2011

Building a Better Gas Tax

State gas taxes are currently levied in every state, and are the most important source of transportation revenue under the control of state lawmakers. In recent years, however, state gas taxes have fallen dramatically relative to the rising cost of...

Corporate Tax Dodging In the Fifty States, 2008-2010

In October, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley suggested that gradually repealing the state’s corporate income tax should be a priority for lawmakers in 2012. Haley’s idea was alarming, but hardly surprising: in the past year, governors in Arizona and Florida...

Corporate Taxpayers & Corporate Tax Dodgers

Earlier this year, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett made headlines by publicly decrying the stark inequity between his own effective federal tax rate (about 17 percent, by his estimate) and that of his secretary (about 30 percent). The resulting media...

Costs of Personal Income Tax Repeal in Kansas

Given the challenging fiscal climate facing Kansas, the proposed income tax plan should be thought of not simply as a tax cut but as a tax swap. News reports confirm our expectation that revenues from income taxes would be at...

Tax Expenditures: Spending By Another Name

Lawmakers often provide targeted tax cuts to groups of individuals or corporations in the form of special tax breaks--including exemptions, deductions, exclusions, credits, deferrals, and preferential tax rates. These tax breaks have long been called "tax expenditures" because they are essentially government spending programs that happen to be administered through the tax code. However, tax expenditures are usually less visible than other types of public spending and are therefore harder for policymakers and the public to evaluate. This policy brief surveys the difficulties created by tax expenditures, and describes options for better integrating them into the normal budget process.

Cigarette Taxes: Issues and Options

Efforts to increase sales and income taxes usually face some opposition. Yet in many states, lawmakers have been able to agree on one approach to revenue-raising: the cigarette tax. In the past several years nearly every state has enacted a cigarette tax increase to help fund health care, discourage smoking, or to help balance state budgets. This policy brief looks at the advantages and disadvantages of cigarette taxes, and cigarette tax hikes, as a state and local revenue source.

Uncertain Benefits, Hidden Costs: The Perils of State-Sponsored Gambling

The recent fiscal downturn forced cash-strapped, tax-averse state lawmakers to seek unconventional revenue-raising alternatives, for additional revenue-raising opportunities outside of the income, sales and property taxes that form the backbone of most state tax systems. One of the most popular alternatives to those major revenue sources is state sponsored gambling. As this policy brief points out, however, gambling revenues are rarely as lucrative, or as long-lasting, as supporters claim.

State Tax Codes As Poverty Fighting Tools (2011)

This report presents a comprehensive view of anti-poverty tax policy decisions made in the states in 2011 and offers recommendations every state should consider to help families rise out of poverty. States can jump-start their anti-poverty efforts by enacting one...

Rewarding Work Through Earned Income Tax Credits

Low-wage workers often face a dual challenge as they struggle to make ends meet. In many instances, the wages they earn are insufficient to encourage additional hours of work or long-term attachment to the labor force. At the same time, most state and local tax systems impose greater responsibilities on poor families than on wealthy ones, making it even harder for low-wage workers to move above the poverty line and achieve meaningful economic security. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is designed to help low-wage workers meet both those challenges. This policy brief explains how the credit works at the federal level and what policymakers can do to build upon it at the state level.

State Income Taxes and Older Adults

State governments provide a wide array of tax breaks for their elderly residents. Almost every state levying an income tax now sensibly allows some form of income tax exemption or credit for its over-65 citizens that is unavailable to non-elderly taxpayers. But many states have enacted poorly-targeted, unnecessarily expensive elderly income tax breaks that make state tax systems less sustainable and less fair. This policy brief surveys approaches to elderly income tax relief and suggests options for reforming state tax breaks for seniors.

State Treatment of Itemized Deductions

In 2011, thirty one states and the District of Columbia allow a group of income tax breaks known as "itemized deductions." Itemized deductions are designed to help defray a wide variety of personal expenditures that affect a taxpayer's ability to pay taxes, including charitable contributions, extraordinary medical expenses, mortgage interest payments and state and local taxes. But, these deductions cost states billions of dollars a year while providing little or no benefit to the middle- and low-income families hit hardest by the current economic downturn. This policy brief explains itemized deductions and explores options for reforming these upside down tax breaks at the state level.

