Alaska News

  • Rising gas prices are making some politicians in Maryland, Michigan, and Iowa back away from courageous proposals to raise their states’ long stagnant gas tax rates.  Rather than lose momentum, lawmakers can enact legislation now that will implement a gas tax rate increase when prices begin to come down.
  • The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEPtestified this week in front of Alaska’s Senate State Affairs Committee Regarding the Alaska Tax Break Transparency Act. The bill would mandate the state develop a tax expenditure report which would detail the tax breaks the state provides, along with the cost of each to taxpayers. Forty-five other states currently produce these reports which can ultimately help the public have a say in government spending.
  • Following up on our earlier post about New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s opportunity to sign legislation instituting combined reporting, the Governor vetoed SB9. Supporters of the bill designed it as a first step in reforming the state’s corporate tax laws and leveling the playing field for small, in-state business.
  • An Illinois Senate committee recently approved a new tax on strip clubs to help fund sexual assault prevention programs. This is the same state considering taxing ammunition to pay for medical trauma centers. Illinois has a history of bad budget gimmicks that are largely responsible for its current $9 billion deficit.

There are few areas of policy where lawmakers’ shortsightedness is on display as fully as it is with the gasoline tax.  Now, with a series of twenty six new charts from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), you can see the impact of that shortsightedness in most states as shareable graphs.

Overall, state gas taxes are at historic lows, adjusted for inflation, and most states can expect further declines in the years ahead if lawmakers do not act.  Some states, including New Jersey, Iowa, Utah, Alabama, and Alaska, are levying their gas taxes at lower rates than at any time in their history.  Other states like Maryland, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Wyoming will approach or surpass historic lows in the near future if their gas tax rates remain unchanged and inflation continues as expected.

These findings build on a 50-state report from ITEP released last month, called Building a Better Gas Tax.  ITEP found that 36 states levy a “fixed-rate” gas tax totally unprepared for the inevitable impact of inflation, and twenty two of those states have gone fifteen years or more without raising their gas taxes.  All told, the states are losing over $10 billion in transportation revenue each year that would have been collected if lawmakers had simply planned for inflation the last time they raised their state gas tax rates.

View the charts here, and read Building a Better Gas Tax here.

Note for policy wonks: Charts were only made in twenty six states because the other twenty four do not publish sufficient historical data on their gas tax rates.  It’s also worth noting that these charts aren’t perfectly apples-to-apples with the Building a Better Gas Tax report, because that report examined the effect of construction cost inflation, whereas these charts had to rely on the general inflation rate (CPI) because most construction cost data only goes back to the 1970’s.  Even with that caveat in mind, these charts provide an important long-term look at state gas taxes, and yet another way of analyzing the same glaring problem.

Example:

The Mercatus Center, a think tank run by “America’s Hottest Economist,” has attempted to quantify the level of “freedom” enjoyed within each state.  If this sounds impossible, that’s because it is.  A quick look at the “taxes” component of each state’s “freedom score” should make this very clear.

According to the Center, freedom requires that “individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.”  This, according to the study, requires “a deep distrust of taxation.”

In order to measure the impact of taxes on freedom, the Center does what it correctly describes as a “simple” calculation: it tallies up the size of all tax revenues (with a few exceptions) as a share of the state’s economy.  Basically, more tax revenue means less freedom under the authors’ assumptions — and taxes account for about 10 percent of each state’s overall “freedom score.”  But as everybody outside the Mercatus Center knows, taxes are never this simple.

For starters, states routinely use their tax codes to encourage (and discourage) a huge range of decisions that affect our day-to-day lives.  Most states, for example, offer strings-attached tax incentives designed to spur specific companies into building factories within their borders.  Under the Mercatus Center’s assumptions, a state that uses its tax code to subsidize private sector construction will actually score better on the “freedom” index than an otherwise identical state, simply because the subsidy cuts into its revenue collections.  In reality, however, a state without the subsidy offers a freer and more level playing field with “unhampered markets,” as the authors put it.

Of course, factory construction isn’t the only area where the government tries to manipulate behavior with special breaks.  States offer special tax breaks for everything from competing in a livestock show to purchasing binoculars — each of which the Mercatus Center’s calculations would classify as “freedom enhancing.”

