Tag Archives: tax reform

Tax Policy Winners And Losers

I’ve posted previously about the GOP’s tax “reform” plan, and some of the truly despicable provisions hidden in the fine print. As more details emerge, it appears that my list–like the one below–barely scratches the surface.

Whatever the arguments in favor of the $1 trillion in corporate tax breaks contemplated by the measure, the original idea–the justification for reducing the rate– was that the rate could be lowered if the loopholes that allow large profitable corporations to pay little or no tax despite the published rate were eliminated. Somehow, however, the current version of the “reform” bill leaves corporations with both lower rates and their loopholes.

Speaking of corporations, Dana Milbank reported a revealing exchange in a recent Washington Post column.

Individuals lose the ability to deduct state and local taxes, tax preparation, moving expenses and most medical expenses. But corporations — think of them as Very Important Persons with superhuman privileges — can still deduct these same expenses.

At Monday’s markup, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) quizzed a tax expert on this corporate exceptionalism:

“Will a teacher in my district who buys pens, pencils and paper for his students be able to deduct these costs from his tax returns under this plan?” He will not.

“Will a corporation that buys pens, pencils and papers for its workers be able to deduct those costs from its tax returns?” It will.

“Will a firefighter in my district be able to deduct the state and local sales taxes that she pays from her tax return?” She will not.

“Will a corporation be able to deduct sales taxes on business purchases?” It will.

“If a worker in my district had to move because his employer was forcing him to relocate . . . can he deduct his moving expenses under this plan?” He cannot.

“Can a corporation under this plan deduct outsourcing expenses incurred in relocating a U.S. business outside the United States?” It can.

We Americans just love our corporations….they’re people, you know.

And isn’t it nice that Republican Americans are so “pro-life”? (Well, they’re pro pre born life; once that little bugger emerges from the womb, they are considerably less solicitous.) Among the non-fiscal measures in the tax “reform” bill is one intended to “protect babies”–aka fetuses and fertilized eggs. You’d think these pro-life men (they’re all men) would do anything they could to support  adoption as an alternative to abortion. But you’d be wrong.

The House Republican tax reform bill would completely eliminate the adoption tax credit, which has been in the tax code since 1997. It was a bipartisan achievement pushed through by former Texas Republican Rep. Bill Archer, who was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Designed to help cover “reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and other expenses,” the credit is available for up to $13,460 per child.

Some employers also offer adoption assistance in the form of financial aid and paid leave time. As of now, this type of assistance is tax-exempt, but the proposed bill would make such benefits subject to taxation.

The bill would also make adoption assistance from employers — which usually takes the form of financial aid and paid leave time — taxable.

Words fail.

I’m less surprised by the measures that would effectively destroy graduate education; the current crop of Republicans considers educated people snotty elitists. GOP officeholders sneer at scientists, oppose research funding, and think college professors are unAmerican.

Most graduate students get through their degree programs depending on assistantships, tuition waivers and lots of ramen noodle dinners. As Forbes reports,

Currently, these tuition waivers are paid by the college directly to itself, on behalf of the graduate student, and are not counted as taxable income. Under the current “reform” proposal, tuition waivers would be taxed as regular income, making graduate school an unaffordable proposition except for those already independently wealthy.

And then there’s that pesky little detail that the Congressional Budget Office finds problematic: this monstrosity will add 1.7 trillion to the deficit. (And that’s evidently after robbing Medicare and Social Security…) If you are looking for some of those Republican “deficit hawks” of yore, you are probably out of luck.

On the other hand, if you’re wondering why Paul Ryan is reportedly optimistic about passing this Thanksgiving turkey, Representative Chris Collins explained it the other day.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) got points for honesty Tuesday while advocating for Republicans’ tax bill to slash the corporate tax rate and eliminate the estate tax, among other things.

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Collins said.

I’m sure those donors are selfless patriots who simply want to see middle-class Americans get some tax relief. (And if you believe that, I have a swamp in Florida to sell you…)

The Horrific Truth

The GOP’s tax “reform” bill has now been unveiled. Reform it isn’t.

I guess all sentient beings already knew what was coming…but Krugman’s accurate prediction distills its awfulness.

Republicans in Congress know perfectly well that Trump is utterly unfit for office and has been abusing his position for personal gain…

If they nonetheless circle the wagons around Trump… there will be one main reason: Trump offers their big opportunity to cut taxes for the very wealthy. Indeed, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that almost 80 percent of the Trump tax cut would go to people with incomes over $1 million; these people would get an average cut of around $230,000 a year.

