Saying the state has more money than it needs, Republicans on a House panel voted last week to cut state taxes by nearly $162 million this coming budget year – and by an undetermined amount years down the road.
The biggest part of HB 2778 as approved by the Ways and Means Committee on a party-line vote is an across-the-board cut in individual income tax rates.
This move alone would reduce state revenues by $100 million a year, though the benefit to individual taxpayers varies.
Another provision would give businesses the ability to write off more rapidly the deprecation of equipment they buy, giving them an additional income tax deduction.
The one with the potentially biggest impact over the long term, however, is an increase in the amount individuals who do not file itemized tax returns can still deduct in charitable contributions from the taxable part of their income.
For the coming fiscal year this loss would be $2.1 million.
Rep. Mitzi Epstein, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Mesa, Tempe and Chandler as well as Ahwatukee, said the legislation would increase this allowance annually according to inflation.
So, the reduction in state revenues would be $4.2 million the year after next, $6.3 million the year after, no one is certain.
Epstein worried this change alone eventually could balloon to $100 million a year – money, she argued, needed for Arizona to meet its needs for everything from education to the problems of the homeless.
This argument, however, did not convince Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear.
“There are always needs,’’ she said. “We certainly could spend every dollar here.’’
But Osborne said it is the job of lawmakers to achieve “balance.’’
“And this balance also goes towards the taxpayers,’’ she said.
Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who crafted the legislation, brushed aside concerns cutting tax rates will eat into needed state revenues.
“Broad-based tax cuts and just cutting red tape, in general, will lead to more revenue for everyone,’’ he said. “We’ve seen it happen in spite of the fact some strongly wish it was not true.’’
The legislative staff analysis of the measure does not spell out how much individuals will actually see in tax relief.
Current law has four income tax brackets, ranging from 2.59% for taxable income up to $26,500 a year for individuals – double for married couples filing jointly – to 4.5% on income exceeding $159,000.
The legislation would drop all the rates slightly, with a new minimum of 2.53% and a new maximum of 4.45%.
Figuring out what it means is a bit more difficult.
A single person with a $25,000 taxable income now owes $648 in state income taxes using the current table. Everything else being equal, the legislation would shrink it to $633.
Someone at the $50,000 level would see the tax bill decline by about $30 to $1,441.
And individuals with $200,000 in taxable income would find they owe $6,710, down from $7,836.
What the committee approved is only part of what some Republicans are proposing to cut taxes.
Gov. Doug Ducey wants to eliminate all state income taxes for retired military. This has a $43 million price tag.
And Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has a package which also includes reducing business property taxes.
Part of the reason the state has money some want to translate into tax cuts is a pair of actions last year effectively raised taxes.
One was “conforming’’ Arizona’s income tax structure to changes in the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
It eliminated many available deductions, replacing them with a higher standard deduction. But even with Arizona increasing its own standard deduction at least some people still ended up paying more because of those lost deductions.
The other was the decision by lawmakers to begin taxing online sales following a U.S. Supreme Court decision said states are free to levy their taxes on all sales made into the state, regardless of the source.
Previously, anything ordered from out-of-state retailers who had no physical presence in Arizona, like a retail store or distribution center, was exempt.
This tax took effect in October, on retailers making at least $200,000 in direct sales in Arizona.
Lawmakers built about $85 million into the budget for the current fiscal year running through June 30.
But legislative staffers say the actual impact will be $70 million more. And it doesn’t count another $150 million going to local governments for their own sales taxes.
Epstein, however, said it’s wrong to see the additional revenues as excess revenues.
“It is not a surplus when we look at the needs of the state,’’ she said. “The needs of the state far outweigh any revenue we have.’’
At least part of, Epstein said, is education.
“Our classes are so overcrowded,’’ she said.
“And our teachers, we have shortage of them everywhere.’’