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Which states have lost or gained taxable income
In the Democrats’ efforts to pass a budget reconciliation bill that would increase federal tax revenue and allocate more funding for social and environmental causes, one of the most contentious points of discussion has been whether to eliminate, or at least loosen, the $10,000 limitation on the amount of state and local taxes (SALT) that can be deducted.
Senators and representatives from states with higher than average tax rates on personal income and real estate property values are concerned that the inability to deduct those taxes has made them more burdensome to upper income taxpayers who typically itemize their deductions, and that the higher effective tax rates might motivate such taxpayers to move to states with lower tax rates.
Do higher taxes motivate residents to relocate?
Given the impact of the limitation on the SALT deduction, municipal analysts and investors want to see whether the higher net cost of state and local taxes motivates upper income resident to relocate to states with lower perceived tax burdens.
A critical resource for this analysis is a data set provided by the Internal Revenue Service that shows how many taxpayers were in one state in one year, but in a different state in the following year. The data show the number of returns that were filed by those who relocated, the number of personal exemptions taken on those returns, the amount of adjusted gross income reported on the returns during the second year, and the states from which, and to which, the taxpayers moved.
In analyzing the IRS numbers, we computed net migration by subtracting the number of returns filed by people who left the state from the number of returns by those who relocated to the state. We also computed the net change in the number of persons for which exemptions were claimed, and the net change in the amount of adjusted gross income (AGI) due to migration from state to state. To gauge the relative size of the change in AGI, we compared the net amount of AGI gained or lost to the amount of AGI reported by taxpayers who did not move but remained in the state during both years.
For example, in 2019, 154,262 tax returns were filed in the state of New York by people who had lived in other states in 2018 (Figure 1). Those returns represented 232,864 people claiming personal exemptions. The amount of adjusted gross income reported by those taxpayers was $13.2 billion. However, people who had been residents of New York in 2018 filed 228,099 tax returns in states other than New York in 2019. Those returns covered 386,910 newly relocated residents, whose combined adjusted gross income totaled $21.9 billion.
As a result of these relocations, New York lost 154,046 residents and $8.7 billion of adjusted gross income, which was equal to 1.31% of the adjusted gross income of people who filed returns in New York in both 2018 and 2019.
New state residents tended to have higher AGI
Figure 2 shows data for the five states with the greatest net gain, or net loss, in adjusted gross income (expressed as a percentage of the AGI of those who were residents of the state in both 2018 and 2019). The table shows the net change in the number of returns, the number of personal exemptions, and amount of adjusted gross income for each state. (See Figure 3 in the Appendix for data on all states for 2019, and Figure 4 for net migration values for the four years from 2016 to 2019.)
Figure 2 also includes columns showing the average AGI of those moving to, and those leaving, a state. This analysis shows that the magnitude of the change in AGI was not just a function of the number of people moving from state to state, but also reflected the amount of AGI reported by those who migrated from state to state.
In general, states that recorded a net increase in the number of taxpayers due to migration tended to receive new residents whose AGI was greater than that of those who departed, while those which lost population tended to lose higher income taxpayers while taking in those with lower incomes.
For example, in Florida, the average new taxpayer reported AGI of $110,180, while the average AGI of those who left the state was $66,361. Of the 30 states (and DC) which had a net loss of adjusted gross income in 2019 due to migration, in only four did incoming residents report more AGI per return than departing residents, while of the 21 states which gained AGI, in only three did incoming residents report less AGI per return than departing residents.
For states with a net loss in AGI in 2019, the average AGI per return of arrivals was $67,217, while those departing reported $73,295 per return. For states with a net gain, the average newcomer had AGI of $75,197, while the average income of those leaving was $65,416.
Marginal tax rates may be a motivating factor in relocating
The consistency of the distinction between those states that are attractive to upper income taxpayers, and those that are unattractive to such taxpayers, supports the notion that marginal tax rates, which in most states are higher for those with more income, can be a motivating factor in the decision to relocate.
We should also note that the rate of migration has accelerated since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The amount of AGI that moved from state to state has increased from $23.6 billion in 2015 to $36.8 billion in 2016, $45.8 billion in 2017, $40.8 billion in 2018, and $42.6 billion in 2019. While we cannot be sure to what extent, if any, changes in tax law have encouraged more migration, it appears that the potential to lose taxable income due to migration is a matter of increasing importance to states that appear to be less attractive to affluent taxpayers.
Internal Revenue Service data on tax migration
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