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The Assignment and Division of the Tax Base in a System of Hierarchical Governments

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  • William Hoyt

    ()
    (Gatton School of Business and Economics and Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Kentucky)

Abstract

The existence of either "horizontal" fiscal externalities, in which changes in one jurisdiction's policies affect the government budget of other jurisdictions and therefore the utility of its residents or "vertical" externalities, in which changes in one level of government's policies affect the budget of another level of government, may lead to non-optimal government policies. These fiscal externalities, then, suggest the possibility of corrective policies. The focus here is on vertical externalities. In a growing literature, these externalities are associated with the extent that tax bases are shared or "co-occupied" by two different levels of government. Given that co-occupancy is the cause of or at least exacerbates the externality, I consider, the optimal "assignment" of the tax base and, more specifically, whether the co-occupancy of tax bases is desirable. Specifically, I examine the optimal extent of the tax base of a lower level of government (local) and a higher level (state) in a hierarchical system of governments. The co-occupancy of the tax base influences the magnitude and possible the direction of "vertical" fiscal externalities associated with the taxes of one or both of the levels of government. Using a model in which there is a continuum of commodities, each with the same demand characteristics, I formally consider whether, as has been asserted in a number of studies, whether it is optimal to eliminate all co-occupancy between the tax bases of the two levels of government. While I find that it is indeed not optimal to have co-occupancy in the tax base in the absence of other corrective policies for the fiscal externality, eliminating co-occupancy does not, in general, eliminate fiscal externalities, meaning that tax rates can still be above or now below the socially-optimal level. Thus elimination of co-occupancy in the tax base is not a substitute for a policy such as intergovernmental matching grants which directly eliminates fiscal externalities. If alternative policies are available such as matching grants that do eliminate fiscal externalities and governments are restricted to set the same tax rate on all commodities in their base, the optimal division of the tax base changes dramatically -- optimality requires both governments tax the entire base. (JEL H77 - Intergovernmental Relations; Federalism)

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Kentucky, Institute for Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations in its series Working Papers with number 2005-07.

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Length: 41 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ifr:wpaper:2005-07

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  1. Alan J. Auerbach, 1982. "The Theory of Excess Burden and Optimal Taxation," NBER Working Papers 1025, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Besley, Timothy J. & Rosen, Harvey S., 1998. "Vertical externalities in tax setting: evidence from gasoline and cigarettes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(3), pages 383-398, December.
  3. Hoyt, William H., 1991. "Property taxation, Nash equilibrium, and market power," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 123-131, July.
  4. Arnott, Richard & Grieson, Ronald E., 1981. "Optimal fiscal policy for a state or local government," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 23-48, January.
  5. Linda Andersson & Thomas Aronsson & Magnus Wikstr–m, 2004. "Testing for Vertical Fiscal Externalities," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 243-263, 05.
  6. Wildasin, David E., 1983. "The welfare effects of intergovernmental grants in an economy with independent jurisdictions," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 147-164, March.
  7. Bev Dahlby, 1996. "Fiscal externalities and the design of intergovernmental grants," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 3(3), pages 397-412, July.
  8. Goodspeed, Timothy J., 2000. "Tax structure in a federation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(3), pages 493-506, March.
  9. Johnson, William R, 1988. "Income Redistribution in a Federal System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(3), pages 570-73, June.
  10. Wilson, John Douglas, 1989. "On the Optimal Tax Base for Commodity Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1196-1206, December.
  11. Esteller-More, Alex & Sole-Olle, Albert, 2001. "Vertical income tax externalities and fiscal interdependence: evidence from the US," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(2-3), pages 247-272, April.
  12. Robin W. Boadway & Frank R. Flatters, 1982. "Efficiency and Equalization Payments in a Federal System of Government: A Synthesis and Extension of Recent Results," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 15(4), pages 613-33, November.
  13. Hoyt, William H. & Jensen, Richard A., 1996. "Precommitment in a system of hierarchical governments," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(5), pages 481-504, August.
  14. Laurent Flochel & Thierry Madies, 2002. "Interjurisdictional Tax Competition in a Federal System of Overlapping Revenue Maximizing Governments," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 121-141, March.
  15. Quigley, John M., 2006. "Urban Economics," Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy, Working Paper Series qt0jr0p2tk, Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy.
  16. Gordon, Roger H, 1983. "An Optimal Taxation Approach to Fiscal Federalism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 98(4), pages 567-86, November.
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Cited by:
  1. Hikaru Ogawa & David Wildasin, 2007. "Think Locally, Act Locally: Spillovers, Spillbacks, and Efficient Decentralized Policymaking," Working Papers 2007-06, University of Kentucky, Institute for Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations.
  2. Wildasin, David E., 2007. "Pre–Emption: Federal Statutory Intervention in State Taxation," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 60(3), pages 649-62, September.
  3. Robin Boadway & Jean-Francois Tremblay, 2005. "A Theory of Vertical Fiscal Imbalance," Working Papers 2006-04, University of Kentucky, Institute for Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations.

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