State Rundown 6/16: Budgets, Tax Debates, and Legislative Progress


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Thanks for reading the State Rundown!

Here's a look at what we're thinking about this week: the latest on Louisiana’s second special session, North Carolina’s Senate took steps to constitutionally cap the state’s income tax rate, West Virginia lawmakers passed a budget, “dark store” drama in Michigan, some in Missouri want to freeze sales the state’s tax base, and tax debates rage in New Jersey.

We are also debuting a new feature, News We’re Watching. After the Rundown you’ll see links to what our staff is reading this week. I’d love to hear from you especially about this new feature. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @megwiehe.

Lastly, this week Carl Davis, our Research Director, joined Twitter. Follow him @carlpdavis

 -- Meg Wiehe, ITEP State Policy Director, @megwiehe

In the second special session this year to address budgetary gaps, the Louisiana House Ways and Means Committee narrowly approved a complicated measure yesterday that would turn a costly tax deduction claimed mostly by households making over $100,000 into a short-term lending mechanism to the state. As originally proposed, HB 38 would permanently limit the itemized deductions in excess of the standard deduction taxpayers could claim to 57.5 percent. The amended bill exempts charitable and mortgage interest deductions from the 57.5 percent limitation and temporarily suspends the availability of the deduction until 2018, at which point taxpayers can claim the lost value of the deduction from the previous two years. The amended bill is estimated to raise $115 million of the $600 budget gap, but would create a liability of over $250 million in 2018—the same year the state is scheduled to lose $1 billion in revenue from temporary tax increases enacted in March, most notably the 1-penny sales tax increase. HB 38 goes to the full House today.

Also, the Louisiana House  voted down contingent bills HB 7 and HB 17, which would have eliminated the deduction for federal personal income taxes while creating a flat tax with a problematic capped rate—measures that would not address the state's immediate revenue needs and severely limit the ability of lawmakers to raise revenue in the future through the progressive income tax. The Louisiana Senate will consider a bill today that would require oil, gas, and chemical companies to choose between two tax breaks, which if passed, would raise $146 million in revenue for the next budget cycle.

North Carolina Senators approved a bill this week that would change the state’s constitution to prevent the state's income tax rate from ever going above 5.5 percent (the 2017 rate is 5.499%) via a voter referendum.  As our guest blogger Cedric Johnson wrote earlier in the week, the cap would forever lock in recent tax decisions that have primarily benefitted wealthy North Carolinians, force higher sales and property taxes, tie the hands of future lawmakers, and cut off a vital source of revenue needed to invest in education and healthy communities.  The bill was scheduled to go to the Senate floor on Wednesday, but at the last minute was pulled and moved to Saturday, June 25th a sign, according to the NC Budget and Tax Center, that the tax cap will be linked to budget negotiations in order to get the House to play along.

The West Virginia Legislature passed a compromise budget (SB 1013) earlier this week to close the state's $270 million budget shortfall, bringing their 17 day special session to an end as they await Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's signature. After vetoing an earlier budget proposal that did not include any tax increases, Gov. Tomblin is expected to sign off on this version of the budget which includes a $98 million tax increase on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products, a $70 million withdrawal from the state's Rainy Day Fund, and a range of budget cuts. $15 million in funding for the Public Employee Insurance Agency to offset premium increases for retirees and reduce premium increases and benefit cuts for current employees helped seal the deal. Other approved measures include the restoration of funding to the Volunteer Fire Department Workers' Compensation Premium Subsidy Fund and providing current year financial support to Boone County Schools.

With big-box retailers increasingly using a tactic known as the “dark store” method to avoid property taxes on brand-new multi-million-dollar stores, Michigan legislators are fighting back. The “dark store” method involves challenging property appraisals by arguing that they should be based on the value of nearby vacant and obsolete retail stores, while also building restrictions into the deeds of such stores that make them virtually worthless to any would-be buyers. The retailers point to those “dark stores” and deed restrictions (such as prohibiting a hardware store building from being used as a hardware store again if sold) to challenge their appraisals and drastically reduce their property taxes in the process.  Local governments in Michigan have already lost more than $200 million due to this dubious practice. Legislation that would clarify the rules and steps for property appraisals to ensure this tactic cannot be used in the future passed through the Michigan House late last week and now moves to the Senate.

Most state sales taxes were created in a time when buying tangible goods (scissors and combs, for example) was far more prevalent than buying services (like haircuts). Over the last few decades, as the U.S. economy becomes more and more service-based, many states have attempted to update their sales tax laws to include more services. Regrettably, some voters in Missouri are working to freeze that state’s tax code in the past, as signatures have been gathered to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November to restrict the sales tax from ever applying to any “service or activity” not already subject to tax.

 Tax debates continue to rage on in New Jersey, where the state’s Transportation Trust Fund is only funded until June 30. Legislators in both the House and Senate are working on plans to raise the state gas tax -- which is one of the lowest in the nation and has not been updated since 1988 -- to ensure funding for the state’s roads and bridges continues. But Gov. Chris Christie insists he won’t sign such a measure unless it also includes major tax cuts. The plans proposed thus far include a number of tax cuts for various groups in hopes of either winning over Gov. Christie or securing enough votes to override his veto. Some of the recent proposals have included a repeal of the state’s estate tax, an expansion of the existing pension and retirement income exclusion, an expansion  play along.the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and a new deduction for charitable contributions. With so much at stake and so many components to multiple tax packages, it will be a bumpy ride to close out the month in the New Jersey legislature.

News We're Watching:

Here’s a few other state tax-related stories that caught our eyes this week:

If you like what you are seeing in the Rundown (or even if you don't) please send any feedback or tips for future posts to Kelly Davis at kelly@itep.org. Click here to sign up to receive the Rundown via email.

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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