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ALEC Releases 2012 Rich States, Poor States Report

Leonard Gilroy
April 11, 2012, 2:31pm

Today, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released the fifth edition of its annual Rich States, Poor States report, authored by Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore and ALEC's Jonathan Williams. As with previous editions, this helpful report provides a current snapshot of state economic conditions, offers some worthy primers on tax policy/research issues, and ranks the states along an index that includes such metrics as income tax rates, property and sales tax burdens, recently enacted tax policy changes, debt service as a share of tax revenue, public employees per 1,000 residents and more.

From the executive summary:

In chapter 1, the authors lay the groundwork for understanding what states must do in order to increase growth and become prosperous. First, they set the stage by identifying the biggest winners and losers in the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index over the past five years. From there, Messrs. Laffer, Moore, and Williams provide a lesson in economics 101, discussing the merits of supply-side economics, the theory of incentives, and the evidence behind taxpayers voting with their feet—very strongly against high taxes. Finally, this chapter highlights the best policies of the states, from pension reform, to closing budget gaps, to pro-business tax reform, and everything in between. Readers should be on the lookout for Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri, where the personal income tax may soon become a thing of the past.

Chapter 2 evaluates the influence several policy variables have on state economies. The authors begin with the personal and corporate income taxes, comparing the states with the highest tax rates to the states with the lowest, or in some cases zero, tax rates. The results speak for themselves. The no income tax states outperform their high tax counterparts across the board in gross state product growth, population growth, job growth, and, perhaps shockingly, even tax receipt growth. This chapter allows readers to see the data and decide which policies they think have the greatest effect on state economies.

In chapter 3, the authors delve into one of the most anti-growth tax policies: The unpopular and economically damaging “death tax.” From what not to do to where not to die, the authors combine anecdotal evidence with the data to show why the death tax is one of the worst possible taxes for state economies. Less than half the states impose death taxes, and that number is quickly dwindling. Ohio and Indiana are leading the effort to eliminate these growth killing taxes, and we expect others to soon follow in their footsteps.

Finally, chapter 4 is the much anticipated 2012 ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index. The first measure, the Economic Performance Rank, is a historical measure based on a state’s income per capita, absolute domestic migration, and non-farm payroll employment—each of which is highly influenced by state policy. This ranking details states’ individual performances over the past 10 years based on the economic data.

The second measure, the Economic Outlook Rank, is a forecast based on a state’s current standing in 15 equally weighted policy variables, each of which is influenced directly by state lawmakers through the legislative process. In general, states that spend less, especially on transfer programs, and states that tax less, particularly on productive activities such as working or investing, experience higher growth rates than states that tax and spend more.

In this year's edition, the top 10 states in the Economic Outlook rankings were (from 1 to 10, in order): Utah, South Dakota, Virginia, Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and Georgia. Rounding out the bottom of the list were (from 41-50, in order): Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine, Illinois, Vermont and New York.

For the Economic Performance rankings, the top 10 performing states were (in order from 1 to 10): Wyoming, Texas, Montana, North Dakota, Alaska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Virginia, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The bottom 10 performing states were (from 41 to 50): Minnesota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Indiana, California, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.

Another interesting component of the 2012 report is the intro feature outlining the "10 Golden Rules of Effective Taxation," a reality check of sorts for how tax policy works in real life (not the fantasy world in which the "Buffett rule," for example, is touted as some realistic fiscal solution). Here are the 10 rules, which the report discusses in detail:

  1. When you tax something more you get less of it, and when you tax something less you get more of it.
  2. Individuals work and produce goods and services to earn money for present or future consumption.
  3. Taxes create a wedge between the cost of working and the rewards from working.
  4. An increase in tax rates will not lead to a dollar-for-dollar increase in tax revenues, and a reduction in tax rates that encourages production will lead to less than a dollar-for-dollar reduction in tax revenues.
  5. If tax rates become too high, they may lead to a reduction in tax receipts. The relationship between tax rates and tax receipts has been described by the Laffer Curve.
  6. The more mobile the factors being taxed, the larger the response to a change in tax rates. The less mobile the factor, the smaller the change in the tax base for a given change in tax rates.
  7. Raising tax rates on one source of revenue may reduce the tax revenue from other sources, while reducing the tax rate on one activity may raise the taxes raised from other activities.
  8. An economically efficient tax system has a sensible, broad base and a low rate.
  9. Income transfer (welfare) payments also create a de facto tax on work and, thus, have a high impact on the vitality of a state’s economy.
  10. If A and B are two locations, and if taxes are raised in B and lowered in A, producers and manufacturers will have a greater incentive to move from B to A.

There's a ton worth checking out in this report, including features on the estate tax and a detailed performance comparison for high-vs.-low tax states that merit a thorough read. The full report is available here.


Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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