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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Not just education; AZ sales tax among worst

The Tax Foundation added state sales tax rates to the average of all local sales taxes to get a combined average for the state: Arizona has the second-highest rate, trailing only Tennessee. Click on map to enlarge.  (Map courtesy the Tax Foundation)

By SALVADOR RODRIGUEZ
Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Vans Trading Co. has been around since 1946, but it’s only in the last decade that customers at the Tuba City general store have yelled at the cashiers after they get their receipts.

That’s because Vans is in the town with the highest sales tax in the nation and the town, in turn, is in the state with the second-highest combined sales tax burden in the nation, according to two recent reports.

“After we ring up the total in the product and the tax comes up, they’re not happy with it,” said Vans owner Lucky Mokhcia. “But I tell them I have no control over that.

“They just yell at my cashiers,” he said. “They’re saying it’s too much.”

The Tax Foundation reported this week that the average combined sales tax in Arizona at the start of this year – adding up state, county, city and tribal taxes – was 9.12 percent, second only to Tennessee’s average rate of 9.45 percent.

In Tuba City, a $1 purchase comes with a 13.725-cent sales tax bill: 6.6 percent for the state, 1.125 percent for Coconino County tax and another 6 percent tribal tax levied by the Navajo Nation’s To’Nanees’Dizi local government. Tuba City’s No. 1 ranking was confirmed by both the Tax Foundation and a separate report from Vertex Inc.

Some experts say the high sales tax reflects Arizona’s decision to rely on less on income taxes for state revenues and more heavily on the purchase of goods and some services.

“We’ve always been heavily reliant on sales taxes,” said Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association. “Different states might rely more on other taxes.”

The Tax Foundation report backs that up, saying Arizona relies on sales taxes for almost 36 percent of its revenue and on income taxes for about 13 percent. Nationally, the average is 22.9 percent of state revenue from sales tax and 21.3 percent from income tax.

McCarthy said Arizona has long had high sales taxes. He said polls have shown that property and income taxes tend to be less popular with people than sales taxes, so when Arizona has needed money, that’s where its lawmakers have turned.

“They have a tendency to lean toward the sales tax because they view that to be the least offensive,” McCarthy said. “As a result, that’s where we’ve gone and we continue to go back to the well.”

Sales taxes are also less likely to scare off potential businesses than property and corporate income taxes, said Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But while Arizona’s sales tax is not necessarily driving away businesses, it could be driving away their customers – or at least driving down sales.

“High sales taxes might make the consumer think twice before making a purchase,” Taylor said.

Stephen Slivinski, senior economist at the Goldwater Institute, said Arizona’s high ranking on its sales-tax burden should serve as a wake-up call for the state to reform its tax system.

“Arizona has a tendency to just look at one tax at a time and make policy on an ad hoc basis, and that’s just not good for anybody,” Slivinski said.

Slivinski pointed to the state’s approval of a temporary 1 percent increase in the sales tax in 2010 to deal with a budget shortfall. He said state lawmakers should use the expiration of the temporary increase early next year as an opportunity to reform the whole tax system, not just one part of it, and streamline the process.

“You can still have a high sales tax and have a good tax system, but it requires looking at all the taxes simultaneously,” Slivinski said. “There’s no need to continually tweak a broken system. It’s going to remain broken despite the tweaks.”

Slivinski noted that some relief is on the way: If the 1 percent sales tax increase lapses next year as scheduled, he said, the state would drop from second-highest combined sales tax burden in the nation to 11th.

McCarthy agreed that making Arizona’s taxes more uniform would help the state, especially since the rise of online shopping has given consumers a way to avoid paying taxes on many of their purchases – something that could be harmful for the state.

Since Arizona has “decided to put the highest reliance on sales taxes,” that could drive people to do more of their shopping online, McCarthy said. “The state of Arizona needs to simplify its sales tax code to put itself in a position to tax online purchases.”

In Tuba City, Mokhcia said he has already seen what high taxes can do to sales.

“They don’t shop here anymore,” said Mokhcia of his customers. He said that many of the town’s people don’t mind driving 80 miles to Flagstaff to avoid high taxes at home.

“This is a low-income community,” he said. “It creates a bad situation.”

Sales tax’s Top 10

Arizona’s average combined sales tax – the state tax plus the average of all local, tribal and special taxes across the state – was second-highest in the nation as of Jan. 1, 2012, according to a Tax Foundation study. Its top 10 states were:

- Tennessee: 9.45 percent
- Arizona: 9.12 percent
- Louisiana: 8.85 percent
- Washington: 8.80 percent
- Oklahoma: 8.66 percent
- Arkansas: 8.58 percent
- New York: 8.48 percent
- Alabama: 8.33 percent
- Kansas: 8.26 percent
- Illinois: 8.20 percent

The Arizona localities with the highest sales tax rates, after all state, local and tribal taxes are rolled together, according to Vertex Inc.:

- Tuba City: 13.725 percent*
- Pisinemo: 12.100 percent
- Sells: 12.100 percent
- Kayenta: 12.100 percent
- Fredonia: 11.725 percent
- Tonalea: 11.725 percent
- Leupp: 11.725 percent
- Kaibito: 11.725 percent
- Cameron: 11.725 percent
- San Luis: 11.700 percent

* Highest in the nation.

1 comment:

Debra Speakes said...

Maybe if the media would stop playing into the legislature's hands by calling these tax increases a "cent" or a "penny" instead of what they really are -- a PERCENT -- maybe people wouldn't be so quick to vote for them. That "penny" tax increase that was NOT voted for by me was actually more than an eighteen percent increase in the tax RATE. When something goes from 5.6 to 6.6 it has increased by a huge percentage but the constant headlines about the "one cent" increase trivialized what is actually a huge burden on low income people.

If the media had instead been saying "Arizona proposition (whatever it was) will increase the sales tax rate by nearly eighteen percent, increasing the state tax on each hundred dollars spent from $5.60to $6.60" people might not have been so quick to approve it. It's only a "penny" if you're only spending a dollar.

If the average family spends, say, $18,000 a year on things that are taxable, that's 18,000 pennies they're being asked to cough up. $180 DOLLARS, not "a penny." Six tanks of gas, not "a penny." Nine bales of hay (at today's prices), not "a penny." Eighteen pizzas at your favorite restaurant, not "a penny." Four nights out at a movie wth your family, not "a penny."

And if you happen to buy a new car? Figure on 25,000 more "pennies" raising the sales tax bill in Payson from $1930 to $2180 on a $25,000 car.

Still glad you voted for that "penny" increase?

No wonder we have one of the highest sales tax burdens in the country. We did it to ourselves, with the help of a media willing to trivialize the matter, one "penny" at a time.

People need to get a clue. It's not a "penny" it's a PERCENT. Do the math the next time you see something like this on the ballot and vote NO.