Taxing companies out of the state

Illinois needs more money.  So it has slapped more taxes on its businesses.  Whereupon more businesses are leaving the state.  So Illinois needs more money.  Here is a lesson in unintended consequences, how governments trying to raise revenue by raising taxes can end up killing the golden goose.  George Will tells the tale, focusing first on the effects of an Illinois law requiring that its on-line businesses charge their customers sales-tax, which has resulted in those on-line businesses leaving the state.  He concludes with this:

According to the Tax Foundation, Illinois has not only the fourth-highest combined national-local corporate income tax in the nation but also in the industrialized world. In Peoria, Doug Oberhelman, chief executive of Caterpillar, has told Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn that he is being “wined and dined” by other governors and their representatives encouraging Caterpillar to invest in their states.

It recently picked Muncie, Ind., for a major manufacturing plant. Says Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels of his neighboring state, “It’s like living next door to ‘The Simpsons’ — you know, the dysfunctional family down the block.”

A study by the Illinois Policy Institute, a market-oriented think tank, concludes that between 1991 and 2009, Illinois lost more than 1.2 million residents — more than one every 10 minutes — to other states. Between 1995 and 2007, the total net income leaving Illinois was $23.5 billion. The five states receiving most refugees from Illinois were Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona and Texas. Two are Illinois’ neighbors, three have warm weather, two — Florida and Texas — have no income tax. In January, a lame-duck session of Illinois’ legislature — including 18 Democrats who were defeated in November — raised the personal income tax 67 percent and the corporate tax almost 50 percent. This and the increase — from 3 percent to 5 percent — in the tax on small businesses make Illinois, as the Wall Street Journal says, “one of the most expensive places in the world to conduct business.”

via Working up a tax storm in Illinois – The Washington Post.

The issue isn’t so much lame ducks as golden geese.

Where your taxes go

President Obama, in his State of the Union Address, said that taxpayers would soon be able to access an online “receipt” to show what all your taxes are paying for.  That site is now up, and it’s kind of interesting:  Your 2010 Federal Taxpayer Receipt | The White House.

HT:  Mary J

Who pays taxes?

A news story in the Washington Post follows the Democratic party line in complaining that the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes.  But notice how the facts get in the way of the thesis!

As millions of procrastinators scramble to meet Monday’s tax-filing deadline, ponder this: The super-rich pay a lot less in taxes than they did a couple of decades ago, and nearly half of U.S. households pay no income taxes at all.

The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992.

Over the same period, the average federal income tax rate for all taxpayers declined to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent.

The top income tax rate is 35 percent, so how can people who make so much pay so much less than that in taxes? The nation’s tax laws are packed with breaks for people at every income level. There are breaks for having children, paying a mortgage, going to college and even for paying other taxes.

The top rate on capital gains is only 15 percent.

There are so many breaks that 45 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax for 2010, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank. . . .

The sheer number of credits, deductions and exemptions has Democrats and Republicans calling for tax laws to be overhauled. House Republicans want to eliminate breaks to pay for lower overall rates, reducing the top tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. Republicans oppose raising taxes, but they argue that a more efficient tax code would increase economic activity, generating additional tax revenue.

President Obama said last week that he wants to do away with tax breaks to lower the rates and to reduce government borrowing. Obama’s proposal would result in $1 trillion in tax increases over the next 12 years.

The proposals from the GOP and Obama included few details, putting off hard choices about which tax breaks to eliminate.

In all, the tax code is filled with $1.1 trillion in credits, deductions and exemptions, an average of about $8,000 per taxpayer, according to an analysis by the independent national taxpayer advocate within the IRS.

More than half of the nation’s tax revenue came from the top 10 percent of earners in 2007. More than 44 percent came from the top 5 percent. Still, the wealthy have access to much more lucrative tax breaks than people with lower incomes.

Obama wants this to change so “the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.” . . .

The vast majority of those who escape federal income taxes have low and medium incomes, and most of them pay other taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes, property taxes and retail sales taxes.

via For richest, federal taxes have gone down; for some in U.S., they’re nonexistent – The Washington Post.

So it turns out that the rich already pay taxes at a rate nearly twice that of the average, that the top 10% in income already pay half of the nation’s taxes, that the top 5% already pay 44% of those taxes, and the 45% of Americans who pay nothing at all are not the wealthy but poor and middle income people!

Isn’t it a bad thing for so much of the government’s income to come from only 5% of its citizens?  And that nearly half of Americans cannot claim the stakeholder status of “taxpayer”?  Not that I begrudge anyone’s good fortune in getting tax breaks, but if taxes should be raised (not that I think they should be), shouldn’t those who don’t pay any get targeted before people who are already paying half of the government’s income?

As a matter of principle, shouldn’t everyone chip in something, if only a couple of bucks?  When the topic is tax fairness, isn’t it unfair for a few to pay so much, while so many pay nothing?

Housing allowance tax break may be doomed

Pastors and teachers, have you seen this?

As tax time begins, church legal expert Richard Hammar warns ministers, pastors and clerics to be mindful of a legal battle that has strong financial implications on their personal and church taxes in 2011.

In the January 2011 issue of Church Law & Tax Report, Hammar highlights tax developments, drawing special attention to a California court case that threatens to extinguish a federal tax break which dates back to 1954, the parsonage exemption.

Many churches give their pastors and ministers an allowance to help ease housing-related expenses, such utility bills, repair and yard work costs. The parsonage exemption allows ministers to receive this money free of any federal, and in parts of the country, state taxes.

However, a lawsuit set for trial in 2011 threatens the constitutionality of sections 107 and 265(1)(6) of the federal tax code, which establishes the housing allowance for ministers.

