Texas News


State Rundown 5/3: Lawmakers See Value in State EITCs, Danger in Tax Cut Triggers


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This week, Kansas lawmakers found that they'll have to roll back Gov. Brownback's tax cuts and then some to adequately fund state needs. Nebraska legislators took notice of their southern neighbors' predicament and rejected a major tax cut. Both Hawaii and Montana's legislatures sent new state EITCs to their governors, and West Virginia began an uncertain special session as other tax debates also continued around the country.

-- Meg Wiehe, ITEP Deputy Director, @megwiehe

  • Efforts to slash taxes in Nebraska using a "trigger" mechanism have been defeated for the year after a bill failed to come close to overcoming a filibuster Tuesday. The bill, favored by Gov. Pete Ricketts and Revenue Committee Chair Jim Smith, would have primarily benefited high-income Nebraskans, worsened the state's projected budget shortfall, and could have triggered tax cuts in economic hard times. Lawmakers turn to the budget today.
  • Back from spring recess, Kansas lawmakers are working to find tax reform solutions that raise enough revenue to close budgetary shortfalls and meet constitutional requirements to adequately fund public education, all while receiving the necessary legislative votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
  • Big news out of Hawaii this week: both the Senate and House voted to pass HB 209 yesterday. The bill, which would make permanent the top personal income tax brackets and rates on high-income earners and create a 20 percent nonrefundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), now heads to the governor.
  • Under a bipartisan effort, lawmakers in Montana have also passed a bill creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that would be 3 percent of the federal credit (and refundable). The governor is expected to sign the bill.
  • Tomorrow marks the first day of West Virginia's special session. Yet, uncertainty remains regarding how the divided leadership will come to a budget and tax resolution.
  • Despite a tight budget this year and ever present concerns about property taxes in the state, the Texas House has voted to phase out its franchise tax, which is currently one of three major revenue sources in the state. The approved House bill now makes its way to the Senate, which passed a similar elimination bill earlier this session.
  • In a renewed effort to shore up funds, a hiring freeze on almost all state agencies went into effect this week in Wyoming. Lawmakers’ opposition to tax increases has left them with limited options for dealing with declining oil prices.
  • Florida's legislative session is nearly complete. Most of Gov. Rick Scott's proposed tax cuts have been ignored this year, but the latest package in the House still amounted to nearly $300 million in cuts, and the Senate is expected to approve about $142 million. A bill did pass to send an expansion of the state's homestead exemption to voters in November 2018, which would cut property taxes and would sap an estimated $750 million of funding for local services that rely on property tax revenue and shift taxes onto businesses.
  • A Wisconsin lawmaker is expected to release details soon for a plan that likely proposes to garner more funding for infrastructure investments by raising the gas tax and cutting the income tax through switching to a flat tax structure. Gas tax swaps like this have become increasingly popular, but all suffer from the same problem of boosting infrastructure funding at the expense of core public services like education and public health.
  • In Oklahoma, a bill to raise the state's cigarette and fuel taxes moves forward. If advanced, the bill would increase the cigarette tax rate by $1.50 per pack and the gasoline and diesel fuel by $0.06 per gallon. However, the Senate also passed a bill to reduce road funding in hopes that the fuel tax increase will fill the gap.
  • The Seattle City Council has passed a resolution expressing intent to pursue a local income tax. Under a coalition's proposal, adjusted gross income in excess of $250,000 would be taxed at 1.5 percent. In addition to shoring up the finances of Seattle, the income tax would provide a test legal case for the constitutionality of an income tax in the state of Washington.
  • A proposal to tax sugary drinks in Santa Fe, New Mexico failed at the ballot yesterday.

What We're Reading...  

  • A new report from the California Budget & Policy Center explains the importance of raising awareness of the state's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The credit has been available since 2015.
  • A new working paper from Columbia University law professor David Schizer explores the benefits of taxing both corporations and their shareholders, though in a coordinated fashion.

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 Meg Wiehe at meg@itep.org. Click here to sign up to receive the Rundown via email. 


State Rundown 4/27: States Finally Reaching Resolution on Gas Taxes


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This week, transportation funding debates finally concluded with gas tax updates in IndianaMontana, and Tennessee, and appear to be nearing an end in South Carolina. Meanwhile, Louisiana and Oregon lawmakers debated new Gross Receipts Taxes, and Texas legislators considered eliminating the state's franchise tax. 

-- Meg Wiehe, ITEP Deputy Director, @megwiehe  

  • Louisiana Gov. Bel Edward's Commercial Activities Tax (CAT) was pulled from committee early this week without a vote due to opposition, and it won't be making any comebacks this legislative session. What comes next? The most concrete idea from the House right now appears to be a "standstill budget," which would close half of the $1.3 billion hole the state faces with the expiration of the temporary sales tax increase. Bills based on the Task Force for Structural Change recommendations for budget and tax reform have been filed but have yet to be taken up. 
  • While the Gross Receipts Tax debate is wrapping up in Louisiana, it's just warming up in Oregon, where Sen. Hass has proposed replacing the state's corporate income tax with a GRT like that used in Ohio, Texas, or Washington. 
  • Texas lawmakers are considering bills in both the House and Senate that would phase out the state's franchise tax with money from surpluses over a number of years until the tax is eliminated. The franchise tax is the state's third largest source of income, projected to bring in $7.8 billion over the 2018-2019 budget year. These actions follow the passage of a budget for the coming year that cuts or underfunds health care, financial aid, and more
  • As Nebraska legislators took a break from debating tax proposals this week to focus on the budget, the revenue forecast was adjusted downward yet again, shedding even more doubt on the tax-cut bills debated last week. 
  • Efforts to prevent localities in California from enacting so called "Netflix taxes" (sales taxes on digital streaming services) has failed for the year due to opposition raised by local governments and cable companies. 
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's "IMPROVE Act" -- a gas tax update combined with cuts to business taxes, sales tax on groceries, and the Hall income tax – finally passed both houses of the legislature and was signed into law this week. One sticking point in the negotiations, a property tax cut for veterans, was added to the bill in the end. 
  • South Carolina's gas tax debate is nearing an end, as the Senate approved a 12-cent-per-gallon increase with a veto-proof majority. However, the bill still has to go to conference committee to work out differences from the House bill, of which there are many. 
  • In other transportation funding news, Montana and Indiana legislatures have approved infrastructure plans that include increases to their fuel taxes. Both plans are expected to receive the signature of their respective governors. Meanwhile, a new report in California shows that the gas tax increase passed by lawmakers earlier this month is a good start but falls short of what is needed to maintain roads in the long-term. And in Colorado, a plan to  raise the sales tax for road funding has met its end in the Senate. And after the effort to raise Alabama's gas tax was declared "dead" last week, the latest attempt is a bill to allow counties to put local increases on the ballot for local voters. 

What We're Reading...   

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 Meg Wiehe at meg@itep.org. Click here to sign up to receive the Rundown via email. 


State Rundown 11/6: Election Day Wrap Up


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Voters went to the polls in a number of state and local elections this week, with lots of implications for tax policy. This rundown covers the burning ballot outcomes and election results that followers of state policy should know about!

***

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Washington state voters approved Tim Eyeman’s Initiative 1366 with 53 percent of the vote. The measure mandates an automatic decrease in sales tax revenue by $1 billion unless the legislature agrees to refer a ballot measure to voters that would require a supermajority to raise taxes. As we noted in a previous blog post, Initiative 1366 is a disaster for the state. Legal challenges to its legitimacy are sure to follow, but at the moment eyes are on state legislators and what they will do to avoid both the revenue loss and the supermajority requirement.

Voters in Texas approved two proposals that will impact road and school funding. Proposition 1, which increased the property tax homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000, will cost schools in the state at least $1.2 billion over the biennium. Homeowners will keep $126 annually, on average. The measure passed with 86 percent of the vote. Proposition 7 diverts up to $2.5 billion a year in sales tax revenue from the general fund to the State Highway Fund beginning in 2018. It passed with 83 percent of the vote.

Ten out of seventeen counties in Utah passed a ballot initiative for transit funding, though the measure went down in defeat in the state’s most populous counties, Salt Lake and Utah. Proposition 1 implements a local sales tax with revenue split between transit providers, cities and counties.

Voters in Kentucky elected Republican Matt Bevin governor in an upset over challenger Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general. Bevin, a businessman often at odds with his own party’s mainstream, has pledged to end Kentucky’s successful healthcare exchange and is opposed to Medicaid expansion. He has also called for corporate and personal income tax cuts and for the repeal of Kentucky’s inheritance tax. Bevin’s election is likely to move Kentucky tax policy in a less fair and unsustainable direction.

Mississippi voters easily reelected Gov. Phil Bryant, who faced token opposition from Robert Gray, a long haul truck driver. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Phil Gunn, both also reelected, were responsible for a flurry of tax bills last session that would have lowered income taxes and eliminated the corporate franchise tax. At one point, lawmakers considered eliminating the income tax entirely. These efforts failed because backers could not gain a supermajority vote for their changes; now, Republicans are just one vote away from a supermajority. Expect more of the same during the state’s next legislative session.

In a bright spot, voters in Seattle, WA and Maine approved ballot questions to limit the influence of money in politics and to increase the power of small donors. Maine voters passed by 55 percent a proposal to update their public elections system. Candidates who opt for public funding will now receive additional funds if super PACs spend big for their opponents, and the transparency rules for independent spending have been tightened. The question also requires the legislature to scale back or repeal some business tax breaks in order to fund public financing. Voters in Seattle passed by 60 percent a new concept called “democracy vouchers.” Each citizen will receive four $25 publicly-funded vouchers to pledge to candidates of their choosing. The Seattle initiative also lowered campaign contribution limits, increased ethics enforcement, and banned contributions from lobbyists and city contractors. Hopefully, these measures will make lawmakers more responsive to the public on matters of tax fairness rather than entrenched interests.

 


Tax Ballot Measures Ask Voters to Decide


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The fall harvest season has brought a bumper crop of tax ballot measures in states across the nation(though sadly, no tax-themed seasonal lattes.) We’ve already covered a ballot proposal in Washington, a potential ballot proposal in North Carolina, and a 2016 proposal in Maine – check out the links to get the scoop. Today, we’re looking at measures in Texas and Utah, and providing an update on Washington.

Texas: Texas voters will consider two proposals with significant ramifications for roads and schools. Proposition 1 would increase the homestead exemption for public school property taxes from $15,000 to $25,000. The average savings for Texan households would be about $126, but schools systems across the state would lost $1.2 billion per biennium – money that the state would have to replace from the general fund. A state judge has already ruled that the state’s low level of school funding is unconstitutional, and Proposition 1 will make it harder to even maintain the status quo – all at a time when the needs of Texas’s schoolchildren are growing. Compounding the budgetary pressure is Proposition 7, which would divert sales tax revenue from the general fund to the Texas Department of Transportation for highway maintenance and construction, but would not raise any new revenue. This could have the unintended effect of weakening spending in other important areas that are paid for out of the general fund (including schools), particularly since low oil and gas prices are hurting the state’s bottom line. A better approach would be raising the state’s gasoline tax, which has remained unchanged for 24 years and has failed to keep pace with inflation.

Utah: Utah voters in 17 counties will decide whether or not to raise their sales taxes by 0.25 percentage points in order to fund the Utah Transit Authority. Legislative analysts say the plan will cost affected Utahans $50 a year on average. The legislature voted to allow counties to decide if they wanted to include the measure, Proposition 1, on the ballot and 17 of Utah’s 29 counties followed through. If passed by a county’s residents, the sales tax increase will only apply to that county. If approved, 40 percent of the revenue raised will support the transit authority. Another 40 percent would go to cities for local roads and other transportation projects. The final 20 percent will go regional transportation projects.

Washington: Tim Eyman, the author of Initiative 1366 and previous supermajority requirements, is a lightning rod in Washington state politics. I-1366 would force the legislature to amend the state constitution to require a supermajority vote for tax increases. If legislators refuse to amend the constitution, the ballot initiative would automatically cut the sales tax rate by a penny, leaving the state $8 billion poorer at a time when the Washington Supreme Court says the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to K-12 students. Already, a mix of uncertainty over funding and questions swirling around Eyeman have caused many supporters of previous anti-tax measures to withhold their support from I-366. The Association of Washington Business and the state’s grocery store association are both keeping out of the debate over the proposal over concerns about how their donations were used in past efforts. If the initiative passes anyway, opponents hope that the courts will eventually rule I-1366 an unconstitutional abrogation of legislative authority. 


State Rundown 10/16: More Cuts, Less Funding


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The Clarion-Ledger reports that transportation funding could be a “sleeper issue” in Mississippi’s upcoming election. The state has not raised its gas tax, right now at 18.4 cents per gallon, since 1987 and road conditions reflect the lack of investment. Last fall, state highway officials were forced to tell farmers and other businesspeople that crucial bridges connecting fields and ports were off limits to heavy trucks. Many decided to flout the state’s rules and send heavy trucks across the deteriorating bridges, which have collapsed on occasion. The Department of Transportation estimates that $400 million a year in additional revenue will be needed just to maintain current road conditions.  

Low oil prices pose a challenge for state budgets in Texas and Oklahoma. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar lowered revenue projections by $2.6 billion from his January estimate, citing lower economic growth than anticipated and undercutting the fabled “Texas Miracle” narrative of low taxes leading to gangbusters economic expansion. Meanwhile, Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger reported that general fund apportionments were below projections last month due to falling oil prices and accompanying job loss. Notably, while personal and corporate income tax revenues exceeded projections, sales and gross receipt tax revenues were far below projections. Many conservative lawmakers advocate a move from income to consumption taxes, but Oklahoma’s example indicates that such a move could be bad for budget stability.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants more tax cuts and additional funds for corporate tax incentives, but so far the legislature is not biting. Scott pledged during his reelection campaign last year to cut taxes by $1 billion. He is almost halfway there after lawmakers passed a $427 billion package of tax cuts during the most recent legislative session, but even conservatives have yet to endorse a further round of cuts and more corporate giveaways. Senate President Andy Gardiner says $250 more in cuts could be possible, but balked at more money for corporate incentives. Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner decried new tax cuts and more “corporate welfare” as “grand abdications of the public trust.”

Florida House lawmakers are considering a different tax plan that would not cut taxes but swap revenue sources. The House Tax and Finance Committee is exploring options that would allow it to reduce property taxes by increasing sales taxes. One proposal would exempt the first $1 million of a property’s appraised value from property tax liability and cover 98 percent of property in the state. In return, the sales tax rate would have to increase by 4.93 percentage points. Some lawmakers were outraged at the proposals, as poor Floridians already pay eight times as much of their income in sales taxes as the wealthy. An editorial in The Gainesville Sun notes that “Florida already has one of the most unfair tax systems in the country, and the sales-tax plan would only make it worse. Making Florida even more reliant on the sales tax would also force greater cuts of schools, safety-net programs and other government expenses whenever the state experienced a recession.”


State Rundown 9/3: Back to School, Back to the Drawing Board


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The Texas Supreme Court this heard oral arguments in a school finance case regarding recession-era education budget cuts. In 2011, the Texas Legislature cut K-12 education spending by $5.4 billion and per-pupil spending declined by more than 8 percent. More than 600 school districts sued the state, arguing that the cuts make it impossible to meet minimum education standards and that funding is inadequate and unfairly apportioned. Over the past four years, the state has restored about $5 billion in funding, but District Judge John Dietz still sided with the plaintiffs, declaring that the funding system is unconstitutional. The state then appealed the case. Texas, which has no income tax, relies on local property taxes to fund its public schools. In 1993 the legislature passed the “Robin Hood” plan, which mandated some revenue sharing between wealthy and poor school districts.

The latest group to be fed up with the interminable budget impasse in Illinois is credit rating agency Moody’s, which said that the stalemate is a sign of “weak governance.” Moody’s warned Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers that failure to reach an agreement by late September would turn a projected deficit of $5.14 billion into an actual one. Moody’s suggested that raising the income tax would be the most logical solution, as the state “has the economic capacity to absorb higher income tax rates. It is one of only eight states that levy a flat individual income tax. Among those states, Illinois’ current rate is comparatively low: the average among these states is 4.4%, compared with 3.75% in Illinois.” Increasing the personal income tax by 1 percent and the corporate income tax by 1.5 percentage points would generate approximately $2.4 billion in additional revenue.

Michigan group Citizens for Fair Taxes is fighting for a ballot initiative that would increase the state corporate income tax rate from 6 percent to 11 percent, a change they say would bring in $900 million annually for public roads and reverse the tax shift from businesses to working families begun under Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011. About one-third of Michigan businesses are subject to the corporate income tax. If the group collects 253,000 signatures, the proposal would go before the legislature. If the legislature fails to act or votes down the proposal, it will be put to the voters on the November 2016 ballot.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy is fighting to keep GE headquarters in the state after the company threatened to move. Some state leaders want to repeal the combined reporting requirement just enacted as part of the tax package supporting the two-year budget in June. Malloy is working with officials to create a sweetheart package of tax incentives to keep GE in the state. The move comes after GE used its political clout to force the legislature into special session this June, after the tax package narrowly won legislative approval despite business objections. Numerous studies have shown that taxes are not the primary driver behind business relocation decisions, but GE and other business still use the threat of relocation to wring concessions out of state and local governments.

Speaking of dubious tax claims, Art Laffer urged West Virginia leaders to slash income taxes to stimulate economic growth, weeks after the state’s commerce secretary said taxes were a non-issue in business relocation decisions. The secretary stated that West Virginia’s uneducated workforce was a larger factor in attracting new companies to the state. Unmoved by facts, Laffer told the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce that lower taxes and a reduced social safety net would result in more growth: “If you tax rich people and give money to poor people, you're going to get lots and lots of poor people and no rich people.” Laffer’s remarks were praised by Senate President Bill Cole, who said, “There's no question in my mind that, by itself, it could be the single biggest and largest economic driver that this state has ever seen. I think he's spot on. I think, virtually, everything he's said has proven itself out in history.” Clearly Sen. Cole has never been to Kansas.

