Utah Tops List of Where Growth is Happening

Utah’s population topped three million people in 2016, with the state being the fastest growing in the 12-month period starting July 1, 2015. The western flavor continued with others at the top of the list including Nevada, Idaho, Florida and Washington.

Now, approximately 38% of the population lives in what the Census Bureau identifies as the South, with 24% in the West.

Kiplinger goes a step further, with cities where it expects job creation to thrive going forward. At the top of that list (with a reason or two cited) are:

  • St, George, Utah: magnet for tourists visiting Zion National Park and retirees seeking pleasant weather
  • Bend and Redmond, Oregon: also strong in tourism and drawing retirees
  • Cleveland, Tennessee: home to a wide range of manufacturing operations
  • Prescott, Arizona: cooler climate makes it an attractive alternative to Phoenix
  • Savannah, Georgia: home of the fourth-busiest ocean port, which will grow once its harbor is deepened to handle larger vessels

Where We’re Importing and Exporting

A glance at two maps – top import and expert country for each state in 2016 – reveals some interesting observations:

  • On the export side, Canada is the leading destination from 33 states (including Indiana and 25 of the other 31 east of the Mississippi River)
  • Mexico (six states) and China (four states) were next on the list
  • Among the more intriguing partnerships: Nevada’s exports are going to Switzerland
  • On the import side, nine countries are represented with China (23 states) and Canada (14 states) leading the way
  • Indiana and Oregon are the two states in which the lead importer is Ireland (Happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way!)
  • Of Indiana’s four neighbors, China is tops in Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, while Mexico (think auto industry) is the top partner with Michigan
  • Hawaii stands alone with its top partners of Indonesia (imports) and Australia (exports)

According to the American Enterprise Institute:

Last year, American companies sold $2.2 trillion worth of goods and services to buyers in other countries, and American companies and consumers purchased $2.7 trillion worth of imports from trading partners all around the world. Seven states – Michigan, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Washington and Texas – have their international trade represent more than 30% of their economic output.
Together, that volume of international trading activities represented 26% of the value of America’s $18.5 trillion in GDP in 2016. In terms of employment, more than 27 million American workers, about one in five, have jobs that are directly supported by trade with the rest of the world. Some states like California and Texas have more than two million jobs that are directly supported by international trade.

Nevada’s Luck Not Good Thus Far on Water Deal

Like many states, Indiana wrestles with water supply issues and a viable statewide plan is desperately needed. However, our situation is not nearly as dire as it is for Nevada. Stateline documents how a water pact between Nevada and Utah, which was mandated in 2004 and tentatively agreed to in 2009, has now washed down the drain as Utah's governor poured cold water on the deal (so many water puns).

Now Nevada — and the nation — must combat the challenges of having a major city and global tourist destination in the middle of the desert. As a poker enthusiast, Las Vegas has a special place in my heart and I truly hope an agreement can be reached to keep Southern Nevada from having to swim upstream on this issue (sorry). Stateline writes:

The states produced a plan by 2009, splitting the rights down the middle. Utah had already appropriated about 18 billion gallons, more than four times what Nevada had. Under the agreement, Nevada would have received another 12 billion gallons per year, with Utah getting 2 billion more.

Nevada quickly signed. But Herbert, a Republican, long put off his decision amid legal challenges and further study.

The pact would allow Nevada to send Snake Valley water to Las Vegas through a proposed pipeline that could also include straws to nearby communities.

Some 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water comes from Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam reservoir fed by the Colorado River. Studies have shown, however, the supply is shrinking by as much as 7 percent each year, exacerbated by recent severe drought.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has called the pipeline a safety net, only to be built if Lake Mead becomes dangerously low, which some water experts say could happen within a decade. But questions have arisen about whether the authority could finance the multi-billion project.

In Utah and parts of Nevada, the pipeline prospect has proved unpopular, spurring loud protests from a variety of groups, including environmentalists, Native American tribes, farmers and ranchers who worry the project would damage the communities and threaten their way of life.

“The project would create a massive dustbowl,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, which has opposed the pipeline and the pact.

The ultimate fear is that Snake Valley would face the same fate as California’s Owens Lake, which catastrophically dried up nearly a century ago when officials diverted its water source — the Owens River— to feed booming Los Angeles. Today, though some flow has returned, the vast salty area northeast of Los Angeles remains the largest single source of dust pollution in the U.S.

Last October, a trio of water attorneys advised Herbert that the agreement was the preferred option to a lengthy legal battle.

“The agreements, while not perfect, provide a framework to protect the interests of water users and citizens as a whole in each state and provide a process to address adverse impacts early on if detected to avoid significant harm to anyone,” the report said.

