Posts tagged ‘Tampa Bay’

Florida Reduces Yellow Light Times to Generate Red Light Camera Revenue

Via Crony Chronicles

The 10 News Investigators found a number of communities shortened their already-safe intervals to the new minimums. In some cases, FDOT mandated longer yellow lights, but seemingly only at intersections that hadn’t been in compliance for years.  Around Greater Tampa Bay, the yellow interval reductions typically took place at RLC intersections and corridors filled with RLC cameras.

FDOT’s change in language may have been subtle, but the effects were quite significant. The removal of three little words meant the reduction of yellow light intervals of up to a second, meaning drastically more citations for drivers. A 10 News analysis indicates the rule change is likely costing Florida drivers millions of dollars a year.

When I lived near Denver, the government (not sure if city, state or county) reduced the speed limit and messed up the traffic light timing of a free road that paralleled a new toll road to try to generate more money for itself and its private toll operator.

Schizophrenic Trust in the Government

Matt Curran has spot-on comments about the death penalty in a letter to the Tampa Bay Times

Robyn Blumner's column highlighting the wrongful executions of Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham was a very compelling argument against the death penalty. I am a Republican who rarely agrees with Blumner, but in this case she was spot on. While I believe that there are individuals who certainly deserve to lose their lives for the crimes they commit (John Couey comes to mind), I simply do not trust the government to administer such a process fairly or accurately. This is because the government is run by human beings, who like the rest of us are motivated by narrow self-interest and restrained by limited knowledge. Because those in government rarely face the consequences of their decisions, they often make the wrong ones, even if their intent is pure.

What I find puzzling is how Blumner can so effectively articulate these failings of government when it comes to civil liberties in one column, and in the next champion its abilities and competence in economic matters. A criminal trial is a grueling and exacting process that seeks to administer justice in a very narrow, specific instance. If government doesn't deserve our faith in doing that correctly, how can we trust it to control and coordinate the countless decisions that hundreds of millions of Americans make each day in our economic lives?

For more from Matt, his blog is here.

New Outrage from the Corporate State

This is just nuts.

Across the United States more than 2,700 companies are collecting state income taxes from hundreds of thousands of workers – and are keeping the money with the states’ approval, says an eye-opening report published on Thursday.

The report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization funded by Ford, Surdna and other major foundations, identifies 16 states that let companies divert some or all of the state income taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks. None of the states requires notifying the workers, whose withholdings are treated as taxes they paid.

General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and AMC Theatres enjoy deals to keep state taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks, the report shows. Foreign companies also enjoy such arrangements, including Electrolux, Nissan, Toyota and a host of Canadian, Japanese and European banks, Good Jobs First says.

Why do state governments do this? Public records show that large companies often pay little or no state income tax in states where they have large operations, as this column has documented. Some companies get discounts on property, sales and other taxes. So how to provide even more subsidies without writing a check? Simple. Let corporations keep the state income taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks for up to 25 years.

Kentucky, where I have operated for over 10 years, seems to be the originator of this silliness.  I have always wondered why there is not an equal protection issue with such subsidies given to a chosen few companies but not to others.

I wrote years ago about such relocation subsidies being a prisoners dilemma game:

I hope you can see the parallel to subsidizing business relocations (replace prisoner with "governor" and confess with "subsidize").  In a libertarian world where politicians all just say no to subsidizing businesses, then businesses would end up reasonably evenly distributed across the country (due to labor markets, distribution requirements, etc.) and taxpayers would not be paying any subsidies.  However, because politicians fear that their community will lose if they don’t play the subsidy game like everyone else (the equivalent of staying silent while your partner is ratting you out in prison) what we end up with is still having businesses reasonably evenly distributed across the country, but with massive subsidies in place.

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball (MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets for a minute say this never happened – that somehow, the mayors of the 50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different, e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses, but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

Business Relocation Subsidies

I return to an old favorite topic of mine this week, government subsidies for business relocation, in my column at Forbes.com.  An excerpt:

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball (MLB).  We all know that cities and states have for years been massively subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Let’s for a minute say this never happened – that somehow, the mayors of the 50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy pledge.  Would baseball still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and baseball thrived for years with private parks.  But would baseball be in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would likely be in the largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different, e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that might in retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses, but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

Small Government in Seattle?

Well, probably not.  But Seattle voters did take the great step of banning public subsidies for pro sports teams, which usually take the form of sweetheart stadium deals.  Of course, this being Seattle, the proposition's promoters were motivated less by libertarianism than by the desire to spend more government money on other things.  But since public funding of stadium's is a personal pet peeve, I will give them one cheer.

A while back I compared the escalating public subsidies of pro sports teams to a prisoner's dilemma problem:

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball
(MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively
subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets
for a minute say this never happened - that somehow, the mayors of the
50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy
pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants
have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and
baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be
in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the
largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly
where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different,
e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in
retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other
industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do
nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses,
but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

This subsidy game reminds me of the line at the end of the movie Wargames

A strange game.  The only winning move is not to play.

Business Relocations and the Prisoners Dilemna

As I have written before, one of the favorite past-times of local and state politicians is to hand out grants, subsidies, and tax breaks for businesses to relocate to their district.  Billions and billions of dollars are given out every year to everyone from movie producers to sports teams to Wal-marts in order to "bring jobs" to the local community.

