2016

State Estate and Inheritance Taxes

For much of the last century, estate and inheritance taxes have played an important role in fostering strong communities by promoting equality of opportunity and helping states adequately fund public services. While many of the taxes levied by state and local governments fall most heavily on low-income families, only the very wealthy pay estate and inheritance taxes. Changes in the federal estate tax in recent years, however, caused states to reevaluate the structure of their estate and inheritance taxes. Unfortunately, the trend of late among states has tended toward weakening or completely eliminating them. But this need not be so; states can restore or improve their estate and inheritance taxes as a vital progressive revenue source to support services and communities while also protecting the source from the whims of federal lawmakers. This policy brief explains state inheritance and estate taxes, discusses recent state trends and policy decisions that have impacted the taxes, and explores how states can adopt or strengthen these important components of a progressive tax structure.

The Federal Estate Tax: A Critical and Highly Progressive Revenue Source

For years, wealth and income inequality have been widening at a troubling pace. A recent study estimated that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans held 42 percent of the nation's wealth in 2012, up from 28 percent in 1989. Public policies have exacerbated this trend by taxing income earned from investments at a lower rate than income from an ordinary job and by dramatically cutting taxes on inherited wealth. Further, lawmakers have done little to stop aggressive accounting schemes designed to avoid the estate tax altogether.

Fact Sheet: Preserving the Estate Tax

The federal estate tax is one of our most progressive sources of revenue and a critical tool in the fight against rising wealth inequality. Congressional legislation has significantly eroded the tax over the years, and now it is levied on only the wealthiest 0.2% of estates, meaning that 99.8% of estates will have no federal estate tax liability. The estate tax should be not only preserved but restored to a historical level to increase revenues and ensure more progressivity in the tax system.

Privatization, Waste, and Unfunded Projects: The Problems with Trump's Infrastructure Proposal

In his acceptance speech, President-elect Donald Trump placed a heavy emphasis on the need to rebuild the nation's infrastructure. In theory, expanded investments in our nation's infrastructure could generate wide support among the public and within Congress. And yet Congressional negotiations on this issue have repeatedly broken down because of disagreements over how to fund those investments. Unfortunately, a flawed proposal for new funding put forth by Mr. Trump fails to offer a realistic path forward.

State Tax Preferences for Elderly Taxpayers

State governments provide a wide array of tax breaks for their elderly residents. Almost every state that levies an income tax allows some form of income tax exemption or credit for citizens over age 65 that is unavailable to non-elderly taxpayers. Most states also provide special property tax breaks to the elderly. Unfortunately, too many of these breaks are poorly-targeted, unsustainable, and unfair. This policy brief surveys federal and state approaches to reducing taxes for older adults and suggests options for designing less costly and better targeted tax breaks.

Comprehensive Guide to "Repatriation" Proposals

Corporations falsely claim that they have to engage in offshore tax avoidance maneuvers because the U.S. corporate tax rate is too high, an argument which has unfortunately found an audience in lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. In 2017, Congress likely will evaluate a number of approaches to taxing the trillions of dollars corporations currently hold offshore. This report explains and evaluates these proposals, including a so-called repatriation holiday and deemed repatriation. Further, it explains why ending deferral of taxes on U.S. multinational corporations' foreign earnings could halt the widespread corporate practice of funneling money to subsidiaries for the express purpose of avoiding taxes.

Fact Sheet: What You Need to Know About Repatriation Proposals

Fortune 500 corporations collectively have stashed $2.5 trillion in profits offshore, on which they have avoided up to $718 billion in taxes. It's no wonder that policymakers on both sides of the aisle are weighing legislative options to either tax these profits or create an incentive for corporations to "repatriate" or bring these profits to the United States so that they are subject to taxation. Lawmakers have introduced several "repatriation" proposals that would glean tax revenue from these offshore profits. But the only solution that will ensure corporations pay taxes on their offshore profits AND shut down the practice of stashing cash offshore is to end deferral, the tax code loophole that allows corporations to indefinitely avoid paying taxes on profits stashed offshore.

