The California Legislature is back from its summer recess and has frantically resumed its quest for new revenue sources.
One of the latest ideas is Assembly Bill 1253. This proposed legislation would add new income tax brackets for high earners on top of the existing ones.
Income between $1 million and $2 million would receive a one percentage point surcharge, bringing the marginal rate to 14.3 percent. Those earning between $2 million and $5 million would pay an additional three percentage points, and those earning over $5 million would pay an additional 3.5 percentage points, bringing their marginal rates to 16.3 percent and 16.8 percent respectively.
This plan constitutes a continuation of California’s soak-the-rich approach to raising revenues.
While some seem to believe that high earners can provide unlimited resources, the evidence from prior tax hikes suggests that the introduction of these tax rates is not even likely to raise revenue for the state. At the same time, it will hammer job creation.
The problem is that high earners do not simply sit there and take it when the state goes after their income.
In a detailed study of the 2012 California ballot measure that raised the top state rate to 13.3 percent, Ryan Shyu and I found that just two years later, the state was only collecting 40 cents of every dollar that it had hoped to raise from the tax increase.
High income taxpayers affected by the 2012 tax increase suddenly began to flee the state at higher rates, especially to zero tax states like Nevada, Texas, and Florida.
Even more importantly for the state budget, those that stayed began declaring considerably less taxable income than they would have otherwise, apparently either scaling back their productive activities or engaging in tax avoidance.
The economist Arthur Laffer has famously argued that there is a tax rate beyond which a government’s revenue will decline if it raises taxes further, due to the disincentive effects of high taxes.
While the federal government may be helped by limits on what American citizens can do to escape federal taxation, state governments tread on much thinner ice when faced with the ability of taxpayers to move their residences and their earnings generation to other states.
In 2012, California was at least still at the point where raising top income tax rates led to some increase in near-term revenue, albeit with grave long-term consequences.
Today, however, the state is starting from a 13.3 percent tax rate that is the highest in the nation.
Furthermore, Congress has since moved to protect federal taxpayers against bloated state spending by placing a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions as part of the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act.
So while the blow of a 3 percentage point tax increase in 2012 was strongly cushioned by deductibility against top-bracket federal rates, California taxpayers today would feel the full force of this proposed round of increases.
Once taxpayers have responded by voting with their feet, reducing their business activities, and re-upping with their tax attorneys, the state will likely lose revenue if it attempts to increase rates.
To make matters worse, Sacramento’s narrow focus on tax revenues ignores that fact that this tax avoidance behavior will lead to job losses. These rates also apply to business income to non-corporate entities (such as partnerships and LLCs) which account for over half of all employment in the US.
In another study, Xavier Giroud and I found that each percentage point increase in individual tax rates that the average state implements leads to losses of up to 0.4 percent of all non-corporate jobs in the state.
Starting from California’s already astronomical top rate, the impact would be expected to be even larger.
These job losses will negatively impact the well-being of Californians and further reduce state tax revenues.
California’s approach to relying on the taxation of top earners has sown the seeds of its own destruction. The top 0.5 percent of taxpayers pay over 40 percent of individual income taxes in the state.
Officials are blaming COVID-19 for the budgetary havoc, but this structure means that in any downturn, California revenues will tank due to the excessive reliance on both the ordinary income and capital gains of top earners.
If the Legislature is interested in promoting economic growth and prosperity in the California, and securing the state’s own fiscal future, it should reject further top income tax rate increases.
Instead, it should work towards putting the state back on a path towards being a competitive place for high-income individuals and businesses to locate their economic activity.
"This is the flip side (of) tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich. The rich leave, and now what do you do?" said New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Feb. 4
After the Trump tax cut went into effect one year ago, we predicted that the Trump tax reform would supercharge the national economy but could cause big financial problems for the highest-tax states: New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, and New York.
The capping of the state and local tax deduction at $10,000 raised the highest effective state tax rates by about 66% (for example, in New York City, the rate on millionaires rose from about 8% to 13.3%). In New Jersey, the highest rate has risen from 7.5% to 12.75%.
Now, we have Andrew Cuomo conceding that the trend of rich people moving out of New York has caused the loss of $2.3 billion of tax revenue in Albany’s coffers. Cuomo called this tax change “diabolical.” We think it was a matter of tax fairness. No longer do residents of low-tax states have to pay higher federal taxes to support the blob of excessive state/local spending and pensions in the blue states.
