Tax Reform: Good Ideas in Colorado and Kentucky, Bad Ideas in Iowa


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Progressive tax reform ideas are getting attention in Colorado, where voters may get the opportunity to enact it by ballot, and Kentucky, where lawmakers have the opportunity to support a far-reaching reform bill. Meanwhile, Iowa may move in the opposite direction by choosing the most draconian tax proposal being debated in the state.

Supporters of progressive taxation in Colorado, led by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, filed a mix of ballot proposals last week that would greatly enhance the adequacy and fairness of Colorado’s tax system.  (Multiple proposals were filed for technical reasons, and supporters intend to bring only one plan before the voters.) 

Each proposal would transition away from Colorado’s flat rate income tax in favor of a graduated rate system.  The tax rate on taxable incomes below $50,000 would fall from 4.63% to 4.2%, while progressively higher rates would apply to higher levels of income.  Incomes above $1 million would be taxed at 9.5%. 

The majority of Colorado residents would see tax cuts, or no change in their income tax liability, under this plan.  Some of the proposals would also raise the state’s corporate income tax rate, while others would institute a new corporate minimum tax.  The state’s EITC would also be made permanent under some of the proposals.  By reforming Colorado’s tax system in this manner, approximately $1.5 billion in sorely needed revenue could be raised each year in order to improve the state’s struggling school system and other public services.

In Kentucky, Representative Jim Wayne held a press conference last week to discuss his bill, HB 318, which would modernize and increase the progressivity of Kentucky’s tax structure. The bill would expand the sales tax base to include a variety of services, introduce an Earned Income Tax Credit, and change the personal income tax rates and brackets.

ITEP estimates were used to show that, overall, the state would have a more progressive tax structure if the Wayne bill became law. Representative Wayne should be applauded for continuing to beat the progressive drum and arguing year after year that a tax system “should be equitable, it should be buoyant, it should be flexible, and it should grow with the economy.”

In less cheerful news, the Iowa House will have the opportunity to vote on a bill that passed through committee that, if approved, would reduce the state’s income tax rates across the board by 20 percent. This bill is one of the most expensive tax cut proposals currently on the table and threatens Iowa’s ability to provide public services over the long term.

In fact, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House recently said, "I'm not sure where the House ship is sailing. On one hand, we have all kinds of tax-cut bills moving through the process. ... It's about $2 billion over the next few years that would be eliminated from the state of Iowa's budget. How is that even remotely fiscally responsible?"

Of course, it's the opposite of fiscally responsible, as noted in a recent Iowa Policy Project brief finding that “[t]o develop long-term sustainability in the budget, it is important to examine what has given rise to current budget imbalances. Iowa’s long-term structural budget deficit has occurred in significant measure because lawmakers have adopted various tax breaks and reductions, not because they have expanded programs and services.”

Thank you for visiting Tax Justice Blog. CTJ and ITEP staff will soon retire this domain. But ITEP staff are still blogging! You can find the same level of insight and analysis and select Tax Justice Blog archives at our new blog, http://www.justtaxesblog.org/

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