When measured as a percent of state residents’ personal income, the combined state and local government tax burden of New York State and, in particular, New York City is uniquely high compared with other states. Reputedly high-tax states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and California aren’t even close. The only states where the tax burden is higher than, or even close to, New York are large, low-population states with extensive tax revenues from oil, gas, or other mineral production: Alaska, Wyoming, and more recently North Dakota, where a “fracking” boom has given way to bust. In these states residents and other businesses pay little in taxes – in Alaska they actually get checks. The Census Bureau data for FY 2004 to FY 2014 shows New York’s tax burden rising further, even as the average U.S. state and local tax burden remained close to 10 percent of personal income, about where it has been for decades. And yet all one hears in New York’s media is demands for still higher funding, and higher taxes, and higher staffing, and higher pay, and richer pensions made by New York’s public employee unions and the politicians they control, particularly in those in the New York State Legislature.
While the U.S. average is stable, the data shows a divergence among states. In many other states with above average state and local tax burdens in FY 2004, those burdens also increased further by FY 2014. And in many states where the tax burden was already below average in FY 2004 it fell even further, even in the face of soaring pension costs that have pressured state and local government budgets throughout the country. In several Midwestern states – Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan – the tax burden fell from somewhat above average as a percent of income to average or somewhat below, despite weak per capita income growth. In these aging states, public spending on seniors is rising, not only through federal programs that our current President has promised to protect (and his party has promised to protect for current beneficiaries but not younger generations), but also for the pensions and benefits of retired public employees. So the shrinking tax burden just adds to the downward pressure on other state and local government services, which benefit other age groups. What do those three states, plus Pennsylvania which has a below average tax burden despite soaring pension costs, have in common? A spreadsheets, further commentary and charts follow.
Just as a reminder, a complete database comparing FY 2004 and FY 2014 revenues by category and expenditures by category for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and (for local government) New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, is described in and may be downloaded from this post.
The spreadsheet linked below is on state and local taxes alone, with a table of FY 2014 data for all states, the U.S., and New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, and with all the charts used in the rest of this post.
The data in the “all county” tab, showing the local government tax burden for all the individual counties in New York and Jersey and selected counties around the country, is for FY 2012 rather than FY 2014. It was left over from my analysis of 2012 Census of Governments data, but I decided to leave it in this spreadsheet rather than delete it, for those who had not seen it. The next Census of Governments, which will allow a similar level of geographic data, will be for FY 2017, and its data will become available in a few years. But what does the FY 2004 to FY 2014 comparison show?
As noted, in FY 2014 the U.S. state and local tax burden was 10.0% of personal income. Different states raise money in different ways. In the Pacific Northwest, the state of Washington has a high state sales tax but no state income tax, while Oregon has a high state income tax and no sales tax. In northern New England most of Vermont’s state and local tax burden is collected at the state level, including a statewide property tax to even out revenues among localities. But most of New Hampshire’s tax burden is collected at the local level. In the past, in general, local taxes have been a higher share of the total, and state taxes a lower share, in the Northeast compared with other parts of the country. Although the Northeast has a reputation as being “liberal” and voting Democratic, the benefits and burdens of state and local government have historically been more unequal here than elsewhere as a result.
New York’s state and local tax burden is, compared with other states, off the charts. In FY 2014 it was 15.8% of personal income in New York City and 13.5% of personal income in the Rest of New York State, assuming that the burden of state taxes falls in proportion to personal income. (It doesn’t – MTA taxes are only collected downstate, but are sometimes spent upstate, because “money is fungible). New York’s state tax burden is higher than average, and so is its local tax burden, particularly in New York City but also in the Rest of New York State. Moreover, New York not only has a very high tax overall burden, but also has far more special tax breaks, deals and favors for the “special” people, as I demonstrated here.
So if a household or business is not one of the recipients of these deals, or benefits from fewer deals than average, they are even worse off than the extra 5.8% of personal income collected from New York City residents in tax would imply.
