Read blog post with figures here.
Texans pay state and local taxes in one form or another. Given Texans desire prosperity and liberty, an optimal tax system creates the least burden on economic activity while funding limited government spending. While the details of taxation can get complicated quickly, core principles of sound taxation include a tax that’s simple, flat, and broad-based.
Taxes may redirect you from consuming with a sales tax, push you out of your home with a property tax, or incentivize you to purchase less gasoline with an excise tax to fund government spending. Fortunately, Texas is one of only nine states without a costly state or local personal income tax. The table below shows that the 9 states without this tax perform much better economically than those states with the highest personal income tax rates.
State taxes in Texas include the dominant sales and use tax, but there are also the franchise tax, motor fuels tax, and other taxes. The more than 4,100 local taxing jurisdictions statewide collect primarily property taxes, but cities, counties, and special purpose districts can also collect a sales tax.
Achieving an optimal tax system begins with the derivation of taxation. First, politicians determine government provisions from voter demand and rent-seeking activity to win votes. Second, those provisions require government spending. Third, government spending requires some form of funding mechanism, hence taxation.
Therefore, a key to an optimal tax system is to educate voters on the costs and benefits of government provisions while effectively limiting government spending, which can be done by putting laws in place to add budget transparency and reduce rent-seeking behaviors while strengthening limitson government spending.
While the Texas Legislature has appropriately restrained government spending below the key measure of population growth plus inflation in the last two budgets, the state budget is up 7.9 percent above this measure since 2004, meaning taxes are higher and economic growth is lower today than otherwise. So, further spending restraint is necessary to help Texans be more prosperous and Texas more competitive. This could be achieved by limiting state spending to 4 percent and using state surplus dollars to provide tax relief, such as eliminating school M&O property taxes over time, until we can get to an efficient sales tax.
According to the Tax Foundation and noted in the figure below, Texas has the 10th highest reliance on sales taxes in the nation, but the 5th least burdensome state-local tax burden. While a sales tax should apply to the broadest base possible, Texas has sales tax loopholes of about $45 billion in FY 2018. These loopholes should be reduced or eliminated to follow sound taxation with the broadest base and lowest rate possible.
The Texas Comptroller notes that sales and property taxes in Texas are regressive. A flat tax rate results in higher income people paying a lower share of their income on taxes than lower-income people, but higher income people pay much more in taxes. The costs of property taxes are substantial, with businesses and individuals each paying about half for school M&O property taxes, and they hurt lower-income property owners and even renters as these taxes subjectively skyrocket.
Sales taxes, on the other hand, allow people freedom with their money to spend or save, do not have to tax capital, and are transparent. Individuals pay about 60 percent of sales taxes collected while businesses submit the rest, but businesses don't ultimately pay taxes as they pass costs along to people through higher prices, lower wages, and fewer jobs. An example of this is the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows Texas to expand the sales tax base to all online transactions, which most are already taxed online at places like Amazon and WalMart, but any additional tax revenue should be used for tax relief because Texas state and local governments already spend too much.
A sales tax is pro-growth because it allows individuals to choose what’s best for themselves. Other forms of taxes that try to socially engineer behavior, such as a gas tax or carbon tax, end up distorting economic activity and hurting lower-income households most.
In conclusion, by effectively limiting government spending that allows a move to an optimal tax system based on a sales tax of final goods and services, Texans will flourish and other states will have an optimal system to follow.
Ph.D. Economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Blog posts are publications by the author.