States Ignore Obvious Remedy to Fiscal Meltdown

without raising taxes one cent, many states could recover much or all of their deficit and perhaps some states could be looking at a surplus.
The money is sitting on Wall Street waiting to be claimed through existing tax laws, regulatory fees, and even damage claims much like the Tobacco litigation.
Editor’s Note: Bob Herbert of the New York Times correctly depicts the tragedy of the cuts to education, health care for children, and other essential services that we expect from government. And any economist would agree with him that budget cuts are the last thing a state or any government ought to do in a recession. But his story, and that of dozens of other reporters and opinion writers misses the simple fact that this crash, which is depression (not a recession) for many states need not be so painful.

The money is sitting on Wall Street waiting to be claimed through existing tax laws, regulatory fees, and even damage claims much like the Tobacco litigation. As I have repeatedly stated to Arizona’s Republican State Treasurer Dean Martin and Andre Cherney, the Democrat who wants to replace him, along with legislative committees and other government departments of many states, including Florida, they are owed taxes, fees, penalties and damages from the investment bankers who brought us the great financial meltdown.

It’s really simple, but the bank lobby is so strong and the misconceptions are so great, that they just don’t want to get it. In the securitization of mortgages, there were numerous transfers on and off record (mostly off-record).

Each of those transfers resulted in fees or profits made by the parties involved. All of that was ordinary income, taxable transfers, subject to recording and registration fees,and regulation by state agencies with whom the parties never bothered to register.

Each transaction that should have been recorded would produce revenue for counties in their recording offices if they simply enforced it. Each profit or fee earned was related to a transfer of real property interests in the state that were NOT subject to any exemption. The income tax applies. Arizona calculated what the income would be if they enforced tax collection against these fees and came up with $3 billion. I think it is three times that, but even accepting their estimate, that would completely eliminate their deficit and allow them to continue covering the 47,000  children they just cut from health care.

So without raising taxes one cent, many states could recover much or all of their deficit and perhaps some states could be looking at a surplus.
There are many ways to actually collect this money as I have explained to legislators, agency heads and aides. The ONLY reason communities are closing down police and fire departments, closing schools and cutting medical care for children is because the people in power are too beholden to the banking lobby and too fearful of angering the real powers on both the national and state levels — Wall Street.
March 20, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist, NY Times

A Ruinous Meltdown

A story that is not getting nearly enough attention is the ruinous fiscal meltdown occurring in state after state, all across the country.

Taxes are being raised. Draconian cuts in services are being made. Public employees are being fired. The tissue-thin national economic recovery is being undermined. And in many cases, the most vulnerable populations — the sick, the elderly, the young and the poor — are getting badly hurt.

Arizona, struggling with a projected $2.6 billion budget shortfall, took the drastic step of scrapping its Children’s Health Insurance Program. That left nearly 47,000 low-income children with no coverage at all. Gov. Jan Brewer is also calling for an increase in the sales tax. She said, “Arizona is navigating its way through the largest state budget deficit in its long history.”

In New Jersey, the newly elected governor, Chris Christie, has proposed a series of budget cuts that, among other things, would result in public schools receiving $820 million less in state aid than they had received in the prior school year. Some well-off districts would have their direct school aid cut off altogether. Poorer districts that rely almost entirely on state aid would absorb the biggest losses in terms of dollars. They’re bracing for a terrible hit.

For all the happy talk about “no child left behind,” the truth is that in Arizona and New Jersey and dozens of other states trying to cope with the fiscal disaster brought on by the Great Recession, millions of children are being left far behind, and many millions of adults as well.

“We’ve talked in the past about revenue declines in a recession,” said Jon Shure of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “but I think you have to call this one a revenue collapse. In proportional terms, there has never been a drop in state revenues like we’re seeing now since people started to keep track of state revenues. We’re in unchartered territory when it comes to the magnitude of the impact.”

