SALT deductibility does create serious issues, however. SALT was the largest itemized deduction, allowing itemizers to export a substantial portion of their burdens onto other Americans through the federal tax code. If I faced a 30percent federal marginal tax rate, paying $100 more in SALT lowers my federal tax bill by $30. It only costs me $70. Because that subsidy rises the more property is owned and the higher the income of the owner, the distortion overwhelmingly favors the richest, with the middle-class (who own less property, earn less, and face lower marginal tax rates) getting far smaller benefits, and non-itemizers getting no subsidy at all. In the process, it also subsidizes high state and local tax states at others’ expense.
Even when citizens do not feel they get their money’s worth from SALT-financed services, federal deductibility still subsidizes those governments, increasing their incentives to act in ways contrary to citizens’ interests. No wonder Democrats in high budget/high tax states are so strident in supporting deductibility. In the example above, federal income tax deductibility means that as long as a local citizen believes such spending provides more than 70 cents of value per dollar of spending, and they don’t take into account the added federal burdens they must bear from those similarly subsidized elsewhere, they think they gain. That encourages those governments to do more of what they should not do and more of what they do badly, not more of what their citizens find worth doing.
Author(s): Gary Galles
Publication Date: 6 October 2021
Publication Site: AIER