Property Tax Circuit Breakers

State lawmakers seeking to enact residential property tax relief have two broad options: across-the-board tax cuts for taxpayers at all income levels, such as a homestead exemption or a tax cap, and targeted tax breaks that are given only to particular groups of low-income and middle-income taxpayers. One increasingly popular type of targeted property tax relief program is called a "circuit breaker" because it protects taxpayers from a property tax "overload" just like an electric circuit breaker: when a property tax bill exceeds a certain percentage of a taxpayer's income, the circuit breaker reduces property taxes in excess of this "overload" level. This policy brief surveys the advantages and disadvantages of the circuit breaker approach to property tax relief.

The Folly of State Capital Gains Tax Cuts

For over twenty years now, the federal tax system has treated income from capital gains more favorably than income from work. A significant number of state tax systems do as well, offering tax breaks for profits realized from local investments and, in some instances, from investments around the world. As states struggle to cope with short- and long-term budget deficits and to devise strategies to promote economic development in a sustainable fashion, policymakers should assess whether preserving such tax preferences is in the public interest. This policy brief explains state capital gain taxation and examines the flaws in state capital gain tax cuts.

Split Roll Property Taxes

In the past half century, state lawmakers have explored a wide variety of approaches to scaling back property taxes. One such approach is the split roll property tax, also known as a classified property tax. Unlike a regular property tax system which taxes all types of real property at the same rate, a split roll property tax applies different tax rates to different types of property. This policy brief looks at the advantages and disadvantages of the split roll approach.

Reducing the Cost of Child Care Through Income Tax Credits

Low- and middle-income working parents frequently spend a significant portion of their income on child care. As an increasing number of single parents take jobs, and as the number of two-earner families continues to rise, child care expenses are an unavoidable and increasingly unaffordable expense for these families. This policy brief looks at one way of making child care more affordable: the dependent care tax credit offered by the federal government and many states.

Property Tax Homestead Exemptions

State lawmakers seeking to enact residential property tax relief have two broad options: across-the-board tax cuts for taxpayers at all income levels, and targeted tax breaks. More than 40 states have chosen to achieve across-the-board tax relief by providing a "homestead exemption." This policy brief explains the workings of the homestead exemption and evaluates its strengths and weaknesses as a property tax relief strategy.

Capping Property Taxes: A Primer

In response to what anti-tax advocates have branded as "out of control" property taxes, a number of states have decided to make use of tax "caps" to restrict the growth of local property taxes. California's Proposition 13 tax cap, approved in 1978, inspired numerous other states to enact similarly ill-conceived property tax caps. These caps can come in many forms, but all are poorly-targeted and costly. In most cases, these caps amount to a state-mandated restriction on the ability of local governments to raise revenue. While state lawmakers get to take credit for cutting taxes, local lawmakers are the ones forced to make difficult decisions regarding which services to cut. There are three main types of property tax caps in use around the country: caps on property tax rates, caps on assessed value growth, and caps on overall property tax revenue growth.

Taxes and Economic Development 101

One of the main economic goals of most state policymakers is, quite sensibly, to attract businesses to their state. But, all too often, these policymakers have been encouraged to think that tax cuts make the best bait. A growing body of literature reminds us that taxes themselves create public infrastructure that spurs investment and improves the quality of life for businesses and workers alike. Communities that illustrate a strong commitment to public institutions like good schools, well-built transportation systems, and quality police and fire protection will ultimately have an advantage in attracting new business investment. This policy brief looks at the complicated role taxes play in economic development and discusses why low-tax strategies are not effective.

Fighting Back: Accountable Economic Development Strategies

Even though there is little evidence that cutting taxes and reducing public investments actually spurs economic development, lawmakers across the country have been persuaded to give tax breaks to companies in hopes of encouraging a thriving economic climate in their state. Some lawmakers are wising up to the idea that subsidies don't work. But for policymakers who insist on offering incentives, there are some important, simple, and concrete steps that can be taken to ensure that subsidies aren't allowed to go unchecked. This policy brief offers guidance on best practices for alternatives to providing blanket tax breaks.

Examining Economic Development Research

State and local lawmakers face enormous pressure to attract and retain business investment--and all too often, anti-tax advocates will argue that tax cuts are the best approach to economic development, usually armed with "research" studies that conclude slashing taxes is necessary for economic development. But all too often, these studies are based on shoddy assumptions that make their results unreliable. This policy brief offers guidance on how to critically examine studies that claim that taxes must be cut in order to spur economic development.

