An Economic and Political Look at Federalism in Taxation

Part I of this article examines the reasons for preferring locationally neutral taxes and explains the basic tension between locational neutrality and state and local autonomy in taxation. Part II examines the federal judicial check on state and local taxation, which often relies on a principle barring discrimination against outsiders or interstate commerce. Part III explores the need for a broad federal judicial check by examining state and local governments’ reasons for imposing (or avoiding) locationally distortive taxes, the countervailing benefits of allowing such governments broad autonomy in taxation, and Congress’ willingness to strike down locationally distortive taxes under its Commerce Clause powers. Part IV, the conclusion, provides specific recommendations for congressional and judicial action.