This article examines congressional activity in the state and local tax area to determine when, if ever, Congress will enact legislation mandating uniformity in state and local taxation. The article begins by briefly describing our current system of state and local taxation and explaining why we need more uniformity therein.
The article then provides an empirical study of congressional activity in the state and local tax area between January, 1971 and May, 1996. Specifically, it focuses first on four discrete but representative areas in which Congress has enacted legislation regulating state and local taxation, and, second, on four discrete but representative areas in which Congress has repeatedly introduced bills but has not yet enacted legislation to determine when Congress will act in the state and local tax area. The empirical evidence shows that narrow self-interest plays a very important role in determining when Congress will legislate in this area. It suggests that Congress will legislate in the state and local tax area if the legislation (1) personally benefits members of Congress; (2) benefits a specific, well-defined interest group that orchestrates an extensive campaign with limited opposition; or (3) represents a compromise between the states and taxpayers and is part of a much larger legislative package. The evidence further indicates that Congress will not enact legislation regulating state and local taxation if the legislation offers diffuse benefits unless the interested parties are willing and able to reach a compromise on the subject.
The article then analyzes the empirical evidence in light of the public choice theory of legislation. That theory, which applies economic theory to analyze the political process, predicts that Congress is unlikely ever to enact legislation mandating uniformity in state and local taxation. The article shows that the empirical evidence is fairly, but not completely, consistent with the public choice theory.
Finally, the article concludes by noting that the empirical evidence and the public choice theory cast doubt on the likelihood of Congress ever enacting legislation mandating uniformity in state and local taxation. The article contends, however, that relational feminist theory offers some hope that such legislation may someday be enacted.