Atheist group Freedom from Religion Foundation filed the federal lawsuit in 2009. The group asserts the unique benefit set aside especially for “ministers of the gospel” is a violation of separation of church and state.

The FFRF cites the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock to assert that tax benefits given only to religious institutions violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor states in a 2009 press release that the benefit is unfair to those who are not religious ministers.

“All other taxpayers pay more because clergy receive this privileged benefit,” she proclaimed.

via Church Legal Expert: Minister Housing Tax Break Under Attack | Christianpost.com.

Granted that it is an important benefit to church workers and that we would be sorry to see it go, can anyone answer the objections to it?

The “tax expenditures” solution

Here is another proposal for how to cut the deficit.  This one suffers from a toxic premise:

There is a way to cut budget deficits without raising tax rates. “Tax expenditures” are the special features of U.S. income tax law that subsidize mortgage borrowing, health insurance, local government spending and more. Although these subsidies are a form of government spending, they are counted as reduced tax revenue rather than increased government outlays. Yet tax expenditures increase the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars a year, more than the total cost of all non-defense programs other than Social Security and Medicare.

A critical feature of the proposal recently unveiled by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission, is to reduce tax expenditures rather than raise tax rates. That would increase revenue without reducing incentives to work, save or invest.

Their most extreme suggestion is to eliminate all tax expenditures, raising $1 trillion a year in additional tax revenue, and then use all but $80 billion of that to cut tax rates. I think that devotes too little money to deficit reduction at a time when fiscal deficits are dangerously large.

Because Bowles and Simpson recognize that eliminating all tax expenditures is politically impossible, they also proposed to eliminate or scale back some tax expenditures while cutting tax rates less to achieve the same $80 billion annual deficit reduction. This option will undoubtedly be opposed by some who find it unfair to limit measures from which they benefit while leaving unchanged tax rules that benefit other people.

Here is a practical alternative toward the same end: Congress should cap the total benefit taxpayers can receive from the combined effect of different tax expenditures. That cap could be set as a percentage of an individual’s adjusted gross income and perhaps subject to an absolute dollar amount.

To be clear, the cap would not apply to the amount of any deduction but would limit the total tax savings that result from such deductions. Someone with a 25 percent marginal tax rate who pays annual mortgage interest of $4,000 would still deduct that $4,000. The cap would apply to the $1,000 tax saving that individual could expect on mortgage interest, not to his or her deduction.

The idea is not to single out a particular tax expenditure. Because the cap would reduce the revenue cost of all tax expenditures without eliminating or reducing specific ones, it would not unfairly burden taxpayers who benefit from one particular type of tax measure.

The budget gain would be substantial. My colleague Daniel Feenberg of the National Bureau of Economic Research and I have estimated that capping an individual’s benefit from tax expenditures at 2 percent of adjusted gross income would reduce the federal deficit in 2011 by $262 billion, or about 1.7 percent of gross domestic product. An additional cap on these benefits in absolute dollar terms would produce a larger deficit reduction.  . . .

The tax expenditures subject to the cap in our calculations reflect deductions for mortgage interest, state and local income and property taxes, and charitable contributions; credits for dependent care, children and certain education costs; and the exclusion of employer payments for health insurance. Congress could, of course, expand or reduce this list. Dropping the deduction for charitable contributions, for example, would reduce the 2011 revenue gain by some $45 billion.

More than 65 percent of taxpayers do not itemize their deductible expenses but use the standard deduction. Nearly half (46 percent) of taxpayers who use the standard deduction would not be affected by a 2 percent cap. For those who are, the cap would apply to various tax credits and to the exclusion of employer payments for health insurance.

via Martin Feldstein – How to cut the deficit without raising taxes.

Doesn’t this assume that all money belongs to the government?  So not taking a person’s money counts as an “expenditure”?  It also says that taxing something that was not taxed before somehow avoids a tax increase.

If you can get past those problems, what do you think of this idea?  Capping deductions might be better than eliminating them entirely, as some are proposing.  But decreasing the mortgage deduction certainly won’t help the housing market–which is necessary for non-government economic growth–nor will cutting back charitable deductions help churches and other private groups step in with the safety nets that government budget-cutting will be eliminating.

A plan to cut the deficit

It is said that Americans want the government to cut spending while also wanting the government to spend more for them.  We will now see how serious the demands to cut the deficit are.

The bipartisan commission appointed by the president to suggest how to trim government spending and get the budget into balance is working on the problem.  The two chairmen have released a report on their suggestions.  (This is not the final report of the commission.)  The two have come up with a plan to save $4 trillion through 2020.  It cuts the military, eliminates earmarks, drops federal subsidies for student loans, cuts Medicare, freezes federal salaries, cuts farm subsidies, and eliminates the option to draw social security until you are 68.  Supposedly, there is something in the proposal to anger everybody.

It will also raise some taxes.  It includes an intriguing reform of the income tax:

The proposed simplification of the tax code would repeal or modify a number of popular tax breaks — including the deductibility of mortgage interest payments — so that income tax rates could be reduced across the board. Under the plan, individual income tax rates would decline to as low as 8 percent on the lowest income bracket (now 10 percent) and to 23 percent on the highest bracket (now 35 percent). The corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, would also be reduced, to as low as 26 percent.

Even after reducing the rates, the overhaul of the tax code would still yield additional revenue to reduce annual deficits — a projected $80 billion in 2015.

via Panel Weighs Deep Cuts in Tax Breaks and Spending – NYTimes.com.

Take a look at the proposed cuts listed in these articles andhere. Or read the entire 50-page report.

Would you be willing to bite this bullet?


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