The Tax Foundation recently released their 2017 State Business Tax Climate Index report detailing the rankings of all fifty states. The overall score is determined by the burdens of each state’s corporate income tax, individual income tax, sales tax, unemployment insurance, and property tax. The purpose of the report is to “show how well states structure their tax systems, and provides a roadmap for improvement.”
Chart 1 shows the ranking of each state. A common factor between a majority of the top performing states is the absence of at least one major tax, such as the individual income tax, and for states that do levy all the major taxes, they do so with low rates and broad bases. States ranked in the bottom bracket share similar shortcomings such as complex non-neutral taxes and comparatively high tax rates.
Texas’ overall ranking declined one position to 14th nationwide. While Texas excels in the unemployment insurance and individual income tax categories, the overall ranking decline can be attributed to poor scores for corporate income and property taxes.
Although the 2015 Texas Legislature cut the business franchise (margin) rates by 25 percent for a total value of $2.6 billion, the relative ranking of the corporate income tax remained unchanged at 49th, or second worst! This is due to the fact that the business tax is a gross receipts-style tax that is costly to comply with and pay. The Tax Foundation published a previous paper that finds the state’s overall business tax climate would increase to 3rd if the margin tax was eliminated. Moreover, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) have estimated large economic gains from eliminating this onerous tax.
The Tax Foundation also notes that Texas’ local property taxes is a thorn in taxpayers’ side as the relative ranking of property taxes declined from 33rd to 37th, or 14th worst! Its structural complexity, unwarrantedly high rates, and lack of voter oversight continue to confuse and burden taxpayers. The 84th Legislature took steps to lower this burden by increasing the homestead exemption for school districts by $10,000 to $25,000. However, as the LBB recently noted, although homeowners paid a lower property tax amount than without the exemption increase, most homeowners paid more for their property taxes this year.
To overcome the overwhelming burden of local property taxes statewide, the Texas Public Policy Foundation published a paper highlighting key reforms that should be made in the short run and long run. Specifically, structural reforms should be made in the short run by giving voters a stronger voice in the growth of property taxes by requiring an automatic election for any local government whose revenues increase above a certain limit in any one year. In the longer run, we imagine Texas with substantially more economic growth and job creation from replacing the inefficient property tax system with a higher, broader-based efficient sales tax.
The 85th Legislature should take these rankings by the Tax Foundation and other reports into consideration to improve the state’s business tax climate. The goal is not necessarily to beat other states, but to give Texans the best chance to prosper, which can happen if we improve our rankings to encourage more new businesses and job creation.
Ph.D. Economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Blog posts are publications by the author.