A recent op-ed in The Huntsville Times outlines how Alabama legislators could reform the state’s tax system without constitutional amendments. The four proposals outlined would reform the state’s business privilege tax by reducing rates for small businesses and increasing them on large multinational businesses, require combined reporting on corporate income tax forms, increase the cigarette excise tax, and transfer use tax revenues to the General Fund. Author Carol Gundlach of Arise Citizen’s Policy Project says these reforms would avoid harmful cuts to Medicaid, prisons and mental health being considered by legislators.

 

Do you have a hot state tax tip? Send it to sdpjohnson@itep.org for the next State Rundown!

 


Fiscal Year Finish Line Part I: Tax Cuts and Tax Shifts


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This is the first installment of our three part series on 2015 state tax trends.  The next article will focus on more positive developments: working family tax credits and revenue raising.  And the final article will discuss one of the most active areas of state tax policy in 2015: transportation funding initiatives.

Thumbnail image for finishline.jpgJuly 1st marked the end of most states’ fiscal years, the traditional deadline for states to enact new spending plans and revenue changes. The 2015 legislative sessions delivered lots of tax policy changes, both big and small. Some states finished early or on time, while others straggled across the finish line after knockdown budget battles. Still others are not yet done racing, operating on continuing resolutions until an agreement is reached. As of now, four states still do not have spending plans in place for the fiscal year that started July 1st (Illinois, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.  Alabama has until October to reach a budget agreement). 

A number of states continued the troubling trend of cutting taxes for the wealthy while asking working families to pick up the tab. These tax shift proposals make state tax systems less fair and can contribute to budget shortfalls down the road. Tax shifts come in many forms, though a shift from income taxes to consumption taxes is the most common and most regressive example. Sadly, tax shifts are here to stay; Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia and West Virginia could all see new proposals surface in next year’s legislative sessions.

Several states enacted or considered tax cuts without balancing lost revenue with other tax increases. Instead, these states cut spending or used one-time surpluses to justify long-term changes. The overwhelming majority of these proposals reduce taxes for the best off while doing nothing or little for everyone else, making a regressive tax landscape even worse.

Check out the detailed lists after the jump to see which states enacted or attempted to enact new tax shifts and tax cuts this legislative session:

 

Tax Shifts

Kansas (Enacted): The tax debate in Kansas was watched more closely than in any other state this year. After promising that massive tax cuts would pay for themselves back in 2012 and 2013, Gov. Brownback and anti-taxers were forced to admit the “experiment” went too far. After high melodrama – Gov. Brownback tearfully urging lawmakers to vote for a sales tax hike, staunch anti-tax legislators breaking their anti-tax pledges, and lawmakers accusing Brownback of blackmail – state leaders passed a bill that increased taxes. Governor Brownback claimed that despite the increase, Kansans were still better off because of his earlier tax cuts. But an ITEP analysis revealed that talking point as fiction when it showed that lower-income taxpayers will be paying more than they did prior to Brownback taking office.

Ohio (Partially Enacted): Earlier in the year, Gov. Kasich proposed a large-scale tax shift which would have paid for significant personal income tax cuts with much higher sales taxes.  Legislators agreed to a budget with a net tax cut of $1.85 billion over two years focused just on cutting personal income taxes. The move is sure to make the revenue outlook worse in Ohio and will undermine investments in priority areas like education, infrastructure and healthcare. ITEP’s analysis of the compromise plan found that the top one percent of Ohio taxpayers will get half of the income tax cuts – an average annual tax break of $10,236 for those making $388,000 or more. Meanwhile, the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers will see their taxes increase by an average of $20.

Maine (Partially Enacted): Gov. Paul LePage proposed a costly, sweeping tax shift package back in January that would have resulted in a significant shift away from progressive personal income taxes and toward a heavier reliance on regressive sales taxes.  While almost every Mainer would have received a tax cut under this plan, the benefits were heavily tilted in favor of the state’s wealthiest taxpayers. Thankfully, despite its flaws the final tax reform package passed by the legislature over the governor’s veto will actually improve the state’s tax code.  Among the major tax changes it includes are: lower income tax rates, a broader income tax base, new and enhanced refundable tax credits, a doubling of the homestead property tax exemption, an estate tax cut, and permanently higher sales tax rates. Maine will slightly shift its reliance away from its progressive personal income tax onto a narrow and regressive sales tax.  However, this plan is vastly different from other proposed and enacted tax shifts, as it reduces taxes for most low and moderate-income families and somewhat lessens the regressivity of the state’s tax code.

Mississippi (Failed): Legislators defeated efforts to pass significant tax shifts this legislative session. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’s proposal to cut income and corporate franchise taxes by $555 million over 15 years died in the House, while House Speaker Philip Gunn’s plan to phase out the state income tax died in the Senate. Opponents of the cuts noted that they would sap K-12 and higher education budgets while shifting the burden of funding crucial services to the local level.

Idaho (Failed): Thanks in part to ITEP’s analyses, legislators ended the session without enacting a regressive flattening of the state’s income tax. Had that proposal passed, it would have provided an average tax cut of nearly $5,000 per year to the state’s wealthiest taxpayers while raising taxes on most middle-income families. Instead, lawmakers agreed to simply raise the state’s gas tax by 7 cents (the first increase in 19 years) and boost vehicle registration fees by $21 without a corresponding tax cut.

Michigan (Still Active): In May, voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have raised sales taxes, gasoline taxes, and vehicle registration fees to pay for improvements to the state’s deteriorating infrastructure.  Since then, the Michigan House agreed to an alternative plan that would fund roads by repealing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), raising diesel taxes, indexing gas and diesel taxes to inflation, and transferring money away from other public services.  Fortunately, the most regressive component of this plan—repealing the EITC—was not included in the package passed by the state Senate.  But unlike the House, the Senate would implement a tax shift whereby a regressive gasoline tax hike is paired with a cut in the state’s income tax rate that would primarily benefit high-income taxpayers.  As of this writing, it is still unclear what, if any, compromise will be reached between the House and Senate.

North Carolina (Still Active): Lawmakers have reached a budget impasse (which seems to be a yearly ritual in the Tarheel state) and had to pass a stop gap spending measure to keep government functioning while they sort out their differences.  Several spending priorities are at the center of the House and Senate standoff as well as proposed tax changes included in the Senate budget: deeper cuts to the personal income tax, adding more services to the sales tax base, slashing the business franchise tax by a third, and additional corporate income tax cuts.  It will likely take North Carolina lawmakers months to sort out their differences.

Pennsylvania (Still Active): The budget showdown between Gov. Tom Wolf and the state legislature will continue through the summer. Stating that “the math doesn’t work”, Governor Wolf vetoed the entire budget lawmakers delivered to him in the final days before the start of the fiscal year.  Governor Wolf’s preferred budget included a property tax reform measure and additional spending for education (both paid for with higher personal income and sales taxes) and a new tax on natural gas extraction.  While Republican lawmakers also favor reducing (or even eliminating) school property taxes, there is no common ground on how to achieve that goal and most are adamantly opposed to a severance tax.  Lawmakers will begin to hammer out a compromise early next week and the government will operate in a partial shutdown mode until the state has a budget in place for the new fiscal year.

South Carolina (Failed): South Carolina lawmakers spent the majority of the session exploring ways to improve the state’s crumbling infrastructure while also cutting taxes. Needless to say, this effort sparked enormous debate across the state.  Three proposals were heavily debated: the Governor’s shift away from income taxes in favor of a higher gas tax, a House-passed plan that would have combined some tax increases with a much more modest income tax cut and a Senate Finance plan which would have increased revenues without an income tax cut.  Ultimately, however, the session ended with no income tax cuts, no gas tax hikes, and no progress toward a more adequately funded transportation network. 

 

Tax Cuts 

Arkansas (Enacted): Gov. Asa Hutchinson fulfilled his campaign promise of passing a middle class tax cut. The governor’s plan introduces a new income tax rate structure for middle income Arkansans.

Florida (Enacted): The legislature approved a $400 million package of tax cuts after the resolution of a deadlock over healthcare spending; Florida is expected to lose federal aid to state hospitals, and many lawmakers were reluctant to accept Medicaid dollars offered under the Affordable Care Act. In the end, the size of the tax cuts relative to those initially proposed by Gov. Rick Scott was reduced by almost half in order to cover healthcare costs. The package of cuts includes tax cuts for cell phone and cable bills, college textbooks, and sailboat repairs that cost more than $60,000.

Montana (Failed): The legislature failed to override Gov. Steve Bullock’s vetoes of multiple bills that would have cut personal income tax rates. Opponents argued that the state already faced a $47 million deficit and that the majority of the tax cuts would have flowed to the state’s highest-income taxpayers (a fact confirmed by multiple ITEP analyses). In explaining his veto, Gov. Bullock also made clear that “the experience of other states shows that decimating your revenue base to benefit large corporations and the wealthiest individuals does not work to stimulate the economy.”

Nebraska (Failed): Despite the large number and diversity of tax cut bills circulating in Nebraska this session, no significant cut was enacted.  However, that does not mean that the proposals are off the table.  Rather, expect the tax cutting debates to carry over into next session.

North Dakota (Enacted): For the ninth straight year, North Dakota lawmakers approved cuts to the state’s personal and corporate income taxes.  Starting next year, the corporate income tax rate will drop by 5 percent, and personal income tax rates will be reduced by 10 percent across the board. 

Rhode Island (Enacted): Middle- and upper-middle income older adults will now be fully exempt from paying taxes on Social Security income.  The exemption applies to Rhode Islanders age 65 and over with income below $80,000 (single) or $100,000 (married).  This tax break will largely benefit middle- and upper-middle income older adults since low-income seniors are already exempt from paying taxes on Social Security income in the state.

Tennessee (Failed): Efforts to repeal the Hall Income Tax failed again after the legislature did not act on two repeal measures before the close of session. The Hall Tax is a 6 percent tax on income from stocks, bonds and dividends that is the state’s only tax on personal income. A significant portion of the revenues raised by the tax supports county and municipal governments. Opponents of the Hall tax won a small victory, however, as they succeeded in increasing the exemption allowed for citizens over the age of 55.

Texas (Enacted): Lawmakers passed a number of new tax cuts this year. The first change, a $10,000 increase in the homestead exemption for property taxes, has been described as “the least-worst way to under-invest” since the homestead exemption is spread evenly across taxpayers and the bill will replace local property tax revenue with more state aid to schools. The second change, a cut in the business franchise tax rate of 25 percent, will cost the state $2.6 billion in revenue in a way that decidedly favors the wealthy and corporations.

 


State Rundown 6/2: Things Fall Apart


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This week looks like an active one for states that are entering the final stretches of their legislative sessions. Stay tuned to the State Rundown for updates on the tax policy battles happening across the country.

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Bipartisan negotiations in Maine over the scope of proposed comprehensive tax reform failed this weekend after Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate remained deeply divided and a Democratic counterproposal to Gov. Paul LePage’s plan failed to gain traction. State leaders announced that they’ve reached a tentative budget deal that would include no new income tax cuts over the biennium, but as a trade-off would allow a proposed constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds legislative supermajority to enact new income tax increases to be put before state voters. The plan would also allow the sales tax rate to revert back to 5 percent from a temporary increase to 5.5 percent on schedule (note: this should not be perceived as a tax cut as many commentators have suggested). Republican leaders in the House are vowing to oppose any budget plan that does not include the welfare reform or income tax cuts championed by Gov. LePage in his original proposal. As of now, the compromise budget will fail to be enacted unless is draws enough House Republican support to override Gov. LePage’s certain veto.

Republican leaders in Kansas remain deadlocked over a plan to close the state’s big budget shortfall, despite warnings from government officials that state workers would be furloughed by the end of the week without a deal. Legislators are divided over how to close the projected $406 million gap; some want to roll back Gov. Sam Brownback’s exemption of business pass-through income for business owners and farmers, while others want to rely on increased sales and excise taxes. Meanwhile, Gov. Brownback unveiled a plan on Saturday that would protect his business income exemption but eliminate income taxes for low-income individuals in response to criticisms that his previously enacted tax cuts shift income taxes from employers to their employees. A preliminary ITEP analysis of the governor’s plan found that on average, Kansans in the bottom 40 percent would pay more.

Texas’s legislative session ended on Monday, with lawmakers passing new tax cuts in addition to the tax changes enacted last week. The first change, a $10,000 increase in the homestead exemption for property taxes, has been described as “the least-worst way to under-invest,” as the homestead exemption is spread evenly across taxpayers and the bill will replace local property tax revenue with more state aid to schools. For more on why homestead exemptions can be a good policy option, check out this ITEP brief. The second change, a cut in the business franchise tax rate of 25 percent, will cost the state $2.6 billion in revenue in a way that decidedly favors the wealthy and corporations.

In a welcome development, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval gained legislative approval of $1.3 billion in new revenue to fund improvements in public education, despite strong opposition from conservative lawmakers in the Republican-dominated legislature. Sandoval’s tax package, which he is expected to sign this week, will increase the business license fee and the payroll tax, extend some tax measures that were to sunset this year, and implement a new Commerce Tax on gross business revenue that falls more heavily on capital-intensive businesses. Altogether, the measures add up to the biggest one-time tax increase in state history. The new revenue will increase education funding, expand services to the poor, and provide for special education and statewide full-day kindergarten. 

States Ending Legislative Session This Week:
Nevada
Texas
Connecticut
Iowa


State Rundown 5/28: Deals Made, Dreams Fade


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Efforts to tie property taxes to household income face long odds in New York. Back in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a $1.7 billion property tax circuit breaker for New York homeowners and renters meant to offset the cost of property taxes with an income tax credit. The measure enjoyed support in the state Assembly, but has since stalled in the conservative state Senate where lawmakers would prefer a broader property tax rebate not tied to income. The Senate plan, however, would provide less targeted relief and would only apply to homeowners. Supporters of Cuomo’s proposal say a property tax circuit breaker would help keep people in their homes in a state with some of the highest property taxes in the nation, while critics say the plan is a giveaway to suburban districts that doesn’t address the root cause of New York’s high taxes. ITEP has long advocated property tax circuit breakers as a way to fight poverty and make tax systems fairer – for more, check out this report.

A number of tax policy developments have come out of Alabama as the state nears the end of the legislative session. State Sen. Bill Hightower, who initially proposed replacing Alabama’s personal income tax with a flat tax version, scaled back his ambitions to a resolution that calls for a new taskforce to study the issue. Hightower’s initial proposal received pushback from groups who argued that a flax tax would increase the contributions of poor. A recent op/ed in The Huntsville Times notes that Alabama is among the few states that ask families below the poverty line to pay income taxes, noting that “the social and economic cost of taxing the poor might actually be higher than the dollar value of the revenues the state is collecting from them.” Meanwhile, Hightower also sponsored a successful bill that would require annual reports on the effectiveness of various tax credits, deductions and special rates, earning praise for going after ineffective tax loopholes that are used mainly by the wealthy.

Texas legislators reached a deal on transportation legislation that could send more revenue to road and bridge construction but reduce funding available for crucial investments in education and human services. House and Senate negotiators agreed on a proposed constitutional amendment that would divert $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue to roads if approved by voters. Sales tax revenue must exceed $28 billion for the measure to take effect, and the law will be on the books for 15 years. The deal also diverts 35 percent of any vehicle sales tax revenue over $5 billion to road construction, a measure that is expected to deliver an additional $250 million in new road money. 


Immigration Reform Would Net States More Tax Revenue


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An ITEP report released today found that the 11.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the US  contribute significantly to state and local taxes – to the tune of $11.84 billion in 2012, our analysis shows. Under the terms of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration that figure could increase by $845 million a year; if legal status were granted to all undocumented immigrants their state and local tax contributions would increase by $2.2 billion a year.  

Immigration reform efforts have languished in Congress since 2005, and more recently the House of Representatives failed to consider a comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate in 2013. A frustrated President Obama announced last November that he would offer temporary legal status to close to 4 million undocumented immigrants who are parents of US citizens or lawful permanent residents and who pass a background check. He also expanded his 2012 order to defer deportation for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children. Roughly 5.2 million undocumented immigrants could benefit from the president’s 2012 and 2014 proposals.

In February a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the president’s executive actions in response to a lawsuit against the federal government by 26 states. Judge Andrew Hanen granted the injunction on the grounds that the suing states “would suffer irreparable harm in this case” were the executive actions enforced before the lawsuit wound its way through the federal judiciary, since a revocation of legal status would be extraordinarily unlikely and since the states would be forced to increase “investment in law enforcement, health care and education. 

Our recent report shows that granting legal status to undocumented immigrants would be a net benefit to states since these workers already contribute to paying for state and local services and would pay even more taxes were they allowed to work legally. In Texas, where the injunction was granted, undocumented immigrants already pay an estimated $1.5 billion a year in taxes, and under the terms of Obama’s executive actions they would pay an additional $57 million.

Despite contrary claims – similar to the falsehood that 47 percent of Americans do not pay taxes – the reality is that undocumented immigrants contribute to paying for local and state services. Those who make these arguments focus narrowly on federal income taxes, ignoring the sales, excise and property taxes to which all Americans contribute and which make up a significant share of taxes collected. Extending lawful permanent residence to those who are currently undocumented would be a positive benefit for the economy and the communities where undocumented immigrants live, allowing them to fully contribute and support the important work we do together.


