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The Case of the Missing Middle-Class Tax Cut

Posted November 22nd, 2017 to Blog

If Sherlock Holmes were a United States Senator, he’d be on it: “The Case of the Missing Middle-Class Tax Cut.”

We’ve all heard about the suspicious tax cut. It’s been in all the papers, all the social media posts, anywhere the spin merchants can find a way to promote the idea that the proposed massive and permanent tax-cut giveaway to millionaires, billionaires and corporations is somehow a “middle-class tax cut.”

Puh-leeze.

No reliable information can justify the billing. Middle-class and lower-income taxpayers ultimately will — on average — pay more as a result of this legislation if it becomes law.

In Iowa, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has shown that despite some minor benefits upon enactment, the bill when fully phased in will actually result in a tax increase, on average, for the bottom 60 percent of Iowa taxpayers. Higher up the income scale, tax cuts will remain. (In the graph below, average tax changes for the bottom three quintiles of Iowa taxpayers are shown as increases, above the line.)

Someone in Iowa making $1.5 million in 2027 would get about a $4,800 benefit under the ITEP analysis — not a lot to people at that income, maybe a good payment on luxury box rent at the ballgame.

But that break for the top 1 percent would total about $68 million — a hit to services on which the money could be spent on behalf of all.

Millions of Americans — an estimated 13 million — would lose health insurance under this bill, a large share of those not giving up insurance voluntarily, but because they could no longer afford it.

Billion-dollar estates that already have $11 million exempt from tax under current law would see a doubling of that exemption, as if the first $11 million free and clear is not enough while the millions of working families struggle to get by, some at a $7.25 minimum wage that has not been raised in over eight years (in Iowa, 10 years).

A Child Tax Credit designed to help working families with the costs of raising children would be extended to families earning $500,000 a year — as if those families need the extra help, when families making $30,000 get little from the deal. By the way, that is one of the changes billed as a middle-income break, and even it would expire in 2025.

There is no expiration, meanwhile, on the estate-tax break or on new giveaways to corporations.

If you’re looking for a real middle-class tax cut in this legislation, you’d better put Sherlock Holmes on the job. Even then, anything you find has an expiration date, plus tax increases. And the millionaires’ cuts that remain will clamp down on resources for the essential things that government does to protect and assure opportunity for us all, and our nation’s future.

You cannot afford to do both — provide critical services and also cut resources to pay for them.

It’s elementary.

Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project
mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Red ink, inequity and pain

Posted November 14th, 2017 to Blog

UPDATED NOV. 20*

redink-capitol

To dive into an ocean of red ink for a tax cut that will do little to boost the economy is one thing. To pretend it benefits middle-class families is, at the least, cynical.

It is impossible to view either the Senate or House tax bills moving in Washington as anything but a boost to the wealthy.

Responsible analysis by respected research organizations makes this apparent. The wealthy don’t just do the best in this legislation — they are the clear focus of it.

New data released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy offer several key illustrations of how the Senate Republican proposal approved last week by the Finance Committee, which includes Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, will affect Iowans:

  • The middle 20 percent of families, people making between $59,300 and $87,080 (average $72,400) receive only 12 percent of the overall tax cut in 2019. Meanwhile, the top 20 percent receive more than half — 62 percent.
  • In 2019, the top 1 percent has a larger overall tax cut than the bottom 60 percent, $483.1 million (average $32,200) to $407.9 million (average $450).
  • In 2027, as the small benefits at the middle phase out and structural changes at the top are made permanent, the bottom three-fifths of Iowa taxpayers will see $58.7 million in tax increases averaging $60, while the top 1 percent will keep an average $4,770 tax cut at a cost to the treasury of $67.7 million.

Those who are promoting this bill should at least have the honesty to call it what it is: a new handout to the wealthy — one that everyone will pay for, to the tune of $1.5 trillion over 10 years, and an almost certain loss of critical services that benefit all.

* Note: The original post from Nov. 14 has been updated with figures from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy analysis of the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee.

2017-owen5464Mike Owen is executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.

mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

 


More debt, inequity and pain

​FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017

Senate tax plan: More debt, more inequity, more pain
Like House bill, Senate plan stacks the deck against services and opportunity

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Nov. 14, 2017) — Senate Republicans’ new tax proposal in Washington carries many of the same problems of equity and fiscal irresponsibility of the House plan.

