Category Archives: Economy

Passing the Tax Burden to Working Americans Via The Pass Through Loophole

Please excuse me while I jump up and down on this keyboard trying to flag attention to one of the most egregious GOP give-aways to the top 1% of American income earners.  It isn’t as though the Pass Through Loophole hasn’t garnered attention, it just doesn’t seem to have broken through the dismal cloud of information and misinformation about the GOP tax plan and into enough sunlight.

“The big one in the tax plan issued last week by the GOP and President Trump involves what’s known opaquely as “pass-through” business income. Even that term might have been too revealing, so the document the Republicans issued described it even more obscurely as a “tax rate structure for small businesses.” That’s also dishonest, however, because the businesses it affects are often nothing like “small.” [LAT]

There’s nothing new about legislative obfuscation of legislative intent — but this one is a major way to ease the burden on the 1% and put more pressure on the working and middle class Americans to make up the difference.   Here’s how it works:

“Pass-through” income is business income that’s reported to the IRS only by individual owners of, or partners in, the business. These businesses can be organized as partnerships, S-corporations, or sole proprietorships. They’re distinguished from C-corporations, which are almost always big businesses with public stockholders; C-corporations pay the corporate income tax, and the shareholders pay personal income tax on their dividends and capital gains.

In other words, if a business is a partnership, S-corporation, or a sole proprietorship it doesn’t pay corporate tax rates.  The income earned is reported by individuals.  Now, here’s how the Republican plan would specifically benefit the top 1%:

Currently, the top marginal individual rate is 39.6%; the new tax proposal would reduce the top rate on pass-through income to 25%. Pass-through income from an S-corporation, by the way, already is exempted from the Affordable Care Act surcharges that raised the top income tax rate on some high-income earners by as much as 4.7 percentage points.

So, if the business is an S-corporation, sole proprietorship, or partnership the tax rate is 25%.   Thus, if Desert Beacon were to become Desert Beacon LLC the income tax reduction would be from a maximum of 39.6% to 25%.   Now, who are those who tend to form the businesses which qualify for the LLC Loophole?

“Pass-through business income is substantially more concentrated among high-earners” than traditional business income, Treasury Department economist Michael Cooper and several colleagues observed in a 2015 paper. They also found that about one-fifth of it went to partners that were hard to identify, and 15% got sucked up into circles of partnership-owning partnerships, complicating IRS analyses.”

I sincerely hope the reader isn’t too surprised that these tax avoidance strategies are practiced mostly by high-earners.   Let’s take a closer look at the summary of that 2015 NBER paper:

Pass-through” businesses like partnerships and S-corporations now generate over half of U.S. business income and account for much of the post-1980 rise in the top- 1% income share. We use administrative tax data from 2011 to identify pass-through business owners and estimate how much tax they pay. We present three findings. (1) Relative to traditional business income, pass-through business income is substantially more concentrated among high-earners. (2) Partnership ownership is opaque: 20% of the income goes to unclassifiable partners, and 15% of the income is earned in circularly owned partnerships. (3) The average federal income tax rate on U.S. pass- through business income is 19%|much lower than the average rate on traditional corporations. If pass-through activity had remained at 1980’s low level, strong but straightforward assumptions imply that the 2011 average U.S. tax rate on total U.S. business income would have been 28% rather than 24%, and tax revenue would have been approximately $100 billion higher. (emphasis added)

Therefore, if someone is trying to pass this off as a “middle class” tax cut, or a “small business” tax cut, the appropriate (and perhaps most polite) response is BALDERDASH.

It should come as no surprise that Kansas, under the spell of Brownback-ism, tried opening the LLC loophole as a way to “create jobs.”  It failed, and failed miserably.  Not only did the state find itself in a terrible revenue position, losing money for schools, transportation, and other government services, but it allowed high-income earners to stash more cash.  Case in point: KU basketball coach Bill Self was avoiding most Kansas income taxes on his $3 million salary by parking most of his earnings in an LLC.  Even some of the tax freeloaders were beginning to feel like tax freeloaders by late Summer 2016.  [see also NYT]

And, no one should suggest the amount of money lost because of the ‘reformed’ Kansas tax structure was negligible:

For fiscal year 2014, which ended on June 30, the state collected $330 million less in taxes than it had forecast, and $700 million less than it had collected in the prior year.  Those are big numbers in a state that spends about $6 billion annually from its general fund, and the revenue weakness led both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to cut Kansas’ credit rating this year. [NYT]

The situation hasn’t gotten any better.   There were promises made:

In 2012, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that, among other things, substantially cut the state’s top tax rate and exempted “pass-through” business income from taxation (President Trump’s tax plan includes a similar loophole). The architects of Brownback’s plan predicted that it would provide an “immediate and lasting boost” to the state’s economy.

