47 posts categorized "Government"

Russia’s retaliatory sanctions have little effect on district exports

The direct economic effect of Russia’s retaliatory sanctions banning certain food and agricultural product imports from the United States is likely to be minimal for the Ninth District.

The list of products covered by these sanctions effective Aug. 7 includes all categories of (slaughtered) beef, pork, poultry and fish; most categories of milk and milk-based products, including cheeses and curds as well as a number of categories of fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables.

• Based on 2013 data, Russian sanctions would cover about $750 million of U.S. exports, representing 7 percent of U.S. exports to Russia and 0.05 percent of total U.S. exports.

• In the same year, Ninth District states exported $9 million worth of food and agricultural products to Russia now subject to sanctions, which account for 3 percent of district exports to Russia and 0.02 percent of total exports from the district (see chart).

• One of the reasons for the small impact is that sanctions notably do not cover sales of live animals, which accounted for 40 percent of the district’s agricultural exports to Russia last year. The list also excludes cereals and grains, as well as fruits, nuts and vegetables if prepared or preserved.

• Among Ninth District states, Wisconsin is most affected, particularly its concentrated or sweetened milk producers, exporters of frozen fruits and nuts, and kidney bean and white pea bean farmers, for whom the Russian market accounted for 17, 12 and 11 percent of total exports, respectively.

Exports also make up only a portion of total farm receipts, further dampening any potential impact. According to 2012 USDA data, for example, Wisconsin’s export revenues accounted for about 27 percent of total farm receipts and about 14 percent of total receipts from dairy products, its top agricultural commodity.

Russian food sanctions -- 8-26-14

Health insurance premiums vary widely for state workers

Health insurance for employees is a major expense for state governments, but costs vary widely across the nation and Ninth District, particularly for premiums involving workers and their families, according to a new report this week by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Monthly, employer-paid premiums for employees (only) are relatively similar among Ninth District states, from a low of $427 in North Dakota to a high of $587 in Wisconsin, which is also the only state whose employees share in the premium cost, at $97 per worker. Montana state employees, on average, receive a small credit of $21, according to Pew.

Much bigger differences occur in state health care coverage for workers and their dependents. South Dakota actually spends slightly less (per month, per worker) on family coverage ($493) than on single coverage ($496), and the state also requires a considerable cost share of $183. State-based costs for families in North Dakota are twice as high as in its southern neighbor, and South Dakota workers pay nothing. Premium costs in Minnesota and Wisconsin are higher still. With a total monthly premium of almost $1,700, Wisconsin has the second-highest health care premiums for state workers with dependents in the country, behind only New Hampshire.

State helath care premiums -- 8-13-14

Correct me if I’m wrong: State corrections spending up

States will spend $40 billion to incarcerate and supervise offenders in fiscal year 2014, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. That’s 2.5 percent higher than the previous fiscal year, but there is a wide divergence in corrections spending among states.

North Dakota, for example, is seeing the second-highest spending increase this year among states, at 8.2 percent (see Chart 1), according to the NCSL report. South Dakota and Minnesota were other district states that saw costs rise faster than the national average.

Corrections CH1 -- 4-1-14

The reason for North Dakota’s big increase is largely tied to its booming economy, which is drawing many new people to the region, especially among a demographic (younger males) more prone to have run-ins with the law.

Data on prison population and other corrections activity are not as up to date as budget figures. But leading up to this year, North Dakota’s corrections system was seeing increased pressure. The state saw its prison population increase 25 percent from 2003 to 2009, a trend that has subsided somewhat more recently, rising 3.5 percent from (fiscal years) 2011 to 2013, according to the state’s Department of Corrections. But the number of offenders on parole or probation (and needing supervision) has risen 12 percent from June 2011 to June 2013 (see Chart 2).

The mix of inmates housed has also changed, with a sharp rise in violent offenders and an increase in sex offenders, while the number of inmates with drug offenses has declined considerably (see Chart 3; 2012 data are the most recent available). Among drug offenders, the number incarcerated for drug dealing has risen slightly (8 percent), while the number in prison for simple possession has been cut almost in half.

Corrections CH2-3 -- 4-1-14

A budget breather: FY2013 more favorable to state budgets

State lawmakers have the difficult task—aided by forecasts—of setting budgets based on expected tax revenues and expenditures for the coming year. Changing economic conditions mean they come close but often miss the mark, sometimes substantially.

