The Lowest Taxes: How to Get There

WHAT STANDS IN THE WAY ISN’T LOGIC BUT POWER

South Carolina will never truly be considered the freest state in the nation until its citizens are able to keep more of what they earn by living under a tax code that collects only what is necessary for core government agencies to function. The goal of imposing the fewest and lowest taxes in America is impeded by three main barriers: high tax rates that redistribute the earnings of South Carolinians to state government; crony-capitalist policies and practices (i.e., the practice of giving tax breaks and subsidies to some companies and not others); and excessive government spending – spending that maintains the “need” for more tax collection.

Here, we will focus on one of these barriers – the tax code, and in particular the personal income tax, sales tax, and corporate income tax. And we’ll propose ways to tear those barriers down, moving us closer to the goal of having the lowest taxes in the nation.

1: personal income tax

What’s the barrier? Despite the claims of some lawmakers, South Carolina’s taxes, including its personal income tax, are high. At 7 percent, South Carolina’s marginal personal income tax rate is now the highest in the Southeast (thanks to North Carolina recent tax cuts) and is the 13th highest in the nation – higher than some “high tax states” like Massachusetts. Moreover, this 7 percent rate kicks in on incomes just above $14,000, meaning South Carolinians barely above the federal poverty line are paying the highest marginal rate. Because of this high rate and low threshold, South Carolina has the highest marginal tax rate on the lowest level of taxable income in the Southeast, and third in the nation.

How to remove it? Sometimes – scratch that: most times – the best solution is the simplest solution. While following the Department of Commerce’s recommendations to lower the tax rates, tying the income thresholds to inflation, and cutting down on exemptions would provide some tax relief, the best – and simplest – solution would be to just eliminate the personal income tax altogether. Seven states already have no personal income tax: such a policy change could hardly be called “extreme.” In a recent Tax Foundation study on state business tax climates, the top five-ranked states didn’t have a personal income tax. South Carolina, on the other hand, was ranked 37th.

2: sales tax

What’s the barrier? At 6 percent, South Carolina has the 16th highest sales tax rate in the nation. Five states in the country don’t collect sales tax and those states have lower income tax rates than South Carolina. Further, the state allows localities to levy an additional 1 percent tax (the so-called Local Option Sales Tax that over30 counties use) in addition to the state’s 6 percent, which puts the average local tax rate in South Carolina at 7.14 percent. The additional tax has to be approved by voters. In addition to this local sales tax, some localities also levy a “hospitality tax” (Richland County, for example, tacks on additional 2 percent). Finally, the sales tax code is riddled with so many exemptions that the state actually exempts more in sales tax than it collects.

How to remove it. The answer here is simple enough: remove exemptions and lower the sales tax rate. A fallacy perpetuated by many elected officials holds that eliminating tax exemptions would drastically raise taxes on citizens. This fails to consider the fact that with exemptions removed, the rate can be lowered significantly and still maintain enough funding for core government services – and can be lowered even further if there is revenue left over after these services are funded.

3: corporate income tax

What’s the barrier? South Carolina has a corporate income tax rate of 5 percent, which is higher than the rates of 13 states, including the three states that have no corporate income tax, and takes nearly $250 million out of the private economy each year. This is just the base rate for most companies: some companies have a lower rate and many industries and specific companies get special lower rates through credits and deductions. This gives certain companies an unfair leg up over others and sends false price signals to the economy.

How to remove it. The solution to overcoming the corporate income tax barriers is simple and essentially kills two birds with one stone: Eliminate the tax altogether. Doing so would a) solve the problem of having a burdensome corporate income tax and b) create equality of opportunity for all industries and companies by giving them all the same flat tax rate of “zero” percent.

4: unaccountable, lawmaker-controlled government

The underlying barrier to most, if not all, economic freedom-based reforms is the fact that South Carolina’s government is not run by the governor, and certainly not its citizens and taxpayers. It’s run by a few powerful, largely unaccountable legislators who have more incentive to maintain the status quo in keeping more money and power among themselves and their cronies instead of focusing on the proper role of government and putting more money back into the pockets of its citizens and letting them live freer lives.

We have laid out 8 simple reformsthat would lead to a truly citizen-controlled government. Reaching the goal of imposing fewer and lower taxes than any other state simply won’t happen unless those reforms are achieved first. Consider a case study: eliminating the corporate income tax.

is it constitutional?

The American founders would almost certainly consider the income tax inherently unjust – a form of improper confiscation. The U.S. didn’t even have a permanent income taxuntil the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913. And even though the modern Supreme Court often seems to care very little what the founders thought, the fact that other states are already doing what’s proposed here should be enough to show that even the most “progressive” courts would uphold these reforms.

what happens next?

What will life be like after these barriers are removed and South Carolina has the lowest tax rates in the nation?

To begin with, citizens will have more of their own money in their pockets. With no state personal income tax, you’ll be able to keep hundreds or thousands of dollars of your earnings each year that would have otherwise gone to  state government; a lower sales tax rate would mean fewer dollars coming out of your purcheses, and thus more money to make transactions of your choosing. And the abolition of the corporate income tax would mean a higher capacity for businesses – small and large alike – to create more jobs and/or raise the salaries of employees. Further, the elimination of the corporate income tax would take politicians and the governor out of the business of “job creation.” That would mean fewer press conferences and news releases, but it would mean more jobs, too.

Knocking down the tax code barriers will be nearly impossible, however, until citizens force lawmakers to end a political system based on secrecy and the concentration of power.

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