And promises not kept. The 2017 numbers are truly remarkable, and not in a good way:

Real GDP growth in Kansas since the fourth quarter of 2012 (Brownback’s cuts took effect in January 2013) has been relatively slow, at 6.1 percent through the third quarter of 2016. That’s about three-fourths of U.S. GDP growth over that same period (8.3 percent). A similar story holds for private employment growth: 5.0 percent in Kansas between December 2012 and March 2017, 9.1 percent in the U.S. overall. [WaPo]

The Kansas Legislature was so disappointed in the Great Brownback Experiment it voted to change the tax law — and the governor vetoed their bill.

“Unfortunately, that part of the plan — what Brownback called an economic “shot of adrenaline ” — hasn’t materialized. The state’s budget deficit ballooned to $350 million. And the small-business provision also created new ways for residents to avoid taxes, meaning more lost tax revenue and compliance headaches for the state.” [Time]

Just what we don’t need — lost tax revenue and compliance headaches.  The bottom line of this easy route to the bottom is that:

(1) Claims that pass through exemptions and tax cuts will create new revenue have already prove erroneous.  Witness what happened to Kansas.

(2) The loss of revenue from the pass through exemptions was serious and exacerbated an already tight budget situation.

(3) Claims that the tax ‘reform’ would help small middle class business owners proved elusive — the overwhelming numbers of those who benefited, and will benefit, were high income earners.

This would be a good time to contact Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) to let him know that no one is fooled by changing the name from “pass through” to “tax rate structure for small business;” it’s still a way to shift the burden of maintaining government services from high income earners to middle and working class Americans.   The Senator can be reached at 202-224-6244; 775-686-5770; or 702-388-6605.

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Filed under Economy, income tax, Politics, tax revenue, Taxation

Get Along Little Dogie, but not to Asian Markets

The President was pleased to tell anyone watching his Twitter feed that his trip to Asia was a Wonderful, Biggest Ever In History, Success.  Not. So. Fast.  Especially “not so fast” if a person is in the cattle business, and most of the cattle business in Nevada is in the northern part of the State:

“Range livestock production is predominate in Nevada with well over half of the farms raising cattle or sheep. The highest concentrations of cattle are in the northern part of the State. Cow-calf operations are most common type of operation and Elko county ranks among the leading counties in the Nation in number of beef cows. “

So, when the administration announced it was pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership the rug got pulled from under any notions that Asian nations would increase their importation of beef from the US.  The Japanese and Chinese governments announced their own policies, and neither was amenable to imports from America:

“Japan announced it was increasing its tariff on imports of frozen beef from 38% to 50% until next April. The decision affects all countries with which it does not have a free trade agreement. That would include the United States.

Second, according to reporting that appears to be exclusive to Politico, the agreement the Trump administration made with China required that the beef be free of artificial growth hormones or additives that make the meat leaner. Unfortunately, most of the U.S. cattle industry relies on the hormones or the additives or both, according to the reporting.”

When Trump touted “America First” that translated to “America out of the market” as the administration bumbled through bilateral agreements.  The result was predictable, US beef imports to Japan dropped 26% from last year. [FBN]  Those who advocated bi-lateral, as opposed to multi-national agreements, argued that the former would allow negotiators to directly address issues.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  Meanwhile, back in Beijing:

“The role of China in global beef markets has evolved rapidly in recent years.  Despite being a large beef producing and consuming nation for many years, China has never been a player in global beef markets until recently.  For many years China neither imported nor exported much beef. However, since 2012, growing beef consumption has resulted in a rapid increase in beef imports as consumption outpaced beef production in China.  China emerged as the second largest beef importing country in 2016.  Major beef suppliers to China in 2016 were Brazil (29 percent of total Chinese imports); Uruguay (27 percent); Australia (19 percent); New Zealand (12 percent) and Argentina (9 percent).   In 2017, Chinese beef imports are projected at 950 thousand metric tons, up 17 percent from 2016.”

So, can we expect progress on opening Chinese markets to American grown beef as a result of this recent trip to Asia?  Probably not.

“Business deals announced by the president are tentative agreements that may not be fulfilled. And while the president railed against what he viewed as systemic flaws in the U.S. trading relationship with its Asian partners, he neither publicly requested nor received specific assurances to address issues like market access and intellectual property theft.”

The beneficiaries of this administration policy appears to be the Australians.  An agreement reached last March allowed greater access to Australian imports of frozen beef: “The joint statement between China and Australia means the number of meat processors permitted to export chilled beef to China will increase from 10 to 36, with another 15 expected to have pending approvals fast-tracked.” [AuBC]  The applied tariff on Australian beef is 8.4% with an elimination of the 12% to 25% tariffs eliminated by 2024. [MLA.au]

The bottom line seems to be for all the boasting and bombast from the White House twitter line, the Asian trip produced ZIP/Zero for western US cattle producers, including those in Nevada.