In fiscal year 2013 most Ninth District states missed on the favorable side, with higher revenues and lower expenditures relative to the approved budget (see Chart 1).

State budgets CH1 -- 3-25-14

Much of the higher revenue came from rising individual and corporate income tax collections. For instance, Minnesota and Montana saw general fund revenues exceed the budget by $500 million and $244 million, respectively. In both states, better than 90 percent of the variance came from higher corporate and individual income tax receipts. In the case of North Dakota, income tax collections were up 13 percent ($169 million) over the 2011-13 biennium.

On the expenditure side, public spending was also lower than budgeted in district states. A large part of the savings came from lower expenditures on health and human services. In Minnesota, for example, spending by the state’s Department of Human Services was $201 million lower than budgeted; more than two-thirds of that savings came from the Medical Assistance program. South Dakota’s actual expenditures fell $33 million short of budgeted figures, almost a third of which came from lower-than-planned spending by the Department of Social Services.

Savings in North Dakota, by contrast, came from the Department of Transportation, where expenditures were about $160 million (60 percent) lower than budgeted. The only district state that did not see expenditures come in lower than budgeted was Montana. General fund expenditures there exceeded the original budget by $160 million, most of which came from higher spending on education.

Many of the district’s larger cities have also experienced better-than-expected finances in fiscal 2013 (see Chart 2). Billings, Mont., and Sioux Falls, S.D., have both posted higher revenues and lower expenditures than budgeted. Though FY2013 results are not yet out for Minneapolis, the largest city in the district expects actual revenues to exceed budgeted amounts by $17 million based on year-to-date Q3 data.

Going forward, growing local economies are leading to higher revenue projections. Approved budgets for FY2014 show higher general fund revenues for St. Paul, Sioux Falls and especially Minneapolis, which expects budget revenue to increase by $95 million, or 26 percent.

In all of this analysis, it is important to keep in mind that budget versus actual comparisons are based on the cash method of accounting, which may not indicate the true strength of state finances if, for instance, large amounts of debt have been issued or major capital projects started during the fiscal year.

Even taking this method into account, state finances have clearly improved in 2013. One measure is net position, which is the difference between a state’s assets and liabilities, including capital assets and long-term obligations. Changes in net position indicate whether the financial position of the state is improving or deteriorating, and in FY2013, all district states posted positive increases in their net positions, particularly North Dakota and Minnesota (see Chart 3).

State budgets CH2&3 -- 3-25-14

March madness: ACA enrollments racing to sign-up goal

The March 31st deadline to sign-up for private health insurance plans as part of the Affordable Care Act is fast approaching, and enrollments in some states are sprinting toward their projected goals while others are lagging, according to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As of March 1, enrollments in Michigan and Wisconsin are at 90 percent of enrollments projected by HHS before the new law’s launch (see chart). In contrast, fewer than 7,000 people have enrolled in South Dakota, or just 36 percent of its 19,000 projection. Minnesota is the only district state that constructed its own health plan exchange (all others are using the federal healthcare.gov exchange). Enrollment in private plans to date through the MNsure exchange was just 48 percent of the goal of 67,000.

States and the federal government are also keeping a close eye on the number and proportion of young people signing up. For health insurance markets to work efficiently, the number of younger (and healthier, actuarially speaking) enrollees has to balance out the number of older, less healthy enrollees. It was originally estimated that 18 to 34 year olds would make up 35 to 40 percent of all enrollees. So far, it’s just 25 percent, and has remained fairly consistent in monthly reports. Among district states, only about one in five Wisconsin enrollees are in this young age bracket, while South Dakota has one of the highest rates, at 29 percent.

ACA March update -- 3-17-14

Unemployment insurance: Slowly mending in most district states

While unemployment rates continue to fall, if slowly, employers in many states are still grappling with higher tax rates for unemployment insurance (UI), which fund unemployment benefits in each state. Recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor suggest a mixed bag of improvements this year among Ninth District states.

Employers pay UI taxes for every covered worker on payroll, but every state does things a little differently. For example, the amount of income subject to UI taxes varies widely among states. In Michigan, employers pay UI taxes only on the first $9,500 of wages paid. In Wisconsin, it’s $14,000, and in North Dakota, almost $32,000 (see Chart 1). As a result, UI tax rates tend to be inversely related to how much income is subject to UI taxes, with Michigan’s rate the highest and North Dakota’s the lowest (see Chart 2). Higher UI rates tend to reflect benefit generosity as well.

