Archives for February 12, 2013

Everybody Wants to End the State Booze Monopoly, Except People Who Don’t Use the Stores

The pro-monopoly hack angle on this poll showing overwhelming support for ending the state booze monopoly (61-35) is going to be that it was commissioned by the Commonwealth Foundation.

But non-hacks will be interested to see that Fairbank is almost exclusively a Democratic pollster, and that they really bent over backwards to craft neutral question wording.

The results are a disaster for the pro-monopoly side, as the poll finds majority support for ending the monopoly in every single demographic and political subgroup, except for people who admit to never buying anything from the state stores. Every geographic region wants to end the monopoly except (narrowly) Philadelphia County, which is interesting since it is the region best positioned to benefit from a more competitive market.

52% of Democrats are in favor of ending the monopoly. But the really damning finding is that unions haven’t even persuaded union households that they should care about this issue:

52% of union members support privatization, and 58% of people in union households support it. That’s compared to 61% in non-union households; almost within margin of error.

I have some big problems with the Corbett plan, but it could be made better and less kludgey if Democratic politicians would actually engage on the issue instead of continuing to ignore what their voters want.

If Eric Evans Wants to Improve Quality of Life, There Is an Opportunity in Front of His Face

I have to wonder if Eric Evans understands the comedy here:

Bethlehem Councilman Eric Evans is running for re-election.

Evans, a councilman since 2010, said he’s running for re-election because he loves living in Bethlehem and wants to maintain the city’s high quality of life.

Evans said he will continue to support the needed investments in public safety and infrastructure while searching for areas to improve efficiencies and cut waste.

Blog readers will immediately spot the contradiction between Evans’s professed goals and his actual behavior as a Councilman.

Staring Evans in the face is the most obvious example of an opportunity to cut (literal) waste and improve efficiency in the city’s trash collection approach.

That is, if he were even willing to look at the bids that show city residents could be saving money and getting better, more comprehensive trash collection services.

To really improve government efficiency and quality of life for residents, you can’t just look at the line items in the budget. The really big gains are going to come from redesigning service markets for both public and private service providers.

By reorganizing the trash collection market, Evans has a clear opportunity to save most people money on their trash bills, top up the service package, make his city cleaner, reduce truck traffic on neighborhood streets, and save city government money through efficiencies at the compost and recycling center.

What he is missing is that most inefficiencies don’t persist because nobody’s discovered them yet, but because various political interests like things the way they are, and politicians prefer the inefficient status quo to ruffling people’s feathers.

(via Lynn Olanoff)

Subsidize the Housing User, Not the Construction

Excellent points from Robert Lerman:

Bad terminology can create bad policy. Nowhere is this more evident than in housing policy.

This approach is problematic. First, subsidies tied to specific “low-income” homes substantially restrict where recipients can live, and what’s available may be a poor choice for their families. Second, the cost of subsidizing construction programs is higher than the cost of boosting people’s purchasing power to rent or buy their own dwellings, even assuming the construction units last at least 30 years. For both reasons, the government’s cost is often far higher than the recipient’s benefit.

Even the much-vaunted low-income housing tax credit, endorsed strongly by the New York Times editorial board, is costly and does little to expand housing supply. The tax credit aims to encourage developers to invest in affordable housing. They sell the credits to investors, lowering the amount they need to borrow to build or fix up property. But developers generally sell their tax credits at a discount, leaving them with only about 70-75 percent of the government subsidy. To advocates of these programs, the subsidies add to the stock of “affordable” housing. But, as research has shown, the added housing financed by government is largely or completely offset by less private-financed housing.

By shifting from construction incentives to rent vouchers, the government can save 20 percent or more on its current housing outlays, meaning it could offer vouchers to many more low-income families at the same costs. Moreover, as shown elsewhere, if the new vouchers emphasized homeownership instead of renting, the government’s costs would be even lower—which could mean even more available vouchers and more families covered by subsidized housing. That’s quite a benefit from thinking more clearly about the housing of low-income families!

We could scrap the mortgage interest deduction and convert it to a fixed price housing voucher for everyone.