"The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax," Albert Einstein once complained to his accountant. Non-geniuses scrambling to meet next weeks Tax Day deadline would surely agree. As if the federal income tax werent complicated enough all by itself, New York forces its workers and business owners to navigate an increasingly byzantine state income tax code that only a professional tax preparer (or tax-prep software company) could love.
The states IT-201 Resident Personal Income Tax form now takes up four pages -- twice as many as its federal counterpart, the 1040. That doesnt include the additional forms necessary to claim most of the states three dozen income tax credits. New Yorks annual Tax Expenditure Report, a 223-page compendium of the money effectively "spent" on state tax breaks, needs 37 pages to explain the myriad deductions, credits and preferences available under the personal income tax alone.
While tax compliance in New York is a time-consuming nuisance, the burden of income taxes threatens to become a serious drag on our long-term economic competitiveness. In the wake of Decembers vote by the State Legislature to extend a modified version of the "millionaires tax" first enacted in 2009, New Yorks top rate of 8.82 percent is the eighth highest in the country. Among our peer states, only New Jersey (barely) and California impose higher income taxes on their wealthiest residents. The 12.7 percent combined state and local top rate for residents of New York City is the highest anywhere in the country.
What Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo described as "the first major restructuring of the tax code in decades" was, in reality, a straightforward tax hike of $1.9 billion accomplished through a series of temporary adjustments to existing tax brackets and rates, leaving the structure of the code intact.
Compared to the rates scheduled under permanent law, the December tax bill temporarily raised taxes by $2.6 billion a year for taxpayers with incomes above $1 million (and married filers with incomes above $2 million), while redistributing $690 million of the proceeds in the form of temporary tax breaks for the middle class. At least these changes are set to expire at the end of 2014.
If there was a silver lining to Decembers makeshift tax package, it was the governors promise to create a 13-member commission to "examine a comprehensive overhaul of the states entire tax code," as described in a joint press release with legislative leaders. This could be an opportunity to identify ways of making the state tax code simpler, more efficient and more competitive.
But five months later, Cuomo still hasnt gotten around to appointing the panel.
Meanwhile, the federal tax code is in flux. With the Bush tax cuts due to expire at the end of this year, the question is not whether federal tax changes are coming, but whose tax policy priorities will prevail after the November elections.
President Barack Obama is pushing higher taxes on the wealthy, including further restrictions on the itemized deductions they can claim for taxes paid to state and local governments. Likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, echoing congressional Republicans, says he wants "lower and flatter rates on a broader tax base," which would imply a scaling back of existing deductions.
No matter who controls the White House and Congress next year, the federal government seems likely to curtail -- if not eliminate -- the state and local tax deduction, through which the federal tax code has effectively subsidized the higher cost of state and local government in New York. When that happens, our state tax rates will feel a stronger tug from the laws of gravity.
Original Source: http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/mcmahon-look-out-nyers-the-taxman-cometh-1.3655626