Category Archives: Taxes

On April 15, Many New Yorkers Spell Relief “EITC”

Posted by Kerry Spitzer and Michael Jacobs, April 14, 2010

At a time when some programs benefitting lower-income working New Yorkers are on the wane, there’s one program that continues to grow: the earned income tax credit, also known as the EITC. As April 15 approaches these credits are on the minds of many because the EITC is a significant boon to the hundreds of thousands of city tax filers who benefit from the tax credit. In 2006 (the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available), low-income New Yorkers received well over $2 billion in earned income tax credits through the city, state, and federal governments, with refund checks for some or all of the credit sent to over 80 percent of recipients.

The EITC is also a boon to the city because New Yorkers who receive the credits tend to spend nearly all of their income, and they spend it locally. This provides a boost to neighborhood economies.

Given the benefits, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs has run promotions encouraging New Yorkers to apply for the credits and the Department of Finance has mailed amended returns to filers who might qualify. The cost to the city of these efforts is relatively modest, since the credit largely comes at the expense of the federal and state governments, and administrative costs are low with much of the assistance to filers applying for the credit provided by volunteers.

The earned income tax credit, which has become the nation’s largest antipoverty program, is a form of tax relief for low-income, working Americans. For filers with very low incomes, the amount of the credit increases as income from work increases and is adjusted each year for inflation. For example, a single mother with two children can receive an EITC against her 2009 federal income tax liability of 40 cents for every dollar earned up to $12,570, at which point her maximum credit of $5,036 is reached. The EITC for such filers remains at the maximum for income levels up to $16,420 and then declines gradually for higher incomes and is phased out entirely for incomes above $40,295. Filers with one or no children receive smaller credits, and the federal stimulus package enacted last year temporarily provides larger credits for households with more than two children and for many married couples filing joint returns for 2009 and 2010.

New York State also offers an EITC against state income tax liability, equal to 30 percent of the federal credit and residents of New York City—one of only three localities in the country to offer an EITC—can get a local credit against city personal income tax liability, equal to 5 percent of the federal credit. Thus, if the New York mother cited above is eligible for the maximum federal EITC, she would also receive credits of $1,511 from the state and $252 from the city, an additional $1,763. All three EITCs are fully refundable, meaning that filers receive the full benefit of the credit even if they owe little or no tax prior to taking the credit, with the unused portion paid out like a tax refund.

While it is difficult to quantify how many eligible families and individuals fail to claim the EITC, evidence suggests that many are unaware of the credits. Others miss out because their earnings are so low that they are not legally required to file tax returns.

The city has taken a number of steps to encourage all eligible New Yorkers to claim the credits. Starting in 2002, the Department of Consumer Affairs organized efforts to publicize and increase the number of volunteer income tax assistance sites, commonly known as VITA centers, where people can get help preparing tax returns and file for the EITC. The volunteer centers also serve as an alternative to some private preparers who attract cash-needy clients by loaning them the amount of their refund upfront. These loans also enable customers to pay for the tax preparation services, but often come at the cost of substantial interest payments. Although the percentage of EITC filers using tax preparers who provide loans in anticipation of customers’ refund checks is down and the number of returns prepared by volunteers has increased, in 2006, five times as many city filers used preparers who offered refund anticipation loans to obtain their federal EITC than used volunteer sites.

In addition to encouraging New Yorkers to claim the credit for the current tax year, in 2007 the Department of Finance started mailing amended prior-year federal and New York tax returns to tens of thousands of low-income filers who had not claimed the credit. In order to claim the federal, state, and or city credit retroactively, filers needed only to review the forms, enter social security numbers and dependents’ information, and sign and mail in the forms. The department estimates its mailing of tax year 2005 amended returns led to city filers receiving 3,600 federal, 3,300 state, and 3,200 city credits totaling nearly $3.6 million. Similarly, amended returns for 2003 and 2004 resulted in EITC refunds totaling $10 million for the two years combined.