But on Wednesday, after visiting locals who would be impacted by a water transfer, Herbert announced he would not sign.

“There is no more complex and emotional issue with which I have grappled as governor of this great state,” he said. “I won't impose a solution on those most impacted that they themselves cannot support.”

Now, it’s Nevada’s move, but it’s unclear what it will do.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority said it was disappointed in Herbert’s decision. “In the coming days and weeks, we will evaluate our options to address this unprecedented action,” it said in a statement.

Nevada governor Brian Sandoval’s office referred questions to the state’s Division of Environmental Protection, which did not answer messages.

McCool, the water expert, said Las Vegas’ water crisis, along with the political and financial challenges of proposed projects to meet its needs, could spur Utah to sell some of its unallocated rights along the Colorado to Nevada. Or, further in the future, perhaps all seven states will rework the 91-year-old Colorado River Compact to give Nevada a bigger share.

Under the compact, Nevada only receives 4 percent of the allocations. That’s because no one in 1922 anticipated some 2 million people would eventually make their lives in the desert.

“The straw that breaks the camel’s back is going to be Las Vegas,” said McCool, who dubs this period in western water history “the big shakeout.”

“This is where we’ll figure out who has the political will and connections to get this thing done.”

There’s Only So Much (Political Advertising) a Person Can Take

Who doesn’t enjoy a good campaign commercial? With politicians lambasting their opponents, blaming them for the recession, mortgage failure, tax crisis, Midwest drought and McDonald’s taking away the McRib sandwich (okay, those last two are a bit facetious – obviously no one controls the weather), what’s not to love?

And no doubt you’re already saturated with political campaigns. “How can this be?,” you proclaim. “It’s only August!”

You are not wrong in your exasperation. The sheer number of television campaign advertisements shown so far this year is shocking (with three months to go before the election, even) and the amount of money spent by candidates and Super PACs is astounding.

Think you’ve had enough? Be glad you don’t live in Ohio. Or Florida. Or North Carolina. The money spent on the presidential election alone in this cycle has been $37.2 million in Ohio on TV ads; $36.3 million in Florida; and $20.4 million in North Carolina.

In fact, across nine “battleground” states (the three listed, along with Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire), the presidential campaigns and Super PACs have spent $174 million on television spots alone. And that amount was just for nine states through the beginning of July.

Let me put that into perspective: According to ESPN, in 2012 the average cost for a 30-second television ad during the Super Bowl was $3.5 million. That $174 million spent so far on presidential advertisements in nine states equals about 50 Super Bowl commercials. (Unfortunately, politicians don’t include the Budweiser Clydesdales or barking dogs dressed as "Star Wars" characters in their ads.)

It’s not just which states you are in, but also the networks you watch. For instance, if you are a regular Fox News viewer, chances are you’ve seen a number of the 479,055 advertisements that have aired on the network thus far. CNN is next with 191,027 campaign ads and another news network, MSNBC, aired 75,207, according to NCC Media.

You can’t really avoid it by changing the channel, either. ESPN, TNT, USA, Lifetime, HGTV, and the Weather Channel, to name a few, top the list of number of ads aired this election cycle. Even Food Network viewers can’t escape the barrage (33,118 ads so far interspersed between Paula Deen and Bobby Flay).

It’s safe to say that as the election draws closer, we will see even more of these ads. But, are they effective? Americans that are planning to vote most likely have decided which candidate they will support – but there are always individuals that can be wooed at the last minute.

One thing is for sure, however: The broadcast television industry must really love election time.

Governors Faced with Difficult Medicaid Decision

The Medicaid expansion decision for each state is one of several critical aspects of the Affordable Care Act, which was recently deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court. Although federal dollars are at stake, it’s not a given that states (including Indiana) will agree to the changes to the program for low-income residents. Stateline offers a strong summary.

Although the lineup is shifting, more than a dozen Republican governors have suggested they might decline to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Governors in Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin have said they will not participate. GOP governors in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Virginia indicate they are leaning in that direction.

Meanwhile, about a dozen Democratic governors have said their states will opt in. The rest have not declared their intentions.

According to data from the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government would spend $923 billion on a full Medicaid expansion between 2014 and 2022, and states would spend about $73 billion. But nobody is sure how many people will enroll in the Medicaid expansion. According to a 2010 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, states’ share of the Medicaid expansion could range anywhere from $20 billion to $43 billion in the first five years.

According to Kaiser, most states opting into the expansion likely would have to ramp up their Medicaid spending between 2014 and 2019, but four would spend less (Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont) and several others would have to boost state spending only slightly.

