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The Uneasy Case for Extending the Sales Tax to Services


Kirk J. Stark


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


Florida State University Law Review, 2003

Abstract:     
Commissioned in connection with a symposium in the Florida State University Law Review, this article examines the issue of whether to extend the retail sales tax to cover services. During the past fifty years, the U.S. economy has shifted from one based primarily on the production of goods to one dominated by the provision of services. Policymakers in several states have argued that the current sales tax base, which was established during the early 1930's, should be reformed because it currently fails to reach most services. I examine the principal arguments for and against the expansion of the sales tax base to cover services and conclude that, on balance, the case for reforming the sales tax in this manner is not persuasive. If state policymakers insist on broad-based consumption taxes, the retail sales tax is arguably the least effective levy in accomplishing that goal. The shortcomings of the retail sales tax as a broad-based consumption tax are traceable to the design of the tax as a point-of-purchase transactions tax. If the goal of sales tax reform is to reach all personal consumption, as advocates of taxing services suggest, states should consider alternative consumption taxes, such as the cash-flow (consumed income) consumption tax or a modified subtraction method value-added tax, such as the Hall-Rabushka "flat tax." The article offers some preliminary thoughts on the problems and complications involved in employing these alternative consumption taxes at the state and local level.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 71

Keywords: tax policy, tax reform, public finance, retail sales tax

JEL Classification: H2, H3, H7

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Date posted: March 24, 2003  

Suggested Citation

Stark , Kirk J., The Uneasy Case for Extending the Sales Tax to Services. Florida State University Law Review, 2003. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=388381 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.388381

Contact Information

Kirk J. Stark (Contact Author)
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-825-7470 (Phone)
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