The extent to which the city’s campaign for earned income tax credit participation is responsible for recent increases in EITC claims is hard to measure, but it is clear there has been an increase in the number of returns claiming the city and state EITC. For 2007, 857,000 city tax filers claimed the city EITC, up from 731,000 for 2004, the first year for which the city credit was available. Similarly, claims of the state credit by city residents grew from 741,000 for 2004 to 846,000 for 2007. For 2007, about 24 percent of all city filers claimed the city and state EITCs, with considerable variation among the boroughs—from a low of 12 percent in Staten Island to a high of 35 percent in the Bronx.

The EITCs increase the disposable (after-tax) income of many working New Yorkers who are most likely to spend their income locally and generate economic activity and tax revenue in the city. In 2006 city tax filers claimed $1.7 billion in federal, $435 million in state, and $76 million in city EITCs, making the combined average value of the credits worth roughly $2,600 per recipient. For families struggling to make ends meet, the EITC is a significant and dependable source of tax relief.

Win or Lose, the Yankees Are Going to Have to Pay in Philly

Posted by Bernard O’Brien, October 30, 2009

As the Yankees head to Philadelphia, players and coaches will have to give a little more than their best effort. And we don’t mean just playing harder on the field. We mean a small piece of their income.

Derek Jeter may recall that when he won his first World Series ring in 1996, a portion of his income as well as that of his Yankee teammates was subject to New York City tax regardless of whether they lived in the five boroughs. Visiting teams playing at Yankee Stadium also had to toss some cash into the city’s coffers. That’s because from 1971 until 1999, all noncity residents (including professional athletes) who derived income from working within the Big Apple owed what was commonly referred to as the New York City commuter tax. Players who live in the city are still subject to the local income tax on residents.

New York and Philadelphia are among a handful of U.S. cities that still levy a tax on wages earned from work (which includes playing professional sports) performed within its borders. But unlike New York City’s income tax, Philadelphia’s wage tax covers nonresidents, too. In other words, the Philadelphia Phillies’ players (and all visiting players coming to compete in Philadelphia) still see a portion of their not insignificant wages taxed by the City of Brotherly Love.

Philadelphia is hardly alone in taxing nonresident professional athletes. All states and the handful of cities with income tax systems that cover nonresidents take a piece of player earnings based on the number of days they work there.

Using information provided by the Philadelphia Revenue Department, we estimate that each game the Bronx Bombers play in Philadelphia during the upcoming World Series will result in the Yankees pitching in about $25,000 in Philadelphia wage taxes. If the series goes at least five games, the three games played in Citizens Bank Park mean the Yankee players will pony up roughly $75,000 for Philly’s revenue stream.

While players that live outside New York City won’t be on the hook for paying taxes to the city on income earned during games in the Bronx (they will owe New York State income tax), that doesn’t mean City Hall’s tax coffers will be bereft of a piece of the World Series action. We’ll take our share in other ways, such as a higher sales tax than in Philly. We just won’t get a hit off the players’ earnings.

Quiet on the Set?

Posted by Eldar Beiseitov, August 19, 2009

Shooting movies and television programs in New York City has always been expensive. At the end of June, it became even more expensive. That’s when the city’s program that provided tax credits for qualified film and television production ran out of money.

This, and uncertainty about the renewal of a similar New York State tax credit, which had also run out of money, may have been factors in the decision by Warner Brothers Television in February to move Fox’s hit series “Fringe” from New York to Vancouver for next season. Currently, it is filmed in Long Island City. (Back in 2008, NBC’s “Ugly Betty” moved from California to New York, to take advantage of our tax credit.)

From 2005 until it ran out of money, the city offered a Film Production Tax Credit program, with eligible film and television productions receiving a fully refundable tax credit equal to 5 percent of qualified production expenses. While many states, including New York, provide similar incentives, New York City is the only U.S. municipality that has had such a program.

The city’s film credit program was funded at $12.5 million in 2005 and then $30 million annually through 2011, but funding could be shifted from future years if needed for eligible productions until the total allocation of $192.5 million was reached. Now, with three years to go, all the money has already been committed.