But the direction of UI rates are heavily influenced by each state’s economy, and the Great Recession gave UI systems in most states a one-two punch: It put many out of work, thus greatly increasing unemployment benefit spending; it also lowered overall employment, which lowered the amount of UI taxes coming into UI trust funds (which pay unemployment benefits). As a result, UI tax rates on covered employees had to go up for most UI systems to maintain adequate cash flow during the recession and subsequent recovery.

The greatest increases in UI tax rates came between 2009 and 2011, once the full effects of the recession had settled in and states had exhausted their UI trust funds. Since then, average UI tax rates have moderated; half of district states saw a slight decline in 2013 as a percentage of taxable wages, and the other half increased, with Michigan seeing a significant rise (see Chart 2).

In the Dakotas, strong economies and high job growth, coupled with low unemployment and modest jobless benefits, have pushed UI tax rates to exceedingly low levels (see Chart 2). Wisconsin’s rate has also started to bend lower. But rates for Minnesota, Montana and especially Michigan have continued to increase. (Technically, only the northwestern portion of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are in the Ninth District, but the whole of both states are included in this analysis.)

UI rate charts 1-2

In some ways, the ultimate cost of UI taxes to state businesses is easier to see as a percentage of total wages. Here, the rank among district states still generally holds, but the Dakotas set themselves off even further for the low cost of their UI programs, while other district states bunch more tightly together (see Chart 3).

There are other good-news stories outside of the Dakotas. While Minnesota’s UI rates have continued to increase in 2013, the state has managed to wipe out a $770 million loan from the U.S. Treasury that it needed to keep paying unemployment benefits a few years ago. Wisconsin has done that one better: UI rates inched down this year, and though the state UI trust fund still has a $300 million loan with the federal government, that’s down from $1.4 billion just two years ago.

(Update: On Tuesday, November 19, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development announced that UI rates will drop in 2014, thanks to growth of the state UI trust fund to $1.2 billion. It's  estimated the move will save state businesses almost $350 million in UI taxes.)

UI rate charts 3

 

After snowstorm, ranchers still surveying damage

Ranchers in the western Dakotas who were hit hard by a freak fall blizzard got some welcome news Tuesday—they can get some assistance from the federal government while they wait to find out if more aid is on the way.

For readers who are unfamiliar with the story, a little background: In early October, Winter Storm Atlas dumped several feet of snow on some parts of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The storm came on the heels of heavy rains that left grazing lands a muddy mess, and many cattle were left exposed to a quick freeze and extremely high winds before they had a chance to grow thicker winter coats.

Reliable estimates of the number of cattle killed due to freezing, drowning or trampling aren’t available yet, but early estimates suggest that the number is easily in the tens of thousands. Anecdotal reports indicate that the devastation varied widely; some ranchers were barely affected, while others may have lost their entire herds.

The damage assessment itself has been complicated and delayed by muddy conditions created by melting snow. Immediately after the blizzard, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced an executive order waiving the standard requirement that ranchers dispose of carcasses with 36 hours under normal conditions. That waiver was set to expire on Friday, but was extended this week until the end of November.

Ranching is big business in the region—South Dakota is the nation’s fifth largest beef producer, and the state has five cattle for every one person. Grown cattle sell for $1,400 to $2,000. Added to cattle losses are the cost of cleanup and losses due to animal injury or sickness, all which will have a major economic impact on the state.

The other tough part about the timing of the storm is that it came during the federal government shutdown, delaying any action on a possible disaster declaration. In addition, funding for livestock disaster relief programs has expired because of the holdup over the passage of a federal farm bill.

However, on Tuesday USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse announced that ranchers can apply for assistance under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a conservation subsidy that will help them pay for carcass removal and infrastructure repair.

This story will continue to develop as the extent of the destruction becomes clearer. The fedgazette Roundup will be following it, so expect updates in the future.

Black fiscal gold: North Dakota oil taxes expected to keep pumping

In the midst of a federal government shutdown over raising the debt ceiling, it’s hard not to stop and gawk at North Dakota’s fiscal position stemming from rapidly rising oil and gas production in the western part of the state.