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The Great Republican Giveaway: Their Not So New Tax Plan

Good day, It’s time for our daily reminder that the GOP’s grand idea that Tax Cuts cure all ills is quack medicine. To hear ads from the Business Roundtable and associated PACs one might think that merely enacting a tax cut will cause Business To Boom, Wages To Rise, and, who knows, flowers to bloom.  Probably not, and probably not for some obvious economic reasons.

The proposed tax cut is deficit financed.   Yes, tax cuts are lovely, BUT:

“Tax cuts have the potential to grow the economy, but their benefit depends on how they are structured and financed. For tax changes to promote growth, changes should encourage work and investment through lower rates, efficiently encourage new economic activity (rather than providing a windfall for previous investments), reduce economic distortions, and create minimal (if any) increases in the budget deficit.” [CRFB]

The current proposal doesn’t really encourage new activity, it doesn’t reduce economic distortions (income inequality, etc.) and it certainly doesn’t reduce the budget deficits.

Reducing the statutory tax rate is meaningless if not paired with closing corporate tax loopholes and incentives.   Under the current system AT&T paid an effective tax rate of 8% from 2008-2015.  How do these corporations pull this off?  They can book most of their profits overseas, out of the IRS reach.  The GOP proposal assumes that if the statutory rate is reduced to 20%, the companies will reflexively book profits here, and decide to avoid other techniques which reduce the statutory rate to almost 0.   Here’s a brief list of popular tax dodges:

American Electric Power, Con Ed and Comcast, qualified for accelerated depreciation, enabling them to write off most of the cost of equipment and machinery before it wore out.

Facebook, Aetna and Exxon Mobil, among others, saved billions in taxes by giving options to top executives to buy stock in the future at a discount. The companies then get to deduct their huge payouts as a loss. Facebook used excess tax benefits from stock options to reduce its federal and state taxes by $5.78 billion from 2010 to 2015, the institute found.

Individual industries have successfully lobbied for specific tax breaks that function as subsidies: for instance, drilling for gas and oil, building Nascar racetracks or railroad tracks, roasting coffee, undertaking certain kinds of research, producing ethanol or making movies (which saved the Walt Disney Company $1.48 billion over eight years, the report says).  [NYT]

Nice, and nothing in the current proposal should give anyone any comfort that if given a 20% statutory rate major corporations won’t try to pull the same tricks to get into the 0%-8% effective tax rate.  It just makes it easier to get there.

Reduced statutory tax rates don’t automatically create employment.  For the 1 millionth time (?)  — There is one reason, and only one rationale reason, for hiring anyone ever:  The company doesn’t have sufficient numbers of employees to deliver goods and services demanded by clients and customers at an acceptable level of customer service.   That’s it. That’s all there is to it.  An employer might give preference to a veteran IF there is a need to hire someone (and get a tax break for doing so), or an employer might decide to hire someone to create a more diverse workplace, or a workplace that is more flexible.  However, that hire will take place IF and ONLY if there is a need to hire someone in the first place.  Put more mundanely,  if having four check out clerks on every shift is enough to insure that no one waits longer than 5 minutes in the grocery check out lanes, then the fifth won’t be hired.

Secondly,  there is no evidence that tax cuts themselves produce increased employment.  If one is referring to the Reagan Era tax cuts for evidence — be careful — one of the prime drivers following that tax cut was the Fed’s monetary policy. [CAP] Otherwise there is preciously little research concluding that tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires spurs employment or even wage growth for working Americans.  [CNBC] [CBPP] [NYT] [WallStJournal]

A third point — the argument that “tax incentives” encourage entrepreneurship is almost risible.  No one starts a business because of the “tax environment.”  Listen to one successful entrepreneur:

“While I can imagine tax regimes that would create disincentives for entrepreneurship, we don’t have that situation today in America, where tax rates on capital gains (the primary way that founders of successful start-ups make money) are already far lower than rates on ordinary income. Indeed, some of the most admired entrepreneurs — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos — started their companies under significantly higher tax regimes. This is consistent with empirical research; the economists Robert Moffitt and Mark Wilhelm, for example, found that the large cuts in marginal tax rates in 1986 did not induce high-income men to work longer hours.”

There are two things to unpack from this analysis: (1) Companies aren’t formed because of the tax environment; and (2) Companies ARE formed because of the availability of capital.   Now, take a look at the FRED trends in real gross domestic investment. See any downward trends? Seems like there’s been a steady upward trend from 1950 onward.  This doesn’t argue for a lack of capital being a major problem for start ups.

And then there are the details, summarized by Patriotic Millionaires:

– On the elimination of the Estate tax: “We can’t wait to hear President Trump try to explain how a $4 billion tax cut for Ivanka and Tiffany helps the middle class.”

– On the elimination of the AMT: “The elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax will virtually guarantee that thousands of Americas wealthiest people will pay no tax at all. How will be left holding the bill for that lost revenue? The middle class.”

– On the territorial tax system: “President Trump’s big plan to boost the middle class starts by helping multinational corporations avoid paying any taxes at all? That is absurd.”