Certain categories of productions are not covered by the program, including documentaries, news or current affairs programs, interview or talk shows, instructional videos, sport shows or events, and daytime soap operas. Similarly, while qualified expenses include costs of technical and crew production and expenditures for facilities, props, makeup, and wardrobe, the program excludes costs of stories and scripts, and wages for writers, directors, producers and performers.

The State of New York also offers production companies a similarly structured but much larger tax credit—30 percent—for filming in the state. When combined, the city and state refundable tax credits total 35 percent of eligible production costs for qualified feature films, television pilots, and television movies and miniseries.

Unlike many tax credits, which are available to all qualifying taxpayers regardless of the aggregate cost of the program, the city and state film credits are capped which means that once the authorized total spending for the program is reached, no new benefits are available, even for projects that would otherwise qualify. With both the state and the city tax credits maxed out, studio owners warned that New York had become a much less attractive place for film production. When the state adopted its budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which began in April, the state credit was funded for an additional year.

Last May the Bloomberg Administration submitted to Albany a proposal to authorize additional funds for the city tax credit through 2011, at lower rates and with limits on how long television productions can receive the credit. Under the proposal, the program would receive $24 million annually through 2011 in additional city funding on top of the funds already committed. Projects that do 75 percent of their work in the city would receive a 4 percent tax credit, down from 5 percent.

Television shows would get the full 4 percent for three years, but the credit would drop to 3 percent in the fourth year and to 2 percent the following year. Also, the proposed legislation would set a $250,000 cap for each qualified production.

Whether tax credits are effective is the subject of some debate. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston of a similar program in Connecticut evaluated the tax credits’ costs and benefits in 2009, and concluded that the credit does not pay for itself, meaning that new tax revenues generated by the production did not offset the cost of the credit.

On the other hand, a 2009 study by Ernst & Young, prepared at the request of the New York State Governor’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development and the Motion Picture Association of America, concluded that the state’s tax credit did pay for itself, while another Ernst &Young study prepared for New Mexico reached the same conclusion. A recent publication by the Boston Fed explores why the findings of these studies diverge so widely.

Another Hole in the Budget Plan

Posted by Eldar Beiseitov, April 27, 2009

While the Mayor has focused much attention in recent weeks on the municipal unions’ reluctance to agree to more than $700 million in savings outlined in the Preliminary Budget, there’s another big hole to fill in the budget plan. Piggy-backing on proposals made by Governor David Paterson, the Bloomberg Administration’s Preliminary Budget included plans to eliminate the city’s current sales tax exemption on clothing and shoes costing less than $500 and to extend the sales tax to a variety of goods and services that aren’t now taxed. But with much of this falling by the wayside in the state budget, the city may well be down nearly $600 million in new tax revenue the Mayor had expected.

The state budget adopted late last month extended the state’s sales tax to certain types of transportation, such as taxis and limousines. But it didn’t incorporate the Governor’s original proposals to extend the state sales tax to digital goods, entertainment-spending, cable TV, capital improvement construction work, non-diet soft drinks, and other items. Nor did it alter the existing state sales-tax exemption for clothing purchases under $110 that had been proposed.

Since the types of goods and services subject to city sales tax generally follow the state, the Mayor is likely to limit his base-broadening proposals to what already passed in Albany. Consequently, instead of being worth nearly $200 million, as the Mayor estimated in January, the reduced list would generate a more modest $23 million in revenues in 2010.

With the state also abandoning repeal of the clothing exemption, city retailers would be placed at a competitive disadvantage with suburban retailers if the exemption were ended for the city portion of the tax. So the Bloomberg Administration may well jettison this portion of its plan as well—along with the nearly $400 million in additional revenue the Mayor had expected from it.

The Mayor has also proposed increasing the city’s sales tax from 4.0 to 4.25 percent. He estimated in the Preliminary Budget that the increase would be worth about $300 million in new revenue in 2010. Given fiscal realities, the Mayor is likely to hang on to that proposal in the Executive Budget to be released later this week.

