The Sales Tax and Catholic Schools
The Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) has come out in opposition to the proposal to implement a statewide sales tax that would replace all corporate and individual income taxes. One of their major concerns is the effect that such a change would have on Catholic schools. By taxing Catholic school tuition, they argue, fewer families would be able to afford it, thus decreasing enrollment and forcing those children into public schools. This is a legitimate concern, but the MCC fails to take into account that with the repeal of the income tax, families would have more money to spend on discretionary expenses in the first place. This money could be devoted to educational expenses, thereby increasing the demand for Catholic school education.
In the chart to the right, the y axis represents the price of parochial education, and the x axis represents its quantity (P and Q represent the status quo price and quantity). The line labeled S1 shows one likely effect if the state income tax were replaced with a sales tax: An increased cost for parochial education would lead to a shift in the supply curve, wherein quantity demanded and supply provided would settle at a lower equilibrium. But the line labeled D1 shows another effect of the replacement of the income tax with a sales tax: Because families would have more money to spend that would have previously gone toward paying taxes, the demand curve for parochial education would shift, as well, leading to a higher equilibrium point for both supply and demand. We can’t predict which one of these effects will dominate, but the point is that replacing the income tax with a sales tax would not necessarily lead to a reduction in the amount of parochial school enrollment demanded by education consumers.
Another concern raised by the MCC is that because poor families already do not pay income tax, they would only be harmed by the implementation of a sales tax and would not benefit from greater income levels. However, as this blog post by Abhi Sivasailam notes, lower corporate and personal income taxes help fuel growth by attracting people and investment funds to the state. This results in higher employment levels and higher incomes, which benefit everyone. Furthermore, the bill as proposed in the Missouri Senate also includes a sales tax rebate for low-income families that may otherwise struggle to pay the sales tax.
The concerns brought forth by the Missouri Catholic Conference are not unfounded, but as my colleague Abhi Sivasailam reminds us, tax changes do not happen in a vacuum. The switch to a sales tax has the potential to greatly benefit Catholic schools in Missouri.