As recently as the 2003-05 biennium, oil and gas production taxes totaled just $120 million. A decade later, this tax revenue is expected to hit $5.2 billion in the current biennium through fiscal year 2015.

Comparatively little of that money—$300 million, by state statute—goes to the state general fund for lawmakers to spend as they please. Property tax relief has also been championed in recent budgets, but allocations for this priority remained unchanged at $342 million despite the rise in oil and gas tax revenue.

North Dakota has taken the unique step of funneling a significant amount of oil and gas taxes to permanent trust funds. This biennium, the state expects to divert $2 billion toward the Legacy and the Common Schools trust funds and does not include several hundred million in expected royalties from production on state lands that will also go to the school trust. (For more background and discussion on permanent trusts in North Dakota and other top energy producing states, see the recent fedgazette article, “Saving for a rainy, oil-free day.”)

But there was still plenty left over to finance new roads, schools and other infrastructure to deal with breakneck development across the Bakken oil-producing region. But rather than dramatically increase departmental budgets, the state has preferred to allocate money to special-use funds (which can be tapped for a variety of purposes), and to send more money directly to local governments to deal with local needs. These allocations also saw the largest increases in the current state budget. (For more on the fiscal trends among North Dakota local and state governments, see “Congratulations on your oil boom” in the July fedgazette.)

This tax revenue shows little sign of slowing. In late September, Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms told an audience of industry and local government officials that he expects the state’s daily oil production will double to 1.6 million barrels by 2017.

Oil & gas allocations -- 10-8-13

City employment: Help wanted, maybe

While the evidence is modest, there are small signs of recovery in public employment, at least among some larger Ninth District cities.

Public employment is typically quite stable over time. During the Great Recession, it lagged the downward spiral of private employment thanks largely to the federal stimulus of 2009. Once those funds to local governments were spent, employment levels started falling across the nation and district and continued through 2012 (see January fedgazette for more discussion).

With many public budgets now rebounding, or at least getting out of serious deficits, some local governments appear willing to entertain the idea of adding staff. Employment figures were investigated for larger cities in the Ninth District with employment levels over 200 (the list is not exhaustive, as not all cities post recent budgets or employment figures online).

Among 20 cities with available data, employment estimates for fiscal year 2013 show the job bleeding has stopped, at least temporarily, and for some (see Chart 1). The combined employment of the 20 cities grew 0.4 percent—70 jobs—in FY2013 compared with a loss of about 275 jobs over the previous two fiscal years. Bismarck, N.D., saw easily the highest job growth, at 4.2 percent, but eight other cities saw modest growth, including both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

But it appears that many local governments are not quite out of the fiscal woods yet. Two cities saw no growth, and the balance of 18 cities was split evenly between positive and negative job growth in FY2013 (see Chart 2). Grand Forks, N.D., took the biggest hit, as city employment dropped 1.4 percent, according to city budget figures.

William Thomas, Minneapolis Fed intern, contributed data to this report.

  City employment charts 1-2 -- 7-23-13png

 City employment table (2) -- 7-23-13

A leaky drinking water system

The heat of summer is probably the best time to let you know your drinking water infrastructure is badly in need of some upgrades.

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency began a nationwide assessment of drinking water systems, randomly surveying more than 2,700 medium and large community water systems. The survey collected data on capital improvement projects that system respondents deemed necessary over the coming 20 years. Improvements included replacement or rehabilitation of existing infrastructure due to age or deterioration, as well as new or expanded infrastructure necessary for current population needs or to comply with regulatory requirements.

Last month, the EPA released its final report, which estimated nationwide needs of $376 billion, a slight increase in the amount identified in a similar 2007 survey ($369 billion). Among Ninth District states, the report pegged capital investment needs for Minnesota and Wisconsin at $7 billion and $6.7 billion, respectively. (These were the only district states with enough surveys to allow for a state-based breakdown.) Needs in Minnesota rose more than 8 percent from the 2007 survey, while Wisconsin drinking water needs rose by almost 2 percent.

The report broke down needs by system size as well as capital investment categories (distribution, treatment, etc.). The needs of the two states were very similar in terms of categories—for example, the majority of investment needs in both states lie in transportation and distribution systems (see Chart 1). But Minnesota has a larger need among medium-sized drinking water systems (see Chart 2).

Drinking water -- 7-17-13

 

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