– On reducing the number of tax brackets: “If anything, we need more tax brackets. Someone making $5 million, $10 million, or $50 million a year should definitely pay higher taxes than someone making $400,000 a year. How can we even debate this?”

That last question is a good one, as are the other items in the list.  How is demand for goods and services increased by (1) giving tax breaks to corporations which can use the windfall to pay higher executive compensation, indulge in more mergers and acquisitions, or enjoy the fruits of stock buy-backs; (2) eliminating taxes on millionaires and billionaires and placing more of the burden on working Americans; (3) eliminating the estate tax which doesn’t apply to most American taxpayers and helps only the few at the expense of the many? —

“For decedents in 2017 (with an exemption of $5.49 million), the Tax Policy Center estimates there will be only about 11,300 estate tax returns filed, of which 5,500 will be taxable. Estate tax liability will total $19.9 billion after credits.” [TPC] (Note: There were 150,493,263 returns filed in 2015. (download) Divide 5,550 by 150 million and your plastic brains will yield an infinitesimally small number complete with exponents.]

A final point — Nevadans (and residents of the other 49 states) should be aware that many of the arguments set forth by proponents of the Republican tax plan are couched in vague or highly generalized terms.  Not many politicians want to have to explain why eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax will benefit lower income Americans.  Quick answer: It doesn’t.  Or, the arguments may be set forth in platitude form, for example: This will put money back in your pockets.  The major question is WHOSE pockets and for how long.  It’s no secret that the GOP tax plan puts the majority of the benefits into the pockets of the ultra-rich, something like 80% of the benefits accrue to the top income earners.

Apologists may take a step or two further.  “Democrats are engaging in class warfare.”  Well, if it’s the ultra-rich vs. the other 99%, so far the 1% are winning very nicely, thank you. And, then there’s the “Democrats want to punish success.” Please spare me.  First, it’s not “punishment” to pay for the military that defends you, the schools that educate you, the national parks you visit, the hospitals that treat you, the roads that smooth the way for you get to work… Secondly, no one is talking about punishing anyone, it’s just a matter of equity — we should all be paying our fair share.

Please contact your Representatives and Senators to oppose this egregious handout to the multi-national corporations and the millionaires and billionaires who stand to reap 80% of the benefits of this Great Republican Giveaway.

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Filed under Economy, income inequality, Politics, Taxation

Tax Cuts, Wages, and Promises, Promises, Promises

GD income wages salaries tax cuts 1980 2017

That Blue Line on the chart is FRED’s report of gross domestic income, in terms of compensation for employees (wages and salaries) from 1980 to the present.  One of the things to notice is that it keeps rising.  We can explain part of this by taking inflation into account, and some of the bumps and blips by noting that the shaded gray sections represent recessions.  But, it just keeps going up except for the Great Recession brought to us in the wake of the Housing Bubble/Wall Street Casino Crash, compliments of the Wall Street Casino.

Indeed, notice that increase in employees wages and salaries between 1990 and 2000, when the top marginal tax rate increased from 31% to 39.6%, the blue line keeps going upward.   If nothing else, the graphic above illustrates that anyone trying to convince us that increases or decreases in the top marginal rate for income tax payers correlate to increases or decreases in wage and salary compensation trends hasn’t been paying attention.

The Corporate Tax Wrinkle 

Okay, if one can’t make the case that tax cuts for the wealthy won’t “increase” the money in the pockets of middle income Americans, then there’s the Corporate Tax Wrinkle.  Thus, the White House is trying this line:

“The Council of Economic Advisers report argues that high corporate taxes hurt workers in the form of smaller paychecks and that worker incomes rise sharply when corporate rates fall. It points to “the deteriorating relationship between wages of American workers and U.S. corporate profits” and says, essentially, that high corporate taxes have encouraged companies to shift capital abroad rather than flow profits to workers through pay increases.”

Here’s the first problem — this statement assumes that high corporate taxes cause companies to “shift capital abroad.”  This conveniently ignores some other reasons corporations seek to invest overseas.  Let’s make a quick list: (1) There’s good old fashioned market seeking.  In this case the company is looking for new customers for its goods or services, and it may be that the domestic market is fairly well saturated so looking abroad makes perfect sense.  This is especially true for technology firms which often find that the smallest market needed to drive development is larger than some of the largest national markets.  (2)  Resource seeking.  Labor costs may be cheaper in another foreign market, or there may be quicker access to natural resources in a foreign location.  (3) Strategy.  Imagine that a corporation is looking to improve its distribution network, or to take advantage of new technologies; a company might decide to partner with a foreign corporation which specializes in some specific phase of production.  And then there are (4) Efficiency elements.  We can insert some common elements into this category like trade agreements which give an advantage to plant or service locations because of tariff agreements, or there could be currency exchange rate considerations involved.