Texas is a Low Tax State, But Not for Families Living in Poverty

Data from the Census Bureau shows that overall, Texas could be considered a “low tax state.” However, families living near or below the poverty line generally do not experience Texas as a low tax state -- instead, they pay more...

Washington is a Low Tax State, But Not for Families Living in Poverty

Data from the Census Bureau shows that overall, Washington could be considered a “low tax state.” However, families living near or below the poverty line generally do not experience Washington as a low tax state -- instead, they pay more...

Tennessee is a Low Tax State, But Not for Families Living in Poverty

Data from the Census Bureau shows that overall, Tennessee could be considered a “low tax state.” However, families living near or below the poverty line generally do not experience Tennessee as a low tax state -- instead, they pay more...

Florida is a Low Tax State, But Not for Families Living in Poverty

Data from the Census Bureau shows that overall, Florida could be considered a “low tax state.” However, families living near or below the poverty line generally do not experience Florida as a low tax state -- instead, they pay more...

Arizona is a Low Tax State, But Not for Families Living in Poverty

Data from the Census Bureau shows that overall, Arizona could be considered a “low tax state.” However, families living near or below the poverty line generally do not experience Arizona as a low tax state -- instead, they pay more...

Why States That Offer the Deduction for Federal Income Taxes Paid Get it Wrong

As states continue to grapple with the impact of the most recent economic downturn, the budget revenue outlook for many states remains bleak. In this context, states must find ways to generate additional revenue without increasing the tax load on individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. For six states--Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon--one straightforward approach would be to repeal the deduction for federal income taxes paid. Repealing the deduction would help these states reduce their budgetary gaps and make their tax systems less unfair. This policy brief explains how the deduction for federal income taxes works and assesses its impact on state budgets and tax fairness.

How State Personal Income Taxes Work

The personal income tax can be--and usually is--the fairest of the main revenue sources relied on by state and local governments. When properly structured, it ensures that wealthier taxpayers pay their fair share and provides lower tax rates on middle-income families. The personal income tax can be used to offset regressive sales, excise and property taxes. This policy brief explains the basic workings of the income tax.

Indexing Income Taxes for Inflation: Why It Matters

Most of us don't need to be reminded about inflation. We experience it every day, as the price of the goods and services we buy gradually goes up over time. As the cost of living goes up, our incomes generally go up too, partially because of inflation. But many state tax systems are not designed to take account of inflation. The result is that income taxes often grow faster than incomes--even though lawmakers haven't actually passed any laws to make this happen. Some lawmakers have responded to this "hidden tax hike" by indexing their income taxes for inflation. This policy brief explains how indexing works and evaluates its impact on tax adequacy and fairness.

How State Tax Changes Affect Your Federal Taxes: A Primer on the "Federal Offset"

State lawmakers frequently make claims about how proposed tax changes would affect taxpayers at different income levels. Yet these lawmakers routinely ignore one important consequence of their tax reform proposals: the effect of state tax changes on their constituents' federal income taxes. Wealthier taxpayers can use the federal income tax to partially offset their state and local income and property taxes. This "federal offset" has important implications for how state tax changes affect people. This policy brief explains this important but often-forgotten link between state and federal taxes.

How Property Taxes Work

The property tax is the oldest major revenue source for state and local governments. At the beginning of the twentieth century, property taxes represented more than eighty percent of state and local tax revenue. While this share has diminished over time as states have introduced sales and income taxes, the property tax remains an important mechanism for funding education and other local services. This policy brief discusses why property is taxed and how property taxes are calculated.

Income Tax Simplification: How to Achieve It

Simplicity is generally seen as a virtue in state tax systems. Simplicity makes it easier for taxpayers to understand (and to pay) their taxes, and makes it easier for tax administrators to collect taxes fairly. In recent years, state lawmakers have proposed a wide variety of income tax changes under the guise of simplification. Yet not all of these purported tax simplification measures are well-designed to achieve it--and some measures would unnecessarily reduce the fairness of the income tax. This policy brief evaluates options for making state income taxes less complicated.

Tax Policy Nuts and Bolts: Understanding the Tax Base and Tax Rate

This policy brief explains two basic, but important tax policy terms- the tax base and tax rate. Since these concepts are often confusing, having a grasp on the ins and outs of tax bases and rates will help provide a better understanding of how all state and local taxes work.

