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Note to Readers: This is the first of a five-part series on tax policy prospects in the states in 2014. This post provides an overview of key trends and top states to watch in the coming year. Over the coming weeks, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) will highlight state tax proposals and take a deeper look at the four key policy trends likely to dominate 2014 legislative sessions and feature prominently on the campaign trail. Part two discusses the trend of tax shift proposals. Part three discusses the trend of tax cut proposals. Part four discusses the trend of gas tax increase proposals. Part five discusses the trend of real tax reform proposals.
2013 was a year like none we have seen before when it comes to the scope and sheer number of tax policy plans proposed and enacted in the states. And given what we’ve seen so far, 2014 has the potential to be just as busy.
In a number of statehouses across the country last year, lawmakers proposed misguided schemes (often inspired by supply-side ideology) designed to sharply reduce the role of progressive personal and corporate income taxes, and in some cases replace them entirely with higher sales taxes. There were also a few good faith efforts at addressing long-standing structural flaws in state tax codes through base broadening, providing tax breaks to working families, or increasing taxes paid by the wealthiest households.
The good news is that the most extreme and destructive proposals were halted. However, several states still enacted costly and regressive tax cuts, and we expect lawmakers in many of those states to continue their quest to eliminate income taxes in the coming years.
The historic elections of 2012, which left most states under solid one-party control (many of those states with super majorities), are a big reason why so many aggressive tax proposals got off the ground in 2013. We expect elections to be a driving force shaping tax policy proposals again in 2014 as voters in 36 states will be electing governors this November, and most state lawmakers are up for re-election as well.
We also expect to see a continuation of the four big tax policy trends that dominated 2013:
- Tax shifts or tax swaps: These proposals seek to scale back or repeal personal and corporate income taxes, and generally seek to offset some, or all, of the revenue loss with a higher sales tax.
At the end of last year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker made it known that he wants to give serious consideration to eliminating his state’s income tax and to hiking the sales tax to make up the lost revenue. Even if elimination is out of reach this year, Walker and other Wisconsin lawmakers are still expected to push for income tax cuts. Look for lawmakers in Georgia and South Carolina to debate similar proposals. And, count on North Carolina and Ohio lawmakers to attempt to build on tax shift plans partially enacted in 2013.
- Tax cuts: These proposals range from cutting personal income taxes to reducing property taxes to expanding tax breaks for businesses. Lawmakers in more than a dozen states are considering using the revenue rebounds we’ve seen in the wake of the Great Recession as an excuse to enact permanent tax cuts.
Missouri lawmakers, for example, wasted no time in filing a new slate of tax-cutting bills at the start of the year with the hope of making good on their failed attempt to reduce personal income taxes for the state’s wealthiest residents last year. Despite the recommendations from a Nebraska tax committee to continue studying the state’s tax system for the next year, rather than rushing to enact large scale cuts, several gubernatorial candidates as well as outgoing governor Dave Heineman are still seeking significant income and property tax cuts this session. And, lawmakers in Michigan are debating various ways of piling new personal income tax cuts on top of the large business tax cuts (PDF) enacted these last few years. We also expect to see major tax cut initiatives this year in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.
- Real Reform: Most tax shift and tax cut proposals will be sold under the guise of tax reform, but only those plans that truly address state tax codes’ structural flaws, rather than simply eliminating taxes, truly deserve the banner of “reform”.
Illinois and Kentucky are the states with the best chances of enacting long-overdue reforms this year. Voters in Illinois will likely be given the chance to convert their state’s flat income tax rate to a more progressive, graduated system. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has renewed his commitment to enacting sweeping tax reform that will address inequities and inadequacies in his state’s tax system while raising additional revenue for education. Look for lawmakers in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Utah to consider enacting or enhancing tax policies that reduce the tax load currently shouldered by low- and middle-income households.
- Gas Taxes and Transportation Funding: Roughly half the states have gone a decade or more without raising their gas tax, so there’s little doubt that the lack of growth in state transportation revenues will remain a big issue in the year ahead. While we’re unlikely to see the same level of activity as last year (when half a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, enacted major changes to their gasoline taxes), there are a number of states where transportation funding issues are being debated. We’ll be keeping close tabs on developments in Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Utah, and Washington State, among other places.
Check back over the next month for more detailed posts about these four trends and proposals unfolding in a number of states.