For a long time New York’s high tax state and local government burden was explained away by its greater generosity to the poor and its high public service levels. But New York’s tax burden is sky high not only compared with the U.S. average and low-tax “Red States” but also compared with New Jersey (11.2% of personal income in FY 2014), Connecticut (10.8%), Massachusetts (10.1%), and California (10.5%). People complain about high taxes in these states, with high local property taxes in the Northeast and high state income taxes in California. But when all the taxes are added together, and measured as a percent of the relatively high income level in these states, their tax burden is not that high at all. Although commuters to New York from New Jersey and Connecticut also pay New York State income taxes.
Oil, gas and mineral tax states aside, the states whose state and local government tax burden came closest to New York in FY 2014 were Minnesota (11.7% of state residents’ personal income), the District of Columbia (12.8%), Maine (11.7%), Vermont (11.5) and, new to this list after decades of below average taxes, Illinois (11.3%).
One might have imagined that in states where the tax burden was already relatively high in FY 2004 there might have been pressure to reduce it, or at least demands that those who control state and local governments provide more extensive service and benefits in exchange, between then and FY 2014. And that in states were the tax burden was low in FY 2004 and many social needs are unmet, there might have been a push to have people pay a little more to meet those needs over a decade. Instead one sees the reverse, with entitlement feeding entitlement and leading to demands to get further ahead by those who were already ahead to begin with. With virtually no public pushback from elected officials, at least with regard to the demand for more school spending, richer wage increases in public employee union contracts, and higher staffing levels in New York.
Overall, the U.S. average state and local tax burden edged up 1.5% as a percent of income from FY 2004 to FY 2014, but it soared 12.5% for New York City and 11.3% for the Rest of New York State. The increases were 7.7% in New Jersey, 5.9% in Connecticut, and 8.9% in California. In a few states the increase was close to what New York experienced, at 9.0% in Vermont, 11.0% in Maryland, 12.4% in Minnesota, and 15.4% in Illinois, where a “temporary” state income tax rate increase to 5.0% was allowed to expire, leading to an even worse state fiscal crisis. New York’s temporary “millionaire’s tax” continues to be extended, but here the public employee unions demand an additional “millionaire’s tax” to increase their funding levels further.
Meanwhile Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and the State of Washington all had state and local government tax burdens that were well below the U.S. average as a percent of personal income in FY 2004. Even so, Florida’s burden was cut by 13.1% from FY 2004 to FY 2014, North Carolina’s by 2.4%, Texas’ by 5.9%, Oklahoma’s by 15.0%, and Washington;s by 3.2%. Public services were slashed in many of these states. In Kansas, the state and local tax burden fell from an above average 10.9% of personal income in FY 2004 to a below average 9.4% of personal income in FY 2014, even as pension costs soared to decades of taxpayer underfunding. A Tea Party Governor and legislature slashed state income taxes in the face of that fiscal crisis. Tennessee has had one of the lowest state and local tax burdens as a percent of income (and lowest school spending levels) for decades. And yet from FY 2004 to FY 2014 its state and local tax burden fell an additional 6.8%.
For decades, in fact, there were only a few states with a state and local tax burden at or above 12.0% of personal income: New York, DC and (when oil and gas prices were high) the mineral tax states. And only a few below 9.0%. Adjusting for different levels of personal income, therefore, most states were in a narrow range based primarily on lower income states getting a better fiscal deal from the Federal Government (notably on the federal matching share of Medicaid expenditures), reducing their taxes, and higher income states getting more and better public services. But now the states are diverging, apparently the result of nothing more than political power and entitlement.
In FY 2014 there were 16 states with a state and local tax burden below 9.0% of state residents’ personal income: Washington (8.9%), Texas (8.8%), Arizona (8.8%), Colorado (8.7%), Georgia (8.7%), Idaho (8.7%), South Carolina (8.6%), Virginia (8.3%), Missouri (8.3%), New Hampshire (8.1%), South Dakota (8.0%), Alabama (8.0%), Oklahoma (7.9%), Florida (7.7%), and Tennessee (7.7%). These state were all below average in FY 2004, yet in only two – Colorado and New Hampshire – did the tax burden rise from FY 2004 to FY 2014, and then only slightly.
