Tuesday, November 17, 2015

California: Awful Ranking in Business Tax Survey; How One Company Owner Said 'Goodbye'

The Tax Foundation issued its 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index, a highly respected report on the topic. For the fourth year in a row California ranks at No. 48 – meaning that business taxes are worse only in New York and New Jersey.

Calif FTB LogoBefore saying more about the Index, let's bring to light how some business owners feel about taxes in California.  I recently came across comments by Erica Douglass, a young tech entrepreneur, who moved the headquarters of her company, Whoosh Traffic, from San Diego to Austin, Texas. Although what she said is several years old, her comments remain quite relevant today:
Dear California, I’m leaving you. One thing I’ve struggled with for years is a government that is notoriously business-unfriendly – with everything from high taxes on business earnings to badgering businesses into more work to satisfy the bureaucracy. California decided that businesses grossing over $100,000 a year should have an account to report quarterly on the sales tax customers pay for goods sold. But my company sold services – not products – which aren’t taxed. When I closed the account with the state (by going into a local office and spending nearly an hour explaining my situation), they forced it open again and sent me a nastygram explaining that I would owe fines for not filing the quarterly reports. It takes time to fill them out, even if you owe nothing. Also, the state charges a 10% income tax on all income over $47,055 in addition to an 8.25-9.25% sales tax (depending on where you buy products). I paid enough in California income tax in one year alone to hire another worker for my business. I’d bet that I’m far more efficient at creating jobs as a small business owner than the state is given the same amount of money. And a really dumb law for small business owners is an annual $800 fee just to have a corporation in California. Most states only charge you a few dollars annually. California’s is exorbitant. (Comments edited for brevity.)
How many other business owners share Ms. Douglass's frustration? With the state ranking at No. 48, the answer is "plenty."

Back to the Tax Foundation. The organization compiles the Index each year to rank the 50 U.S. states across more than 100 variables in the areas of corporate income tax, individual income tax, sales tax, property tax, and unemployment insurance tax. The Index enables business leaders, government policymakers, and taxpayers to gauge how their states’ tax systems compare. While there are many ways to show how much is collected in taxes by state governments, the Index is designed to show how states structure tax systems and provide a roadmap for improvement.

Improvement? There will be numerous proposals to increase business and personal taxes considered by the California legislature in 2016 as well as ballot propositions to do the same. I don't know of a single serious proposal to reduce state taxes in California.

Key findings from Tax Foundation

The top ten states are Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Montana, New Hampshire, Indiana, Utah, and Texas. The bottom ten states are Maryland, Ohio, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Minnesota, California, New York, and New Jersey.

Note: The Tax Foundation, a non-partisan research think tank, based in Washington, D.C., is the nation’s leading independent tax policy research organization. Since 1937, its principled research, analysis, and experts have informed smarter tax policy at the federal, state, and local levels.