Taxes can also affect freedom in unintentional ways.  For example, a handful of states have placed caps on the rate at which a homeowner’s property tax bill can grow each year.  These tax caps result in huge tax cuts for many homeowners, especially those that have lived in their homes for many years.  Obviously, under the Mercatus Center’s assumptions, these caps are big freedom enhancers.  In reality, however, the opposite is true.

An article in the March 2011 edition of the National Tax Journal showed what anecdotes from homeowners have always suggested: these caps result in a “lock-in effect” where residents are either unable or unwilling to leave their homes, out of fear of losing the tax savings they’ve accumulated over many years.  “Locking” residents into their homes with convoluted property tax breaks is hardly the definition of a free society.  But don’t count on the Mercatus Center’s “freedom index” being able to capture these types of nuanced, but vitally important implications of state tax policies.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Mercatus index also falls short in its failure to examine who pays taxes.   This is most obvious in the 48th and 49th place fiscal policy rankings received by Hawaii and Alaska, respectively. 

Hawaii’s sales and excise tax revenues are very robust, in large part because of the huge quantities of hotel rooms, car rentals, tours, and souvenirs that are sold to out-of-state tourists.  Similarly, a significant amount of Alaska’s tax revenue (even excluding severance taxes, which the study omits) comes from multinational oil companies. 

In each of these states, many tax dollars flow into state coffers from outside the state — and while every one of those dollars sinks the state lower in the Mercatus “freedom index,” it has little if any impact on the freedom of anybody living within those states’ borders.  For this reason alone, readers should hesitate before taking the authors’ advice that “individuals can use the data to plan a move or retirement.”

At the end of the day, how taxes are collected is equally if not more important than how much taxes are collected.  Economists recognized this a long time ago when they discovered the tax policy principle of “neutrality,”  which basically means that tax systems should interfere with our decisions as little as possible.  A tax system that doesn’t generate much revenue can still reduce our freedom in important ways if it’s applied in a narrow and discriminatory fashion.  Anybody interested in enhancing freedom through tax reform should be focused on the plethora of special breaks contained in state systems — not the overall revenue yield of those systems.

A slew of conservative commentators took aim this week at Sarah Palin for her acceptance of a $1.2 million film tax credit that she herself signed into law in Alaska for the production of the TLC reality show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”

The Tax Foundation, for example, pointed out in a short blog post that accepting this substantial government subsidy (worth about a third of the production costs) may not square with Palin’s own small-government ideology.

Timothy Carney went further in the conservative Washington Examiner, saying that “Palin's views on the proper role of government becomes more flexible as it comes closer to her own interests.”

Jim Geraghty, a commentator for the conservative National Review added that there is little doubt that there is a contradiction between supporting government funding for reality shows while at the same time advocating against funding of PBS, NPR, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For her part, Palin argued in a response posted in full on the conservative Daily Caller that there was no conflict of interest because she had no idea when signing the legislation that she would benefit from it years later. She added that the subsidy does not contradict her small government philosophy because she has apparently always argued that “government can play an appropriate role in incentivizing business,” instead of “bureaucrats burdening businesses and picking winners and losers.”

As the Tax Foundation, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and others have pointed out, however, film tax credits are both a horrible way of "incentivizing business," and a perfect example of government picking the film industry as a winner, while making most other taxpayers losers by default.

Furthermore, Palin's decision to enact the film tax credit in the first place shows how out of whack her priorities were as the Governor of Alaska. Perhaps the $1.2 million dollars from the film tax credit she just received could have been better spent restoring the $1.1 million in cuts to emergency programs serving troubled youths that she also made in 2008, for example.

We've noted before that lobbyists for extractive industries extract billions of dollars out of taxpayer pockets through special tax loopholes and subsidies at the federal level. Unfortunately, this is true at the state level as well. Even when states face unprecedented budget shortfalls and are considering harsh spending cuts, petroleum and mining lobbyists are working hard to preserve and expand their tax subsidies.

One particularly egregious example is Nevada's Barrick and Newmont mining companies, which produce 90 percent of the gold in Nevada, worth over $500 million dollars. Recently, neither company reported any taxable income from their mines.

Interestingly, a Nevada State Tax Director recently admitted that the state has not even audited the industry for at least two years — and then entered into an ‘abrupt’ retirement.

