More About Michael Mitchell

Michael Mitchell

Michael Mitchell is a Policy Analyst with the Center’s State Fiscal Policy division. Prior to joining the Center, Mitchell worked as a State Policy Fellow for the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, where he conducted research on state taxes and borrowing, the effects of budget cuts on communities of color, and the impacts of the recession on young adults. Mitchell holds a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from the University of Connecticut and an MPA from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

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District of Columbia Shows How to Cut Taxes Responsibly

June 12, 2014 at 11:57 am

The District of Columbia functions much like a state government when it comes to tax policy, and new tax changes there show how states can cut taxes in a responsible way for a broad range of families while still funding important services.  It’s a particularly helpful model in light of the poorly designed tax cuts that have been so common in states over the last two years.

The D.C. bill, which the City Council approved on May 28, takes several steps to create a more equitable and sustainable tax system, including:

  • Providing progressive tax cuts while investing in needed services.  The bill includes several income tax cuts that are much larger (as a share of income) for low- and moderate-income families than for high-income households — an important goal in this era of widening income inequality.  And, the cuts are fully paid for with funds from transportation projects that have more resources than they need.  Financing the tax cuts with those dollars — rather than pulling the money out of the general fund — enabled lawmakers to devote more general fund revenues to homeless and mental health services, affordable housing, help for low-income parents with newborn children, and other important services.
  • Expanding help for low-income childless workers.  The bill’s progressive tax cuts include boosting the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for childless workers and expanding the credit’s phase-out range so that childless workers with annual incomes up to twice the federal poverty line (that is, up to roughly $23,000 for an individual) can qualify.  Boosting the EITC for childless workers is good policy — it will reduce poverty and encourage work — and has gained bipartisan support at the federal level as well.
  • Broadening and modernizing the sales tax base.  The bill expands D.C.’s sales tax to cover more services — a fast-growing share of overall consumption that many state tax codes overlook.  For example, the sales tax will now apply to carpet cleaning and fitness club memberships, so that consumers of those services will pay the same sales taxes as purchasers of tangible goods like vacuum cleaners and barbells.

The bill includes some unwise changes.  In particular, it gives wealthy households a significant estate tax cut by raising the threshold — that is, the value of an estate that is exempt from taxation — from $1 million to $5.25 million.  This change will benefit only a few wealthy households while costing D.C. millions of dollars a year.

Nevertheless, D.C.’s tax and budget choices stand in stark contrast to some other states’ irresponsible policies.

North Carolina, for example, has slashed taxes on wealthy households and corporations while raising taxes on low- and middle-income families, cutting jobless benefits, and blowing a huge hole in the state budget that will make restoring recession-era cuts in funding for K-12 schools and public colleges and universities next to impossible.

In Kansas, costly tax cuts overwhelmingly directed to wealthy households and corporations have led to further cuts in funding for colleges and universities, local health departments, and other important services — adding to cuts enacted after the recession hit.  The tax cuts haven’t delivered the promised boost to the state’s economy.

With economic growth modest and revenues just now returning to pre-recession levels, states should approach tax cuts carefully and thoughtfully.  But if tax cuts are part of the conversation, the District of Columbia provides a model worth considering.

Mapping Higher Ed Funding Cuts and Tuition Hikes

June 4, 2014 at 9:58 am

Most states in the past year have begun to restore some of the cuts they made to higher education funding after the recession hit.  In almost all states, however, higher education funding remains well below pre-recession levels, as we explained in a recent paper.  The large state funding cuts have led to both steep college tuition increases and spending cuts that may diminish the quality of education for students.

Consider that, nationwide, after adjusting for inflation:

  • The average state is spending $2,026, or 23 percent, less per student than before the recession; and
  • Annual published tuition — the “sticker price” — at four-year public colleges has risen by $1,936, or 28 percent, since the 2007-08 school year.

Click on the map below to learn more about how higher education funding and tuition have changed in each state since the recession.

A highly educated workforce is more crucial than ever to the nation’s economic future.  To rebuild states’ higher education systems in the coming years, policymakers in many states will need to raise revenue or, at the very least, avoid shortsighted tax cuts, which would make it much harder to invest in higher education.

Higher Ed Cuts, Tuition Hikes Worsen Low-Income Students’ Struggles

May 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm

State cuts to higher education have led colleges and universities to make deep cuts to educational or other services, hike tuition sharply, or both, as we explain in our recently released paper.  These tuition increases are hitting low-income students particularly hard, lessening their choices of schools, adding to their debt burdens — and likely deterring some from enrolling in school altogether.

