The Supreme Court’s unwillingness to intervene in a fight among states over taxing income from remote work may spark a jurisdictional revenue war. In August, the Court refused to take up a lawsuit by New Hampshire against Massachusetts’ practice of levying income taxes on Granite State residents employed by Bay State companies but working from home during the Covid lockdowns. Now New Jersey officials, who filed an amicus brief in the case because the state’s telecommuting residents are similarly taxed by New York, have proposed a law that would let the state tax telecommuters, including possibly tens of thousands of Empire State residents now working from home but employed by Garden State companies. The in-your-face legislation also provides incentives for Jersey residents to challenge New York’s law in tax court—one of the only venues left to residents after the Supreme Court decision. Given that several hundred thousand New Yorkers once commuted to other states to work and may now be staying home to telecommute, Albany risks losing revenues.
Beginning in March 2020, Covid restrictions brought a sharp rise in telecommuting, or working remotely from home. Studies have suggested that, during the pandemic’s initial phases, up to 36 percent of all private-sector employees, or about 43 million people, worked at home at least one day a week, and 15 percent, or about 18 million, telecommuted full-time. Census data before the pandemic found that as many as 6 million workers regularly cross state lines to go to their jobs. So it’s likely that several million current telecommuters have jobs with firms in another state. In New Hampshire, about 15 percent of residents with jobs—some 84,000 workers—commuted to Massachusetts pre-pandemic.
A six-year old income tax reform bill accomplished something remarkable in Trenton on Monday: It got Democratic and Republican lawmakers to agree on changing your tax policy.
The state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved a Republican-backed measure, S676, that’s supposed to provide relief to New Jersey workers struggling to make ends meet amid the highest inflation levels in 40 years.
The concept is simple: If inflation goes up, so would New Jersey’s income tax brackets. For many, it would mean not having to pay higher taxes if salaries go up the rate of inflation.
New Jersey uses a graduated income tax, which means residents shell out a larger percentage of earnings to the state as their incomes rise into higher tax brackets. When inflation pushes wages higher, it can often result in a net loss to workers that are pushed into higher brackets.
Individual income taxes are a major source of state government revenue, accounting for 36 percent of state tax collections in fiscal year 2020, the latest year for which data are available.
Forty-two states levy individual income taxes. Forty-one tax wage and salary income, while one state—New Hampshire—exclusively taxes dividend and interest income. Eight states levy no individual income tax at all.
Of those states taxing wages, nine have single-rate tax structures, with one rate applying to all taxable income. Conversely, 32 states and the District of Columbia levy graduated-rate income taxes, with the number of brackets varying widely by state. Hawaii has 12 brackets, the most in the country.
States’ approaches to income taxes vary in other details as well. Some states double their single-bracket widths for married filers to avoid a “marriage penalty.” Some states index tax brackets, exemptions, and deductions for inflation; many others do not. Some states tie their standard deductions and personal exemptions to the federal tax code, while others set their own or offer none at all.
In 1998, Reform Party candidate Victor Moffitt campaigned for state treasurer on a platform that included eliminating the state income tax on military pensions.
Said Moffitt in 1998: “That’s a small amount to pay to the people who risked their lives to preserve our freedom and democracy.”
This history frustrates Vasquez-Hellner because Rhode Island is one of only four states that does not have a specific exemption for veteran pensions. (The first $15,000 of all pensions, regardless of source, are tax-exempt.)
Supporters argue the change is a long-overdue step to counter the impression that Rhode Island does not treat its veterans as well as other states, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut. Both fully exempt veteran pensions from state income tax.
Five Washington communities—Spokane, Yakima, Spokane Valley, Granger, and Battle Ground—have passed resolutions in recent weeks pledging to outlaw income taxes at the local level if the state adopts income or capital gains taxes. More jurisdictions are promising to follow suit. Local officials are intent on sending the state a message. “Small businesses are the backbone of our local, regional, state, and national economy and it is imperative that the city not put unnecessary hurdles in the way of their success,” Battle Ground’s resolution declared. “Citizens want good government that is fiscally responsible,” Republican state representative Chris Corry argued at a hearing in Yakima. “Putting an income tax ban locally shows a commitment to being fiscally responsible.”
Washington lacks an income tax thanks to a 1932 state Supreme Court ruling that interpreted the state constitution as prohibiting the levy. Over the years, voters have rejected ten attempts to amend the constitution to institute an income tax. The last vote was in 2010, when nearly 65 percent of voters gave a thumbs-down to a ballot initiative heavily supported by the state’s public-sector unions and Bill Gates Sr. (Then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos helped lead the opposition.)