State Rundown 3/16: Win Some, Lose Some


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Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval will make his case for expanding the state’s business license fee before a joint legislative committee on Wednesday. The governor wants to change the fee from a flat rate of $200 per year to a tiered system with rates from $400 to $4 million per year, with a company’s revenue and industry type determining the fee level. Sandoval argues that the change is necessary to support investments in K-12 education throughout the state.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal received positive reviews last week for its emphasis on job creation and education. Notable tax changes include a two-step increase in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a targeted tax exemption on social security income for couples who make up to $60,000. An ITEP analysis shows that all of the benefits of the governor’s proposed social security exemption would go to seniors in the bottom 80 percent of the state’s income distribution, whereas a rival plan to exempt all social security income from taxes would deliver half its benefits to the top 20 percent. To help raise revenue, Gov. Raimondo also proposed a new property tax on second homes worth over $1 million, as well as increases in the cigarette excise tax and taxes for online rental companies.

The Montana House of Representatives failed to override Gov. Steve Bullock’s veto of HB166, a bill that would have cut income taxes. Under the proposal passed by the legislature, income tax rates would have been reduced by 0.2 percentage points across all brackets. Opponents of the bill argued that the state already faces a $47 million deficit and that most of the benefits of the income tax cut would accrue to high-earners; almost 50 percent of the cuts would have gone to the top ten percent of Montanans. Gov. Bullock also pointed out that “the experience of other states shows that decimating your revenue base to benefit large corporations and the wealthiest individuals does not work to stimulate the economy.” A smattering of other tax cut proposals are still making their way through the legislature, including a measure that cuts income taxes and reduces breaks for capital gains, and another that would increase the exemption allowed for business equipment.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives, by contrast, voted to allow a scheduled income tax cut to proceed despite facing a $611 million budget deficit. The tax cut will reduce the top income tax rate from 5.25 to 5 percent beginning in January 2016. After that, if revenue conditions are met, the tax rate will fall to 4.85 percent in 2018. Since the Oklahoma Tax Commission says the state will lose $404 million in revenue from 2016 to 2018 due to the cuts, that’s a big “if.” ITEP data show the tax cut will put an average of just $29 back into the pockets of middle-income households, while the top 1 percent of Oklahoma earners will get an average benefit of $2,009 each.

A bill that would cut income taxes in Arizona if online shoppers lose their ability to evade sales taxes passed in the House after being defeated twice in the same chamber.  Sponsored by state Rep. J.D. Mesnard, the income tax cut proposal will only go into effect if Congress passes the Marketplace Fairness Act (which has little chance of happening soon).

 

Following Up
Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget faces a tough road in the legislature; Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has said it fails to “invest in the future,” while other state officials have claimed that the cuts proposed by the governor would endanger everything from the lottery to elections.

Texas: The budget drafted by leaders of the state’s House Appropriations Committee reportedly includes more money for public schools than the Senate budget does. The Senate plan would cover additional costs from surging school enrollment, but would direct more revenue to tax cuts than the House proposal.

South Carolina: A Senate panel headed by Sen. Ray Cleary approved a bill that would increase the gas tax by 20 cents over five years and index the tax to inflation. The measure is expected to be vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley, who has said she will not approve an increase in the gas tax unless it’s paired with a big cut in the state’s income tax.

 

States Ending Session This Week:
New Mexico (Saturday)

 


State Tax Policy Trends in 2015: Not All That "Trickles Down" Is Rain


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The theory that tax cuts for the affluent will eventually trickle down to everyone else is shopworn, yet supply-side adherents keep promising the public that the rich can have their tax cuts and the rest of us will eat cake too.

Despite 35 years of data showing this to be false, the notion has seduced enough policymakers to keep the lights on at Art Laffer’s house.

At least 10 states have tax cut proposals in motion that, unlike the tax shifts we reviewed previously, will not offset cuts by raising other taxes but by raiding surpluses or reducing spending. The overwhelming majority of these proposals will reduce taxes for the best off while doing nothing or little for everyone else, making a regressive tax landscape worse.  Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s overhaul of his state’s income tax and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposal to introduce a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would actually benefit low- and moderate-income families, but most of the other proposals would lead mainly to benefits for the wealthy.

Over time such tax cuts exacerbate income inequality and stymie opportunity for the masses. Taxes and spending are on a balance scale. Top-heavy tax cuts and their purported economic benefits do not trickle down a rolling hill; they tip the scale in favor of the rich while depriving states of necessary revenue to adequately fund basic services, including education, public safety, infrastructure health and other priorities. Below are some pending proposals:

Arkansas: Gov. Asa Hutchinson fulfilled his campaign promise of passing a middle class tax cut. The governor’s plan introduces a new income tax rate structure for middle income Arkansans. To help pay for the measure the capital gains exemption was reduced from 40 to 50 percent. Using data from ITEP, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families explains that the taxpayers who benefit from capital gains exemptions are wealthier families.

Florida: Once again, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is pushing lawmakers to enact an unusual hodgepodge of tax cuts.  Under his proposal, taxes on cable TV and cell phone usage would drop by 3.6 percentage points, manufacturing machinery and textbooks would both be exempted from the sales tax, the corporate income tax exemption would be raised from $50,000 to $75,000, and yet another back-to-school sales tax holiday would be held this summer.  The overall cost of this package would be roughly $700 million, and while it’s too early in the session to gauge the chances of passage, there is apparently some skepticism toward the plan in the state legislature.

Idaho: The big tax shift sought by some Idaho lawmakers is off the table for now, but Gov. Butch Otter made clear all along that he prefers a straight-up cut to the state’s corporate income tax rate, and its top personal income tax rate, from 7.4 to 6.9 percent.  Our analysts recently found that such a tax cut would make Idaho’s decidedly regressive tax system even more unfair.  More than three out of every four dollars in personal income tax cuts would flow to the wealthiest 20 percent of households, and members of the top 1 percent would see an average tax cut of over $3,500 each year.  These cuts would come on top of a very similar package of regressive income tax reductions enacted in 2012.

Mississippi: Lawmakers in the Magnolia State can’t seem to get enough of tax cut proposals. In addition to the tax shift proposal passed by the House recently (and written about here), lawmakers are debating a variety of tax cutting measures, which include decreasing personal and corporate income tax rates, introducing a nonrefundable EITC, and eliminating the corporate franchise tax.

Montana: The Montana legislature has approved a bill that would cut personal income tax rates across the board and reduce state revenues by roughly $42 million per year.  ITEP analyzed similar, earlier versions of the cut and found that high-income households would be the largest beneficiaries and that low-income and middle-income taxpayers, who currently face the highest overall state and local tax rates, would receive little or no benefit.  Governor Steve Bullock is likely to veto the plan because of its impact on the state’s ability to fund vital public services.

Nebraska: With the sheer number and diversity of tax cut bills circulating in Nebraska this winter, it seems certain some cut will be enacted.  Much of the focus so far has been on reducing property taxes, a stated priority of newly elected Gov. Pete Ricketts.  Property tax proposals include creating a new refundable, targeted property tax circuit breaker credit for homeowners and renters, introducing a local income tax to reduce reliance on property taxes for school funding, hiking the sales tax rate to pay for a bump in a statewide property tax credit, and increasing personal and corporate income tax rates to pay for property tax cuts. State business leaders, however, have made it clear that income tax cuts are their main concern, and Governor Ricketts has not ruled out the possibility.  One plan being floated would reduce personal and corporate income tax rates over eight years, giving the biggest benefits by far to the richest Nebraskans.

North Carolina (updated 4/6/2015): Two years after North Carolina enacted a sweeping tax cut package, state lawmakers have returned this year with more tax cutting plans that will bust the budget to benefit wealthy residents and profitable corporations.  Senate Republicans have unveiled another round of personal income tax cuts that cost more than  $1 billion when fully enacted and would slash millions of dollars in corporate income taxes. There has also been talk of reducing taxes on capital gains income, restoring items eliminated in 2013 including a deduction for medical expenses and historic preservation tax credit.  What makes these proposals even more egregious is the state’s anticipated revenue shortfall of almost $300 million this year. Lawmakers were forced to close a $500 million revenue gap last year with deep spending cuts after underestimating the steep cost of the tax cuts passed in 2013.  

North Dakota: Just a few short months ago, North Dakota lawmakers were giddy about the idea of using booming oil and gas tax revenue to pay for an elimination or significant reduction of the state’s personal income tax.  But as gas prices plummeted, reality set in and the House approved a scaled back proposal – a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in personal and corporate income tax rates (Gov. Dalrymple also proposed a 10 percent personal income tax cut).  North Dakota lawmakers enacted similar plans in 2011 and 2013, slowly chipping away at the two taxes.

Tennessee: In what’s becoming an annual tradition, multiple Tennessee lawmakers have proposed (subscription required) repealing the state’s “Hall Tax”—a modest 6 percent income tax on interest, dividends, and capital gains income.  As we showed in our recent Who Pays? report, the Hall Tax is a rare progressive bright spot in a tax system that tilts overwhelmingly in favor of affluent households.  Fortunately, leaders in the state’s House and Senate are reportedly unenthused by the idea since Tennessee’s wealthiest households recently benefited from cuts in estate, inheritance, and gift taxes.  And while it’s discouraging that the governor isn’t making principled tax fairness arguments against these proposals, he is very skeptical that the state can afford to get rid of the Hall Tax right now.

Texas: Lawmakers in the Lone Star State hope to enact a tax cut package that would cost about $4 billion over a two year period.  Governor Greg Abbott’s top priority is cutting the business franchise tax, and he has said that he will veto any budget that does not include such a cut.  So far, the main options for reducing business franchise taxes include cutting the rate from 1 to 0.85 percent or raising the exemption from $1 million to $4 million.  The governor would also like to see school property taxes cut, and the Senate seems happy to go along with that idea.  Options currently under discussion include raising the $15,000 homestead exemption to $33,625, or converting it to equal 25 percent of home value.  As we explain in this policy brief, the percentage-based option is less fair than a flat-dollar exemption.  But it’s also important to keep in mind the context provided by Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities: “There’s better uses of this money … than tax cuts.”


State Rundown 3/9: Revenue Strikes Back


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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled his budget last Wednesday, and while it calls for some distressing cuts to state services it also includes a worthy tax policy shift that would help working families. The governor wants to double the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit over three years. Currently, low-income families with three or more children can receive up to $937 under the credit; Baker’s proposal would increase this figure to $1,873. To pay for the EITC expansion, Gov. Baker would phase out the state’s film tax credit, which state reports have found to be inefficient and a waste of taxpayer money. One Department of Revenue report concluded that in 2012 the majority of credits went to just three movies, at a cost of $60.1 million. Attempts to curb the film credit by Baker’s predecessor Deval Patrick were unsuccessful.

Some Texas municipalities fear that state officials have pushed through too many tax cuts, according to a recent Bloomberg Business article. The disconnect, according to some political observers, arises from the popularity of conservative messages around taxation at the state level and the focus on providing services at the local level. While state spending has fallen – Texas is ranked 48th in per-capita spending according to the Kaiser Family Foundation – local governments have borrowed to pick up the slack. According to figures from the state government, local borrowing has increased by 75 percent since 2005 to fund public works necessary for managing economic and population growth.

A South Carolina lawmaker has a new plan that he says will raise an additional $800 million for roads and highways in the state. State Sen. Ray Cleary’s bill would increase the gas tax by 10 cents and index it to inflation, raise the sales tax cap on car purchases from $300 to $1,400, close some sales tax exemptions, and increase fees for licensing and registration. He estimates the changes will cost South Carolina drivers $65 more each year on average. Cleary’s plan would raise revenue, while a proposal offered by Gov. Nikki Haley would result in a net revenue loss. Haley called for an increase in the gas tax coupled with an income tax cut in her state of the state address earlier this year.

 

Following Up:
Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal met mixed reviews from state editorial boards. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette though his budget was unrealistic and partisan, while The Philadelphia Inquirer called his plan ambitious and a necessary departure from his predecessors.

Mississippi: House Speaker Philip Gunn used a bizarre biblical analogy to assert that his plan to eliminate the state income tax would not lead to lost revenues. Opponents of his plan remain unconvinced.

Florida: House and Senate leaders appear to be on a collision course over balancing the state budget, jeopardizing Gov. Rick Scott’s proposals to cut taxes and increase education spending.

 

Things We Missed:
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker released his budget last Wednesday – read it here.

Governors’ Budgets Released This Week:
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (Thursday)

States That Will End Legislative Session This Week
Arkansas (Thursday)
Utah (Thursday)
West Virginia (Saturday)
Wyoming (Monday)

 

 

 


State Rundown 2/19: The Budget Balancing Act


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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner unveiled his budget on Wednesday to mixed reviews.  The proposal does not include any new revenues despite a $7 billion budget gap, and relies heavily on slashing state spending. Democratic legislators, including powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, pushed back against the governors’ budget. They argue that his proposed cuts, including $1.5 billion in Medicaid spending reductions and hundreds of millions of dollars cut from social services and transit, would hurt low-income working families the most. Rauner has also proposed $600 million worth of cuts in local government aid (while paradoxically pushing for a freeze in local government property tax rates) and $387 million in higher education cuts. ITEP’s recent Who Pays report found that the bottom 20 percent of Illinois taxpayers pay almost three times more of their income in state taxes than the top 1 percent. The governor’s budget will make an unequal situation worse by slashing programs that many of the less fortunate depend on.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who likes to tout his bona fides as a “fiscal conservative,” decided to address his state’s $238 million deficit by not paying its bills. Walker made the decision this week to defer over $100 million in debt payments, opting instead to restructure the debt to the tune of an additional $19 million over the biennium. Many observers have pointed out that Walker’s $2 billion in new tax cuts since taking office – most of which went to the wealthy and corporations – are to blame for the state’s current budget woes. Meanwhile, progressive Wisconsinites slammed Walker for continuing to refuse $345 million in federal dollars to expand Medicaid, arguing that accepting the money could reduce the deficit and help reverse $300 million in higher education cuts proposed by the governor. Walker has also supported cuts to the state park system, science positions in state government, and recycling programs, to the consternation of many.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy outlined an ambitious budget on Wednesday that combines tax cuts, spending increases and new revenue to address a $1.3 billion deficit. Malloy wants to lower the sales tax from 6.35 to 5.95 percent to support low-income and middle-class families, but also repeal a sales tax exemption on clothing set to take place in July. On the business side, the governor would make a 20 percent surcharge on the corporate profits tax permanent, reduce the size of business tax credits for research and development and capital purchases, and eliminate the $250 business entity tax on small businesses. Altogether, Malloy’s changes to business taxes would increase revenue by $300 million. The rest of the deficit would be made up for with deep cuts elsewhere; Medicaid and mental health services would be especially hard hit, and the budget for state parks would be cut by 25 percent. Malloy affirmed his commitment to avoiding cuts in state aid to municipalities.  He also did not propose using rainy day funds to close the state’s budget gap.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, not to be outdone by his lieutenant governor, unveiled a budget proposal with $4.2 billion in tax cuts for businesses and property owners. Half of these cuts would come through a reduction in the state’s business franchise tax – $1 billion more than what the Senate budget proposes – and the other half would come from property tax cuts. Abbott pledged that his budget would make whole any school districts impacted by his property tax cuts. Critics feel that the tax cuts are an irresponsible move, given the state’s worsening economic climate.

State of the State Addresses This Week:
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (watch here)

Governors’ Budgets Released This Week:
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (amendments offered)
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (read here)
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (speech here)
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (read here)

 


State Rundown 2/5: State of the States


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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan fleshed out his plans to cut taxes in his state of the state address this Wednesday, vowing to seek reductions for small businesses, some retirees, motorists and the repeal of the so-called “rain tax,” a contentious stormwater management fee. Faced with a significant budget deficit, Hogan was forced to pursue more piecemeal tax cuts than he suggested during the campaign, though the measures face stiff opposition from the Democratic-controlled legislature. Two of the measures particularly rankle environmentalists; Hogan wants to repeal a law indexing the state’s gas tax to inflation, and his attack on the stormwater fee will shortchange efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Democrats say the governor’s plans will cost $30 million a year in lost revenue, while the governor’s staff says the cost will be closer to $27 million. Additionally, Hogan proposed legislation to make it easier to open charter schools in Maryland, as well as a tax break for people who donate to private and religious schools. ITEP has argued that such tax breaks, also known as “neovouchers,” unfairly divert public money to private education. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed a similar tax credit in his budget.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory used his state of the state speech to tout his “North Carolina plan,” which would expand Medicaid in North Carolina but seek a waiver for some of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions. The governor made sparing references to taxes in his speech, despite the fact that revenues in the Tarheel state have fallen under projection thanks to tax cuts he signed in 2013. Also left unmentioned was the push by some lawmakers to repeal the state’s capital gains tax, a measure that McCrory has partially supported as a way to lure “innovation-related companies” to the state. Some advocates criticized the governor for failing to push for reenactment of the state’s EITC, which expired in 2013.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker further cemented his conservative-warrior persona in his state of the state speech, slashing higher education budgets by $300 million to help solve a $650 million budget deficit over the biennium (which will inevitably mean higher tuition bills). Walker’s budget also includes a property tax cut of $5 per year for the average taxpayer (according the governors’ office) to the tune of $280 million for the state, to be enacted by sending more state aid to local districts but earmarking that aid for tax cuts. K-12 spending, meanwhile, would remain flat. Walker’s budget has earned the governor steep opposition; faculty and students at the University of Wisconsin decried the governor for proposing the deepest higher education cuts in state history while also giving $220 million in state money to the NBA for a new stadium. Some lawmakers point out that many of the cuts would be unnecessary if Walker and his legislative allies had not squandered last year’s $1 billion surplus on property and income tax cuts. Even some conservative lawmakers are worried that Walker’s cuts to higher education will lead to huge tuition spikes, despite the two-year tuition freeze included in the governor’s budget proposal.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner pushed for a property-tax freeze in his state of the state address, arguing that local governments need to cut expenses and waste or consolidate services in order to make it happen. The governor previously called for expanding the sales tax base to include services in order to bring in more revenue and make the state more competitive. Given that the state faces a projected $11 billion shortfall over the next two years, it has left us head scratching as to why the governor avoided talking directly about how to resolve the state’s revenue crisis.

