Category Archives: Taxation

Taxes and Inequality

Source: Leonard E. BurmanUrban Institute (UI), March 2014

From the abstract:
This paper reviews historical trends in economic inequality and tax policy’s role in reducing it. It documents the various reasons why income inequality continues to rise, paying particular attention to the interplay between regressive and progressive federal and state taxes. The report also considers the trade-off between the social welfare gains that a more equal distribution of incomes would provide, and the economic costs of using the tax system to reduce inequality, highlighting the fact that income inequality reflects an amalgam of factors. The optimal policy response reflects that complexity.

Curtailing the Subsidy War Within the United States

Source: Edward Alden and Rebecca Strauss, Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Innovation Memorandum no. 45, May 2014

From the summary:
Each year, U.S. state and local governments spend tens of billions of dollars to lure or retain business investment. The subsidies waste scarce taxpayer dollars that could better be used to strengthen public services such as education and infrastructure, or to lower overall tax burdens to create a more favorable investment climate. No state wants to dole out such subsidies, but most fear losing jobs to competing states if they refuse. States should take steps to curb subsidies, beginning with greater disclosure and cost-benefit analyses, and building up to a multistate agreement that creates strong disincentives for continuing subsidies. Existing international arrangements provide models and tools for achieving this….

….Rarely do the benefits of these subsidies exceed the costs. In highly mobile industries, like film production, the subsidies do lure business from other states, but any job creation is short-term and film crews are usually imported. In many other industries, subsidies have less influence on location decisions; manufacturers, in particular, require local networks of suppliers and employees with specialized training. Local governments usually lack the sophistication to negotiate successfully with big companies, so they end up subsidizing businesses that would have invested in the state regardless. Public money is wasted that could have gone to lower the overall corporate tax rate or to more productive investments like education and infrastructure—assets that matter more for most business location decisions than one-off tax breaks…..

Federal Minimum Wage, Tax-Transfer Earnings Supplements, and Poverty

Source: Gene Falk, Thomas Gabe, David H. Bradley, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R43409, February 28, 2014

Pending before Congress is legislation (S. 1737 and H.R. 1010) that would raise the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 per hour to, ultimately, $10.10 per hour. The minimum wage would be adjusted for inflation thereafter. Whether the minimum wage or alternative policies, namely government-funded earnings supplements such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), are more effective in addressing poverty has been long debated. … The impact of an increase in the minimum wage on the well-being of minimum wage workers depends in great part on whether the wage increase would cause a loss in employment. Some economic studies have found that increases in minimum wages cause job loss; other economic studies have found no such job loss. A previous consensus that increasing the minimum wage reduces employment, at least among teenagers, has been challenged by numerous recent studies suggesting little or no dis-employment effects of minimum wage increases. However, the debate over the employment effects of the minimum wage is likely to continue. There are also some considerations to expanding government-funded earnings supplements, such as the EITC, child tax credit, and SNAP. Expanding these earnings supplements would result in costs to the federal budget. In addition, these programs too might affect the labor market, albeit in ways different from a minimum wage increase. Research has provided evidence that the EITC has increased the number of workers in the labor market. Through the operation of supply and demand, this could suppress wage rates. Since all workers do not qualify for earnings supplements through the EITC, the child tax credit, or SNAP, lower-wage workers who do not receive them might be harmed economically. There has been some recent attention to considering minimum wage policies and earnings supplements as complementary, rather than alternative, policies. ….

State Employment Trends: Does a Low Tax/Right-to-Work/Low Minimum Wage Regime Correlate to Growth?

Source: Menzie Chinn, Econbrowser, April 21, 2014

It’s interesting how “pro-business” policies do not appear to be conducive to rapid employment growth. Employment in Governor Walker’s Wisconsin, as in Governor Brownback’s Kansas, has lagged behind that of the United States (and behind that of Governor Dayton’s Minnesota and Governor Brown’s California). …

Payroll Taxes, Mythology, and Fairness

Source: Linda Sugin, Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2416471, March 26, 2014

From the abstract:
As the 2012 fiscal cliff approached, Congress and President Obama bickered over the top marginal income tax rate that would apply to a tiny sliver of the population, while allowing payroll taxes to quietly rise for all working Americans. Though most Americans pay more payroll tax than income tax, academic and public debates rarely mention it. The combined effect of the payroll tax and the income tax produce dramatically heavier tax liabilities on labor compared to capital, producing substantial horizontal and vertical inequity in the tax system. This article argues that a fair tax system demands just overall burdens, and that the current combination of income taxes and payroll taxes imposes too heavy a relative burden on wage earners. It scrutinizes the payroll tax to debunk myths that artificially link payroll taxes to retirement security, and argues that these myths have lulled workers into accepting substantial and regressive tax burdens. Freed from the analytical limitations of an insurance label and a private-savings paradigm, policymakers can be better guided by fundamental principles of fairness. By refuting justifications for taxing capital income more lightly than labor income, and offering fairness arguments for taxing work less than investment, the article makes a case for equalizing the tax burdens on labor and capital income. Social Security’s outlays constitute one-fifth of total federal spending, and this article maintains that it should be financed by a fair tax.

