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Tug on taxpayer purse strings is gentler in many states this year

By George B. MerryStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 8, 1984



Boston

This may be the year millions of American taxpayers have been waiting for. While state tax boosts aren't exactly a thing of the past, the number of increases in the past five months is down substantially.

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And with many legislatures winding down their 1984 sessions, prospects for more tax hikes in the next seven months are increasingly remote.

Those close to the state financial scene are reluctant to suggest that the squeeze on state coffers is over, but they generally agree that new taxation this year will fall far short of the record $7.5 billion in 1983 and the $3.5 billion in 1982 and $2.5 billion in 1981.

Since January only 11 states have raised one or more levies. And five states - Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin - have lowered some , either through legislative action or by allowing temporary increases to lapse. Similar moves are on the way in Delaware, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

By contrast, last year 39 states raised one or more taxes and reductions of even modest proportions were virtually nonexistent.

Contributing to the current less taxing environment is the desire of lawmakers to please, or at least not displease, voters in an election year.

In addition, many states now have small surpluses in their treasuries resulting from the improved economy.

Robert Schleck of the Washington D.C.-based Tax Foundation Inc. declined to speculate about the outcome of pending tax legislation, but said that ''even if all proposed increases and decreases are approved, the net gain in revenue produced would be only around $1.15 billion.''

Some states, including several that had major tax increases in the past 17 months, are better off than others, observes Steven Gold of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

''Most of the states raising taxes this year generally did not have major tax increases last year,'' he notes.

Particularly in need of increased revenue are Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, three states heavily dependent on income from oil and natural gas exploration, which has been slowed considerably by falling prices.

Oklahoma lawmakers, who last November rejected $650 million in tax increases recommended by Gov. George Nigh, this spring approved a $260 million revenue measure.

It includes raising the sales tax from 2 percent to 3 percent, hiking the gasoline tax from 6.58 to 9 cents a gallon, increasing liquor taxes, and making cigarettes subject to the state sales tax as well as the cigarette tax.

The year's biggest tax boosts so far are in Louisiana, where a $136 million hike enacted last December was followed by a $732 million tax package early this spring. And on May 30 Gov. Edwin W. Edwards proposed additional raises projected to yield another $293 million annually.

Increases put on the books since January in Louisiana include a sales tax boost from 3 to 4 percent, doubling the gasoline tax from 8 to 16 cents a gallon , hiking the cigarette tax from 11 to 16 cents a pack, and boosts of varying amounts in liquor and corporate income taxes.

The latest gubernatorial proposal would drop the gasoline tax to 12 cents a gallon, double the Louisiana corporate-franchise tax, and reduce the sales-tax exemption on personal income taxes.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Texas, lawmakers called into special session on June 4 face a $1.3 billion tax-boost package to improve public education and roads.