 

Following Up:

  • Maine: As expected, Gov. Paul LePage used his state of the state address to make a case for his tax reform proposal, arguing that the state should adopt a constitution amendment that commits future revenue growth to income tax cuts. LePage appears to be following a broader national strategy for Republican governors to cut income taxes and raise sales and other taxes on a promised “path to prosperity.”  
  • Ohio: Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal received pushback from school districts concerned that his new funding plan will unfairly redistribute state resources. The governor and his staff claim the plan will send more money to poorer districts, but school officials have criticized the opacity of his funding formula. Look to the Tax Justice Digest next week for full coverage of the plan, including an analysis of who wins and who loses.
  • Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to veto any budget that does not include tax cuts for businesses, arguing that cutting or eliminating the state’s franchise tax would stimulate job growth.
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    State Rundown 2/2: Groundhog Day on Tax Cuts


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    Maine Gov. Paul LePage plans to borrow from the Sam Brownback playbook, announcing his intention to eliminate his state’s income tax in three steps (we saw how that worked out for Kansas) at tomorrow’s state of the state address. The governor’s current budget proposal would reduce the current top income tax rate from 7.95 to 5.75 percent, and would also slash corporate tax rates and eliminate the state’s estate tax altogether. The governor proposes to pay for these tax cuts by broadening the sales tax base and increasing sales tax rates and reducing state aid for municipalities. Eliminating the state income tax would result in the loss of half of the state’s $3 billion in annual revenue, necessitating deep cuts or major tax shifts to more recessive revenue sources. 

    Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal would lower income tax rates, eliminate the income tax for about one million business owners and increase the personal exemption allowed for Ohioans making under $80,000 a year. The plan would wipe out income taxes for 98 percent of business owners who report their profits as personal income, as businesses with annual gross receipts of less than $2 million would be eligible. Taken as a whole, the governor’s plan is a revenue loser despite several proposed regressive tax increases. The governor proposes increasing the state sales tax, increasing the state’s cigarette tax, increasing the tax on business activity, broadening the sales tax base and increasing the severance tax. Republicans and Democrats in the legislature are both likely to oppose the governor’s proposal as a tax shift, though for different reasons: Republicans want to reduce overall revenue, while Democrats oppose the governor’s plan on fairness grounds.

    The budget proposed by the Texas Senate includes over $4 billion in tax cuts, with $3 billion going to school property tax relief and the other $1 billion going to tax breaks for businesses via a cut in the franchise tax. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and is the rare example of a powerful lieutenant governor, used the Senate’s proposal to make good on his campaign pledges to cut taxes. Opponents of the Senate plan point out that, with oil prices declining, the state’s current surplus should be invested in needed services or saved for rainier days. "Just because this session they have a $7.5 billion cash balance and a projected increase in revenue doesn't mean that two years from now they won't be scraping for money just to keep up the current level of services," argued Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. State lawmakers have still not fully restored $5.4 billion in education spending cuts enacted in 2011, and more than 600 school districts have sued the state over inadequate funding.

     

    States Starting Session This Week:
    Nevada
    Oklahoma
    Oregon

    State of the State Addresses This Week:
    Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (read here)
    Maine Gov. Paul LePage (Tuesday)
    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (Tuesday)
    Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (Wednesday)

    Governor’s Budgets Released This Week:
    Ohio Gov. John Kasich (Monday)
    Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (Monday)

     

     


    Tax Policy and the Race for the Governor's Mansion: Texas Edition


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    Voters in 36 states will be choosing governors this November. Over the next several months, the Tax Justice Blog will be highlighting 2014 gubernatorial races where taxes are proving to be a key issue. Today’s post is about the race for Governor in Texas.

    texas.jpgTexans will choose a new governor this November. State Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) will face state Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth). So far, taxes have played a minor role in the campaign, taking a back seat to social issues such as abortion, education funding, and veterans.

    Abbott is widely seen as Perry’s heir apparent, and promises to maintain Texas’s low-tax, low-service model of government. In July, Abbott proposed an exemption from the business franchise tax and business registration fees for veteran-owned companies in their first five years of operation. The proposal is designed to encourage veteran entrepreneurship. Abbott also proposed an optional commercial property tax cut – to be applied by local jurisdictions – for businesses that hire veterans, where the business owner would receive a $15,000 reduction in the assessed taxable value of their property for every veteran hired.

    At a recent campaign event, Abbott raised the idea of repealing the business franchise tax altogether, saying “Texas is known as having no income tax. Think how many more jobs we could attract to Texas if we also had no business franchise tax.” Texas lawmakers created the franchise tax in 2006 to help pay for a cut in property taxes, though there have been many efforts to reform or kill it since. Currently, the tax exempts all businesses with less than $1 million in revenue each year, and accounted for 4.8 percent of state revenues in 2013.

    Davis has insisted that new taxes are not needed, and that the state can better spend the money it already collects; she says she would ask the state legislature to close some of the over $43 billion in tax loopholes to fund needed improvements in education and other areas. In an interview with the Texas Tribune last year, she vowed to veto any increase in sales or property taxes; Texas is one of nine states that does not levy a personal income tax. 

    Texas voters will also decide on a proposed constitutional amendment this Fall that could change the way the state funds its roads. Proposition 1 would amend the state constitution to divert 37.5 percent of the severance tax on gas and oil extraction to the State Highway Fund. The move would add $1.7 billion in road funding in the first year alone. Both Davis and Abbott are on record as supporting the proposition. A better solution would be raising the state gas tax, something Texas has not done in over 22 years

    One statewide race where taxes have played a bigger role is the campaign for state comptroller, where a proposal to replace property taxes with sales taxes has drawn attention. State Senator Glenn Hegar (R) supports the proposal, while businessman Mike Collier has slammed the idea as a massive, regressive tax increase. If the proposal is passed, poor school districts may end up looking wealthier on paper because of their stronger sales tax bases, affecting the distribution of state and local education funding. 


    States Can Make Tax Systems Fairer By Expanding or Enacting EITC


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    On the heels of state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) expansions in Iowa, Maryland, and Minnesota and heated debates in Illinois and Ohio about their own credit expansions,  the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a new report today, Improving Tax Fairness with a State Earned Income Tax Credit, which shows that expanding or enacting a refundable state EITC is one of the most effective and targeted ways for states to improve tax fairness.

    It comes as no surprise to working families that most state’s tax systems are fundamentally unfair.  In fact, most low- and middle-income workers pay more of their income in state and local taxes than the highest income earners. Across the country, the lowest 20 percent of taxpayers pay an average effective state and local tax rate of 11.1 percent, nearly double the 5.6 percent tax rate paid by the top 1 percent of taxpayers.  But taxpayers don’t have to accept this fundamental unfairness and should look to the EITC.

    Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia already have some version of a state EITC. Most state EITCs are based on some percentage of the federal EITC. The federal EITC was introduced in 1975 and provides targeted tax reductions to low-income workers to reward work and boost income. By all accounts, the federal EITC has been wildly successful, increasing workforce participation and helping 6.5 million Americans escape poverty in 2012, including 3.3 million children.

    As discussed in the ITEP report, state lawmakers can take immediate steps to address the inherent unfairness of their tax code by introducing or expanding a refundable state EITC. For states without an EITC the first step should be to enact this important credit. The report recommends that if states currently have a non-refundable EITC, they should work to pass legislation to make the EITC refundable so that the EITC can work to offset all taxes paid by low income families. Advocates and lawmakers in states with EITCs should look to this report to understand how increasing the current percentage of their credit could help more families.

    While it does cost revenue to expand or create a state EITC, such revenue could be raised by repealing tax breaks that benefit the wealthy which in turn would also improve the fairness of state tax systems.

    Read the full report

    Results from Governor Brownback’s “real live experiment” (the passage of two rounds of extreme tax cuts under the guise of stimulating the economy) are trickling in and they aren’t good.  The Kansas City Star is reporting that the state’s “plummeting revenues” and increased need are some of the reasons why the state’s bond rating is now down from the firm’s second highest rating of Aa1 to Aa2.

    Regrettably, Florida lawmakers just approved those “super-sized” sales sales tax holidays we told you about a few weeks ago. Read why sales tax holidays are a bad deal for both consumers and the Sunshine State in the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s (ITEP) policy brief.

    We offer our congratulations to former President George H.W. Bush on being awarded the Profile in Courage Award for raising taxes in 1990 despite his “Read my lips: no new taxes” pledge.  John Sununu, the President’s chief of staff, said, “George Bush did the right thing for the country, and it’s nice to see people are beginning to appreciate it.”

    Calls for the Texas legislature to remedy a state tax law that has allowed commercial properties to be assessed at an (often large) discount are still being heard, loud and clear. An opinion piece in the Dallas News calls the lower property tax bills that many businesses have been receiving “unfair,” and cites examples of some of the state’s largest commercial buildings being assessed at a 35-40% discount.

     


    Property Tax Loans Another Frontier for Predatory Lenders


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    Unscrupulous lenders in Texas are takingadvantage of homeowners struggling to pay their property taxes--a practice Texas lawmakers could halt by providing relief to homeowners once property taxes reach a certain percentage of income.

    This form of predatory lending has nothing to do with more common payday advances, tax refund anticipation loans, or auto title loans. Instead, property tax lenders pay off homeowners' delinquent taxes and allow them to repay the loan over a set period. These lenders take advantage of consumers much in the same way as other predatory companies by offering loans at usurious rates and entangling customers in a web of debt that most can ill afford.

    The industry, not surprisingly, claims it provides a service to homeowners facing financial pressure from rising property taxes, but as Robert Doggett, an attorney for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, explained, these borrowers are “jump[ing] from a frying pan into a fire.” Property tax loans, which totaled $224 million in 2011, give the lender first priority at recouping its money at foreclosure.

    “Low” Taxes Cost

    Texas prides itself on being a low-tax state. But in truth its regressive tax structurerequires fairly high tax payments from poorer residents. The poorest 20 percent of Texans pay more of their income in taxes than the rest of the state’s population, and they pay more than low-income residents in all but five states. This is in part due to high sales and property taxes.

    Just as payday loans are not the solution to persistent poverty and the plethora of low-wage jobs, property-tax loans are not a solution for homeowners struggling to pay property taxes.

    Property-tax lenders are a business foremost concerned with profitability. They don’t have consumers’ best interest in mind. While a local government may be willing to put a resident on an installment plan to prevent foreclosure -- and all the negativeeconomic and social costs that come with it -- private property tax lenders are all too happy to scare consumers into predatory loans and push homes into foreclosure.

    State authorities are trying to regulate the industry, and state lawmakers have recently passed legislation that would give homeowners better options for paying off delinquent property taxes. But one simple way to prevent the root cause of the problem has been overlooked: a property tax circuit breaker.

    Policy Solution

    Property tax circuit breakers provide a tax credit to homeowners (or, in some cases, renters) once property taxes reach a certain percentage of their income. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have some form of the credit in their tax code, but not Texas. In fact, Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed legislation in 2009 that would have required the state comptroller merely to study the feasibility of a circuit breaker. Circuit breakers protect low- and moderate-income taxpayers from unaffordable property tax increases, which helps avoid tax delinquency and the subsequent need for property tax loans. Texas would be wise to consider such a policy.

     


    State News Quick Hits: Maine Cracks Down on Tax Havens and More


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    Maine legislators are poised to crack down on corporations that use foreign tax havens to hide income from state tax authorities. The legislation, which has now been passed by both the House and Senate but still faces further votes, requires multinationals doing business in Maine to declare income otherwise attributed to more than thirty countries known to be popular tax havens (like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, not to mention the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which turns out to be an island off the coast of France). Analysts estimate that such a change would increase state revenue by $10 million over the next two years. And U.S. PIRG, among other public interest organizations, has been beating the drum for this sensible reform, which we discussed in our recent report: 90 Reasons We Need State Corporate Tax Reform. Oregon and Montana already have similar laws on their books.

    Thanks to a refundable tax credit included in New York’s budget this year, theater companies who launch their productions in upstate New York will enjoy having taxpayers foot the bill for 25 percent of the cost of “their so-called tech periods, the weeks long process in which a production gathers the costumes, tests the sets and choreography and establishes the lighting and musical cues.” Despite the credit’s extreme generosity, we’re still not sure it would have been enough to save Spider-Man.

    Tax swap proposals that would trade income rate reductions for sales tax increases have been all the rage in conservative states in recent years. But what if your state doesn’t even have an income tax to begin with? Not wanting to be left out of the tax swap craze, Republican candidate for Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has a solution: completely replace property taxes with an increased sales tax. Texas already has a horribly regressive state tax system (PDF), but eliminating the property tax -- which is at least close to proportional in its distribution across income groups -- would only make matters worse. And while it is “easy to hate” the property tax, without it Texas would need to drastically cut services or more than double the sales tax. Such a trade could also mean less autonomy for localities (PDF) and a revamped school financing system.

    Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity are continuing to push for eliminating income taxes on investors in Tennessee, and there’s a chance they may succeed.  The state’s tax-writing committees will be voting this week on whether or not to gradually repeal Tennessee’s “Hall Tax” on dividends, interest, and some capital gains.  But repeal would be steeply regressive, as our partners at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) showed in a report cited by The Tennessean.  And on top of that, a spokesman for Governor Bill Haslam explains that “we’re in the middle of dealing with difficult budget realities … and this legislation would automatically put the issue above other priorities when revenues come back.”


    Tax Policy Roundup for the 2013 Election


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    Despite being an off-year election, there were a few significant tax policy issues at stake in the elections held this week in Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and New York City.

    Ballot Measures

    Colorado voters rejected Amendment 66, which would have raised $950 million in new tax revenues for education each year by converting the state’s flat rate income tax into a more progressive, graduated rate tax.

    Colorado voters approved Proposition AA, imposing a 25 percent sales and excise tax rate on recreational marijuana, which voters legalized one year ago.  This 25 percent tax will be stacked on top of the 2.9 percent statewide sales tax and any local sales taxes (which average 3.2 percent).

    Texas voters approved three very narrowly tailored tax breaks.  Those breaks will benefit disabled veterans, surviving spouses of military members, and manufacturers of aircraft parts.

    While residents of Minnesota and Ohio didn’t vote on any statewide ballot measures this week, most of the local school tax levies on the ballot in those two states were approved by voters.

    Major Candidates with Tax Plans

    New Jersey residents voted to keep Governor Chris Christie in the governor’s mansion, rather than replace him with Democrat Barbara Buono.  Buono’s tax platform included raising taxes on incomes over $1 million and reversing the cut in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that Christie signed in 2010.  Christie, by contrast, has said he wants to cut income taxes across the board.

    Virginia voters chose Democrat Terry McAuliffe over Republican Ken Cuccinelli to be their state’s next governor.  Both candidates ran on a platform of reducing or eliminating local business taxes, though neither specified how to offset the resulting revenue loss.  Cuccinelli also said that, if elected, he would have pushed for regressive personal and corporate income tax cuts, as well as a spending cap similar to Colorado’s TABOR law.

    New York City residents elected Democrat Bill de Blasio over Republican Joe Lhota in the city’s mayoral race.  De Blasio wants to expand pre-K education in the city by raising taxes on incomes over $500,000, but it’s not clear whether Governor Cuomo—whose approval would be needed for the tax increase—will support such a change.


    State News Quick Hits: Andrew Cuomo Loves Tax Cuts, So Does ADM, and More


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    States are just beginning to come to terms with the impact that the shutdown of the federal government will have on state residents. This informative blog post from the Wisconsin Budget Project tells us what programs folks should and shouldn’t be worried about on the state level and links to several resources from The Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP) that readers might find helpful.

    Another day...another company asking for enormous state corporate tax breaks. This time Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) is asking Illinois lawmakers for $20 million in tax breaks to keep their headquarters in Decatur. During a House Revenue and Finance Committee hearing, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie characterized testimony of an ADM executive as “essentially blackmailing the state ... saying if you don’t go through this hoop for us, we may think about going somewhere else.”  (H/T POLITICO's Morning Tax.)

    The Tax Foundation and the National Taxpayers Union are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case that could allow Overstock.com -- and other online vendors like Amazon.com -- to shirk  their responsibility for collecting state and local sales taxes. While a previous Supreme Court precedent bars states from requiring sales tax collection by vendors who have no “physical presence” in the state (a ban which Congress is considering lifting via the Marketplace Fairness Act, which passed the Senate by a rare bipartisan vote in May), some states have chipped away at e-tax-evasion by interpreting “physical presence” more broadly than others. In New York, for example, Overstock.com has agreements with in-state affiliates to pay for customer referrals, thus requiring the company to collect sales taxes from its New York customers under a 2008 state law that has been upheld by the New York Court of Appeals. While a national solution that levels the playing field between all online vendors and the brick-and-mortar stores who have always collected sales tax is preferable, states should be free in the meantime to require sales tax collection from online retailers who have legitimate ties to their local economies. Hopefully the Supreme Court agrees.

    Having already made some backwards moves on the tax policy front, New York Governor Cuomo now appears to be abandoning his commitment to study and improve the state’s tax structure. In December, he announced the New York State Tax Reform and Fairness Commission. The Commission was “charged with addressing long term changes to the state tax system and helping create economic growth.” But instead of going forward with this thorough examination, the Governor has just appointed former Governor George Pataki and Controller Carl McCall to head a task force whose sole objective is to find a way to cut between $2 and $3 billion in taxes next year, in just one year! Maybe the junior Cuomo really does plan on running for President -- of Texas.

     


    States Praised as Low-Tax That Are High-Tax for Poorest Families


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    Annual state and local finance data from the Census Bureau are often used to rank states as “low” or “high” tax states based on state taxes collected as a share of personal income. But focusing on a state’s overall tax revenues overlooks the fact that taxpayers experience tax systems very differently.  In particular, the poorest 20 percent of taxpayers pay a greater share of their income in state and local taxes than any other income group in all but nine states.  And, in every state, low-income taxpayers pay more as a share of income than the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers.

