Governor Rick Scott Kicks Off “Cut My Taxes Week” at Florida State Capital
Today, Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) kicked off “Cut My Taxes Week” at the Florida State Capitol. Taxpayers are being invited to bring their bills and use a tax cut calculator to see their savings under the governor’s proposed cell phone and TV tax cut.
Whether or not you’re a resident of Florida, you can use the calculator to see what kind of savings you’d experience under Gov. Scott’s proposal by clicking here.
The Florida Communication Services Tax (CST) is imposed on cell phones, cable and satellite TV, and non-residential landline phone services. While the state rate is 9.17 percent, with local taxes the average rate exceeds 14 percent and is as high as 17 percent in some areas.
Governor Scott’s proposed tax cut reduces the state portion by 3.6 percent to 5.57 percent, which equates to a potential $470 million in annual savings for taxpayers. Estimates suggest the cut will save every single Florida family around $43-$54 a year, depending on their provider and service.
Currently, Florida has the fourth highest CST rate in the country, behind Washington, Nebraska, and New York. These state, local, and federal taxes can add up to more than 22 percent of service costs, which represent a significant burden on families, especially low-income ones. Prepaid calling services are not subjected to these high discretionary tax rates, making switching more attractive.
The CST tax is not neutral as it forces consumers to alter their behaviors. Reducing it will provide financial relief to families and small businesses and may create jobs by attract more investments in telecommunications infrastructure.
Gov. Scott is so committed to this most recent set of tax cuts that he will be manning the booth at the state capitol himself today and tomorrow. Florida residents are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to calculate their savings with the governor in person.
The Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee unanimously passed a version of Scott’s tax cut. Americans for Tax Reform encourages the entire legislature to pass the CST cell phone and TV tax relief legislation.
Flashback: Governor Rick Scott has already signed over $2 billion in tax cuts into law. He also campaigned for re-election on reducing the communications tax and is a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
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Documents: California Department of Public Health Launches $75 Million Campaign to Discourage Vaping
Today, the California Department of Public Health (CADPH) kicked off a new public relations campaign aimed at discouraging consumers from using electronic cigarettes and vapor products. Documents reveal that a cost of $75 million to taxpayers, this campaign is the most recent in a long list of efforts to create negative public sentiment about vaping.
In a press release, the CADPH stated that today they were going to “premiere a series of television, digital, and outdoor ads in a new campaign called ‘Wake Up,’ as part of its educational effort to inform the public about the dangers of e-cigarettes.”
Though they do not announce the cost of the program in the press release, documents from the California Tobacco Control Program Funding Opportunities and Resources reveal the cost of this campaign: “Approximately $75 million is estimated to be available for the five-year contract period.”
A website, www.stillblowingsmoke.org is being promoted by the state. To the tune of the 1958 song by The Chordettes, one ad flashes images of young adults vaping. Another ad claims that e-cigarettes are “a new way to inhale toxic chemicals with a drug addictive as heroin.”
"The orchestrators of this campaign at the California Department of Public Health should be ashamed of themselves. For years, public health bureaucrats claimed that efforts to discourage smoking were about increasing public health. This most recent $75 million taxpayer-funded effort has further exposed the fraud of those claims by demonstrating that anti-vaping government activists care about one thing and one thing alone: money," said ATR president Grover Norquist. "Campaigns like this are clearly aimed at preventing smokers from making the transition to a much healthier alternative so that the state can continue to fund big government initiatives with cigarette tax revenue."
The original documents from the state show that a Request for a Proposal (RFP) was released in December of 2013 as RFP 14-10003. A “pre-proposal webinar” stated that at the time, the goal was to make California “America’s largest non-smoking section.” Despite the fact that vapor products don’t contain tobacco and smoke isn’t produced in their use, this proposal asked a firm to apply for available taxpayer resources for this project.
A PowerPoint at the time noted “Other Tobacco Products” like electronic cigarettes were an area of concern. One slide suggested, “Funding: Less smoking = less tax collected” with regards to smoking.
