States are permitted to replenish their unemployment compensation (UC) trust funds using the $195.3 billion they received in Fiscal Recovery Funds under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—and they need the help, having paid out $175 billion in state-funded benefits since the start of the pandemic, in addition to the $661 billion shelled out by the federal government in extended and expanded benefits, for a total of about $836 billion between January 27, 2020 and September 11, 2021.
Pre-pandemic trust fund balances stood at $72.5 billion. Today, aggregate trust fund balances are negative, at -$11.1 billion, reflecting $44.8 billion in indebtedness currently incurred by 10 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. By federal standards, 34 state accounts are currently insolvent, with $114.6 billion needed to bring them all up to what the federal government regards as minimum adequate levels.
According to the Tax Foundation, just 13.7 percent of filers itemize their deductions — a prerequisite for deducting state and local taxes. Only at the top 10 percent of the income distribution do even a majority of taxpayers itemize. But among the top 1 percent of taxpayers, 92 percent do, and of course, their higher marginal tax rates make each deduction more valuable.
So it is these taxpayers whom the SALT deduction primarily benefits. According to Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, households in the top 0.1 percent of earners would receive an average benefit of about $150,000, while those in the middle would get closer to $15. Repealing the caps would cost about $350 billion by 2026, and an estimated 85 percent of that revenue would end up in the pockets of the richest 5 percent of Americans.
You can probably think of many better uses of taxpayer money than giving a tax break to the most affluent people in the most affluent parts of the most affluent states in the country. Unless, of course, you are someone who would benefit from a larger SALT deduction. As, I admit, I would.
Property taxes are the primary tool for financing local government and generate state-level revenue in some states as well. In fiscal year 2019, property taxes comprised 31 percent of total state and local tax collections in the United States, more than any other source of tax revenue. In that same year, property taxes accounted for 72 percent of local tax collections and 27 percent of overall local government revenue.
The six counties with the highest median property tax payments all have bills exceeding $10,000—Bergen, Essex, and Union Counties in New Jersey, and Nassau, Rockland, and Westchester counties in New York. All six are near New York City, as is the next highest, Passaic County, New Jersey ($9,881).
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.
All three options would primarily benefit higher-earning tax filers, with repeal of the SALT cap increasing the after-tax income of the top 1 percent by about 2.8 percent; the bottom 80 percent would see minimal benefit.
Removing the marriage penalty and raising the SALT cap would also mostly benefit higher earners, though after-tax incomes of filers in the 95th to 99th income percentiles would rise the most. For example, raising the SALT cap to $15,000 single and $30,000 joint would result in a 0.8 percent increase in after-tax income for the 95th to 99th income percentiles and a 0.4 percent increase for the top 1 percent.
The top 1 percent benefits less because the SALT cap remains in place, so there is less of a benefit as a portion of their incomes when slightly increasing the cap. For example, a joint filer with $5 million in after-tax income could receive an additional $7,400 in reduced tax liability ($20,000 in increased SALT deductions times the 37 percent top individual income tax rate), which is a 0.1 percent increase in after-tax income.
Traditionally, revenue dedicated to infrastructure spending has been raised through taxes on motor fuel, license fees, and tolls, but revenue from motor fuel has proven less effective over the last few decades. Between developments in vehicles’ fuel economy, increased sales of electric vehicles, and inflation, taxes on motor fuel generally raise less revenue per vehicle miles traveled (VMT) than they did in the past. As a result, most states contribute revenue from other sources to make up differences between infrastructure revenue and expenditures.
The amount of revenue states raise through taxes on infrastructure and transportation vary to a significant degree—as do the sources. Four states (California, Indiana, Montana, and Tennessee) raise enough revenue to cover their highway spending, but 46 states and the District of Columbia must cover the difference with tax revenue from other levies. Alaska (17 percent) and North Dakota (29 percent), which both rely heavily on revenue from severance taxes, raise the lowest proportion of highway funds from transportation taxes and fees.
It’s not just a matter of the state/local tax levels for each state, but also what income levels are like for the state.