    Our partner organization, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) took a closer look at the Census data and matched it up with data from their signature Who Pays report which shows the effective state and local tax rates taxpayers pay across the income distribution in all 50 states.  ITEP found that in six states— Arizona, Florida, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington —  there is an especially pronounced mismatch between the Census data and how these supposedly low tax states treat people living at or below the poverty line. 

    See ITEP's companion report, State Tax Codes As Poverty Fighting Tools.

    The major reason for the mismatch is that these six states have largely unbalanced tax structures.  Florida, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Washington rely heavily on regressive sales and excise taxes because they do not levy a broad-based personal income tax.  Since lower-income families must spend more of what they earn just to get by, sales and excise taxes affect this group far more than higher-income taxpayers.  Arizona has a personal income tax, but like the no-income tax states, the Grand Canyon state relies most heavily on sales and excise taxes.

    To learn more about how low tax states overall can be high tax states for families living in poverty, read the state briefs described below:

    Arizona has the 35th highest taxes overall (9.8% of income), but the 5th highest taxes on the poorest 20 percent of residents (12.9% of income).  The top 1 percent richest Arizona residents pay only 4.7% of their incomes in state and local taxes.

    Florida has the 45th highest taxes overall (8.8% of income), but the 3rd highest taxes on the poorest 20 percent of residents (13.2% of income).  The top 1 percent richest Florida residents pay only 2.3% of their incomes in state and local taxes.

    South Dakota has the 50th highest taxes overall (7.9% of income- making it the “lowest” tax state), but the 11th highest taxes on the poorest 20 percent of residents (11.6% of income).  The top 1 percent richest South Dakota residents pay only 2.1% of their incomes in state and local taxes.

    Tennessee has the 49th highest taxes overall (8.3% of income), but the 14th highest taxes on the poorest 20 percent of residents (11.2% of income).  The top 1 percent richest Tennessee residents pay only 2.8% of their incomes in state and local taxes.

    Texas has the 40th highest taxes overall (9.1% of income), but the 6th highest taxes on the poorest 20 percent of residents (12.6% of income).  The top 1 percent richest Texas residents pay only 3.2% of their incomes in state and local taxes.

    Washington has the 36th highest taxes overall (9.7% of income), but the 1st highest taxes on the poorest 20 percent of residents (16.9% of income).  The top 1 percent richest Washington residents pay only 2.8% of their incomes in state and local taxes.


    State News Quick Hits: Texas, New York and Hollywood


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    Last week, the Texas Legislature voted on a transportation funding bill that would raise an estimated $1.2 billion annually to help pay for highway improvements. Technically, it doesn’t raise new revenues but rather diverts half of oil and gas severance tax revenues from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to the highway department. Contingent on voter approval and scheduled for the November 2014 ballot, this bill hardly meets the $4 billion annual shortfall the highway department currently faces. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has shown that an equitable and sustainable way to pay for transportation is to modernize the state gas tax by increasing rates to meet current demand and then peg them to rise with transportation construction costs.

    Between 2003 and 2012 the average Hollywood movie earned a 452 (!) percent return on investment. Still, 40-some states offer generous film tax credits in a misguided effort to invite productions. While we have shown these subsidies are mostly false promises, last week the Los Angeles Times illustrated another way in which they are wasteful – this time with the All-American Jackie Robinson story “42.” Collecting millions of dollars in tax subsidies from several states including Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, “42’s” producers proudly touted their patriotism and dedication to promoting the communities in which they filmed… only to turn around and conduct a significant component of their post-production work abroad, including recording the musical score in London. While some conclude this means the tax credit should be expanded to include post-production, all that would do is hasten the race-to-the bottom of tax incentives.

    Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an unusual plan that would allow the state to suspend the driver’s license of about 16,000 taxpayers who owe more than $10,000 in state taxes. While overdue tax bills amount to $1.1 billion, the program is expected to bring in just $26 million in uncollected income taxes this fiscal year and $6 million in following years. Delinquent taxpayers are defined as individuals who have unpaid income taxes and businesses with unpaid sales tax bills.

     

     

     


    Unwilling to Raise Taxes, Texas Turns to Rainy Day Fund to Pay for Roads


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    Last year, Texas lawmakers refused to use the state’s emergency “rainy day” fund to save education from deep spending cuts.  But now that the state’s transportation system is facing the budget axe, those same lawmakers appear to have changed their tune.  By the end of this week, the legislature is expected to approve a resolution asking voters to permanently divert some of the state’s rainy day funds to supplement the state’s woefully inadequate transportation revenues.

    Texas has been playing a dizzying fiscal shell game, moving money back and forth between education and transportation for years, all because its regressive tax system simply brings in too few revenues to cover services its growing population needs (especially schools). The reason for Texas’ current transportation funding deficit, however, has less to do with this shell game than it does with its transportation funding sources.

    Like most states, Texas relies heavily on a “fixed-rate” gasoline tax whose revenues fall further behind each year as infrastructure costs grow and vehicles become more fuel-efficient.  When we analyzed Texas’ gas and diesel taxes in 2011, we found the state could raise more than $2.1 billion in revenue per year just by updating the tax rates to catch up with the last two decades of inflation in construction costs.

    This latest scheme to find money for transportation will raise less than half that much ($800 million), though, and it will do so by first transferring money away from the rainy day fund into the education fund, and then taking it from education to pay for roads.  Given that Texas needs at least $4 billion in additional revenue just to maintain its current transportation network, this proposal can hardly be considered a real “solution.”

    Just as importantly, this shuffling of revenues does nothing to improve the unsustainable trajectory of Texas’ transportation finances.  The above chart shows that Texas’ gas tax rate has been in constant decline, as a result of inflation, since it was last raised in 1991.  In fact, adjusted for inflation, Texas’ gas tax rate is at its lowest point since 1983—a full thirty years ago.


    Congress Members' Home States Have Fiscal Stake in Immigration Reform


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    We still don’t know what the U.S. House of Representatives is going to do about immigration reform. The Senate passed a bill with a solid majority, and that legislation enjoys support from the Chamber of Commerce and the labor movement, from George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  What we do know, though, is that members of the House leadership had a nice long talk about it this week because they know the pressure is on them to do something. 

    Also this week, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) released a study with a bland title, Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions, that held some interesting numbers. What it shows is that once unauthorized immigrants are legalized and participating fully in the tax system, state tax revenues will go up, just as the CBO showed they would at the federal level. In fact, the report shows that state tax payments from this population are already at $10.6 billion a year, and that will rise by $2 billion under reform. The report (with a clickable map on the landing page!) shows how those tax dollars are distributed state by state.

    According to reports, the following Representatives are now the key players on whatever immigration bill comes from the House. So, in hopes of informing the debate, we are sharing the total amount of estimated annual revenue each of their respective states would get in the form of tax payments from legalized immigrants following reform.

    Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida: $747 million a year, up $41 million
    Rep. Raul Labrador, Idaho: $32 million a year, up $5.5 million
    Rep. John Boehner, Ohio:  $95 million, up $22 million
    Reps Michael McCaul, John Carter and Sam Johnson, Texas: $1.7 billion, up $92 million
    Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah: $133 million, up $31 million
    Reps Eric Cantor and Bob Goodlatte, Virginia: $260 million, up $77 million
    Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin: $131 million, up $33 million

    Idaho Senate leadership took a difficult stand on a high-profile issue in favor of good tax policy by refusing to give the Girl Scouts a special tax break on their famous cookies. Their counterparts in the Idaho House, however, weren’t nearly as principled, bowing to the pressure of some of the nation’s youngest tax policy lobbyists and voting 59-11 in favor of the special break. The Girl Scouts plan to return to the statehouse next year in hopes of convincing the Senate to support the new tax subsidy, which is like any other (PDF) subsidy.

    Nevada lawmakers are debating whether they should join Maryland and Wyoming as the third state to raise its gasoline tax this year.  The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) provides some important context with a new chart showing that even if the state’s gas tax were raised by 20 cents over the next 10 years (as the Senate is considering), the rate would still be below its historical average in value.

    Texas business owners are pushing state lawmakers to repeal the state’s largest business tax, trotting out familiar arguments about the economic benefits of tax cuts. Fortunately, as the Austin American Statesman reports, “a $1.2 billion annual price tag ... appears to have doomed the effort.”

    Massachusetts House lawmakers set up a showdown with Governor Patrick over transportation funding in the Bay State with the passage of their less ambitious revenue package this week. Governor Patrick’s budget includes almost $2 billion in new revenues to boost transportation and education spending raised primarily through increasing the personal income tax. The Governor’s plan also includes a sharp reduction in the state’s sales tax. The House package, by contrast, raises just over $500 million through increases in fuel and cigarette taxes as well as a few business tax changes. Governor Patrick threatened to veto any tax package from the House or Senate that does not raise significant revenue for both transportation projects and education.

    (Photo courtesy Bitterroot Star)

    Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s proposal to repeal the state’s top personal income tax bracket is “gaining traction,” according to The Oklahoman.  The plan has already passed the House, and has the support of the state Chamber of Commerce. But the Oklahoma Policy Institute explains that this cut is stacked in favor of high-income residents: “the bottom 60 percent of Oklahomans would receive just 9 percent of the benefit from this tax cut, while the top 5 percent would receive 42 percent of the benefit.”  

    Texas and Washington State are continuing to search for ways to make it easier to identify and repeal tax breaks that aren’t worth their cost.  The Texas Austin American-Statesman reports on a bill that “would put the tax code under the microscope, examining tax breaks in a six-year cycle similar to the Sunset process that evaluates whether state agencies are performing as intended.”  And the Washington Budget and Policy Center explains in a blog post how “all three branches of state government have taken, or are poised to take, actions that could greatly enhance transparency over the hundreds of special tax breaks on the books in Washington state.”

    This Toledo Blade editorial gets it right about Ohio Governor Kasich’s plan to broaden the sales tax base to include more services: “There is merit, in theory, to expanding the sales tax to include more services. But the experience in states such as Florida — which broadened its tax base, then abandoned the effort as unworkable — suggests it should be done slowly and for the right reasons.” Broadening the sales tax base is good policy, but the Kasich plan is bad for Ohioans because overall the plan (according to an Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy analysis) increases taxes on those who can least afford it while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

    ITEP is waiting for full details of Louisiana Governor BobbyJindal’s tax swap plan, but already clergy and ministers in the state are weighing in against the Governor’s plan to eliminate state income taxes and replace the revenue with a broader sales tax base and a higher rate. In this commentary, the Right Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, (bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana), worries: “It is difficult to see how increased sales taxes will pass the test of fairness that we would all insist upon. Our tax system has lots of room for improvement. But relying on increased sales tax will not give us the fair system we need. Raising sales taxes will increase the burden on those who can least afford it.”


    New from ITEP: Laffer's Latest Job Growth Factoid is All Rhetoric


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    A new talking point from tax cut snake oil salesman Arthur Laffer is making the rounds. It’s been seen in the pages of The Wall Street Journal and cited by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Iowa House Majority Whip Chris Hagenow, and Tim Barfield, Governor Jindal’s point man for income tax elimination in Louisiana.   

    As the Journal put it: A new analysis by economist Art Laffer for the American Legislative Exchange Council finds that, from 2002 to 2012, 62% of the three million net new jobs in America were created in the nine states without an income tax, though these states account for only about 20% of the national population.

    But as they’ve done with many of Laffer’s previous analyses, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) explains why this talking point is all rhetoric and no substance. Laffer’s research is like a house of cards, depending on data selected and placed precisely to help reach the conclusion he wanted, as ITEP details:

    1) Most of the states without income taxes contributed just one percent or less to the nation’s job growth over the period Laffer examines.  Laffer’s claim has nothing to do with the “nine states without an income tax,” and everything to do with one of those states: Texas.

    2) Texas’ economy differs from that of other states in many significant ways, and comparing its job growth to the rest of the country provides no insight into the economic impact of its tax policies.  This is particularly true of the time period Laffer examines, since it includes the housing crisis that Texas largely avoided for reasons unrelated to tax policy.

    3) Looking beyond the specific Recession-dominated time period chosen by Laffer, Texas’ job growth has otherwise generally been in line with its rate of population growth.

    The four-page report with graphs and footnotes is here.

     

     


    Anti-Tax Credo Keeps Texas Kids In Underfunded Schools


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    Earlier this week, a district court in Texas ruled for a second time that the state’s system of paying for schools is unconstitutional, both because it fails to provide enough revenue to deliver an adequate education for Texas children and because it creates huge inequities in the quality of education enjoyed by richer versus poorer districts. The lawsuit prompting this decision was brought by hundreds of school districts in the wake of a 2011 decision by the state legislature to dramatically cut state aid to local schools. The state of Texas is expected to appeal, in which case it goes to the Texas Supreme Court.

    As the Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) notes (PDF), the 2011 spending cuts came after a misguided decision by the 2006 legislature to replace local property tax revenue with revenues from cigarette taxes (of all things) and a new, untested approach to taxing business income. CPPP finds that the tax hikes in that 2006 “tax swap” have paid for only about a third of the lost property tax revenue, leaving a gaping $10 billion hole in the state’s 2011 budget. This probably also helps account for what the 600 school districts in the lawsuit say is a $43,000 gap between rich and poor classrooms, too.

    The choice to pay for the growing cost of education using a flat-lining tax such as the cigarette tax (whose returns are famously diminishing, PDF) reflects the limited options available in a state that refuses to levy a tax on personal income.

    Texas is one of only a handful of states with no income tax, and its current Governor has made a big show of his intention to keep it that way. At a time when a number of states’ elected officials are expressing a desire to restructure their tax systems to more closely resemble the Texas tax system (usually by simply repealing their personal income tax), this week’s court decision is a harsh reminder that the short term politics of tax cuts has long term consequences for citizens. Texas, for example, has abysmal numbers on education and its poverty rate continues to rise.

    So when someone like Kansas Governor Sam Brownback crows “Look out Texas. Here comes Kansas!” it might be he didn’t read the brochure before planning this particular trip. It’s not the first time he – like other political leaders – has talked up the Texas tax structure.  But given the Lone Star State’s track record, and the budget havoc tax cuts are causing in Kansas, all lawmakers should think twice before embarking on the no-income-tax path.

    Photo courtesy Texas Tribune.

    Our partner organization, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) is continuing to generate a lot of publicity in the states for its recent Who Pays? report examining the fairness (or lack thereof) of every state’s tax system.  The Tennessean explains, for example, that: “Tennessee is often championed as a low-tax state. But for struggling families, it might not be among the fairest.”

    In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center explained ITEP’s report to CBS Philly by saying that: “We are in a club we don’t want to be in — one of the ‘Terrible Ten States’ that has the most regressive tax systems. And really, we got here for a very important reason: we have a flat income tax that fails to offset the more regressive taxes: sales and property taxes.”

    And in Wyoming, the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) is using ITEP’s new Who Pays? data to make the case for enacting a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  ESPC explains that the credit could make a long-overdue increase in the state’s gasoline tax much fairer by mitigating its impact on low-income families.

    We recently profiled the four states looking most seriously at “tax swaps” that would offset big income tax cuts with a regressive sales tax hike -- Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, and North Carolina.  New Mexico can now be added to that list.  Two lawmakers there say they would like to expand the sales tax to apply to "virtually everything that happens" in the state and then repeal the personal and corporate income taxes.  But economists in New Mexico say that the plan is “pretty much guaranteed to be regressive and shift the tax burden.”

    Bipartisan legislation in Texas would remedy the state’s “astounding deficit of knowledge when it comes to tax expenditures” -- or special tax breaks (PDF). The report proposes a number of smart reforms recommended by ITEP.  Those reforms include rigorous reviews aimed at determining whether tax breaks have fulfilled their goals, and “sunset provisions” designed to force a vote on special tax breaks that would otherwise continue on autopilot for years or decades on end.

     


    Will Conservative Governors Reject the Deal of a Lifetime?


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    According to one of the latest counts, officials in 30 state governments have indicated that their state plans to opt out of the Medicaid expansion that was enacted as part of health care reform, or are at least leaning in that direction. The reason many conservative state officials, like Florida Governor Rick Scott, cite for opting out (putting aside general criticism of the evils of “Obamacare”) is that participating would “strain state budgets.”

    In reality, the Medicaid expansion is the deal of a lifetime for state governments. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the federal government will take on nearly 93 percent of the costs of the Medicaid expansion over its first nine years. On average, that means that states will receive over 9 additional Medicaid dollars for every 1 they spend themselves.

    While this may already sound like a great deal, many states may end up actually saving money by embracing the Medicaid expansion. An in-depth study by state officials in Arkansas found that it would actually cost the state $3.4 million more to not participate in the Medicaid expansion. Similarly, a study by the Urban Institute found that health care reform overall will save state budgets between $92-129 billion dollars from 2014-2019.

    In some cases, the failure of the state government to accept the Medicaid expansion may also have the side effect of putting even more strain on local budgets. Last year in Texas, for example, the decision by the Republican Governor Rick Perry and state legislators to cut Medicaid forced the El Paso County Hospital District to raise property taxes to make up for the increasing costs from nearly uninsured patients. This dynamic explains why many local officials in Texas support the Medicaid expansion, even as Governor Perry is one of its most outspoken critics.  

    While many conservative governors are claiming that the Medicaid expansion would cost too much, they are at the same time continuing budget-busting tax breaks for the wealthy. Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad for instance has said that the Medicaid expansion would be “unaffordable” and “unsustainable”, even though its estimated cost would be less than 4 percent of the revenue that could be raised by ending the Iowa’s bizarre and regressive deduction for federal income tax payments.

    Considering the generous deal that governors are being offered, many commentators believe that most if not all the states will ultimately take the deal, despite the recent election year grandstanding. The CBO is not so sure. On Tuesday, CBO released its latest cost projections of health care reform, which predicts that many states will choose to opt out of the Medicaid expansion resulting in 3 million fewer people insured.

