In Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, New Mexico collected $8.6 billion in state and local taxes. While this is an impressive sum of money, it tells us little about whether or not the average New Mexico taxpayer can afford this level of taxation.
As shown in Chart 1, New Mexico’s state and local tax burden (tax collections divided by private sector personal income) was the fifth highest in the nation for FY 2015 at 18.8 percent—or 31 percent above the national average of 14.4 percent.
As shown in Chart 2, New Mexico’s tax burden has increased over time by 65 percent to 18.8 percent in FY 2015 from 11.4 percent in FY 1950.
As shown in Chart 3, New Mexico’s 18.8 percent tax burden is greater than these combined industries: retail trade (7.7 percent), construction (6.7 percent), manufacturing (3.4 percent), and utilities (1.1 percent).
New Mexico’s tax burden by type is one of extremes. One the positive side New Mexico has a low property tax burden (3.4 percent, 38th highest), individual income tax burden (3 percent, 34th highest). However, New Mexico has a very high sales tax burden (7.1 percent, 2nd highest), and all other taxes burden (4.8 percent, 6th highest).
New Mexico’s sales tax is actually a gross receipts tax meaning that it is levied on a very broad-based number of goods and services and that leads to tax pyramiding. Tax pyramiding creates all kinds of very bad economic distortions (pdf) by imposing higher effective tax burdens on some industries, but not others—especially industries that are near the end of the value-added chain.
New Mexico does need to ditch the gross receipts tax, but at the same time increasing other taxes is not the answer either. The solution is to adopt a Business Flat Tax like the one I’ve proposed for New Hampshire (pdf).
Additionally, New Mexico allows their localities to levy an additional percentage over the state rate of 5.125 percent in 2017. According to the Tax Foundation, as of January 1, 2017, the combined state and local sales tax rate for New Mexico averages to 7.55 percent which is the 15th highest in the country.
Finally, New Mexico’s high all other taxes burden is due to the Severance Tax Permanent Fund which levies a 12.5 percent tax on coal, natural gas, oil, and other minerals. According to the New Mexico State Investment Council website:
“The Severance Tax Permanent Fund (STPF) was created by the New Mexico Legislature in 1973, as a way to save and invest the severance taxes not being used that year to bond capital projects. The taxes originate from oil, gas and other natural resources as they were taken (severed) from the state.”
“Voters later approved constitutional protections for the STPF against legislative appropriation from the corpus of the fund, which coupled with investment returns, allowed the fund to grow. The STPF annually distributes 4.7% of its 5-year average, or about $200 million per year to the state’s general fund.”
“Combined distributions from the Permanent Funds essentially deliver, on average, about $1000 in value annually for every household in New Mexico. Without the distributions produced by these Funds every year, New Mexicans would face much higher taxes, a significant reduction in government services, or both.”
High severance taxes also pose another quandary in that they are generally considered by economist to be passed onto the consumer in the form of higher prices. As a result, much of the severance tax burden can be “exported” to the other 49 states. The tax burden analysis published by the Tax Foundation performs adjustments for this impact and ranks New Mexico as the 37th highest in the country with a tax burden of 8.7 percent of income in 2012.
While “tax exporting” is an important economic consideration, policymakers need to be aware of the size of tax collections relative to the private sector economy. Tax exporting may mean lower tax burdens in the short-run, tax exporting is not a costless transaction as it creates economic distortions in the long-run. As such, tax burdens estimates shown here at Key Policy Data and those published by the Tax Foundation are both useful to policymakers.
Of course, the tax burdens for local government can vary just as much as they do among the 50 states. As such, we have also calculated the local government tax burden for every county in New Mexico—this includes every taxing jurisdiction within the geographic county borders whether it is a city, a special district, or county government itself.
The New Mexico counties with the highest local government tax burden include:
The New Mexico counties with the lowest local government tax burden include:
Finally, don’t forget to watch our exclusive time-lapse video of state and local tax burdens over the last 65 years! See if your state has been above or below the national average?
Scott has nearly 20 years of experience as a public policy economist. He is the author, co-author and editor of over 180 studies and books. His professional experience also includes positions at the American Conservative Union Foundation, Granite Institute, Federalism In Action, Maine Heritage Policy Center, Tax Foundation, and Heritage Foundation.