Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Big Wyoming: A Look at School Employee Data

I am going to get back to the Trump budget effects on Wyoming, but first I would like to respond to a question from a legislator about the disaggregation of government employment numbers. There are a couple of different ways to skin this cat; the preferred default approach is to use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is the most reliable source of employment data in the country (and probably the best in the world) and does a good job of reporting data for the states, the DC and the territories.

Unfortunately, as good and high quality as their data is, it is not entirely complete.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Trump's Budget and Wyoming: Part 1

I have received some good suggestions for blog articles from several readers, including state legislators. These are all good suggestions, and I will address them in coming articles. However, first we need to take a closer look at what President Trump's budget would mean for Wyoming. It is, namely, an innovative budget that could be of meaningful help as we try to solve our state's endless fiscal problems. 

Before we get to the details of how the president's budget could open new opportunities for states, let us first set the record straight on one, very important point:

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wyoming Employment by County, Part 2

Here is the second part of our review of county-level employment; apologies for the somewhat telegraphic nature of this short article. 

This part reviews earnings in the form of total wages earned in the private sector as a whole, in minerals and in non-minerals. As in the first part, the numbers here are for the third quarter of 2016, unless otherwise specified. That is the latest time period for which we have this kind of county-level data.*

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Big Government: Sloppy Tribune Reporting

We are going to get to the second part of county-level employment and earnings, especially since the first part was very popular. However, I do have to take issue with an article by Heather Richards in the Casper Star Tribune two days ago. Sadly, the newspaper's reporting was not up to standard (a rare occurrence).

Under the headline "Wyoming has the largest percentage of government employees in US", Richards quotes numbers from a 24/7 Wall Street article suggesting that Wyoming has more government workers per capita than any other state.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wyoming Employment by County, Part 1

Great news! We now have county-level employment and earnings data for the third quarter of 2016, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Aren't you excited?

While statewide employment data is available all the way through the first quarter of this year, county-level data tends to lag about six months behind. Its value is therefore more long-term than short-term, but it is nevertheless important to analyze it, for two reasons. First of all, it gives us a good idea of what trends in the statewide economy are actually statewide, and which ones are only local but strong enough to influence statewide data. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Wyoming Economy and Other States

Last week I reported on the poor performance of the Wyoming GDP. Today, let us take a look at how our state compares to the rest of the country.

To begin with, let me repeat the growth track record for the private sector. Figure 1 shows annual, inflation-adjusted growth numbers for our private sector, reported quarterly, since 2006:*

Saturday, May 20, 2017

When You Try to Tax Away a Deficit

With my apologies to the German poet Martin Niemöller...:

First, they taxed the billionaires. I was not a billionaire, so I did not protest.


Friday, May 19, 2017

When Do-Gooders Meet Corporate Welfare

Governor Mead's ENDOW initiative is moving forward. After last week's two-day event in Cheyenne, the initiative is moving forward with the aim to attract new businesses and new entrepreneurs to Wyoming. 

I applaud the governor's vision. We definitely need to strengthen our state's economy with a more diversified private sector. I also like the fact that the governor, in the introductory video to the ENDOW initiative, emphasizes our state's business-friendly economic climate. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Timing of Tax and Spending Reform

During my testimony to the Joint Revenue Committee in Saratoga last week, a question came up about the restructuring of our state's tax base. Chairman Peterson and Co-Chairman Madden are both of the opinion that it is not good for our state to rely so heavily on the minerals industry, and that it would be wise to restructure the tax base. Co-Chairman Madden had asked a representative from the Legislative Service Office to make a presentation about the Wyoming state tax base, a presentation that informatively compared our state to several others.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

From Decline to New Economic Normal

Last Friday the Bureau of Economic Analysis released the latest set of state-level GDP data. A first analysis told us that the Wyoming economy is weak but stabilizing. We also noted that the state GDP data now conveniently explains why our state government has such a deep, unrelenting problem with paying for its spending. Here is, again, Figure 1 from Friday's article:

Monday, May 15, 2017

Colorado Going Over the Deep End

Dear Fellow Wyomingites,

We may have our problems here, but sometimes it feels extra good not to live south of the border. (And no, I am not referring to Mexico...) 

Last year our Colorado neighbors voted on whether or not to create a single-payer health care system down there, and now the Democrats in the Centennial State are pushing two other, major entitlement programs: paid family leave and a state-run pension system for low-income workers. 

