Ranking Sales Taxes on the 2020 State Business Tax Climate Index

November 27, 2019

Today we continue our map series on the 2020 State Business Tax Climate Index with a map showing states’ rankings on the Index’s sales and excise tax component. A state’s sales tax rate and structure can make a state more or less attractive to businesses for two key reasons: (1) some states apply the sales tax to business inputs, which drives up the costs of production, and (2) as sales tax rates increase, consumers may cut back on purchases or move their shopping to lower tax jurisdictions. The sales tax component accounts for 24 percent of each state’s overall Index score.

An ideal sales tax applies to a broad base of final consumer goods and services, with few exemptions, and is levied at a low rate. Broad-based, low-rate tax structures minimize tax-induced economic distortions that can occur when people change their purchasing behavior because of tax differences. In addition, sales tax exemptions narrow the tax base, driving up the sales tax rate on those goods and services that remain subject to the tax or forcing greater reliance on less economically efficient taxes.

It is important to note that a well-structured sales tax applies only to the final consumer at the point of sale. It does not apply to the sale of machinery, raw materials, and other business inputs, as those taxes increase the costs of production and ultimately get passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices. States that avoid taxing business inputs perform better on the Index.

In light of states’ differing responses to the Wayfair v. South Dakota Supreme Court decision, this year’s Index also looks at how states are applying their sales taxes to remote sellers. While most states have adopted safe harbors for small sellers and have a single point of administration for all state and local sales taxes, a few diverge from these practices, imposing substantial compliance costs on out-of-state retailers. Alabama, Alaska (which only has local sales taxes), Colorado, and Louisiana lack uniform administration, while Kansas does not offer a safe harbor for small sellers.

However, since July 1, a number of Alaskan municipalities created a commission which would provide central collection for local sales taxes. The agreement needed signatures from seven localities for it to go into effect and currently has 15, the latest being Ketchikan Gateway Borough. The commission is set to begin collections in early 2020 at the soonest.

Best and worst sales tax codes in the country in 2019

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As shown on the map above, the highest-scoring states on the sales tax component of the 2020 Index are those without a state sales tax: New Hampshire, Delaware, Montana, Oregon, and Alaska. (They do not receive perfect scores because each state does impose excise taxes with varying degrees of competitiveness.) The states with the next best scores—Wyoming, Wisconsin, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia, and Idaho—have well-structured sales taxes and modest excise tax rates.

States that rank poorly on this component have high sales tax rates, high excise tax rates, or apply the sales tax to a variety of business inputs while exempting many final consumer purchases. The lowest-scoring states are Alabama, Washington, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

To learn more about your state’s score on the sales tax component, click here.

To see whether your state’s sales tax structure has become more or less competitive in recent years, check out the table below.

Sales Tax Component of the State Business Tax Climate Index (2017–2020)

Note: A rank of 1 is best, 50 is worst. All scores are for fiscal years. DC’s score and rank do not affect other states. Source: Tax Foundation.

State 2017 Rank 2018 Rank 2019 Rank 2020 Rank Change from 2019 to 2020
Alabama 49 49 50 50 0
Alaska 5 5 5 5 0
Arizona 44 44 40 40 0
Arkansas 46 46 45 46 -1
California 41 40 46 45 1
Colorado 37 37 37 37 0
Connecticut 31 30 30 26 4
Delaware 1 1 2 2 0
Florida 29 31 22 23 -1
Georgia 34 29 29 29 0
Hawaii 26 26 33 30 3
Idaho 15 16 12 12 0
Illinois 27 27 35 33 2
Indiana 9 9 13 20 -7
Iowa 20 20 17 15 2
Kansas 28 28 27 38 -11
Kentucky 13 15 18 14 4
Louisiana 50 50 48 48 0
Maine 8 8 9 8 1
Maryland 18 19 16 19 -3
Massachusetts 19 12 11 13 -2
Michigan 10 11 19 9 10
Minnesota 25 25 26 28 -2
Mississippi 39 39 36 34 2
Missouri 23 24 25 24 1
Montana 3 3 3 3 0
Nebraska 12 13 8 10 -2
Nevada 42 43 44 44 0
New Hampshire 2 2 1 1 0
New Jersey 40 42 42 42 0
New Mexico 43 41 41 41 0
New York 45 45 43 43 0
North Carolina 21 21 24 21 3
North Dakota 35 35 31 27 4
Ohio 32 32 28 32 -4
Oklahoma 36 36 39 39 0
Oregon 4 4 4 4 0
Pennsylvania 22 22 21 17 4
Rhode Island 24 23 23 25 -2
South Carolina 30 33 34 31 3
South Dakota 33 34 32 35 -3
Tennessee 47 47 47 47 0
Texas 38 38 38 36 2
Utah 17 18 14 22 -8
Vermont 16 17 20 16 4
Virginia 11 10 10 11 -1
Washington 48 48 49 49 0
West Virginia 14 14 15 18 -3
Wisconsin 7 7 7 7 0
Wyoming 6 6 6 6 0
District of Columbia 34 35 25 36 -11

To learn more about how we determined these rankings, read our full methodology here.

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