At the local government level the main tax is the property tax. In fact most local governments have no other tax. The property tax burden is high in many Northeastern states such as New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, but other taxes are mostly absent. In New York State, however, nearly all local governments have local sales taxes in addition to the state sales tax. And New York City has virtually unique local personal and business income taxes in addition to the state income tax. The other places with similar taxes that I know of are the District of Columbia, which has no state (and therefore no state income taxes) at all, and the city of Philadelphia, where the property tax burden is low and there is a big push to increase property taxes and eliminate the city’s local wage and business taxes.
New York City’s local personal and business income taxes might be considered a tradeoff for lower property taxes as well. Except that in FY 2014 the New York City’s property tax revenues were also above the U.S. average as a percent of personal income. And with politically powerful companies such as Goldman Sachs, politically powerful developers of new housing, and (at one time – with a law on the books that would be difficult to repeal) politically influential homeowners getting tax breaks, the burden on everyone else is that much greater. In the Rest of New York State, with no local income tax, the burden of higher local taxes overall falls primarily on property.
DC aside, New York City’s local government tax burden of 8.9% of personal income is far higher than any state’s local governments in total, though there may be some desperately poor cities within other states with higher overall local government tax burdens. The Rest of New York State, with a local tax burden of 6.7% of personal income, would rank second if it were a separate state. New Jersey, much lower at 5.4% of personal income, is third, tied with Alaska, followed by Illinois and Rhode Island at 4.9% of personal income. The U.S. average was 4.1% of personal income. Among the states with relatively low local tax burdens are two with high state and local tax burdens overall – Vermont at 1.7% and Minnesota at 2.8%.
At the state government level, the primary taxes are sales and license taxes. There are quite a few states, including large ones such as Florida, Texas, and Washington that don’t even have a state personal income tax. New York’s personal income tax equaled 3.8% of New York State residents’ personal income in FY 2014, more than the 3.6% in Minnesota, the 2.3% in Vermont, the 3.4% in California and the 2.7% in Wisconsin, all states where most of the tax burden is at the state level. The only state where the state personal income tax absorbed more money was Oregon, at 4.0% of personal income, but that is a state with no state sales tax.
On one hand, according to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, in FY 2014 about 14.0% of New York State personal income taxes owed ($5.9 billion out of $41.9 billions) was owed by residents of other states, including $4.3 billion by residents of New Jersey and Connecticut. This reduces the burden of the New York State income tax on state residents. On the other hand, Social Security income and the pension income of public employees is exempt from the New York State income tax, and the New York City income tax. Private pensions are exempt up to $20,000 after age 59 ½. This increases the income state and local tax burden on New Yorkers who are working — those younger and those older who don’t have early retirement pensions.
New York State’s state sales tax burden is low relative to other states, but its overall sales tax burden is high thanks to its local sales taxes. Overall New York State tax revenues equaled 6.9% of personal income in FY 2014, above the U.S. average of 5.9% of personal income.
With the exception of Vermont, local government taxes increased as a percentage of personal income in the Northeast from FY 2004 to FY 2014, but the biggest increases were in New York State where — taxes were already the highest to begin with. For the U.S. as a whole, the local tax burden edged up from 4.0% of personal income to 4.1%, while for New York City it jumped from 8.0% to 8.9%, and for the Rest of New York State it increased from 6.1% to 6.7%. The increase for New Jersey was from 4.8% to 5.4%. There was one state where the local government tax burden increased faster than in New York State from FY 2004 to FY 2014. Illinois, and that was before the massive property tax increases in Chicago and other Illinois localities to pay for pensions over the past year. In many low-tax states, on the other hand, the local tax burden fell.