In targeting an effective smoking cessation device – vapor products – it is clear that the California Department of Public Health wants to maintain cigarette sales as an important funding source for their big spending priorities. By discouraging vaping, the state may recoup potential revenue losses that occur when a smoker transitions from unhealthy cigarette use to products proven to be 99% less harmful, but not taxed as much. In doing so, the CADPH is putting at risk thousands of lives as they promote lies about the innovative and disruptive technology products that have grown in popularity over the last 5 years.
E-cigarettes are accomplishing what social engineers never could: they’re getting people to quit smoking across all demographics. And they’re accomplishing this without taxpayer funded PR campaigns or government bans and regulations.
A joint effort by the American Vaping Association, The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, and the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association mocks CADPH’s propaganda and creates a different narrative about the product with a website of their own: www.notblowingsmoke.org. The website uses similar graphics and images, flipping the script on the CADPH.
Here is one example from a CADPH ad:
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Governor Paul LePage’s Plan for Prosperity in Maine
Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine) recently announced his plan to place on the ballot a referendum in 2016 to abolish the income tax. His proposed amendment to the Maine Constitution would eliminate the income tax for good, preventing Augusta politicians from re-implementing the income tax in the future via legislative vote.
LePage announced that he would likely set 2020 as the year the income tax repeal would go into effect. If the referendum were successful, Maine would become the tenth state to not tax income, which would help fulfill one of the promises LePage made regarding his two terms in office.
Gov. Le Page recently pitched his budget and the elimination of the income tax at a town hall forum:
“The whole purpose of my budget is to make Maine more prosperous and to give the Maine worker the largest wage increase since the 1960s,” LePage said. “This is better than any minimum wage you can talk about. This will propel the economy for decades.”
According to his new budget, he not only wants to abolish the entire state income tax - which is comprised of two brackets - but also reduce the top tax rate from 7.95 % to 5.75%. His budget also reduces top corporate tax rate from 8.93% to 6.75% while broadening and raising the state sales tax from 5.5% to 6.5%.
The Tax Foundation concluded in their State Business Climate Index, that if all of Le Page’s budget proposals were implemented, Maine would move from being ranked at 33rd to 23rd in the index.
The budget would result in more than $250 million in net tax cuts, independent of the plan to eliminate the income tax.
In 2014, Forbes ranked Maine as second worst state to do business in, something that clearly concerns Gov. LePage. The governor has worked to make the case since his first election 5 years ago that the tax code must be simpler, flatter, and encourage more economic growth. His most recent budget and his plan to place the elimination of the income tax on the ballot further demonstrates his commitment to those principles.
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ATR Supports Mid-Level Dental Reform in Texas
While the states have grappled with implementing a wide range of federal health care mandates, questions about rising costs the next steps in health care reform have lingered in Washington. Fortunately, states don't have to wait to act.
In what has been called a "big idea" for social change, a new category of mid-level dental practitioners known as "dental therapists" may hold the key for providing dental services in underserved and rural populations. Like hygienists, dental therapists work under the supervision of dentists with collaborative agreements that allow them to provide an expanded list of services to patients. Governor Paul LePage and former Governor Tim Pawlenty, both Republicans, already signed legislation permitting the creation of these mid-level practitioners in Maine and Minnesota.
Americans for Tax Reform supports this bold type of dental care reform because it, at no cost to taxpayers, stands to expand health care to underserved populations in the United States.
Two bills in Texas would tear down an unnecessary barrier created by protectionist government rules by permitting small business to hire trained "Dental Hygiene Practitioners" to aid in their dental practices. ATR president Grover Norquist recently sent a letter to members of the Texas House, Senate, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in support of Senate Bill 787 and House Bill 1940.
As Grover Norquist notes,
"Dentists who want to expand their practices to include educated and qualified mid-level practitioners should be free to do so. Innovative ideas like this have faced intense opposition but are very similar to the fights that took place decades ago with the emergence of nurse practitioners. Physicians began working and collaborating with nurses who had clinical experience to fill a void left by specialization in the medical field. Today, nurse practitioners provide equivalent or superior care to that provided by physicians. SB 787 and HB 1940 responsibly follow the nurse practitioner model for dental practices."