Some legislators are proposing to limit tax deductions for mines to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. But Governor Brian Sandoval opposes the measure and it looks like proponents will not be able to overcome his veto.

In Alaska, oil industry lobbyists have found a friend in Republican Governor Sean Parnell, who is seeking to cut oil taxes and increase subsidies by at least $1.8 billion a year.

Governor Parnell says this will spur "investment" in the state. But the whole point of the tax is to ensure that oil profits result in investment in the state. As Democratic State Senator Bill Wielechowski explains, without the oil taxes, companies would take the billions in profits produced in Alaska and invest them in places like Venezuela or Ecuador. 

The new oil tax cuts do not come as a surprise to Democratic State Representative Les Gara, who contends that petroleum company representatives played a direct role in crafting the Governor’s legislation.

North Dakota seemed to have resisted extraction lobbyists when the State House rejected a measure strongly promoted by the energy industry. The state's current oil extraction tax is automatically reduced when the price of oil falls below $50 a barrel. The proposed measure would scrap that rule and instead reduce the tax as production increases.

Republican Majority Leader Al Carlson tried to ressurect the measure by sneaking the language into another oil bill without a proper hearing.

The Grand Forks Herald editorialized that the legislature must study the effect of the measure through a “neutral source” rather than relying on the “self-interested arguments from the oil industry.” Fortunately, the measure is being held up in the Senate, which will likely guarantee that the public will get to review the changes the energy industry is proposing.

Good Jobs First (GJF) released three new resources this week explaining how your state is doing when it comes to letting taxpayers know about the plethora of subsidies being given to private companies.  These resources couldn’t be more timely.  As GJF’s Executive Director Greg LeRoy explained, “with states being forced to make painful budget decisions, taxpayers expect economic development spending to be fair and transparent.”

The first of these three resources, Show Us The Subsidies, grades each state based on its subsidy disclosure practices.  GJF finds that while many states are making real improvements in subsidy disclosure, many others still lag far behind.  Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Ohio did the best in the country according to GJF, while thirteen states plus DC lack any disclosure at all and therefore earned an “F.”  Eighteen additional states earned a “D” or “D-minus.”

While the study includes cash grants, worker training programs, and loan guarantees, much of its focus is on tax code spending, or “tax expenditures.”  Interestingly, disclosure of company-specific information appears to be quite common for state-level tax breaks.  Despite claims from business lobbyists that tax subsidies must be kept anonymous in order to protect trade secrets, GJF was able to find about 50 examples of tax credits, across about two dozen states, where company-specific information is released.  In response to the business lobby, GJF notes that “the sky has not fallen” in these states.

The second tool released by GJF this week, called Subsidy Tracker, is the first national search engine for state economic development subsidies.  By pulling together information from online sources, offline sources, and Freedom of Information Act requests, GJF has managed to create a searchable database covering more than 43,000 subsidy awards from 124 programs in 27 states.  Subsidy Tracker puts information that used to be difficult to find, nearly impossible to search through, or even previously unavailable, on the Internet all in one convenient location.  Tax credits, property tax abatements, cash grants, and numerous other types of subsidies are included in the Subsidy Tracker database.

Finally, GJF also released Accountable USA, a series of webpages for all 50 states, plus DC, that examines each state’s track record when it comes to subsidies.  Major “scams,” transparency ratings for key economic development programs, and profiles of a few significant economic development deals are included for each state.  Accountable USA also provides a detailed look at state-specific subsidies received by Wal-Mart.

These three resources from Good Jobs First will no doubt prove to be an invaluable resource for state lawmakers, advocates, media, and the general public as states continue their steady march toward improved subsidy disclosure.

ITEP’s new report, Credit Where Credit is (Over) Due, examines four proven state tax reforms that can assist families living in poverty. They include refundable state Earned Income Tax Credits, property tax circuit breakers, targeted low-income credits, and child-related tax credits. The report also takes stock of current anti-poverty policies in each of the states and offers suggested policy reforms.

Earlier this month, the US Census Bureau released new data showing that the national poverty rate increased from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent in 2009.  Faced with a slow and unresponsive economy, low-income families are finding it increasingly difficult to find decent jobs that can adequately provide for their families.