Collecting Sales Taxes Owed on Internet Purchases

Retail trade has been transformed by 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 and local sales taxes should be applied to these transactions. This debate is of critical importance for states as sales taxes comprise close to one-third of all state tax revenues and hundreds of billions of dollars in retail spending is now occurring online.

Fact Sheet: Comparison of House GOP Tax Plan, Trump's Initial Tax Proposal and Trump's Revised Tax Proposal

Chart comparing House GOP Tax Plan, Trump's Initial Tax Proposal and Trump's Revised Tax Proposal.

The Short and Sweet on Taxing Soda

The concept of taxing sodas and other sugary beverages has gained traction recently across the United States and around the world. The World Health Organization officially recommended a tax on sugar sweetened beverages as a way to battle the obesity epidemic. In the US, multiple states and localities have looked to taxes on sugar sweetened beverages as a way to improve public health and increase revenue. In 2014, Berkeley, California became the first U.S. locality to enact such a tax. In 2016, similar taxes were enacted in Boulder, Colorado; Albany, Oakland, and San Francisco, California; Cook County, Illinois; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Cigarette Taxes: Issues and Options

Efforts to increase taxes usually face some opposition, particularly increases to broad-based taxes such as the sales or income tax. Yet in many states, lawmakers have been able to agree on one approach to revenue-raising: the cigarette tax. Since 2002, nearly every state has enacted a cigarette tax in-crease to 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 increases, as a source of state and local revenue.

State Tax Subsidies for Private K-12 Education

This report explains the workings, and problems, with state-level tax subsidies for private K-12 education. It also discusses how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has exacerbated some of these problems by allowing taxpayers to claim federal charitable deductions even on private school contributions that were not truly charitable in nature. Finally, an appendix to this report provides additional detail on the specific K-12 private school tax subsidies made available by each state.

Offshore Shell Games 2016

This study explores how in 2015 Fortune 500 companies used tax haven subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes on much of their income. It reveals that tax haven use is now standard practice among the Fortune 500 and that a handful of the country's wealthiest corporations benefit the most from this tax avoidance scheme.

Comment Letter to FASB on Income Tax Disclosure

We appreciate the Financial Accounting Standards Board's (FASB) ongoing review of its accounting standards to ensure that financial statements are "facilitating clear communication of information that is important to financial statement users." Overall, the changes to disclosure requirements proposed by FASB in the exposure draft would represent a significant step forward toward providing users of financial statements the clarity that they need. We believe, however, that the exposure draft does not go far enough in providing the clarity needed and sought by investors and the public alike.

State Tax Codes as Poverty Fighting Tools

Despite this unlevel playing field states create for their poorest residents through existing policies, many state policymakers have proposed (and in some cases enacted) tax increases on the poor under the guise of "tax reform," often to finance tax cuts for their wealthiest residents and profitable corporations.

Property Tax Circuit Breakers

State lawmakers seeking to make residential property taxes more affordable 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- and middle-income taxpayers. One such targeted program to reduce property taxes 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 reducing property taxes.

Reducing the Cost of Child Care Through State Tax Codes

Low- and middle-income working parents spend a significant portion of their income on child care. As the number of parents working outside of the home continues to rise, child care expenses have become an unavoidable and increasingly unaffordable expense. This policy brief examines state tax policy tools that can be used to make child care more affordable: a dependent care tax credit modeled after the federal program and a deduction for child care expenses.

Rewarding Work Through State Earned Income Tax Credits

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a policy designed to bolster the earnings of low-wage workers and offset some of the taxes they pay, providing the opportunity for struggling families to step up and out of poverty toward meaningful economic security. The federal EITC has kept millions of Americans out of poverty since its enactment in the mid-1970s. Over the past several decades, the effectiveness of the EITC has been magnified as many states have enacted and later expanded their own credits.