This is a free market health care solution that utilizes the desire and qualifications of trained professionals to provide much needed dental care to underserved populations without raising costs on taxpayers. It would be irresponsible for the state to stand in the way.
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ATR Opposes Onerous Restrictions on Vapor Market in Indiana
When the debate over electronic cigarettes and vapor products started months ago in Indiana, the Attorney General presented a misguided idea aimed at raising the cost of these innovative products. He suggested e-cigarettes be subjected to the same rate of taxation as smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products. They are currently subjected to the sales tax. As we noted at the time, this would have created an incentive for people to continue smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes instead of making the switch to a much healthier alternative.
The tax debate seems to have stalled but a more nefarious proposal has taken its place. Senate Bill 539 and its companion House Bill 1432 have both passed their respective chambers of the Indiana legislature. Americans for Tax Reform opposes these bills and recently sent a letter to Indiana lawmakers and Governor Mike Pence explaining why.
These pieces of legislation create a state-based regulatory framework for vapor product packaging and labeling, a framework that is best left to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If every state imposed its own set of guidelines for good manufacturing practices, labeling, and packaging, companies who sold products in multiple states would have a compliance nightmare on their hands, likely reducing the availability of products on the market.
Additionally, the FDA is better suited than the state to regulate and test ingredients and batches of products in this industry.
There is a more sinister motive behind the push to regulate these products that has nothing to do with protecting consumer or the general public. These regulations are being pushed by a company intent on establishing a monopoly on vapor product sales in Indiana.
The Indiana Vapor Company LLC would be set up to be the sole manufacturer of e-liquid (the product consumers use to refill their "open system" vapor products) in Indiana. Small businesses in the state could not afford the expensive security systems SB 539 and HB 1432 mandates, security systems far more complex than ones required by the federal government for tobacco companies. Indiana Vapor Company has suspicious ties to a Centaur Gaming, a company that is no stranger to the benefits of a monopoly on the market.
We urge the legislature to reject this blatant act of crony capitalism and defer to the FDA for the appropriate set of guidelines for vapor products. Any set of state-based regulations should acknowledge that when the FDA releases their minimum level of product guidelines, they will trump state laws to ensure simplicity and conformity for all companies who do business in multiple states. This will benefit consumers, who seek a wide range of available flavors and options in the vapor market in their journey to quit smoking.
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Another Massachusetts Town Goes Rogue on “Tobacco” Products
Four months ago, the town of Westminster, Massachusetts considered an outright ban on all tobacco products. The Board of Health’s proposal was so absurd that the Boston Globe said, “There are radical proposals, and then there’s Westminster’s plan to ban tobacco sales within town limits.”
The Board also lumped non-tobacco products like electronic cigarettes into the proposal, putting on display their utter lack of common sense or concern for public health. Here is a copy of the letter that we sent to the Board at the time.
The public was outraged; tobacco and e-cigarettes are legal products after all. The Board of Health was met with the full fury of local citizens who wanted the nanny-staters to step off. They dropped the proposal. Common sense prevailed.
Now, less than an hour’s drive away in the town of Winchester, Massachusetts another Board of Health has gone rogue. After increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 exactly one year ago, they’re looking to further control local citizens lives with restrictions on tobacco product sales and electronic cigarette use.
In their meeting tonight, the Board of Health will discuss proposals that include banning the sale of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes, implementing a minimum cost on cigars of $2.15 and $5 for a two-pack, and banning smoking and vaping in public places and workplaces.
Welcome to the theater of the absurd.
If the Winchester Board of Public Health’s goal is to ensure that smokers continue smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, all of these proposals make perfect sense. If, however, their goal is the overall improvement of public health, restricting the availability of options for e-cigarettes does not help accomplish this goal.
Adults prefer flavors to traditional tobacco and menthol. A recent survey indicates that more than 65 percent of non-smoking vapers (consumers of non-tobacco e-cigarettes and vapor products) consider flavors other than tobacco to have been important or very important in helping them quit. For women, that number is more than 70 percent.