Most states have regressive tax systems which exacerbate this situation by imposing higher effective tax rates on low-income families than on wealthy ones, making it even harder for low-wage workers to move above the poverty line and achieve economic security. Although state tax policy has so far created an uneven playing field for low-income families, state governments can respond to rising poverty by alleviating some of the economic hardship on low-income families through targeted anti-poverty tax reforms.

One important policy available to lawmakers is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The credit is widely recognized as an effective anti-poverty strategy, lifting roughly five million people each year above the federal poverty line.  Twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia provide state EITCs, modeled on the federal credit, which help to offset the impact of regressive state and local taxes.  The report recommends that states with EITCs consider expanding the credit and that other states consider introducing a refundable EITC to help alleviate poverty.

The second policy ITEP describes is property tax "circuit breakers." These programs offer tax credits to homeowners and renters who pay more than a certain percentage of their income in property tax.  But the credits are often only available to the elderly or disabled.  The report suggests expanding the availability of the credit to include all low-income families.

Next ITEP describes refundable low-income credits, which are a good compliment to state EITCs in part because the EITC is not adequate for older adults and adults without children.  Some states have structured their low-income credits to ensure income earners below a certain threshold do not owe income taxes. Other states have designed low-income tax credits to assist in offsetting the impact of general sales taxes or specifically the sales tax on food.  The report recommends that lawmakers expand (or create if they don’t already exist) refundable low-income tax credits.

The final anti-poverty strategy that ITEP discusses are child-related tax credits.  The new US Census numbers show that one in five children are currently living in poverty. The report recommends consideration of these tax credits, which can be used to offset child care and other expenses for parents.

Candidates for governor in Idaho have been debating the appropriate scope of the state sales tax base, while the debate in Minnesota has focused more on issues of progressivity.  In Alaska, the bandwagon in favor of cutting taxes to “create jobs” continues to gain speed.

Idaho: Recent polling shows that 48 percent of Idahoans would support raising taxes to avoid cuts in education spending, while only 38 percent would oppose taking that route.  With this new information in hand, both Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred and Republican incumbent Butch Otter may want to rethink their positions on sales tax reform. 

Governor Otter insists that Idaho’s plethora of sales tax exemptions are vital to businesses in the state and should be left intact, while candidate Allred claims that a huge number of these breaks are politically motivated giveaways that should be eliminated to pay for a reduction in the sales tax rate.  While Allred’s opposition to sales tax exemptions is encouraging, his insistence that every dollar raised be used to lower the sales tax rate (as opposed to using some of it to boost education spending) is more than a little disappointing.

Minnesota: Minnesota’s legislature has known for some of the time that the state is in need of progressive tax changes.  Unfortunately, the veto pen of Governor Tim Pawlenty has so far been able to prevent any progress on this issue.  With Pawlenty finally on his way out of office, Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) candidate Mark Dayton has made clear that he would take Minnesota in a different direction, if elected, by vigorously supporting progressive tax reform.  More specifically, in a debate last week Dayton reemphasized his support for a higher tax bracket on the state’s wealthiest residents. 

Republican candidate Tom Emmer, in contrast, repeated the same tired line about using tax cuts to boost economic growth.  But as Dayton pointed out during the debate, the League of Minnesota Cities actually found that candidate Emmer’s proposal to cut both taxes and spending would result in higher local property taxes.

Alaska: When it comes to taxes, there aren’t many choices on the Alaska ballot.  Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz recently proposed an almost $40 million cut in the state’s corporate income tax, which according to the Anchorage Daily News, Berkowitz claims he would pay for by doling out even more corporate welfare through tax credits that could allegedly boost the state’s economy.  Rather than criticize Berkowitz’s proposal or offer an alternative, Republican Sean Parnell’s campaign has taken the position that Berkowitz is lying, and that if elected Berkowitz would in fact do everything within his power to raise both taxes and spending.

And then there were seven.  With the enactment of a tax expenditure reporting requirement in Georgia late last week, only seven states in the entire country continue to refuse to publish a tax expenditure report — i.e. a report identifying the plethora of special breaks buried within these states’ tax codes.  For the record, the states that are continuing to drag their feet are: Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming

But while the passage of this common sense reform in Georgia is truly exciting news, the version of the legislation that Governor Perdue ultimately signed was watered down significantly from the more robust requirement that had passed the Senate.  This chain of events mirrors recent developments in Virginia, where legislation that would have greatly enhanced that state’s existing tax expenditure report met a similar fate. 