Introduction to ITEP's Tax Incidence Analysis

Everyone agrees that tax "fairness" is important--even though there is often disagreement on what fairness means. A well-informed debate on who should pay the most taxes must start by assessing who actually does pay the most--and the least. Too often taxes are studied only with an eye towards tax rates instead of an understanding of how taxes impact people depending on their income. Tax incidence analyses answer basic questions by measuring how taxpayers at different income levels are affected by the current tax system and various tax reform alternatives. This policy brief provides a basic introduction to using ITEP's tax incidence analyses.

How State Corporate Income Taxes Work

A robust corporate income ensures that profitable corporations that benefit from public services pay their fair share towards the maintenance of those services, just as working people do.. More than forty states currently levy a corporate income tax. This policy brief explains why corporations should be taxed and the basic workings of the corporate tax.

The "QPAI" Corporate Tax Break: How it Works and How States Can Respond

The past quarter century has seen a dramatic decline in the yield of corporate income taxes at both the federal and state levels. Major federal corporate tax legislation enacted in 2004 created a new tax break, known as the "Qualified Production Activities Income" (QPAI) deduction that has further accelerated the decline of the corporate tax. This policy brief evaluates the QPAI deduction and discusses possible state policy responses.

"Nowhere Income" and the Throwback Rule

Every state that levies a corporate income tax must determine, for each company doing business within its borders, how much of the company's profits it can tax. One factor that all such states use to make this determination is the percentage of the company's nationwide sales that can be attributed to the state. Ideally, all of a company's sales would be attributed to the states in which it operates, but, due to differences among states' corporate income tax rules, this is not always the case. In some instances, a portion of a business' sales are not attributed to any state, which means that a corresponding portion of its profits go untaxed, a phenomenon often referred to as "nowhere income." This policy brief explains how this phenomenon arises and discusses how a throwback rule can be used to ensure that all corporate profits are subject to taxation.

Combined Reporting of State Corporate Income Taxes: A Primer

Over the past several decades, state corporate income taxes have declined markedly. One of the factors contributing to this decline has been aggressive tax avoidance on the part of large, multi-state corporations costing states billions of dollars. The most effective approach to combating corporate tax avoidance is the use of combined reporting, a method of taxation currently employed in more than half of the states with a corporate income tax. Eight states have enacted legislation to institute combined reporting within the past five years. Commissions and lawmakers in several other states, such as North Carolina, Maryland, Rhode Island and Kentucky, have recently recommended its adoption. This policy brief explains how combined reporting works.

Sales Tax Holidays: A Boondoggle

Sales taxes are among the most important--and most unfair--taxes levied by state governments. Sales taxes accounted for a third of state taxes in 2011, but sales taxes are regressive, falling far more heavily on low- and middle- income taxpayers than on the wealthy. In recent years, lawmakers thinking they might lessen the impact of these taxes have enacted "sales tax holidays" that provide temporary sales tax breaks for purchases of clothing, computers, and other items. This policy brief looks at sales tax holidays as a tax reduction device.

How Can States Collect Taxes Owed on Internet Sales?

Retail trade has been transformed by the emergence of the Internet. As the popularity of "e-commerce" (that is, transactions conducted over the Internet) has grown, policymakers have engaged in a heated debate over how state sales taxes should be applied to these transactions. This debate is of critical importance for state lawmakers because sales taxes comprise close to a third of all state tax revenues.

Options for Progressive Sales Tax Relief

Sales taxes are one of the most important revenue sources for state and local governments--and are also one of the most unfair taxes. In recent years, policymakers nationwide have struggled to find ways of making sales taxes more equitable while preserving this important source of funding for public services. This policy brief discusses the advantages and disadvantages of two approaches to progressive sales tax relief: broad-based exemptions and targeted sales tax credits.

Should Sales Taxes Apply to Services?

General sales taxes are an important revenue source for state governments, accounting for close to half of state tax collections nationwide. But most state sales taxes have a damaging structural flaw: the tax typically applies to most sales of goods, such as books and computers, but exempts most services such as haircuts and car repairs. This omission is not the result of conscious policy choices, but a historical accident: when most state sales taxes were enacted in the 1930s, services were a relatively small part of consumer spending.