“This plan is not only unbalanced. The scales are being tipped all the way over,” said Mike Owen, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP). “Adding $1.5 trillion in debt at the almost certain cost of food and health assistance for the vulnerable and educational opportunities across the board — really, did anyone promote doing that in the last campaign? Did anyone vote for it?”

In addition, the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has released new estimates showing that for Iowa, well over half of the tax reductions would go to the top 20 percent in both 2019 and 2027 under the Senate plan. Some taxpayers would pay more, but very few of those at the top — 2 percent — while in both years, 13 percent of the middle one-fifth of taxpayers would pay more. [Find the full ITEP report here]

“Overall, these are especially troubling implications for Iowa, with daunting fiscal challenges coming in only two months with the new legislative session. Besides penalizing low-income families at a steep cost to all taxpayers, this plan would shift new costs to the state, which is becoming a common theme in Washington,” said Mike Crawford, senior policy associate for the Child & Family Policy Center (CFPC) in Des Moines.

“This Congress, many will recall, also attempted to shift hard choices and big costs to the states with health-care proposals that, thus far, have been unsuccessful. The tax choices being offered in the House and Senate threaten state resources and services as well.”

Specifically, the Senate bill would eliminate the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes paid. The largest beneficiaries of this deduction are high-income taxpayers.

“This change could pressure states to make new reductions in taxes for those taxpayers — who already pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than do low- and moderate-income taxpayers,” Owen said. “Furthermore, this would cut into revenues, which already are running short of expectations and pose difficult choices for state legislators in January.”

The bill would provide nearly half of total tax benefits to the top 1 percent of households, which would receive tax cuts averaging over $50,000 by 2027. In addition, the legislation would:

  • Skew a critical tax credit now targeted for low-income working families, the Child Tax Credit (CTC), to couples with incomes between $110,000 and $1 million. While extending this benefit to those higher-income families, it would deny any significant help ($75 or less) to 10 million children in low-income working families. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that in Iowa, the House bill would totally leave out 89,000 children in those working families, and either fully or partially exclude 203,000 from the bill’s increase in that benefit.
  • Further reduce the federal estate tax, which already carries significant exemptions from tax for the very wealthy — $5.5 million per person and $11 million per couple. Because of these already generous exemptions, the estate tax already only affects two-tenths of 1 percent of estates nationally and in the state of Iowa. It is the only way a small amount of tax is collected on certain income. (The House bill would fully phase out the estate tax.)
  • Cut taxes for millionaire households by lowering the top income tax rate compared with the House bill, and by providing a deduction for “pass through” businesses that mean big tax cuts for high-income households.

“Elements of the Senate bill make only slight improvements to the House bill, and like the House bill it is heavily skewed to the wealthy,” Owen noted.

“Take the example of the Child Tax Credit. This program is intended to be a work support, to assist people in low-paying jobs. In our low-wage state especially, it makes no sense to be extending this credit to wealthy families when low-income families are being left out of an improvement.”

Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill would not cut the wind production tax credit, which has been critical in making Iowa a leader in clean energy.

IPP and CFPC are nonpartisan, nonprofit Iowa-based organizations that collaborate as the Iowa Fiscal Partnership on analysis of public policy choices affecting Iowans, particularly those in working families and at low incomes. Find reports at iowafiscal.org.

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Against tax spin: Wealthiest benefit

​IFP News

Against the spin: Wealthy benefit most from House plan
In Iowa and nationwide, federal tax proposal skewed to benefit millionaires

 

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Nov. 6, 2017) — New national and state-level analysis shows the wealthiest taxpayers are the biggest beneficiaries of the House tax reform proposal, exposing exaggerations of middle-income benefits in a package that could threaten critical services to low- and moderate-income families.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP — itep.org) released its analysis today. Its national findings follow estimates by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation late last week that also show benefits of the plan are heavily skewed to the wealthy.

Among ITEP’s findings for Iowa:

  • In 2018, the middle 20 percent of Iowa taxpayers will see an average tax cut of $790, compared to a $36,100 tax cut for the top 1 percent, a benefit 46 times higher for the very rich, whose annual income averages $1.2 million.
  • The inequity grows by 2027, as the average middle-income cut falls to $340 (less than half of the 2018 figure) while the very rich get a $48,520 tax cut — a third greater than in 2018, and a benefit 143 times greater than the middle-income average. (graph below)
  • The top 20 percent take 61 percent of the tax benefit in 2018, and 69 percent of the tax benefit in 2027.
Tax Cuts Skewed to the Wealthy in House Plan, 2018 and 2017
171106-ITEP-taxreform
Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
 
“So much for boosting the middle class. The rich in Iowa do far better than middle and lower-income taxpayers in our state under the House tax plan,” said Peter Fisher, research director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP), part of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership with the Child & Family Policy Center (CFPC) in Des Moines.