Therefore, we can quickly see that the corporate tax environment is a part of the decision making process about shifting capital overseas, but it certainly isn’t the only factor, and it may not even be the most important one.  What the White House Wrinkle demands is that we believe if Congress reduces corporate taxes this will offset all the other other reasons a corporation may want to shift some of its operations overseas.  Frankly, this really isn’t rational.

And, then there’s the second problem —  hoarding.

“The cash held overseas by US firms has continued to grow at a rapid pace, rising to almost $2.5tn in 2015. The substantial tax bill most firms would face if they attempted to bring this cash home, however, means that it is still very unlikely to ever be repatriated under the current system.”

Gee, if we could “repatriate” all this money imagine the increase in wages!  Not. So. Fast. The firms stashing the most cash overseas are Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Alphabet (Google), and Oracle. [MW]  Right off the bat we notice that these are all tech firms, and as mentioned above tech firms are constantly market and resource seeking — while a repatriation scheme may bring some of the cash home, there’s still a reason the firms may want to keep capital available for foreign operations; it wouldn’t matter what domestic tax system was in place.

Another point that should be made more often is that this money isn’t “trapped” overseas.   Where are these “deferred profits?

“A 2010 survey of 27 large U.S. multinationals found nearly half of their “overseas” tax-deferred profits were invested in U.S. assets, including U.S. dollars deposited in U.S. banks or invested in U.S. Treasury bonds or other U.S. government securities, securities and bonds issued by U.S. corporations, and U.S. mutual funds and stocks.”

What’s “trapped” are the tax payments due on the funds — not the funds themselves, 50% of which are already happily running along in the corporate revenue streams or “reinvested” in U.S. assets.   And if we could “bring home”  (or get out of the bank) the other half would this mean higher wages?  Remember, we tried this once before:

“In 2004, lawmakers allowed multinationals to repatriate more than $300 billion in profits at a greatly reduced tax rate. But independent studies largely conclude that firms used those profits to pay cash to shareholders, not to invest or create U.S. jobs. In fact, many firms laid off large numbers of U.S. workers even while reaping multi-billion-dollar tax cuts. Today, offshore profits are concentrated in a few large multinationals that have recently made record cash payouts to shareholders by buying back stock, showing that they already have enough cash on hand to make whatever investments they project would be profitable. Repatriated profits would likely similarly be paid out to shareholders, not invested.”

Who are those “buyback monsters” who’ve been demonstrating they already have enough cash on hand to make any investments they think might create even more profits?   Apple is one, then there’s Exxon Mobil, IBM, General Electric, Pfizer, and McDonald’s. [CNBC]  If Apple is one of the ‘monsters,’ then why would anyone believe that allowing the tech giant to “repatriate” more money at reduced tax rates would make them do anything other than what they’ve been doing — using the capital to buyback stock?  McDonald’s?  If they have enough cash on hand to indulge in financial engineering to increase their stock prices, what would make anyone believe they’d change midstream and start advocating for raising the minimum wage?

Mythological Means

It’s really hard to imagine where that $4,000 pay raise is supposed to come from if corporations are given more tax breaks.  There’s a question of the provenance of that $4,000 number in the first place, and in the second place it’s a dubious estimate at best.  We should also notice that the claim isn’t being framed in context; there may be some gains for employees BUT they are long term, certainly not short-term or annual gains. [FC]

“It’s important to note that any gain to workers would only come in the long term — over several years. Furthermore, most households would not see a gain as large as the “average” or mean figure, which is pulled up by very high incomes of a relative few. In 2016, the average household income was $83,143 as we’ve already noted, but the median or midpoint for household income was $59,039, meaning that half of all households received less.”  [FC]

This is another version of the old story:  The Sultan of Brunei walks into a room with nine members of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the average (mean) wage skyrockets.  Take that $4,000 figure with a couple of boxes of Morton’s Salt.

The Bottom Line 

So, what do we know?  We know that there’s no direct correlation between low top marginal rates for individual filers and wage increases.  We know that corporations make decisions about off shore operations for a variety of reasons, taxes being only part of the equation.  We know that corporations have several options for investing cash (foreign or domestic) only one of which — seemingly the least likely — is to pay increased wages and salaries.  We know that corporations use “financial engineering” to increase their stock value, or increase dividends to their shareholders.  We know that even accepting the 20-25% labor liability for corporate taxation the returns to labor are long (not short or annual) term benefits of little value in terms of household budgeting; it’s NOT like having any useful amount of “cash in your pocket.”

In short, we probably know what we’ve suspected all along.  The current Republican version of “tax reform” is simply a gift to corporations, extremely wealthy persons, and a nice gesture from the Haves to the Have Mores.

And for this we are to accept cuts in Medicare to the tune of $472.9 billion over the next ten years, between $1 and $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, cuts to food assistance programs, cuts to low income heating assistance programs, cuts to children’s health insurance, cuts to education, small business support, and Meals on Wheels….

