Governor Kasich last week rolled out specifics for a plan on Ohio that would broaden the state’s sales 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. base to services and lower the rate from 5.5 percent to 5 percent. The plan uses the additional revenue from this move to phase in lower 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. rates across the board by 20 percent by 2015. The current top marginal rate is 5.925 percent, and would fall to 4.74 percent by 2015. Finally, the plan also includes a generous 50 percent exclusion for income below $750,000 earned by pass-through entities like LLCs and S-corps that file through the individual code.
Severance taxes (which the Kasich administration unsuccessfully attempted to hike last year) would also be restructured and hiked, raising $415 million in revenue by 2017.
Ohio Individual Income Tax Rates Under Kasich Plan
Note: Brackets do not reflect inflationInflation is when the general price of goods and services increases across the economy, reducing the purchasing power of a currency and the value of certain assets. The same paycheck covers less goods, services, and bills. It is sometimes referred to as a “hidden tax,” as it leaves taxpayers less well-off due to higher costs and “bracket creep,” while increasing the government’s spending power. indexing.
The heart of this plan is in the right place, but there is certainly some room for improving. The general idea of swapping a base expansion of 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. with a rate reduction for the individual income tax is a one that is rooted in the principles of sound tax policy. Economic theory indicates that income taxes are more destructive to the economic growth because they disincentivize wealth creation. Empirical evidence shows that this intuition bears out in the real world. Sales taxes, by contrast, are less destructive to growth because they encourage saving, which is linked to long term growth.
The plan also takes a wide approach to taxing services, which I’ve argued elsewhere is the best way to tackle that type of reform. In fact, the only reason most states do not tax services is because the statutes (most written in the 1930s) were originally only applied to sales of “tangible personal property.” While this worked well enough back then when goods composed two-thirds of the economy, that base has been shrinking every year, and services now compose two-thirds of the economy. This subjects the goods sector of the economy to an undue tax burden, which is economically equivalent to a subsidy for the services sector.
Kasich’s plan deserves kudos for proposing to expand the sales tax baseThe tax base is the total amount of income, property, assets, consumption, transactions, or other economic activity subject to taxation by a tax authority. A narrow tax base is non-neutral and inefficient. A broad tax base reduces tax administration costs and allows more revenue to be raised at lower rates. to politically powerful groups like attorneys and financial planners—they should pay sales taxes like everyone else, but often lobby to keep their exemptions (I’ve attached the full list of sales tax base changes from the Ohio Treasury below).
However, some elements of Kasich's plan deserve more scrutiny. Raising severance taxes can create public administration problems, as these costs are exported to taxpayers across state lines and in-state residents end up getting more in government services than they actually pay for.
The income tax portion of the plan—which looks a bit like what ended up getting accidentally passed in Kansas last year—has a 50 percent exclusion available for "small business" income up to $750,000, a provision which has little public policy justification other than being appealing from a messaging standpoint. The biggest concern is that this creates a substantial incentive to structure one's personal income as business income, even when there is no other economic reason to do so.
Proponents of this provision will talk about how this tax preference for small businesses is designed to spur job growth, and to some extent they are correct in that income taxes are negatively correlated with economic growth. However, the real businesses that "create jobs" are not firms that stay small forever, they are the ones that grow from small firms into medium or large firms. These businesses are exceptionally hard to target with tax preferences and Kasich’s plan even phases out the small business deduction after the firm reaches an arbitrary size.
The plan would do better to use the revenue that the sales tax base-broadening would bring in to lower the income tax rate on all taxpayers. By my back of the envelope calculation, this means the top rate could end up around 4.4 percent, not 4.7 percent. Ideally, the state would also start looking at eliminating at least a few of their nine 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. s to move toward a flatter treatment of income.
More on Ohio here.
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