Prohibiting flavors ensures that smokers have fewer options when it comes to quitting an unhealthy habit. Electronic cigarettes and vapor products are estimated to be 99% less hazardous than smoking.
Restricting the availability of options to adult consumers under the guise of “protecting children” puts at risk a publicly stated goal of the public health community for decades: getting people to quit smoking cigarettes.
We urge the Winchester, Massachusetts Board of Health to reject these proposals and to focus on education initiatives supported by facts instead.
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ATR Joins ACLU and Institute for Justice in Support of Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform in Virginia
Today, Americans for Tax Reform joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia and the The Institute for Justice in support of Virginia House Bill 1287, which would require a criminal conviction before law enforcement may seize and keep an individual’s private property. The legislation, sponsored by Delegate Mark Cole (R-Va.) passed the full House of Delegates by a vote of 92-6 two weeks ago and is up for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee today.
In a recent hearing of the U.S. House subcommittee on crime, terrorism, homeland security, and investigations, chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) noted, “The government is seizing billions of dollars of cash and property from Americans, often without charging them with a crime.”
There is a bipartisan consensus on this problem. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said, “The size of these amounts helps put into focus the tension between our property and due process rights on the one hand, and the government’s interest in maintaining this funding stream on the other, often relying on civil forfeiture procedures involving the low standard of proof…Unfortunately, it is increasingly apparent that our laws are not sufficient in this regard.”
The Virginia Beach Police Department seized $6 million in assets between 2008 and 2013. The city Commonwealth’s Attorney said, “it allows us to be able to afford equipment and training for officers and prosecutors.”
As we note in the letter to the legislature, “policing should be based on public safety, not supplementing local law enforcement department budgets.”
Virginia’s civil asset forfeiture laws are among the worst in the nation. The Institute for Justice gave Virginia a D- because of the low burden of proof in forfeiture cases. The state’s laws are ripe for abuse, with countless examples in Virginia of lives being ruined as a result of seize first and make the defendant prove their innocence next protocols.
As the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s A. Barton Hinkle points out, Mark Cole’s legislation “would have saved a lot of misery for people such as Mandrel Stuart, who couldn’t afford to keep his Staunton barbecue business going after police seized more than $17,000 from him in a minor traffic stop. Unlike many in such straits, Stuart did not agree to settle for half his money back and a promise not to sue. He won in court, but still lost his business."
The burden of proof should not be on private property owners to prove to law enforcement officials that their assets were obtained legally; it should be the other way around.
ATR joins the ACLU and Institute for Justice in urging the Virginia state Senate to pass House Bill 1287.
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ATR Opposes House Bill 170's Massive Gas Tax Increase in Georgia
In the aftermath of a joint legislative study committee report on transportation, Georgia lawmakers have spent the last month figuring out how to extract more money from taxpayers to pay for transportation projects. The report called for at least $1-1.5 billion in additional spending annually. To address “the full universe of transportation needs, including establishment of passenger rail systems,” the report claimed the state would need between $3.9 and $5.4 billion annually, constituting a 20 percent increase in the total state budget.
Georgia House Bill 170, which is supported by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston, would raise at least $1 billion per year by making a number of changes to the state gas tax. Gasoline in Georgia is subjected to an excise tax of 7.5 cents per gallon, a 4% sales tax and in most places another local sales tax of 3%-4%. Under H.B. 170, this mix of taxes would be converted to a 29.2 cents per gallon tax, indexed to inflation. This is a tax increase that rises year by year.
As Tom Crawford with the Gainesville Times noted, “the current mix of excise and sales taxes on gasoline totals roughly 27 cents per gallon.” By indexing the gas tax to inflation and increasing the tax by more than 2 cents per gallon, H.B. 170 is clearly a tax increase.
Drivers of hybrids aren’t forgotten. The bill imposes a car tax hike on alternative fuel vehicles of between $200-$300 per year, indexed to inflation. Virginia’s 2013 transportation tax hike did this as well until Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe repealed the tax less than 6 months later.
