Category Archives: Nevada politics

Amodei’s Wonderland: Wherein Economic Vision Becomes Hallucination

One of the more confusing statements from Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) concerns how the Republican Tax Scam will affect the economy:

(Part A) “With respect to the effect on businesses, Main Street job creators will see their tax rates reduced through the lowering of the maximum tax rate on business income to no more than 25%. (Part B) Additionally, federal tax rates on corporate taxable income will see a decrease from the highest rate of 35% to a flat corporate tax rate of 20%. (Part C) Each of these changes will help businesses and corporations expand, hire new employees, increase wages, and also give them the resources they need to stay competitive in the global marketplace.”  [Amodei] (“parts” added for discussion)

Let’s begin with Part A, those “main street job creators” are the high income earners discussed yesterday as be beneficiaries of the Pass Through Loophole.   It really doesn’t matter if the firm’s address is Main Street, 5th Avenue, or Wall Street, the result is essentially the same.  After telling Nevadans not to worry about losing their most popular deductions because not all that many people use them and the new standard deductions will take care of them,  Amodei doesn’t apply the same test to the business and corporate deductions.  That Pass Through Loophole, by any and all other names, has resulted in massive revenue losses in Kansas, the state which imprudently serves as a laboratory for the GOP’s ideological economics.  Let’s not confuse Mom and Pop’s Midtown Market with the capital management firm of Grabbem, Gouggem, & Howe.   Both may “create jobs” but there’s no comparison in terms of how much of a tax break each will receive for having essentially the same number of employees.

Moving along to Part B:  Yes.  At present there’s a plethora of corporate accountants employed to create a situation in which a top rate of 39.1% becomes an effective rate far below that maximum rate.  One study of Fortune 500 companies reached the following conclusions:

  • As a group, the 258 corporations paid an effective federal income tax rate of 21.2 percent over the eight-year period, slightly over half the statutory 35 percent tax rate.

  • Eighteen of the corporations, including General Electric, International Paper, Priceline.com and PG&E, paid no federal income tax at all over the eight-year period. A fifth of the corporations (48) paid an effective tax rate of less than 10 percent over that period.
  • Of those corporations in our sample with significant offshore profits, more than half paid higher corporate tax rates to foreign governments where they operate than they paid in the United States on their U.S. profits.

Now, if they’re starting at 39.1% and getting their taxes down by half or even more at present — imagine what they can do when they start from 20-25% and work their way down?  For example, the “intangible drilling costs” loophole seems not to have closed up at all in the House version, and this while it’s acknowledged that seismic testing has significantly reduced the prospect of drilling dry holes.  The old Depletion Allowance survives as it always does, even if other deductions for mere mortals do not.

Or, consider the creative ways corporations use depreciation.  The House Ways and Means Committee version allows corporations to write off the depreciation for new equipment immediately.  Nice, if one is looking for a way to get from 20% down to a 10% tax rate or less.  [WaPo]  Not to put too fine a point to it, but while mere mortals are expected to absorb the elimination of student loan interest deductions, home mortgage interest deductions, and major medical expense deductions — the corporations go almost untouched.

Part C is unalloyed wishful thinking.  Walter Isaacson observes in his new book about Da Vinci that “vision without implementation is hallucination,” and this GOP canard is an almost perfect example.   Where the Tax Cut Fairy Waves Her Magic Wand wonders ensue — commerce increases, new employees will be hired, employees will have higher wages, and we will be “more competitive.”

Let’s step back from the hallucinations and observe what happens in the real world of employment:

“Service businesses, in which payroll is the major cost of providing the service, can take on higher payroll percentages since the payroll is, in fact, producing the revenue. There is likely to be no other significant cost of services to be provided. In such situations, payroll can reach the 50% mark without destroying profitability. Manufacturers, however, must maintain a payroll figure closer to 30% or less as the business must endure the cost of manufacturing the widget plus the payroll. Same with restaurants, given the high cost of food the payroll must stay under thirty percent.”

In order to lend any credence to the overblown rhetoric of GOP apologists for reducing corporate taxes and enacting pass-through loopholes, we have to merge all hiring from all sectors into one grand lump.  No matter the tax rate, what really matters is that the widget factory can keep its payroll allocations to 30% or less of its costs.  Nor can we argue that the sector with the highest payroll allocation, “service,” is all created equal.  This tertiary sector includes everything from health care to banking to education, to media and communications.   At the risk of continuous redundancy, the tax rate doesn’t determine payroll allocation — no one will be hired to do anything unless there is a demand for the goods or services beyond the capability of current staffing levels to deliver an acceptable level of consumer or client satisfaction.

