Elimination of Deductions for State and Local Tax – “SALT”
Tax reform is the one remaining 2018 Republican campaign issue, and the argument over “SALT”, or the elimination of deductions for state and local taxes. In general that would be state income tax or state property tax. In some states that do not have income tax, you are allowed to deduct your sales tax, although that is a more complicated deduction. In the wealthier states on both coasts, tax payers rely on those deductions.
The Mortgage Tax Deduction Restricts the Free Market
No one wants to get rid of the home mortgage deduction, but that is a much better deduction to eliminate, as it does more damage to the economy. The politically popular mortgage interest deduction is aimed at altering behavior, rather than to let the free market work independently. The real beneficiary of the mortgage tax deduction is not the home buyer but the house seller. There are many predominately Democratic states with high taxes but I don’t buy argument in favor of eliminating that deduction.
Why Should the Federal Government Subsidize the State Government?
The argument is, why should the Federal government subsidize state government? If a state wants to have a high income tax, then, its citizens get to deduct that income tax from their Federal taxes and therefore, they don’t feel the full burden of the tax, because some of it is absorbed by the Federal government. As a result of this, tax payers in high tax states are more receptive to those high taxes because they get a tax break on their Federal tax returns. If they could not deduct these taxes, there would be a bigger pushback on the state level.
Federal Government Taxing Unearned Income
If we are going to have an income tax, we have to tax the actual income. For example, if you earn $100,000, and let’s say you live in a state with a flat 10% income tax, then they pay $10,000 in taxes. Did they earn $100,000 for $90,000? I would say they earned $90,000. Now if the Federal government does not want to give a deduction on the state income tax, they should not tax you on income you never earned. I don’t think that’s Constitutional. You can’t be taxed on money that didn’t come to you. The money paid to the state in taxes is not a voluntary donation. It is taken by force.
No Double Tax
If you go back to the origins of the first Federal income taxes exempted tax paid to the states, it was because the Federal government respected the sovereignty of the states to tax the people first. If you allow the Federal government to ignore state taxes, theoretically they could place an income tax so high that you would have nothing left between the state and Federal tax burden. I would not allow the government to double tax anything, because it is diminishing the power of the state.
Defer Income Tax to Employers
Here’s another thing that no one in Congress is addressing: the states can get around this. Let’s say they pass a law that says you can’t deduct your state income taxes from your Federal income tax. In the previous example, the taxpayer pays taxes on $10,000 he never earned. What if the state then repeals the state income tax on wages and salaries and in its place, imposes a payroll tax on employers? So that, instead of an employee getting paid $100,000 and paying $10,000 in taxes, the payroll tax causes the employer to pay a state tax that would then reduce the salary of the employee by that much. That payroll tax would be deductible for the employer as an expense. So all the states would have to do is change the way they tax wages and salaries and the net effect would be no change for the individual worker. This would deprive the Federal government of all the extra money they think they are going to get by removing the state income tax deduction.