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Don’t Look Now But There Is Glimmer of Sensible Tax Policy in Congress

A long-overdue measure to limit state taxation of non-residents has cleared its first committee, reports the Tax Policy Blog. The House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 1864, the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act, which provides:

An employee’s wages or other remuneration shall be subject to state income tax only in either:

-the employee’s state of residence, or

-a state where the employee is present and performing employment duties for more than 30 days during the calendar year. A day counts if the employee performs more employment duties in that state than in any other state during that day. Travel time does not count.

For traveling taxpayers, that’s good news. Lord knows how many loyal Going Concern readers flit from state to state in their unceasing efforts to ensure that the Nation’s financial statements are fairly stated in all material respects. But it’s also bad news — it reminds us that right now you can be taxable in a state after spending as little as a day there.

Why are the states so greedy? Think of LeBron James. When he visits the Staples Center to beat up the Clippers, the home team may lose, but the Franchise Tax Board wins every time. But the tax law in its majesty applies as much to the newbie auditor sent to count vegetables as to LeBron.

Fortunately for our auditor, the firm will probably tell her how much of her income is taxable in each state. Unfortunately, it won’t do all of the extra tax returns she will have to file in all of the exciting states a modern jet-setting auditor may visit.

H.R. 1864 is a long way from perfect. Its biggest flaw is that it doesn’t protect visiting entertainers or athletes. Sure, LeBron can afford the tax help to file in a couple dozen states, but the same rules apply to minor league ballplayers, comedians trying to become senators, and your friendly struggling road band. Still, anything that helps abused staff accountants isn’t all bad.

The proposal is a long ways from becoming law. The high tax states hate any limitations on their ability to pick visitor pockets. Still, it’s nice to have at least a glimmer of hope for sanity.