Legislators Can Rebalance Tax System — And Make Missouri More Competitive — Without Raising Taxes
Last week, I highlighted one good-intentioned but misconceived proposal that a Missouri legislator suggested to get the state’s economy moving. This week, there is a proposal that may have a kernel of a good idea in it, though the implementation leaves something to be desired.
State Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, has followed through with his plan to file a bill that eliminates state income taxes on the first $2,000 in individual income and replaces the money by hiking the state’s cigarette tax — now among the nation’s lowest.
Lamping says the bill is revenue neutral.
Under his proposal, SB 638, no Missourian would pay taxes on the first $2,000 of earned income. Now, state income tax is levied on all income, no matter how small. That cut would cost the state $128 million a year.
As David Stokes noted Thursday, non-smokers and infrequent smokers would be net beneficiaries if the legislation is implemented. The problem is, who would not be a net beneficiary? Smokers tend to be poorer than non-smokers, and any hike in the cigarette tax will tend to hit those living in poverty fairly hard. In 2009, the CDC found that “[t]he prevalence of current smoking was higher among adults living below the federal poverty level (31.1%) than among those at or above this level (19.4%).” Will there be a deterrent effect if there is a marginal increase of 26 cents in the cigarette tax? Possibly, but it also is fairly likely that what the poor gain from the income tax reduction could get eviscerated by the cigarette tax hike. If income taxes were exempted at a higher level, a “worse off” scenario for poor smokers would be less likely.
But there is an alternative to a straight cigarette tax hike if legislators really want to exempt income from the individual income tax. I wrote last week that major reductions to the corporate income tax could be made with the elimination of millions of dollars in failing tax credits. There also is ample room for a deeper cut to the individual income tax that would increase the likelihood that the poor would be net beneficiaries in a tax system rebalancing. Aside from the drastic hikes in the cigarette tax that have been proposed elsewhere, which would exacerbate the problem for the poor, a reduction in tax credits could account for much of the revenue required to make major cuts to the individual income tax.
Put more succinctly, to reduce income taxes, other taxes do not necessarily have to go up if state tax credits go down to a more manageable and appropriate level. Instead of picking winners and losers, let everyone benefit. It would make for a better Missouri and a better-balanced tax system.