Massachusetts, which has made a series of painful cuts over the past two years, is gearing up for more. Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told The Boston Globe: “There’s no end to the bad news here. The state fiscal situation is already so dire that any additional bad news is magnified.”

California has cut billions of dollars from its education system, including its renowned network of public colleges and universities. Many thousands of teachers have been let go. Budget officials travel the state with a glazed look in their eyes, having tried everything they can think of to balance the state budget. And still the deficits persist.

In the first two months of this year, state and local governments across the U.S. cut 45,000 jobs. Additional layoffs are expected as states move ahead with their budgets for fiscal 2011. Increasingly these budgets, instead of helping people, are hurting them, undermining the quality of their lives, depriving them of educational opportunities, preventing them from accessing desperately needed medical care, and so on.

The federal government has tried to help, but much more assistance is needed.

These are especially tough times for young people. “What we’re seeing now in Arizona and potentially in New Jersey and other states spells long-term trouble for the nation’s children,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician who is president of the Children’s Health Fund in New York and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

“We’re looking at all these cuts in human services — in health care, in education, in after-school programs, in juvenile justice. This all points to a very grim future for these children who seem to be taking the brunt of this financial crisis.”

Dr. Redlener issued a warning nearly a year ago about the “frightening” toll the recession was taking on children. He told me last April, “We are seeing the emergence of what amounts to a ‘recession generation.’ ”

The impact of the recession on everyone, of whatever age, is only made worse when states trying to balance their budgets focus too intently on cutting services as opposed to a mix of service cuts and revenue-raising measures.

As Mr. Shure of the Center on Budget noted, “The cruel irony is that in a recession like this, the people’s needs go up at the same time that the states’ ability to meet those needs goes down.”

Budget cuts also tend to weaken rather than strengthen a state’s economy, especially when they entail furloughs or layoffs. Government spending stimulates an economy in recession. And wise spending is an investment in everyone’s quality of life.

All states have been rocked by the Great Recession. And most have tried to cope with a reasonable mix of budget cuts and tax increases, or other revenue-raising measures. Those that rely too heavily on cuts are making guaranteed investments in human misery.

5 Responses

  1. if you as a citizen try to have a doc recorded at the recorders office that is lets say hmm…. not favorable to the mortgage industry… you will soon learn who “owns” the county recorders office. there is a reason that the states “left the money laying on the table” so to speak re; these mortgage deeds & assignments & transfers.The corruption runs deep & wide.

  2. Todd, thank you for taking the time and effort to write your elected officials, many more people should be doing the same.

    There are many armchair observers that see fit to leave this battle up to the brave few who are willing to speak out and take a stand. grieve

    This has been the ignored shadow issue for a very long time. The “butterfly” effect ( economic term) is now taking place all over America

    How will “they” redistribute the wealth when the W-2 wage earner is out of work…. Hummm. If they are not working there is no opportunity to confiscate before income is realized and spent, taxes, SS, MC etc.

    Had a one on one with the county legislator last week that represents our district and their rational was “property taxes'” need to go up, since sales tax revenue is down…. Hummm … it never occurs to this particular class of elected officials that people are barely keeping the roof over their head and food on the table, and not out shopping for non-essential purchases.

    Mind you this legislator’s focus is on the decline of “sales tax revenue” in an area that is ranked one of the highest for property taxes in the nation with one of the most dysfunctional systems in place for homeowners to grieve and get relief.

    One little trick, which was over turned was to place a 2.5% tax , along with every other tax already imposed,on every form of energy used by people in the county, and that included firewood!!!

  3. Exactly, 2010-11 is going to be a minefield! How many seniors on a fixed income will be losing their homes that they own out right due to escalating property taxes calculated during the housing bubble that they can not afford.
    The next wave will be members of our society losing their homes for tax liens.
    Tax, Tax, Tax… that is all these people know.

  4. I wrote about this very factual reality several months ago … and to my Governor, Congressman, Obama … .

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