Monday, October 30, 2006

Build it and they will come.

Frequently, when an existing road is proposed to be widened, the anti-widening folks will often make the following argument: "Yes, the road is clogged now, but if we expand it, it'll eventually become congested again, so let's not build it."

This just doesn't strike me as a good argument in a country with a growing population. Yes, the road might become congested again, in fact, it probably will. However, it'll become congested while carrying significantly more people. This means that new jobs will be created, new office parks, new shopping centers, movie theaters, etc. will be built.

Here on the east coast, we have Interstate 95, which runs parallel to Route 1. Route 1 is an old road: in New England, it is the old Boston Post Road, which is older than the United States. In the 1950s, when I-95 was built, I'm sure that Route 1 was very crowded. Of course, I-95 is often a standstill today, but that doesn't mean we should have never built I-95. If it had never been built, Route 1 certainly wouldn't be carrying all the cars that I-95 carries today, but the entire region would be much less developed, meaning that thee were fewer jobs, fewer houses, and fewer cars.

You may think that is a good thing. However, since we have a growing population (our birth rate is about replacement level, but we have many immigrants), we need to accommodate this growing population by building the infrastructure necessary. And we need a growing population to fund social security and other ponzi-esque pension schemes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Should Health Insurance be Required?

Should health insurance be required? While I am generally free-market oriented, I think that there's a strong case that could be made for requiring health insurance, a la Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts.

When someone is brought to an emergency room, he or she must be treated, and the payment issues are worked out later. This is a good thing, because many people that are brought to the emergency room are rather incapacitated, and may not even be able to tell you their name, much less their insurance policy number. Furthermore, it would seem odd to reject someone who is having an acute emergency because they didn't have insurance. I mean, even the most die-hard free marketeer probably wouldn't advocate the end to this rule.

Some people claim that forcing people to buy insurance is a personal responsibility issue: let them take the risks. However, because hospitals have to accept all emergency room patients, who exactly ends up taking the risk? True, the operation may cost thousands of dollars, which would have been covered by a policy that cost a few hundred per year, but if the operation is so expensive that someone couldn't pay it, the hospital is essentially still out the money. There's always going to be a free rider problem for those who could have afforded insurance, but who can't afford the actual treatment (and don't have sufficient assets). These people will declare bankruptcy. I would imagine that many single 20-something males fall into this category.

I would hope that any obligatory insurance plan required by the state would allow individuals to purchase various plans that would have different levels of coverage, as long as they all had emergency coverage. Furthermore, the insurance companies should be allowed to price these policies as they see fit, using whatever risk factors they deem appropriate (e.g., they could charge identical twins different rates if one smoked and the other didn't).

However, forcing basic emergency coverage for all those who can afford it seems entirely reasonable to me. Why should the hospitals have to take the risk?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Don't Cross that Line!

In the United States, many people live in one state but work in another. In some states, like Colorado, this number is quite small since a small portion of the population lives near the state line. In other states, like Connecticut, this number can be quite substantial.

This has an impact on local tax policy. In Connecticut, various politicians talk about the rich paying their "fair share", which always seems to be more. The problem for Connecticut is that many of the wealthiest residents pay no income taxes on wages ot the state of Connecticut, since they work in New York state, and pay income taxes to New York instead. Raising the top bracket of Connecticut's income tax won't have an impact on these people until the Connecticut top bracket surpasses New York's top bracket, since you don't have to pay income taxes twice if you cross state lines on the way to your job.

Connecticut has about 3.5 million people. About 38% of these are either under 18 or over 65, so are not likely to be in the work force. According to Metro North, the commuter railroad that takes people to New York City and intermediate points, about 80,000 commuters get on the trains every day in Connecticut. A few more Connecticut residents probably board at Port Chester (the first train station in New York, right over the Greenwich border), and there are also some that drive their cars or take a bus over the Hudson line in New York state and take the train into the city from there (indeed, my town, Ridgefield, has the shuttle bus which runs 8 times per day to the Katonah train station in New York).

There are some commuters -- not many -- who take the train to other Connecticut towns, and there are some New Yorkers who commute outwards to Connecticut. But I would estimate that conservatively, there are 50,000 net train commuters from Connecticut into New York.

Some people drive from Fairfield county to Westchester county, but I would imagine that these people cancel each other out. The Massachusetts/Connecticut people probably also cancel each other out. There may be more Rhode Islanders coming in than Connecticut residents heading into Rhode Island, since Connecticut has two large casinos (Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun) located near the Rhode Island border. However, these are mainly low wage jobs, and thus don't generate much in the way of income taxes for the state.

These 50,000 or however many commuters into New York are mainly high wage earners. Monthly tickets from Greenwich to Grand Central station in New York City cost $237, and they get more expensive as you go further out. So the salary has to be worth the cost and approximate hour of commuting time.

New York has a graduated income tax that hits 7.7% after $500,000 (7.375% after $100,000). Connecticut reaches 5% at $10,000 and stays there. So for the top rate, Connecticut would not receive any income taxes from cross-border commuters until it topped the 7.7% level.

I don't have any statistics available, but I would imagine that as a percentage of income earned, Connecticut probably has the highest percentage being earned out of state. New Hampshire has a lot of commuters going into Boston, but since New Hampshire doesn't have income tax, this becomes irrelevant. New Jersey of course is also a commuter heavy state, both in the north (to New York) and south (to Philadelphia), but it's a much bigger state than Connecticut. Maryland has a decent percentage that commute into D.C., but it appears that there is some sort of agreement in place that means those residents pay taxes to Maryland and not DC (however, Maryland commuters to Delaware don't seem to have this agreement.

In any event, when a large portion of your biggest income producers commute out of state, and are thus not subject to your taxes, it's difficult to promise that raising taxes on the rich is going to bring in lots of new revenue.

One Conencticut state senator, Ed Meyer, said he would favor raising the top rate to 18.97%, which would make Connecticut the highest taxed state by far. This would of course pull in some money (18.97% minus 7.7% paid to New York) from the wealthy cross-border commuters, at least until they moved closer to their jobs, in the low tax jurisdiction of Westchester County, New York.