Options for a Less Regressive Sales Tax

Sales taxes are one of the most important revenue sources for state and local governments; however, they are also among the most unfair taxes, falling more heavily on low- and middle-income households. Therefore, it is important that policymakers nationwide find ways to make sales taxes more equitable while preserving this important source of funding for public services. This policy brief discusses two approaches to a less regressive sales tax: broad-based exemptions and targeted sales tax credits.

News Release: U.S. Should Take a Page from European Commission's Book And Crack Down on Corporate Tax Avoidance

Following is a statement by Matt Gardner of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy regarding the European Commission’s ruling today that the Apple Corporation must pay as much as €13 billion ($14.5 billion)  in back taxes due to an...

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

Read this brief in PDF here. State lawmakers frequently make claims about how proposed tax changes would affect taxpayers at different income levels. Yet too many lawmakers routinely ignore one important consequence of their tax reform proposals: the effect of...

Indexing Income Taxes for Inflation: Why It Matters

Read brief in PDF here. All of us experience the effects of inflation as the price of the goods and services we buy gradually goes up over time. Fortunately, as the cost of living goes up, our incomes often tend...

The Folly of State Capital Gains Tax Cuts

Read the brief in a PDF here.  The federal tax system treats income from capital gains more favorably than income from work. A number of state tax systems do as well, offering tax breaks for profits realized from local investments...

Achieving Sustainable Infrastructure Revenue with Gas Tax Reform

This brief outlines the causes of Louisiana's infrastructure revenue shortfall and offers recommendations for how the state can achieve "sufficient increased levels of recurring funding to address the transportation backlog in highway and bridge maintenance needs in Louisiana," as per the Task Force's mandate.

Why Sales Taxes Should Apply to Services

Read this Policy Brief in PDF here.  General sales taxes are an important revenue source for state governments, accounting for close to one-third of state tax collections nationwide. But most state sales taxes have a damaging structural flaw: they typically...

Income Tax Offers Alaska a Brighter Fiscal Future

Read this report in PDF. This month, Alaska legislators regroup in yet another special session where they will consider legislation to address a yawning budget gap created by declining oil tax and royalty revenues. Through the use of his veto...

Sales Tax Holidays: An Ineffective Alternative to Real Sales Tax Reform

Read this Policy Brief in PDF here. Sales taxes are an important revenue source, composing close to half of all state tax revenues.[1] But sales taxes are also inherently regressive because the lower a family’s income, the more the family...

State Corporate Tax Disclosure: Why It's Needed

Few state tax trends are as striking as the rapid decline of state corporate income tax revenues. As recently as 1986, state corporate income taxes equaled 0.5 percent of nationwide Gross State Product (GSP) (a measure of statewide economic activity). But in fiscal year 2013 (the last year for which data are available), state and local corporate income taxes were just 0.33 percent of nationwide GSP--representing a decline of over 30 percent.

How Long Has it Been Since Your State Raised Its Gas Tax?

An updated version of this report has been published with data through January 1, 2017. Read this Policy Brief in PDF form Many states’ transportation budgets are in disarray, in part because they are trying to cover the rising cost of asphalt,...

State Treatment of Itemized Deductions

Read this Policy Brief in PDF Form Map of State Treatment of Itemized Deductions Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia allow a group of income tax breaks known as “itemized deductions.” [1] Itemized deductions are designed to help defray a...

ITEP Statement on Illinois Department of Revenue Analysis of House Bill 689

For Immediate Release: May 4, 2016   Contact: Jenice R. Robinson, 202.299.1066 X29, Jenice@itep.org Earlier today, the Illinois Department of Revenue (ILDOR) released an economic analysis of the tax changes included in House Bill 689, which would transform the state’s...

Distributional Analyses of Revenue Options for Alaska

Alaskans are faced with a stark fiscal reality. Following the discovery of oil in the 1960s and 1970s, state lawmakers repealed their personal income tax and began funding government primarily through oil tax and royalty revenues. For decades, oil revenues filled roughly 90 percent of the state's general fund.

