Giving Away the Store, or Maintaining a Base?
Yesterday, I showed that the number of high-income tax returns increased every year in Rhode Island from 2002 to 2007. In fact, the rate of growth among taxpayers in every income category above $50,000 was greater in Rhode Island than in its neighboring states through 2004, when things began to change.
During the decade, Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly enacted various tax reforms, agreeing to phase out the capital gains tax in 2002 and beginning a stepped reduction of an alternative flat tax in 2006. Of course, during this same period, especially the latter part of the decade, the state government faced massive budget deficits year after year and used one budget gimmick and one-time fix after another to muddle through.
The question arises, therefore, whether the tax reforms needlessly gave away money that the state could have used (although it never came close to equaling the deficits) or the tax reforms were a positive influence despite larger problems. I’m not sure that it’s possible to collect enough data to declare the question answered, but today, I’ll add some charts to the mix that I believe continue to point in the direction of my thesis: that tax policy helped Rhode Island to maintain and increase its base of wealth, which could have been a spark of capital for entrepreneurs and other producers, but heavy regulations, mandates, and taxes stifled growth and motivation among “the productive class,” which therefore didn’t act as kindling to get Rhode Island’s economic fire going.
The following charts, drawn from this data, show the amount of state income taxes claimed on IRS tax returns for those filing in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, respectively:
Once again, it appears that the dot-com bust that began the millenium did not affect Rhode Island as deeply as it did Massachusetts. From that footing, with the implementation of the capital gains tax phaseout and a reduction of the state’s nation-leading top tax bracket on the horizon, Rhode Island led the three states in the rate at which it increased the revenue drawn from the upper brackets. The numbers throughout the decade are as follows:
|% increase in $100,000-200,000 taxpayers 2002-2004||19.2||10.4||12.2|
|% increase in $200,000+ taxpayers 2002-2004||27.0||19.3||17.2||% increase in $100,000-200,000 state taxes 2002-2004||14.0||9.1||17.9|
|% increase in $200,000+ state taxes 2002-2004||26.0||34.5||30.9|
|% increase in $100,000-200,000 taxpayers 2002-2007||56.4||43.2||43.0|
|% increase in $200,000+ taxpayers 2002-2007||73.4||73.1||60.9||% increase in $100,000-200,000 state taxes 2002-2007||44.1||38.2||47.0|
|% increase in $200,000+ state taxes 2002-2007||64.2||124.4||104.0|
|% increase in $100,000-200,000 taxpayers 2007-2008||1.5||2.9||2.0|
|% increase in $200,000+ taxpayers 2007-2008||-8.6||-5.1||-4.0||% increase in $100,000-200,000 state taxes 2007-2008||5.8||8.0||8.6|
|% increase in $200,000+ state taxes 2007-2008||-4.0||-2.1||-2.4|
During the early part of the decade, Rhode Island led in the rate of increase of wealthy taxpayers, although that healthy development for the state overall did reduce the rate of growth in revenue that the government drew from them. Tax policy, however, wasn’t to blame for Rhode Island’s slowed growth during the latter part of the decade. Something else was, and I’d argue that the improving attitude of the government toward taxation prevented Rhode Island from doing worse, comparatively… until that attitude started to change in a vocal way during and after the debate over the flat tax.
The IRS also provides taxpayer migration data, which compares the location from which every American files his or her return to his or her location the year before. The years shown for migration are those in which the returns were filed, which means that the taxpayer moved during or just after the tax year (which is what the years used thus far in these posts have referred to).
Not that it matters; Rhode Island’s loss of taxpayers has been consistently between 2,000 and 4,500 for the entire decade:
The bars at the top of the chart show the migration of actual people, and the line at the bottom shows the net loss of taxable adjusted gross income. That is, from 2003 to 2008, after subtracting the incomes of people who came to Rhode Island, former Rhode Islanders took with them almost $1 billion in income. With the exception of the two years that the revenue loss moderated, the average adjusted gross income of those leaving was greater than those arriving:
In the past, I’ve looked at the data of migration to counties abutting Rhode Island on the theory that such people aren’t leaving the region but, rather, wanted to stay within work-and-play reach of Rhode Island:
The image that emerges is a pull of wealth away from Rhode Island. The fact that the wealthy were increasing in number, within the state, suggests that they continued to find Rhode Island to offer a friendly environment. Some other income range must account for those thousands of lost taxpayers, and I’ll take a closer look in that direction tomorrow.
(The next post in this series is here.)