It’s not every day that an innovative tax reform proposal also results in exposing one of the biggest political lies of the year. Yet that is exactly what has happened with the introduction of Senate Bill 1783, legislation introduced by State Senator Javan Mesnard.
Geared toward promoting small business growth and investment, SB 1783 would establish an optional, alternative small business tax code in Arizona. Under this proposal, policymakers would be able to craft and develop a tax code tailored specifically for small business owners, with an eye at setting competitive, pro-small business tax rates.
Exploring tax reform geared toward small business makes a lot of sense, especially since Arizona recently joined the ranks of other uncompetitive high tax states. Arizona currently has the 9th highest small business income tax rate, 11th highest state sales tax and 20th highest business property tax in the nation.
The ability to craft a pro-business tax code is reason enough to support SB 1783, but it turns out the legislation would have another consequence. If enacted, small businesses that elect to use this new system would also not be required to pay the income tax surcharge that was included in Proposition 208.
As a result, supporters of Proposition 208 have come out in force against the bill, claiming that SB 1783 would be an “end-run” around the initiative. This was a somewhat surprising position for them to take, especially since it completely undermines what they sold voters when Prop 208 was on the ballot.
Make no mistake, the backers of Proposition 208 were unequivocal in their position that the measure would NOT tax small business. In the official AZ Publicity Pamphlet issued to every voter in the state prior to the election, the Invest in Ed campaign stated in their ballot argument that the amount owed by small businesses under 208 would be “zero, nothing. The measure ONLY applies to personal income, not business income. This is worth repeating: There are no business-tax increases. The surcharge only applies to personal income.”
The drafters of the measure were just as emphatic, proclaiming in debates and in speeches that it was “legally impossible for any business to be taxed under Prop 208.” Any concerns that small business would be harmed by the 208 surcharge were dismissed as inaccurate fearmongering.
Now that the Joint Legislative Budget Council’s (JLBC) fiscal note has shown that, in fact, Prop 208 could potentially be a massive tax increase on small business, Prop 208 proponents are trying to figure out a way to oppose SB 1783 while still claiming that small business would not be taxed.
One of the most interesting takes has been to proclaim that Prop 208 was never really a tax on small business, it only taxes the profits from small business. Now, these types of arguments might sound okay inside the walls of a think tank, but go try and tell a small business owner that the revenue generated from their small business isn’t really from their small business. In the real world, everyone knows that income from a business is, in fact, from a business.
Unable to directly address their previous statements without acknowledging their duplicity, opponents of SB 1783 are left making general statements about how this bill is “thwarting the will of voters.” We would contend the opposite: SB 1783 honors the will of the voters by ensuring that the promises made by the supporters of Prop 208 are kept.
Fundamentally, the purpose of SB 1783 is to craft an innovative tax code designed to attract and promote small business growth in the state. Lawmakers should support the legislation for this reason alone.
But if SB 1783 provides an opportunity to reinstall trust with voters by protecting small businesses from deceptive tax increases, then even more reason this bill needs to pass.