States act on tax reform

By Grover G. Norquist and Mark Green
April 1, 2014

The United States needs tax reform — and soon. Our corporate tax rate is 35 percent, while the European average is 25 percent. We are not competitive. Our individual tax code has rates too high and too many politically driven tax credits and deductions. All true. But it’s also likely that no real tax reform will move in Washington for the next three years.

Why? Because the Democrats,who control the White House veto pen, oppose any reform that does not include at least $1 trillion in higher taxes on net and the Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, will never vote for such a tax hike.

In Washington we have three years of guaranteed gridlock ahead. But in 37 of the 50 states there is unified government — the opposite of gridlock.

Republicans have the governorship and total control of the legislature in 24 states, while Democrats hold complete political control in 13 states. This means that in many state capitols, Republicans and Democrats are able to carry out their preferred policy solutions alone. No partisan bickering. No “party of no.”

This dynamic is on display in Tennessee, one of the nation’s nine “no income tax” states. Tennessee, like other states with no income tax, has benefited greatly from its relatively hospitable tax climate.

From 2002 to 2012, the nine states with no personal income tax experienced average gross domestic product growth 39 percent greater than the nine states with the highest marginal rates. These no income tax states also outperformed the national rate of economic growth by more than 25 percent over the past decade.

Taxpayers are voting with their feet in favor of no income tax states. Average population growth among the nine no-tax states over the last decade was 149 percent higher than in the nine highest income tax states.

Yet as much as Tennessee benefits economically and from a marketing standpoint to be among the nine no income tax states, an asterisk should be placed next to its name on that list. For it taxes investment income.

Known as the Hall Tax (for Frank Hall, the state senator who championed it in 1929), Tennessee imposes a 6 percent tax on income earned from dividends and interest. During a recent news conference at the state capitol in Nashville, though, lawmakers unveiled a consensus bill that would phase out the Hall Tax over a six-year period.

Opponents may portray this as a tax cut for “the rich.” But the majority of Tennessee residents who receive dividend income (more than 57 percent) are from households making less than $75,000 annually, according to IRS data. Forty percent of Tennessee dividend earners make less than $50,000.

States are using tax policy more aggressively to compete for investment, businesses, people and the jobs they create. Money and people are moving from high tax states to low tax states. Travis Brown, the author of How Money Walks, analyzed Internal Revenue Service data and found that nearly $2 trillion in income and 43 million Americans have migrated between states over the past decade.Tennessee can no longer hang its hat on what has historically been a relatively low tax burden. Other states are moving down the Laffer Curve.

Consider North Carolina. After the Republican legislature’s pro-growth tax overhaul, the Tar Heel State can now boast a lower tax rate on dividends and interest. Besides beautiful beaches, North Carolina now has another major advantage over Tennessee, its neighbor to the east, when it comes to attracting retirees who live off investment income.

Other states — including Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Louisiana, Arizona, even no income tax Florida — are moving to reduce taxes further.

So Tennessee legislators, rather than rest on their laurels and watch other states catch up, should step on the fiscal gas pedal and make the state even more competitive.

If Tennessee did away with its tax on investment income, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, the state would go from having the nation’s 15th best business tax climate to the 11th.

Tennessee needs to begin phasing out the Hall Tax this year. The revenue it generates amounts to 1.3 percent of Tennessee’s $11.8 billion general fund and 0.9 percent of total state and local revenue collections. It does far more economic harm than it’s worth.

Tennessee took a big step toward being as competitive as possible when state lawmakers voted to phase out the state death tax in 2012. The Hall Tax is now the main obstacle left in the state tax code preventing Tennessee from reaching its full economic potential. It’s time for legislators in Nashville to begin removing that obstacle in 2014.


PHOTO (TOP): A car passes a sign advertising tax return services in Falls Church, Virginia, April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

PHOTO (INSERT): Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. Credit:

PHOTO (INSERT): North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory during the Economic Development and Commerce Committee meeting at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, February 22, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Theile


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Grover, we do know you only help the rich to enslave the poor. You should stick to bashing the DFL and Obama. Everyone hates all politicians, so you’ll get a few sympathetic listeners. However, when you tells us what you really want to do you sound very childish. By the way, who the hell are you? Seems to me your a creation of the right wing media and have never done a real thing in your life. Defending the rich from the poor, what a great american. That has to be a really tough stance to take, and I’ll bet it has resulted in many a personal hardship.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Grover, you are behind the times. If tax rates mattered to companies on where they located……

Apple would be located in Nardville, Oklahoma. Instead of the Silicon Valley in California. Amazon would have located in some tumbleweed warehouse in Wyoming.

But companies want smart people (who actually study science instead of fear it), they want a place to play golf and they want good infrastructure and good-looking women around.

