Tax expenditure and tax prices

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The purpose of this dissertation is to examine an unexplored aspect of tax expenditures: the tax-price implications of tax exemptions, deductions and credits. Although this implication of tax expenditures has not been adequately examined, two separate lines of analysis have been suggested by the existing literature. Some authors have emphasized the welfare costs of tax expenditures. To the extent that tax expenditures narrow the tax base the introduction or extension of a tax expenditure undoubtedly makes the cost of raising revenue more than it would be otherwise. This kind of cost, denoted as a welfare cost, can be incorporated into a model of individual tax-price determination.

On the other hand, other authors have emphasized another tax-price implication of tax expenditures: that the introduction or extension of a tax expenditure changes the cost-shares faced by each taxpayer, exclusive of any welfare cost. Since an individual's cost-share is nothing more than his personal tax base divided by the aggregate tax base, this result emerges because a tax expenditure usually changes the individual's tax base in a manner disproportionate to the change in the aggregate tax base. This dissertation will explore and combine each line of analysis, both theoretically and empirically.

In the first portion of the dissertation a model of tax-price determination is developed that explicitly incorporates the welfare cost of taxation. Various tax expenditures are then introduced into the model and their effects on individual tax-price schedules discerned. In this way the influence a tax expenditure has on an individual's choice over public sector size can be surmised.

The next portion develops within the confines of a simple median voter model some potential allocative implications of various tax expenditures. This portion traces out the expected change in the median voter's desired quantity of the collective good, given various tax expenditures, via an analysis of the cost-share impact of the various tax expenditures. Although in this section welfare costs are not explicitly considered or all possible political cases outlined, the analysis does look at a set of cases that are of general interest.

The final portion of the dissertation considers the influence tax expenditures taken in toto have on both the cost-sharing arrangement among individual taxpayers and the welfare cost to individual taxpayers. The results are used to gauge both the distributive and allocative implications of tax expenditures.