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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Chart comparing House GOP Tax Plan, Trump’s Initial Tax Proposal and Trump’s Revised Tax Proposal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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…
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.
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…
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…
This brief was updated July 2018 Read this Policy Brief in PDF here. Sales taxes are an important revenue source, composing close to half of all state tax revenues. But…
A new distributional analysis of Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” policies finds that the plan would: • Add $4 trillion to the national debt over a…
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.
An updated version of this report has been published with data through July 1, 2017. Read this Policy Brief in PDF form Many states’ transportation budgets are in disarray, in…
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…
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.
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…
This report was updated in March 2017 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…
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…
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.…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When thinking of tax havens, one generally pictures notorious zero-tax Caribbean islands like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. However, we can also find a tax haven a lot closer to home in the state of Delaware – a choice location for U.S. business formation. A loophole in Delaware’s tax code is responsible for the loss of billions of dollars in revenue in other U.S. states, and its lack of incorporation transparency makes it a magnet for people looking to create anonymous shell companies, which individuals and corporations can use to evade an inestimable amount in federal and foreign taxes. The Internal Revenue Service estimated a total tax gap of about $450 billion with $376 billion of it due to filers underreporting income in 2006 (the most recent tax year for which this data is available).[i] While it is impossible to know how much underreported income is hidden in Delaware shell companies, the First State’s ability to attract the formation of anonymous companies suggests that it could rival the amount of income hidden in more well-known offshore tax havens.
Read the Report in PDF Form An individual savings account can serve as an emergency reserve – a financial cushion to sustain yourself in the event of an emergency. “Rainy…
The U.S. Census Bureau released data in September showing that the share of Americans living in poverty remains high. In 2014, the national poverty rate was 14.8 percent – statistically unchanged from the previous year. However, the poverty rate remains 2.3 percentage points higher than it was in 2007, before the Great Recession, indicating that recent economic gains have not yet reached all households and that there is much room for improvement. The 2014 measure translates to more than 46.7 million – more than 1 in 7 – Americans living in poverty. Most state poverty rates also held steady between 2013 and 2014 though twelve states experienced a decline.
Despite some economic gains in recent years, the number of Americans living in poverty has held steady over the past four years. At the same time, wages for working families have remained stagnant and more than half of the jobs created by the economic recovery since 2010 were low-paying, mostly in the food services, retail, and employment services industries. Our country’s growing class of low-wage workers often faces a dual challenge as they struggle to make ends meet. First, wages are too low and growing too slowly – despite recent productivity gains – to keep up with the rising cost of food, housing, child care, and other household expenses. At the same time, the poor are often saddled with highly regressive state and local taxes, making it even harder for low-wage workers to move out of poverty and achieve meaningful economic security. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is designed to help low-wage workers meet both those challenges.
Annual data from the U.S. Census Bureau appear to lend support to Tennessee’s reputation as a “low tax state,” ranking it 50th nationally in taxes collected as a share of personal income.1 But focusing on the state’s overall tax revenues has led many observers to overlook the fact that different taxpayers experience Tennessee’s tax system very differently. In particular, the poorest 20 percent of Tennessee residents pay significantly more of their income (10.9 percent) in state and local taxes than any other group in the state. For low-income families, Tennessee is far from being a low tax state.2 In fact, only thirteen states tax their poorest residents more heavily than Tennessee.
Annual data from the U.S. Census Bureau appear to lend support to South Dakota’s reputation as a “low tax state,” ranking it 51st nationally in taxes collected as a share of personal income, the lowest overall tax state.1 But focusing on the state’s overall tax revenues has led many observers to overlook the fact that different taxpayers experience South Dakota’s tax system very differently. In particular, the poorest 20 percent of South Dakota residents pay significantly more of their income (11.3 percent) in state and local taxes than any other group in the state. For low-income families, South Dakota is far from being a low tax state.2 In fact, only eleven states tax their poorest residents more heavily than South Dakota.
Annual data from the U.S. Census Bureau appear to lend support to Washington’s reputation as a “low tax state,” ranking it 36th nationally in taxes collected as a share of personal income.1 But focusing on the state’s overall tax revenues has led many observers to overlook the fact that different taxpayers experience Washington’s tax system very differently. In particular, the poorest 20 percent of Washington residents pay significantly more of their income (16.8 percent) in state and local taxes than any other group in the state. For low-income families, Washington is far from being a low tax state.2 In fact, Washington is the highest tax state in the country for poor people.
Annual data from the U.S. Census Bureau appear to lend support to Florida’s reputation as a “low tax state,” ranking it 48th nationally in taxes collected as a share of personal income.1 But focusing on the state’s overall tax revenues has led many observers to overlook the fact that different taxpayers experience Florida’s tax system very differently. In particular, the poorest 20 percent of Florida residents pay significantly more of their income (12.9 percent) in state and local taxes than any other group in the state. For low-income families, Florida is far from being a low tax state.2 In fact, only three states tax their poorest residents more heavily than Florida.
Annual data from the U.S. Census Bureau appear to lend support to Texas’ reputation as a “low tax state,” ranking it 39th nationally in taxes collected as a share of personal income.1 But focusing on the state’s overall tax revenues has led many observers to overlook the fact that different taxpayers experience Texas’ tax system very differently. In particular, the poorest 20 percent of Texans pay significantly more of their income (12.5 percent) in state and local taxes than any other group in the state. 2 For low-income families, Texas is far from being a low tax state. In fact, only six states tax their poorest residents more heavily than Texas.
Annual data from the U.S. Census Bureau appears to lend support to Arizona’s reputation as a “low tax state,” ranking it 37th nationally in taxes collected as a share of personal income.1 But focusing on the state’s overall tax revenues has led many observers to overlook the fact that different taxpayers experience Arizona’s tax system very differently. In particular, the poorest 20 percent of Arizona residents pay significantly more of their income (12.5 percent) in state and local taxes than any other group in the state.2 For low-income families, Arizona is far from being a low tax state. In fact, only four states tax their poorest residents more heavily than Arizona.