Joint Committee on Taxation Confirms CTJ Figures on Pelosi Proposal

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The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), which estimates the revenue impact of tax proposals before Congress, has confirmed CTJ’s calculations of the dire consequences of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s tax proposal.

Last week CTJ concluded that Pelosi’s plan to extend the Bush income tax cuts for the first $1 million of income earned by a taxpayer would save 43 percent less revenue than President Obama’s plan, which would extend the income tax cuts for “only” the first $250,000 earned by a family and the first $200,000 earned by a single person.

The JCT figures, which were cited in a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, show that Obama’s plan would save $829 billion over a decade, compared to the Republican proposal of extending the Bush income tax cuts for all income levels, and that Pelosi’s plan would save just $463 billion (44 percent less).

CTJ also found that 50 percent of the additional tax cut that would result from Pelosi’s plan (from extending the tax cuts for the first $1 million instead of “just” the first $250,000/$200,000) would go to people with incomes in excess of $1 million.

This would happen because under Pelosi’s plan, millionaires would pay the lower Bush-era tax rates on the first million of their income whereas under Obama’s plan they would pay the lower Bush-era tax rates on “only” the first $250,000 or $200,000 of their income.

Quick Hits in State News: Amazon Does More Deals, Kansas Gets Panned, and More

  • When the richest woman in Wisconsin (and the governor’s biggest donor) pays no income tax to the state in 2010, it gets people asking about loopholes in the tax code.
  • We aren’t the only think tank taking issue with the Kansas tax bill recently signed into law.  The fiscally conservative Tax Foundation recently issued a report which says that provisions in the bill to exempt “pass through” business income are “problematic” and an invitation to tax avoidance.  
  • With summer road tripping underway, it’s bad news for Iowans that the state’s Department of Transportation appears to be more than $200 million short. Governor Branstad was right to say the state gas tax should be increased next year (as should almost every state’s).

Photo of Governor Christie via Bob Jagendorf Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

The IRS 35,000: How the Richest Americans Pay the Lowest Taxes

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A new study from the Internal Revenue Service confirms your worst fears about the tax code: it’s riddled with loopholes and Congress isn’t doing anything about it.  Year after year since 1977, the IRS has dutifully issued its “data on individual income tax returns reporting income of $200,000 or more, including the number of such returns reporting no income tax liability and the importance of various tax provisions in making these returns nontaxable” because Congress mandates it. And year after year, it shows that some of the very richest Americans are finding entirely legal ways to avoid federal income taxes altogether.

The new (and most recent) IRS data show that in 2009, more than 35,000 Americans* with incomes over $200,000 paid not a dime in federal income tax. For this group—less than one percent of all the Americans with incomes over $200,000, according to the study— itemized deductions and tax-exempt bond interest are among the main tax breaks that make this tax-avoiding feat possible. 

And, as if to illustrate how loopholes never die, these two tax breaks are among the oldest on the books; the exemption of bond interest dates to the century old statute establishing the income tax itself!

Sensible tax reforms could close (or at least shrink) these holes in the tax code.  The president, for example, has proposed a limit on the value of itemized deductions for the wealthiest Americans, and to extend the “Build America Bonds” program which keeps revenues flowing to cities but phases out the tax shelter the current system provides for the bond holders.

Of course, these wealthy taxpayers avoiding all their federal income tax responsibilities don’t even include the ones paying zero or low federal taxes because of the low rates at which investment income is taxed.

There is no excuse for hundred-year-old loopholes in a tax code: it’s time for Washington to clean up the tax code and take a brave stand against unwarranted exemptions that drain revenues and reward the rich.

* Others have focused on a smaller number of taxpayers, 21,000, who have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of over $200,000. But simple AGI excludes many types of income, such as tax exempt bond interest which is key to the low tax liabilities.

Kansas Joins Uniquely Regressive Bad Tax Policy Club

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Last week Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law Senate Substitute for House Bill 2117, a tax bill that dramatically changes the Kansas income tax structure and makes Kansas a real outlier when it comes to tax fairness. ITEP released a report which finds that the legislation includes a broad tax cut that will cost the state over $760 million a year, and yet will actually increase taxes on some low- and middle-income families – while the wealthiest Kansans will see their taxes reduced by $21,000 on average.

As a result of this legislation, Kansas is now a member of a uniquely regressive tax policy club; it joins Mississippi and Alabama in taxing food, but not offering any targeted tax relief for the poorest families who have to spend a larger portion of their budgets on groceries.  Until last week’s bill signing, Kansas offered a Food Sales Tax Rebate (FSTR) that targeted tax relief to Kansans over 55 and those with children and an income less than $35,400. Families with income of less than $17,700 could claim a flat $91 per family member to offset the sales tax they paid on food.

Even after cutting income tax rates and increasing the standard deduction, a family of four with $17,000 of income will still lose $294 because of the elimination of the food sales tax credit.

