Tag Archives: taxes

On Taxes, Part II

The second in a series on tax policy. (Read Part I here.)

Redistribution at the State Level
Different counties have different per capita tax bases. As a result, it makes sense that school aid to Maryland counties should take wealth into account with the key caveat that each county must raise its fair share of taxes. This is one of the key ideas behind the much-debated Maintenance of Effort law. Poor counties cannot simply pocket aid from the state without raising their fair share in terms of their tax base. Nonetheless, school aid should not be on a simple per student basis.

Additionally, in estimating the amount redistribution between counties or individuals, we need to take into account both taxes and spending. Expenditures on colleges and universities disproportionately help middle-income and wealthy taxpayers.

Redistribution at the County Level
In all the discussion of economic inequality, it often seems lost that the greatest redistribution occurs towards those with children in the public school system. Educational spending takes up an enormous share of county budgets and overwhelms spending in other areas. This is why double-income no kids families are such desirable residents—they contribute a lot in taxes but demand less in the way of services. Sure, we all benefit from having an educated population but paying for it is a transfer from those without to those with kids.

Subsidy Abolition
The competition among states through subsidies for large companies is execrable. Conservatives should hate them because they are economically inefficient and businesses should go where it makes sense. Progressives should hate them for the additional reason that they result in levying higher tax rates on businesses that do not have the leverage to advocate for them. It’s probably just a pipe dream but the states should negotiate a compact to end them.

Internet Taxes
We subsidize businesses located out of state by de facto exempting them from state taxes. (De facto because you’re supposed to pay state and local taxes on these purchases but nobody does.) The effect is that brick-and-mortar stores that actually employ people in Maryland must collect taxes but Internet businesses located elsewhere do not. This makes no sense to put it mildly and is increasingly economically distortive as more business occurs in the form of e-commerce.


On Taxes, Part I

The first in a short series on tax policy.

Progressive Taxation Overall
Some progressives believe that every single tax must be progressive. Instead, progressivity is more properly measured by an examination of overall taxes rather than each tax separately. In other words, regressive taxes—such as the gas tax or car registration tax—are fine as long as the overall system remains progressive.

Federal Taxes Should be the Most Progressive
The ability of many businesses and individuals to move pits states and localities against one another in terms of the tax burden. While not all businesses can easily change locale, others may choose where to locate based at least partly on state and local taxes. In contrast, it’s harder for many businesses to escape the United States even in our increasingly globalized economy.

Even Flat Taxes Can be Progressive
If you have a flat tax rate of 5% that only kicks in after the first $50,000 in income, the percentage of total income paid will vary dramatically based on income. People who earn less than $50,000 will pay nothing, while people who earn $70,000 will pay $1000 (5% of the $20,000 above $50,000) or 1.4% of total income. In contrast, people with incomes of $120,000 will pay $3500, or 2.9% of income. Someone with an enviable income of $1,000,000 per year would pay $47,500, or 4.75%.

In the years when Maryland became the wealthiest state in the country, we had a very flat tax that was not at all progressive because the top marginal rate kicked in with only a few thousand dollars of income. Today, we have gone in the opposite direction with progressive taxation with a variety of marginal rates.

Broad Based is Best
The temptation to encourage or to discourage different activities through the tax code is great. But loopholes or variation in tax rates are economically distortive and make the code more complex. Broad based taxes also spread the pain of taxation across different businesses and fields of economic activities.

Externalities are the Exception
The key exception to broad based taxes should be when economic activity dumps costs unfairly on the public sphere. Pollution is the key example as polluters dump the cost of cleaning up their mess on everyone else. As a result, levies on these sorts of activities can help discourage them or pay for cleaning up the mess at time even if broad-based taxation should remain fundamental.


Chicken Out

Sen. Rich Madaleno and Del. Shane Robinson sponsored bills titled the “Poultry Fair Share Act” to tax chickens at 5 cents apiece. The estimated $15 million raised would help the State pay for the dealing with the environmental consequences of poultry farming. As the Baltimore Sun explained in its editorial:

[P]oultry waste is an enormous problem in this state because of the harm it does when it runs off land and into streams, rivers and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a major source of nitrogen and phosphorus, particularly in Eastern Shore tributaries.

A hysterical Eastern Shore Republican has tossed around the threat of hundreds of thousands of feral chickens roaming the State when the industry closes down due to the proposed tax:

When you think you’re a statesman in Maryland, you decide to write an environmental bill that taxes chickens. When you tax chickens, you close down the chicken industry on the Eastern Shore. When the chicken industry closes down, 300,000 feral chickens attack nursing homes in your district, feeding on your parents.

Less frothing at the mouth opponents express concern about how the new tax would impact farmers and the 15,000 jobs related to chicken farming in the State. Gov. O’Malley said he’d veto the bill if it reached his desk. Del. Robinson has now withdrawn his bill, so one assumes it’s dead for the year.

But the bill nonetheless raises an important concern. Republicans believe that business should respond to market forces and oppose new taxes as anti-business in general. Fine. But when farmers or companies allow so much chicken poop to find its way into the Bay, they’re dumping their costs on everyone.

In effect, this industry wants us to tax everyone else to clean up their mess or just allow the problem to continue. The real tax is not on the farmers but on the rest of us who subsidize this profitable business by letting them dump this waste on the public at no cost. And that should generate far more outrage than the proposed tax.

The State may have chickened out this year but this isn’t just a chicken shit problem.