Mississippi’s proposal to move to a user-based tax system is a euphemism for increasing regressive sales and consumption taxes that will ultimately result in higher taxes for the poorest Mississippians and lower taxes on the wealthy.
Currently, Mississippi legislators are reviewing the state's tax code with a goal, according to Lt. Gov. Reeves, to "move toward a user-based system rather than an income-based system."
And now that the study has begun, one outlet recapped the first day of study proceedings with the blunt headline "Mississippi Would Benefit from Consumption-Based Tax System" (paywall). With the Mississippi legislature's recent history of cutting taxes and seeming desire by many to continue with more of the same, it is important to add data to this conversation showing who would benefit – or not – from the sort of tax shift the Mississippi Tax Policy Panel is considering.
As Hope Policy Institute succinctly pointed out last week, there is no reason to expect cutting taxes and shifting reliance away from income toward sales taxes will bring economic growth and benefit Mississippians. Additionally, a look at whose taxes would rise and fall if the state moves to a “user-based’ system is striking.
ITEP examined the impact of carrying the tax-shift goal to its logical extreme: completely replacing the state's $1.9 billion of personal income tax revenues with higher sales taxes. Our analysis found that the lowest-income Mississippians (bottom 20 percent of taxpayers), who already pay nearly twice the effective tax rate paid by the highest-income 1 percent, would see an additional 3.3 percent of their incomes go toward taxes, while the highest-income 1 percent in the state would see tax cuts averaging 2.9 percent of their incomes – a tax cut of more than $21,000 on average for that group (See graph). The change would result in a massive shift of the responsibility for paying state taxes away from the highest-income Mississippians and onto low- and middle-income families. Furthermore, to do this without broadening the sales tax base would require a state sales tax rate of about 10.78 percent, which would be easily the highest rate in the nation and an increase of more than 54 percent over the state's current 7 percent rate.
While this type of wholesale elimination of the personal income tax has not been explicitly proposed this year, it was proposed in 2015 and is illustrative of what it means to "move toward a user-based system rather than an income-based system," and it is crucial for the tax policy panel and Mississippians generally to understand that any significant shift from income taxes to sales taxes will take on these same highly regressive contours. When it is claimed that “Mississippi would benefit” from such a shift, it is important to ask which Mississippians.