State Rundown 10/30: Spooky Appointments, Phantom Tax Increases


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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, clearly not a regular reader of this blog, nominated Art Laffer acolyte Ford Scudder to be state treasurer. Scudder is chief operating officer of Laffer Associates and an analyst at Laffer Investments. If appointed to the position, Scudder would be responsible for crafting the state budget and overseeing state investments, pensions and benefits, state debts and lottery revenue. Senate President Stephen Sweeney was not impressed by the governor’s move: "The so-called Laffer curve came to embody the trickle-down economic policies that were discredited because they favored the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. New Jersey is not the place to reintroduce the policies that caused so much lasting damage to the economy.” This is not the first time a Laffer associate has served in state government. Donna Arduin, a partner in Laffer’s consulting firm, recently left a high-profile position in Illinois (which remains mired in a budget standoff) and Laffer himself was a prominent architect of Sam Brownback’s failed tax experiment.

Louisiana voters decided on four constitutional amendments with implications for the state’s fiscal health this past weekend. Voters rejected Amendment 1, a proposal to weaken the state’s rainy day fund to benefit transportation projects, and Amendment 3, which would have loosened the rules around which bills could be offered during the fiscal legislative sessions held in odd-numbered years. Voters approved Amendment 2, a proposal that gives the state treasurer the option of investing funds in the state infrastructure bank, by a slim margin. The infrastructure bank allows local governments to borrow money at favorable rates for infrastructure projects. Voters also approved Amendment 4, which allows local governments to collect property taxes on properties owned by state and local governments outside of Louisiana.

A Maryland environmental group is challenging one jurisdiction’s plan to phase out a stormwater fee – also derided as a “rain tax” – without first spelling out an alternative way of paying for required environmental projects. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation argues that Baltimore County, which plans to eliminate the stormwater fee over two years, must first specify how it will pay for state-mandated projects designed to reduce water pollution. In 2012, the state legislature required urban and suburban districts to collect the stormwater fees to reduce runoff; under newly-elected Gov. Larry Hogan, the law was revised to allow jurisdictions to drop the fee if they dedicate another source of money to the required projects.

A bill that will fix an unintended feature of a recently-enacted tax cut passed the Ohio legislature this week and will now go to Gov. Kasich for his signature. In June, lawmakers passed a tax cut that allows business owners to deduct up to 75 percent of their first $250,000 in business income this tax year, and 100 percent of that amount in 2016. Any income in excess of $250,000 would then be subject to a flat tax of 3 percent in both years. However, as the law was originally enacted, the 2015 exemption only covered 75 percent of the first $250,000 and the other 25 percent (as well as any income over $250,000) would have been subject to a 3 percent flat tax.  For some taxpayers, this would have resulted in a tax increase since the state’s current graduated income tax system includes rates as low as 0.528% on low levels of income. Essentially, the tax cut included an accidental tax increase. The recently passed measure fixes the oversight, though it’s worth noting Ohio would have avoided $81 million in revenue losses next fiscal year if no correction was made. 

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