Dan Mitchell: “Looking at reforms at the state level, the past two years have produced very good news on education policy and tax policy!”

The Correct Rate for a State Income Tax Is Zero

Looking at reforms at the state level, the past two years have produced very good news on education policy and tax policy.

Regarding the latter, many states have lowered tax rates and several of them have junked so-called progressive tax systems and replaced them with simple and fair flat taxes.

But I’m greedy for even bigger improvements.

I want to see some states move not just to Column 2 in my ranking of state tax policy. I want them to be in Column 1.

And that means they need to get rid of income taxes.

The good news is that some states are having that discussion.

Here are some excerpts from an Associated Pressreport from Mississippi, written by Michael Goldberg.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves promised to push for a full elimination of the state’s income tax during the 2023 legislative session. The move would make Mississippi the 10th state with no income tax. …Mississippi’s Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation in 2022 that will eliminate the state’s 4% income tax bracketstarting in 2023. In the following three years, the 5% bracket will be reduced to 4%. …Supporters of the 2022 Mississippi tax cut said it would spur economic growth and attract new residents to Mississippi. …Republican House speaker Philip Gunn has said full elimination of the state income tax is “achievable,” though he hasn’t committed to doing so in the 2023 session. …Tax-cut proposals are a direct effort to compete with states that don’t tax earnings, including Texas, Florida and Tennessee.

And here are portions of an article in National Review about Colorado, authored by Ben Murrey, which also notes that the TABOR spending limit will need to be strengthened if lawmakers are serious about getting rid of the state’s income tax.

When an interviewer recently asked Colorado’s Democratic governor Jared Polis what the state’s income-tax rate should be, he answered without hesitation: “It should be zero.” …The effort to chisel away at the income tax has already gained steam in the state.Last year, voters reduced the tax with Proposition 116 — a ballot initiative that brought the rate from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent. …Eliminating the tax would provide an enormous direct windfall to Colorado households. …every reduction in income tax will allow Coloradans to keep more of every dollar they earn, and it invites more jobs and opportunities for residents. …To eliminate the income tax entirely, the state would probably need to begin lowering the revenue limit along with the rate reductions in the future. …these two reforms would put the state on a road to zero.

By the way, Colorado voters once again just cut the state’s flat tax in a referendum earlier this month.

Would Mississippi and Colorado be doing the right thing if they joined the zero-income-tax club?

Yes. I cited some evidence on this issue about 10 years ago.

Here’s some updated analysis from Chris Edwards.

The nine states without an individual income tax are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. …What they have in common is providing needed state‐​local services to their residents without complex, anti‐​freedom, and anti‐​growth individual income taxes. Most of the nine run leaner and more efficient governments than most other states. They only partly make up for the income tax revenue gap with other revenues. In terms of overall tax burdens, eight of the nine states are toward the bottom of the 50 states and Washington is in the middle. …Total taxes in the seven states average 8.1 percent of income. The average in the 40 other states is 9.6 percent. Thus, the lack of individual income tax restrains the overall tax burden. …Repealing state individual income taxes is a good goal. …Residents get the state‐​local services they need, but at lower cost.

Here’s the chart that accompanied Chris’ article. He separates Alaska and Wyoming because they get so much money from energy taxes and are not realistic role models for other states.

The bottom line is that states without an income tax tend to have smaller government.

This is especially true for Florida, Tennessee, South Dakota, and New Hampshire. And Texas may join those states now that it has strengthened its spending cap.

One should-be-obvious conclusion from this data is that states with no income taxes should not make the mistake of adopting that punitive levy. Unless, of course, they want to repeat Connecticut’s unhappy experience.

Illinois and Fiscal Suicide, Part I

I wrote a couple of days ago about California’s grim future.

But now I’ll share some good news. No matter how bad California gets, the Golden State probably won’t have to worry about people and businesses fleeing to Illinois.

That’s because the Prairie State is an even bigger mess. If California is committing “slow motion suicide,” Illinois is opting for the quickest-possible fiscal demise.