    Photo of Gov. Terry Branstad via Iowa Politics Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

    • Kansas Governor Brownback’s insistence on steep tax cuts has met more resistance.  A group called Traditional Republicans for Common Sense has come out against  even a watered down version of Brownback’s vision in the legislature. One of the group’s members (a former chair of the state’s GOP) said, “Now is not the time for more government intervention. Topeka needs to stay out of the way and make sure proven economic development tools – like good schools and safe roads – remain strong so that the private sector can thrive.” 
    • Stateline writes about the problems with “the spending that isn’t counted” – meaning special breaks that lawmakers have buried in state tax codes.  The article highlights efforts in Oregon and Vermont to develop more rational budget processes where tax breaks can’t simply fly under the radar year after year.  CTJ’s recommendations for reform are in this report.
    • In this thoughtful column, South Carolina Senator Phil Leventis writes, "I have been guided by the principle that government should invest in meeting the needs and aspirations of its citizens. This principle has been undermined by an ideology claiming that government is the cause of our problems and, accordingly, must be starved.” He praises tax study commissions and says being “business friendly” cannot be the only measure of state policy.
    • An op-ed from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC) calls on lawmakers to address the issue of rampant corporate tax avoidance, and to do so responsibly. It raises concerns that legislation currently under consideration to close corporate loopholes could be a “cure worse than the disease.”  The legislation takes some good steps but is paired with business tax cuts that could cost as much as $1 billion over the next several years.  PBPC argues for a stronger and more effective approach to making corporations pay their fair share such as combined reporting, which makes it harder for companies to move profits around among subsidiaries in different states.
    • Just four days after Amazon agreed to begin collecting sales taxes in Nevada in 2014, the company announced a similar agreement with Texas that will take effect much sooner – on July 1st.  As The Wall Street Journal reports, “With the deal, the Seattle-based company is on track to collect sales taxes in 12 states, which make up about 40% of the U.S. population, by 2016.”

    Picture from Flickr Creative Commons.


    Rick Perry Pulls a Grover With No-Tax Pledge


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    Rick Perry’s Texas has some of the lowest taxes in the nation and it trails the national average in important economic indicators.  But that’s not stopping Governor Perry from traveling the state promoting his new Texas Budget Compact, the center of which is an opposition to any new taxes or tax increases, which, he argues, will make the state stronger.  Politically, the compact is Perry’s effort to set the terms of election year debates, influence the next legislative session (eight months from now!) and assert his role as the Lone Star State’s conservative-in-chief.  In addition to opposing any new taxes, the Compact calls for: a Constitutional limit on spending tied to the growth of population and inflation; more program and agencies cuts; using the state’s Rainy Day Fund only for emergency purposes; making a temporary small business tax exemption permanent; and “truth in budgeting.”

    Borrowing a page from anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist’s playbook, Perry said on Monday, “Each and every member of the Legislature or anyone aspiring to become a member of the Legislature should sign on.”  And right on the Governor’s website, individuals and lawmakers can sign on to the Compact: Yes, I stand with Governor Perry and I support his Texas Budget Compact. I want my state representatives in the Texas Legislature to sign on to Governor Perry's Texas Budget Compact.

    Asked specifically, however, whether or not he would be keeping track of who has signed on or not, Perry responded, “I’m not going to have a pledge for anybody to sign. People are either going to be for them or they’re not. There’s not a lot of gray area.” 

    Regardless of Perry’s intentions, the Compact smacks of the kind of binding pledge that ties lawmakers’ hands and restricts their ability to do the jobs they were elected to do.  (Happily, more and more lawmakers who took Norquist’s pledge are abandoning it on these very grounds.)

    But worse than distorting the political process, the principles Perry promotes in his Compact could wreak havoc on Texas if fully embraced. 

    As Texas State Rep. Mike Villarreal said in a statement released in response to the Compact:

    "Governor Perry loves to talk about his principles in the abstract, but he doesn't want to discuss the disabled kids who lose health services when he won't close corporate tax loopholes, or the students crowded into full classrooms when he won't touch the Rainy Day Fund. After the deep and unnecessary education cuts that Governor Perry championed, it's no surprise that his Compact doesn't say a word about educating schoolchildren.

    "The Governor doesn't seem to understand that we must educate our children if we are going to build our economy and create jobs."

    News is that Rick Perry wants to run for president again in 2016. His hard line on taxes would certainly help him with his party’s base, even as it harms the state that already elected him.

    Photo of Rick Perry via Gage Skidmore Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0


    Quick Hits in State News: Tax Myths Take Hits in OK and TX


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    • A letter in the Tulsa World highlights the work done by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) to expose the flaws in Arthur Laffer’s recent “research” on the economic benefits of income tax repeal.  The letter also reports on similar critiques of Laffer’s work that were made by a number of prominent economists speaking at an event hosted by the Oklahoma Policy Institute.  Our favorite?  Ken Olson at Oklahoma State University explains that Laffer’s work "does not constitute economic analysis in any real sense. As a consequence, its suggestions should be ignored as economics."
    • Opponents of progressive taxation often point to Texas as evidence that shunning the personal income tax can lead to economic growth.  But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) explains that Texas’ success is due to factors largely outside the control of state lawmakers, like natural resources, immigration, trade, and the availability of plenty of land for development.  It’s a point that should be obvious, but it’s also one that we’ve found ourselves having to remind people of quite frequently as of late

    State Tax Battles with Amazon.com Continue to Make Headlines


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    Sales tax laws would be essentially meaningless if retailers were not required to collect the tax every time a purchase is made.  The opportunities for customers to evade the sales tax (either on accident, or on purpose) would be overwhelming.  Every state with a sales tax knows this — and as a result, the vast majority of retailers are legally required to collect and remit sales taxes.

    Amazon.com and many other online retailers, however, are the major exception to this broad rule.  A 1992 Supreme Court case carved out a special exemption for any “remote sellers” that don’t have a “physical presence” in a state — like a store or warehouse.  The ruling has allowed the Internet to become an open highway for tax evasion. While customers shopping online owe the same sales tax they would if they shopped in a store, very few actually take the time and effort necessary to pay that tax.

    This week, four states (California, Louisiana, Texas, and Vermont) made headlines for their attempts to limit the amount of sales tax evasion occurring through “remote sellers,” while a fifth state (Illinois) will soon have to defend its efforts to do the same in court.  By contrast, South Carolina lawmakers were recently bullied into granting Amazon an exemption from having to collect sales taxes for five years, despite the fact that it will soon have a “physical presence” in the state.

    In Vermont, Governor Shumlin recently signed a so-called “Amazon law” that will eventually require all remote sellers partnered with affiliate companies physically based in the state to collect and remit sales taxes (see this ITEP report for more on “Amazon laws”).  Unfortunately, the bill was written so that it won’t take effect until 15 other states have enacted similar laws. 

    Six states — Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island — have enacted such laws so far, and many more have given the issue serious consideration.  In the meantime, remote sellers like Amazon will be required to notify Vermont residents of the taxes they owe when making a purchase.

    The California Assembly easily passed an Amazon law last week.  That legislation now goes back to the Senate, where a similar bill gained narrow passage last month.  Even if the Senate approves the Assembly’s version of the bill, however, it’s unclear whether Governor Brown will sign the measure.

    Louisiana can now be added to the long list of states giving serious consideration to enacting an Amazon law.  The House Ways and Means Committee unanimously passed such a law in late-May, though opposition by Gov. Jindal makes it unlikely that it will be enacted any time soon.

    In Texas, Gov. Perry recently vetoed a measure that would have required Amazon.com to collect sales taxes in the state, though the legislature may still try to enact the measure by inserting it into a larger bill that Perry is unlikely to veto. 

    Unlike the true “Amazon laws” discussed above, the measure in Texas was designed to prevent Amazon from continuing to skirt its sales tax responsibilities by claiming that its Texas distribution center is actually owned by a subsidiary, and therefore does not amount to a “physical presence.”  The nearby photo is the actual sign in front of the Texas-based distribution center that Amazon claims it does not own.  

    In Illinois, the Performance Marketing Association (PMA) has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s Amazon law.  The lawsuit is similar to one being pursued by Amazon against New York State.

    And in South Carolina, Amazon.com has demanded, and received, a five year exemption from having to collect sales taxes on purchases made by South Carolinians, despite the fact that it plans to open a distribution center in the state (and will therefore meet the Supreme Court’s definition of having a “physical presence”). 

    The granting of this exemption represents a stark reversal from just one month ago, when it was soundly defeated 71-47 in the House. 

    Brian Flynn of the South Carolina Alliance for Main Street Fairness accurately summed up the unfortunate reality of this situation when he said that “with this economy, [Amazon was] in a good position to strong-arm legislators.”  Fortunately, the exemption is only supposed to last five years — though judging from Amazon’s past behavior, it’s reasonable to expect that the company will undertake an aggressive campaign to extend that five-year window.


    Tax Avoider Amazon.com Messes with Texas


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    Online retailers benefit from a tax loophole which allows for internet sellers to avoid collecting sales taxes from customers unless the company has a physical presence in their state. This has given companies like Amazon.com an unfair advantage over "bricks and mortar" stores and smaller, locally owned businesses all over America who must collect sales taxes from customers.

    One place where Amazon.com certainly does have a physical presence is Texas. Recently, Texas asked Amazon.com to pay $269 million dollars in past due sales taxes.  The company runs a distribution center in the state and, as the Texas Comptroller said, “If you have a physical business presence in the state of Texas, you owe sales tax.”  Amazon refused to pay the bill, claiming a subsidiary owned the distribution center.  Last week, news came that Amazon has decided to shut down the center because they were “unable to come to a resolution with the Texas comptroller’s office.”  As the Dallas Morning News explained it, “Amazon.com has decided to take its ball and go home.”

    Of course, the real answer to this problem is for Congress to end the loophole by allowing states to require sales tax collection from any company that sells to its residents.


    State-Based Coalitions Fight for Budget Fairness


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    Faced with huge budget deficits, many state lawmakers are eyeing dangerous short-sighted budget cuts that threaten to gut essential services and state infrastructure.  In response, dedicated advocacy organizations, service providers, religious communities, concerned citizens, and professional associations have formed coalitions in more than 35 states to battle for smart fiscal policies that will protect core services and ensure that states have the resources to meet current and future needs. 

    Here’s a brief overview of the newest of these coalitions:

    In Georgia, the coalition 2020 Georgia officially launched on January 18th to promote a balanced approach to their budget that adequately addresses the long-term needs of the state instead of pursuing damaging cuts to services that can hurt the state’s economy.  The coalition consists of a wide variety of partners, including AARP, the League of Women Voters of Georgia, and the Georgia Public Health Association.  2020 Georgia hopes to maintain smart investments in education, public safety, health, and the environment.

    In Texas, a wide coalition of organizations have created Texas Forward, a group that hopes to spur continued investment in vital public services instead of devastating budget cuts.  Texas Forward believes that smart investment now can prevent future generations from shouldering the burden of the lasting damage caused by disinvesting in services during this time of financial need.  Recently, Texas Forward urged state lawmakers to seek new revenue sources and federal funding to minimize the impact of the projected $24 billion deficit.

    In Iowa, the Coalition for a Better Iowa was formed with the express mission “to maintain and strengthen high quality public services and structures that promote thriving communities and prosperity for all Iowans.”  The Coalition for a Better Iowa includes organizations representing children, seniors, human service providers, environmental organizations, and politically engaged citizens.  The coalition is committed to creating a balanced solution to the budget shortfalls while protecting vital services and investing sustainably in the state’s future.

    In Montana, a group called the Partnership for Montana’s Future offers an extensive list of revenue-raising mechanisms to solve the state’s budge crisis.  The list has many specific proposals, generally categorized as collecting new revenue through improved tax compliance, closing tax loopholes, targeted tax increases, and other miscellaneous options.  The coalition consists of a wide variety of health, education, environmental, labor, and policy organizations.

    In Pennsylvania, Better Choices for Pennsylvania is a coalition of health, education, labor, and religious organizations that recognize that all Pennsylvanians benefit from the services and infrastructure provided by state government.  Like the other coalitions featured, Better Choices for Pennsylvania refutes the proposition that deep tax cuts can solve the state’s budget problems.  Instead, BCP is pushing for closing special tax breaks and loopholes.  The coalition believes that helping working families through hard times will put the state in a better position towards long-term financial stability.

    In Michigan, the revenue coalition, A Better Michigan Future recently issued a press release reviewing Governor Snyder’s budget proposal.  The group supports smart revenue-raising tactics like eliminating redundant and wasteful loopholes and modernizing the state sales tax to reflect the changing marketplace.

    While not a new coalition, North Carolina’s revenue coalition, Together NC, recently launched a web ad.  The ad is meant to remind North Carolinians about the smart budget choices the state has made in the past that allowed it to prosper and spur citizens to take action to protect their state from falling behind (or, as the ad says, to keep North Carolina from becoming its neighbor to the south).


    State Transparency Report Card and Other Resources Released


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    Good Jobs First (GJF) released three new resources this week explaining how your state is doing when it comes to letting taxpayers know about the plethora of subsidies being given to private companies.  These resources couldn’t be more timely.  As GJF’s Executive Director Greg LeRoy explained, “with states being forced to make painful budget decisions, taxpayers expect economic development spending to be fair and transparent.”

    The first of these three resources, Show Us The Subsidies, grades each state based on its subsidy disclosure practices.  GJF finds that while many states are making real improvements in subsidy disclosure, many others still lag far behind.  Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Ohio did the best in the country according to GJF, while thirteen states plus DC lack any disclosure at all and therefore earned an “F.”  Eighteen additional states earned a “D” or “D-minus.”

    While the study includes cash grants, worker training programs, and loan guarantees, much of its focus is on tax code spending, or “tax expenditures.”  Interestingly, disclosure of company-specific information appears to be quite common for state-level tax breaks.  Despite claims from business lobbyists that tax subsidies must be kept anonymous in order to protect trade secrets, GJF was able to find about 50 examples of tax credits, across about two dozen states, where company-specific information is released.  In response to the business lobby, GJF notes that “the sky has not fallen” in these states.

    The second tool released by GJF this week, called Subsidy Tracker, is the first national search engine for state economic development subsidies.  By pulling together information from online sources, offline sources, and Freedom of Information Act requests, GJF has managed to create a searchable database covering more than 43,000 subsidy awards from 124 programs in 27 states.  Subsidy Tracker puts information that used to be difficult to find, nearly impossible to search through, or even previously unavailable, on the Internet all in one convenient location.  Tax credits, property tax abatements, cash grants, and numerous other types of subsidies are included in the Subsidy Tracker database.

    Finally, GJF also released Accountable USA, a series of webpages for all 50 states, plus DC, that examines each state’s track record when it comes to subsidies.  Major “scams,” transparency ratings for key economic development programs, and profiles of a few significant economic development deals are included for each state.  Accountable USA also provides a detailed look at state-specific subsidies received by Wal-Mart.

    These three resources from Good Jobs First will no doubt prove to be an invaluable resource for state lawmakers, advocates, media, and the general public as states continue their steady march toward improved subsidy disclosure.


    Gubernatorial Candidates with Progressive Positions on Taxes Who Won


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    On Tuesday, voters in 37 states went to the polls to vote for Governor. The results of nine gubernatorial races provide a small glimmer of hope for sensible, balanced, and progressive approaches to addressing the next round of state budget shortfalls.  Two candidates campaigned on raising taxes, four incumbents were re-elected after implementing new taxes to close previous budget gaps, and three governors-elect won races against opponents who sought to dismantle progressive tax structures.

    As for those governors-elect who have rejected revenue increases, the next four years will be quite a challenge. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry will face a projected two-year $21 billion budget shortfall.  Likewise in Pennsylvania, Governor-elect Tom Corbett is staring at a $5 billion budget deficit next year.  Faced with these problems, this new crop of state executives can take either a dogmatic cuts-only approach or they can opt for a more flexible approach that allows for raising new revenue by closing tax loopholes or implementing other reforms.

    Candidates Who Campaigned on Raising Taxes

    In Minnesota, Mark Dayton ran for governor on a progressive tax platform, calling taxes “the lubricant for the machinery of our democracy." He has proposed increasing taxes on the wealthiest 5 percent of Minnesotans to raise revenue to address the state’s continuing budget woes and to improve tax fairness.  Although the Minnesota gubernatorial race remains undecided and Dayton may face a recount, Dayton’s small lead demonstrates the support he has received for purposing such a beneficial progressive tax plan.

    In Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee won a three-way race against Republican John Robitaille and Democrat Frank Caprio.  Like Dayton, Chafee championed tax increases aimed at refilling the state’s depleted coffers.  During the campaign Chafee, whose father lost a Rhode Island gubernatorial race 42 years ago after supporting a state income tax, proposed a one percent sales tax on previously exempted items.  Though more likely to adversely affect low-income families than Dayton’s plan, Chafee deserves credit for supporting a moderate tax plan in this cycle of anti-government sentiment.

    Candidates Who Defeated Opponents Targeting Progressive Tax Structures

    Besides Dayton and Chafee, three other winners on Tuesday night defeated opponents who sought to drastically cut taxes and reduce spending and government services.  In California, Jerry Brown defeated Meg Whitman, who supported a regressive tax cut that would only benefit taxpayers who claim capital gains income

    In New York, Andrew Cuomo defeated Carl Paladino, who promised to cut taxes by 10 percent and spending by 20 percent in his first year.  Unfortunately, however, Andrew Cuomo has not fully distanced himself from Paladino’s vilification of taxes.  Instead, Cuomo, along with eleven newly elected Republican Governors, has pledged to freeze taxes, vetoing any hike that comes his way.  This absolutist approach does nothing to alleviate the enormous deficit problems faced by each of these states.

    In Colorado, Democrat John Hickenlooper defeated Republican Dan Maes and Independent Tom Tancredo.  Maes, who lost voter support after the Republican primary, promised to lower income taxes and cut spending.  As Maes’ popularity decreased, Tom Tancredo began to gain steam, eventually garnering around 37% of the vote.  In their final debate Tancredo proposed removal of “any tax rebates or incentives.”  For his own part, Hickenlooper never committed to raising or lowering taxes, but did call for a "voluntary" tax on the oil and gas industry to fund higher education.