From FY 2004 to FY 2014 the U.S. average local government property tax burden edged up slightly – it rounds off to 3.1% of personal income for each year. For New York City it increased from 3.5% of personal income to 3.9%, as rents and real estate prices soared relative to the income of city residents. For the Rest of New York State the property tax burden increased 4.8% of personal income to 5.1%, with an increase from 4.8% to 5.3% in New Jersey.
You might recall that six years ago New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed and the state legislature enacted a property “tax cap” — a limit on the extent that any local government outside New York City could increase its total property tax collections in a year. Under the cap unlimited increases are allowed for rising debt and pension costs, but otherwise counties, municipalities, school districts and other special districts are limited to an increase of 2 either 2.0% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Unless a slight supermajority vote of 60.0%, rather than just 50.0%, is in favor of a larger tax increase.
This modest restriction on the pace of increase in the “regressive” property tax led to a “progressive” revolt against Governor Cuomo, including backing for re-election primary opponent Zephyr Teachout, and to his characterization by many as a right-wing, anti-tax, anti-government semi-Republican. In other words, many of those organized and active in New York politics, and claiming to be “progressive,” wanted New York’s property tax burden to increase even more. At least that’s what you heard in the media, without much pushback from elected officials.
Things are different in states where the property tax burden is lower. The housing bubble of the mid-2000s had allowed local governments in low tax states to increase their revenues without having politicians vote to increase their property tax rates, as a result of rising assessments. But resulting housing bust caused property tax assessments to plunge. Local governments could have increased their property tax rates to offset this, squeezing a higher share of the falling incomes of their residents to keep their revenues high. Or increased the rates somewhat, so at least property taxes remained steady as a percent of their residents’ incomes. But in some states property tax revenues were allowed to plunge with assessments.
Local property tax revenues fell from 3.1% of personal income in FY 2004 to 2.8% of personal income in FY 2014 in Florida, from 2.9% of personal income to 2.7% in Colorado, from 3.1% to 2.8% in Michigan, from 3.1% to 2.9% in Ohio, from 4.0% to 3.7% in Wisconsin, and from 2.8% to 2.6% in Tennessee, just to name a few. The plunge was from 4.1% to 3.6% in Texas, from 3.8% to 3.0% in Kansas, and from 1.6% to 1.4% in Oklahoma. And bear in mind that in these states property tax revenues were falling as a percent of personal income during a decade when personal income growth was weak.
The rise of internet retailing, and the exemption of online sales from state and local income taxes (at least at one time), has led to concerns that sales tax avoidance is harming state and local government budgets. But from FY 2004 to FY 2014 local government sales tax collections increased slightly as a percent of New York City residents’ personal income, rounding off to 1.6% of personal income in each year, and increased from 1.3% of personal income to 1.5% of personal income in the Rest of New York State. The U.S. average is not meaningful for local sales taxes, because most places don’t have them, but it edged up as well.
State sales tax revenues were lower as a percent of personal income in FY 2014 than they had been in FY 2004, in the United States as a whole and in most states. Florida, which benefits from extensive sales taxes paid by tourists and snowbirds, took a big hit. Some may point to the internet for this trend, but I believe the culprit is elsewhere. For most of the past 30 years Americans have, on average and in total, spent a large share of their income, or even more than their income, going into debt and failing to save for retirement to do so. This inflated retail sales – and thus sales taxes – relative to people’s incomes. But in the Great Recession this temporarily came to a halt, and people were forced to live closer to their actual means. The result was less in retail sales – particularly on motor vehicles – relative to income, and thus less in retail sales taxes.
On one hand, press reports indicate that consumer debt was once again soaring in 2016, so this trend may have reversed. On the other hand the richest generations in U.S. history are already mostly retired, and those reaching old age afterward will be facing it without pensions and with little in savings after a lifetime of lower wages and higher spending. The decrease in sales tax revenues relative to the income working Florida residents may have only just begun.
