgets.
The City of Milwaukee, for example, added $20.8 million to the Fire Department’s Emergency Response program and another $6.7 million for emergency medical services training in 2022. The city hired 20 new sanitation workers as part of a $2.3 million Clean City program.
In its report, Milwaukee County says it committed $115.7 million in revenue replacement funds in 2022 to provide government services. There is no outline of what those services are or will be in the report.
Dane County committed $21.2 million to maintain government services. Its seven-page report does not mention what the county intends to do in 2023 and beyond. The phrase “revenue replacement” does not appear in the report.
Of the $47.2 million in SLFRF funding allocated to Madison, the city chose to use $24.4 million “on wages for emergency workers, as well as to balance the general fund budget and avoid the use of fund balance in 2022,” according to its report.
The reports, however, also show cities like Madison and Milwaukee using SLFRF funds outside of revenue replacement for the creation of new programs and the hiring of employees to staff them — positions that will either have to be supported with local tax money or ended when the federal funding is exhausted.
Far from one-time expenses, Madison in the past year committed $3.5 million in SLFRF funds for unsheltered homeless support, $2 million in seed money for a homeless services project and $2 million for a youth housing project.
David Schmiedicke, Madison’s finance director, acknowledged that the city council will have decisions to make in 2025 and 2026. “All of the ARPA funding was recognized as one-time,” Schmiedicke told the Badger Institute. “Continuation of any ARPA-funded programs will be considered on a case-by-case basis in future budgets.”
As welcome as the ARPA funding has been, the depth of the coming fiscal cliff will bring into sharp relief longstanding fiscal troubles, particularly for the more populous cities and counties in the state, Schmiedicke said.
“Since 2012, the city has faced structural deficits in funding for current service levels compared with anticipated revenues under strict state limits on allowable growth in property taxes, declining state aid, and state limits on general revenue options for Wisconsin cities,” he said.
ARPA has temporarily changed the arc of local government debt, which already reached a record $11 billion at the end of 2020, when Wisconsin was fully engaged in combating COVID-19.
Local government debt in that year nearly doubled over the previous year, according to a report released at the end of November by the Wisconsin Policy Forum. Of that debt, $1.13 billion is Milwaukee’s alone, and more than a quarter of the debt is shared by the state’s five biggest cities, the report says.
But the fastest growth in debt, according to the report, occurred in the state’s smaller communities, in whose budgets SLFRF funding has had an outsized impact. As the Badger Institute reported over the summer, despite being flush with ARPA money, some cities are asking their voters to approve property tax increases.
Kovac isn’t waiting for Milwaukee to reach the cliff. In a memo to the city’s Finance and Personnel Committee in late October, he warned that SLFRF funding would be gone by the end of 2024, leaving shortfalls of at least $100 million in the 2025 and 2026 budget projections.
The city poured $68 million in revenue replacement money into its general fund freeing up $40 million to add to its pension reserve fund in 2022, Kovac said.
“Unless new revenue at that scale is acquired, significant budget cuts — forcing hundreds of layoffs across all departments — will be inevitable,” Kovac said in the memo.
Kovac’s warning was directed at state officials. No local government in the state has been as buffeted over the last decade by state aid cuts and curbs on property tax increases as Milwaukee, he says.
While the State of Wisconsin took advantage of Treasury’s revenue replacement plan to the tune of nearly $1.5 billion, the fiscal outlook for the state has never been better.
A Wisconsin Policy Forum report released this week called a projected revenue surplus of $6.8 billion over the July 2023 to June 2025 budget cycle “astounding.”
Kovac said he’s optimistic the Legislature will see fit to channel some of that surplus to Milwaukee for three reasons: Mayor Cavalier Johnson has established better relationships with Republican state legislators than his predecessor, Tom Barrett; the Republican majority in the Assembly and Senate would not want to see government services cut in 2024 when the city is hosting the Republican National Convention; and no state government body would countenance deep cuts in police and fire protection for the state’s biggest city.
“We’ve been very honest about it from Day One,” Kovac said. “We don’t want to do it, but what other choice will we have?”
South Dakota has some of the nation’s least burdensome occupational licensing requirements, a new report suggests.
The Institute of Justice recently released its third edition of License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing, providing an updated look at the effects of occupational licensing requirements and changes in America since 2017.
The report, which analyzes the impact occupational licensing has on workers in more than 100 low-income professions – ranked South Dakota as the 3rd “least widely and onerously licensed state” in the U.S.
Wyoming and Vermont were the only two states to rank higher than South Dakota in the study that evaluated all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on the burden they place on workers to get licensed.
These burdens include the cost it takes to obtain or maintain a certification or license, the average amount of “days lost” to education and experience, and the percentage of occupations that require a license.
South Dakota’s burden on workers is well below all of the major national average licensing metrics measured by the IOJ, the study finds.
Of the 102 surveyed occupations, South Dakota requires licensure for only 32 of the professions, equaling an estimated 31% of the studied fields. Nationally, the average was about 53%, which means that on average, other states are requiring licensure for 19 more professions than South Dakota.
The average cost and the amount of learning time required to get licensed in South Dakota are lower than that seen nationally, too. Despite having seen fee increases since 2017 for most licensed professions, South Dakotans can expect to pay an average of $244 in fees to get licensed, whereas the national average is $40 more at $284.
Additionally, The average amount of days spent on learning skills to obtain licensure in the Mount Rushmore State is 69 days fewer than the national average. According to IOJ, South Dakotans spend an average of 281 days on education and experience. The national average of “days lost” for educational purposes is 350.
South Dakota’s positive scoring was largely attributed to its net reductions in education and experience burdens since 2017, the study states. Four professions saw a decrease in the amount of time it takes to get certified, including barbers, cosmetologists, midwives and shampooers. Only three professions saw an increase in educational time requirements, including high school head sports coaches, pharmacy technicians and school bus drivers.
Trends for South Dakota’s licensing processes – with overall fees rising and education requirements shrinking since 2017 – are fairly on point with national trends.
“Across all the licenses present in both the second and third editions of License to Work, average fees rose 3.5% from 2017 to 2022, but average days lost fell by nearly 6%, by far the largest change across our five burden categories,” the study states. “Occupational licensing burdens remain widespread and burdensome, albeit a little less so than a few years ago.”