As the tax reform debate begins to heat up, businesses and investors are beginning to pay closer attention to the House GOP Tax Reform Blueprint, a tax plan released last June by Speaker Paul Ryan and House Ways and...
- The Tax Policy Blog
- San Francisco Sends Problematic Gross Receipts Tax to Nov...
San Francisco Sends Problematic Gross Receipts Tax to November Ballot
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously yesterday to place a business gross receipts tax on the November ballot. The tax would replace an existing 1.5 percent tax on business payrolls and is designed to raise the same amount of money per year (approximately $410 million).
Labor-intensive businesses had pushed for the change, which would shift tax burdens away from them toward other businesses. If adopted by voters, the change would be gradual, with the one tax not fully phased out and the other not fully phased in until 2018. Supervisors highlighted businesses that will save money, and the business community applauded the move, although the fact that this raises the same amount of money suggests that there will be as many losers as winners.
Gross receipts taxes are widely considered to be among the most economically destructive and complex of taxes. While they have low rates and no deductions, the perniciousness of gross receipts taxes is that since the tax applies each time a business sells its goods or services, the tax "pyramids" on products as they move through the production process. The longer the production chain, the higher the effective tax rate on the final product. This produces major distortions in economic decision-making, with notably negative impacts on low-margin, high-volume businesses.
To mitigate this, lobbyists push jurisdictions with gross receipts taxes to adopt different rates for different industries, a process ripe for confusion and abuse. Washington State, for instance, has repeatedly amended its gross receipts tax (“B&O tax”), resulting in an ever-changing blizzard of different rates and bases. Every business is assigned a B&O tax classification with different rates, exemptions and credits. For example, manufacturing generally pays 0.484 percent, while airplane components manufacturing pays 0.2904 percent, with timber extraction paying 0.3424 percent, retailing paying 0.471 percent, real estate paying 1.5 percent, horse race meets paying 0.13 percent, travel agents paying 0.275 percent, garbage disposal paying 3.3 percent, and crabbing paying zero.
San Francisco’s ordinance already starts down this road, setting seven different tax rates by industry. For example, retailers would pay just 0.16 percent, while construction would pay 0.45 percent.
No matter how much one fiddles with the rate structure, all gross receipts taxes feature tax pyramiding, which distorts and interferes with business investment decisions. Sales, individual income and property taxes do not have the same tax pyramiding feature, and cause far less economic harm than a gross receipts tax that raises the same amount of revenue.
There is no sensible case for gross receipts taxation. Their historical ancestor, turnover taxes, have long since been replaced with taxes that created fewer economic problems. Gross receipts taxes do not belong in any program of tax reform.
Get Email Updates from the Tax Foundation
Join the Tax Foundation's fight for sound tax policy Go
About the Tax Policy Blog
The Tax Policy Blog is the official blog of the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit research organization that has monitored tax policy at the federal, state and local levels since 1937. Our economists welcome your feedback. If you would like to send an e-mail to the author of a blog post, please click on that person's name to locate his or her e-mail address or visit our staff page here.
Related State Articles
- Lunch Links: Mnuchin Promises Tax Reform within First 90 Days of Trump Administration; Chopping Itemized Deductions Not Panacea in Trump Tax Plan; Massachusetts Latest State to Consider Soda Tax
- Lunch Links: Not So Sweet Soda Taxes Have Multi-City Appeal; Trump Includes Tax Reform in Efforts to Keep Carrier from Bolting; Christie Cites 'Blood Money' Tax Revenue in Shunning Marijuana Legalization for N.J.
- Lunch links: Mileage Vs. Gas Tax Experiment Begins in Colorado; Recounts Coming in Maine on Marijuana and Income Tax; Rhode Island Considers Catching Up with Neighbor States on Marijuana Legalization
- 1 of 111
- next ›