The Effects of Converting the State and Local Tax Deduction into a Credit

August 30, 2017

Over the past couple of years, the state and local tax deduction has been a popular base broadener for the GOP. Nearly all GOP tax reform proposals from Congress and presidential campaigns since 2014 have included eliminating or limiting the deduction to pay for lower statutory tax rates.

Under current law, individuals who itemize can deduct the income or sales taxes they pay to state and local governments from their federal taxable income. They are also able to deduct their state and local property taxes. The state and local tax deduction is one of the three largest itemized deductions (the other two being the home mortgage interest deduction and the charitable contribution deduction). According to the IRS, $520 billion in state and local taxes were deducted in 2014; 46.5 percent of state and local taxes were deducted by taxpayers with adjusted gross income over $200,000.

Eliminating the state and local tax deduction would be a significant base broadener. We estimate that eliminating the deduction relative to current law would raise $1.9 trillion over the next decade (see Table 1, below). It is the single largest individual income tax base broadener in the House GOP Blueprint and funds most of the plan’s individual rate reductions.

Although eliminating the state and local tax deduction is a centerpiece of GOP income tax reform efforts, some Republican lawmakers from higher-tax, higher-income states such as New Jersey, California, and New York have expressed concern. They worry that outright elimination of the deduction would mean that their constituents could end up paying more in income taxes.

To address this potential concern, Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican from New York, is rumored to be working on a proposal to preserve the tax benefit for state and local taxes paid by converting the deduction into a credit.

No details exist for this proposal, but one way to implement this would be to convert the state and local tax deduction into a 15 percent nonrefundable credit for state and local taxes paid. The idea behind converting the state and local tax deduction to a credit is to expand the tax benefit to middle-income taxpayers who currently don’t receive it, while preserving and limiting it for high-income taxpayers who currently do.

Since this conversion redistributes the federal tax benefit for state and local taxes paid, rather than eliminating it, this proposal raises much less revenue than a straight repeal. We estimate that converting the deduction into a 15 percent credit for state and local taxes paid would raise $137 billion over a decade, relative to current law, which is less than one-tenth the revenue impact of a straight repeal of the state and local tax deduction (Table 1, below).

This conversion would indeed make the tax code more progressive by reducing taxes for middle-income taxpayers and raising taxes for high-income taxpayers. Replacing the state and local deduction with a 15 percent credit for state and local taxes paid would raise after-tax incomes for the bottom four quintiles by as much as 0.5 percent while reducing them for the top 1 percent by 1.1 percent (Table 2, below).

Full elimination of the state and local tax deduction (without any accompanying rate reductions) would also make the tax code more progressive, by raising taxes primarily on the top 20 percent. However, in contrast to a 15 percent credit, full elimination (without any accompanying rate reductions) would slightly raise taxes on middle-income taxpayers.

Source: Tax Foundation Taxes and Growth Model, March 2017
  Relative to Current Law Relative to GOP Blueprint
Table 1. Revenue Impact of Changes to the State and Local Tax Deduction, Billions of Dollars 2017-2026
Full Repeal $1,901 N/A (Already Eliminated)
15 Percent Credit $137 -$1,687

As stated above, the House GOP Blueprint starts with the assumption that the state and local tax deduction would be eliminated. Converting the state and local tax deduction into a 15 percent credit as part of tax reform would essentially add back to the Blueprint a tax benefit for state and local taxes paid.

We estimate that if lawmakers were to add a 15 percent credit back to the GOP Blueprint for state and local taxes paid, this change would reduce federal revenue by $1.7 trillion over the next decade. In fact, the revenue impact of this would almost completely reverse the revenue gains from eliminating the state and local tax deduction.

Lawmakers could limit the generosity and the cost of the credit by providing a smaller credit or by phasing it out for high-income taxpayers. However, since GOP tax reform proposals start with the assumption that there would be no federal tax benefit for state and local taxes paid, a credit of any size would reduce revenue relative to a GOP reform baseline. This presents a potential challenge for reformers given that Republican lawmakers want to reduce statutory tax rates significantly.

Tax Foundation, Taxes and Growth Model March 2017 version)
Income Group 15 Percent Credit Full Repeal
Table 2. Distributional Impact of Changes to the State and Local Income Tax Deduction (Percent Changes in After-Tax Incomes, Relative to Current Law)
0% to 20% 0.0% 0.0%
20% to 40% 0.1% -0.1%
40% to 60% 0.4% -0.3%
60% to 80% 0.5% -0.7%
80% to 100% -0.5% -2.1%
 
80% to 90% 0.2% -1.3%
90% to 95% -0.1% -1.8%
95% to 99% -0.7% -2.5%
99% to 100% -1.1% -2.8%
 TOTAL -0.1% -1.4%

Related Articles