CFPC interim director Anne Discher agreed.

“While focusing rightly on who actually benefits from this legislation — and who does not — we should not miss the impact on services and the difficult choices that will be forced upon states by federal tax cuts,” Discher said. The tax package will cost an estimated $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

Discher agreed with ITEP that low- and middle- class families likely will pay for these tax cuts for the wealthiest through reduced investments in education, health care, infrastructure, scientific research, environmental protection, and other priorities.

The ITEP analysis examines the difference in tax benefits at various incomes both in 2018 and 2027.

Fisher noted the ITEP analysis shows the legislation does not mean tax cuts for everyone, and in some cases means tax increases. Five percent of all Iowa taxpayers would see a tax hike in 2018, rising to 13 percent in 2027, according to ITEP.

“This plan benefits the wealthy immediately, but disguises even greater benefits and disparities that will become apparent well after the next election,” said Mike Owen, executive director of IPP.

“What might appear to some to be a substantial benefit at the middle next year — an average tax cut of $790 — will vanish by more than half in 2027, as even greater benefits to the very wealthy are phased in over the decade. The benefit at the top 1 percent, on average, is projected to grow from a $36,100 tax cut in 2018 to $48,520 in 2027.”
The ITEP analysis shows, in fact, that the value of the average tax benefit drops over the nine years for every income group in Iowa except the very top 1 percent. But this bias to the very rich would take place long after the 2018 and 2020 elections when policy makers might have to defend them.

“A closer look at the details of this tax plan indicates that lawmakers are most serious about ensuring that they lower tax bills for the highest-earning households,” said Alan Essig, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

ITEP and others have noted specific disparities in the treatment of various taxpayers under the proposed bill.

For example, after five years, the bill would eliminate a $300 non-child dependent credit that benefits low- and moderate-income families while reducing and eventually eliminating the estate tax, which benefits only the wealthiest two-tenths of 1 percent of estates in Iowa and the nation.

“The estate tax assures at least some taxation of extremely large amounts of income that otherwise are never taxed,” Owen said. “The estate tax already is effectively very low for even enormous estates — the first $5.5 million of an individual’s estate, or $11 million of a couple’s estate, is exempt from tax. And no family inheriting an estate of less than those amounts faces any estate tax at all, so the scare tactics that are used with small businesses and farm families are very misleading.”

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint public policy analysis initiative of the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. Reports are available at www.iowafiscal.org.

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KanOwaSin: Low-road neighbors, together?

Posted June 27th, 2017 to Blog

Here we sit in Iowa, nestled between two political petri dishes where experiments have gone wrong, and wondering if our elected leaders may let the mad scientists loose on us as well.

Some politicians would like to turn Iowa into another Kansas, another Wisconsin, where tax-cut zealotry already has driven down economic opportunity.

Welcome to KanOwaSin. In the anti-tax ideologues’ world, we’d all look the same. Why not ​share a name?


​Before someone squeezes another drop of anti-tax, anti-worker snake oil on us, let’s get out the microscope.Our friends in Wisconsin tell us: Don’t become Wisconsin. Our friends in Kansas tell us: Don’t become Kansas — and Kansans already are turning off the low road.A couple of researchers in Oklahoma are telling us: Listen to those folks. From the abstract of their working report:

“The recent fiscal austerity experiments undertaken in the states of Kansas and Wisconsin have generated considerable policy interest. … The overall conclusion from the paper is that the fiscal experiments did not spur growth, and if anything, harmed state economic performance.”

 

Their findings are among the latest exposing the folly of tax-cut magic, particularly with regard to Kansas, which IPP’s Peter Fisher has highlighted in his GradingStates.org analysis that ferrets out the faulty notions in ideological and politically oriented policies that tear down our public services and economic opportunity.

Iowa has long been ripe for tax reform, due to a long list of exemptions, credits and special-interest carve-outs in the income tax, sales tax and property tax. These stand in the way of having sufficient resources for our schools, public safety and environmental protection.

Each new break is used to sell Iowans on the idea that we can attract families and businesses by cutting  — something we’ve tried for years without success, as Iowa’s tortoise-like population growth has lagged the nation.

On balance, this arrangement favors the wealthy over the poor. The bottom 80 percent pay about 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes that are governed by state law. The top 1 percent pay only about 6 percent. Almost every tax proposal in the last two decades has compounded the inequities.

