August 6, 2009

The Other Side's Frightening Arbitration Numbers and Blindspot on Taxing the Rich

Justin Katz

Oh happy day! Patrick Crowley has endeavored to bend numbers to his purpose, once again, and as usual, he seems incognizant of the degree to which his data actually illustrates the problem that he hopes to dismiss as a paranoid fantasy. The fact that he doesn't provide his source simplifies matters, because we needn't be distracted by the complexities that municipal negotiations can entail.

So we note, from his Figure 3, that the ratio of arbitrated contracts to negotiated contracts during the decade beginning in 1995 is typically somewhere around 6 arbitrated to 50 negotiated. Clearly, in Connecticut (which appears to be the data pool), arbitration is the final resort for the hardest cases, where the town and the union each put up the greatest fight.

In that light, turning to Figure 1, it's stunning how well unions do in arbitration. On average, arbitrators awarded 95% of the salary increases that negotiations procured during a given year. That includes two years during which the raises granted in arbitrated contracts were 33% and 10% higher than those in negotiated contracts. If we leave those two years out, we find only a 13% penalty in arbitration (e.g., a 3.06% raise instead of a 3.48% raise); again, that percentage describes the raises that the contracts granted, and none of the cited contracts called for flat or negative salary growth (and probably doesn't account for step increases and longevity). It's also worth considering the possibility that the perks, compensation, and rights that the arbitrators gave to the unions with the other hand far exceeded the salary "compromise" in value.

On a different topic (while I'm absorbing the appearance of actual numbers on RIFuture), one of my biggest fans, Oswald Krell, declares that "the level of taxation is completely irrelevant to where rich people live." Huh. (Clarification, here.)

The necessary disclaimer is that my argument about taxpayer flight has focused on the working and middle classes. That said, here's the list that strikes Krell as nakedly random; the states are listed according to the percentage of population with income over $200,000 (highest percentage on top), and the number following the state's name is the Tax Foundation's ranking for tax burden (#1 being the heaviest burden and #50 being the lightest):

  1. Connecticut: #8
  2. New Jersey: #10
  3. Massachusetts: #28
  4. New York: #3
  5. Texas: #43
  6. Wyoming: #42
  7. Delaware: #47
  8. Rhode Island: #4
  9. Alaska: #50
  10. New Hampshire: #49

Personally, I'd be reluctant to make grand claims based on such rankings, because the factors that come into play are endlessly complex — especially when one is generalizing about the intersection of multiple criteria. But is there really nothing observable about these top 10 rich-folk states? Nothing that distinguishes those with high tax burdens from those with low tax burdens?

The high-tax-burden states are all coastal abutters of New York City. Massachusetts is right there, as well, and has the added benefit of a lower tax burden (or had that benefit). They're also pretty small, so the geographic variation isn't as pronounced as in, say, California. The five low-tax-burden states are literally scattered across the country.

If the project is to see whether there are observations to be gleaned from the combination of these two rankings, it would be eminently reasonable to hypothesize that rich people like to live near New York City and in states with low tax burdens. Obviously, a multitude of factors come into play, but it takes a nigh upon willful blindness to proclaim the complete irrelevance of taxation.