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Filed under Economy, income tax, Politics, tax revenue, Taxation

Real Nevadans Real Numbers Real Income

The big push of the week appears to be that the Republicans have in mind a “middle class tax cut.”  Notice please that we’re not getting all that much in the way of “tax reform” but we are poised to get a deficit financed tax cut.  And, that WE part doesn’t actually include all that many people who file tax returns from Nevada.

Nevada by the Numbers:  2,940,058 Nevadans filed tax returns in 2015 (the last year for which statistics are available from the IRS.) 655,530 were individual tax returns and 440,130 were filed as joint returns.  There were 233,730 filed as Head of Household. 713,530 filers used paid preparers.  The number in that last category ranges from those who have extremely complicated filings to those of us who simply find it convenient to have someone else fill in the forms, or those who take advantage of tax prep companies who offer free filing services to those who don’t actually owe taxes or have small refunds due from the taxes they’ve already paid.

When we look at the adjusted gross incomes reported by Nevadans it may be useful to put the numbers in some context.  For example, the median income in Nevada is $51,847 and the per capita income is $26,541. The median value of a housing unit owned by the occupant is $173,700 and the median selected mortgage cost is $1,442 per month.  The median gross rent is reported as $973.00.  This gives us a preliminary picture of the 1,016,709 households in Nevada, and our population of 2,940,058.

1,350,730 Nevadans filed income tax returns in 2015.   27.21% of the Nevada filers reported adjusted gross income between $25,000 and $50,000.  13.5% of filers reported AGI between $50,000 and $75,000. 8.15% reported AGI between $75,000 and $100,000.  Another 10.22% reported an AGI between $100,000 and $200,000.  From this point on the percentage of filers by category drops, those reporting AGI between $200,000 and $500,000 were 2.48% of the filers; those reporting AGI between $500,000 and $1 million were 0.43%, and those reporting over $1 million AGI made up 0.26%.

The current (2017) tax brackets and explanations can be found compliments of the Tax Foundation in a convenient table form for single and joint filers. To make a long story a bit shorter, a person would have to have an AGI (adjusted gross income) of at least $191,650 if filing a single return to hit the 33% bracket, and $233,350 if filing a joint return.

The numbers indicate that 48.95% of those filing Federal income tax returns from Nevada are reporting below $100,000 in annual adjusted gross income.  Some of the 138,000 Nevada filings between $100,000 and $200,000 AGI may have been included in the bracket in which there is a $18,735.75 liability plus 28% of an excess over $91,900.  Fewer still would be in the 33% bracket with a liability of $46,643.75 plus 33% over $191,650.  Indeed, only 3.17% of Nevada returns reported AGI over $200,000 annually (35% and 39.6% brackets.)

Where’s the middle? Numbers are objective and instructive, but tax policy can get pretty emotional.   By the numbers a person earning about $52,000 per year in this state is in the “middle.”  Pew Research provides one of the more commonly accepted definitions of Middle Class, “2/3rds to 2 times the national median income for household size.”  In current parlance this would be in a range of $46,960 to $140,900.  If we compare this to the Nevadans filing tax returns in 2015 then 21.74% are in the $50,000 to $100,000 AGI range; some others will be in the $100,000 to $200,000 AGI range (10.22%.) Undifferentiated reporting with two sets of categorization make this a difficult call without being able to drill down into that latter classification of filers)  However, what these numbers do tell us is that to be considered a Middle Class Tax Cut the benefits should accrue to those earning between $46,960 (a little below the Nevada median earnings) and $140,900.

So, how does the current edition of the Republican tax plan fit into “the Middle.”

“Despite repeated promises from Republican lawmakers that the plan is designed to provide relief to the middle class, nearly 30 percent of taxpayers with incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 would see a tax increase, according to the study by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. The majority of households that made between $150,000 and $300,000 would see a tax increase.” [WaPo]

The report from which the Washington Post article is derived is more specific.

“In 2018, the average tax bill for all income groups would decline. Taxpayers in the bottom 95 percent of the income distribution would see average after-tax incomes increase between 0.5 and 1.2 percent. Taxpayers in the top 1 percent (incomes above $730,000), would receive about 50 percent of the total tax benefit; their after-tax income would increase an average of 8.5 percent. Between 2018 and 2027, the average tax cut as a share of after-tax income would fall for all income groups other than the top 1 percent. In 2027, taxpayers between the 80th and 95th percentiles of income (between about $150,000 and $300,000) would experience a slight tax increase on average.”

There’s something about an analysis from the Tax Foundation reporting that 50% of the total tax benefit going to the top 1% that doesn’t sound precisely like a “middle class tax break.”  In short, the analysis makes it seem much more likely that the plan would be far more beneficial for the Nevada income earners who report AGIs over $500,000 per year, a total of 9,290 filers out of 1,350,730 who filed tax returns.  This really isn’t a “middle class tax cut.” At least not in terms of the real Nevadans, who report their real incomes.