H.B. 170 also engages in an inventive gimmick to generate $500 million in new revenue. By immediately absorbing local gasoline sales tax revenue, the state will now collect and spend money otherwise collected and spent by localities. Most localities spend this money on a bevy of non-transportation needs, like education. Absent the willpower to cut spending though, it is likely local governments will consider tax hikes in the future.
Upon the expiration of local sales taxes on gasoline, H.B. 170 permits localities to raise the local excise tax on gasoline by up to 3 cents per gallon before requiring that further gas tax hikes be approved by referendum for a maximum of 6 cents per gallon in local taxes. This sets in motion future tax hikes, not all of which even need voter approval.
While we take no position on the state absorbing local tax revenue streams, directing gas tax revenue to transportation projects instead of unrelated spending programs like education, should be applauded. In 2014, by a 80-20 margin Wisconsin voters passed a ballot initiative requiring gas tax revenue be spent on transportation. Consumers' expectations on gas tax revenue are clear: spend it on transportation and nothing else. Unfortunately, the definition of "transportation" is broad and encompasses a number of expensive projects, all of which may not actually alleviate traffic to improve anyone's commute to work.
So what would the total gas tax bite be if H.B. 170 passed in Georgia?
Total Tax Possible
7.2 cents/gallon + 4% sales tax
Chained to CPI
3%-4% sales tax
Up to 3 cents/gallon
Up to 6 cents/gallon
ATR urges the legislature to revisit its transportation spending priorities and reject all gas tax hikes on consumers.
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Governor Paul LePage Calls for Elimination of Maine's Income Tax
In his 2015 State of the State Address, Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) called for an elimination of the state income tax "once and for all." A significant potion of LePage's speech was dedicated to a tax reform proposal that he announced last month. Here are some highlights:
"Maine is currently not competitive nationally or globally. Our tax system is antiquated. We must modernize it.
My fellow Mainers, you work hard for your paycheck. The government takes your earnings, and you have no control over how it is spent.
You earned it. You should keep it!
An income tax cut puts money back in your pocket. It is a pay raise for all working Mainers...
This plan is different from past plans. It is not a tax shift. It is a tax cut for all Mainers.
My vision is a Maine with no income tax. But I’m no magician. It takes time.
When I took office, Maine’s top income tax rate was 8.5 percent—one of the highest in the nation.
We reduced the rate to 7.95 percent—a baby step. This plan cuts it to 5.75 percent—a 40 percent decrease in the income tax since I took office. That’s one big step.
A young married couple, both teachers with one child, claiming a standard deduction, would get a $1,500 pay raise.
That’s a mortgage payment. That’s few tanks of heating oil. It’s several car payments or back-to-school clothes for the kids. It’s real money. It makes a real difference...
This plan reduces the tax burden on Maine families and small businesses by $300 million. That’s a real pay raise for the Maine people!..
There are 9 states with no income tax. 19 other states are working to reduce or eliminate the income tax. Maine is leading the nation with our bold plan. We’re the first out of the chute...
Maine’s corporate tax is a job killer. My plan cuts it. We also eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax."
Gov. LePage's plan would reduce the top corporate tax rate from 8.93% to 6.75% and exempt the first $48,000 of income for a family of four from the state's income tax. He also eliminates the death tax and the tax on pensions. While his plan eliminates a number of exemptions and adds the sales tax to a number of services, this $219 million revenue increase is more than offset by his other tax reductions. LePage's plan reduces net taxes by $300 million annually when fully phased in.
This isn't Gov. LePage's first tax reform proposal. As he noted in his speech, in 2011, LePage successfully reduced the state income tax top rate from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent. His most recent plan eliminates a range of credits and deductions and when fully phased in will result in $1.2 billion in income tax cuts over the 2018-2019 biennium.
Source: State of Maine Biennial Budget Briefing
LePage's plan also reduces the number of corporate income tax brackets and reduces the top rate from 8.93 percent to 6.75 percent by 2020, resulting in a $50 million tax cut by 2019.