In any case, the pattern of which states’ taxpayers get the biggest boost from SALT deductibility might surprise you a little, such as with Utah and Georgia. But many aren’t surprising at all, such as New York and New Jersey.
But even without considering the geographical footprint, obviously high-income folks get the biggest boost from removing the SALT cap. This has been known since the TCJA back in 2017 when they imposed the cap to begin with. It’s partly why it was done.
In case you are thinking, “Well, the rich make more, they should pay more,” the top 1 percent of taxpayers account for 20 percent of all income (AGI). So, their 40 percent share of income taxes is twice their share of the nation’s income.
Similarly, in 2018, the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers paid $311 billion in income taxes. That amounted to 20 percent of all income taxes paid, the highest level since 2001, as far back as the IRS data allows us to measure. The top 0.1 percent of taxpayers in 2018 paid a greater share of the income tax burden than the bottom 75 percent of taxpayers combined.
President Joe Biden and congressional policymakers have proposed several changes to the corporate income tax, including raising the rate from 21 percent to 28 percent and imposing a 15 percent minimum tax on the book income of large corporations. The proposals are being considered to raise revenue for new spending programs and would repeal changes to the corporate tax made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in late 2017.
An increase in the federal corporate tax rate to 28 percent would raise the U.S. federal-state combined tax rate to 32.34 percent, highest in the OECD and among Group of Seven (G7) countries, harming U.S. economic competitiveness and increasing the cost of investment in America. We estimate that this would reduce long-run economic output by 0.8 percent, eliminate 159,000 jobs, and reduce wages by 0.7 percent. Workers across the income scale would bear much of the tax increase. For example, the bottom 20 percent of earners would on average see a 1.45 percent drop in after-tax income in the long run.
Many states have moved away from taxing assets after people die because of the harm to family businesses and farms, but a new proposal before state lawmakers would double Illinois’ estate tax.
House Bill 3920 would hike the existing state tax on estates of over $4 million to 9.95% from 4.95%. Unlike neighboring Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Missouri, Illinois is one of just a dozen states that still have an estate or inheritance tax. Tax Foundation analyst Katherine Loughead noted, “The top marginal estate tax rate under this proposal would become the highest in the country at 21%.”
While the bill’s sponsors intend the extra revenues to be used to support Illinoisans with disabilities, hiking the estate tax would squeeze family farmers, reduce the accumulation of productive assets, encourage spendthrift behavior, fuel tax avoidance and evasion, and drive wealth to other states.
Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have now published revenue data for all 12 months of 2020; in those states, revenues are up $3.2 billion in aggregate compared to the previous calendar year, thanks to robust gains in financial markets and federal assistance that has kept businesses afloat and provided benefits to individuals. Some of those are, indeed, taxable benefits, in the case of enhanced and expanded unemployment compensation benefits. For the remaining seven states, it is necessary to project revenues through the end of the calendar year based either on U.S. Census Bureau data through the three quarters, or, in Nevada and New Mexico, state data running through October and November respectively.
These adjustments yield an aggregate $1.7 billion decline in state revenues. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, states would receive $195.3 billion in aid, divided according to each state’s share of national unemployed workers. Under Senate amendments, a further adjustment is made to ensure that each state receives, at minimum, the amount it was allocated for purposes of the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the CARES Act. While some conservative lawmakers have criticized this allocation model (which benefits states with steeper job losses) on the grounds that different state policies and approaches may yield some of this variation and that the federal government should be neutral to these decisions, we have argued previously that using the change in unemployment is a more efficient targeting method than allocating aid per capita. Far less defensible, however, is the notion that aid to states should be 116 times the decline in state revenues—especially since the federal government has already provided over $200 billion in fungible aid to subnational governments.
Policymakers will need to determine if the tax code is the proper vehicle to disburse such cash benefits and if the IRS can handle the additional responsibilities. Over the course of many years, the IRS has been tasked with an ever-growing list of administrative duties that go well beyond simple revenue collection—everything from poverty alleviation to education, housing, and health-care benefits. The American Rescue Plan, in addition to other pandemic response measures, would now require the IRS to administer additional benefits on a recurring monthly basis, much as a traditional spending agency, all while processing upwards of 160 million tax returns.