Special Issue: Reforming State and Local Tax Systems

Source: Public Finance Review, Volume: 45, Number: 4, July 2017
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From the introduction:
State tax reform is fundamentally different than federal tax reform. States are continually modifying their taxes to meet revenue challenges and to cope with the changing structure of the national and regional economy. Most state tax reforms are modest affairs and not major rewrites of the tax codes. Reforms must consider the existing institutional structure of the state, state economic policies, and current state politics. Nonetheless, there are some common themes in reforms across the states, including an expansion of the sales tax base to include services and a broadening of the base for income taxation.

Articles include:
What Drives State Tax Reforms?
James Alm, Trey Dronyk-Trosper, Steven M. Sheffrin

State tax reform is fundamentally different than federal tax reform. States are continually modifying their taxes to meet revenue challenges and to cope with the changing structure of the national and regional economy. Most state tax reforms are modest affairs and not major rewrites of the tax codes. Reforms must consider the existing institutional structure of the state, state economic policies, and current state politics. Nonetheless, there are some common themes in reforms across the states, including an expansion of the sales tax base to include services and a broadening of the base for income taxation.


Personal Income Tax Revenue Growth and Volatility: Lessons and Insights from Utah Tax Reform

Gary C. Cornia, R. Bruce Johnson, Ray D. Nelson

In order to reduce the volatility of the personal income tax in Utah, review and reform efforts recommended a simple flat tax that disallowed all deductions or exemptions. Among the reasons for the recommended flat tax was the argument that it would result in a more stable year-over-year tax revenue stream. This was especially important for education financing. The tax system that was finally adopted retained exemptions and deductions through a tax credit. Using a series of simulations based on twenty-one years of tax returns, we establish that by retaining exemptions and deductions, tax reform efforts failed to appreciably reduce the volatility of personal income tax revenues. These simulations also show that the initially proposed flat income tax with no exemptions or deductions would have decreased volatility at the cost of reducing the growth rate. This study contributes insights, caveats, methodology, and potential alternatives for future individual income tax reforms by focusing on the growth and volatility of three different tax systems.

Reducing Property Taxes on Homeowners: An Analysis Using Computable General Equilibrium and Microsimulation Models
Andrew Feltenstein, Mark Rider, David L. Sjoquist, John V. Winters

We consider a proposal that reduces by half the taxes on homesteaded properties and replaces the lost revenue by increasing the base and rate of the state sales tax. We develop a computable general equilibrium (CGE) model and a microsimulation model (MSM) to analyze the economic and welfare effects of such a proposal if adopted in Georgia. The results from the CGE model suggest that the proposed reforms have a substantial negative effect in percentage terms on Georgia’s economy. The MSM suggests that such a policy has no effect on the distribution of consumption by income class but increases the percentage of owner-occupied housing relative to rental housing by 20 percent in the aggregate.

Does Perception of Gas Tax Paid Influence Support for Funding Highway Improvements?
Ronald C. Fisher, Robert W. Wassmer

The issue for this research is whether perception of the rate and amount of fuel taxes paid by an individual influences his or her support for funding highway improvements from any source of revenue. A survey of likely California and Michigan voters demonstrates that they often overestimate the rate of their state’s gasoline excise tax and the subsequent amount they are likely to pay for this tax in a month. Regression analyses show that voter misperceptions concerning the magnitude of state fuel taxes affect their views regarding an increase in funding to support highway investment proposals. A reasonable policy implication is that the adoption of proposals to generate additional funds for highway investment is more likely if accompanied by a campaign identifying the existing rate of the state’s gasoline excise tax and the relatively small amount of this tax paid by the state’s typical driver.

State Export Promotion and Firm-level Employment
Andrew J. Cassey, Spencer Cohen

Most US states have export promotion programs, but it is unknown if these programs create long-term employment, which is often the policy’s stated goal. We merge administrative export promotion and employment data from Washington State to test the effect of firm-level export promotion on firm-level employment using the differences-in-differences estimator. We believe we are the first to have US state data at this level of detail. We find firm participation in an export assistance program increases firm-level employment fleetingly, but not in subsequent periods. Thus, we do not find a statistically significant impact to long-term employment from program participation.

Protecting the Vulnerable or Ripe for Reform? State Income Tax Breaks for the Elderly—Then and Now
Ben Brewer, Karen Smith Conway, Jonathan C. Rork

State governments have a long history of providing income tax relief to their elderly constituents. Our research investigates the current distributional and revenue effects of these tax breaks, as well as the economic status of the elderly, and explores how these measures have changed since 1990. Using data from the 1990 Integrated Public Use Microdata Series and the 2013 American Community Survey, combined with the TAXSIM calculator, we calculate current state income tax liabilities and revenues and simulate the effects of removing all age-related tax breaks. Our analyses reveal that the economic well-being of the elderly has grown substantially relative to the nonelderly and that state tax breaks primarily benefit the middle- and upper-income elderly. Revenue costs of these tax breaks have also grown substantially, and their modest and mixed effects on income equality, measured by changes in the Gini, cast doubt on equity as a justification.