Now that Ryan and crew have unveiled the plan’s specifics, there is something for everyone to hate. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, the plan jeopardizes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education; it repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax (which insures that rich people with write-offs pay at least something), slashes corporate taxes and vastly increases the deficit (whatever happened to those GOP “deficit hawks”?)

Talking Points Memo zeroed in on what it identified as the five most controversial provisions; although I agree their chosen provisions are horrible, there are arguably others that are even worse. (I’m particularly incensed by the utterly insane attack on environmentally-friendly provisions; the bill eliminates tax credits for electric vehicles, and raises taxes on clean energy.)

TPM points out that changes to the treatment of mortgage interest and property taxes will have a negative effect on the value–and sales price–of homes. Those of us who factored in these deductions when we bought a home will be selling them to people who won’t get those deductions–and won’t be willing to pay as much.

The bill eliminates a deduction for medical bills that currently only benefits very sick people with high medical costs. It will hit senior citizens and the critically ill, giving new meaning to “kick ’em when they’re down.” It will also eliminate deductions for contributions to  certain medical savings accounts, and the tax credit for companies that make drugs that treat extremely rare diseases. (Without that tax credit, even fewer pharmaceutical companies will bother…)

The enormous amount of student loan debt has been identified as a major drag on the economy, so the “reform” bill makes it worse, eliminating the deductibility of interest on those loans.

We will no longer be able to take a deduction for state and local income taxes. I’ll just leave that one here for you to ponder.

And in the “fine print,” our happy theocrats buried repeal of the  “Johnson Amendment”—the 50-year-old policy that churches lose their tax exempt status if they endorse candidates or engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit.

Repealing the Johnson Amendment isn’t the only culture war provision hidden in the dry language of tax policy. Welcome to “Fetal Personhood.”

Congressional Republicans are using their new tax plan for more than tax breaks for corporations and the rich. Their plan gives fetuses federal benefits in an apparent attempt to codify the view that life begins at fertilization—and to take another swipe at legal abortion.

Let me go on record as favoring a first-trimester abortion for this bill, which was conceived through incestuous relations between America’s plutocrats and their legislative prostitutes.

“Tax” Is Not A Four-Letter Word

As Congress takes up consideration of what the President and GOP have labeled “tax reform,” and what impartial observers describe as tax cuts mostly for the wealthy, it’s time for a re-run of my rant on the subject of taxation.

I’ve been particularly incensed by the appearance in Indiana of a TV spot aimed at Senator Joe Donnelly. Donnelly is a Democrat (moderate, of the Hoosier variety) considered vulnerable in 2018. The spot features a lovely young woman talking about the importance of tax reform–no specifics, no definitions, just a plea to Donnelly to support “fair” taxation.

I’m all for fair taxation, and I’m willing to bet everyone reading this is, too. I’m also willing to bet that definitions of a “fair” tax system vary widely (the devil, as we all know, being in the details). The one thing we should all recognize, however–whatever our personal opinions about “fairness”–is the difference between tax reform and tax cuts. 

As Jared Bernstein recently wrote in an article in the American Prospect,

In D.C. tax-debate parlance, “tax reform” means something specific: cutting tax rates and broadening the tax base. Rate reductions lose revenue, but you make it up by closing loopholes, exemptions, and favorable treatments of one type of income over another, thus broadening the income upon which taxes are levied.

As Bernstein points out (and we all know), most loopholes are the result of lobbying by special interests, not some disinterested analysis of their utility, making them very hard to eliminate. Even more pernicious is the belief–an article of faith in the GOP–that lower rates will generate more economic activity and thus more tax revenue. There is absolutely no evidence supporting this theory, and considerable evidence rebutting it, but it refuses to die.

In the current tax debate—no surprise—the Trump administration and the Republican Congress are predicting that their tax cuts will return large growth effects. They claim their plan—and to be clear, there is, as of yet, no plan—will increase the real GDP growth rate by at least half, from around 2 percent to 3 percent or 4 percent, and that this increase will offset much of the costs of the cuts.

This was the same story told by Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, and in every case the results belied the claims. The most recent example, from the state of Kansas, is particularly germane to this discussion, because it reveals flaws in the same ideas being bandied about by the current Congress.

Tax policy experts estimate that the measures being discussed would cost government $6.5 trillion in revenues over ten years, and dramatically increase the deficit the GOP pretends to care about.

The vast majority of the benefits of these measures accrue to the wealthiest households: Almost 50 percent of the cuts go to the top 1 percent, while 6 percent go to the middle fifth. About 27 percent of the gains go to the 120,000 families in the top tenth of the top 1 percent, whose average pretax income is $11 million.

