GRA Reporter for September 2012

News and publications for GRA organizations.

Save the Date — 2013 GRA Conference

The 2013 GRA conference will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from Sunday evening, July 28, through noon Wednesday, July 31.  While the full conference schedule has not yet been determined, education reform is likely to be the topic of at least one panel discussion given that Milwaukee is home to the oldest private school choice program in the country.  In addition, Wisconsin’s landmark public sector collective bargaining reforms and their impacts on local governments and school districts also is a likely discussion topic.  Accommodations will be provided at the Hotel Metro in Downtown Milwaukee at the reasonable cost of $129.99 per night.  Those wishing to arrive early also can partake in the German Fest at Milwaukee’s famous Summerfest grounds on July 27-28.

Other News

There has been a shuffling of chairs at the Center for Governmental Research in New York, with Joseph Stefko taking over as President and Chief Executive Officer and Kent Gardner assuming the role of Chief Economist and take on a new role as Chief Research Officer.  We hope they both find comfort and success in their new roles.

Randy Nelson has retired as President of Associated Taxpayers of Idaho.  Benjamin Davenport has assumed the role of president.  Please help us in congratulating Randy for his work over the years and wish Benjamin well in his new role.

Featured Research

Minnesota Taxpayers Association

Comparison of 2008 Individual Income Tax Burdens by State
On September 7, 2012, the Minnesota Center for Public Finance Research, the research arm of the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, released a national study of state-level income taxes for 2008.  The study compares individual income tax burdens and effective tax rates on five filer types — married-joint, single, head-of-household, senior married-joint, and senior-single — at different income levels ranging from $10,000 to $1 million in 41 states and the District of Columbia.  The study finds that Minnesota has one of the most progressive tax structures in the nation.  It also finds that the state’s taxation of senior incomes is among the highest in the nation.


Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama

PARCA released its anticipated Municipal Finance Comparisons on September 28th.  Since 1989 PARCA periodically has compiled financial comparisons for Alabama’s largest cities. The PARCA Quarterly, Fall 2012 contains the eighth report in that series. It provides basic information on municipal revenues, expenditures, and ending balances for a group of cities over 20,000 in population. The comparisons are done in terms of per capita amounts (dollars divided by resident population) so that cities of differing populations can be compared easily with one another. We believe the information can be valuable for city officials to use in benchmarking with their peers, and for citizens to see how their municipality ranks financially among comparable cities within the state.


Florida Taxwatch

Economic Commentary:  Florida Invests in Competitiveness
Florida is investing in seaport and related infrastructure more than at any other time in our history, to diversify Florida’s economy and make our state more competitive. This new infrastructure will allow Florida companies to be more efficient handling freight, and will allow additional opportunities for companies to transport their goods to markets in and out of Florida.

Budget Outlook:  Florida’s Long-Range Financial Outlook
Provides details on Florida’s revenue projections, how much spending is expected to increase, and a look at Critical and High Priority Needs items within that expected increase.

Economic Commentary:  The Effect of the Midwest Drought on Florida
With counties in 32 states placed on the USDA’s list of primary disaster areas because of drought conditions, this month’s Economic Commentary looks at the effects of the drought on food, and potentially fuel, prices. Corn is currently at the highest per-ton cost in history, which will lead to increases in commodities like milk, meat, and eggs for us all.


Illinois Fiscal Policy Council and Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois

13th Annual Illinois State & Local Tax Conference
On Thursday, September 20th, the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois held its 13th Annual State & Local Tax Conference. The annual conference focuses on technical tax and policy developments in Illinois and provides updates to tax changes occurring in other states. This year, panel topics included a session with representatives from the Illinois Department of Revenue; a review of the new Illinois Tax Tribunal that was promoted by TFI; and other sessions on tax increment financing, compliance and ethics.

During the legislative session, the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois publishes “TFI Report from the Capitol,” a weekly summary of legislative and administrative developments as well as recent reports on tax and fiscal issues.

Other News:
The Board of Trustees of the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois elected Carol Shuman Portman as the new president-elect of TFI, effective October 1, 2012. Her duties as president will officially begin January 1, 2013.  J. Thomas Johnson, the president of the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois since April of 2006, will become President Emeritus in January and will continue his role as Executive Director of the Illinois Fiscal Policy Council, the Federation’s research and education affiliate.

Civic Federation

Other Publications:
The Civic Federation’s two blogs had a total of eight posts in September: and
Topics included discussions of a reduction of the discount rate for the largest pension fund in the State of Illinois, the Teachers Retirement System; retiree health benefits in the City of Chicago; and controversy surrounding how much revenue a recent hike in the state cigarette tax to fund Medicaid is likely to generate.


Bureau of Governmental Research

PAR Guide to the 2012 Constitutional Amendments
On November 6th, Louisiana citizens vote on nine Constitutional Amendments. Additionally, most areas will vote on a ballot proposal about term limits for school boards. PAR’s Guide provides an independent, non-partisan review of the ballot initiatives.


Worcester Regional Research Bureau

Fare Play? Regulating Worcester’s Livery Vehicles and Taxis
This report discusses the regulations of Worcester’s livery vehicles and taxis. Specifically, it addresses the issue of whether the City should be engaged in setting limits to the number of liveries by placing it in the broader context of the origins and history of the taxi medallion system elsewhere in the U.S., along with its original institution in Worcester in 1980. After summarizing the regulations that distinguish liveries from taxis, WRRB cites the findings of other researchers regarding the effects of restricting the issuance of taxi medallions.


Citizens Research Council of Michigan

Analysis of Ballot Issues
CRC has been busy in September, publishing a series of memos on statewide ballot issues and proposals. Topics analyzed include several proposed constitutional amendments on a host of issues: enshrining collective bargaining, establishing collective bargaining rights for home health aides and requiring electric utilities to generate 25% from renewable energy sources.


