In the waning days of 2017, taxpayers in California, New York and other relatively high-tax states tried to storm the lifeboats of temporary taxpayer relief.
They knew that come January, the federal deduction for their local and state taxes would be capped at $10,000, and so, many people made prepayments in an effort to benefit under the old tax law. They also knew that red-state Republicans designed this change to siphon more dollars out of Democratic-voting parts of the country. That is, them.
As the tax bills made their way through Congress, Stephen Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation and former adviser to candidate Donald Trump, called the Republican tax law “death to Democrats.”
Actually, it could be death to the Republican control of Congress, not to mention the careers of Republican politicians in the states being targeted. To reverse the outrage of the blatant blue-state tax, voters in these high-cost states must flip control of the House to Democrats. And they can do it.
The GOP majority in the House would be history if Republicans lost the more than two dozen seats it holds in the states under attack.
Among those most likely to be hit by tax increases under the new tax law are the middle- and upper-middle class homeowners who itemize their deductions and benefited from the ability to include an unlimited amount of state and local taxes. Many of these voters have been the backbone of Republican support in otherwise Democratic parts of the country.
“When my constituents who are very good with their numbers tell me that they are going to be [paying] $5,000 to $10,000 more in taxes, I’m supposed to represent their interests,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Republican from Southern California, unhappily said. (He voted against the bill.)
Here are the numbers: Democrats need to gain 24 seats in the 2018 midterm elections to take over the House. California and New York together send 23 Republicans to the House. Add in the 13 Republicans representing high-income blue states of New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland, and Democrats could have a shot at 37 Republican-held seats.
Beyond a cynical milking of blue states, capping the deduction for local and state taxes violates the doctrine of federalism, which conservatives say they hold dear.
Federalists promote the sharing of power among the federal government and state and local governments. But a tax law that makes it harder for states and localities to raise revenues depletes their ability to do anything. And it’s a form of double taxation, forcing many Americans to pay federal taxes on income that was previously taxed by state and local governments.
On top of that, the federal income tax was already a blue-state tax. That’s because the cost of living tends to be higher in Democratic-voting areas, many on the expensive coasts, and that is reflected in higher incomes.
But the tax code does not factor in the cost of living when setting marginal rates. All else being equal, a couple in Babylon on Long Island would have to make $111,000 a year to live as well as a couple earning $69,000 in Wheeling, West Virginia. But the New York couple would be taxed as richer people.
Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, has complained that New York state sends far more in tax dollars to Washington than it receives in federal spending.
A study by New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that in the 2016 fiscal year, New York got 84 cents back for every dollar, the 47th worst showing in the nation. New Jersey ranks 50th. The study found that the average state receives $1.18 in spending for every tax dollar it sends to Washington. And that was before Congress decided to hike the taxes on many of Peter King’s middle- and upper-middle class constituents.
Over many years, the blue states have largely swallowed this inequity. Though the situation is unfair, these states haven’t turned indexing the federal tax rates for cost of living into a major cause. But the new tax law further burdening their voters compounds the existing inequity.
The median income in King’s home county, Nassau County, is $102,000 a year. The average property tax in Nassau County exceeds $11,000. These high numbers help explain why more than half the taxpayers in Nassau County itemize their deductions.
So even though King and a number of blue-state Republicans voted against the tax law, their presence in Washington preserves the Republicans’ House majority. They were clearly powerless to stop this travesty against their own voters.
Trump and his Republican allies err in thinking they can dismiss Democratic parts of the country without serious electoral repercussions. As president, Trump has yet to even visit California, the most populous state (and the world’s sixth largest economy). That makes him the first president not to go there in his first calendar year in office since Dwight Eisenhower — and Eisenhower visited California in his 13th month.
Although the state government is overwhelmingly Democratic, California still sends 14 Republicans to Congress. Many of their constituents vote Republican precisely to cut their taxes. Now look what’s happening to them.
Underneath many of these voters’ frenzied efforts to move future state and local tax payments into 2017 is the bitter knowledge that their taxes are actually being raised — and by Republicans. That’s one reason why Republicans may have hell to pay on November 6.