In more encouraging news, however, legislation related to the disclosure of additional tax expenditure information in Massachusetts and Oklahoma seems to have a real chance of passage this year.

In Georgia, the major news is the Governor’s signing of SB 206 last Thursday.  While this would be great news in any state, it’s especially welcome in Georgia, where terrible tax policy has so far been the norm this year. 

SB 206 requires that the Governor’s budget include a tax expenditure report covering all taxes collected by the state’s Department of Revenue.  The report will include cost estimates for the previous, current, and future fiscal years, as well as information on where to find the tax expenditures in the state’s statutes, and the dates that each provision was enacted and implemented. 

Needless to say, this addition to the state’s budget document will greatly enhance lawmakers’ ability to make informed decisions about Georgia’s tax code. 

But as great as SB 206 is, the version that originally passed the Senate was even better.  Under that legislation, analyses of the purpose, effectiveness, distribution, and administrative issues surrounding each tax expenditure would have been required as well.  These requirements (which are, coincidentally, quite similar to those included in New Jersey’s recently enacted but poorly implemented legislation) would have bolstered the value of the report even further.

In Virginia, the story is fairly similar.  While Virginia does technically have a tax expenditure report, it focuses on only a small number of sales tax expenditures and leaves the vast majority of the state’s tax code completely unexamined.  Fortunately, the non-profit Commonwealth Institute has produced a report providing revenue estimates for many tax expenditures available in the state, but it’s long past time for the state to begin conducting such analyses itself.  HB355 — as originally introduced by Delegate David Englin — would have created an outstanding tax expenditure report that revealed not only each tax expenditure’s size, but also its effectiveness and distributional consequences. 

Unfortunately, the legislation was greatly watered down before arriving on the Governor’s desk.  While the legislation, which the Governor signed last month, will provide some additional information on corporate tax expenditures in the state, it lacks any requirement to disclose the names of companies receiving tax benefits, the number of jobs created as a result of the benefits, and other relevant performance information.  The details of HB355 can be found using the search bar on the Virginia General Assembly’s website.

The Massachusetts legislature, by contrast, recently passed legislation disclosing the names of corporate tax credit recipients.  While these names are already disclosed for many tax credits offered in the state, the Department of Revenue has resisted making such information public for those credits under its jurisdiction. 

While most business groups have predictably resisted the measure, the Medical Device Industry Council has basically shrugged its shoulders and admitted that it probably makes sense to disclose this information.  Unfortunately, a Senate provision that would have required the reporting of information regarding the jobs created by these credits was dropped before the legislation passed.

Finally, in Oklahoma, the House recently passed a measure requiring the identities of tax credit recipients to be posted on an existing website designed to disclose state spending information.  If ultimately enacted, the information will be made available in a useful, searchable format beginning in 2011.

Until this week, New Jersey was one of just nine states refusing to publish a tax expenditure report – i.e. a listing and measurement of the special tax breaks offered in the state.  Such reports greatly enhance the transparency of state budgets by allowing policymakers and the public to see how the tax system is being used to accomplish various policy objectives. 

Now, with Governor Jon Corzine’s signing of A. 2139 this past Tuesday, New Jersey will finally begin to make use of this extremely valuable tool.  Beginning with Governor-elect Chris Christie’s FY2011 budget, to be released in March, the New Jersey Governor’s budget proposal now must include a tax expenditure report.  The report must be updated each year, and is required to include quite a few very useful pieces of information.

The report must, among other things:

(1) List each state tax expenditure and its objective;
(2) Estimate the revenue lost as a result of the expenditure (for the previous, current, and upcoming fiscal years);
(3) Analyze the groups of persons, corporations, and other entities benefiting from the expenditure;
(4) Evaluate the effect of the expenditure on tax fairness;
(5) Discuss the associated administrative costs;
(6) Determine whether each tax expenditure has been effective in achieving its purpose.

The last criterion listed above is of particular importance.  Evaluations of tax expenditure effectiveness are extremely valuable since these programs so often escape scrutiny in the ordinary budgeting and policy processes.  Such evaluation can be quite daunting, however, and the Governor’s upcoming tax expenditure report should be carefully scrutinized in order to ensure that these evaluations are sufficiently rigorous.  One example of the types of criteria that could be used in a rigorous tax expenditure evaluation can be found in the study mandated by the “tax extenders” package that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives.  For more on the importance of tax expenditure evaluations, and the components of a useful evaluation, see CTJ’s November 2009 report, Judging Tax Expenditures.

