Although all but five states have raised taxes since 1981, the Reagan administration's federal tax cuts have been so deep that they have left families in 49 states with more spending money overall, according to a survey by the National Journal.
Families at all income levels, the survey said, will save more in federal income taxes this year than they are paying in higher state levies--by more than $150 for a low-income family, $600 for a middle-income family and $1,200 for an upper-income family.
The resulting tax burden may fall more heavily on the poor, however, since many states rely on regressive sales taxes for as much as half their revenue, while the federal income tax is on a graduated scale.
"The reduction in federal taxes was so enormous . . . that increases in state taxes do not begin to offset it," said Robert W. Schleck of the nonprofit Tax Foundation. "Instances in which state tax increases wash out the federal cuts are atypical. Of course, if you're not paying much to start with, you're not going to benefit much from the federal tax cuts."
Taxpayers would have saved even more since 1981 if 37 states had not raised taxes on income, sales or gasoline, the three levies included in the survey. But as the recession held down their revenues, state lawmakers were forced to take some of what Washington had relinquished to balance their budgets.
According to the Journal survey, a Maryland family of four earning $15,000, with one working spouse, would save $167 on this year's federal and state taxes compared with 1981. A Maryland family earning $25,000 would save $591, while a $50,000 family would cut its tax bill by $1,237. The savings for comparable Virginia families would be $192, $621 and $1,267.
One exception in the survey was Indiana, where a family earning $15,000 would pay $1 more this year in federal and state taxes than in 1981. But those at higher income levels still would save more on federal taxes than the increase in what they are paying to Indianapolis. The survey did not consider local taxes.
In a separate report, the National Governors' Association said yesterday that 47 states adopted some type of austerity measures in fiscal 1983. The report said that 42 states placed limits on hiring, 37 cut selected programs, 32 restricted out-of-town travel, 19 moved up tax deadlines and 15 delayed spending.
In addition, 22 states adopted or proposed plans to lay off workers and, in nine cases, to put employes on unpaid furloughs.
The fiscal outlook "remains grim," the report said, as the 50 states expect to end the fiscal year with only enough money to finance one day of operation. The states will show an aggregate balance of $291 million for the fiscal year, but if Texas is excluded, the remaining 49 states would show a deficit.
Twenty-seven states expect to end the fiscal year with balances of less than 1 percent of expenditures, far less than the 5 percent that is considered a comfortable cushion.