Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Coming soon, to a legislature near you: Higher taxes. Well, you probably already knew that. But part of the ammunition sticky-fingered politicians and interest groups will load up on will be provided by this survey from Governing magazine on the tax systems in all 50 states. Governing, published by bureaucrats, for bureaucrats, blames state budget woes on -- get this -- dysfunctional tax systems. As UPI put it, "inadequate and unfair tax systems" have left treasuries "starved for cash." Silly me. I thought the cause was the decade-long spending orgy of the '90s, in which tax revenues (adjusted for inflation and population growth) surged by 48 percent.

Anyway, the Governing study, incorporating the kleptocracy's spin, is making the rounds in newspapers across the country. A Google News search unearths such stories from Mississippi, Kansas, Tennessee, Colorado, Alabama, Washington, plus (I'm getting tired of posting the hot links) Nebraska, Florida, Arizona, Texas, and, of course, Nevada, which ranked last in the nation.

The authors of the Governing survey concede that there's no truly objective way to rate tax structures, but if you actually look at the state-by-state analyses, the bias of the study is obvious: Notwithstanding the structure of the tax code, or whether it's most reliant on sales, income or mineral taxes, any state which has procedures in place that limit the ability of legislatures to increase rates or impose new taxes is guaranteed to get bad marks. (And if the state allows citizen initiatives to alter or repeal tax increases, stand in the corner! Bad citizens! Bad!)

As this editorial (written by me) points out, Colorado, one of the few states which isn't in fiscal meltdown, scores almost as poorly as Nevada; the analysis specifically cites that state's Taxpayer Bill of Rights as the reason. Nevada is dinged because "there is a deeply rooted anti-tax ethos in the state" and "Nevada's political procedures" (primarily the requirement that any tax increase get a two-thirds majority vote in both legislative houses) make "reforms" (aka raising taxes) difficult.

So as lawmakers start waving around this study as justification for ever-higher taxes, consider its source ... and its authors' attitudes about the rights of individuals to attempt to keep more of what they earn.

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