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Will the Remote Work Revolution Undermine Progressive State Income Taxes?

David Agrawal and Kirk J. Stark

No 1119, GLO Discussion Paper Series from Global Labor Organization (GLO)

Abstract: The remote work revolution raises the possibility that a much larger segment of the population will be able to sever the geographic linkage between home and work. This new development implicates several foundational questions in the law and economics of U.S. fiscal federalism. What are the taxing rights of states as to nonresident remote workers employed by firms within the state? May a state impose income taxes on nonresident employees only to the extent they are physically working within the state? Does state taxing power extend to all income derived from in-state firms, including wages paid to those who never set foot in the state? How these legal questions are resolved has important implications for the future of state income taxes. Standard sourcing rules attribute wage income to the employee's physical location. In the presence of remote work, however, rigid ad-herence to this physical presence rule could intensify the progressivity-limiting dynamics of federalism by re-ducing the costs to households of exploiting labor income tax differentials across jurisdictions. In this article, we document the rise of remote work, the status of state-level income tax progressivity as well as its evolution over time, and the correlation between work from home trends and progressivity. We consider how alternative legal rules for the sourcing of income can affect telework-induced mobility, but conclude that, regardless of which sourcing regime prevails in coming legal battles, the rise of remote work is likely to limit redistribution via state income taxes. While some sourcing rules may better preserve progressivity in the short term than others, the more fundamental threat to progressive state tax regimes derives from remote work's long-term erosion of the benefits of urban spatial clustering. To the extent that the nation's productive cities lose their allure as centers of agglomeration and the wages of high-skilled workers in these cities fall, the ability of their host states to pursue redistributive tax policies will likely be constrained. Significantly, these deglomeration effects will arise regard-less of how state taxing rights are adapted for the remote work era, and therefore may carry with them implica-tions for income tax progressivity at the federal level as well.

Keywords: income tax; remote work; sourcing rules; progressivity (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: H2 H7 J6 K3 R5 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-lab, nep-law, nep-pbe, nep-pub and nep-ure
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Citations: View citations in EconPapers (7)

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