Mississippi’s Medicaid program, for example, cost a total of $4 billion in 2011—the federal government paid $3 billion, and the state paid $1 billion. Expanding that program to everybody at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line would cost the state as much as $581 million between 2014 and 2019, according to Kaiser’s 2010 study.  That’s a 6.4 percent increase in state spending compared to what Mississippi would spend without an expansion

The day after the Supreme Court ruled the Medicaid expansion was optional, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, said: “Although I am continuing to review the ruling by the Supreme Court, I would resist any expansion of Medicaid that could result in significant tax increases or dramatic cuts to education, public safety and job creation.”

Here’s a Vote for Cleaning Up the Rolls

When you read as many reports, studies, analyses and similar materials as I do, it’s difficult to be shocked by many of the facts that emerge. But check out these numbers from the Pew Center on the States regarding voter registration:

  • 24 million vote registrations either invalid or largely inaccurate
  • 1.8 million dead people still listed as active voters
  • 2.75 million who are registered to vote in more than one state
  • 51 million (estimated) voting-age U.S. residents who are not registered

Here’s a portion of the NPR story on the findings.

Election officials say one problem is that Americans move around a lot. And when they do, they seldom alert the local election office that they’ve left.

Ben Skupien, a registered voter who now lives in Northern Virginia, is pretty typical. He has moved repeatedly over the years and says he’s probably registered to vote in about a half-dozen states.

"The assumption, I would think, is that they would do the courtesy of letting the other states know that if you’re registered with a new state, [the old registration] would no longer apply," said Skupien.

In fact, states seldom share such information. The Pew study found that almost 3 million people are registered to vote in more than one state.

Voters also die, which leads to another problem, says Linda Lamone, who runs Maryland’s elections.

"If a John Smith lives in Maryland and goes to another state, say on vacation, and dies," Lamone said, "the law of the state where John Smith dies dictates whether or not the Maryland vital statistics people can share that information with me."

And even when they do — or if a person dies in-state — there’s often a delay before election officials are alerted. It’s also not always clear that the individual on the death certificate is the same one who’s registered to vote. Election officials still have to do a lot more digging to avoid accidentally taking someone off the rolls who is very much alive.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed says it’s amazing how many times his state has come across names on the voter rolls that appear to be the same person, but turn out not to be.

"We’ve even had cases, in very small counties, people [with the] same name and same birth dates," added Reed.

He said that has led to inaccurate reports that "dead" people are voting. He admits there have been a few cases in his state where widows or widowers have cast ballots for former spouses, but he said such fraud is very rare.

Still, election officials say it’s important that the public have confidence in the system.

So Washington and seven other states — Oregon, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Utah and Nevada — are joining a pilot program to share more voter information and other databases, to try to make their lists more accurate. 

Medicaid Still a Puzzler for State Governments

While health care reform and its unknown costs have been popular topics, states have also specifically focused on Medicaid. Texas is among several states that have at least explored dropping out of the federal program. The consequences would be severe and there is no good choice, experts say. Stateline reports:

Arizona has generated national attention in recent weeks for its decision to stop paying for life-saving organ transplants under the state’s Medicaid program. The decision — made in the face of a severe fiscal crisis — has been portrayed as one of the recession’s sharpest state budget cuts.

In Texas, however, some Republican lawmakers — and Governor Rick Perry — have talked not only about dropping certain procedures and benefits under Medicaid, but about dropping out of the program altogether. They say the state can no longer afford the 45-year-old, state-federal health insurance program for the poor.

On Friday (December 3), a long-awaited state study quantified what such a decision would mean for Texas.

The study, by the Texas Department of Insurance and the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, found that as many as 2.6 million residents would lose their health insurance if Medicaid were abandoned. Many of those losing coverage would be pregnant women and babies, as the Austin American-Statesman noted. Texas would also lose $15 billion a year in federal assistance, or about a tenth of the state’s entire health care sector.

Keeping Medicaid without reforming it, however, is also not a viable option, according to the study. Rigid federal rules and a dramatic expansion of the program under the new federal health care law leave it on an unsustainable path in Texas — a "no-win dilemma."

"We have to reform the program to save it," Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, told The Dallas Morning News, which noted that Nevada and Wyoming are among other states that have studied dropping out of Medicaid.

Indiana’s Business Tax Climate: Not a Perfect One, But a Good 10

We’re No. 10! We’re No. 10! Not exactly the rallying cry one is used to hearing, but a refrain that deserves more plaudits than usual. Here’s why Indiana’s ranking in the Tax Foundation’s 2011 State Business Tax Climate Index is noteworthy:

  • It’s not easy to make substantial improvements in this area. Indiana has ranged between No.12 and No. 14 over the last five years
  • The top eight seemingly head the list by default as they do not impose one of the big three taxes (sales, income or corporate income). So, without too much of a stretch, you could say Indiana is second on the list
  • We’re far away from the bottom 10; in order from No. 50, that’s New York, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island and North Carolina

The Indiana Chamber’s advocacy efforts certainly are contributing factors to the state ranking. Historic tax restructuring in 2002 (including elimination of the inventory and corporate gross receipts levies) is among the Decade of Policy Victories document reflecting major legislative accomplishments from 2000-2009. The Chamber has also achieved success in general property tax reductions and an expansion of a variety of tax credits (good for business, but not earning high marks in this report).