Economists have argued for years that these subsidies are a total waste (more on this below) but the Club for Growth links a great article demonstrating that they are not only a waste, they also are downright fraudulent.

Gov. George Pataki's administration gives millions of dollars every year to
businesses that promise to hire more people or retain jobs. It's a promise that
is often broken.

Almost half of those companies helped by New York taxpayers fell short of the
job targets that are part of their deals with the state, records show.

In fact, a quarter of the businesses took taxpayers' money and loans, then
cut jobs.

The article is quite detailed, but here is one example:

Take the case of Ingram Micro, a global computer-parts wholesaler with a
distribution center near Buffalo.

In 1999, it accepted $675,000 in taxpayers' money and promised to add 542
workers. Instead, it cut its workforce by nearly 400.

The state demanded a penalty of $176,985, but an Ingram spokesman said it has
not paid and is negotiating with the state.

Last month, Ingram Micro announced it will lay off another 120 Buffalo
workers and send the work overseas.

OOPS!  One is driven to ask the obvious question - why are these subsidy programs so popular?  I can think of at least three explanations.

The first explanation is political.  These subsidy programs tend to satisfy important bases from both political parties, thereby ensuring their bipartisan support.  Democrats like the idea of spending government money to create jobs, while Republicans like tax breaks and supporting business.  This explanation is unsatisfying.

The second explanation probably hits closer to the mark, and it is the cynical-political explanation that politicians like buying votes with other people's money.  When they campaign for re-election, politicians like to have a couple of "scalps" they can wave around to show the voters that they are doing something (a consistent history of sober fiscal responsibility seems to be unappealing, I guess).  Being able to say "I brought Microsoft to the town of West Nowheresville" or better yet "I brought 1000 jobs to this community" are political favorites of both parties (Here is what New Yorkers are really paying for - the ability of George Pataki to post on his web site a press release saying "Bedding Company to Create 240 New Jobs in New Baltimore").   These are priceless campaign slogans that didn't cost the politician a dime, since they were funded by taxpayers.

The third explanation comes from economics and is the most interesting.  If you shed any notion of morality or ethics (e.g. that one has no right to give one person's money to another just to make their re-election more likely) then politicians who are approached by a company looking for a handout for business relocation faces what is called the prisoner's dilemma.  Many of you may know what that is, but for those who don't, here is a quick explanation, via the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Tanya and Cinque have been arrested for robbing the Hibernia Savings
Bank and placed in separate isolation cells. Both care much more about
their personal freedom than about the welfare of their accomplice. A
clever prosecutor makes the following offer to each. "You may choose
to confess or remain silent. If you confess and your accomplice
remains silent I will drop all charges against you and use your
testimony to ensure that your accomplice does serious time. Likewise,
if your accomplice confesses while you remain silent, they will go
free while you do the time. If you both confess I get two convictions,
but I'll see to it that you both get early parole.  If you both remain
silent, I'll have to settle for token sentences on firearms possession
charges. If you wish to confess, you must leave a note with the jailer
before my return tomorrow morning."

The "dilemma" faced by the prisoners here is that, whatever the other
does, each is better off confessing than remaining silent. But the
outcome obtained when both confess is worse for each than the outcome
they would have obtained had both remained silent.

I hope you can see the parallel to subsidizing business relocations (replace prisoner with "governor" and confess with "subsidize").  In a libertarian world where politicians all just say no to subsidizing businesses, then businesses would end up reasonably evenly distributed across the country (due to labor markets, distribution requirements, etc.) and taxpayers would not be paying any subsidies.  However, because politicians fear that their community will lose if they don't play the subsidy game like everyone else (the equivalent of staying silent while your partner is ratting you out in prison) what we end up with is still having businesses reasonably evenly distributed across the country, but with massive subsidies in place.

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball (MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets for a minute say this never happened - that somehow, the mayors of the 50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different, e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses, but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

This subsidy game reminds me of the line at the end of the movie Wargames

A strange game.  The only winning move is not to play.

Postscript:  As a libertarian, I have gone through phases on targeted tax breaks.
There have been times in my life when I have supported tax breaks of
any kind to any person for any reason, by the logic that any reduction
in taxation is a good thing.  I know there are many libertarians that
take this position.  Over time, I have changed my mind.  First,
targeted tax breaks seldom in practice reduce the overall tax burden -
they tend to be made up somewhere else.  Second, these tax breaks tend
to be gross examples of the kind of government coercive technocratic
meddling in commerce and individual decision-making
that I despise.
Almost always, they are trying to get individuals to do something they
would not otherwise do, so in practice they tend to be distorting and
carry all kinds of unintended consequences (as well as being
philosophically repugnant).

Update 9/29/05:  We are suddenly getting a bunch of visitors from Econ.Aplia.com, which I presume is related to a university assignment or blog post somewhere.  Can someone email me in at the email in the right bar if folks are coming here from a particular site or university.  Just curious.

Update 9/30/05:  Thanks to a couple of emailers, the cat (err, bulldog?) is out of the bag and I know that Yalies are in the house.  Welcome.  I don't know if they teach free-markets any more in college, but your welcome to look around and take a walk on the libertarian dark side.  Good luck with economics, even if you did pick the wrong school.  --Coyote, Princeton '84, Harvard MBA '89

Update Again:  By the way, I discuss here the odd issue of why I and so many people misspell "dilemma" as "dilemna", as I did in this post.