Friday, August 14, 2009
Wall Street Journal Supports Brewer on Budget
From the Wall Street Journal 8/11/09
Arizona’s Budget Breakthrough
An alternative to California’s tax and spend model.
Perhaps states are starting to learn the right fiscal lessons from the red-ink blowouts in high-tax California and New York. Today, the legislature in Arizona will vote on a tax reform designed to entice more employers and high-income taxpayers to the state. Sponsored by Republican Governor Jan Brewer, the plan would cut state property taxes, the corporate tax and personal income taxes, in exchange for a temporary rise in the sales tax.
Most economic studies agree that states have more jobs and higher income growth when they tax consumption rather than savings, investment and business profits. This explains why most of the nine states with no income tax at all—such as Texas, Florida and Tennessee—have been economic high-flyers in recent decades.
Ms. Brewer’s proposal reflects this economic logic. Effective January 1, 2011, her plan would reduce the state’s corporate income tax rate to 4.86% from 6.97%, which would be one of the largest business tax cuts in the nation in recent years. The proposal also cuts all personal income tax rates by 6.6%, thus lowering the top marginal rate to 4.24% from 4.54%. A hated statewide tax on commercial and residential property would also be abolished.
Arizona has been hit especially hard by the housing slump, and its budget woes were compounded thanks to former Governor Janet Napolitano’s spending spree before she joined the Obama cabinet. On her watch the budget grew by more than 50% in five years—to $10.2 billion from $6.5 billion in 2004. The state now has a $1 billion budget gap, and to close it the legislature will also vote on a one percentage point increase in the sales tax to 6.6% in 2010 and 2011; in the third year the sales tax would fall to 6.1%, and in the fourth year would revert to its current 5.6% rate.
We’d rather see the legislature cut more spending than raise the sales tax, but on the other hand the sales tax would only take effect if it is approved on the November ballot. The political class is giving voters a say in the matter. The sales tax increase also has the advantage of a built-in expiration date, while the tax cuts are permanent.
Democratic opponents are calling this a tax giveaway to big business. But lawmakers needn’t apologize for trying to retain Arizona’s status as a business-friendly state—particularly when jobs are so scarce. Small employers also benefit from the lower property tax rates and the personal income tax reductions. Lower tax payments will enable them to reinvest more in their enterprises.
The opponents should consult a new study of state business taxes by former U.S. Treasury economist Robert Carroll for the Tax Foundation. He examined 50 states and found that states with lower corporate tax rates have higher wage gains and more productivity over time. This tax cut sounds like a high-return investment.
Republicans control both houses of the Arizona legislature, and as we went to press the main obstacle to passing the reform was the Arizona Senate’s anti tax conservatives. They oppose the higher sales tax. These Republicans should look to one of the triumphs of the Reagan Presidency, the 1986 tax reform, which broadened the tax base but substantially lowered tax rates and thus sustained the 1980's expansion.
Arizona has the chance to be the anti-California, closing the budget deficit by growing the economy, not by raising taxes. We hope legislators don’t blow it, because the U.S. desperately needs an alternative to the tax, spend and tax again philosophy of Sacramento and Albany.