Annual published tuition — the “sticker price” — at four-year public colleges has risen by $1,936, or 28 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation.  This has accelerated longer-term trends of reducing college affordability and shifting costs from states to students.  These trends have exacerbated struggles for students from low-income families, in several ways.

Tuition increases are likely deterring low-income students, in particular, from enrolling.  College cost increases have the biggest impact on students from low-income families, research suggests.  Pronounced gaps in college enrollment among higher- and lower-income youth already exist, even among prospective students of similar ability (see chart).  Rapidly rising costs at public colleges and universities may widen these gaps further.

Tuition increases may be pushing lower-income students toward less-selective schools, reducing their future earnings.  Perhaps just as important as a student’s decision to enroll in college is the choice of which school to attend.  Even here, financial constraints and concerns about cost push lower-income students to narrow their list of potential schools and ultimately enroll in less-selective institutions, the research shows.  That choice has long-lasting effects, as disadvantaged and minority students who attend elite colleges make more than their counterparts who attend less-selective schools.

Higher overall costs mean higher post-graduate debt levels.  Federal financial aid also has risen in the last several years, helping many low-income students cover much of the cost of recent tuition hikes.  The overall cost of attending college has risen for these students, however, because room and board costs have increased, too.  As a result, the net cost of attendance at four-year public institutions for low-income students increased 12 percent from 2008 to 2012, after adjusting for inflation.  And this means that low-income students are  borrowing more.  In 2008, the median debt level for a low-income student graduating from a public four-year university was just under $17,600.  By 2012, that number had increased 17 percent to nearly $20,700.

The Lasting Effects of State Higher Ed Cuts

May 2, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Almost all states continue to fund higher education well below pre-recession levels, as I explained yesterday and we describe in a new paper.  These lower funding levels mean that colleges and universities have generally cut educational or other services, raised tuition to cover the gap, or both — steps that may diminish education quality at a time when a highly educated workforce is more crucial than ever to the nation’s economic future.

Indeed, since the recession, higher education institutions have:

  • Raised tuition.  Public colleges and universities across the country have increased tuition to compensate for declining state funding and rising costs.  Annual published tuition — the “sticker price” — at four-year public colleges has risen by $1,936, or 28 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation.  Average tuition at public four-year institutions, adjusted for inflation, has increased by more than 60 percent in six states, more than 40 percent in ten states, and more than 20 percent in 29 states.  In Arizona, tuition at four-year schools is up more than 80 percent (see chart).
  • Cut spending, often in ways that may diminish access and quality and jeopardize outcomes.  Tuition increases have compensated for only part of the state funding cuts.  Public colleges and universities have cut faculty positions, eliminated course offerings, closed campuses, shut computer labs, and reduced library services, among other cuts.  For example, since 2008, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has eliminated 493 positions, cut 16,000 course seats, increased class sizes, cut its centrally supported computer labs from seven to three, and eliminated two distance education centers.

Over the past year, as states have started to restore funding for public higher education, tuition hikes have been much smaller than in recent years.  Tuition at public four-year institutions rose in 38 states in the 2013-14 school year, but the average across all states was a modest $120 or 1.4 percent after inflation.

States’ Higher Ed Funding Remains Down, but Some Are Starting to Reinvest

May 1, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Most states in the past year have begun restoring some of the funds they cut from higher education after the recession hit, though eight states, are still cutting.  In almost all states — whether they’re restoring or still cutting — higher education funding remains well below pre-recession levels, as we explain in a new paper.

Consider these facts (adjusted for inflation):

  • All states other than Alaska and North Dakota are spending less per student than before the recession (see chart).
  • Thirty-seven states have cut per-student funding by more than 20 percent since the start of the recession.
  • The average state is spending $2,026, or 23 percent, less per student than before the recession.

The better news:  in the last year, 42 states increased funding per student, by an average of roughly $450 per student, or 7 percent.

That’s an important first step toward rebuilding states’ higher education systems, as a large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers.  Sufficient funding for higher education to keep tuition affordable and quality high at public colleges and universities, and to provide financial aid to those students who need it most, would help states to develop the skilled and diverse workforce they will need to compete for these jobs.

Such funding won’t likely occur, however, unless policymakers make sound tax and budget decisions in the coming years.  A slow economic recovery and the need to reinvest in other services that state lawmakers also have cut deeply means that many states will need to raise revenue to rebuild their higher education systems.  At the very least, states must avoid shortsighted tax cuts, which would make it much harder for them to invest in higher education, strengthen the skills of their workforce, and compete for the jobs of the future.

Click here to read the full paper.