August 4th, 2011 | Published in NJPP Blog:
By Mary E. Forsberg
In 2008, 16,000 New Jersey taxpayers earned $1 million or more. That’s more than in any year before or since 2001 with only one exception – the boom year 2006. In that year, 18,400 New Jersey taxpayers earned more than $1 million. In the following year, only 15,900 taxpayers earned more than $1 million but their average income was $3.5 million, the highest average in any year to date. The numbers tell many stories. Did 2,400 high income people leave New Jersey between 2006 and 2008? Or was their income simply subject to the vagaries of Wall Street and the economy?
Anecdotes abound: So-and-so has a house in New Jersey and one in Florida and decided to call Florida his residence to avoid paying any state income tax (Florida has none). No one knows how often this happens.
Some things, however, are known.
According to data compiled over more than 20 years by the Internal Revenue Service, the average household income of those who move to New Jersey from other states is higher than that of households leaving New Jersey for other states.
Three states (New York, Pennsylvania and Florida) consistently account for the highest number of households moving into and out of New Jersey from elsewhere in the United States.
IRS data analyzed by NJPP in 2003 found no correlation between tax increases or cuts and movement into or out of New Jersey. It was not uncommon for the number of people coming to New Jersey the year after an income tax increase to exceed the number leaving or for the number leaving the year after a tax cut to exceed the number coming in. Further, in most years it was the case that both the number coming and leaving rose and fell in tandem.
A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Tax Flight is a Myth: Higher State Taxes Bring More Revenue, Not More Migration,” provides an up-to-date rigorous examination of the unproven claims that tax hikes drive large numbers of households – particularly the most affluent – to other states. It concludes the following:
• Migration is not common. Just 1.7 percent of U.S. residents per year moved from one state to another between 2001 and 2010.
• The migration that is occurring is more likely to be driven by cheaper housing than by lower taxes.The difference between housing costs in two different states is often many times greater than the difference in taxes.
• Recent research shows income tax increases cause little or no interstate migration. New Jersey is used as an example in two different studies examined in the report. The first, conducted by Stanford University sociologists, estimated the migration effect of New Jersey’s 2004 tax increase on filers with incomes exceeding $500,000. The authors found that net out-migration did increase for those in that income group but it also increased for those with lower incomes – and by virtually the same amount. The second report which was commissioned by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce found that most of the people included in the study who were moving from New Jersey had less than $500,000 a year in taxable income so would not have been subject to New Jersey’s highest 8.97 percent marginal tax rate. Despite this, the governor continues to claim this study as evidence of a tax-migration effect.
• Low taxes can prevent a state from maintaining the kind of high-quality public services that people value, such as good schools, mass transit, cultural facilities and recreational opportunities.
Policymakers need honest and accurate information about the implications of tax increases and tax cuts in order to address the challenging fiscal and economic circumstances that most states continue to face. State policy makers should not let false claims about taxes and migration shape their decisions.
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