Rich States, Poor States, 2014 Edition

Source: Arthur B. Laffer, Stephen Moore and Jonathan Williams, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), 2014

From the summary:
Throughout the country, states are looking for ways to energize their economies and become more competitive. Each state confronts this task with a set of policy decisions unique to their own situation, but not all state policies lead to economic prosperity. Using years of economic data and empirical evidence from each state, the authors identify which policies can lead a state to economic prosperity. Rich States, Poor States not only identifies these policies but also makes sound research-based conclusions about which states are poised to achieve greater economic prosperity and those that are stuck on the path to a lackluster economy….

Social Security Reform: The Politics of the Payroll Tax

Source: Benjamin A. Templin, Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 2377506, December 1, 2013

From the abstract:
This Article examines the principal reform proposals that would increase tax revenue for the Social Security trust fund — weighing the pros and cons of each. The Article also considers the prospects for political agreement on a reform proposal given the past efforts and the looming crisis.

Part I of the Article recounts the latest data as of 2013 on insolvency projections and discusses the methods by which the Office of the Chief Actuary measures the effect of proposed reforms. Part II provides an overview of the payroll tax and benefit calculations. The factors used in calculating both tax and benefits are key components used in many reform proposals.

The Article focuses on two types of tax reform proposals: (1) proposals that increase the tax rate, which are the subject of Part III; and (2) proposals that increase the maximum taxable income rate, which are discussed in Part IV. Part V examines the political realities of reform proposals and suggests ways in which political bargaining can be structured to maximize the chances of a proposal being adopted.

Putting Chicago Pension Costs in Context

Source: Thomas Cafcas, Good Jobs First, April 2014

Public pensions are under threat of cuts in Chicago. Rhetoric surrounding the issue seems to ignore the influence of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) on reducing critical revenues for the City of Chicago. Nearly one out of every ten property tax dollars collected gets diverted into TIF accounts. Good Jobs First seeks to put current pension costs (known as employer normal costs) into comparative context with revenue diverted into TIF accounts. Any fair budgeting discussion of pensions must include the enormous revenues diverted by TIF.

‘Skin in the Tax Game:’ Invisible Taxpayers? Invisible Citizens?

Source: Mildred Wigfall Robinson, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper 2014-29, April 1, 2014

From the abstract:
Skin in the game” – some thing that the interested party has at risk – has become a part of everyday American political discourse. Personal financial risk – some personal stake — is demanded of all “players.” The implications are clear: no skin, no play. The requirement for “skin in the game” in the context of ongoing fiscal debate along with the “concern” that in 2011 almost fifty percent of Americans paid no federal income tax is the latest version of the ongoing “cut-taxes/reduce governmental size” wrangling. It is also another play on the high political salience of the federal income tax as an institution.

Focus solely on the federal income tax, however, inappropriately skews the debate. As an editorial in the New York Times indicated, for many of these non-(federal) taxpayers, the absence of liability resulted from deliberate tax policy implemented during the Reagan administration. Of equal importance and as also noted in that editorial, the federal income tax is not the only source of governmental tax liability. Exemption of liability for federal income tax purposes does not carry with it similar exemption from other levies either on the federal level or on the state and local levels. As noted in the editorial, “[e]ven if [Americans] earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes, gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes.”

Because the American system of governance is federalist, government on each level must identify sources of revenue adequate to defray services provided and – with the exception of the federal government — must do so within the confines of a balanced budget. In this essay, I examine the federal levies to which these taxpayers remain subject in combination with state and local taxes thus establishing that less affluent Americans have “skin in the tax game.” I also comment on the inherently regressive nature of these taxes as well as the effect of income and wealth disparity on likely comparative tax burdens. I conclude by identifying several ways in which sole focus on federal tax burden inappropriately skews debate, potentially distorts policy, and limits opportunity for citizen input across all levels of government.