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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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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


IFP News: Who Pays Taxes in Iowa?

Posted January 30th, 2013 to Taxes, Who Pays Taxes in Iowa?

Making Wealth Pay: Richest Iowans Pay Lower Tax Rate

Study Shows Poorest or Middle-Income Families Pay Larger Share of Income;
New Report ‘Illustrates Unfairness’ of Proposed $750 Income Tax Credit

Download this news release — 2-page PDF and Iowa fact sheet 2-page PDF

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Jan. 30, 2013) — A new national report shows Iowa taxes — like those in most states — are much greater as a share of income from middle- and low-income families than from wealthy families.

The report, Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, by the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), shows the effect of sales taxes and property taxes on lower-income households tilts Iowa’s overall tax system so the poorest pay the highest percentage in taxes.

“The latest findings confirm a nagging problem of inequity in Iowa’s overall tax system,” said David Osterberg, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project, part of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership (IFP).

“In fact, the ITEP report illustrates the unfairness of a new proposal at the State Capitol to give away Iowa’s surplus in $750 chunks through income-tax credits. Many Iowans who pay most of their taxes on sales and property would not benefit from the proposed income-tax credit.”

According to the ITEP report, the average effective overall tax rate for the non-elderly taxpayers in the bottom 20 percent is 10.9 percent. The rate drops steadily to a 6 percent level for the top 1 percent of taxpayers. In the middle 20 percent, the level is 10.1 percent.

The report — available at www.whopays.org and www.iowafiscal.org — separately examines the share of income paid at various income levels for sales and excise taxes, personal income tax and property tax. It also calculates the reduction, a tax offset going mainly for higher-income families, caused by the ability to deduct state and local taxes from federal income tax. In addition, Iowa state income-tax payers may deduct their federal income taxes paid, again a device that disproportionately benefits higher-income earners.

 “The state’s present surplus is a poor excuse to give one more break to the wealthiest — at the expense of fairness for lower-income earners, and at the expense of critical public services that need to be funded,” said Charles Bruner, executive director of the Child & Family Policy Center, also part of IFP.

For low-income families (earning below $21,000 per year), sales and excise taxes take a 6.4 percent share of family income, compared with 0.9 percent in the top 1 percent (income of $312,000 and higher).

“We know that governors nationwide are promising to cut or eliminate taxes, but the question is who’s going to pay for it,” said Matthew Gardner, executive director of ITEP and an author of the study. “There’s a good chance it’s the so-called takers who spend so much on necessities that they pay an effective tax rate of 10 or more percent, due largely to sales and property taxes. In too many states, these are the people being asked to make up the revenues lost to income tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers.”

State consumption taxes (mainly sales taxes) are particularly regressive — meaning they take a greater share of income from people at low incomes than people at high incomes. Overall, those rates average 7 percent for the poor, 4.6 percent for middle incomes and a 0.9 percent for the wealthiest taxpayers nationwide.

Gardner noted that in some states, there are efforts to cut or eliminate the income tax, and that of the 10 most regressive tax states, four do not have any taxes on personal income and one applies it only to interest and dividends. The other five have a personal income tax that is flat or virtually flat across all income groups. 

“Cutting the income tax and relying on sales taxes to make up the lost revenues is the surest way to make an already upside down tax system even more so,” Gardner stated.

The data in Who Pays? also demonstrates that states commended as “low tax” are often high-tax states for low- and middle- income families. 

“When you hear people brag about their low tax state, you have to ask them, low tax for whom?” Gardner said.

The fourth edition of Who Pays? measures the state and local taxes paid by different income groups in 2013 (at 2010 income levels including the impact of tax changes enacted through January 2, 2013) as shares of income for every state and the District of Columbia.  The report is available online at www.whopays.org.

Low-Income Iowans Pay Greater Share of Income in State/Local Tax Than Higher Income Iowans

who pays graph

who pays table

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The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint public policy analysis initiative of two nonpartisan, nonprofit Iowa-based organizations, the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. Reports are at www.iowafiscal.org.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that works on federal, state, and local tax policy issues. ITEP’s mission is to ensure that elected officials, the media, and the general public have access to accurate, timely, and straightforward information that allows them to understand the effects of current and proposed tax policies. www.itep.org.

 

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.”


Iowa’s holiday from taxes — and reality

Posted August 3rd, 2012 to Blog
Mike Owen

Mike Owen

Oh, boy! It’s sales-tax holiday weekend in Iowa.

We’re talking about a “7 percent off” sale, folks — on only a limited list of items. When’s the last time that brought you into a store? At any other time of year, it would not draw customers, but guffaws. Seven percent? Really?

As IPP’s Andrew Cannon pointed out last year at this time, these gimmicks “drain revenue, and feed unfairness in a state tax system.” They are found, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue (DOR), in 17 states, and take various forms.

Of course the folks in the malls will say they’re great — anything to get someone in the door. But think about it. We’re literally talking about a few bucks off a pair of jeans, about $5 off a $70 pair of shoes. You could do a heck of a lot better on a regular sale at a store even when you’re paying sales tax.

And when you’re paying the tax, you’re not stiffing the school that your child will be attending in a few weeks in new jeans and shoes.

There is a price to public services any time we chip away at revenues. Whether the cost is around $3 million — as this gimmick appears to cost, according to a 2009 report from the DOR — or $40 million in some business tax credit program, it all adds up. Money not brought in due to exceptions in the tax code costs the bottom line every bit as much as money spent by a state agency.

Make no mistake, Iowans are being sold a bill of goods — but at least it’s tax-free!

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director