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Study: Taxing services could yield state $6.8B

October 12, 2009
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The non-partisan Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute this morning released a new study exploring the ramifications of expanding the state's sales tax to include services.

In its last fiscal year, Indiana raised $5.7 billion from its 7-percent sales tax, which applies to the sales of most tangible goods, with exemptions for items such as prescription drugs, groceries and newspapers.

According to the IFPI study, Indiana could raise as much as another $6.76 billion annually if it extended its sales tax to include all service transactions. Even if Indiana exempted medical and legal services, Indiana could raise almost $4.5 billion from an expanded sales tax, according to IFPI.

Such figures are sure to appeal to legislators in Indiana's General Assembly, who struggled mightily over recession-driven spending cuts this spring. A special session was ultimately necessary to craft a two-year state budget.

Indiana government's economic picture hasn't improved much since then. On Oct. 8, Gov. Mitch Daniels revealed Indiana's revenue for the quarter ended Sept. 30 was $254 million less than previously predicted, despite the fact that Indiana's revenue forecast has been repeatedly revised downward.

New revenue could help fill such gaps. But an expansion of Indiana's sales tax has many potential drawbacks, which the IFPI study details.

For starters, Indiana's 7-percent state sales tax is already the highest in the Great Lakes region. Extending it might prompt Indiana residents to seek services elsewhere. Indiana is currently tied with Mississippi, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Tennessee for the second-highest sales tax in the nation. Only California's 7.25 percent tax is higher.

The IFPI study points out that the effective sales tax rate is actually higher in some regions because of local sales taxes tacked onto state sales taxes. Alabama, for example, has a 4-percent sales-tax rate, but certain localities there have their own 6-percent sales taxes, creating a 10-percent total tax.

Most states, including Indiana, already tax a few services, such as public utilities, hotel-room rentals and stadium admissions, according to IFPI. But only a few, such as South Dakota, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Mexico, Delaware and Washington, tax more than a handful of services.

Indiana currently ranks 39th among states for the number of services it taxes, taxing 24 of 168 services surveyed by the Federation of Tax Administrators.

The logistics of expanding the sales tax to additional services would be challenging for some businesses. IFPI points out it could be difficult for many businesses to levy such a tax. Businesses that already sell some goods would have an easier time than pure-service providers. For example, a cosmetologist that now collects taxes on the shampoos and conditioners its sells while exempting styling services, would simply have to stop segregating taxable and nontaxable sales.

But other businesses that sell no tangible goods would find they suddenly must establish a relationship with the Indiana Department of Revenue and maintain a whole new type of record. The cost could be significant, IFPI points out, particularly for small businesses.

"Of the major sources of revenue available to the state, broad-based taxation of services is the only one yet to be tapped by the State of Indiana," wrote the IFPI report's author, Earl Ryan. "The revenue possibilities are great, and it would bring a degree of equity to the tax system. At the same time, defining the base would be difficult, both conceptually and politically, and the cost of collecting the tax on the part of both the state and the taxpayers would be significant."

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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