For the coming 2018 legislative session, and for the election campaigns later that year, we are being promised a focus on income tax. Keep in mind, anything that flattens the income tax — the only tax we have that expects a greater share of income from the rich than the poor — steepens the overall inequity of our regressive system.

Thus, as always, the devil is in the details of the notion of “reform.” If “reform” in 2017 and beyond means more breaks for the wealthy, and inadequate revenue for traditional, clearly recognized public responsibilities such as education and public health and safety, then it is not worthy of the name.

So, when you hear about the very real failures of the Kansas and Wisconsin experiments, stop and think about what you see on your own streets, and your own schools. Think about the snake oil pitches to follow their lead, and whether you want Iowa on a fast track to the bottom.

That is the promise of Kansas and Wisconsin for Iowa.

Or, if you prefer, KanOwaSin.

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Dan S. Rickman and Hongbo Wang, Oklahoma State University, “Tales of Two U.S. States: Regional Fiscal Austerity and Economic Performance.” March 19, 2017. https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/79615/1/MPRA_paper_79615.pdf
Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project
mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Big Money, Big Companies — But Whose Benefit?

IFP BACKGROUNDER

Official Report Exposes Continuing Issues with Iowa Research Activities Credit  

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160224-RAC-boxIowa’s most lucrative business tax credit program is the Research Activities Credit (RAC). Through the RAC, some big companies receive big dollars from the state of Iowa, some as credits — effectively, discounts — on their taxes. But some as well (186 in 2015) either owe no income tax or reduce it to zero with the RAC, and have tax credits left over. In those cases they can receive state checks as a “refund” — $42.1 million in state spending last year.

As the Iowa Fiscal Partnership has noted, Iowa’s RAC is far different from what was envisioned when it originally passed, in 1985. Designed to support start-up companies to do research, this program primarily benefits very large companies, with little scrutiny. More information has been available about the RAC since 2009, when state legislators ordered the Iowa Department of Revenue to provide an annual report by February 15 on both individual and corporate claims against income tax for the previous calendar year.[1]

As illustrated in Table 1 below, little of this tax credit is used to reduce taxes for its recipients. Rather, the credit is used mostly to provide subsidies, in state checks worth sometimes millions of dollars, to corporations that pay little or no income tax.

160217-RAC-Table1

The amount of the corporate claims under the RAC has ranged from about $45.2 million to $53.3 million over the six years covered by the full-year annual reports, from 2010 through 2015. The 2015 report showed 246 corporations claimed a total of $50.1 million from the RAC — covering both the regular RAC and the supplemental credit.

160224-RAC-Fig1The share of those claims provided as “refund” checks to corporations — meaning they had no corporate income tax in Iowa — has ranged from about two-thirds of the benefit to as much as 95 percent. After dipping below 70 percent in the previous two years, the share of research credits paid out as checks rose to 84 percent in 2015, with a cost to the treasury of $42.1 million. (Table 1.)

The number of companies claiming the credit has risen sharply — by 55 percent to 248 claims in each of the last two years compared to the 160 corporate claims in 2010. (Figure 1) Likewise, the share of claimants receiving checks has risen over that time from 133 to 186 — a 40 percent increase.

Another trend that has remained strong is that large claimants have taken $8 or $9 out of every $10 from the corporate credit. This is illustrated in Table 2 below. These are companies that have over $500,000 in corporate claims. Recalling that the credit represents 6.5 percent of the increase in Iowa research spending above an established base level (box, page 1) this effectively means a company with $500,000 in claims has Iowa research expenses of at least $7.7 million —not a small company. It is reasonable to ask whether the subsidy is necessary for a company already devoting such sizable resources to research.

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The annual reports by law must identify the largest corporate claimants, those with claims of more than $500,000. The largest claimants have looked similar at the top year to year, but the number of large corporate claimants has grown, from nine in 2010 to more than twice that — 20 — last year. Table 3 provides information from the six full-year annual reports disclosing big claimants and amounts claimed. A stronger law would disclose how much of each of those large claims was paid as a “refund,” or check, illustrating which companies received state assistance but did not pay Iowa income tax. It also would require corporations to report on their economic activities and investments in the state.