Nevada Taxpayers Association

Tax Topics:  The Unions’ Tax Initiative: More Problems
Overview and section-by-section review of the Union’s Tax Initiative

New York

Center for Governmental Research

CGR provided the draft final report to the Task Force charged with implementing the high-profile merger of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township in New Jersey. After conducting the consolidation study and community engagement process, CGR has subsequently supported the communities through the detailed planning of the actual change process. The report is not public yet, but is expected shortly.

Citizens Budget Commission

Instructional and Support Spending in New York
CBC created an interactive map which contains per pupil spending for each of New York State’s school districts. The free online tool allows district-level breakdowns of instructional and support services as well as statewide averages.


Allegheny Conference

Press release about the Allegheny Conference receiving national award for sustained regional stewardship:

Announcement about Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to build an ethylene “cracker” facility a short distance from Pgh:

Pgh Post Gazette article about Delta’s decision to continue the Pittsburgh to Paris flight:

Analysis of the jobs impact of the construction and eventual operation of Shell’s cracker.


Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations

Increasing Voter Access: Exploring Options
TACIR has released a staff report regarding the feasibility of permitting registered TN voters who reside outside the precinct listed as their permanent residence at the time of an election to vote in statewide elections in their counties of temporary residence. Current law already provides voters who temporarily reside outside their counties several options for casting their ballots. The report concludes that, because voting at a place of temporary residence may not be feasible now but likely will be in the future, further study may be warranted as the technology required to safeguard a system that would allow out-of-county voting becomes less expensive and more feasible. However, at this time, the Commission endorses neither the concept of voting at a place of temporary residence nor the expenditure of significant resources to study the issue further.


The Utah Foundation

Priority Issue #10: Immigration
The Utah Foundation released a policy brief on immigration on October 1, 2012.  Voters in Utah listed immigration as the 10th most important priority in this election year.  This two-page brief includes demographic statistics on Utah’s foreign-born population and a discussion of recent policy developments in this area.


Public Policy Forum

Public Schooling in Southeast Wisconsin
In this annual report, the Public Policy Forum compiles and examines data from school districts in southeastern Wisconsin and examines trends in student performance and school finances. This year’s report additionally highlights new state and federal education policies that will impact local schools. The report found a persistent performance gap between students in southeastern Wisconsin and the rest of the state and that districts were expecting reductions in federal and state aid and in local revenues due to property tax limits. The report found positive trends in college readiness and student engagement.

Modeling a Consolidated Dispatch Center for Milwaukee County’s South Shore
This report analyzes the potential creation of an independent consolidated dispatch center to serve the three communities in Milwaukee County. It found that consolidation could produce substantial operating and equipment savings and operational improvements. The report cautions, however, that those potential advantages must be weighed against the benefits of local control. The report is in follow up to a report released in May that explored possible consolidated fire services in the five other southern Milwaukee County municipalities.

Other Publications:
The Public Policy Forum’s “Milwaukee Talkie” blog had three posts in September: Topics included summaries of the reports released by the Forum in September and an announcement of the new “Excellence in Public Policy Reporting” fellowship, funded by the Argosy Foundation. The fellowship project is a partnership between the Forum, the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (an online news service that focuses on Milwaukee neighborhoods), and Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication and is intended to improve the public policy reporting skills of graduate journalism students.

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance Wisconsin

Taxpayer Magazine: A Recap of 2011-12 Property Taxes
Property tax levies totaled $10.38 billion in 2012, up 0.2% from 2011. After subtracting more than $1 billion dollars in state-funded credits, net property taxes were $9.36 billion, also 0.2% more than the prior year. One-year changes varied by taxing unit: schools, -1.0%; counties, 1.1%; municipalities, 1.6%; and technical colleges, 1.8%. Net property taxes on the median value home statewide rose 23.5% over the last ten years. However, both the 2012 tax on the median value home and ten-year change varied widely by county.

Special Report: Your Election Homework
The lead-up to elections gives the public more than enough sales pitches and superficial platitudes from candidates. As you prepare for the upcoming election, take some time to learn what you want to know about the candidates. With a little homework, you can go beyond the nonsense and do your duty as a citizen in an informed way.

Focus Newsletter: College and career readiness need work
An Iowa testing firm that administers the ACT college entrance exam reports that only 31% of Wisconsin’s 2012 high school graduates are prepared to succeed in four courses typically taken by college freshmen. Focus Newsletter: Canary in the school mineshaft? The financial reserves a school district has-its fund balance-can help evaluate its fiscal health. Total fund balances statewide have been rising for years-from $1.20 billion (b) in 2003 to $1.86b in 2011. They now average about 17.9% of school district spending. However, two districts report negative balances, and three others have reserves under 5% of spending. Districts such as these could be financially vulnerable.

Focus Newsletter: Q&A: Quadrennial clockwork and federal finances
Partisan rhetoric makes it difficult to know the truth about federal debt and the future of Medicare and Social Security. US debt held by the public reaches 73% of GDP this year vs. 35% in 2000. Medicare “outgo” has exceeded income since 2008. Trustees project exhaustion of Medicare’s trust fund assets in 2024 and Social Security’s in 2033.

Focus Newsletter: Property values skip recovery, drop for fourth year
For the fourth consecutive year, the total market (“equalized”) value of Wisconsin property fell, this time 3.2% to $471.1 billion. Preliminary data for 2012 from the Dept. of Revenue show residential values were off more (-4.0%). All but seven counties had declines; the exceptions were mainly in the state’s west. Largest drops were in the southeast and in several counties near the Twin Cities.

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