If Mayor Williams wants to attract 100,000 new middle-class residents to the District during his new term, or ever, he may want to give some thought to the city's tax structure, a new study suggests.
Currently, the District is relatively kind to the poor and to the truly rich, at least measured by the share of their income that is consumed by D.C. taxes, the study by the liberal Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found. But it socks the middle class hard, the study said.
Maryland and Virginia are similar in their treatment of the wealthy but are harder on the poor, the study found. Indeed, in Virginia the tax burden declines quite consistently with rising income.
But at every income level, except the lowest 20 percent of incomes, D.C. residents pay more of their income in taxes than do residents of the states next door, the study found. The pattern is the same both before and after, allowing for the fact that state and local income and property taxes are deductible at the federal income tax level.
At some income levels, the difference is more than 2 full percentage points, with the next-to-lowest group paying 11 percent of income after allowing for federal deductions, compared with 8.8 percent in Maryland and 8.3 percent in Virginia. The difference is small at the highest income level, with people in the top 1 percent paying 5.8 percent of their income in the District, 5.1 percent in Maryland and 4.8 percent in Virginia.
The study divided non-elderly taxpayers in each jurisdiction into five groups, or quintiles, and then divided the top quintile into three subgroups -- the richest 1 percent, the next 4 percent and the next 15 percent. Because incomes vary in the states, the income groups are not identical in the three jurisdictions, so the comparisons are not exact, but the pattern is clear.
The findings are hardly surprising to city residents. The good news, to the extent there is any, is that at almost all income levels D.C. taxes as a share of income have declined over the past decade or so, with the middle- and upper-middle-income seeing the biggest reductions.
On the other hand, the study did not address the question of services. Schools, the biggest service that most families receive and the most expensive to buy privately, continue to be problematic in the District.
The institute's director, Robert S. McIntyre, noted at the release of the report last week that higher taxes generally tend to buy better services, but the District, with no state to help it and much of its prime property tax-exempt, is a special case.
Despite that, the city is in a position to benefit from a back-to-the-city movement in the coming years as aging baby boomers, sick of the isolation and traffic in the suburbs and their children grown, decide life would be easier living where they could walk to a restaurant or store. Some of that is already visible, and it is boosting house prices in many neighborhoods.
From the city's point of view, such residents are ideal: They are well-off and consume few services. But whether the city will get all the revenue it might from such a migration remains uncertain.
Many such people own more than one home, and with the city's top marginal income tax bracket stuck at 9.3 percent, one of the highest in the nation, many may claim their beach or mountain house -- or condo in Florida, where's there's no state income tax -- as their tax home. That is something they can legally do as long as they spend enough time there and do other things such as registering to vote, getting a driver's license and the like. Such folks can't get the D.C. homestead exemption or a residential parking sticker, but many wealthy people can get along without those.
Interestingly, the study found that nationwide, state and local taxes have grown more "regressive" since the late 1980s, with low- and middle-income taxpayers paying a greater share of their incomes in taxes, and the wealthiest less.
McIntyre said he doesn't think the states have done this deliberately, but the "willy-nilly" nature of state tax policy has had this result.
The most regressive states, according to the study, are Washington, Florida and Tennessee, and the key factor is their lack of a broad-based income tax. States such as these must rely heavily on sales and excise taxes, which generally have flat rates and thus tend to eat up relatively more of low-income taxpayers' money. Property taxes, the report said, "are usually somewhat regressive" as well. Of course, more expensive houses are taxed more heavily than less expensive ones, but the federal deduction helps offset that.
In addition, many state income taxes are not very progressive -- a few are flat-rate -- further easing the burden on the wealthy, the report said.
Only a few states, such as Delaware, with no sales tax and a high reliance on its income tax, and Vermont and California, with very progressive income taxes, require their poorest and wealthiest taxpayers to cough up similar shares of their income.
If taxpayers around here think they are paying too much, let it be said that at least they know what the rates are. At the moment, that's not the case in Oregon.
In the midst of a fiscal crisis, Oregon's legislature punted to the voters on whether to raise the top income tax rate, currently 9 percent on income above $6,275. A referendum is now scheduled and, Oregon being Oregon, it's being done by mail. The deadline for ballots to arrive is Jan. 28. In the meantime, the state is sending out two sets of tax tables, one showing what taxpayers will owe if the referendum passes, the other what they will owe if it doesn't.
Bookkeepers and accountants are grumbling, but backers of the referendum say it's no big deal -- few people file before the end of January anyway.
The referendum would add a half-percentage-point surcharge for three years, and it would raise about $300 million in the first year and $400 million in the second. That would help, officials say, but it won't solve the state's problems.
Oregon, which has no sales tax, expects to be $2 billion short over the next two years. The legislature has already resorted to what one official called "bizarre borrowing and bookkeeping that would make Enron blush." The state also has cut the school year back 21 days and is sending layoff notices to state police. Next up, officials say, is closing some state prisons and releasing inmates. "Oregon has gone from a state where you can't get an education to one where you can't get arrested," an aide to the outgoing governor said.
For the first time, more than $1 billion worth of annual benefits have been paid to Americans who possess long-term-care insurance protection, according to the just-published edition of Long-Term Care Insurance Sales Strategies magazine.
The Internal Revenue Service says it was open for e-filing business as of Friday.