Politicians in Springfield (the Illinois capital) have a love affair with higher taxes. A very passionate love affair.

But the state’s productive people have a different point of view. More and more of them have been escaping.

And they are now being joined by the state’s most-famous company, as Matt Paprocki of the Illinois Policy Institute explains in a column for the Washington Post.

When Boeing announced last month that it was moving its headquarters from Chicago to Arlington, Va., it sent shudders through the Illinois business community and state capital.But last week, when the heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar said it was moving its headquarters to Texas, it felt more like a bulldozer ramming into the news. …If you’re an Illinois business owner or resident, as I am, the economics of staying are tough and the enticements to move away are many. …According to the U.S. Census Bureau, last year the state had the third-largest loss of residents due to domestic migration in the nation (-122,460), trailing only California and New York.

It’s easy to understand why people and businesses are leaving.

In 2017, Illinois lawmakers raised the personal income tax rate to 4.95 percent, from 3.75 percent, and hiked the corporate rate to 7 percent, from 5.25 percent. When J.B. Pritzker took office as governor in 2019, he passed another 24 tax and fee hikes costing taxpayers over $5 billion. …With 278,475 regulatory restrictions and requirements — double the national average — Illinois has the third most heavily regulated environment in the country. …Illinois owes over $139 billion in state pension debt as of last year, and local governments owe about $75 billion, which is the primary driver for Illinois’ spiraling property taxes, second-highest in the nation.

Mr. Paprocki offers all sorts of suggestions for reform, including a spending cap.

But the chances of pro-growth reform are effectively zero. The governor is a hard-core leftist (as well as a hypocrite) and the state legislature is controlled by government employee unions.

So if you’re hoping for a TABOR-style spending cap, there’s little reason to be optimistic.

And if you’re hoping for reforms that will improve the state’s “least friendly” tax climate, don’t hold your breath.

California is the Greece of the USA, but Texas is not perfect either!!!

Texas is in much better shape than California. Taxes are lower, in part because Texas has no state income tax.

No wonder the Lone Star State is growing faster and creating more jobs.

And the gap will soon get even wider since California voters recently decided to drive away more productive people by raising top tax rates.

But a key challenge for all governments is controlling the size and cost of bureaucracies.

Government employees are probably overpaid in both states, but the situation is worse in California, as I discuss in this interview with John Stossel.

Dan Mitchell Comparing Excessive Bureaucrat Compensation in Texas and California

But being better than California is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Texas fiscal policy.

A column in today’s Wall Street Journal, written by the state’s Comptroller of Public Accounts, points out some worrisome signs.

As the chief financial officer of the nation’s second-largest state, even I have found it hard to get a handle on how much governments are spending, and how much debt they’re taking on. Every level of government is piling up incredible bills. And they’re coming due, whether we like it or not. Even in low-tax Texas, property taxes have risen three times faster than the inflation rate and four times faster than our population growth since 1992. Our local governments, meanwhile, more than doubled their debt load in the last decade, to more than $7,500 in debt for every man, woman and child in the state. In Houston alone, city-employee pension plans are facing an unfunded liability of $2.4 billion. But too many taxpayers aren’t given the information they need to make informed decisions when they vote debt issues. Recently I spent several months holding about 40 town-hall meetings with Texans across our state. Each time, I asked the attendees if they could tell me how much debt their local governments are carrying. Not a single person in a single town had this information.

In other words, taxpayers need to be eternally vigilant, regardless of where they live. Otherwise the corrupt rectangle of politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, and interest groups will figure out hidden ways of using the political process to obtain unearned wealth.

P.S. The second-most-viewed post on this blog is this joke about Texas, California, and a coyote, so it must be at least somewhat amusing. If you want some Texas-specific humor, this police exam is amusing and you’ll enjoy this joke about the difference between Texans, liberals and conservatives. And if you want California-specific humor, this Chuck Asay cartoon hits the nail on the head.

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