Ultimately, New Jersey’s addition to the list of states releasing tax expenditure reports means that only eight states now fail to produce such a report.  Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming.  Each of these states should follow New Jersey’s lead.

This week, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), in partnership with state groups in forty-one states, released the 3rd edition of “Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States.”  The report found that, by an overwhelming margin, most states tax their middle- and low-income families far more heavily than the wealthy.  The response has been overwhelming.

In Michigan, The Detroit Free Press hit the nail on the head: “There’s nothing even remotely fair about the state’s heaviest tax burden falling on its least wealthy earners.  It’s also horrible public policy, given the hard hit that middle and lower incomes are taking in the state’s brutal economic shift.  And it helps explain why the state is having trouble keeping up with funding needs for its most vital services.  The study provides important context for the debate about how to fix Michigan’s finances and shows how far the state really has to go before any cries of ‘unfairness’ to wealthy earners can be taken seriously.”

In addition, the Governor’s office in Michigan responded by reiterating Gov. Granholm’s support for a graduated income tax.  Currently, Michigan is among a minority of states levying a flat rate income tax.

Media in Virginia also explained the study’s importance.  The Augusta Free Press noted: “If you believe the partisan rhetoric, it’s the wealthy who bear the tax burden, and who are deserving of tax breaks to get the economy moving.  A new report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and the Virginia Organizing Project puts the rhetoric in a new light.”

In reference to Tennessee’s rank among the “Terrible Ten” most regressive state tax systems in the nation, The Commercial Appeal ran the headline: “A Terrible Decision.”  The “terrible decision” to which the Appeal is referring is the choice by Tennessee policymakers to forgo enacting a broad-based income tax by instead “[paying] the state’s bills by imposing the country’s largest combination of state and local sales taxes and maintaining the sales tax on food.”

In Texas, The Dallas Morning News ran with the story as well, explaining that “Texas’ low-income residents bear heavier tax burdens than their counterparts in all but four other states.”  The Morning News article goes on to explain the study’s finding that “the media and elected officials often refer to states such as Texas as “low-tax” states without considering who benefits the most within those states.”  Quoting the ITEP study, the Morning News then points out that “No-income-tax states like Washington, Texas and Florida do, in fact, have average to low taxes overall.  Can they also be considered low-tax states for poor families?  Far from it.”

Talk of the study has quickly spread everywhere from Florida to Nevada, and from Maryland to Montana.  Over the coming months, policymakers will need to keep the findings of Who Pays? in mind if they are to fill their states’ budget gaps with responsible and fair revenue solutions.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently released a very useful report summarizing tax expenditure reporting practices in the states, as well as methods for improving a typical state's tax expenditure report. For those unfamiliar with the term, a "tax expenditure" is essentially a special tax break designed to encourage a particular activity or reward a particular group of taxpayers. Although tax expenditures can in some cases be an effective means of accomplishing worthwhile goals, they are also frequently enacted only to satisfy a particular political constituency, or to allow policymakers to "take action" on an issue while simultaneously being able to reap the political benefits associated with cutting taxes.

Tax expenditure reports are the primary means by which states (and the federal government) keep track of these provisions. Unfortunately, most if not all of these reports are plagued by a variety of inadequacies, such as failing to consider entire groups of tax expenditures, or not providing frequent and accurate revenue estimates for these often costly provisions. Shockingly, the CBPP found that nine states publish no tax expenditure report at all. Those nine states Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming, undoubtedly have the most work to do on this issue. All states, however, have substantial room for improvement in their tax expenditure reporting practices.

For a brief overview of tax expenditure reports and the tax expenditure concept more generally, check out this ITEP Policy Brief.

Alaskan voters approved an initiative to increase tax revenues by charging a $50 "cruise tax". In the wake of Alaska's recent troubles with oil revenues, it's no surprise that voters decided to bolster public coffers and stabilize long-term revenue with an additional tax source. It appears that voters took a lesson from their recent oil revenue troubles: diversity is good.

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