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Portfolio Substitution and the Revenue Cost of Exempting State and Local Government Interest Payments from Federal Income Tax


  • James M. Poterba
  • Arturo Ramirez Verdugo


This paper explores how alternative assumptions about household portfolio behavior affect estimates of the revenue cost of excluding state and local government interest payments from the federal income tax base. Standard tax expenditure estimates assume that current holders of tax-exempt bonds would replace their holdings of tax-exempt bonds with taxable bonds if the tax exemption were eliminated. We consider a number of alternative possible portfolio responses. Because taxable bonds are among the most heavily taxed assets, assuming that investors holding tax-exempt bonds would otherwise hold taxable bonds yields a larger estimate of the revenue cost of tax exemption than many alternative assumptions. Based on data from the 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances, we estimate that the revenue cost of tax exemption under the "taxable bond substitution hypothesis" is $14.2 billion, compared with $10.1 billion if corporate stock replaces tax-exempt bonds in household portfolios, and $7.9 billion if investors distribute their tax-exempt bond holdings in proportion to the other assets currently in their portfolios. We also explore the revenue effects of capping the dollar amount of tax-exempt interest per tax return and of limiting tax-exempt interest as a fraction of AGI.

Suggested Citation

  • James M. Poterba & Arturo Ramirez Verdugo, 2008. "Portfolio Substitution and the Revenue Cost of Exempting State and Local Government Interest Payments from Federal Income Tax," NBER Working Papers 14439, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14439
    Note: PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Scholz, J.K., 1993. "Tax Progressivity and Household Portfolio: Descriptive Evidence from the Surveys of Consumer Finances," Working papers 9304, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
    2. Martin Gervais & Manish Pandey, 2008. "Who Cares About Mortgage Interest Deductibility?," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 34(1), pages 1-24, March.
    3. Joel B. Slemrod, 1983. "A General Equilibrium Model of Taxation with Endogenous Financial Behavior," NBER Chapters,in: Behavioral Simulation Methods in Tax Policy Analysis, pages 427-458 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Gordon, Roger H & Slemrod, Joel, 1983. " A General Equilibrium Simulation Study of Subsidies to Municipal Expenditures," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 38(2), pages 585-594, May.
    5. Alan J. Auerbach & Mervyn A. King, 1983. "Taxation, Portfolio Choice, and Debt-Equity Ratios: A General Equilibrium Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(4), pages 587-609.
    6. Chalmers, John M.R., 2006. "Systematic Risk and the Muni Puzzle," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 59(4), pages 833-848, December.
    7. Daniel R. Feenberg & James M. Poterba, 1991. "Which Households Own Municipal Bonds? Evidence From Tax Returns," NBER Working Papers 3900, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Daniel Feenberg & Elisabeth Coutts, 1993. "An introduction to the TAXSIM model," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(1), pages 189-194.
    9. Merle Erickson & Austan Goolsbee & Edward Maydew, 2002. "How Prevalent is Tax Arbitrage? Evidence from the Market for Municipal Bonds," NBER Working Papers 9105, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Jon Bakija, 2000. "The Effect of Taxes on Portfolio Choice: Evidence from Panel Data Spanning the Tax Reform Act of 1986," Department of Economics Working Papers 2000-05, Department of Economics, Williams College.
    11. James M. Poterba, 1986. "Explaining the Yield Spread between Taxable and Tax-exempt Bonds: The Role of Expected Tax Policy," NBER Chapters,in: Studies in State and Local Public Finance, pages 5-52 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    13. Roger H. Gordon & Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1991. "Do Tax-Exempt Bonds Really Subsidize Municipal Capital?," NBER Working Papers 3835, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Nicolas Sauter & Jan Walliser & Joachim Winter, 2010. "Tax Incentives, Bequest Motives, and the Demand for Life Insurance: Evidence from two Natural Experiments in Germany," CESifo Working Paper Series 3040, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. Robert Novy-Marx & Joshua D. Rauh, 2009. "The Liabilities and Risks of State-Sponsored Pension Plans," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(4), pages 191-210, Fall.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H7 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations

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