As we predicted, the wealthy are fleeing these states. The new United Van Lines data were just released that are a good proxy for where Americans are moving to and from. Guess what four states had the highest percentage of leavers in 2018: 1) New Jersey, 2) Illinois, 3) Connecticut and 4) New York. Even high-tax California had more Americans pack up and leave than enter.
Ironically, liberals like Cuomo who argued for years that businesses don’t make location decisions based on taxes in their states are now forced to admit that the cap on the state and local tax deduction (which primarily affects the richest 1%) is depleting their state coffers. The rich change their residence by moving for at least 183 days of the year to low taxers such as Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
We advised Cuomo and other blue state governors to immediately cut their tax rates if they wanted to remain even semi-competitive with low-tax states. They are doing the opposite. Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey have led the nation in tax increases on the rich over the last three years, while “progressives” have cheered them on.
Last year, legislators in Trenton went on a taxing spree, raising the income tax on those making more than $5 million a year to 10.75% — now the third-highest in the country — and then enacting a health care individual mandate tax on workers, a corporate rate increase and an option for localities to impose a payroll tax on businesses. And they are still short of cash. Idiotically, these tax hikes were passed after the state and local tax deduction cap was enacted, thus pouring gasoline on their fiscal fires.
How has this worked out for them?
In addition to New York’s fiscal woes, the deficit in Illinois is pegged at $2.8 billion (with a $7.8 billion backlog of unpaid bills), and Connecticut faces a two-year $4 billion shortfall despite three tax increases in five years.
New Jersey has a $500 million deficit this year (even after the biggest tax hike in the state’s history) and Moody’s predicts that gap will widen to $3 billion over the next five years. This is all happening at a time when most states have healthy and unexpected surplus revenues due to the Trump economic boom and the historic decline in unemployment.
A Pew study published late last year on which states are bleeding the most red ink ranked New Jersey worst, Illinois second worst and Connecticut seventh worst. New York was also in the bottom 10.
Let us state this loud and clear in the hopes that lawmakers in state capitals across the country are paying attention: The three states that have raised their taxes the most now have the worst fiscal outlook.
Worst of all, things don’t look like they are going to get better in any of these states.
Last fall, Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey voters elected mega-rich Democratic Govs. Ned Lamont, J.B. Pritzker and Phil Murphy, who have promised to sock it to the rich — the ones who haven’t yet left. In Illinois, Pritzker would eliminate the state’s constitutionally protected flat tax so that he can raise the income tax on the rich by as much as 50%. After raising income taxes three times in the last five years, Connecticut’s legislature now wants to raise the sales tax rate. No one in any of these progressive states even dares utter the words tax cut. In just one decade, New York lost 1.3 million net residents; Illinois 717,000, New Jersey 516,000 and Connecticut 176,000. California has lost 929,000.
There is also a useful warning for the soak-the-rich crowd of progressives in Washington. If a rise in the state tax rate from 8% to 13% because of the state and local tax deduction cap can have this big and immediate negative impact, think of the economic carnage from doubling of the federal tax rate from 37% to 70% as some want to do. The wealthy would relocate their wealth and income in low-tax havens like Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands and Ireland. That would do wonders for the middle class living in those countries.
We are sticking with our warnings from last year. If the four states of the Apocalypse — Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey and New York — do not reverse their taxing ways and choose to keep making things worse, these once very rich and prosperous states will see thousands more rich taxpayers leave. The politicians in these states just don’t seem to understand math. A soak-the-rich tax rate of 8%, 10% or even 13% on income of zero yields zero income when the wealthy leave the state. Cuomo was right: The bleak outlook for the four states of apocalypse is “as serious as a heart attack.”
By Chris Edwards • National Review
Senator Elizabeth Warren is pushing a wealth-tax plan on the presidential campaign trail. She is promising that her tax would counter a rigged political system and raise enough money to pay for universal child care, a Green New Deal, student-loan relief, Medicare for All, and more housing subsidies.
Warren’s tax would be an annual levy of 2 percent on “net wealth” — meaning wealth minus debt — above $50 million and 3 percent on net wealth above $1 billion.
Wealth-tax supporters do not seem concerned about the likely damage to economic growth. But they should know that from a practical standpoint, wealth taxes in other countries have raised little money and have been a beast to administer.
More than a dozen European countries used to have wealth taxes, but nearly all of these countries repealed them, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Sweden. Wealth taxes survive only in Norway, Spain, and Switzerland.
By Victor Davis Hanson • The National Review
Californians brag that their state is the world’s fifth-largest economy. They talk as reverentially of Silicon Valley companies Apple, Facebook, and Google as the ancient Greeks did of their Olympian gods.
