Skip to content

Vermont Lawmakers Consider Harmful Taxes on the Wealthy

4 min readBy: Manish Bhatt

Vermont lawmakers are considering the adoption of two new taxes on high earners, which proponents have branded “wealth taxes.” These proposals are not wealth taxes in the way that term has been traditionally understood (a 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. on accumulated net worth). However, if enacted, they would make Vermont less attractive to the high earners who are responsible for a disproportionate share of the state’s existing tax revenue, less competitive regionally and nationally, and worse positioned for economic growth.

Through H.827, Vermonters with a net worth of $10 million or more would be taxed on unrealized capital gains. Specifically, the bill would apply 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. treatment to 50 percent of the unrealized gain or loss of a taxpayer’s assets. The tax would be capped at 10 percent of the worth of the taxpayer’s assets exceeding $10 million. Vermont would not seek to tax the same unrealized gains or losses twice; if an unrealized gain for a particular investment were taxed and then that gain was lost and regained, the restored return on investment would not be re-taxed.

The bill excludes certain classes of assets from the tax, including some retirement accounts (though Roth IRAs exceeding $1 million are subject to inclusion). The various exclusions reduce the gains counted toward the $10 million threshold and are also excluded from the amount to which the tax is applied.

Full-time Vermont residents would be subject to the tax as well as part-year and temporary residents with a substantial presence in the state. Whereas capital gains taxes are typically only paid in one’s domiciliary state, Vermont’s proposal would require certain nonresidents who spend a substantial amount of time in the state to remit taxes on a pro rata share of their unrealized gains as well, which raises constitutional questions. Due to the specifics of the provision’s design—echoing, albeit somewhat incoherently, the federal government’s substantial presence test for resident aliens—it would mainly function as an exit tax. The tax would phase in over a four-year period for new residents, as they would receive a credit for gains that were accrued and taxed prior to obtaining Vermont residency. The gains would be apportioned based on years of residency.

Lawmakers are also considering levying a 3 percent income tax “surcharge” on Vermonters with federal adjusted gross incomeFor individuals, gross income is the total pre-tax earnings from wages, tips, investments, interest, and other forms of income and is also referred to as “gross pay.” For businesses, gross income is total revenue minus cost of goods sold and is also known as “gross profit” or “gross margin.” of $500,000 or more. The surcharge would be in addition to any other individual income tax owed. Per data presented to the legislature’s House Ways and Means CommitteeThe Committee on Ways and Means, more commonly referred to as the House Ways and Means Committee, is one of 29 U.S. House of Representative committees and is the chief tax-writing committee in the U.S. The House Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over all bills relating to taxes and other revenue generation, as well as spending programs like Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance, among others. , in 2022, 3,560 tax returns reflecting federal adjusted gross incomes of $500,000 or more were filed in the state. These returns represented 1.1 percent of all Vermont tax returns, 16.7 percent of all Vermont adjusted gross income, and 30.4 percent of all net state individual income tax paid.

Vermont joins a growing number of states in either considering or enacting new or higher taxes on high earners and high-net-worth individuals. Massachusetts recently enacted a 4 percent surcharge on incomes above one million dollars. In contrast, Texas voters approved a constitutional measure that would forbid the legislature from ever enacting a wealth taxA wealth tax is imposed on an individual’s net wealth, or the market value of their total owned assets minus liabilities. A wealth tax can be narrowly or widely defined, and depending on the definition of wealth, the base for a wealth tax can vary. or a net worth tax.

Vermont currently employs a progressive individual income tax structure with four brackets and a top marginal rate of 8.75 percent, which is among the highest in the country. The state has also made efforts, and continues to consider others, to attract retired military members to the state by exempting a portion of military retirement pay. This is an attempt to bolster the state’s skilled workforce. Why the state would take the opposite approach with high-net-worth individuals and high-income earners is perplexing, particularly as these individuals may very well provide the capital needed to support a larger and more skilled workforce. The tax policy that Vermont lawmakers are considering could create an even less friendly environment for investment and entrepreneurship, leaving the state worse off than it would have been by forgoing the revenue.

Proponents of such taxes argue that the wealthy do not migrate as they are relatively entrenched in their respective communities, allowing for greater taxation of these groups without the risk of losing population. However, there is evidence to the contrary, and even if high-net-worth residents are relatively immobile, when they do choose to relocate, taxation is a significant factor in their decision to seek residency elsewhere.

More concerning for Vermont, however, is not the outflow of a relatively small population, but the prospect of nonresident high-net-worth individuals opting against relocating to Vermont or investing in the local economy through second home purchases, of which Vermont (along with Maine) enjoys the highest nonresident homeownership. Current part-year or temporary residents may seek to divest from Vermont assets entirely, leaving the state without an important segment of the property and 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. bases. Once individuals opt to forgo second homes or capital investment in the state, the results are difficult to unwind and the detrimental outcomes could last for a very long time, leaving Vermont with significant challenges to growth and prosperity. These realities and concerns should be carefully thought through to ensure the trade-offs are well understood. Failing to do so could compound the problems these harmful taxes could bring to Vermont for decades to come.

Stay informed on the tax policies impacting you.

Subscribe to get insights from our trusted experts delivered straight to your inbox.