Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Congress uses the income tax to regulate. Because states impose their own income taxes on the federally-defined income tax base, rather than on separately determined state tax bases, states automatically import federal policies into their own tax systems. But federal tax policies reflect national, not local, political choices. This Article calls attention to the practice of tax base conformity and to its advantages and drawbacks. Conformity conserves legislative, administrative, and judicial resources, and it reduces taxpayers’ compliance burdens. At the same time, however, conforming states cede tax autonomy to the federal government, thereby exposing themselves to revenue volatility stemming from the ever-changing federal tax law. Additionally, conformity jeopardizes the values served by federalism, including regulatory competition, diffusion of power, promotion of local values and policy preferences, and policy experimentation. Conformity also imports the defects of the federal tax base into state tax law. While the significant administrative and compliance advantages of federal-state tax base conformity suggest that it is here to stay, this Article makes recommendations for reducing its adverse impacts and for further study.