How Sales and Excise Taxes Work

Sales and excise taxes, or consumption taxes, are an important revenue source, comprising close to half of all state tax revenues. These taxes are levied in each of the fifty states and are often considered "hidden" to consumers since they're spread out over many purchases rather than paid in one lump sum. This policy brief takes a closer look at how these taxes are calculated.

Expert to North Carolina: Don't Cap the Gas Tax

With the state’s gas tax pegged to the price of gasoline, North Carolina is scheduled to raise its gas tax rate on July 1. This increase was entirely predictable, but is understandably controversial. Unfortunately, the debate surrounding what to do...

Illinois Must Ignore CME's Tax Tantrum

How much is enough? On top of the close to $500 million in corporate tax breaks Illinois doles out each year, Governor Pat Quinn now finds himself confronted by a growing crowd of CEO’s demanding even more. In the wake...

ITEP's Testimony on Combined Reporting Legislation

My testimony today examines the erosion of Rhode Island’s corporate income tax, and the multistate tax avoidance schemes that have contributed to this erosion. In addition, it discusses the single best strategy available to lawmakers seeking to respond to the...

ITEP's Testimony on Tax Expenditure Procedural Reform

My testimony today focuses on House Bill 5737, which would enact a variety of reforms designed to enhance the level of scrutiny applied to new tax credits, deductions, exemptions, and exclusions. This testimony emphasizes how these reforms would help remove...

Connecticut Takes a Stand for Progressive Tax Policy and a Balanced Budget Approach

Five months into 2011, a glimmer of hope for progressive tax policy and a balanced, sensible approach to state budget woes has emerged in Connecticut. Lawmakers in all but a handful of states are continuing to grapple with historic budget...

States Should Not Allow Amazon.com to Bully Them into Forgoing Sales Tax Reform

In just the last few weeks, Arkansas and Illinois joined New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island in enacting legislation requiring some online retailers, like Amazon.com, to collect sales taxes on purchases made by their state’s residents. Vermont’s House of...

ITEP's Testimony on Sales Tax Modernization Proposal

My testimony focuses on Governor Chafee’s Sales Tax Modernization Proposal, which would generally broaden Rhode Island’s sales tax base, lower the general state sales tax rate, and raise additional revenue to help mitigate budget cuts. In particular, my testimony will...

Don't Give Up on Pease: States Can Decouple from Recent Federal Tax Cuts for Wealthy Itemizers

In 2011, thirty one states and the District of Columbia allow a group of income tax breaks known as “itemized deductions” (Figure 1). Itemized deductions are designed to help defray a wide variety of personal expenditures that affect a taxpayer’s...

In It for the Long Haul: Why Concerns over Personal Income Tax "Volatility" Are Overblown

The precipitous drop in state tax collections during the recent recession has prompted some observers to argue that relying on volatile state taxes is a recipe for budgetary disaster. The most recent version of this argument, made by the Wall...

Should Illinois Tax Retirement Income?

Earlier this month, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton suggested that limiting the state’s generous income tax break for retirement income “would just be a matter of fairness.” Senator Cullerton’s suggestion gives Illinois policymakers a welcome opportunity to reflect on the...

ITEP's Testimony on EITC Legislation

My testimony focuses on House Bill 581, which would create a Missouri Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In particular, my testimony will discuss the impact of this bill on the overall fairness of Missouri’s tax system.Read the Full Report (PDF)...

Topsy-Turvy: State Income Tax Deductions for Federal Income Taxes Turn Tax Fairness on its Head

The budget outlook for state governments is bleak. Despite evidence that revenues are rebounding, there is a general acknowledgement that ?broad fiscal conditions remain fragile. The need for public investments—particularly health care for low-wage or unemployed workers and their families—is...

Five Reasons to Reinstate Maryland's "Millionaires' Tax"

In 2008, Maryland enacted a temporary change to its income tax in order to compensate for revenue lost from repealing a law subjecting computer services to the state’s sales tax. The income tax change in question, which expired at the...

The ITEP Guide to Fair State and Local Taxes

The ITEP Guide to Fair State and Local Taxes, released in March of 2011, offers citizens, activists, journalists, and policymakers a detailed primer on state and local tax policy. The guide explains the differences between progressive, flat, and regressive taxes...

A Capital Idea

The budget outlook for the states is improving, but uncertain. In this context, states must find ways to generate additional revenue that create neither additional responsibilities for individuals and families struggling to make ends meet nor additional distortions in the...