Thirteen states tax Social Security benefits, a matter of significant interest to retirees. Each of these states has its own approach to determining what share of benefits is subject to tax, though these provisions can be grouped together into a few broad categories. Today’s map illustrates these approaches.
Connecticut has opened the door for a statewide property tax that has no upper limit. It offers a “new” tax revenue source for states such as New Jersey that have failed to address their structural deficits and continue to live beyond their means. Many New Jersey homeowners refer to their local property tax bills as a second mortgage, since the burden often rivals or exceeds the monthly payments on their home purchase.
A review of New Jersey’s modern history of taxes shows citizens should rightly be concerned.
Our state enacted a personal income tax in 1976 to support public schools and provide property tax relief. The tax began with a simple two-rate structure consisting of a 2.0% rate on income below $20,000 and a 2.5% rate on income above $20,000. In 45 years, 8 brackets have been introduced without any substantive update to account for inflation, making this more burdensome over time. The only meaningful change has been to establish a new top rate of 10.75%, the 3rd highest in the nation.
The state income tax eventually failed to stem the rise in the highest property taxes in the country since it was based on providing money to hundreds of de facto fiefdoms with no oversight. Ms. Egea goes on to speculate that Governor Murphy, with an even more pressing need for revenue, has another new tax in mind:
In 1976, New Jersey voters passed a constitutional amendment that dedicated the entire income tax to the Property Tax Relief Fund and lower property taxes in 1997 did help Brendan Byrne get reelected. There is no time for that this year so expect the massive debt and structural budget deficit to be the excuse for this new tax that should be hitting in 2022.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Monday urged Congress to include repeal of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap in future legislation as House Democrats from the state are pushing to include such a repeal in an infrastructure package.
“Don’t pass another bill until you fully repeal SALT,” Cuomo said during a news conference.
Cuomo’s remarks came as he signed a state budget that raises state taxes for wealthy individuals and lowers taxes for the middle class.
The legislation Cuomo signed Monday raises the top state tax income rate to 10.9 percent for income above $25 million. It also continues phasing in tax cuts for middle-class households that were first enacted in 2016 and provides an income tax credit for certain homeowners with income up to $250,000.
New York’s top business leaders are gearing up for a potential mass exodus as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers prepare to raise their taxes.
With the state budget set to increase the personal income tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers as well as hiking corporate taxes, some executives who fled the city for Florida temporarily due to coronavirus pandemic lockdowns are considering permanent relocation, according to business leaders briefed on the matter.
Wealthy business leaders who have historically resisted moving at least some of their resources to Florida or other less-taxed states explained to CNBC that they are now seriously reconsidering as working from home becomes the norm, allowing more flexibility.
The budget deal Gov. Andrew Cuomo cut this week with the Legislature lifts the top marginal rate on the state’s income tax to 10.9%, from today’s 8.82%. Add New York City’s top local tax of 3.88%, and the total is 14.78%. Take a knee, California (top marginal rate of 13.3%), and recognize America’s new tax king. Wall Street types already are migrating to Florida, which has an income tax of 0%.
Mr. Cuomo’s budget deal also raises the business franchise tax to 7.25%, from 6.5%. This affects many independent proprietors and will be another incentive to escape from Manhattan. Both of these tax increases are sold as temporary “surcharges,” running through 2027 for the income tax and 2023 for the corporate tax. But politicians in Albany used the same line when they passed the “millionaires tax” in 2009. Does Mr. Cuomo think two decades is temporary?
The reason for the tax increase isn’t the pandemic or a revenue shortfall. Mr. Cuomo last year pointed a gun at New York’s head and threatened to shoot unless Congress sent more money. He received the ransom he demanded, and more. The state is getting $12.6 billion in direct budget relief from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid bill.
The New York tax burden is already punishing enough. New Yorkers pay a greater percentage of their earnings to the state than residents of any other state. The total tax burden, on top of federal taxes, amounts to 12.79 percent of income, according to a new study. Opponents of the latest tax increases claim that the state’s punishing rates are responsible for driving high earners and businesses away, and indeed the state consistently faced massive levels of net outmigration to other states even before the pandemic. That migration has included thousands of jobs in areas like financial services. Among the firms that have relocated significant jobs away from the city are Credit Suisse, Barclays, UBS, and AllianceBernstein, according to a recent Forbes article. Goldman Sachs has moved a big-money management division to Florida, and hedge fund manager Carl Icahn has decamped there as well. The Empire State’s taxes are one reason that former hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman said, “I suspect Florida will soon rival New York as a finance hub.”