Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you have a happy and safe holiday.
For this week’s post we are going to respond to the post of blogger Lyman Stone, a grad student at George Washington University’s Elliott School. In his November 21 blogpost titled “North Dakota, Illinois, and Delaware: A Boom State, a Struggler, and a Winner”, he wrote about Delaware’s migration and why the state has had an overall increase in people from 2000-2010 (source: U.S. Census). His top four points and our response:
1. “Many of the people Delaware loses, as I’ve already shown, are richer people. That is to say, Delaware is exporting its richer people (many of them retirees) to states like Arizona, Florida, Virginia, and Texas. Meanwhile, it is inundated with floods of lower-income, somewhat less-educated individuals. Delaware’s in-migration includes very high rates of retiree migration and migration of the young.”
Delaware lost roughly $480 million in net wealth from 2000-2010, predominately from New Castle County (source irs.gov). Some of that wealth went across the border to Chester/Media, PA; many of the top 1% retired to Florida or Arizona, but many people did stay in Delaware and moved to Kent or Sussex Counties where property is even cheaper and cost of living is lower than New Castle County. Delaware’s low property taxes attract retirees mainly from DC, MD, NJ, and NY. Young people move to New Castle County for the corporate jobs. But Lyman is missing this point: Families with school-age children tend not to stay in Delaware. (see here and here). Unless the parents can afford a private school or get to a good charter school, the parents more often than not leave for PA. A graph within the presentations in the links shows a huge drop-off with parents with at least one child aged 5 or older leaving for places like Valley Forge or Media while parents with children 0-4 stay in Delaware. So it’s like “come when you’re young, leave when you have a family, return when you’re ready to retire”.
2. “Once again, like Illinois, Delaware has lots of high-traffic borders and nearby border metro areas, thus we can fruitfully look to policy variables as one part of the explanation. Delaware has income taxes at a similar rate to most of its regional peers (though much higher than Virginia’s) and is in the minority of states in that it still has an estate tax. In that regard, it is peculiar that so many retirees would choose it.
That is, until we recall Delaware’s three most salient tax features: it has no sales tax (thus reducing cost of living), among the lowest property taxes in the nation (reducing cost of living), and funds its infrastructure through tolls and user fees more than any other state (reducing burdens on people who drive less: young and old). Its taxes overwhelmingly fall on businesses, but it attracts businesses by offering highly favorable legal and regulatory conditions.”
Delaware has a gross-receipts tax, a tax on business revenue BEFORE profit and loss is considered. Only Virginia has both a gross receipts and income tax, both of those rates are lower there than Delaware. The result has been that Delaware has had more businesses closing than opening and we are 51st in the country in jobs created by existing firms (Source: deconfirst.com). This means no state or DC is worse than Delaware at getting businesses already here to hire more people. The state is very good at helping start-ups but not good at helping established businesses, especially medium-sized businesses.
Delaware’s Court of Chancery is known for its fairness, and incorporation laws are lax. This is favorable to larger businesses to want to headquarter here, which is why the Wilmington area has so many corporate offices with high-paying administrative jobs. This is a good thing for the state but again, this benefits larger businesses and not small- or medium- sized businesses.
3. The net result of Delaware’s policy choices is that “New Economy Index” produced by the liberal-leaning Progressive Policy Institute ranks the 2nd best in the nation, the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange scores 27th in their “Rich States, Poor States” publication, the business-backed Tax Foundation (disclosure: my former employer) ranks 14th-best, and even the libertarian Mercatus Center identifies as 17th “most free” in their Freedom in the 50 States report. A report by 24/7 Wall Street found Delaware to be the 13th best-run state in the nation, and academic measures of state corruption rank Delaware no worse than middle-of-the-pack. In fact, it is a real challenge to find any organization that scores Delaware poorly on any major policy metric or index.
Corruption in Delaware is not as bad as it is in places like Illinois, Rhode Island, California, or Louisiana. But saying it’s “good” is more on an indicator of how corrupt those states are. Delaware’s small size means “everyone knows everyone” attitude impacts the government but the state is not very forthcoming with state pension data or with how education dollars are being spent. That said, we are better than every other Mid-Atlantic state besides Virginia. We posted on the Tax Foundation’s analysis.
4. Likewise, Delaware has one of the lowest average price levels of any state in the region (except Virginia), and that price level is lowest in southern Delaware, where in-migration is highest.
I’ve repeatedly cast Delaware as a state that’s providing opportunities: for the young, for the less educated, and also for regional retirees who may not have the money for a bigger relocation to Texas or Florida (or who may not want to pay property and sales taxes in those states). That’s because Delaware’s migration record is simply the strongest across the most different categorizations of almost any state, especially among states without major oil and gas reserves. I’d love to hear more from people familiar with Delaware on how the state attracts people: beaches with rising popularity? corporate headquarters? retirement communities? strong university recruitment? sprawl from Philadelphia?
To Lyman’s final point, Delaware IS a very attractive place between Philly and Baltimore/DC. We are a train ride or short drive from all three cities and only three hours from New York City. The Beaches draw in tourists and retirees, and there is some Philly sprawl in the Claymont area. But Delaware is beginning to lose our status is a “tax haven”, now that Nevada and North Dakota are competing with us for our corporate business. The state spends way too much money and like most states will suffer from having to choose between Medicaid and public education once the federal government cuts back on its Obamacare obligations by 2019. Our three casinos are losing money and, barring a change in visitor habits ore legislative policy, will go out of business; 6% of our state’s revenue comes from casino taxes. We have a state carbon tax and cap-and-trade system (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) which is costing so much money CRI’s Energy Policy Director Dave Stevenson and our board member John Moore are suing DNREC to prevent a new carbon tax fee from being imposed on residents and businesses.
Delaware’s population is aging at a faster rate than the nation as a whole; right now half the state receives Medicare or Medicaid. By 2030 that number will be closer to 67% at current migration rates. Sussex County is already 25% senior citizens and that number grows ever year. As much as we at CRI love our seniors, someone has to help pay for Medicare/Social Security/ public housing assistance/public transportation, and other quality-of-life benefits seniors need to enjoy their retirement since we know the Feds won’t meet their future obligations.
Because of its strong migration record in a highly competitive area, other states could benefit from studying Delaware’s experience and determining which policies they can adopt for their own states.
Please don’t pass a gross receipts tax or block natural gas pipeline from reaching your states. We have high electricity prices and a mediocre public education system. Don’t be so aggressive and seizing abandoned property, even down to the Amazon gift cards which went unused. End the prevailing wage and establish a Right-to-Work law if your state doesn’t have one yet.
What do you think about Lyman’s blog post or our response?
Please consider eliminating your state’s sales tax and lowering property taxes, and have a court system which is seen as quick, efficient, and fair.