On Tuesday, Republican Curt Clawson won the special House election for Florida's 19th District. What does this mean for taxpayers and the federal government's bottom line? NTUF Research and Outreach Manager Dan Barrett says it's hard to tell because of a lack of details. From what he found, Clawson would decrease spending by $396 billion per year on net, but that's not the whole story.
By analyzing each candidate's direct quotes and campaign literature, Dan compiled line-by-line fiscal agenda for Curt Clawson (R), April Freeman (D), and Ray Netherwood (L). He cross-referenced their proposals with existing legislation and budgetary information, similar to the BillTally project, and identified them as potential costs or savings where possible. Freeman was found to support $20.2 billion in annual spending increases, while Netherwood made one proposal specific enough to be scored, a spending cut of $19 billion per year.
The Bill: H.R. 4826, the School Modernization and Revitalization Through (SMART) Jobs Act
Cost Per Year: $1.38 billion ($6.9 billion over five years)
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), many of the nearly 99,000 public school buildings across the country have seen better days. In the latest edition of their annual Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, ASCE rated America’s public school buildings a “D”, signifying that most are in “below standard” condition and at “strong risk of failure.” ASCE’s survey analyzed public school buildings with criteria such as capacity, funding, public safety, and physical condition in mind. In particular, they cited concern that current school construction funding was not enough to adequately maintain existing facilities.
The most recent comprehensive government report on public school infrastructure was compiled in 1999 by the Department of Education. It was estimated then that it would require new spending of $127 billion to bring the nation’s school infrastructure up to “good” condition. Now, ASCE says that figure is closer to $270 billion. Another group, the U.S. Green Building Council, estimates a total of $542 billion would be needed to modernize schools.
Where will this money come from? Currently, it is largely the responsibility of state and local governments to fund their school facilities' renovation and construction programs. Such spending is usually financed through state and local taxes of which property taxes play a key role in many states. However, in the wake of the recession, that funding source has fallen from a high of $29 billion in 2004 to $10 billion in 2012, according to ASCE.
Historically, the federal government has contributed only a small portion of total funding. The 21st Century School Fund notes that the federal share of capital outlays on public school facilities is “less than 86 cents per 1,000 dollars.” Most of the federal spending is targeted for certain districts, for example schools with a high number of military children can receive Impact Aid construction and facilities funding, which will total $22 million this year.
To dramatically increase the federal government’s role, Congressman Patrick Maloney (D-NY)* has introduced H.R. 4826, the School Modernization and Revitalization Through Jobs Act. The SMART Jobs Act would authorize $6.4 billion to for school infrastructure improvement; a separate authorization of $100 million per year would be dedicated specifically to schools in Presidential Declared Disaster Areas recovering from natural disasters. Only American-made steel and iron would be allowed in construction projects funded by the bill.
The bill is part of a larger package of legislation, known as the “Make It In America Jobs Plan,” being introduced and supported by House Democrats. The Plan is comprised of dozens of pieces of legislation designed to “[create] the best conditions for American businesses to manufacture their products, innovate, and create jobs right here in the U.S.”, most of which provide additional funding for job training and promotion of domestic manufacturing. A recent report from the Brookings Institution claims that over 14 million workers held infrastructure-related jobs in 2012, accounting for 11 percent of national employment. However, some analysts question the necessity of federal infrastructure investment for the sake of economic stimulus.
* NTUF does not have a BillTally report for Congressman Maloney because he is a freshman Representative.
The Bill: H.R. 3641, the EPA Maximum Achievable Contraction of Technocrats Act of 2013
Savings Per Year: $219 million ($656 million over three years)
In the past few weeks, NTUF has featured in The Tab bills that would create new grants for renewable energy jobs and promote cleaner energy production. Congress will consider those bills after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently unveiled a 645-page proposal for new regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants, especially those fueled by coal. As Washington’s focus on environmental issues -- and EPA’s regulatory influence -- continues to grow, some lawmakers are questioning whether the benefits of those policies are worth the public cost of enforcement and administration or the economic impact on businesses in the private sector. A 2012 report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute estimated that the EPA’s regulations cost $353 billion to comply with, more than those of any other federal agency.