While the long list of tax cuts and changes to the tax code are an important step in simplifying Maine's tax code to make it flatter, fairer, and lower, perhaps the most significant proposal came at the end of LePage's State of the State Address:
"We must make sure the income tax keeps going down every year until it is gone.
I ask for a constitutional amendment that will direct all growth in revenue to go toward eliminating the income tax—once and for all."
Americans for Tax Reform is a big proponent of revenue triggers, which pay for long term tax cuts through economic growth. Instead of immediate tax cuts that could require spending restraint or tax shifting, revenue triggers like the one Gov. LePage has called for set, as a matter of law, new revenue generated through economic growth aside for rate reductions. Instead of states squandering budget surpluses on long term spending programs, all new state revenue above an amount set by the state is calculated as a percentage of a tax cut (income in this case).
North Carolina established revenue triggers as a means for reducing the state's corporate rate and Kansas enacted revenue triggers for the income, corporate, and banking tax. In Kansas, it will take the House, Senate, and Governor to reverse the long term goal of eliminating each of these taxes. For more information on revenue triggers, read our brief here.
We applaud Governor Paul LePage's bold tax reform proposal and encourage the legislature to adopt both it and his plan to fully phase out the income tax.
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ATR Opposes Cigarette and E-Cigarette Tax Hikes in North Dakota
With the rapid decline in oil prices over the past six months, states like Texas, Oklahoma, Alaska and North Dakota have seen adjusted revenue forecasts for 2015. While consumers saved $14 billion in 2014 due to lower gas prices, lower prices have also meant less tax revenue for a number of states.
In the case of North Dakota, however, House Majority Leader Rep. Al Carlson is correct in noting that "the sky is not falling." Despite lower prices, oil extraction will not end, even if it slows. As such, calls for higher taxes are extremely premature, especially when they hit those most affected by any sort of economic slowdown: low and middle income residents.
Two bills up for debate this week in the North Dakota House and Senate call for raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products (OTPs). Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist sent a letter to the House and Senate Finance and Taxation Committees outlining ATR's opposition:
Extensive research suggests that regressive cigarette taxes unnecessarily punish the poor without reducing smoking. Smokers often minimize the impact of tax increases like those proposed in HB1421 and SB 2322 by switching to lower price discount cigarettes, smoking fewer cigarettes more intensively, and seeking out low-or untaxed cigarettes, such as those available on Indian reservations. Even if use did decline, the state would not see the revenue anticipated by these tax hikes.
Targeted excise taxes have proven to be unstable sources of revenue, and ultimately can cause a reduction in tax receipts. Increasing the state's reliance on tobacco taxes by increasing them by as much as $1.56 per pack, as SB 2322 does, will not necessarily generate more revenue in the long term. In 2006, Chicago collected $32.9 million in cigarette taxes. After two consecutive tax hikes, revenue fell to $16.5 in 2013. When Illinois raised the cigarette tax by $1-per-pack in 2012, nearly doubling the state's tax rate to $1.98 per pack, the tax delivered $138 million less than expected. A reduction in tax receipts is a common occurrence amongst cities and states that attempt to discourage consumption with higher costs.
While the House and Senate bills do not single out electronic cigarettes, it is likely that amendments will be made that could subject these tobacco-free technology products to the OTP taxes imposed on products like snus. The letter notes:
With e-cigarettes, the free market has provided a solution to a problem that social engineers have not been able to address through stiff government regulations. The imposition of tax hikes on innovative products that reduce smoking and people's dependence on tobacco cigarettes is misguided and will impede proven harm reduction methods.
Efforts to further reduce the income tax should continue to be the core focus of the North Dakota legislature. In the aftermath of the 1980's oil price collapse, Texas sought to aggressively diversify the state economy. The absence of an income tax lured thousands of businesses and taxpayers to the state from all over the nation. North Dakota should follow Texas, South Dakota, Wyoming, and the six other states that do not tax income so that it, too, can lure taxpayers and non-energy businesses fleeing from states like Illinois, California, and New York.
Proposals that seek to raise taxes should be rejected as unnecessary side shows, no matter their intended purpose.