    Incumbents Re-elected After Raising Taxes

    The Governors of Maryland, Illinois, Arkansas, and Massachusetts pulled off victories after enacting or supporting new taxes during their previous terms. 

    In Maryland, Martin O’Malley, who defeated former Governor Robert Ehrlich, oversaw tax increases in his first term to fix a $1.7 billion deficit.  O’Malley’s plan relied in part on progressive tax increases, including a temporary increase in the income tax rate paid by millionaires. While Republicans criticized the tax increases, the citizens of Maryland approved enough to re-elect O’Malley with over 55% of the vote.

    In Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn is the likely winner of a tight race against Republican challenger Bill Brady.  Since becoming Governor in the wake of former Governor Blagojevich’s scandal, Pat Quinn has repeatedly proposed to raise income tax rates to fill budget holes.  Quinn would use the revenue raised to fund education.  Meanwhile Brady, Quinn’s opponent, championed tax cuts that included repealing the sales tax on gasoline and eliminating the inheritance tax.

    In Arkansas, Republican Jim Keet was soundly defeated by Governor Mike Beebe in his re-election bid.  During his first term, Beebe implemented a significant hike in tobacco sales taxes, raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 56 cents.  The increase was designed to increase revenues by $86 million to fund statewide trauma systems and expanded health care coverage for children.

    In Massachusetts, Deval Patrick was re-elected Governor after signing last year’s budget that included an increase in the sales tax rate. Patrick also showed interest in improving fairness in Massachusetts’ tax code. Bay State voters rewarded Patrick for his tough decisions by handily re-electing him.


    News from the Gubernatorial Race in Texas


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    In Texas, Republican Governor Rick Perry is campaigning against President Obama and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White is campaigning against Perry’s record as the state’s head executive.  A recent article in the Houston Chronicle points out that during Perry’s tenure in Austin, the state’s budget has grown by over 12 billion and now faces an estimated shortfall of over 21 billion.

    The number of Texans living in poverty has grown and funding for education and the Children’s Health Care Fund has been slashed.  Though the Wall Street Journal claims that Texas is attracting big businesses and creating new jobs, the state government does not appear to be doing a good job of bringing the benefits of economic growth to those who need it most.


    New 50 State ITEP Report Released: State Tax Policies CAN Help Reduce Poverty


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    ITEP’s new report, Credit Where Credit is (Over) Due, examines four proven state tax reforms that can assist families living in poverty. They include refundable state Earned Income Tax Credits, property tax circuit breakers, targeted low-income credits, and child-related tax credits. The report also takes stock of current anti-poverty policies in each of the states and offers suggested policy reforms.

    Earlier this month, the US Census Bureau released new data showing that the national poverty rate increased from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent in 2009.  Faced with a slow and unresponsive economy, low-income families are finding it increasingly difficult to find decent jobs that can adequately provide for their families.

    Most states have regressive tax systems which exacerbate this situation by imposing higher effective tax rates on low-income families than on wealthy ones, making it even harder for low-wage workers to move above the poverty line and achieve economic security. Although state tax policy has so far created an uneven playing field for low-income families, state governments can respond to rising poverty by alleviating some of the economic hardship on low-income families through targeted anti-poverty tax reforms.

    One important policy available to lawmakers is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The credit is widely recognized as an effective anti-poverty strategy, lifting roughly five million people each year above the federal poverty line.  Twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia provide state EITCs, modeled on the federal credit, which help to offset the impact of regressive state and local taxes.  The report recommends that states with EITCs consider expanding the credit and that other states consider introducing a refundable EITC to help alleviate poverty.

    The second policy ITEP describes is property tax "circuit breakers." These programs offer tax credits to homeowners and renters who pay more than a certain percentage of their income in property tax.  But the credits are often only available to the elderly or disabled.  The report suggests expanding the availability of the credit to include all low-income families.

    Next ITEP describes refundable low-income credits, which are a good compliment to state EITCs in part because the EITC is not adequate for older adults and adults without children.  Some states have structured their low-income credits to ensure income earners below a certain threshold do not owe income taxes. Other states have designed low-income tax credits to assist in offsetting the impact of general sales taxes or specifically the sales tax on food.  The report recommends that lawmakers expand (or create if they don’t already exist) refundable low-income tax credits.

    The final anti-poverty strategy that ITEP discusses are child-related tax credits.  The new US Census numbers show that one in five children are currently living in poverty. The report recommends consideration of these tax credits, which can be used to offset child care and other expenses for parents.


    ITEP Identifies Fundamental Mismatch in 6 State Tax Structures


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    Earlier this summer the Census Bureau released data that revealed which states can be considered "low tax" states. We took a closer look at the data and found that while a handful of states could be considered low tax states overall, their taxes are not low for poor and middle-income families.

    In fact, in six states — Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington — there is a fundamental mismatch between the Census data and how these supposed low tax states treat people living at or near the poverty line. One of the major reasons for this is that these states have largely unbalanced tax structures. Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington rely heavily on property and sales taxes because they don't have a broad-based personal income tax. (For more on a Washington ballot initiative to introduce an income tax, see our Digest article below.) Despite having income taxes, Arkansas and Arizona rely heavily on sales taxes, thus making their tax structures balanced on the backs of low- and middle-income taxpayers.

    Film tax credits have received a lot of attention in recent days.  Just as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was signing the state’s first film tax credit into law, stories out of Iowa and New Jersey, as well as a New York Times article about film credits in Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania and Utah, provided quite a few good reasons to be skeptical of these credits.

    On Monday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell excitedly signed into law the state’s new film tax credit, with sitcom star Tim Reid (from “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “Sister Sister,” and “That 70’s Show”) there to celebrate.  In order to justify enacting this giveaway for the film industry while Virginians are having to make due with reduced state services, Gov. McDonnell made the asinine claim the credit would produce a 1400% return on investment.  Economists everywhere have no doubt been laughing ever since.

    Meanwhile, in New Jersey, fellow 2009 gubernatorial election winner Chris Christie took exactly the opposite approach in vowing to eliminate the state’s film credit in order to help balance the state’s budget.  While Christie clearly had his priorities dead wrong in choosing not to extend the state’s income tax surcharge on millionaires (61% of voters favor the surcharge), he has certainly hit the nail on the head when it comes to this wasteful giveaway.  Not even the cast of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” appears to have been able to sway him.

    Stories this week from the Des Moines Register and New York Times provide some very timely evidence regarding the wisdom of Christie’s approach, as well as the folly of McDonnell’s.  In Iowa, the Register reports that new criminal charges have been filed in the state’s ongoing film tax credit scandal.  Specifically, three moviemakers have been charged with inflating the value of their expenses in order to increase their take from the state’s film credit program.  A $225 broom, $900 stepladder, and 16,000% markup on lighting equipment are among the bogus expenses claimed by the filmmakers. 

    The steady drumbeat of discouraging news surrounding Iowa’s film tax credit makes clear that Virginia is facing an uphill battle when it comes to policing this program.

    The New York Times this week explored a more specific attribute of state film tax credits: the steps states are taking to prevent movies they dislike from receiving taxpayer dollars.  In Michigan, a sequel to a cannibalism-themed horror movie that was supported by state film tax credits was rejected for subsidy this time around because the state’s film commissioner determined that “this film is unlikely to promote tourism in Michigan or to present or reflect Michigan in a positive light.”  Michigan is by no means alone in enforcing this standard.  Films made in Pennsylvania can be denied tax credits if the movie in question does not “tend to foster a positive image” of the state. 

    Texas possesses a similar requirement, which apparently was used to prevent the makers of a film about the Waco raid from even applying for film tax credits. 

    And in Utah, the state’s Film Commission director admitted to withholding credits from films that he wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the governor to see. Whether or not this rule of thumb varies with the theatrical tastes of the governor in office at the time remains to be seen.  Upon reading the Times story, one blogger with the Baltimore Sun went so far as to argue that these provisions show that “states want propaganda from filmmakers.”  They certainly beg the question: If state taxpayers subsidize the film industry, is it inevitable that state governments will censor movies before they're made?


    Leaving Money On the Table


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    Since the passage of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, federal tax law has given state lawmakers a clear incentive to rely on income taxes, instead of sales taxes, to fund public investments. This is because state income taxes can be written off by federal taxpayers who itemize their deductions, and sales taxes generally cannot. Even with temporary legislation in place that does allow a sales tax deduction, states that rely heavily on sales taxes — and not at all on income taxes — are essentially choosing to ignore what amounts to a federal "matching grant" for states that rely heavily on progressive income taxes.

    A new joint report from ITEP and United for a Fair Economy's Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative quantifies the cost of this choice in seven states that currently have no broad-based income tax — and that make up the gap by leaning heavily on the sales tax. The report shows that collectively, these seven states could reduce the federal taxes paid by their residents by $1.7 billion a year if they enacted a revenue-neutral reform that replaces sales tax revenue with a flat-rate income tax, and that the same states could save their residents $5.5 billion a year in federal taxes by enacting a similarly revenue-neutral shift to a graduated-rate progressive income tax.

    Read the report.


    States Get Serious About Transportation Funding


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    Many states across the country have stood idly by while inflation and improving vehicle fuel efficiency have cut into their gas tax revenues, reducing their ability to build and maintain an adequate transportation network.  Fortunately, new developments in at least four states demonstrate an increasing level of interest in addressing the transportation problem head-on.

    In Arkansas this week, a state panel created by the legislature endorsed increasing taxes on motor fuels, and taking steps to ensure that such taxes can provide a sustainable source of revenue over time.  Specifically, the panel expressed an interest in linking the tax rate to the annual “Construction Cost Index,” a measure of the inflation in construction commodity prices.  As the committee chairman explained, this method would provide a revenue stream better suited to helping the state maintain a consistent level of purchasing power over time. 

    Wisely, the proposal would also ensure that fuel tax rates would not increase by more than 2 cents per gallon in any given year.  Such a limitation should help to prevent the types of political outcries that have surfaced in other states when indexed gas taxes have increased by large amounts in a single year.

    In Texas, attention has begun to turn toward a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax which, as its name suggests, would tax drivers based on the number of miles they travel.  Such a tax is similar to a gas tax in that it makes the users of roadways pay for their continued maintenance.  VMT’s, however, are able to avoid some of the most serious long-run revenue problems associated with gas taxes, since their yield is not eroded as individuals switch to more fuel efficient vehicles.  But Texas Senator John Carona hit the nail on the head in his description of the VMT as an idea “far into the future and way ahead of its time.”  While states like Texas should begin studying this option now, they should also follow Carona’s lead in the meantime by embracing an increase in motor fuel tax rates to address the funding problem already at their doorsteps.

    Nebraska legislators have also begun discussing the need for additional transportation dollars.  In a report outlining the testimony given at eight hearings conducted last fall by the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, 31 separate options for raising transportation revenues are examined.  Among those options are an increase in the gas tax and indexing the tax either to inflation or directly to the costs associated with the continued maintenance and construction of the state’s transportation network.  As the report explains, “there was nearly unanimous support from all testifiers for some type of tax or fee increase to support the highway system.”  Committee Chairwoman and State Senator Deb Fischer expects to have a major highway-funding bill ready for the 2011 legislative session.

    Finally, legislators in Kansas this week also pushed forward with proposals to enhance the sustainability and adequacy of their transportation revenue streams.  A joint House-Senate transportation committee advanced two options for raising motor fuel tax collections: (1) applying the state sales tax to fuel purchases and slightly lowering the ordinary fuel tax rate, and (2) raising the fuel tax rate and indexing it to inflation.  While either proposal would be a great improvement to Kansas' stagnant, flat cents-per-gallon gas tax, the inflation-indexed approach would provide a somewhat more predictable revenue stream since its yield would not be contingent upon the (often volatile) price of gasoline.

    In addition to these four states, we have also highlighted stories out of South Dakota and Mississippi during the latter half of 2009 that indicated a similar interest in doing something constructive to enhance current transportation funding streams.  And more beneficial debate has occurred in a number of states where progressives have insisted on offsetting the regressive effects of transportation-related tax hikes by enhancing low-income refundable credits.

    Virginia is one of the major exceptions to the trend toward a more rational transportation funding debate.  As the Washington Post explained in an editorial this week, “[Governor-elect Robert McDonnell’s] transportation plan, which ruled out new taxes, relied on made-up numbers and wishful thinking to arrive at its promise of new funding.”  Rather than acknowledging the futility of attempting to fund a 21st century transportation infrastructure with a gasoline tax that hasn’t been altered since 1987, McDonnell worked to repeatedly block attempts to raise the gas tax during his time in the state’s legislature. 

    Following the leads of policymakers in Arkansas, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, and Mississippi and keeping higher taxes on the table is absolutely essential to the construction and maintenance of an adequate transportation system.  As the Washington Post cynically suggests, new revenue is so desperately needed that McDonnell should even be forgiven if he has to rebrand new taxes as “user fees” in order to get around his irresponsible campaign promise not to raise taxes.


    ITEP's "Who Pays?" Report Renews Focus on Tax Fairness Across the Nation


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    This week, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), in partnership with state groups in forty-one states, released the 3rd edition of “Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States.”  The report found that, by an overwhelming margin, most states tax their middle- and low-income families far more heavily than the wealthy.  The response has been overwhelming.

    In Michigan, The Detroit Free Press hit the nail on the head: “There’s nothing even remotely fair about the state’s heaviest tax burden falling on its least wealthy earners.  It’s also horrible public policy, given the hard hit that middle and lower incomes are taking in the state’s brutal economic shift.  And it helps explain why the state is having trouble keeping up with funding needs for its most vital services.  The study provides important context for the debate about how to fix Michigan’s finances and shows how far the state really has to go before any cries of ‘unfairness’ to wealthy earners can be taken seriously.”

    In addition, the Governor’s office in Michigan responded by reiterating Gov. Granholm’s support for a graduated income tax.  Currently, Michigan is among a minority of states levying a flat rate income tax.

    Media in Virginia also explained the study’s importance.  The Augusta Free Press noted: “If you believe the partisan rhetoric, it’s the wealthy who bear the tax burden, and who are deserving of tax breaks to get the economy moving.  A new report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and the Virginia Organizing Project puts the rhetoric in a new light.”

    In reference to Tennessee’s rank among the “Terrible Ten” most regressive state tax systems in the nation, The Commercial Appeal ran the headline: “A Terrible Decision.”  The “terrible decision” to which the Appeal is referring is the choice by Tennessee policymakers to forgo enacting a broad-based income tax by instead “[paying] the state’s bills by imposing the country’s largest combination of state and local sales taxes and maintaining the sales tax on food.”

    In Texas, The Dallas Morning News ran with the story as well, explaining that “Texas’ low-income residents bear heavier tax burdens than their counterparts in all but four other states.”  The Morning News article goes on to explain the study’s finding that “the media and elected officials often refer to states such as Texas as “low-tax” states without considering who benefits the most within those states.”  Quoting the ITEP study, the Morning News then points out that “No-income-tax states like Washington, Texas and Florida do, in fact, have average to low taxes overall.  Can they also be considered low-tax states for poor families?  Far from it.”

    Talk of the study has quickly spread everywhere from Florida to Nevada, and from Maryland to Montana.  Over the coming months, policymakers will need to keep the findings of Who Pays? in mind if they are to fill their states’ budget gaps with responsible and fair revenue solutions.

    Read ITEP's New Report: Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of Tax Systems in All 50 States

    By an overwhelming margin, most states tax their middle- and low-income families far more heavily than the wealthy, according to a new study by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy (ITEP).

    “In the coming months, lawmakers across the nation will be forced to make difficult decisions about budget-balancing tax changes—which makes it vital to understand who is hit hardest by state and local taxes right now,” said Matthew Gardner, lead author of the study, Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States. “The harsh reality is that most states require their poor and middle-income taxpayers to pay the most taxes as a share of income.”

    Nationwide, the study found that middle- and low-income non-elderly families pay much higher shares of their income in state and local taxes than do the very well-off:

    -- The average state and local tax rate on the best-off one percent of families is 6.4 percent before accounting for the tax savings from federal itemized deductions. After the federal offset, the effective tax rate on the best off one percent is a mere 5.2 percent.

    -- The average tax rate on families in the middle 20 percent of the income spectrum is 9.7 percent before the federal offset and 9.4 percent after—almost twice the effective rate that the richest people pay.

    -- The average tax rate on the poorest 20 percent of families is the highest of all. At 10.9 percent, it is more than double the effective rate on the very wealthy.

    “Fairness is in the eye of the beholder.” noted Gardner. “But virtually anyone would agree that this upside-down approach to state and local taxes is astonishingly inequitable.”



    The “Terrible Ten” Most Regressive Tax Systems

    Ten states—Washington, Florida, Tennessee, South Dakota, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Alabama—are particularly regressive. These “Terrible Ten” states ask poor families—those in the bottom 20% of the income scale—to pay almost six times as much of their earnings in taxes as do the wealthy. Middle income families in these states pay up to three-and-a-half times as high a share of their income as the wealthiest families. “Virtually every state has a regressive tax system,” noted Gardner. “But these ten states stand out for the extraordinary degree to which they have shifted the cost of funding public investments to their very poorest residents.”

    The report identifies several factors that make these states more regressive than others:

    -- The most regressive states generally either do not levy an income tax, or levy the tax at a flat rate;

    -- These states typically have an especially high reliance on regressive sales and excise taxes;

    -- These states usually do not allow targeted low-income tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit; these tax credits are especially effective in reducing state tax unfairness.

    “For lawmakers seeking to make their tax systems less unfair, there is an obvious strategy available,” noted Gardner. “Shifting state and local revenues away from sales and excise taxes, and towards the progressive personal income tax, will make tax systems fairer for low- and middle income families. Conversely, states that choose to balance their budgets by further increasing the general sales tax or cigarette taxes will make their tax systems even more unbalanced and unfair.”