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Filed under Economy, income tax, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, nevada taxation, Politics, Taxation

Fantasy Island: GOP on Corporate Taxation

There is a mandatory mantra to be recited by all proponents of the Republican tax cut plan:  “It will make corporations more competitive. It will raise employee wages.  It will make corporations more competitive. It will raise employee wages. It will make corporations more competitive.  It will raise employee wages. This really requires some unique methodology and some very creative logic. [FC]

First, there’s the obvious proposition that when Republicans speak of “competitiveness” they are addressing a global market for goods and services. Further, being competitive usually means being able to offer goods and services at lower costs to customers and clients.  And, being able to offer goods and services at lower costs means having a grip on factors which increase costs — things like labor.  If there isn’t any obvious connection between “competitiveness” and increasing wages then how can the contentions be contorted to make the mantra lucid?  We probably can’t, at least not until we agree on what we mean by “competitive.”

Whether a nation is competitive hinges instead on its long-run productivity—that is, the value of goods and services produced per unit of human, capital, and natural resources. Only by improving their ability to transform inputs into valuable products and services can companies in a country prosper while supporting rising wages for citizens. Increasing productivity over the long run should be the central goal of economic policy. This requires a business environment that supports continual innovation in products, processes, and management. [HBR]

If we accept the Harvard Business School’s thesis, then the policies we should be adopting to promote competitiveness would be (1) conducive to research and development; (2) that which promotes greater efficiency in the delivery of services and the manufacturing of goods; and (3) that which promotes better management practices.  I don’t see “tax cut” in this list.

Tax policy that encourages research and development, promotes efficiency, and encourages better management practices, might be a start.  However, that doesn’t seem to be what the White House and Congress have in mind.  For example, there’s the tax repatriation scheme — which was tried in 2004, and the result as reported by the Wall Street Journal was:

“The 15 companies that benefited the most from a 2004 tax break for the return of their overseas profits cut more than 20,000 net jobs and decreased the pace of their research spending, according to report from the Democratic staff of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released Monday night.”

“Decreased spending on research” doesn’t fit the formula for increased competitiveness.  Far from it, as in antithetical.  How about promoting long term visions on the part of corporate management?

“Even as managers’ geographic horizons have broadened, their time horizons appear to have shortened. Shareholder activism, stock-based incentives, and declining managerial tenure surely injected new, needed discipline into American business and had some positive effects. However, financial markets and executive compensation practices that reward quick fixes and focus attention on “this quarter’s numbers” can tempt managers to move business activities to whatever location offers the best deal today rather than make the sustained, location-specific investments required to boost long-run productivity. ”  [HBR]

Returning to a consistent theme on this site, short term “financialist” perspectives won’t promote American competitiveness.  However, nothing in the guidance on tax cuts thus far  demonstrates any broad interest in long term productivity.  Indeed, it appears to move right along, in step, with the financialist rhetoric.

So, the Republicans and corporate allies argue that cutting corporate taxes will increase wages.  Before we get lost in the weeds there is a general point to be made about the corporate tax burden and employees:

“Three nonpartisan organizations — the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Congressional Budget Office and Tax Policy Center — all say the majority of the corporate tax burden falls on shareholders, not workers. The Treasury Department, which Mnuchin now heads, reached that same conclusion in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration.”  [FC]

To make a long story a bit shorter — if less of the corporate tax ‘burden’ is hefted by the employees, then the less of a ‘tax break’ the employees will receive if the corporation pays less in taxation.  Some work is required to make the data fit the results desired by the Republicans:

“…the CRS states that while “a number of more recent theoretical studies find that labor can bear the majority of the [corporate] tax burden” those studies “appear to rely critically on particular assumptions that drive the results. When these assumptions are relaxed the burden of the corporate tax is found to fall mostly on capital — in line with the traditional analysis.”   [FC]

Thus, only in the highly theoretical fantasy land of Republican economists will we find support for the notion that lower taxes automatically make our businesses more competitive, and lower corporate taxes will necessarily make businesses pay higher wages.

Unfortunately, none of this will stop the Republican propaganda machine from cranking up the volume and increasing the repetition of their mantra, until it is picked up by Republican members of Congress who will recite it in turn to their constituents.

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Filed under Economy, Politics, Taxation

Rep. Amodei’s Wonderful Record: January De-Regulation Edition

Representative Mark Amodei’s (R-NV2) record in the 115th Congress is as dubious as the institution itself.  For a group touting their “accomplishments” the actual record doesn’t quite hit that level.  Post Office namings, and other minutiae are not included in this list.