Higher Education Income Tax Deductions and Credits in the States

Read full report in PDF Download detailed appendix with state-by-state information on deductions and credits (Excel) Every state levying a personal income tax offers at least one deduction or credit designed to defray the cost of higher education. In theory,...

Undocumented Immigrants' State & Local Tax Contributions

Read as a PDF. (Includes Full Appendix of State-by-State Data) Report Landing Page Public debates over federal immigration reform often suffer from insufficient and inaccurate information about the tax contributions of undocumented immigrants particularly at the state level. The truth...

Tennessee Hall Tax Repeal Would Overwhelmingly Benefit the Wealthy, Raise Tennesseans' Federal Tax Bills by $85 Million

Read PDF of report. Tennessee lawmakers are giving serious consideration to repealing their state’s “Hall Tax” on investment income (so named for the state senator who sponsored the legislation creating the tax more than eighty years ago).  But the Hall...

Rewarding Work Through State Earned Income Tax Credits

See the 2016 Updated Brief Here Read the brief in a PDF here.  that time, the EITC has been improved to lift and keep more working families out of poverty. The most recent improvements enhanced the credit for families with...

Tax Foundation Model Seeks to Revive Economic Voodoo

In recent months, the Tax Foundation has used its Taxes and Growth Model (TAG Model) to estimate the impact that a variety of tax policy changes would have on the nation's economy--including tax plans proposed by current presidential candidates. The Tax Foundation describes the underlying "logic" of its TAG Model as being rooted in the assumption that "taxes have a major impact on economic growth." More specifically, the TAG Model has concluded that proposals to lower taxes for high-income individuals and businesses would dramatically grow the economy, and that proposals to raise taxes would significantly slow economic growth.

How Long Has it Been Since Your State Raised Its Gas Tax?

Many states' transportation budgets are in disarray, in part because they are trying to cover the rising cost of asphalt, machinery, and other construction materials with a gasoline tax rate that is rarely increased. A growing number of states have recognized the problem with this approach and have switched to a "variable-rate" gas tax under which the tax rate tends to rise over time alongside either inflation or gas prices. A majority of Americans live in a state where the gas tax is automatically adjusted in this way.

Most Americans Live in States with Variable-Rate Gas Taxes

The federal government and many states are seeing shortfalls in their transportation budgets in part because the gasoline taxes they use to generate those funds are poorly designed. Thirty-one states and the federal government levy "fixed-rate" gas taxes where the tax rate does not change even as the cost of infrastructure materials inevitably increases over time. The federal government's 18.4 cent gas tax, for example, has not increased in over 22 years. And twenty states have gone a decade or more without a gas tax increase.

Testimony before the Vermont Senate Committee on Finance: Tax Policy Issues with Legalized Retail Marijuana

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the tax policy issues associated with legalized retail marijuana. Our testimony includes five parts: 1. An overview of the marijuana tax rates and structures that exist in the four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) where retail marijuana can be legally sold. 2. An analysis of early stage revenue trends in the two states (Colorado and Washington) where legal, taxable sales of retail marijuana have been taking place since 2014. 3. A discussion of issues associated with different types of marijuana tax bases--specifically weight-based taxes, price-based taxes, and hybrids of these two structures. 4. A discussion of issues involved in choosing a tax rate for marijuana. 5. A discussion of long-run issues related to the structure of marijuana taxes and their revenue yield.

ITEP Comments to the Vermont Senate Committee on Finance: Tax Expenditure Evaluation

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Vermont's effort to establish a system for regularly evaluating its tax expenditure programs. Data-driven tax expenditure evaluations are a valuable tool for gauging the effectiveness of policy initiatives pursued via the tax code. ITEP is supportive of Vermont's efforts in this area and is generally encouraged by the work completed thus far by groups such as the Joint Fiscal Office and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Rather than rehash the many useful recommendations made by those organizations, these comments focus on two areas that may be in need of further attention: the scope of what is labeled a "tax expenditure," and the importance of data infrastructure advancements to the success of these evaluations.