The single-payer system failed a popular vote, but given the campaign for other entitlement programs it is only logical to expect that idea to resurface in a not too distant future. In the meantime, the egalitarian campaign for more economic redistribution in Colorado will continue. Here is, for example, the bill that would create a paid-leave entitlement program:

Friday, May 12, 2017

GDP Numbers: Economy Weak, Stabilizing

As the Joint Revenue Committee ponders whether or not to move ahead with a Gross Receipts Tax (I have some hopes they will come to the sensible conclusion and drop the idea entirely) others are loudly calling for new taxes to shield government from spending cuts. Among the statist advocates we find this contribution from an outfit called Better Wyoming:

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Gross Receipts Tax Bad for Weak Economy

A short note today. As an amendment to yesterday's blog article about employment trends here in Wyoming, today we will take a quick look at trends in hours worked and weekly earnings. The data is available for all major industrial categories; for now, let us concentrate on the private sector as a whole, the minerals industry and the non-minerals industries bundled together.

In the past year, from the first quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of this year, Wyoming has lost 5,700 private-sector jobs.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Wyoming Still Losing Jobs

We now have employment data for Wyoming for the first quarter of 2017. These numbers, which are published monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are important advance indicators of what we can expect in terms of more comprehensive macroeconomic data - in other words, of how the state economy in general is performing. 

First, a look at the major industrial categories.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Gross Receipts Tax: A First Analysis

On Thursday next week, the Revenue Committee will meet in Saratoga to discuss a Gross Receipts Tax on the Wyoming economy. There are some different ways that this tax could be implemented, but under the reasonable assumption that the tax will apply across the board to private-sector industrial activity, every private business in the state would be impacted. This means that everywhere you go to spend money, you will encounter this tax. Your hairdresser will charge you extra; your auto repair shop will add the tax to its bill; your realtor will up his share of the sales price in order to collect what the state wants.

Your plumber, landlord, bank, lawyer, Uber driver... they will all want more of your hard earned money. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

From a Wyoming Taxpayer

Earlier today I published an article about how our legislators are preparing the ground for a gross receipts tax or - more likely - a state income tax. I got this reaction from Shawnna Punteney, who is a regular blog reader. I am publishing it with her permission. Thanks, Shawnna, for sharing your thoughts! (And all of you legislators out there who think a new tax is perfectly appropriate - please consider what it would do to families like the Punteneys.)
Living in Wyoming is already expensive. My husband and I both own businesses and we each paid 40 percent of our income to the IRS. In addition to that we have property tax and all the different licensing fees. It all adds up. The Punteney family is 5th generation. I don't want to leave however it is becoming very expensive. In terms of education- I get it! When the bottom dropped out, we thought we were going to lose it all! A chemical engineer went to work for a construction company for minimum wage. God had our back and seven months later my husband is back to work-but not in Wyoming. I have shut down my practice and am pursuing something different. I do not wish loss of jobs on educators. There are some amazing educators in this state. They have got to understand that we all took cuts and they will have to as well. I suggest cutting administration. We didn't like it, it's not fun, and I hate that it has happened!

The Open Road to an Income Tax

No, this is not a joke. In fact, it is not funny at all. 

During the legislative session there were bills introduced that would lay out a path to a personal, and probably corporate, income tax here in Wyoming. Fortunately, all those bills eventually died.

But just like the Emperor in Star Wars, somehow the idea of a state income tax is able to clone itself back to life again. Short of a major change in in thinking among our legislators, here is how you will get an income tax. And soon, possibly already in 2019, less than two years from now.

It starts with two legislative committee meetings in the next month or so.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fiscal Conservatives, Unite!

During World War II, when British troops were advancing in eastern Africa, they came upon a large force of Italian troops. Vastly outnumbered, the Brits feared a bloody battle, but to their joy and relief they were greeted not with artillery fire and bullets, but with deserting Italian soldiers. As the British troops were scrambling to organize their volunteering POWs, the Italian general walked up to a British captain, handed over his handgun and fell on the Brit's shoulder, crying profusely over the lack of morale and patriotism among his troops. Offering the general a drink, the British captain spent the better part of the day providing makeshift therapy for the demoralized general.

As I read about the latest stopgap budget measure in Congress, I was reminded of this story.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Laramie County Tax Vote: Why It Matters

Tomorrow, Laramie County voters go to the polls over that extra one-percent sales tax. The vote, which normally would fly under the radar in view of our state's far more serious economic problems, actually presents a good case study of a serious question we ought to discuss far more often:

What is the real role of government?