Although passage of President Carter's proposal for a federal tax cut now seems uncertain, many Americans - including residents of Maryland and District of Columbia - can be fairly sure of a reduction in their tax burden this year.
For on the state level, 1978 is shaping up as the year of the tax cut.
At least 16 states and the District of Columbia seem likely to reduce overall taxes this year, according to a recent survey by the Tax Foundation, a private, nonprofit research group based in Washington. Seven states are expected to act on changes that would shift the heaviest revenue burden away from property taxes and into less unpopular forms of levy.
Only two or three states in contrast, are likely to raise overall taxes this year, according to the survey.
The new tax-cutting fervor across the land reflects both electoral and economic forces.
The voters have never been great supporters of icreased governmental spending, but until recently they also resisted proposals that would have established spending limits. Referenda calling for ceilings on state spending and taxation were defeated in the past two years in Utah, Michigan, and Montana.
But last month Tennessee voters approved, by a healthy margin, a constitutional amendment which prohibits a yearly growth in spending greater than growth in the state's personal income. Ohio residents refused to authorize increased education spending despite a clear threat that schools would have to close. Californians are expected to approve one of the spending-limitation proposals on the June 6 ballot.
The word is out, in short, that the taxpapers want some brake on growing government spending - and will support referenda to that effect if governors and legislatures will not act to control expenditures.
From the point of view of state budget officers, the popular pressure for austerity has come along at just the right time. In contrast to the continuing deficits in the federal budget, the state and local government sector is currently running at a surplus.
After a long post-World II period of operating deficits [with a record deficit of $6.2 billion for 1975], state and local governments went into the black in 1976 and 1977, and the overall surplus is expected to continue this year, according to the Office of Management Budget. A survey by the National Association of State Budget Officers said that only one state, Delaware, is expected to end the year with an operating deficit.
The boom in revenues has come at a time when states are biting the bullet somewhat on expenditures. The sharp growth in local government spending that characterized the early 1970s tailed off somewhat in 1974 and 1975, when the recession forced the governments to tighten their belts. Despite the recovery, state and local spending has not risen greatly in the past two years.
At least 15 states, according to the Tax Foundation survey, are working on ways to reduce property taxes, which are the most unpopular form of taxation almost everywhere. In some cases, such as Maryland and the District, the property tax relief is to be funded from the general surplus. Seven states are reviewing proposals to increase sales or income taxes to permit a drop in property taxes.
The survey shows that II states art considering rate reductions or rebates in the state personal income tax; five other states are developing new definitions of "taxable income" that would effectively reduce the tax burden. Only two states, Maine and New York, were reported to be planning cuts in the corporate income tax.
Nonetheless, the Tax Foundation noted that the changes proposed for this year would impose only "mild restraint" on the growth of the local tax burden, a statisfic that has sky-rocketed in the past quarter-century.
The Census Bureau says that state and local governments took in $70 in taxes for every $1,000 of personal income in 1950. By 1975, the figure was $123 for every $1,000.