National Tax Journal

The Genesis of Senior Income Tax Breaks

Karen Smith Conway, and Jonathan C. Rork

65 National Tax Journal 1043-68 (December 2012)


This article conducts two investigations — searching historical documents and testing the conclusions drawn with an econometric model of policy adoption — into why federal and state governments began offering senior income tax breaks. Such tax breaks began by accident but their existence justified additional breaks. The two main breaks — the aged and the "pension" income exemptions — evolved under different, unrelated processes. The federal government initiated the aged exemption in part to address the high post-war cost of living, and the states followed. Conversely, pension exemptions were initiated by the states, did not become common until the 1970s, and have evolved into weapons of state policy competition.

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