Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System needs to be changed to a defined contribution plan.

Recently, candidates for office in Iowa have been asked to promise future Iowa public employees that they will make no changes to the Iowa Public Employment Retirement System (IPERS) retirement plan.  Instead, politicians need to state clearly that they make no promises to future employees about their retirement benefits.  The fact that IPERS is currently underfunded by about $7 billion shows clearly that we already have over-promised benefits when compared to what we expected taxpayers and public employees to pay.

(When government has a defined benefit plan, the participants seem to think that any over-funding is their asset, but any under-funding is a liability of the taxpayers.  In the past, when IPERS was over-funded, benefits were increased!)

The way to make sure that we don’t make retirement benefit promises that turn out to be more expensive than we expect to pay is to put new government employees on a defined contribution retirement plan – just like most employees in the private sector.  This will cause the unfunded liability to come due over the next 50+ years, but at least it won’t get worse.

 

 

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Some of the rich are getting poorer, and some of the poor are getting richer.

The Des Moines Sunday Register published a lead article (Page 1) titled, “The rich keep getting richer”.  (See link below.)  Included were a number of misleading statistics or misleading conclusions based on the statistics.  For example, according the think tank, Iowa Policy Project, the median hourly wage in 2016 was $16.04 per hour.  37 years ago, the average wage, adjusted for inflation, which is fair, was $15.91.  The Register concluded, “This means a typical wage earner  working 40 hours per week for a full year would have seen a real increase of $270.40 over a 37 year span.”  While the statistics are technically true, you cannot logically conclude and that any specific person or group of people did not move themselves from a lower wage to a significantly higher wage.  I’m sure it is true some people moved down while some people moved up.  An interesting study would be to see how wages correlate to the number of years in the employment market.  It would be interesting to know the median starting hourly rate for a young inexperienced worker versus and an experienced worker who has been in the labor market to 30 years.  The fact that the average stays about the same my be a problem, but almost no one stays at the average wage for 37 years.

Another statistic was that the number of people who earned $1 million or more during specific years increased from 5,031 in 2010 to 8,325 in 2015.  Their “slice” of the state’s total adjusted gross income grew 37%.  Meanwhile, the number of Iowans claiming gross incomes of $40,000 to $99,999 climbed by 23%  while their slice of the state’s total adjusted gross income fell 2%.  First, I would venture to guess that a significant majority of the $1 million+ earners are people who sold their businesses or had other one-time income.  So, again,there is no logical reason to presume that the $1 million+ club is made up of the same people year-after-year.  At the same time, from 2010 to 2015 the Iowa economy was generally continuing to improve, so values and prices of businesses likely climbed.  Also, in the case of an “expanding pie”, the fact that any group gets a smaller percentage of the total does not mean that their real income is not increasing.

Finally, the Register reported that their analysis of U.S. Census data showed that the bottom fifth of earners saw practically no growth in household income – going from $13,798 in 2006 to $13,848 in 2016, again adjusted for inflation.  Here again, there is no logical reason to believe that the specific group of people who were in the bottom 20% in 2006 are the same people who were in the bottom 20% 10 years later.  It would be interesting to know what percent of the people in the bottom 20% in 2006 were still in the bottom 20% 10 years later.   My guess is there would be some, but not a majority.

As a society we need to make sure we don’t put hurdles in front of people who are trying to improve their lot in life.  In many cases this means removing government created regulatory barriers to entry into certain jobs.  The Register has done very good work exposing job licensing regulations that are in place more to protect existing businesses from competition and to protect the profits of licensing education businesses, than to protect the public.  Yet, the Iowa Legislature has done precious little to address this real problem for low income workers who are trying to work their way up in our economy.

Link to Register article:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2017/11/25/most-iowa-wages-have-stagnated-but-rich-keep-getting-richer/818770001/

 

Religious Freedom bill may be just fine.

I respectfully disagree with Kevin Pokorny’s letter to the editor in the Register yesterday.  (See link below.)  The State of Iowa does need to amend its civil rights laws to allow buyers and sellers of products and services to peacefully follow their conscience when they have reasonable disagreements.
To the extent that a product or service is personalized or customized, it does infringe on the rights of a seller to force him or her to provide the product or service in such a way that goes against the seller’s sincerely held religious beliefs. If the products or services are readily available from a multitude of sellers, and a buyer can reasonably find what he or she wants from another seller, then it is not unreasonable to allow some sellers to follow their conscience.
In Iowa and other states, florists, photographers, bakers, and wedding venue operators have been forced to provide customized products and/or services for gay couples’ weddings.  Governments should never discriminate against gay marriage, and I personally have and do support giving gay marriage the same government rights and privileges as any other marriage.  But, private individuals, and the businesses they operate, should not be forced to provide customized or personalized services or products against their will.
FYI – I am a libertarian-minded atheist, and believe it is better to have peaceful voluntary solutions whenever possible, rather than to use the force of government to decide who will be winners and who will be losers.