For more on the new law and to learn more about the various tax plans that were debated in Kansas this legislative session, check out ITEP’s Kansas Tax Policy Hub.

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Quick Hits in State News: Grover Takes a Hit in Illinois, Tax Law Horrifies Kansans, and More

  • Michigan lawmakers recently slashed income taxes for businesses by about $1.6 billion, and paid for it mostly with income tax hikes on the elderly and poor.  Now lawmakers are debating a gimmicky income tax cut that would take effect about a month before voters head to the polls in November but do little to offset recent tax increases on the state’s working poor.
  • Late last week, the Illinois House voted to raise the state’s cigarette tax. This is big news not only because the tax increase will help to fill a nearly $3 billion budget hole in the state’s Medicaid program, but because anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist was resoundingly defeated despite threats from his Illinois staffers that voting for the cigarette tax could “ruin the GOP brand in the state for a generation.”
  • Question: Could the popularity of the no-new taxes pledge championed by Grover Norquist be waning? Answer: Yes. Read this.
  • To understand how the regressive, multi-billion dollar tax cut bill signed into law last week in Kansas is being received, check out this news round up from the Wichita Eagle.  A lot of people are “horrified.”

Media Blast Pelosi’s Move on Bush Tax Cuts, Cite CTJ

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On Wednesday, CTJ heard that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner asking for an immediate vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for incomes up to $1 million.  We crunched a few numbers and shot off a press release pointing out the fiscal folly of the plan.  Bloggers, reporters, pundits, outlets of all stripes and one very important editorial board cited CTJ’s numbers about the staggering cost of moving the threshold from the $250,000 mark previously set by President Obama.

In his article at called “Democrats About to Give Away the Store on Bush Tax Cuts. Seriously?,” Jared Bernstein writes that “the (excellent) Citizens for Tax Justice – CTJ also points out that about half the benefits of this higher threshold accrue to – wait for it – millionaires.” He opined that moving the threshold to $1 million is “a bad genie to let out of the bottle.”

Also citing CTJ’s numbers, a Washington Post editorial decried Pelosi’s “risky pander” on the tax cuts, commenting on the minority leader’s “interesting definition of what constitutes the middle class.” The editorial ended with this question: “Do Democrats really want their new slogan to be ‘Almost as irresponsible as the Republicans?’”

The tax geek publication Bureau of National Affairs Daily Tax Report (subscription required) noted that “Citizens for Tax Justice skewered Pelosi’s request, saying that what she is actually proposing is a ‘windfall for millionaires.’”

In noting, “This town may never agree on who is middle-class, but surely we can agree it doesn’t include anyone who makes over a million dollars a year,” CTJ’s Bob McIntyre helped frame the early coverage of what we hope will be a short lived idea on Capitol Hill.

Quick Hits in State News: Maryland Raises Taxes, Clutch Time in Oklahoma, and More

  • Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a progressive income tax increase into law this week and successfully avoided large spending cuts.  An analysis of the tax package by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) showed that while 87 percent of the new revenue would come from the state’s richest five percent of taxpayers, the tax increases are fairly modest and would still leave Maryland with a regressive tax system on the whole.
  • The North Carolina Budget and Tax Center issued a new report urging lawmakers not to enact the gas tax cap recently proposed by Governor Bev Perdue.  Among other things, the report uses data from ITEP to show that North Carolina’s gas tax rate, adjusted for inflation, is quite low by historical standards (all claims about the rate being at an “all-time high” to the contrary).  ITEP’s take on the long-running debate over a North Carolina gas tax cap can be found here.
  • Last week it appeared that Oklahoma lawmakers had reached agreement on a plan to cut the state income tax, but that agreement might be unraveling.  The Associated Press reports that House lawmakers are unhappy with the fact that some low and middle-income taxpayers would see their taxes rise under the agreed-upon plan, and there’s a chance a tax cut won’t be enacted at all before the legislative session ends on Friday.  ITEP’s analysis of the controversial plan was recently blogged by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, and picked up by The Oklahoman and other outlets.
  • One more hurdle remains before New Hampshire voters get the chance to amend their state’s constitution to permanently ban a personal income tax.  The Senate voted 20-4 on a measure, but made a few changes that must now be reconciled with the House version before sending it to the public ballot this fall.  The New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute points out, however, that this amendment seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist since there have been no serious income tax proposals in years, and, that it will tie the hamstring future generations of citizens and lawmakers.
  • A New York tax fairness coalition called on Governor Cuomo this week to keep his promise to appoint a commission that would comprehensively review and make recommendations to improve the state’s tax system. The coalition’s recommendations for the commission are here. Cuomo has repeatedly pledged to appoint a “Tax Reform and Fairness Commission” but has yet to do so.

Photo of Governor Martin O’Malley and Governor Andrew Cuomo via Friends of Hillary and Patja Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

Reality Shatters Chris Christie’s Rose-Colored Glasses

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The nonpartisan New Jersey Office of Legislative Services (OLS) released estimates on Wednesday predicting that New Jersey revenues will fall a staggering $1.3 billion short of Governor Chris Christie’s previous estimate through fiscal year 2013. The estimated revenue shortfall is bad news for Christie because it makes his ten percent across the board income tax cut proposal appear that much more reckless.  Even the bean counters at Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s are worried.

