When a person lives in one state and works in another, the usual pattern is for the state of residence to require the person to compute an income tax based on all of the person’s income, and then to provide a credit for income taxes imposed by the other state on the income earned by that person in the other state. The credit is limited to the amount of income tax that the state of residence would impose on the income earned in the other state. So, to use a simple example, suppose X lives in State 1 and works in State 2. Suppose X’s only income is a $50,000 salary earned in State 2. Suppose State 2 imposes a $5,000 income tax on the salary. Suppose State 1 has a flat 3 percent income tax. X would compute a $1,500 income tax in State 1, but would then be permitted a credit not to exceed $1,500. In this example, X would not pay any tax to State 1.
In some instances, states enter into reciprocal agreements. Under these agreements each state agrees not to tax the income earned within its borders by someone who is a resident in the other state. The purpose of these agreements is twofold. First, it eliminates the complexity of computing the credit, something that often is much more intricate than demonstrated in the simple example above. Second, it shifts revenue so that taxpayers are paying income tax to their state of residence. How that works out in terms of revenue shifting depends on the numbers.
Now comes news that New Jersey’s Governor Christie has instructed state officials to examine and report to him on the possibility of withdrawing from the reciprocal income tax agreement that exists between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New Jersey officials estimate that the income tax they would collect from Pennsylvania residents working in New Jersey would “far outweigh” the taxes New Jersey collects on New Jersey residents working in Pennsylvania. Because Pennsylvania has a flat 3.07 percent rate and New Jersey has a progressive system with rates ranging from 1.4 percent to 8.97 percent, the impact on residents of each state working in the other state will vary. Pennsylvanians working in New Jersey for higher salaries will pay more tax because they will pay at New Jersey’s higher rates, and the Pennsylvania credit will be limited to Pennsylvania’s 3.07 percent rate. Pennsylvanians working in New Jersey for lower salaries will pay New Jersey income tax but then receive a Pennsylvania credit, leaving them with the same tax liability they otherwise would have had. New Jersey residents working in Pennsylvania for higher salaries will not pay more taxes, because they will receive a credit for the taxes paid to Pennsylvania. But New Jersey residents working in Pennsylvania for lower salaries will end up paying more taxes, because the credit for taxes paid to Pennsylvania will be limited to the lower tax paid to New Jersey. For example, a New Jersey resident earning $20,000 in Pennsylvania currently is not taxed in Pennsylvania. Ignoring deductions and assuming no other income, this person would have a $280 New Jersey income tax liability. If the reciprocal agreement is terminated, this person will be taxed in Pennsylvania in the amount of $614, will compute a New Jersey tax of $280, and will claim a credit of $614 limited to $280. This person will end up with a $334 income tax increase.
According to this graphic, roughly 100,000 south Jersey residents work in the southeastern Pennsylvania area. I did not try to figure out how many other New Jersey residents work in other parts of Pennsylvania. Roughly 40,000 southeastern Pennsylvania residents work in south Jersey. Again, I did not try to determine how many other Pennsylvanians work in New Jersey. The point is, Christie’s proposal would affect far more than a few people.
Fourteen years ago, another New Jersey governor floated a proposal to end the agreement. Opposition was rapid and strong. The agreement survived. What will happen this time if Christie decides to move forward with his proposal? Yes, there will be opposition. Will it succeed? We’ll find out soon enough. What are your thoughts?
Bruce – Your Host at The Tax Nook
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