The report begins with the premise that tax reform ought to remove faults and defects that impede our prosperity. Given that premise, three major faults and defects now exist with New Mexico’s tax system. The report documents these three faults and defects and assesses where we are now in correcting them.
Problem One: Excessive Government Spending
The first major fault and defect is overspending. Spending drives the need for tax revenue. Since spending to too high, taxes are too high. The report documents specifically how smaller, less intrusive government will increase prosperity.
The bias toward excessive spending is likely to undermine the only growth-oriented piece of legislation yet passed-the five-year phase-in of reductions in income tax rates. Without fiscal discipline, it is all but inevitable that these cuts will be rescinded; or they will be replaced by other tax increases.
One way to control spending is to constitutionally prevent the legislature from excessive spending. New Mexico should copy the good limits that Colorado enacted over 10 years ago.
Problem Two: Gross Receipts Tax on Services
The second major fault and defect is our gross receipts tax. The main problem is that New Mexico taxes services and other states do not, putting service producing businesses at a gross disadvantage compared to other states. Goods producing businesses are also harmed by this tax, since many of them must procure taxed services (legal, accounting, roof repair and so on) as part of their business activity. These taxes raise their costs compared to comparable businesses in other states. Many adjust away from New Mexico as a result.
We have many options to improve the gross receipts tax situation. We can reduce the overall statewide rate of tax. Or we can reduce the rate of tax on services. Either option would greatly improve New Mexico’s economy by making our tax structure much more friendly compared to other states.
Problem Three: Ineffectiveness of Welfare Programs
The third fault and defect is the wishful thinking that our tax-transfer programs actually help the poor. The reality is that these programs are counterproductive. Our welfare system is an abomination. While the overall tax-transfer system is progressive, the poor actually suffer from effective marginal tax rates of 50 percent on earned income. The report clearly documents that in its assessment of the bigger picture of federal and state tax and transfer programs in toto. In fact, perhaps the biggest contribution of the report is that it brings overall welfare incentives into the light of day.
Since incentives faced by the poor are all wrong and conventional wisdom about taxes and transfers is all wrong, the usual proposals purported to help the poor (higher taxes on the “rich” to fund additional transfers to the “poor”) amount to wishful thinking. What we need to do is lower effective tax margins at all levels of earned income. Medicaid reform would be a good place to start.
Prospects for Reform Now Are Dim
Unfortunately we now seem poised to make things worse under the guise of “reform.” Rather than providing for “maximum economic development benefits,” which was the charter of the recent “Blue Ribbon Tax Reform Commission,” most of the “reform” proposals will do just the opposite. Moreover, nothing is being done to address the three problems documented in this report “Tax reform” has become code for net tax increases.
We need to change our mindset about the proper scope and funding of government in New Mexico. Until we do, we will continue to be ranked near the bottom for everything good and near the top for everything bad.
Click here to download the entire report in PDF format.