Painting a Rosy Picture
Missouri Auditor Susan Montee has found that fiscal notes relating to tax credit programs severely understate their costs. From the Columbia Daily Tribune:
The audit found fault with the legislature’s “fiscal note” system that estimates projected program costs.
“Fiscal notes associated with legislation establishing or modifying tax credit programs do not accurately project the financial impact on the state’s general revenue fund collections,” the audit said. “For 15 tax credit programs reviewed, the actual redemptions exceeded the projected long-term fiscal impact by a net amount over $1.1 billion for the five years ended June 30, 2009.”
Fiscal notes sometimes failed to accurately predict how many people and businesses would participate in the programs, the audit said. Sometimes agencies administering the credits would make changes that increased costs.
In 1997, the legislature enacted a tax credit for historic preservation, a program that offers subsidies to people refurbishing old buildings. The estimate of the program’s cost at that time was $14.3 million per year. When the legislature modified the program a year later, the fiscal note projected an “unknown” cost.
“Based upon our methodology, the projected fiscal impact was $14.3 million annually and $71.5 million over the 5-year period, while redemptions totaled over $637 million,” the audit said. “Recent tax credit program audits have shown agencies consistently overstate the economic benefit of tax credit programs.”
Of course, this is no surprise. On top of the difficulties inherent in projecting a program’s impact into the future, politicians always overhype a program’s benefits and undersell its costs. They will even use all manner of political influence and accounting chicanery to manipulate the projections produced by independent scoring agencies. Even at the federal level, where the highly respected and nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office does its level best to accurately project a bill’s costs and benefits, members of Congress frequently game the process by requiring the CBO to score unrealistic versions of bills. The most obvious recent example of this subterfuge is the last CBO scoring of the recently passed health care bill, which, in order to achieve the illusion of deficit neutrality, includes 10 years of taxes and only six years of spending — as well as cuts to Medicare that we all know will never come. Just remember that no matter how bad a government program sounds when a politician proposes it, the reality is almost certainly worse.
Link via John Combest.