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New state tax revenue data gives spending insight

April 8, 2014

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New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau on state tax revenues are just out for the fourth quarter of 2013, with the annual summary for the full year also due out April 8.

Because these figures are broken down into categories ranging from property tax to alcohol purchases, you might consider using them as a launching pad for a look at not just overall consumption of goods and services, but industry-level fiscal health, as well.

Fourth-quarter results of the survey “indicate the economy is improving,” as Bankrate.com reported recently; the financial site points out that property taxes, in particular, are up about 3 percent over the last three months of 2012.  More important, it’s the first time since 2009, Bankrate noted, that the total property taxes collected by states broke the $180 billion mark — a sign that real estate prices are heading up.

Here’s the link to the bureau’s latest quarterly report, and here’s a link to the page for the annual survey summary.  And while the major categories like sales, income and property taxes can provide an overall snapshot of state fiscal health — here, for example, is a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis from 2013 that focuses on big-picture issues, it’s the 25 subcategories that might be ripe for interesting local angles that reflect consumer spending, confidence and income.

Hunting and fishing licenses, tobacco sales, motor fuel consumption — all are areas that are tracked by license or sales tax data.   And “severance taxes,” as this National Conference of State Legislatures graphic explained, pertain to natural resource harvesting — taking a look at historical figures can paint a picture of how materials like coal, natural gas, oil, ore, precious metals and more are being harvested.

You want to look for State Tax Collections by State; the Census Bureau’s site offers historical data searchable by year and quarter depending on which periods you want to compare.  (A chart showing quarterly collections by selected categories going back to, say, third-quarter 2008 would be quite interesting)

For example, if your region is home to a horse-racing track, check out the ebb and flow of pari-mutuel tax revenue — a timely topic with the sport’s centerpiece Kentucky Derby coming up.  Check out any pending legislation pertaining to racing — Kentucky hopes to tax online wagering, for example — and any other changes that may boost or reduce the state’s take.

Tax revenue from alcholic beverages is another area to look at; what’s behind any change?  Are consumers tippling more or less, or are new businesses adding to the tax receipts; this Reno Gazette-Journal reports that start-up distilleries and breweries are boosting Nevada’s state coffers.   The amusements category is intriguing as well — definitions seem to vary by state, with some including nightclub admission fees, others taxing pool tables and juke boxes.  Kiddie rides and pinball machines also are mentioned on some state treasury websites, though I believe this category doesn’t include casino machines.   How fascinating in this day of Candy Crush and ubiquitous slot machines to take a look at the more venerable and nostalgic business of coin-operated devices (do gumball machines count, too?) and the companies still in the business of running them.


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