Legislative Headaches: The Tax Man Cometh

Take Two Aspirin

If the three major tax plans in the Nevada Legislature, and their varied explications, are giving you a head ache, the Las Vegas Sun offers a good comparison of them.  There’s a major problem with the Assembly GOP plan which:

“Would change modified business tax rate from 1.17 percent for general business and 2 percent for financial sector businesses to 1.56 percent for all businesses. Exempts companies with payrolls less than $50,000 per quarter and removes a deduction for health care premiums.”

This is a form of “flat tax.” And, there’s one group of businesses which benefit most from a “flat tax,” – the big ones. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but what gives the appearance of equity (the flat tax) actually ends up being one of the most inequitable forms of revenue raising.

Beloved by such think tanks as the ultra-conservative Cato Institute, flattening taxes works against middle income groups, both domestic and business.  Let’s assume that the 1.56% tax were to apply to all businesses in the state with payrolls more than $50,000 per quarter ($200,000 per year.) This would apply to all forms of enterprises except those in the financial sector.  For clarity, the financial sector includes commercial banks, investment banks, insurance companies, investment companies, unit investment trusts, face amount certificate companies, management investment companies (closed/open), and three types of non-bank investment companies: (1) savings & loans, (2) credit unions, and (3) shadow banks. [Investopedia]

Current law and the Sandoval Plan keep the tax on those financial sector enterprises at 2%.  The Assembly Republicans would provide them with a 0.44% tax break. At this point, it ought to be asked – Why is a bank like Wells Fargo with a reported revenue of $21.4 billion (up 4% YOY) getting a tax break when a supermarket is running on a 6% margin?  Or, why is a hedge fund, and those similar firms which operated in the shadows in the run up to the crash of 2007-2008, getting a break?

One conclusion is that the Banking Lobby and associated financialists are running full bore at the tax proposals.  Hedge fund managers already have one of the sweetest tax breaks imaginable in the form of the Carried Interest Loophole, and now the Assembled Wisdom is proposing they get a nice break from the state. [See also: TO.org, BusinessInsider]  If nothing else, the Assembly proposal indicates that Financialism is alive and well in the Legislature’s bailiwick.

In short, what looks superficially “equitable” actually makes it easier on the financial sector firms, and places more of the revenue raising responsibility on those businesses which operate on a local level – retailers, wholesalers, and the like.  “Shadow” financial institutions, already the beneficiary of copious tax avoidance strategies, are paying the same “freight” as the supermarket chain and the retailers.

There’s another point which ought to be addressed:  Who is at greater general risk during an economic downturn?  In case we hadn’t noticed – the financial sector is no longer directly connected to the commercial sector. The advent of the Shareholder Value theory of corporate management is what drives stock prices – it doesn’t matter if employment is dropping, if the cuts in payroll are assumed to be part of the management plan to boost the value of the shares.  However, in the real economy it matters very much if employment is reduced because that in turn yields lower demand for goods and services.

In this instance, “sharing the load fairly” actually means that the businesses most likely to be hurt by any economic downturn, and those businesses which are dependent on local economic conditions, are to “share” an equal burden in terms of revenue raising with those which are all too often the perpetrators of commercial difficulties in the “real economy.”

Putting it less diplomatically, the Assembly proposal really isn’t very fair at all.

*And by the way – doesn’t eliminating the deductions for health care insurance make it less likely employers will sponsor such plans, making it all the more necessary that the health insurance exchange markets under the Affordable Care Act be sustained?

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