    Implications for State Budget Battles in 2010

    “In the coming months, many states’ lawmakers will convene to deal with fiscal shortfalls even worse than those they faced last year,” Gardner said. “Lawmakers may choose to close these budget gaps in the same way that they have done all too often in the past—through regressive tax hikes. Or they may decide instead to ask wealthier families to pay tax rates more commensurate with their incomes. In either case, the path that states choose in the upcoming year will have a major impact on the wellbeing of their citizens—and on the fairness of state and local taxes.”

    Earlier this week, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the City of Columbus and against hotels.com, an online travel company (“OTCs”) that charges customers one rate for booking a hotel room but pays local governments a lodging tax based on cheaper, wholesale room rates.  The Court’s finding mirrors its decision in a case decided in June against Expedia.com.  In both instances, the Court held that the tax for which the OTCs were liable should be based on the retail room rate paid by their customers.

    OTCs contract with local hotels to provide rooms for a discounted or wholesale rate.  When a customer books a room online, the OTC charges the customer a “marked-up” rate along with taxes and service fees.  Under Georgia law, municipalities may impose hotel occupancy and excise taxes on the furnishing of any room, lodging, or accommodation.  The Court noted that state law allows cities to impose a tax on the lodging charges actually collected. 

    The high court’s decisions are binding across Georgia, so the two Columbus cases could affect other suits filed by governments seeking to collect the proper amount of lodging taxes from OTCs.  The cases have been remanded to the lower courts to determine how much money the online services owe in back taxes and penalties. 

    Importantly, numerous other cities – including Houston, San Antonio, and Miami have sued or initiated administrative proceedings against OTCs, asserting that they owe back taxes on their price mark-ups.  While many cases have yet to be fully adjudicated, one other recent case yielded much the same verdict as Columbus’ suit against hotels.com.  In February, multiple OTCs, including Orbitz and Travelocity, were ordered to pay the city of Anaheim, California, $21 million in back taxes, fees and penalties related to the payment of hotel occupancy taxes.

    Rulings such as these have motivated OTCs to seek enactment of federal legislation that would ban state and local taxation of hotel room rentals when booked by such a company.  However, as these rulings demonstrate, there is no justification for limiting the base for such a tax to the wholesale price of a hotel room, let alone eliminating taxation altogether.  Hotel taxes are consumption taxes, which should be measured by the value of the consumption to the customer.  Therefore, the tax should be imposed on the retail amount.  For more on this subject and on the OTC’s push for federal legislation, see this helpful report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


    Tax-Free Gun Days Starting to Catch On


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    A little over a year ago, we told you about a ridiculous law in South Carolina that provided for a sales tax "holiday" on purchases of handguns, rifles, and shotguns (later ruled unconstitutional for technical reasons, though only after the holiday had already taken place).  Little did we know then that the idea would actually catch on.  Louisiana enacted a similar "holiday" last month, upping the ante by exempting not only handguns, rifles, and shotguns, but also bows, crossbows, hunting knives, arrows, ammunition, rifle scopes, holsters, and much more.  Unbelievably, the idea is reportedly receiving attention in Texas and Kentucky as well.

    The Louisiana holiday is scheduled to occur each year on the first consecutive Friday through Sunday in September.  During that weekend, neither state nor local sales taxes will be collected on a variety of items the legislature has declared worthy of being included in its "Second Amendment Holiday." 

    But it's not hard to imagine how many of those exemptions will pose serious administrative problems.  With some exempt items, such as tree stands, there seems to be little room for confusion.  In other cases however, the state has decided to exempt a variety of multi-purpose items based on whether they were designed, marketed, or even simply purchased for use while hunting (e.g. some items must be designed with hunting in mind, while others need only be purchased by somebody with the intent to hunt).  Items falling into this category include off-road vehicles, animal feed, boots, bags, binoculars, chairs, belts, and various types of camouflage clothing. 

    Apparently, according to this list of tax-exempt items, you can look at a bird through tax-free binoculars, but only if you intend to kill it.  Ensuring that these items are really purchased by individuals with "Second Amendment" intentions will no doubt prove impossible.

    The bill's official fiscal note hints at a further complication involved with this holiday.  Specifically, it explains that the state will pay retailers $25 for each cash register they re-program to calculate "Second Amendment" items as being tax-free.  On top of that, the state will pay $25 more when the register is re-programmed, back to normal, at the end of the holiday.  Official estimates are that it could cost Louisiana taxpayers up to $100,000 to help retailers make the necessary modifications.  Since the holiday is only expected to result in $263,000 per year in tax savings, this $100,000 cost is not a trivial concern.  And keep in mind, Louisiana taxpayers not purchasing weapons will be helping to pay this $100,000 tab to benefit their soon-to-be well-armed neighbors.

    The inevitably complicated nature of sales tax holidays is just one of their many flaws -- as explained in this ITEP Policy Brief.  But despite all their problems, at least typical "back-to-school" sales tax holidays can be interpreted as a misguided attempt to make life easier for families with school-age children.  When it comes to these "Second Amendment Holidays," however, it's hard to see what exactly lawmakers are trying to gain, other than a pat on the back from the NRA.

    As the vast majority of state governments stare down budget shortfalls, new ideas about how to responsibly and fairly fill those gaps should receive an enthusiastic welcome. A new report from Good Jobs First, entitled Skimming the Sales Tax, does exactly that by revealing that states are currently giving away over $1 billion through "vendor discounts" or "dealer collection allowances" that reduce sales taxes.

    Vendor discounts allow retailers to legally keep a portion of the sales tax revenue they collect as compensation for the costs involved in collecting and remitting the tax. Twenty six states currently provide retailers with such compensation, amounting to a total of over $1 billion in annual revenue losses for those states.

    The policy prescription in many states is fairly clear. While there may be room for debate over whether any compensation is warranted, what is not in question is that there should be a sensible limit on the maximum amount that any one business can receive via this practice. As author Philip Mattera points out, "the main expenses that retailers incur with regard to sales taxes, especially software programs to track them, are fixed costs that do not rise in tandem with growth in receipts."

    Those states without such a limitation in many cases forfeit quite substantial amounts of revenue through vendor discounts. Illinois, for example, loses over $126 million annually due to the practice. Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado each lose in the neighborhood of $70 - $90 million per year. Thirteen of the twenty six states offering vendor discounts do not cap the amount any individual retailer can claim. In addition, five states that do impose limits on maximum compensation have set those limits at seemingly excessive levels, ranging from $10,000 to $240,000 per retailer.

    For state-by-state details on existing vendor compensation practices, as well as other ways in which retailers are being subsidized through the sales tax, see the report here.


    New ITEP Report: State Tax Policy a Poor Match for Economic Reality in Key States


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    Earlier this week, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) released a brief report using IRS data and revealing that the most unequal states in the country also happen to be states that lack the type of progressive tax provisions that could reduce this inequality and raise badly needed revenue. The most unequal states either don't have a personal income tax or have one in need of improvement. Consequently, these states are left with tax systems that, on the whole, are unsustainable, inadequate, and unfair over the long-run.

    The IRS data show that, in 2006, ten states -- Wyoming, New York, Nevada, Connecticut, Florida, the District of Columbia, California, Massachusetts, Texas, and Illinois -- have greater concentrations of reported income among their very wealthiest residents than the country as a whole. Yet, the tax systems in these states generally ignore that very important reality. Of those ten states, four lack a broad-based personal income tax and three either impose a single, flat rate personal income tax or have a rate structure that all but functions in that manner. Three do use a graduated rate structure, but of these, two have cut income taxes for their most affluent residents substantially over the past two decades.

    Given this mismatch, it should not be too surprising that over half of these states face severe or chronic budget shortfalls. After all, the lack of an income tax, the lack of a graduated rate structure, or moves to make the income tax less progressive all mean that a state's revenue system will not completely reflect the concentration of income among the very wealthy and therefore will not yield as much revenue.

    Case in point: New York. As the Fiscal Policy Institute observes, over the last 30 years, the state has reduced its top income tax rate by more than 50 percent. Most recently, in 2005, it allowed to lapse a temporary top rate of 7 percent on taxpayers with incomes above $500,000 per year. Today, the state must confront a budget deficit of more than $6 billion for the coming year and more than $20 billion over the next three. New York residents seem to understand the disconnect between the enormous disparities of wealth in their state -- where the richest 1 percent of taxpayers account for 28.7 percent of reported income -- and the state's fiscal woes. A poll released this week shows that nearly 4 out of 5 people surveyed support increasing the state's income tax for millionaires. Hopefully, Governor David Paterson is listening. As it stands, he'd rather cap property taxes than ensure that millionaires pay taxes in accordance with their inordinate share of New York's economic resources.


    Report: An Income Tax is the Obvious Choice for Texas


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    The Texas-based Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) released a report this week that explains how enacting a state income tax could actually lower taxes overall for most Texans and at the same time improve public education. The vast majority of states already have an income tax, but those few states still lacking this important revenue source (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wyoming) would do well to study this report carefully.

    The report provides details on how an income tax could provide sufficient revenues to simultaneously slash property taxes and boost education funding. Under the income tax the CPPP proposes (modeled on the fairly typical income tax used in Kansas) most Texans, including the middle-class, would see a net tax cut. This finding runs contrary to what many casual observers would expect. Failing to levy an income tax does not mean that a state has "low taxes" -- it only means the state emphasizes different taxes. Sales and property taxes are both above the national average in Texas -- adding an income tax to the mix would provide a fair and sustainable revenue source that could be used to reduce reliance on these taxes.

    The report also notes that an income tax could help to free Texas from the dubious distinction of having one of the most regressive tax systems in the entire nation... a problem common among those states lacking an income tax.

    Additional data contained in the report helps explain how an income tax could contribute to a more sustainable tax system. Property values and taxable sales have both been growing more slowly than the incomes with which Texans pay taxes. Linking state revenues to the growth of income (via an income tax) would provide Texas with a much more reliable tax system.

    And as if all this weren't enough, estimates from ITEP indicate that $2.2 billion of the new income tax (approximately 10% of the tax) would be essentially paid for by the federal government in the form of federal income tax deductions for state income taxes paid.

    The only catch is getting Texas voters to understand what an income tax would mean for them. Fortunately, there is some reason for optimism on this front: a poll conducted in 2003 showed nearly 50% support for a state income tax in Texas. Hopefully, reports such as this can help inch that figure even higher.


    Don't Mess With Texas' Taxes


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    Count Texas among the states seeking to preserve the vitality of their sales taxes by addressing sales made by on-line retailers to in-state residents. As the Dallas Morning News reported earlier this month, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is investigating whether Internet titan Amazon owes millions of dollars in uncollected taxes on sales made to Texas residents in recent years. At issue is a distribution center in Irving which Amazon has operated since 2006, but which the company maintains is run by a subsidiary. (Owning and operating such a center would mean that Amazon has a physical presence in the Lone Star State and would therefore be required to collect sales taxes.) At stake is some portion of the $541 million in sales taxes that Texas officials believe the state loses to on-line sales.

    The Comptroller's decision comes on the heels of new legislation in New York -- enacted as part of the state's FY 2009 budget -- to require on-line retailers to collect sales taxes on sales made to New York residents, if those retailers rely on affiliated web sites based in New York to refer customers to the retailer's own site. The change, which effectively expands the criteria for determining whether a business has a presence in New York, is expected to generate $50 million in additional revenue each year. Not surprisingly, Amazon -- one of the parties most affected by the statutory change -- has already filed suit against New York, questioning the constitutionality of the measure.

    To be sure, the most effective and most sustainable solution to this problem would be Congressional action permitting states to require "remote sellers" to collect sales taxes (in addition to more widespread participation in the Streamlined Sales Tax Project). In the absence of such action, though, no one should be surprised that states -- many of which are under substantial fiscal strain -- are now using any means at their disposal to shore up an important source of revenue.

    To learn more about Texas' current financial situation, see the Center on Public Policy Priorities -- 2008 Tax and Budget Primer.


    Latest Tax Gimmick


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    As the Memorial Day travel weekend begins, some Texas lawmakers are trying to push through a three month "holiday" from the state's 20-cents-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline. The editorial board at the San Antonio Express News calls this an unaffordable exercise in "irresponsible pandering," arguing that the Texas-sized cost of the holiday - up to $700 million - would drain a projected budget surplus on which multiple claims have already been made.


    Grossly Overrated


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    Gross Receipts Tax Is Not a Cure-All for the States

    Over the past few years, both Texas and Ohio have enacted major changes to their tax systems, choosing to replace existing business taxes with taxes based on companies' total receipts. This takes the form of a "margins" tax in Texas and the "commercial activity" tax in Ohio. Two other states, Illinois and Michigan, are also now considering whether to follow suit by implementing taxes based, at least in part, on gross receipts.

    IL Gov Won't Raise Taxes on People, Just Taxes That Are Passed onto People

    Despite Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich coming before the Illinois House in a rare all-day hearing to promote his plan for implementing a gross receipts tax (GRT) his proposal was unanimously defeated by the Illinois House in a 107-0 vote. The Governor's proposal barely passed the Senate Executive Committee. Analyses by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy suggest that gross receipts taxes are generally passed on by businesses to consumers. The Governor, however, said in his address to the House, "I will not raise taxes on people. I won't do it today. I won't do it tomorrow. I won't do it next week, next month, next year." Ironically, the Governor also said that he would oppose any income or sales tax hike because "It's regressive, and people already are paying to much" but many experts think that the GRT is regressive and hits low- and middle-income people hardest.

    Eliminating Revenue Source + No Plan to Replace Revenue = Government Shutdown

    Since voting last year to repeal the state's Single Business Tax (SBT), which is set to expire on December 31, Michigan lawmakers have been in almost continuous debate regarding ways to replace this vital revenue source. Fearing a government shutdown, the Michigan House and Senate have passed very different tax proposals. The Senate-approved plan would not completely replace the revenue lost from the SBT, while the Governor-supported House plan will raise the same amount of revenue as the current SBT, but would allow for large tax credits for Michigan-based businesses. The House and Senate proposals both have a business income tax component, but the Senate plan relies more heavily on a gross receipts tax element. In the coming weeks, compromise is needed before Governor Granholm has the opportunity to sign this important yet contentious legislation.

    Ignore Those Lobbyists Boring Holes into the Gross Receipts Tax

    Part of the allure of gross receipts taxes - to hear proponents like Governor Blagojevich tell it, anyway - is that they don't have many of the same loopholes as corporate income taxes and will expand the base of economic activity and economic actors subject to taxation. The reality may prove quite different, however. Gross receipts type taxes have scarcely settled onto the pages of law books in Texas and Ohio, yet businesses in both states have already begun clamoring for - and will soon start receiving - concessions and special treatment. In Texas, the House of Representatives last week approved a bill that would double the exemption for small businesses under the margins tax, would lower the taxes paid by multistate financial services companies under the tax, and would attempt to prevent Sprint Nextel from passing the tax along to its customers.

    In Ohio, a provision of the commercial activities tax designed to raise tax rates automatically - should the total amount of revenue generated by the tax begin to fall - will soon be eliminated, thus leaving the state without an important stopgap. These changes may not have a deleterious impact on the fiscal situation in either Texas or Ohio. The changes being debated in Texas would be offset by other revenue measures, for instance. Still, they should give policymakers in Michigan and Illinois pause. What they enact now may ultimately look quite different from what they envision.


    Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain


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    At first glance, it looks like the holy grail of state governance: a way to raise more revenue without raising taxes.The idea of selling off or leasing state assets, such as the state lottery, is now under discussion in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Texas. It is easy to see the idea's appeal: Texas Governor Perry predicts that the sale of his state's lottery would generate at least $15 billion, for example, while Indiana Governor Daniels expects that state's lottery to carry a price tag of over $1 billion, all without a single tax increase. However, there is a catch. While the boost to revenue is substantial, it is a one-time gain, and it comes at the cost of the yearly revenue contributions these assets would provide far into the future. While the seemingly painless financial gain offered by this privatization schemes is tempting, in the long run these sales would only diminish state coffers.


    The Property Tax Cap Craze Collides with Reality in Texas


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    Texas State Republican Chairman Tom Pauken recently embarked on a tour of the state to spread the good news: Governor Rick Perry is going to save voters from high property taxes by lowering the state's property tax cap from ten percent to five percent a year. Governor Perry and Chairmon Pauken are putting quite a bit of effort into promoting the proposed lower tax cap, but not everyone is convinced. The House Committee on Local Government Ways & Means conducted a survey on the effects of lowering the cap, only to find that "Appraisal caps unfairly shift the property tax burden from the wealthiest of property owners to the less wealthy."

    Worse still, lowering the cap would leave less money avaible for both local and state governments. The effect would be particularly severe in small towns that do not generate much sales tax revenue, and must rely on property taxes to fund local services. The Metropolitan Organization has come up with a better solution: a property tax "circuit breaker". Circuit breakers, which help protect the most vulnerable from high property tax bills without gutting state coffers, are already in place in thirty-five states. Texans should urge Governor Perry to adopt this solution.


    Property Tax Reform in New Jersey, Texas


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    New Jersey continues to struggle with property tax reform. A task force has signaled that it will call for a July special legislative session to deal with the state's growing homeowner property taxes. One lawmaker has proposed paying for major homeowner tax cuts with an income tax hike, while others think consolidating school districts is a necessary first step.

    Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers are wrapping their special session up after finally figuring out a way to cut school property taxes -- but a lot of people are unhappy with the outcome. The new law reduces school property tax rates across the board, and pays for this major tax cut with three major sources: the state's short-term budget surplus, a cigarette tax hike, and a revamp of the state's major business tax. The Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities sensibly points out that since the budget surplus part of this equation will eventually disappear, once these changes are fully phased in, this "tax swap" will create a $10.5 billion hole in the state's biennial budget.

    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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