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Analysis: Arizona's richest benefit most in new tax plan

Analysis: Arizona's richest benefit most in new tax plan

  • Updated

PHOENIX — The top 1% of Arizonans will get more than half of the $1.5 billion in permanent tax cuts being pushed by Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican legislators, an analysis shows.

At the other extreme, the study prepared by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy figures those earning less than $108,000 a year — meaning about 80% of all Arizonans — will be getting just 7% of the cash the state wants to permanently forego in its plan to create a flat income tax and help the richest Arizonans avoid the full impact of a voter-approved measure requiring them to pay more to help fund K-12 education.

The analysis comes as the public got its first look Monday at not just the tax cuts, but the $12.8 billion spending plan that was crafted behind closed doors.

Some of the details already were known, ranging from additional cash to give pay raises to Department of Public Safety officers and civilian staff to increasing funding for gifted and special needs students.

But the spending package also contains a laundry list of some major policy changes that were never approved on their own. Instead, they are being put into a take-it-or-leave it collection of budget bills, including:

Prohibiting state universities from requiring students or staff to show they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Dismissing charges of driving without license plates if the person gets them before a court date.

Allowing corporations to divert more of what they would owe in state income taxes to provide scholarships for students to attend private and parochial schools.

And no detail is too small: It even includes a list of which roads — and between which mile markers — the state will spend money to improve payment.

The massive — and permanent — cut in state revenues is the central premise of the budget package.

That plan creates a single 2.5% income tax rate for everyone. Now rates range from 2.59% for those at the bottom — meaning a married couple earning up to $53,000 a year — to 4.5% for those at the top, like a couple with $318,000 in taxable income.

The plan effectively creates a 1% tax rate for the richest, meaning couples making more than $500,000 a year. That’s because it sets their maximum tax rate at 4.5%. And that includes the 3.5% surcharge on their incomes above that point, a voter-approved tax the legislature cannot repeal.

Legislative Democrats contend any excess should be funneled into needs like universities, K-12 education and even fixing state roads. Still, with the state having more money than it needs, there is a push to return at least some of that to taxpayers.

David Lujan, director of the progressive-leaning Arizona Center for Economic Progress, said if that’s going to happen the state should look at one-time rebates. He said the volatility of the economy — the state began the current fiscal year $1 billion in the hole — makes taking that much out of the revenue stream ill advised.

But for many Arizonans, the question will be who benefits.

Even gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin said that about 60% of the tax cut would flow to the bottom 95% of the taxpayers, meaning the top 5% will divide up the other 40%. And he claimed that the bottom 20% of taxpayers receive the same relative tax cut as the top 1%.

Karamargin, however, offered no supporting documentation.

“You have our statement,” he said when asked for figures to support his claim. “Our statement speaks for itself.”

By contrast, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, using data from the Department of Revenue, paints a different picture than Karamargin.

It figures the bottom 20% of taxpayers — those with incomes of less than $21,000 a year — will see a tax break of just $1. And for those in the second lowest 20%, meaning up to $40,000, ITEP figures a $7 tax cut.

The real money starts in the $64,000 to $108,000 range. There, ITEP figures the average tax cut would be $146. By contrast, Karamargin said a family of four making $100,000 a year would get an extra $338 a year to spend, a claim made without supporting data.

By definition, the people who pay the most are the ones, because they owe the most, who benefit the most from that flat 2.5% rate and the 4.5% total cap with any surcharge. But the ITEP study suggests they’re getting more than their fair share.

For example, it figures that those in the $40,000 to $64,000 income range will get a tax break of $66, equal to 0.1% of their income.

The 4% of Arizonans earning from $224,000 to $512,000 a year will see an average $2,644 tax break equal to 0.8% of their income. And ITEP figures those above that — the top 1% — will get an average break of nearly $26,000, or 1.8% of their income.

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