Professional licensing gone wild!

Some of the people in my industry, home medical equipment (HME) dealers, think it would be a good thing if all HME dealers in the state were required to be licensed by the State of Iowa.  They lobbied Senator Jeff Danielson who agreed to propose Senate Study Bill 1172 (SSB1172) which, if passed, would require such licensing.  I am not aware of any patients who are calling for this.  I’m not aware of any particular problems in our industry that have resulted in harm to patients.  Almost all HME dealers are providers under Medicare, and Medicare requires all providers to be accredited by an independent accrediting agency.  The purpose of accreditation is to help ensure that all services and products are provided in a safe and appropriate manner.  It does not appear that licensing is needed for the safety of the public.  Therefore, I presume that those who advocate for this bill are hoping is will help protect existing HME businesses against new competitors.

I think they learned about this political technique for protecting existing providers against competition from the orthotists, prosthetists, or pedorthists in Iowa.  What’s that?  You say you don’t know what an orthotist, or a prosthetist or a pedorthist is?  They are medical professionals who, only a few years ago, successfully lobbied the Iowa Legislature to require a license to practice their profession in Iowa.   (You’ll need to look them up.)  The effect has been that many DME dealers are now prevented from selling specially fitted shoes to diabetic patients because they do not have the proper pedorthist license.  I had never heard of pedorthists until we found out that we had to have a licensed pedorthist in order to continue to sell diabetic shoes.  I had never heard of any complaints from the public, or of any public safety issues surrounding the sale of diabetic shoes by DME dealers.  Again, I presume that the existing businesses were trying to protect themselves against new competition for DME dealers.

Professional licensing in Iowa is out of control.  Any group that wants to prevent new competitors from entering their industry goes to the state to become a licensed profession.  This not only needs to stop, it needs to be reversed.  As the Des Moines Register has advocated, we need to go through all licensed professions to determine whether or not there is a real public safety concern that is actually solved by licensing.  If not, we need to repeal the licensing requirement.  If there is a real public safety need, then we need to make sure that the licensing requirement is limited to meeting that need, and that it does not go beyond that need in order to protect existing providers from competition.

 

Don’t increase sales tax to fund recreation and conservation.

Contrary to the Des Moines Sunday Register opinion essay on 12/14/2014, Iowans did not vote four years ago to increase the Iowa sales tax by 3/8ths of a percent to fund conservation and recreation. Instead, Iowa voters made the easy choice to show emotional support for recreation and the environment without having to actually pay anything. Iowa is already doing very well on the recreational front without increasing taxes. We also already have substantial subsidies and other incentives to promote conservation and reduce pollution. If we want more funding for recreation, establish user fees. If we need to take further steps to reduce pollution, we should assess fines against the polluters. We do not need to tax ourselves $150 million per year in perpetuity. We made a mistake by amending our Constitution to commit any future sales tax increase to specific, narrowly defined purposes. We will not be able to change how we use the proceeds of any future tax increase without an amendment to our Iowa Constitution. We should not compound our mistake now by increasing our sales tax.

Link to Register opinion essay:  http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/2014/12/13/editorial-pressure-lawmakers-outdoor-fund/20387043/

 

Stop crop insurance boondoggle!

Thanks to the Des Moines Register for the article, “Crop insurance payment soar” on 3/14/2013.  It is not right that we taxpayers are required to subsidize crop insurance premiums for farmers.   I can accept our government administering a crop insurance insurance program if there is no viable private market.  But I cannot understand why taxpayers should subsidize the crop insurance program.  Farmers make higher than average incomes.     Many farmers and farm owners are very wealthy.  Both large corporate farms and wealthy absentee owner investors get Insurance premium subsidies.  Fees and commissions paid to crop insurance companies and sales representatives appear to be very generous.   We need to stop the farm welfare.  Charging the full cost of the insurance to farmers will cause farmers to help keep cost down and prevent abuse.

 

Stop States from offering special economic incentives

It is not surprising that the Iowa Chamber Alliance advocates that the State of Iowa should provide more money to provide economic incentives for businesses to expand or locate in Iowa.  (See The Des Moines Register, “Study: Iowa is losing its edge on incentives” 3/7/2013.)  The economic incentives paid by States and municipalities to businesses have become obscene.
Our governments should not be in the business of trying to figure out which businesses or industries might be successful in adding good jobs in Iowa.  When governments subsidize businesses, including farmers, we taxpayers take the risks and private individuals reap the benefits.  This is not free-market capitalism, this is crony capitalism – where businesses that have political power are given special favors by governments.
It would be ideal if our U.S. Congress, using their Constitutionally granted Commerce Clause powers – to regulate commerce among the States, would prohibit the States from making any payments, or providing any subsidies that are not generally available to all businesses in the State.  States would still be allowed offer general incentives, like lower taxes, but they would be prohibited from competing based on special incentive given to individual businesses.