From the Washington Post:
“According to data direct from the IRS, allowing property tax deductions up to $10,000 — which I fought for and won — will cover nearly every taxpayer in the Third Congressional District.”
— Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), in an opinion article, Nov. 18, 2017
A key feature of the House and Senate tax bills is ending the deduction for local and state taxes, which has been a feature of the U.S. tax code dating back to the Civil War. Republican leaders have argued that the low-tax states are subsidizing the high-tax states because the taxpayers in those states can’t deduct as much from their taxes. Indeed, six states — California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Pennsylvania — claim more than half of the value of all state and local tax deductions nationwide, according to IRS data. In the tax trade, the deduction is known as the SALT deduction.
But this had been a problem for Republican lawmakers from those states, as it means that at least some of their constituents might face higher taxes. During deliberations in the House, MacArthur won a compromise that would allow as much as $10,000 in property taxes to continue to be deducted. (A similar provision was added to the Senate version in the flurry of last-minute bargaining.) In an opinion article — which also favorably mentioned The Fact Checker — he argued that he managed to get a deal that “will cover nearly every taxpayer” in his district.
We decided to take a ground-level look at how he justifies this statement.
The 3rd Congressional District is in the south-central portion of New Jersey, covering most of Burlington County and portions of Ocean County. The median household income is $68,300.
MacArthur was initially opposed to the GOP plan when it called for eliminating the deduction for all state and local taxes, arguing for an exemption for property taxes. He made the case that while income taxes are based on how much you make, property increases in value beyond a person’s control. (A retiree may have lived in a house for many years, for instance.) According to the Tax Foundation, New Jersey has the highest per capita property tax of any state.
Since 1996, New Jersey has capped the deduction for property taxes at $10,000, so the House bill would be in line with that concept. MacArthur was the only GOP lawmaker from New Jersey to support the tax bill, with the others decrying the impact on taxpayers in New Jersey who itemize deductions.
According to MacArthur’s staff, IRS data show that there are 360,000 taxpayers in the 3rd district, of whom 210,000 take the standard deduction or do not take a deduction for the property tax. That means that about 42 percent of taxpayers itemize, which is higher than the 30 percent for all U.S. taxpayers.
Two other big deductions — for mortgages and charitable contributions — would still be allowed, though the House would reduce the size of new mortgages that can be covered from $1 million to $500,000. (The Senate bill makes no reduction.)
MacArthur’s staff says that these are conservative estimates, but essentially 93.3 percent of taxpayers in the district would be covered by the $10,000 property tax cap. That figure, they say, justifies the use of the phrase “nearly every taxpayer” in the opinion article. But it also means that 24,000 taxpayers — or 16 percent of the people who itemize — in his district are not covered by the cap.
Sounds good but, alas, it’s not quite so simple.
Under the House bill, the standard deduction would be doubled to $24,400 for couples and $12,200 for individuals. In many cases, these amounts would be higher than what people currently itemize, so it would become more advantageous to take the standard deduction.
In other words, the $10,000 cap would then become meaningless to them, because they would need substantial mortgage interest or charitable contributions to get above the thresholds for the standard deduction. (The House bill would eliminate other deductions, such as for high medical expenses.) According to an estimate by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which has a microsimulation tax model and has been critical of the tax proposals, about 60 percent of New Jersey taxpayers would no longer claim the property tax deduction.
In theory, for many taxpayers the loss of deductions would not matter if the standard deduction is larger than what people would have claimed with itemized deductions. But the tax bills would also eliminate dependent and personal exemptions worth $4,050 each. Instead, a child tax credit would be expanded, to $1,600, and there would be a new $300 family credit, but these would phase out at income levels of $115,000 for single parents and $230,000 for married parents. Single tax filers would lose their exemptions but of course would not get a child or family credit.
MacArthur thus is highlighting the impact of the property tax deduction in isolation without considering the interaction with other aspects of the tax bill. An analysis of the Senate tax bill by the New York Times, focusing on the impact on the middle class, found that people who pay a lot in state and local taxes (more than $4,400) have a greater chance of experiencing a tax increase.