A Special Tax Credit Review Panel appointed by Governor Chet Culver in 2009 examined all Iowa tax credits in the wake of a scandal in the Film Tax Credit Program. That committee came back in January 2010 with a report making several recommendations, including a five-year sunset for all tax credits so that lawmakers would have to review them and affirmatively vote to continue them, and specific recommendations on the Research Activities Credit. Among those recommendations: eliminate refundability of the RAC for companies with gross receipts in excess of $20 million yearly, but permit a five-year carry-forward. “It seems unreasonable for the State to be providing successful, larger corporations refund checks for amounts of the Research Activities Tax Credit over its tax due to the State.”[2]

160222-RAC-TopClaimants2

 

These large claimants are highly profitable companies. The biggest recipient of the Iowa credit in 2015, Rockwell Collins, reported $686 million in profits in fiscal 2015.[3] Deere & Co., had $7.5 million in research costs offset —yet reported over $1.9 billion in 2015 profits.[4] DuPont reported almost $2 billion in profits in 2015, but claimed $7.5 million from Iowa taxpayers for research.[5] As Table 3 indicates, Rockwell Collins and Deere have both benefited from more than $67 million in RAC claims over the last six years, and Dupont from more than $45 million. These figures raise serious questions about the need for state help to cover what may be considered normal expenses. After all, what keeps these companies competitive in their fields is their research and development work. Where there might be a benefit to company stockholders, there is no demonstration to Iowa taxpayers about a return on their investment in these companies’ operations.

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State fiscal experts predict will be a growing subsidy outside the budget process (Figure 2). The Department of Revenue projects the cost of this program to rise from about $54.9 million for individual and corporate claims in FY2013 to $64.4 million this year and more than $75 million by FY2020.[6]


[1] All annual reports filed as a result of the 2009 law are on the Department of  website, at https://tax.iowa.gov/report/Reports?combine=Research Activities. Reports for calendar year 2010 and after offer full-year information; the 2009 report was for a partial year. Our tables summarize the corporate claims in those full-year reports.
[2] State of Iowa Tax Credit Review Report, Jan. 8, 2010, p. 8, http://iowapolicyproject.org/2010docs/1001-TaxCreditReview.pdf
[3] Rockwell Collins Annual Report 2015, http://s1.q4cdn.com/532426485/files/doc_financials/annual/2015/COL-ANNUAL-REPORT-FINAL.pdf
[4] Deere & Co. news release, https://s2.q4cdn.com/329009547/files/doc_financials/quarterly_earnings/2015/Q4-2015/Q4_2015_Media-Release-and-Financials.pdf
[5] DuPont news release http://investors.dupont.com/investor-relations/investor-news/investor-news-details/2016/DuPont-Reports-4Q-and-Full-Year-Operating-EPS-of-027-and-277/default.aspx
[6] Iowa Department of Revenue,Tax Credits Contingent Liabilities Report, December 2015, https://tax.iowa.gov/sites/files/idr/Contingent Liabilities Report 1215.pdf; Table 9. Note: These figures are fiscal-year costs and projections in reports provided by the Department for use by the Revenue Estimating Conference, as opposed to the calendar year reports provided by the Department as required by the Research Activities Credit disclosure law passed in 2009. They also include individual claims as well as corporate claims, while the Tables 1-3 in this report only show corporate claims. (Corporate claims have represented 90 percent of the amount of all claims in the six years covered by the full-year RAC reports under the 2009 disclosure law.)

News Release (Feb. 15, 2016)
Special Tax Credit Review Panel Report (Jan. 8, 2010)

Iowa Fiscal Partnership

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership (IFP) is a joint budget and tax policy initiative of two nonpartisan, Iowa-based organizations, the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. IFP is part of the State Priorities Partnership, a network of nonpartisan organizations in 41 states and the District of Columbia that share a commitment to rigorous policy analysis, responsible budget and tax policies, and a particular focus on the needs of low- and moderate-income families. IFP research is supported by the Stoneman Family Foundation and by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Policy conclusions are the responsibility of the Iowa Policy Project and the Child & Family Policy Center and not necessarily the view of either the Stoneman Family Foundation or the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Iowa Fiscal Partnership reports are available to the public at http://www.iowafiscal.org.

$8.9 million revenue boost with immigration reform

Posted February 24th, 2016 to Blog

A new report projects a 24 percent increase in state and local tax revenues from undocumented immigrants in Iowa if they were granted permanent legal residence.

The 50-state study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy examines current tax contributions by undocumented immigrants and projects how state revenues would rise either with the Obama Administration’s executive actions, or with passage of comprehensive reform that has stalled in Congress.