According to the Tax Foundation, the worst tax codes tend to have:

  • Complex, multi-rate corporate and individual income taxes with above-average tax rates
  • Above-average sales tax rates that don’t exempt business-to-business purchases
  • Complex, high-rate unemployment tax systems
  • High property tax collections as a percentage of personal income

Indiana’s rankings in the five categories are: corporate tax index, 21st; individual income tax index, 11th; sales tax index, 20th; unemployment insurance tax index, 12th; and property index, 4th.

Since this tax analysis game is not for the faint of heart, a little more from the Tax Foundation on how it all works.

The methodology of the State Business Tax Climate Index is centered on the idea of economic neutrality. If a state’s tax system maintains a “level playing field” for businesses, the index considers it neutral and ranks it highly. However, each state’s final score depends on a comparison with the other 49 states.

The overall index is composed of five specific indexes devoted to major features of a state’s tax system. Each of these five indexes is composed of several sub-indexes.

Each state’s laws and tax collections were assessed as of July 1, 2010, the first day of the 2011 fiscal year. Newer tax changes are the subject of commentary in an appendix but are not tallied in the scores and rankings.

The Tax Foundation has data charts, further analysis and a full 60-page report. By the way, you have to go west for most of the rest of the top 10 (in order): South Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming, Nevada, Florida, Montana, New Hampshire, Delaware and Utah.

And finally, going into a state budget year that will bring pressure to raise revenues, let’s all keep the vital importance of the tax climate in mind on business attraction and expansion decisions.

Nevada Recovery Still a Crapshoot

A Las Vegas Sun columnist offers a look at why Nevada’s economy is still in turmoil as much of the country expects some recovery this year. The reasons are varied, and I’d advise reading the entire piece as it could prove interesting for the myriad Hoosiers who travel westward each year for the promise of a comped buffet.

Moody’s Economy.com recently plotted the 50 states on where they are on the path to recovery: 11 are in actual recovery and 38 are seeing the recession moderate. The one state remaining: Nevada, still considered to be in significant economic contraction, with no clear end in sight.

At this economic inflection point in which the rest of the country appears to be entering recovery — however tepid and uncertain — Nevada still lags far behind.

No doubt the 13.9 percent of Las Vegas residents officially unemployed — and the unknown number out of work so long they’ve quit looking — want to know why recovery is happening in other states but remains a distant mirage here.

Economists and local analysts say the reasons aren’t very complicated.

“Our economic growth was, frankly, unsustainable,” says Elliott Parker, an economist at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Primarily, our economy was too focused on building stuff — stuff no one wants or needs now.

As Jeremy Aguero of the economic research firm Applied Analysis notes, 12.5 percent of our workforce is in construction (or was, anyway), more than double the national average of 5.5 percent.

That was great when people were moving here and needed houses, stores and casinos, and when tourists were clamoring for more hotel rooms. But that’s all finished.

2010 Numbers Matter — for the Next 10 Years: Congressional Lines Redrawn

For those politically inclined, the work on the next election often begins before the current one takes place. In other words, while November 2008 was drawing plenty of attention at this time last year, there were at least some looking ahead to 2010. That is especially true when the "next" period ends with the number zero.

The every-10-year-period means a new census, a reapportionment of House seats in Congress and new maps for both legislative and congressional districts. There will be a great deal of time to discuss the politics of drawing the lines. For now, the early projections are in place on which states will be winners and losers in the amount of representation they have in Washington.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has its reapportionment outlook. Remember, they are only estimates at this point, but Indiana’s nine seats appear safe. The state, of course, came up short after the 2000 and 1980 population counts — losing a spot in the House each time. (Indiana once had 13 districts before dropping one each after the 1940 and 1930 censuses).

So who wins and who loses in 2011? The big, big winner, according to NCSL, is Texas with the potential of gaining three seats. The South and West also look to benefit from one additional seat for Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Utah.

On the other side, eight states stand to lose one seat each. They are Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Side notes: If the estimate holds, California would not increase its congressional power for the first time since becoming a state in 1850. Also, pending legislation would increase the size of the House from 435 to 437 — giving the District of Columbia its first vote and allowing one more state to add a seat. (Utah would gain the additional representative, for now, if the legislation passes this year.)