Arnold: Following COVID Guidelines Proves Taxing

Arnold: Following COVID Guidelines Proves Taxing Arnold: Following COVID Guidelines Proves Taxing

(Kharollmendoza/Dreamstime.com)

By Brandon Arnold | Thursday, 17 December 2020 12:49 PM

Much to America’s collective frustration, government recommendations and restrictions have changed repeatedly since the start of the pandemic: They said we shouldn’t wear a mask, only to quickly reverse that guideline. They closed gyms and restaurants, then partially opened them, and now they’re closing them again.

One thing that has been consistent, however, is that people who are able to work from home should do so. That has always been an important way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Millions of Americans shifted their lives to follow the guidelines, turning their homes into make-shift offices and classrooms for the greater good.

That’s why Congress must step up to block outrageous attempts by state governments to tax out-of-state workers during the pandemic.

Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have introduced bipartisan legislation that should be included in the next COVID-19 relief package.

Their bill would stop aggressive states that are trying to reach across state lines into the pockets of individuals and businesses.

It would stop New York, for instance, which plans to tax out-of-state healthcare workers who bravely traveled to New York City to aid patients during the first wave of the virus.

The Thune-Brown bill would also halt attempts by Massachusetts to specifically target individuals who are working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Massachusetts should not be allowed to apply its state income taxes on individuals who are following the rules and working from home during these difficult times.

Thankfully, New Hampshire is fighting back by filing a case in the Supreme Court.

If Congress doesn’t act, the U.S. Supreme Court ought to take up this case promptly and not only rule in favor of New Hampshire, but make it clear that other states cannot reach across their borders into the pockets of out-of-state workers and businesses.

It’s outrageous to see so many tax ideas that punish the very people who are “doing their part” getting traction. Deutsche Bank made headlines for its recommendation that the U.S. government impose a five percent tax on people who work from home. According to the bank’s study, that would amount to about a $48 billion tax increase on American workers.

Ironically, this has been dubbed the "privilege" tax.

Anyone with children who has spent the last eight months working home would certainly disagree. The last thing workers — and the economy — need right now are new punitive taxes as we continue to adjust to the new normal.

But — that’s exactly what politicians have been up to.

Increasing taxes on hardworking Americans is always problematic, but is particularly cruel at a time when so many are struggling to get back on their feet.

One of the few bright spots in all of this is the way the American people have risen to the task of reshaping the economy and overcoming adversity.

We’ve learned to work without the structure of a daily commute and time at a physical office.

Once the pandemic is over, many will continue to work from home, either on a permanent basis or on occasion. This should be welcome news — workplace flexibility benefits workers and employers alike, by allowing the former to better balance work/life responsibilities and the latter to reduce infrastructure costs.

There are also ancillary benefits, like reduced traffic congestion and a cleaner environment.

The pandemic has cost our nation nearly 308,000 lives in the United States alone. It has shuttered tens of thousands of businesses and caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs. The government can’t fix all of these problems, but it can at least try not to make things worse.

Congress should immediately pass legislation that prevents states from punishing people for doing the right thing — like working from home and adapting to the challenging circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Brandon Arnold is Executive Vice President at National Taxpayers Union (NTU)