Another knock against Governor Cuomo, by those seeking more government money from New York State, is his failure to increase state income taxes. Before he was elected, however, a “temporary” New York State income tax increase had already been put in place. Cuomo extended it once, and proposes to extend it again. New York state personal income tax increased from 3.25% of state residents’ personal income in FY 2004 to 3.84% of income in FY 2014, a substantial gain between two economically similar post-recession years.
State income taxes also sharply as a percent of state residents’ personal income in New Jersey (from 1.95% to 2.3%) and Connecticut (from 2.6% to 3.2%), with the latter state avoiding a big increase in local property taxes, unlike New York. In Illinois the increase was from 1.58% of that state residents’ personal income to 2.66%, but that increase has since been reversed. Other states with gains included California (from 2.7% of personal income in FY 2004 to 3.4% in FY 2014, promised to go to education but actually going to pensions), Minnesota (from 3.0% to 3.6%), and Vermont, with Vermont’s state income tax increase offset by a falling local tax burden.
There were, however, big state personal income tax cuts in some other states, notably Ohio (from 2.4% of state residents’ personal income in FY 2004 to 1.7% in FY 2014), Kansas (from 2.3% to 1.9%) and Oklahoma (2.3% to 1.9%). The pattern – in high tax states the taxes are increased, and yet the loudest voices demand more increases. In low tax states taxes fell, and yet there are calls for less government.
So when New York State Governor Cuomo touts “the lowest taxes in decades” in his economic development commercials, what exactly is he talking about? Perhaps business taxes? I don’t have a measure of business income handy, but at least as a percent of the income of New York State residents New York State’s corporate income tax revenues were up, a lot, from FY 2004 to FY 2014. Although such revenues tend to be highly volatile depending on Wall Street profits, so that may only be a one-year trend. State business income tax revenues also increased as a percent of personal income in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but General Electric moved from the former to the latter allegedly in response. And remember that New York City has a local income tax as well, one that also falls on freelancers and other unincorporated businesses earning $100,000 or more. Over and above their state and local personal income taxes.
Adding up, New York State’s total tax revenues increased from 6.0% of personal income in FY 2004, under former Governor Pataki, to 6.9% of personal income in FY 2014, under Governor Cuomo. Pataki, like other Generation Greed Northeastern governors and mayors of the 1990s, claimed to cut taxes. But by running up debts and underfunding pensions, what they actually did was defer them. We’re paying them now, and will be paying more for them for a while. Resulting in state tax burden increases from 5.5% of personal income in 2004 to 5.8% of income in FY 2014 in New Jersey (Governor Christine Whitman), from 6.2% to 6.6% in Connecticut (the convicted Governor John Rowland), and from 6.1% to 6.3% in Massachusetts (Governor William Weld). All those states are in deep fiscal trouble, New Jersey and Connecticut in particular, despite higher state tax collections as a percent of their residents’ personal income. And the older generations and businesses that benefitted from lower taxes and more services in the past running for the exits.
Taking the whole state and local government tax burden together, lets conclude with a quick trip around the country. In the Northeast, that tax burden increased, but it increased most of all in New York State in general and New York City in particular, where taxes were already high to begin with. Since public employee pension income, and all Social Security income, is exempt from state and local income taxes, there has been a push by New York’s public employee unions to increase those taxes further. And to reduce the property taxes of retired public employees by not counting their pension income when considering their eligibility for special property tax breaks for low-income seniors.
In Rhode Island, a place where younger residents face a future of higher taxes and horrible services as a result of Generation Greed’s retroactive pension increases and debts, a pension tax exemption passed this year.
Though modest, it sets a precedent for additional exemptions for the old as taxes on the young are increased.
In the Midwest (on the same scale in the chart) the overall state and local tax burden fell as a percent of income, despite weak income growth, in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In Michigan and Ohio it went from above average to below average, while in Wisconsin it went from above average to about average. The tax burden increased in Minnesota, and Illinois. That pretty much correlates with the party that took each state in the 2016 Presidential election. None of these states, however, is far from the U.S. average.
