For over a year, the Club has been urging policymakers to address the looming tax conformity crisis. After the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in Congress in 2017, it was realized that Arizona taxpayers could pay as much as $300 million more in FY2020 as a result of how Arizona conforms with the Federal tax code. It was never intended that federal tax reform would result in higher state income taxes, and is why a conform and reform plan must be adopted to stop the tax increase.
Yet with tax season now upon us, the legislature and Governor Ducey have still not agreed on a plan. Instead, there have been overtures on identifying ways to justify keeping the windfall, including spending on new programs or sticking the money into the ‘rainy day’ fund. Make no mistake, any plan that does not include returning the money to taxpayers is a tax increase and should be rejected.
With time running out, crafting a conform and reform plan should be at the top of the legislative to-do list. Senator J.D. Mesnard (LD 17) has consistently shown leadership on the issue, and has introduced legislation that would conform Arizona with the federal tax code while forestalling the tax increase.
Under Mesnard’s SB 1143, each income tax bracket would be reduced by 0.11 percent for the 2018 tax year, a rate cut that would hold taxpayers harmless in the short term while not disrupting the filing process currently underway. This would also give lawmakers some additional time to consider a more robust conform and reform plan, similar to what has been adopted in states such as Idaho, Georgia or Utah. The Club believes that conformity provides a great opportunity to improve and simplify Arizona’s tax code, but if an agreement cannot be reached on a reform package, returning the money to taxpayers is still better than any plan to keep it.
Following the implementation of a new higher-than-expected VLT fee, trust is thin with Arizona taxpayers. The Legislature needs to rally around a conform and reform solution and not try to sneak another tax increase through the back door.