Hollywood and universities such as Caltech, Stanford, and Berkeley are cited as permanent proof of the intellectual, aesthetic, and technological dominance of West Coast culture.
Californians also see their progressive, one-party state as a neo-socialist model for a nation moving hard to the left.
But how long will they retain such confidence?
California’s 40 million residents depend on less than 1 percent of the state’s taxpayers to pay nearly half of the state income tax, which for California’s highest tier of earners tops out at the nation’s highest rate of 13.3 percent.
In other words, California cannot afford to lose even a few thousand of its wealthiest individual taxpayers. But a new federal tax law now caps deductions for state and local taxes at $10,000 — a radical change that promises to cost many high-earning taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
If even a few thousand of the state’s 1 percent flee to nearby no-tax states such as Nevada or Texas, California could face a devastating shortfall in annual income.
During the 2011-16 California drought, politicians and experts claimed that global warming had permanently altered the climate, and that snow and rain would become increasingly rare in California. As a result, long-planned low-elevation reservoirs, designed to store water during exceptionally wet years, were considered all but useless and thus were never built.
Then, in 2016 and 2017, California received record snow and rainfall — and the windfall of millions of acre-feet of runoff was mostly let out to sea. Nothing since has been learned.
California has again been experiencing rain and cold that could approach seasonal records. The state has been soaked by some 18 trillion gallons of rain in February alone. With still no effort to expand California’s water storage capacity, millions of acre-feet of runoff are once again cascading out to sea (and may be sorely missed next year).
The inability to build reservoirs is especially tragic given that the state’s high-speed rail project has gobbled up more than $5 billion in funds without a single foot of track laid. The total cost soared from an original $40 billion promise to a projected $77 billion. To his credit, newly elected governor Gavin Newsom, fearing a budget catastrophe, canceled the statewide project while allowing a few miles of the quarter-built Central Valley “track to nowhere” to be finished.
For years, high-speed rail has drained the state budget of transportation funds that might have easily updated nightmarish stretches of the Central Valley’s Highway 99, or ensured that the nearby ossified Amtrak line became a modern two-track line.
California politicians vie with each other to prove their open-borders bona fides in an effort to appeal to the estimated 27 percent of Californians who were not born in the United States.
But the health, educational, and legal costs associated with massive illegal immigration are squeezing the budget. About a third of the California budget goes to the state’s Medicare program, Medi-Cal. Half the state’s births are funded by Medi-Cal, and in nearly a third of those state-funded births, the mother is an undocumented immigrant.
California is facing a perfect storm of homelessness. Its labyrinth of zoning and building regulations discourages low-cost housing. Its generous welfare benefits, non-enforcement of vagrancy and public health laws, and moderate climate draw in the homeless. Nearly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients live in the state, and nearly one in five live below the poverty line.
The result is that tens of thousands of people live on the streets and sidewalks of the state’s major cities, where primeval diseases such as typhus have reappeared.
California’s progressive government seems clueless how to deal with these issues, given that solutions such as low-cost housing and strict enforcement of health codes are seen as either too expensive or politically incorrect.
In sum, California has no margin for error.
Spiraling entitlements, unwieldy pension costs, money wasted on high-speed rail, inadequate water storage and delivery, and lax immigration policies were formerly tolerable only because about 150,000 Californians paid huge but federally deductible state income taxes.
No more. Californians may have once derided the state’s 1 percent as selfish rich people. Now, they are praying that these heavily burdened taxpayers stay put and are willing to pay far more than what they had paid before.
That is the only way California can continue to spend money on projects that have not led to safe roads, plentiful water, good schools, and safe streets.
A California reckoning is on the horizon, and it may not be pretty.
In the first two months of the new fiscal year, tax revenues are up. But so is the deficit. Why? Because spending continues to outpace revenues. So why do tax cuts keep getting blamed?
The latest monthly budget report from the Congressional Budget Office shows the deficit jumping $102 billion in just the first two months of the new fiscal year.
That sure looks like the deficit is “soaring,” as one news outlet claimed. But as the CBO makes clear, almost all that deficit increase was the result of quirks of the calendar. Depending on where weekends fall, significant sums of spending can get shifted into different months.
A true apples-to-apples comparison, the CBO says, shows that the deficit climbed by just $13 billion. Continue reading
by Haris Alic • Washington Free Beacon
Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has yet to take the speaker’s gavel of the U.S. House of Representatives, but Democrats are already laboring to make it easier to dismantle the achievements of the Trump presidency.
The incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.), confirmed to colleagues on Wednesday that he would not honor the three-fifths supermajority requirement to raise income taxes, as reported by the Washington Post.
McGovern’s decision overturns a rule implemented under outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) that mandated a three-fifths majority approve any proposed hike to the income tax.
The change comes after a standoff between Pelosi and her moderate allies in the Democratic conference, such as incoming Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (Mass.), and younger, more progressive members like Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.). Continue reading
By Samuel Hammond • National Review
The ability of businesses to grow rapidly is a one of the most defining and precious features of the American economy. Amazon went from a fledgling online bookstore to an “everything store” and the second-largest employer in the United States in just two decades. Uber emerged from nowhere less than ten years ago to become a dominant transportation option in cities around the world. And earlier this month, Apple became the first U.S. public corporation to reach a $1 trillion valuation — a far cry from its sorry state in 1996, when it looked doomed to fail.
It’s not just the information sector. The United States is home to 64 percent of the world’s billion-dollar privately held companies and a plurality of the world’s billion-dollar startups. Known in the industry as “unicorns,” they cover industries ranging from aerospace to biotechnology, and they are the reason America remains the engine of innovation for the entire world.
Unless Elizabeth Warren gets her way. In a bill unveiled this week, the Massachusetts senator has put forward a proposal that threatens to force America’s unicorns into a corral and domesticate the American economy indefinitely.
Dubbed the “Accountable Capitalism Act,” Warren foresees Continue reading
Taxes: Whatever you think about the issue of taxing internet sales, the simple fact is that the Supreme Court has just guaranteed that people across the country will now be paying more in state taxes. It’s hard for us to see how this is good news.
In its 5-4 decision on South Dakota v. Wayfair, the court overturned two previous rulings that prevented states from taxing sales of out-of-state companies. That meant a catalog company based in Maine didn’t have to navigate 45 state sales-tax laws to figure out how much each customer owed, and then remit that money to the right states.
Brick-and-mortar stores have been trying to lift this ban for decades, because, they say, it unfairly tilts the playing field in favor of catalog and online retailers. According to the Government Accountability Office, this break cost states up to Continue reading
By Chuck DeVore • The Federalist
A California lawmaker recently came up with the bright idea that waiters who serve unrequested straws should go to jail for six months because … the environment. Another duo of lawmakers have proposed more than doubling California’s business tax under the theory that employers wouldn’t miss the cash, because the tax increase would only take about half of President Trump’s recent tax cut.
Lawmakers all over the nation introduce weird or controversial legislation. Most of these bills are harmless, as they’d never make it out of the legislature, much less be signed into law by a governor. In California, however, many such legislative proposals are taken seriously and often do get signed into law.
Why is this? Sure, California is a liberal state. But, one key governmental structural factor likely contributes to Golden State lawmakers’ seeming isolation from common sense: California lawmakers often make a career of full-time politics. Continue reading
Taxes: A new “study” in Britain suggests that by raising taxes sharply on Facebook, Amazon and Apple, the government could pay for a universal basic income (UBI) for all Britons. It’s an absurd idea, which is why it can’t be counted out.
The so-called FANG companies — the above-mentioned three, plus Google and Netflix — have been vilified now for years in Europe and in the U.S. as “monopolies” and, worse, “predators.” When such strident rhetoric is used by politicians, you know they’re going in for the kill. There’s money to be made in taking down big, successful companies.
In the case of Britain, the left-wing paper The Guardian reports, the Royal Society of Arts (that’s right, Arts) recommends that “Britain could raise new taxes on Amazon, Facebook and Apple to give every citizen under the age of 55 as much as £10,000 ($14,000) in a form of universal basic income … helping to counter the growing risk of job losses from automation and artificial intelligence.”
America’s FANG tech companies look like easy victims. Inevitably, since they have little in the way of a domestic British constituency, they will come into the cross hairs of Britain’s tax-happy, left-wing politicians. Continue reading
Ali Meyer • Washington Free Beacon
This year, taxpayers will spend 113 days working to pay for the nation’s tax burden, according to a report from the Tax Foundation.
Tax Freedom Day is April 23, 113 days into the year, and falls 5 days after taxes are collected on April 18. Tax Freedom Day would fall roughly two weeks later on May 7 if federal borrowing or future taxes were included.
“Tax Freedom Day takes all federal, state, and local taxes—individual as well as payroll, sales and excise, corporate and property taxes—and divides them by the nation’s income,” the report says.
Americans will spend upward of $5.1 trillion on taxes, which includes $3.5 trillion in federal taxes and $1.6 trillion in state and local taxes, according to the report. Continue reading