The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
The Senate may soon send that retroactive tax-break bill to the President. The House passed it last week, and the Senate is expected to take up the measure this week. The House version would revive 50+ expired tax breaks only through the end of 2014. Tax Analysts reports that Dave Reichert, the incoming chair of the Ways & Means Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee, expects the new Congress either to take up a longer-lasting “extenders” bill next year, or consider the tax breaks as part of comprehensive tax reform. Republican members of the Ways & Means panel plan to caucus on tax reform early in 2015.
Also on the agenda this week: Funding the government. Federal agencies run out of money on Thursday. Lawmakers are expected to pass a spending measure this week to keep the government open. Will they fund all agencies through next September or set up a battle in the spring over immigration by funding the Department of Homeland Security for only a few months?
The federal gas tax: Will something that hasn’t been touched in 20 years finally be touched? The Atlantic examines its history and prospects. President Obama notes that “There’s a reason it hasn’t changed:” Namely, politics. But others, like representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Tom Petri (R-WI), think a gas tax hike’s time has come. They’d raise the levy by 15 cents over three years, indexed to inflation, and call it the perfect solution to the chronic crisis of the Highway Trust Fund—currently funded only through next May. Will their colleagues agree? In the case of the Trust Fund, that’s the $10.8 billion question. If you’re looking for a tell before placing your bets, it might be worth noting that Petri is retiring from Congress.
In California, will a mileage tax pass the privacy and fairness test? The Golden State faces a $6.2 billion road funding budget gap. A mileage tax, based on the amount a person drives, might be a more effective levy than California’s 36-cent-per-gallon gas tax. In October, Governor Jerry Brown approved a pilot program to test the levy, but it may face an uphill climb. Mileage fees could be unfair to those who have a long drive to their jobs. Privacy advocates worry that technology used to track miles could just as easily be used to track locations.
In Massachusetts, revenue growth will mean a revenue shortfall. Growth in annual revenues has grown sufficiently to trigger an automatic income tax rate cut. The Bay State will have to lower the personal income tax rate from 5.2 percent to 5.15 percent beginning January 1. But as a result, revenues for the rest of the fiscal year ending June 30 are expected to fall by $70 million. Massachusetts’ total budget gap is estimated to be $329 million, out of a state budget total of $36.5 billion.
The mortgage interest deduction: Location, location, location! A new TPC brief by Benjamin Harris and Lucie Parker uses zip-code level data for a close look at the popular tax break. It’s the largest tax expenditure for home ownership, but its benefits are concentrated. Roughly half of the aggregate mortgage interest deductions are claimed by twenty percent of zip codes. Zip codes with high claiming rates tend to have a disproportionately high share of white, middle-aged, and married homeowners. Counties west of the Mississippi River and on the East Coast disproportionately benefit from it.
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