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Posts tagged property tax

‘Nothing to see here, folks,’ 2017 edition

Posted September 28th, 2016 to Blog

slide_taxfoundation-cropBasic flaws remain in Tax Foundation business index

The Tax Foundation released the 14th edition of its State Business Tax Climate Index (SBTCI) today (Sept. 28). The basic flaws that have rendered it of little use as a guide to state economic policy remain. While a few methodological tweaks have been made, it is still a hodge-podge of over 100 different features of state tax law, mashed together into an index number. The components are weighted illogically, and the result is a ranking that bears little or no relation to the taxes businesses actually pay in one state versus another.

The Tax Foundation acknowledges that they are not measuring actual tax levels on business, but rather the states’ tax structure. But they provide no evidence that tax structure influences business decisions. If you were a business, what would you care more about: the bottom line amount you will pay, or whether there were three tax brackets or five tax brackets involved in the calculation that got you there? The Tax Foundation would have you count brackets, and ignore the dollars.

The SBTCI has separate components for the corporate income tax, the individual income tax, property taxes, etc. So let’s consider the corporate tax component. Even as a measure of “structure” somehow, it falls short because it leaves out two major determinants of corporate income tax liabilities — federal deductibility and the apportionment rule — while including numerous minor features. As a result, the corporate tax index is a meaningless number.

Furthermore, the corporate income tax is much less important than the property tax, for most businesses. According to the Council on State Taxation, the property tax accounted for 43 percent of all business taxes, the corporate income tax just 11 percent, in 2014. Yet in coming up with the overall state rankings, the latest Tax Foundation index weights the property tax 14.9 percent, the corporate income tax 19.7 percent. That makes states with high property taxes and low corporate income taxes look much better on the index than they really are, and penalizes the states with a robust corporate income tax, a high state share of education funding, and low property taxes.

To make matters worse, the index weights change every year. This makes it impossible to know if a change in a state’s rank from one year to the next is due to a change in tax law, or just a change in the weights.

More importantly, the whole focus on business tax competitiveness is misplaced. State and local taxes are a very small share of overall business costs. What really drives state growth is the rate of new business formation. And what matters most for entrepreneurial vibrancy is the education level of the state’s residents.

2010-PFw5464Editor’s Note: Peter Fisher, research director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP), wrote this blog for GradingStates.org, IPP’s separate website devoted to promoting a better understanding of various state business climate rankings. For a look at components of state policies that can promote prosperity, see this page on the GradingStates.org site.


Fisher: Commercial property taxes — reform first

Posted March 1st, 2013 to IFP in the News, Op-eds

Peter FisherBy Peter S. Fisher, Iowa Policy Project

The annual debate about commercial property taxes in Iowa is under way, and once again the discussion ignores the larger picture — that overall business taxes in Iowa are below average among states — and fails to consider reforms that should be addressed first.

It has become routine practice throughout Iowa, for example, to grant large property tax rebates to new commercial properties through Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Millions of dollars per year flow back to commercial projects, sometimes eliminating nearly all property taxes for 15 or 20 years — which can be to the disadvantage of an existing commercial project not in the TIF.

At the same time, some of Iowa’s largest and most profitable companies are paying no state corporate income tax due to the generosity of Iowa’s business tax credit programs. And many large multistate companies continue to exploit loopholes in Iowa’s corporate tax system to shift profits out of state and avoid paying their share of Iowa’s corporate tax, while instate business competitors cannot.

Rockwell-Collins has not paid any state corporate income tax for at least the last three years, and in fact, received state subsidy payments of as much as $13.8 million last year through the Research Activities Credit, yet it would benefit substantially from the property tax rollbacks and credits being discussed in the Legislature.

At the same time, local services could suffer from the loss of revenue, at least under some proposals. Similarly, Wal-Mart and its stores throughout Iowa, which exist because they are profitable, would receive a reduction on the $12 million in property taxes they currently pay to support state and local services.

Other national companies that use tax loopholes to escape Iowa income taxes would benefit as well. Nearly identical companies doing business in Iowa may have dramatically different property taxes based upon whether they are part of a TIF district, with TIFs often eroding local property taxes and playing one Iowa community off against another.

That violates a primary tax principle of fairness — that taxes should be based on ability to pay, and that those of similar standing and with similar ability to pay should have similar tax responsibilities.

Is Iowa really not competitive for new commercial investment, as some claim, given the ability of cities to reduce their property taxes to almost nothing? Should corporations not paying their share of the corporate income tax benefit from further state largesse in the form of property tax cuts?

TIF reform, caps on the refundability of tax credits, and measures to close the loopholes in Iowa’s corporate tax system (which could be corrected by combined reporting, as is done in the majority of states with corporate income taxes) should be undertaken before any further reduction in business taxes at a cost of cuts to local services.

Recent legislative proposals: In fiscal year 2009, property taxes levied amounted to $4,023 billion, with 31.2 percent, or $1.254 million, coming from commercial and industrial property. During the 2012 session, the Iowa House and Senate passed different versions of commercial and industrial property tax rollbacks — either of which could significantly affect the ability of both state and local governments to address health, education, and safety needs of Iowans (which make up 80 percent of the Iowa budget).

The House version, when fully phased in by FY2022, would have resulted in $486 million less in property tax collections and $237 million less in funding available to local governments, provided the state honored new commitments for $249 million in property tax replacement from state sources. The Senate version, when fully phased in by FY2022, would have resulted in $419 million less in property tax collections and $91 million less in funding available to local governments, provided the state honored new commitments of $328 million in property tax replacement funds from state sources. Since they did not reach agreement, neither version was enacted into law, but these issues are again before the General Assembly.

Iowa’s business taxes already are low. When one considers the whole range of state and local taxes that fall on businesses, Iowa is a low-tax state. In a report on overall taxes, including property taxes, paid by businesses, the nationally recognized accounting firm of Ernst and Young recently showed that only 15 states taxed businesses at a lower rate than Iowa as a percent of private-sector GDP.

Commercial property tax break will spur little or no growth. A state or local government’s tax rate — be it corporate income or commercial property or the combination of all taxes on business — is a tiny portion of a business’ overall costs. Taken together, state and local taxes on business are, on average, only about 1.8 percent of total business costs. The commercial property tax by itself would be an even tinier fraction of a business’ overall costs. The notion that cutting commercial property taxes further by reducing assessments will bring in new economic activity and new revenue is a pipe dream.

If Iowa is to make changes in its property tax treatment of commercial and industrial property, the first thing it should do is look to finance the cost of these changes through closing existing tax loopholes and subsidies. There are many provisions within Iowa’s tax code that are designed to stimulate economic activity but also substantially erode overall tax collections, often to the benefit of very narrow business interests. Because these credits are part of the tax code, they are not subject to annual appropriation or review. Before lawmakers consider changes to commercial and industrial property taxes or to corporate or individual income taxes, they need to review and consider reforms to and eliminations of special business tax exemptions and credits.

 

Peter Fisher is research director of the Iowa Policy Project, part of the Iowa Fiscal Partnership, a joint public policy research and analysis initiative of IPP in Iowa City and another nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines.

This guest opinion ran in the March 1, 2013, Iowa City Press Citizen.

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.