State Rundown 9/24: Money for Schools, Money for Roads


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Progressive activists in California introduced a new ballot proposal this week that would make permanent temporary income tax increases on the state’s highest earners included in Proposition 30, which passed in 2012 and expires in 2018. Under the measure California couples making more than $580,000 annually would pay higher rates on their income. The new measure would also implement a higher income tax rate on couples earning more than $2 million annually. If enacted, the proposal would increase state revenues by about $10 billion each year, with the money going to K-12 education, healthcare subsidies for low-income citizens, and early childhood development. Last week, a coalition of labor unions endorsed their own version of a Proposition 30 replacement. That measure would extend all of the income tax increases under Proposition 30 through 2030, raising $7 to $9 billion in new revenue earmarked to K-12 funding. Neither of the new proposals would extend the sales tax increase in Proposition 30 past its 2016 expiration.

Arizona Rep. Charlene Fernandez is taking on the state’s controversial income tax credits for private school tuition, saying the program has “existed within a system that lacks transparency and accountability” for almost 20 years. Fernandez points out that, even though fewer students attend private schools in Arizona now than when the credits were created, more state revenue is being spent on private school tuition. An investigation by The Arizona Republic found that while legislative staff estimated the credits would cost the state just $4.5 million annually in 1997, today they cost $140 million every year. Worse, over $80 million in state money has paid administrative fees for scholarship organizations since 1998 instead of supporting students. Rep. Fernandez wants stricter oversight of the program, but partisan resistance has blocked her efforts.

Wallethub recently put out a 50-state study that combines their survey data with ITEP’s distributional data from Who Pays? to compare public perception of state and local tax fairness with the reality on the ground. According to the results of Wallethub’s survey, both Democrats and Republicans support progressive taxation at the state level, despite every state having an upside down and regressive tax system. Though the survey data is useful in pointing out that the majority of Americans support progressive taxation, it’s best to stick to ITEP’s distributional analysis as the best measure of fairness since in some cases perception can distort reality.

New Jersey lawmakers could support an increase in the state’s gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1988, to address a huge backlog of transportation maintenance and construction projects. However, some legislators, including Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, want to couple any gas tax increase with a decrease in New Jersey’s estate tax. Currently, the estate tax is levied on estates valued at more than $675,000; raising the threshold to the federal level of $5.34 million, as some advocate, could cost New Jersey $300 million in lost revenue. Worse, the benefits of an estate tax cuts would accrue to just over 3,300 wealthy households, making an estate tax cut an especially poor offset for increased gas taxes, which would disproportionately affect low-income and middle-class households. Bramnick has also suggested a gas tax increase could be avoided if the state were the cut $1 billion from its in education budget.

A big property tax cut championed by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has failed to pan out as predicted. Two years ago, legislators limited the growth rate for property tax assessments on residential and agricultural properties, reduced the assessment threshold for commercial and industrial properties and provided tax credits to businesses and individuals. Proponents argued that the package would stimulate the economy. But, as The Associated Press reports, “it is difficult to assess exactly how many jobs have been created or businesses enhanced because of the tax cut. The state’s unemployment rate has declined over the past year, but the tax cut can’t be directly credited with that.” Today, the tax cuts are a big drag on the state budget, costing $260 million in this fiscal year alone. Much of that money was earmarked as state aid to local municipalities, who were hit hard by lost property tax revenue. 

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