GOP governors testing tax reform
BY RICHARD W. STEVENSON, New York Times
WASHINGTON -- Republican governors are moving aggressively to cut personal and corporate income taxes, including proposals that would increase reliance on state sales taxes, setting up ambitious experiments in tax reform that could shape what is possible on a national level.
Even as Washington continues to discuss, if not act, on ideas for making the federal tax system simpler and more efficient, governors, some with an eye on the next presidential race, are taking advantage of the improving economy and a gradual rebound in revenues to act.
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal is pushing to repeal the state's personal and corporate income taxes and make up the lost revenue through higher sales taxes. Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska is calling for much the same thing in his state. Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas wants to keep in place what was supposed to be a temporary increase in the state sales tax to help pay for his plan to lower and eventually end his state's income tax.
Along the way these governors are taking small first steps into a debate over what kind of tax system most encourages growth in a 21st-century economy. In particular they are focusing attention on the idea, long championed by conservatives but accepted up to a point by economists of all stripes, that the economy would be better served by focusing taxation on consumption rather than on income.
Taxing consumption has the potential to lift economic growth by encouraging more savings and investment. But the shift could also increase inequality by reducing taxes predominantly for the wealthy, who spend a smaller share of their income than middle- and lower-income people.
"The question of whether we should tax income or whether we should tax spending is really a proxy for a different debate," said Joseph Henchman, vice president for state projects at the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning research organization. "Everyone agrees we'll get more growth with consumption taxes. It's just that some people prioritize fairness."