A good accountant can fix taxes. She can’t fix bass-ackwards.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Once you give the rich everything they ask for and the economy is still tanked with no job growth..Then who are you going to blame for the state of the economy then…If things dont change then the voters will see what your true motives are and vote accordingly next election.

Posted by akita96th | Report as abusive

as a college graduate and being involved in an industry that requires precise calculations…I can’t do my own taxes. The amount of verbose gibberish that is involved reaches levels of absurdity. Will this ever be corrected…..not if the Lobbies can help it.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

He cites a key statistic on Households. Naturally, he did not break that number down appropriately.

If he could kindly instead cite what % of dividend income in the state goes to those below $75k in income, and what number goes to those above, I think you will see a rather stunning reversal in exactly who is receiving how much in dividend income, and thus who would benefit the most from this tax.


Posted by REDruin | Report as abusive

Those of us who work pay check to pay check we pay taxes on our weekly wages..The rich on the other have lobbied law makers to establish that dividend and investment income is not really income there for should only be taxed at 15% couple that with all kinds of tax breaks they receive…Now im supposed to feel sorry if they have to pay some more taxes…NOOO! Just like they dont care about us having any income at all.

Posted by akita96th | Report as abusive

Grover can’t write his own opinions without the help of a co-writer. Now what does that say about his intelligence? Not much…

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

The premise seems to be that the only way to attract business investment and immigrants is by cutting tax rates relative to other states. That’s a zero sum strategy, with no new prosperity being created across the Nation — only a shuffling around of capital. Imagine how much more we would benefit if states stopped fiddling with their tax rates and invested in schools, colleges, and public health.

Posted by radt0005 | Report as abusive

What is missing here is investment in infrastructure, education and job training, and quality of life.

With low taxes, I would like to know more about the conditions of the roads, water and sewer lines, public services, internet service, parks and recreation, achievement rates, and air, soil, and water quality.

I need more information.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

A lot of you missed one of the things he discussed and that is the retirement dollar. IRAs today are taxed at an investment rate. He ios trying to lure the retirees to his state by removing the state tax on investment. As the Baby Boomers age and retire they do not necessarily stay where they retire. Many want to maximize their retirement funds by moving to states with lower taxes. As this is a very large bulge in the population it also represents a very large chunk of mobile funds. Not many people I know are jumping to retire to a high tax environment.

Posted by rlm328 | Report as abusive

As a retiree I am not looking for a state with the best tax advantage.

As a retiree I am seeking a quality of life provided by a locale and how that government is bettering civilization to do that.

As an active retiree I still bike, hike, camp, travel, museums, theatre, etc.

I demand the purest water, air , and soil.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

I am assuming you are a gov’t retiree who does not have a significant portion of their retirement funds in IRAs. I will be retiring in 5 years or less. States like California, or New York will not be at the top of my list for relocation. States like South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas will be.

Posted by rlm328 | Report as abusive


You should not make assumptions.

Though retired, I am an entrepreneur who remains active with his own small business in the energy field, I own investment properties, and posses Roth, Traditional, and Self Directed IRA’s

As a unselfish capitalist I believe in making a better civilization through government that protects our capitalist structure.

The states you named do have the lowest standard of living. That is your choice.

I see them as cheap dates.

Texas is highlighted by conservatives for its business friendly tax incentives.

However it has some of the worst roads in the nation, one of the highest poverty rates, low educational achievement rates, highest number of health uninsured, etc.

My best wishes to you in South Carolina, Arkansas, or Texas.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

Haiti has low corporate taxes. Some of the lowest in the world. I don’t see a lot of corporations scrambling off to Haiti.

Now why would that be? Under Grover-math, the place should be chock-full of multi-billion dollar corporations. Could Grover-math be wrong? Is it possible that reality does not conform to his predictions?

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

You are correct I should not have assumed. Since you are much more altruistic than I am and an unselfish capitalist, did you give the IRS more than what was required last year? They take unsolicited donations. Which energy field is your small business in? Did you take all of the allotted tax breaks that were allowed?

Texas has one of the highest in uninsured as it also has the highest illegal alien population, it also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. The Hill Country is some of the scenic areas in the nation. I do not know which part of Texas you were driving in but the roads there are no worse than any where else, as most of the funds to pay for the national highway system come from the federal gas tax. People must find something they like about it. It is #2 by population growth.

Arkansas is known for its clean water and fresh air. One of the best trout rivers in the country, the White River is located there.

South Carolina is famous for its beaches and mountains, as well as lovely cities. They have beautiful forests there. #14th by population growth.

You need to define standard of living to me. As it means different things to different people.

Posted by rlm328 | Report as abusive

I think it is great that hoards of people want to retire in the South, and actually find the greater Austin area
‘scenic.’ It keeps them out of Idaho. My only hope is that we can raise the taxes here and keep all the whiners in dixie.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive