Much of the toughest U.S. competition for new businesses and new jobs comes not from developing countries like India or Pakistan, but from one of the 50 United States. The state of Washington, for example, gave Boeing incentives totalling $8.7 billion in late 2013 to keep Boeing from building an assembly plant somewhere else. And there were plenty of somewhere-elses.
Incentives like that make a big difference, but a state’s corporate tax structure also plays a big role. Some states, like say New York or California, the homes to the finance and technology industries, respectively, can have high-cost tax structure because so many people and businesses want to be at the center of the action.
Other states, like say Wyoming and South Dakota, are unlikely to attract the next Apple or Google or Goldman Sachs, but they can troll for smaller fish because they can sweeten an offer to companies that might have a smaller number of employees. California and New York basically tell companies that size that if they want to play they have to pay.
What’s the gap between the most tax-friendly states and the least tax-friendly? The non-partisan Tax Foundation says in its 2017 State Business Tax Climate Index that the absence of a major tax type is a common factor as are the rates charged by the basket of corporate taxes. To create its index the Tax Foundation looks at a state’s corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales tax, unemployment insurance tax, and property tax and ranks the states on a combined ranking score of all these taxes.
The 10 states ranked best by the Tax Foundation are:
- South Dakota
- New Hampshire
All 10 states assess both property taxes and unemployment insurance taxes. Some (Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada) have no corporate or individual income taxes while others (Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon) have no statewide sales taxes.
The 10 states that were ranked worst by the Tax Foundation are:
50. New Jersey
49. New York
44. Rhode Island
About the lowest ranked states, and particularly 50th-ranked New Jersey, the Foundation noted:
The states in the bottom 10 tend to have a number of shortcomings in common: complex, non-neutral taxes with comparatively high rates. New Jersey, for example, is hampered by some of the highest property tax burdens in the country, is one of just two states to levy both an inheritance tax and an estate tax, and maintains some of the worst-structured individual income taxes in the country.
Tax Foundation policy analyst Jared Walczak said:
Our goal with the State Business Tax Climate Index is to start a conversation between taxpayers and policymakers about how their states fare against the rest of the country. While there are many ways to show how much a state collects in taxes, the Index is designed to show how well states structure their tax systems, and to provide a roadmap for improvement.
A state’s tax structure may be a sounder way to keep businesses from moving to another state. Incentives such as the package Washington handed to Boeing can take unexpected twists. In less than a year, Boeing announced the transfer of about 2,000 engineers in its defense division from Seattle to Oklahoma City and St. Louis and that it would build portions of the wings and tails for the 777X in St. Louis.
The lost jobs were technically not part of the deal between Boeing and the state. But that doesn’t mean the transfers and job losses weren’t a bitter pill for some legislators and some Boeing workers.
See the full Tax Foundation report for further details on the index and methodology.