The discrepancy between Christie’s previous revenue predictions and the estimated shortfall is due to the wildly unrealistic revenue estimate put out by the Christie administration in March, which an analysis by the New Jersey Star Ledger found to be the most optimistic in the country. In fact, Christie’s promised 7.4 percent in revenue growth was more than 2.5 times the national average of 2.8 percent.

For the moment, Christie is standing by his income tax cut plans, saying that the budget gap is actually only $676 million – and he is proposing to fill it by cutting $295 million in transportation funding next year. The Governor’s reduced gap estimate is derived from his faith in the millions in tax breaks his administration has given to the state’s wealthiest residents and corporations already being at work, unleashing unprecedented economic growth. This is what he’s been calling the “New Jersey Comeback.” Unfortunately, his predictions are based on the same old myths that have proven to be wrong time and again across the country.

The failure of Christie’s approach is borne out by New Jersey’s wobbly economy. As New Jersey Policy Perspective points out, the reality is the state is actually lagging behind the rest of the country, with its unemployment rate increasing slightly, to 9.1 percent in April 2012, higher than the regional rate of 7.9 percent. Rather than helping drive a recovery, it looks like Christie’s policy of favoring expensive tax breaks over critical government services has actually driven up joblessness by putting tens of thousands of public sector employees out of work.

The Governor is doubling down on tax breaks and service cuts when he should instead protect New Jersey’s basic quality of life and embrace, rather than veto, a millionaire’s tax — which his constituents love, his Assembly passed, and would generate $500 million in desperately needed revenues for the Garden State.

Making matters worse, the Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney continues pushing his caucus to pass a compromise tax cut he says is for the middle class. For interested readers, there’s a politics to all of it.


(Photo courtesy of Center for American Progress.)

To Know the Gas Tax Is To Love the Gas Tax

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Over 30 million Americans will take to the roads this Memorial Day weekend, and it’s all but guaranteed that many of them will be unhappy about the price of gas.  But while it’s easy to get frustrated by high prices at the pump, it’s also important that motorists realize gas taxes are not to blame for those high prices, and that gas taxes are absolutely essential to the safety and efficiency of the infrastructure we use everyday.

As the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) explains in a pair of new policy briefs, federal and state gas taxes are the main sources of funding for the roads, bridges, and transit systems that keep our economy moving (and that make our summer vacations possible).  Roughly 90 percent of federal transportation revenues come from the federal gas tax, while state gas taxes are the single most important source of transportation revenue under the control of state lawmakers.

Moreover, the amount of money we’re spending on gas taxes is much lower than what we used to pay. Families today are spending a smaller share of their household budgets on gas taxes than they have in about three decades—and that share is continuing to decline.

Of course, a low gas tax has a cost.  The federal government is increasingly using borrowed money to pay for our roads and bridges, while states that lack the luxury of borrowing are taking money away from education and other priorities in order to fund basic road repairs.  Meanwhile, even with these infusions of cash, the condition of our transportation infrastructure is continuing to decline.

ITEP’s new policy briefs put this issue into perspective by explaining how gas taxes work, their importance as a transportation revenue source, the specific problems confronting gas taxes, and the types of gas tax reforms that are needed to overcome these problems.

Read More:

Photo of man pumping gas via Teresia Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

First Look: Extending the Bush Tax Cuts for Income up to $1 Million

May 24, 2012 11:39 AM | | Bookmark and Share

Read the PDF Version of this Report.

The tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under President Bush are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. As we approach the expiration date, there’s a growing debate about whether and how much of these temporary tax breaks should be extended. President Obama has proposed extending the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers on incomes up to $250,000 ($200,000 for single filers). Some lawmakers have suggested moving the threshold to $1 million.

Based on our preliminary estimates:

  • High-income taxpayers still get a big tax cut. Using either threshold, even high income taxpayers still get to keep most of their Bush tax cuts. That’s because thetax cuts – primarily lower rates – still apply to income below the thresholdamount.
  • Ending the breaks for incomes over $250,000 saves substantial revenue. Extending the Bush tax cuts for only the first $250,000 of families’ incomes saves the U.S. Treasury an estimated $60-70 billion in revenue for one year alone, 2013, compared to extending all of the tax cuts.
  • Moving the threshold to $1 million is costly. Extending the Bush tax cuts for the first $1 million of a family’s income saves 43 percent less revenue than the savings estimated with a $250,000 threshold.
  • Millionaires get 50 percent of the additional tax breaks from moving the threshold to $1 million. About half of the additional tax breaks resulting from moving the threshold from $250,000 to $1 million actually go to taxpayers with income over $1 million – because they’re getting additional tax breaks on all of their income up to $1 million.

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