If anything remotely like this package passes, it will exacerbate levels of inequality that already exceed those of the Gilded Age.

According to the Brookings Institute,

this tax reform plan gives a lift to growing inequality, and signals that the GOP is okay with persistent poverty and with the inability of one-third of us to feed our kids. It’s time to ask ourselves, how do we craft tax reform for the long term—reform that tackles American poverty and inequality and creates the conditions for inclusive economic growth?

I would suggest that genuine tax reform begins with the recognition that “tax” is not a four-letter word. Taxes are the dues we pay for social peace and stability, for the myriad of services that modern societies require and their citizens demand, and from which we all benefit.

We currently have a system that incentivizes the “haves” to evade their responsibility to pay a fair share, or even to discuss what a fair share would look like. Until we have that conversation, we may see tax cuts–mostly for the already privileged– but we won’t see anything resembling genuine tax reform.

 

 

Corporate Tax Cuts: Rhetoric and Reality

Right now, most eyes are on Congressional Republicans and their last-ditch effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act, but those eyes will soon turn to the various tax “reform” efforts waiting in the wings.

Bookies are probably taking odds on the likelihood of Congress actually managing to reform the tax code. What constitutes reform, of course, is in the eye (or pocketbook) of the beholder–and that brings us to the arguments about corporate tax rates.

Proponents of a lower tax rate for corporations–Paul Ryan, President Trump and most Congressional Republicans–argue that reducing the rate will spur job creation. Opponents see no evidence for that assertion, and note that few corporations actually pay the current rate now–thanks to various credits and deductions, most of them pay an effective rate that is considerably lower.

Since the argument for reducing corporate taxes rests primarily on the assertion that such a reduction will translate into jobs, the Institute for Policy Studies researched that claim.

To investigate this claim, we set out to analyze the job-creating performance of the 92 publicly held American corporations that reported a U.S. profit every year from 2008 through 2015 and paid less than 20 percent of these earnings in federal corporate income tax.

These 92 corporations offer an ideal test for the proposition that lower tax rates encourage corporations to create jobs. By exploiting loopholes in the existing federal tax code, all these firms have reduced their tax rates to the level that Speaker Ryan and President Trump claim will stimulate job creation. Did these reduced tax rates actually lead to greater employment within the 92 firms? We crunched data available from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy to find the answer.

You can probably guess what the researchers found.

Tax breaks did not spur job creation.

  • America’s 92 most consistently profitable tax-dodging firms registered median job growth of negative 1 percent between 2008 and 2016. The job growth rate over those same years among U.S. private sector firms as a whole: 6 percent.
  • More than half of the 92 tax-avoiders, 48 firms in all, eliminated jobs between 2008 and 2016, downsizing by a combined total of 483,000 positions. 

Tax-dodging corporations paid their CEOs more than other big firms.

  • Average CEO pay among the 92 firms rose 18 percent, to $13.4 million in real terms, between 2008 and 2016, compared to a 13 percent increase among S&P 500 CEOs. U.S. private sector worker pay increased by only 4 percent during this period.
  • CEOs at the 48 job-slashing companies within our 92-firm sample pocketed even larger paychecks. In 2016 they grabbed $14.9 million on average, 14 percent more than the $13.1 million for typical S&P 500 CEOs.

Many of the firms that eliminated jobs plowed their savings into stock-buybacks; as the researchers pointed out, such buybacks inflate the value of the stocks and stock options that are a routine part of executive pay packages. The top ten “job-cutters” in the research sample spent $45 billion dollars over the last nine years on stock repurchases– “six times as much as the Standard & Poore 500 corporate average.”

The report identifies some of the worst corporate offenders (AT&T, Exxon-Mobil, GE and several others), all of which have effective tax rates lower than the goal set by Ryan and his crew, and all of which shed employees while raising executive pay.

As the researchers conclude:

Our nation also desperately needs a tax reform debate that dispenses with the fantastical notion that corporate tax cuts will automatically create good jobs for American workers. Policy makers should be focusing instead on ensuring that corporate America pays its fair share of the cost of job-creating public investments in infrastructure and other urgent needs.

A solid first step would be to eliminate loopholes that grant preferential treatment of foreign profits. U.S. corporations should have to pay what they owe on their current offshore holdings and not be allowed to defer these payments indefinitely. By continuing to allow offshore tax sheltering, policy makers are shifting the tax burden onto ordinary Americans and creating a disincentive for job creation in the United States.

As numerous economists and businesspeople have pointed out, jobs are created in response to increased demand for goods and services.

Increases in demand occur when significant numbers of working and middle-class people have disposable income–not when a small group of already obscenely wealthy CEO’s get paid even more.