The sales tax rate increase, which requires approval by the state Legislature, is a common move in fiscally turbulent times. New York, like other cities, often looks to sales tax rate increases when revenues are falling because they are relatively straightforward to implement quickly and usually generate less outrage from taxpayers because they pay it in small amounts with each purchase rather than a lump sum as with property taxes.

But sales taxes tend to be regressive because purchases take up a larger share of income for less affluent households. For example, data from the 2007 U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey indicate that a household with an income of roughly $35,000 spent about 46 percent of it on taxable purchases, while a household with about $125,000 in income spent just 30 percent. As a result, a 0.25 percentage point tax increase would cost the lower-income household $40 a year, but cost the higher-income household—which has over three times the income—only $93 a year.

Even with the revenue previously expected from these various sales tax increases, IBO projected a $1.4 billion shortfall in the Mayor’s 2010 budget. With another $600 million hole to fill, New Yorkers can expect more revenue raisers and service cuts in the Mayor’s upcoming budget plan.

Another Wrinkle (Actually It’s Flat) in State’s Tax Increase on High-Income Taxpayers

Posted by Michael Jacobs, April 23, 2009

When New York State enacted a three-year increase on the personal income tax (PIT) for high-income taxpayers last month, few noticed an accompanying change in an arcane provision in the state’s tax laws. Because of the so-called “recapture” provision, many high-income taxpayers were already paying a single, flat rate on all of their income rather than getting the benefit of the state’s progressive tax rates. The new law not only adds brackets and rates but also expands the recapture provision. IBO estimates that New York City taxpayers will pony up about $2 billion more in taxes under the PIT increase—about $400 million of it due to the recapture rules.

So how exactly does this work? The state PIT increase expands the number of tax brackets from five to seven, with two new brackets carved out of the previous top bracket. The fifth bracket begins at $40,000 of taxable income for a married couple filing jointly and now ends at $300,000, with a marginal tax rate of 6.85 percent. The new sixth bracket ends at $500,000 and has a marginal tax rate of 7.85 percent—a 14.6 percent increase in the tax rate. The marginal rate for incomes above $500,000 (where the seventh bracket begins) is 8.97 percent, or 30.9 percent higher than the old rate.

Many of those falling in the new brackets will now see their tax bill increase by the full change in the marginal rates. Most joint filers falling into the new sixth bracket will have all of their taxable income taxed at the 7.85 percent rate, thus recapturing the benefits of the lower rates in the tax tables. If their adjusted gross income—taxable income before deductions and exemptions—is between $300,000 and $350,000, there’s a phase-in of the recapture rules.

Likewise, for most of those whose incomes fall in the top bracket the full recapture is in effect with all of their taxable income subject to the highest tax rate. For those with adjusted gross incomes between $500,000 and $550,000, the recapture again phases in.

IBO estimates that 89,000 out of the city’s nearly 2.3 million resident taxpayers will be paying a total of $2 billion more in state taxes in 2009 as a result of the PIT increase; the expanded recapture provisions account for about $400 million of that additional tax liability.

For filers with income near the thresholds for full recapture these provisions can account for most of their PIT increase. For example, a joint filer with $550,000 in adjusted gross income and $520,000 in taxable income will pay $12,318 more in state tax, over two-thirds of which results from the recapture. Because the recapture amounts do not increase as incomes rise above the $550,000 threshold, recapture accounts for a declining share of the total tax increase as incomes rise. Slightly less than 40 percent of the tax increase that a joint filer with $1 million in taxable income will pay results from the recapture rules.

The recapture provisions also mean the average tax rate and marginal rate for many taxpayers are one and the same, giving New York State’s highest-income residents a “flat” income tax. Of course, that doesn’t mean flat tax proponents are cheering the changes. Most proponents of a flat tax envision a single rate that is considerably lower than pre-existing top rates and one that applies to all taxpayers.