New research funded by the Russell Sage Foundation sheds important light on the impact of economic downturns on state tax revenues. In 2007, on the eve of the recession, 49 percent of state tax revenues came from consumption taxes, and 32 percent from income taxes. Conventional wisdom has held that since consumption is more likely to remain stable than income during economic recessions, revenue from consumption taxes will similarly be less volatile than revenue from income taxes. But a new report by Howard Chernick, Cordelia Reimers, and Jennifer Tennant makes a strong case against the claim that progressive income taxes increase revenue volatility. In their abstract, the authors state:
The Great Recession had the most severe impact on state tax revenues of any downturn since the Great Depression. We hypothesize that states with more progressive tax structures are more vulnerable to economic downturns, and that progressivity and income volatility may interact to amplify the recession’s fiscal impact. We find that, while potential revenue exposure is greater in more progressive states, the most important source of variation was differences in income concentration and capital gains shares in the top 5 percent of taxpayers. Though the interaction between income volatility and high tax burdens at the top did produce large decreases in tax revenue in a few states, tax progressivity accounted for little of the overall interstate variation in revenue volatility.
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