Patrick Ishmael
Tax. Policy. Matters. We make this point all the time, but if skeptics needed another real world example to hammer the point home, check out ground zero of the increasingly absurd Border War in Kansas City (emphasis mine):
Health Outcomes Sciences, a health care software firm that started recently in Kansas City, is relocating to Overland Park and plans to expand its workforce from 13 to 37 employees over the next five years. …

The firm is seeking assistance from the Kansas PEAK program, which allows employers to keep up to 95 percent of their employee state income tax for up to seven years. Fiorito also said other factors figuring into the decision included the 1 percent city earnings tax charged in Kansas City and the new office’s proximity to where most of the company employees reside in Johnson County.

The Show-Me Institute has written extensively about the damaging effects of Kansas City’s and Saint Louis’ earnings taxes. In 2006, our chief economist, Joe Haslag, explained the impact of an earnings tax with this example:
[S]uppose that City A has no earnings tax, while City B has a 1 percent earnings tax rate. Other things being equal, the regression suggests that we should expect City B’s city-to-MSA per capita ratio to be 5.1 percent lower than City A’s city-to-MSA ratio. To put that in dollar terms, the average per capita income in 1990 was $13,076. Holding MSA per capita income constant, a 1 percent increase in the earnings tax rate translates to city per capita income falling by $667.

Translation? Even a 1 percent tax can be an ample incentive for workers to move out of a higher tax jurisdiction. That is a problem, especially if a city wants to retain its talent and grow its tax base. In the case of Health Outcomes Sciences, the workers were already outside the city. The business appears to have followed them out of town. And in case you were wondering, the Show-Me Institute has published a how-to for eliminating the earnings tax in Kansas City, appropriately titled “How to Replace the Earnings Tax in Kansas City.” Worth a read, particularly today.

There are many factors that go into a business’ decision to move from one state to another, but it is pretty clear that the earnings tax is not a negligible consideration. Kansas City should do a serious review of its own tax policies.

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael

Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.