Targeted Taxes: Localities Take Aim at Large Employers to Solve Homelessness and Transportation Challenges
70 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2019 Last revised: 14 May 2020
Date Written: September 5, 2019
Many localities are facing unprecedented challenges — such as a dramatic rise in homelessness and insufficient transportation infrastructure — that have reached crisis levels. These localities are in a precarious position. If they do not solve these problems quickly, or if they impose overbearing and poorly designed taxes, there will be dire economic and social repercussions.
In response to these challenges, several localities recently enacted or proposed taxes targeted directly at large businesses, with revenues allocated explicitly for a designated purpose. Localities are gravitating toward targeted taxes for several reasons. Some assert that the success of large employers within the locality contributed to, or even directly created, these challenges. Perhaps most importantly, targeted tax laws serve a clear expressive function. Depending on the locality’s primary objective, targeted taxes may be problematic and counterproductive.
This Article begins by examining the recent local targeted tax provisions, which have crucial distinctions in motivations and mechanics. The Article then undertakes a tax policy and constitutional analysis of these targeted taxes, and considers whether they are properly characterized as a tax or a fee. The Article concludes with several proposed alternatives that will generate the requisite revenue — and may serve an expressive function — more effectively than targeted taxes.
Keywords: Tax, State and Local Tax, Homeless, Transportation, Employee, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, New York
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