One of those voicing concerns about EPA’s administrative and regulatory expansions is Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA), who introduced the EPA Maximum Achievable Contraction of Technocrats Act. H.R. 3641 mandates that EPA’s workforce be reduced by 15 percent within three years of enactment.
Rep. Griffith cited the agency’s rapid growth relative to the rest of the federal workforce as justification for cutting staff: according to his office, the number of EPA employees increased by 107 percent from 1972 to 2011, while total Federal personnel decreased by 15 percent. Critics of that expansion suggest that most of those workers aren’t needed to enforce EPA’s regulations, pointing to the fact that 95 percent of EPA employees were deemed “nonessential” during the government shutdown in October 2013, meaning that their duties were not vital to national defense, public health and safety, or other “crucial” functions.
The EPA’s budget shows that the agency employed 15,913 staff in Fiscal Year 2013 and spent $2.2 billion on personnel benefits and compensation. Assuming that a 15 percent workforce reduction would be achieved gradually over three years, Rep. Griffin’s bill would cut at least 2,387 positions within the EPA and save about $656 million in total ($219 million per year) as a result.
The Bill: S. 2453, the Social Security Overpayments Fairness Act of 2014
Cost Per Year: “No Cost” -- Regulatory
Every year, the government overpays Americans by billions of dollars through numerous federal benefits programs. Some of these improper payments are the result of intentional, fraudulent filing or applications; others are simply accidental errors. Through multiple reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), taxpayers have begun to see a more complete picture of just how wasteful some of these programs can be. For example, between 2010 and 2013, the Social Security Administration’s disability program paid out $1.3 billion to individuals who were not eligible; between 2010 and 2012, the Medicare Advantage program overpaid insurance companies $5.1 billion; and in 2013, $7.3 billion in Unemployment Insurance overpayments were found.
In total, the Congressional Research Service found that in FY 2012, the government made at least $108 billion in improper payments, which includes “payments made in an incorrect amount, payments that should not have been made at all, or payments made to an ineligible recipient or for an ineligible purpose”.
There have been attempts to help curb improper payments. The Improper Payments Information Act of 2002 requires agencies to identify sources and instances of erroneous payouts. The law was subsequently amended in 2010 to strengthen the ability of officials to recover misspent benefit dollars. Yet the problem persists, and households that receive improper payments often do not even realize that they are receiving more than they should. Legislators have focused on maintaining these programs instead of passing fundamental reforms to help eliminate easy avenues for wasteful (even if unintentional) spending.
Tucked away in the over 600-page 2008 Farm Bill was a provision to allow government agencies to recover overpayments and debts that are ten years old or older. In effect, one line of tax code in an agriculture law repealed a statue of limitation that prevented tax collectors from going after individuals for overpayments issued long ago.
Social Security Administration (SSA) officials have decided to not only collect from the actual individuals who received overpayments but also from those parties’ family members who may or may not have indirectly benefited from the error. NTUF highlighted the issue in a recent blog post, and the Washington Post featured the story of one Maryland woman whose refunds were seized because of alleged overpayments made to her parents in 1977. However, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced a bill to reinstate the ten-year statute of limitation as it pertains specifically to SSA. S. 2453 would also prevent the agency from recovering overpayments from minors.
Senator Boxer said that SSA “should not unjustly penalize innocent Americans by seizing tax refunds to fix decades-old mistakes by the agency” in a press release. In a letter to the SSA Commissioner, she wrote that “[g]arnishing taxpayers’ refunds to pay for debts that are more than a decade old -- and incurred through no fault of their own -- is a policy that cannot be continued in good conscience. In particular, we believe that this ‘good conscience’ clause prohibits recovering overpayments from beneficiaries who were minor children at the time of the error.”
According to BillTally rules, S. 2453 would likely not increase or decrease federal spending. Pending further information, NTUF assumes that the bill is strictly a regulatory measure and would not require additional funding.