The falling taxes have been associated with collapsing public services. For those other than senior citizens, whose benefits are federally-provided or financed. These are states where, for the most part, those generations born later are much poorer than those in generations born earlier, who benefited from high manufacturing wages and pensions. In Michigan there is a bi-partisan senior-Republican/public union-Democrat push underway to re-exempt pension income from state income taxes.
Before 2011, public pensions were untaxed and private pension income up to $90,240 was exempt from tax. The 2011 law change kept it that way for those born before 1946, decreased exemptions for those born between 1946 and 1952, and subjected the pensions of everybody born after 1952 to full taxation as income. It was effective Jan. 1, 2012.
The only difference between that and every other public policy enacted in the past 20 years is that usually everyone who came of age in the 1960s is one the winning side of the deal. The full retirement age for Social Security only reaches 67 for those born 1960 and after.
In Illinois, even as the state goes broke only the Chicago Civic Federation dares to suggest that that the retired should pay taxes on their income like less well off working people, at the same rate for the exact same income.
California overall state and local tax burden, despite its reputation, is not that high a percent of income compared with the U.S. average. But it did increase there and in Oregon from FY2004 to FY 2014. It fell in other major western states, other than Colorado. Utah had been about average in FY 2004, but is now well below average.
The state and local tax burden fell in many of the Southeastern states that already had taxes far below the U.S. average in FY 2004, and by a large amount in the case of Florida. Only by reducing its tax burden further did Tennessee remain the state with the lowest state and local tax burden overall – it rounds off to just 7.7% of personal income in each state. But they like their federal spending in Tennessee. An Obama Administration proposal to privatize the non-nuclear portion of the Tennessee Valley Authority was greeted with outrage.
But the real Republican fantasylands are the places where oil and gas revenues, and other mineral revenues, allow massive state government spending without most people having to pay much in other taxes. Rising oil and gas prices along with “fracking” caused state and local government tax revenues to soar as a percent of state residents’ personal income from FY 2004 to FY 2014 in Alaska and North Dakota. Wyoming did not share in the bounty, it would appear, but Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma did. Rather than bank the proceeds those states cut other taxes to the point where total tax state and local government revenues actually fell as a percent of personal income, leading to fiscal crises.
Those crises grew worse once oil and gas prices and related state revenues plunged. Having cut income taxes, to benefit the best off, the Governor of Oklahoma is now trying to raise sales taxes, at the expense of less well off workers.
In Kansas, the Republican led state legislature pushed through a reversal of state income tax cuts, but the Governor vetoed it.
Thus far there has been counter-pressure to get these states’ Republicans to live up to their something-for-nothing promises. Thus far their failure to do so has driven public services toward collapse.
Meanwhile in Alaska,
The Republicans have been tossed out in favor of an Independent Governor who now acknowledges that a state sales tax, state income tax, or smaller checks to Alaska residents may be needed to stave off bankruptcy.
“Alaska, which became a state in 1959, reaped an average 84 percent of its revenue from oil production from 1980 to 2014, according to a report from the state’s Office of Management and Budget. With prices down, Alaska has slashed its budget nearly in half since 2013 and reduced public payrolls to where they were in 2002. Even so, next year’s deficit in the $4.3 billion budget equates to about $4,000 per resident.”
With news like this, it’s no wonder that Generation Greed politicians of all kinds prefer to talk about tribal social issues. Why the media fails to report the overall trends I don’t know. Why, in New York, does it give voice to those demanding more and more, and cite “reports” that they deserve it, without providing objective evidence of how much they are getting to begin with? I don’t get that either.
The revenue source covered by this post, taxes, only accounts for about 49 percent of all total state government revenues. And for about 37 percent of total local government revenues. The next post will review trends in other state and local revenues — federal and state aid, charges for services, fines and forfeits, and other miscellaneous revenues — over a decade.