Roll Call 8, January 4, 2017:  Midnight Rules Relief Act — “This bill amends the Congressional Review Act to allow Congress to consider a joint resolution to disapprove multiple regulations that federal agencies have submitted for congressional review within the last 60 legislative days of a session of Congress during the final year of a President’s term. Congress may disapprove a group of such regulations together (i.e., “en bloc”) instead of the current procedure of considering only one regulation at a time.” Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill (238-184).   But, wait, there’s more:

“According to the CRA, resolutions of disapproval not only nullify the regulation in question; they also prohibit a federal agency from issuing any other regulation that is “substantially the same” in the future, unless specifically authorized to do so by a future act of Congress. As a result, these mass-disapproval resolutions would permanently block agencies from addressing threats to public health and safety.”  (emphasis added)

Those who believe that things like corporate accountability, safe working conditions, clean air, and clean drinking water are important wouldn’t find this very appealing.  However, that didn’t stop Rep. Mark Amodei from supporting this bill, which was essentially a solution in search of a problem.

Roll Call 23, January 5, 2017:  “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017”  Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill.  “(Sec. 3) The bill revises provisions relating to congressional review of agency rulemaking to require federal agencies promulgating rules to: (1) identify and repeal or amend existing rules to completely offset any annual costs of new rules to the U.S. economy.” [Cong]  This is vague to the point of ridiculousness.  There are several ways to do a cost analysis, and we can bet that the GOP has in mind only the most stringent, even if there is an obvious benefit to public health, safety, or general well being.  Frankly, there are some rules we have put in place which are expensive in terms of commercial and industrial calculations, but necessary in terms of public health and safety — we do not allow, for example, the unlimited release of arsenic into supplies of drinking water.   It’s hard to imagine this as a “major piece of legislation” without considering the potential hazards it creates for local governments and citizens who have to live with the pollution, work rules, and other regulations which place them at risk.

Roll Call 45, January 11, 2017: “(Sec. 103) This bill revises federal rulemaking procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to require a federal agency to make all preliminary and final factual determinations based on evidence and to consider: (1) the legal authority under which a rule may be proposed; (2) the specific nature and significance of the problem the agency may address with a rule; (3) whether existing rules have created or contributed to the problem the agency may address with a rule and whether such rules may be amended or rescinded; (4) any reasonable alternatives for a new rule; and (5) the potential costs and benefits associated with potential alternative rules, including impacts on low-income populations.”  Here we go again!  Yet another way to tie the hands of executive branch departments and agencies, and a GOP tenet for some time now.  Remember, the rules don’t have to be in one category (for example, environmental regulation) they can also cover such things as SEC rules and regulations, banking, and other financial regulations.   Representative Amodei, voted in favor of this bill and perhaps needs to explain if he meant this to handcuff the financial regulators who are responsible for seeing that Wall Street doesn’t replicate its performance in the run up to the Housing Crash of 2007-2008.

Roll Call 51, January 12, 2017:  SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, and yet another House attempt to slap a “cost-benefit” analysis on SEC regulations on financial market transactions.  Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill.    There were objections to this bill at the time, and this is one of the more cogent:

“The most prominent new requirement would mandate that the SEC identify every “available alternative” to a proposed regulation or agency action and quantitatively measure the costs and benefits of each such alternative prior to taking action.  Since there are always numerous possible alternatives to any course of action, this requirement alone could force the agency to complete dozens of additional analyses before passing a rule or guidance. Placing this mandate in statute will also provide near-infinite opportunities for Wall Street lawsuits aimed at halting or reversing SEC actions, and would be a gift to litigators who work on such anti-government lawsuits. No matter how much effort the SEC devotes to justifying its actions, the question of whether the agency has identified all possible alternatives to a chosen action, and has properly measured the costs and benefits of each such alternative, will always remain open to debate.”

Speaking of a “Lawyers Full Employment Bill,” this is it.  Imagine voting in favor of allowing an infinite and interminable number of lawsuits demanding that the SEC consider ALL available options before promulgating a rule.  That didn’t stop Representative Amodei from voting in favor of it.

If you’re seeing a pattern, you’re right.  “De-regulation” has been a Republican talking point for the last 40 years.  However, while the term sounds positive when it’s generalized the devil, as they say, is in the details.  The January flood of deregulation bills in the 115th Congress wasn’t designed to tamp regulations on ordinary citizens, but on the corporations (especially in terms of environmental issues) and Wall Street players who want more “flexibility” in their transactions.

What the Republicans have yet to provide are instances of jobs lost because of environmental regulations.  Since this evidence is scarce, the next ploy is to argue that the costs outweigh the benefits.  By emphasizing the short term monetary costs the GOP minimizes the importance of long term economic or environmental costs, and the impact deregulation has on residents in our states and communities.

We can point to jobs lost after financial deregulation — Nevada was one of the poster children for financial sector deregulation impact.  Eight months later, Representative Amodei has yet to offer more than the usual highly generalized platitudes about the significance of the deregulation fervor during the first month of the 115th Congress.

We’ll be taking a look at some other “important” votes taken by our 115th Congress.  In the mean time, it’s depressing but productive to watch what this current Mis-administration is doing in regard to North Korea, Iran, women’s issues, common sense gun control legislation, and the various and sundry scams and grifts associated with the Cabinet.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, financial regulation, Nevada politics, Politics