Hall of Shame: Study Names States that Levy Income Taxes on Poor Families


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Despite a growing consensus that imposing income taxes on families living in poverty is a terrible idea, many states continue to do so. According to a new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report, " The Impact of State Income Taxes on Low-Income Families in 2006," 19 states collect income taxes on two-parent families of four who live below the federal poverty level. The report discusses some of the options available to states to prevent those in poverty from having to spend their limited resources on income taxes, including state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs), no-tax floors, and personal exemptions and standard deductions.

The good news is that states are increasingly seeking to avoid imposing their income tax on those who can least afford to pay it. A promising example of this is in Alabama, where the efforts of Alabama Arise have helped to spearhead state income tax changes that have decreased the income tax on those living in poverty by increasing the income filing threshold used to determine whether income taxes are owed (from an unbelievably low $4,600 to a still egregious $12,600). Although the state still ranks at or near the bottom in terms of the state income tax imposed on its poor, additional reform proposals have been made this year that would further increase the income threshold to $15,600 or $15,800.

Another positive development has occurred in Virginia, where lawmakers recently enacted a law that will raise the state income tax filing threshold from $7,000 to $11,950 for individuals and from $12,000 to $23,900 for couples.

Alabama and Virginia represent two examples of positive developments in decreasing the disproportionate tax imposed on the working poor by nearly every state. An even better solution to this problem would include refundable tax credits, like those found in the federal (and increasingly within state) EITC's.

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