Word that Apple is making a $2 billion investment in Arizona is a big win early in the administration of Gov. Doug Ducey. The governor has demonstrated right out of the gate that he’s willing to get personally involved in efforts to put Arizona on companies’ short list.
You don’t land Apple unless you’ve got the right tools in the toolbox. Two landmark competiveness packages were passed into law in 2011 and 2012 that phased in a reduction of corporate income taxes, encouraged export-based industries and provided property tax relief, among other items. Another new law hit the books reducing taxes on investment income for the first time. Landing the tech giant’s global command center is validation that Arizona has some great tools to attract good jobs, and the governor’s ready to put them to use.
But other states aren’t standing pat. The fight to attract jobs is a fierce and unrelenting one, which is why Gov. Ducey isn’t taking his foot off the gas when it comes to tax reform.
As a candidate, the governor pledged to pursue legislation every year to reduce taxes on productivity, specifically personal and corporate income taxes. The governor has wasted no time in his first term putting that pledge into action.
Already, a key reform cited by the governor in his State of the State address has cleared House and Senate committees. Bills sponsored by state Rep. Justin Olson and state Sen. Debbie Lesko would peg Arizona’s personal income tax brackets to inflation. The legislation ensures that the state’s tax brackets adjust to changes in the cost of living. That way, a raise in your paycheck is more likely to mean a little more money in your pocket, not a new, higher tax bracket.
We’re in a competitive neighborhood when it comes to how we manage our tax brackets. Utah and Colorado index their tax brackets, and even California has partial indexing. Nevada has no income tax.
We need to up our game. Rep. Olson has pursued this commonsense reform in previous sessions, and last year was able to get it into law for the current tax year. Now it’s time to make it permanent.
We can also improve our standing against other states in the way we treat the expensing of big machinery and equipment purchases.
The federal tax code allows businesses to deduct up to $500,000 from their taxes on up to $2 million worth of equipment purchases. Most states have a similar policy, pegging their tax code to the same federal limit.
This is not the case in Arizona, though, where business can expense only up to $120,000 in the first year of purchase, and then take deductions over the life of the equipment as it depreciates. According to the Tax Foundation, Arizona is one of only 12 states whose expensing allowance falls below the federal limit.
Legislation by Rep. J.D. Mesnard would fix this shortcoming with a bill that sets Arizona’s expense allowance to $500,000. Putting in place a policy that more accurately reflects the impact of a big capital expense on a company’s bottom line is the right move and enhances our competitive standing.
Arizona also has room to improve when it comes to our insurance premium tax. Insurance companies don’t pay a corporate income tax on profits. Instead, they pay a 2 percent gross receipts tax on all premiums, regardless of income.
As other businesses begin to enjoy tax relief as a result of the passage of previous corporate tax reductions, insurance companies have been left out. An insurance premium tax rate of 2 percent might seem small, but some insurance companies in Arizona estimate it’s like paying the corporate income tax rate equivalent of 14 percent. And as other businesses see their tax burden lessen, insurance companies are contributing to a disproportionate share of state revenues.
States around the country are driving their rates down. Texas, for example, has a rate of 1.75 percent, and Nebraska has a rate of 1 percent, which is helping to drive job growth in the insurance sector in that state.
Arizona is home to over 35,000 employees in the insurance sector, occupying good-paying, non-polluting, career-track jobs. These are the types of quality jobs we want to attract more of, and we should calibrate our policies to reflect that goal.
A bill by Rep. David Livingston seeks to phase-in a reduction of the premium tax down to 1.7 percent over 10 years. This is a modest, yet needed reform that would allow Arizona to enhance its chances for increased job creation in a competitive industry.
A state’s tax environment is the cornerstone of its ability to compete in today’s economy. Arizona stacks up well, but we can do better. Passing these needed reforms into law will be a strong step in the right direction.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry is committed to advancing Arizona’s competitive position in the global economy by advocating free-market policies that stimulate economic growth and prosperity for all Arizonans. http://www.azchamber.com/.