Find the report, Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions, here. It offers a sensible approach on how to quantify tax contributions by these immigrants — whose tax contributions often go unrecognized in political talking points. But undocumented immigrants pay sales and property taxes just like anyone else, and many have income taxes deducted from their paychecks.

As stated by ITEP’s state tax policy director, Meg Wiehe, “Regardless of the politically contentious nature of immigration reform, the data show undocumented immigrants greatly contribute to our nation’s economy, not just in labor but also with tax dollars.”

The report estimates current state and local taxes by undocumented immigrants in Iowa are $37.38 million, but would rise to $46.29 million — an increase of $8.91 million — with comprehensive immigration reform.

Full implementation of the 2012 and 2014 executive actions would create a smaller impact in Iowa, estimated to be a $3.61 million increase from the $17.18 million paid now by those affected.

According to ITEP, the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States collectively paid $11.64 billion in state and local taxes. ITEP finds their combined nationwide state and local tax contributions would increase by $805 million under full implementation of the administration’s 2012 and 2014 executive actions and by $2.1 billion under comprehensive immigration reform.

 

Owen-2013-57
Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project
Contact: mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

How to make Iowa’s tax system more unfair

Posted February 5th, 2013 to Blog
David Osterberg

David Osterberg

How odd that a new proposal to make Iowa’s tax system more regressive and unfair comes out just when new evidence shows it already is unfair. HF3 would make the Iowa income tax rate flat where it needs to reflect ability to pay. Since higher income people pay more in income tax, and because they are expected to pay a greater percentage as their income rises, moving to a flat or flatter income tax is a reward to them. It does not help low- and moderate-income people.

As shown in the recent “Who Pays?” report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), the poorest pay the highest portion of their income in taxes. (See graph.) The sales tax is much steeper as a share of income from low-income Iowans than it is from high-income Iowans, and the property tax is marginally more expensive to low-income people as a share of income than it is to those with high incomes. The income tax is the only progressive element of Iowa’s state and local tax system.

graph of Who Pays Iowa taxesTo flatten the only progressive feature of Iowa’s tax system would make the overall tax system more regressive. That would be the inevitable effect of HF3.

The problem with Iowa’s tax system is not that it’s too progressive. In fact, it is regressive — taking a larger share of the income of people at low incomes and middle incomes than of people at the top. HF3 would compound this.

Posted by David Osterberg, Executive Director


Better understanding the 47 percent

Posted October 1st, 2012 to Blog
Heather Gibney, Research Associate

Heather Gibney

The current political environment has set off a firestorm of confusion about who does and who does not pay taxes in America — and unfair criticism of many working families and others.

It’s true that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income taxes, but they do pay taxes. In fact, almost two-thirds of the 47 percent are low-income, working households who are paying payroll taxes to help finance Social Security and Medicare, and many pay federal excise taxes on things like gasoline, alcohol and cigarettes.[1] These households are also paying a large percentage of their income in state and local sales and property taxes.

Many working Americans are exempt from the income tax because of features Congress added to the tax code — with overwhelming bipartisan support, in an effort to enable people to care for themselves and their children while encouraging them to work. Some of these features include the Earned Income Tax Credit, a Ronald Reagan era anti-poverty program that enables low-wage working families with children to meet their basic needs while promoting employment. In addition, the child tax credit gives families a tax credit through the form of a refund check even when they don’t owe federal income taxes.[2]

The other one-third of the 47 percent — those households that aren’t paying either major federal tax — includes those who are unemployed, low-income senior citizens who paid taxes during their working years and aren’t currently taxed on Social Security benefits, students, those who have disabilities or can’t work due to serious injury and people who don’t meet the income tax obligation because their wages aren’t high enough.

Often missed in the focus on those who are not currently paying income taxes is the errant assumption that all those people have never paid taxes and never will. Just because a household doesn’t owe income tax one year, doesn’t mean they won’t pay income taxes over their lifetime. For many, a career change, the loss of a job, a disability or injury, or low wages can lead to incomes too low to pay taxes.

Iowa households who aren’t paying federal income tax are still paying a large percentage of their incomes to state and local taxes. As the Iowa Policy Project reported in (2009), moderate-and low-income Iowans pay more of their income in state and local taxes than the rich do. [3] [4]

whopays2009As the graph at right shows, Iowa’s regressive tax system takes a larger share of the incomes from those who have the least, and a smaller share from those who have the ability to pay a larger percentage of their income. Make no mistake: Working Iowans pay taxes.

For more on this issue, see our two-pager, “Better understanding the 47 percent.”