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 taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. 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 CreditA tax credit is a provision that reduces a taxpayer’s final tax bill, dollar-for-dollar. A tax credit differs from deductions and exemptions, which reduce taxable income, rather than the taxpayer’s tax bill directly. , and exempted feminine hygiene products from the sales taxA sales tax is levied on retail sales of goods and services and, ideally, should apply to all final consumption with few exemptions. Many governments exempt goods like groceries; base broadening, such as including groceries, could keep rates lower. A sales tax should exempt business-to-business transactions which, when taxed, cause tax pyramiding. , 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 deductionA tax deduction is a provision that reduces taxable income. A standard deduction is a single deduction at a fixed amount. Itemized deductions are popular among higher-income taxpayers who often have significant deductible expenses, such as state/local taxes paid, mortgage interest, and charitable contributions. . Massachusetts trimmed its individual income taxAn individual income tax (or personal income tax) is levied on the wages, salaries, investments, or other forms of income an individual or household earns. The U.S. imposes a progressive income tax where rates increase with income. The Federal Income Tax was established in 1913 with the ratification of the 16th Amendment. Though barely 100 years old, individual income taxes are the largest source of tax revenue in the U.S. rate.
Minnesota, among many other changes, increased the Working Family Credit, reduced a middle-income tax bracketA tax bracket is the range of incomes taxed at given rates, which typically differ depending on filing status. In a progressive individual or corporate income tax system, rates rise as income increases. There are seven federal individual income tax brackets; the federal corporate income tax system is flat. , and modified a small business investment credit. North Carolina increased its standard deductionThe standard deduction reduces a taxpayer’s taxable income by a set amount determined by the government. It was nearly doubled for all classes of filers by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as an incentive for taxpayers not to itemize deductions when filing their federal income taxes. and extended a tax credit for hiring disabled workers. Vermont increased its estate tax exemptionA tax exemption excludes certain income, revenue, or even taxpayers from tax altogether. For example, nonprofits that fulfill certain requirements are granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, preventing them from having to pay income tax. . Utah temporarily lifted the 80 percent limitation on net operating loss carryforwardA Net Operating Loss (NOL) Carryforward allows businesses suffering losses in one year to deduct them from future years’ profits. Businesses thus are taxed on average profitability, making the tax code more neutral. In the U.S., a net operating loss can be carried forward indefinitely but are limited to 80 percent of taxable income. s. 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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