ARPA’s Tax Cuts Limitation Is a Problem for More States Than You Think

April 5, 2021

What do Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and South Dakota have in common?

They’re the only states that did not adopt or implement some sort of tax cut in 2019 or 2020, based on NCSL tables on new revenue negative tax provisions (43 states) and Tax Foundation research on the implementation of previously-adopted phased tax reductions (an additional two states). That’s potentially a very big deal given the limitations on net tax cuts imposed by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

To be clear, many of these states did not have net tax cuts, as quite a few adopted multiple tax-related bills, some increasing revenue and others cutting revenue. But it does underscore that tax cut legislation is not just a red state phenomenon, and that tax reductions come in many forms other than rate reductions.

California increased the revenue threshold for simplified accounting rules for small businesses, expanded the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, and exempted feminine hygiene products from the sales tax, among other changes. Hawaii increased the cap on its film incentives and decoupled from federal restrictions on research and development tax credits. Indiana updated its tax conformity and expanded a military tax deduction. Massachusetts trimmed its individual income tax rate.

Minnesota, among many other changes, increased the Working Family Credit, reduced a middle-income tax bracket, and modified a small business investment credit. North Carolina increased its standard deduction and extended a tax credit for hiring disabled workers. Vermont increased its estate tax exemption. Utah temporarily lifted the 80 percent limitation on net operating loss carryforwards. Virginia provided a one-time tax rebate in 2019. Wisconsin reduced the income tax rates on lower income brackets. And the list goes on and on.

Even setting aside pandemic-specific adjustments, the reality is that states make adjustments to their tax codes all the time, and many of these are revenue negative. Often states adopt revenue positive changes in the same year, and frequently any cuts they make are funded out of growth. (It is unclear whether doing the latter would run afoul of the prohibition on net tax cuts in ARPA.) But few of them are directly paired with offsetting increases.

Any of these could, potentially, yield a net tax cut—and could thus run up against ARPA’s prohibitions. That’s why the restrictions in ARPA are potentially so significant, and so troubling to state lawmakers regardless of their ideology or whether they are interested in pursuing “tax cuts” in the way those are often envisioned.

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