Employees will have higher wages if the corporation gets a tax cut?  Probably not.  We can wade into the deeply arcane economic theoretical weeds and talk about the relationship between labor costs and tax liabilities, but let’s keep our feet on the ground instead.

Nevada has a fairly unique economy given one of our major sectors is “hospitality,” (or how to house, feed, and amuse people whom we want to leave behind large sums of money) establishments.  Therefore, there’s nothing surprising about finding out that we’ll need about 191,141 people working in food service in 2018; a growth rate of 2.8% with about 5,048 new positions expected. [DETR download]  The mean wage for food service workers is $12.74 per hour.  Most dealers are earning about $8.57 plus tips.  What will drive up food service and dealers’ wages?  Which is more likely to drive increases in food services wages: (a) more customers or (b) a bigger tax cut for corporate headquarters?

If you answered “b” then you are willing to wait for the calculations to be completed concerning how much the corporation should allocate for payroll expenditures, and then try to bank the results from this theory:

“Why would anyone think slashing corporate tax rates would increase workers’ wages in the first place? The theory endorsed by the CEA relies on three steps to get from corporate tax cuts to higher wages. First, the corporate tax cut increases companies’ after-tax returns on investment. As a result, firms will make more investments in plant and equipment than they would in a higher-tax-rate environment. Second, greater investment by firms leads to higher productivity by the workers who put those investments to work. Third and finally, workers will receive increased wages in line with those productivity gains.” [vox]

And, if you believe this I have a lovely bridge over the Humboldt River to sell you.  Why? Because corporations can do lots of other things with those savings — higher executive compensation, mergers and acquisitions, stock buy backs, and dividend payments.

Short Form:  Representative Amodei’s analysis requires redefining “job creators,” as those titans of the financial system who don’t necessarily become those doing the hiring; and requires disconnecting wages and salaries from the accepted wisdom about payroll allocation; and, means a person has to roll the dice and hope that the corporation trickles the money down to the counter-man.  In Isaacson’s parlance:  It’s vision without implementation.

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Think of the Children! GOP tax plan is hazardous for children

I’m so old I remember when Republicans would bellow “Think of the Children” every time tax proposals were discussed and each time there was a proposal to spend a dime on anything.  Now they have a tax proposal which doesn’t help Nevada’s children — no matter how many times they invoke the Growth Fairy and insinuate the new plan will be better for “working families.”  Not so fast.  Here’s what their tax plan does:

Removes the Personal Exemption: The current tax code allows families a tax exemption of $4,050 per person. For some families, the loss of the personal exemption is recovered through the tax bill’s increase of the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint (married) filers. However, single parents with more than one child and married couples with three or more children would see their taxable income increase. [CFC]

Okay, so that category of families who will be “helped” doesn’t include single parents with more than one child, or married couples with three or more children…and this is “family friendly?” Thus a single parent can only have one child and benefit from the GOP tax plan, and a married couple can’t have three or more … who’s left?  But wait, there’s another blow to follow:

Insufficiently Increases the Child Tax Credit: The tax bill increases the current Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $1,600, with an additional $300 credit per parent. The addition of the Family Credit is a marginal improvement over current law, but not for families with children who are working-class or living in povertyargues Senator Marco Rubio. Because the increases are not refundable, they won’t apply to families living under the poverty threshold, and the $300 parent credits would expire after five years. The proposal to index the refundable portion to inflation is also insufficient, as it uses a less generous estimate and ceases upon reaching $1600. (emphasis added)  [CFC]

That $600 increase looks good until the curtain is pulled back and the proposal doesn’t really apply to children in working class families…which would be most of them.  Notice the magic expiration date, that’s a recurring feature in the GOP plan wherein breaks for individuals and families expire but the breaks for corporations don’t.   However, we’re not through here:

Repeals the Adoption Tax Credit: The adoption tax credit, which is capped at $13,570 per adopted child is a vital support for families and helps alleviate the costs of adoption fees. The Adoption Tax Credit is an important tool for children in the child welfare system to achieve permanency, as it helps defray the expensive process of adoption, especially for children with high needs. In 2014 alone, 74,000 families claimed the credit. [CFC]

Thus much for the old line about supporting adoptions and being “pro-life.” We’ve posted before about average adoption costs, and here the GOP goes again: The Mouth says one thing while the hands do another.

The bottom line is that as far as Nevada families are concerned (1) the personal exemption is inadequate; (2) the child tax credit is insufficient; and (3) the elimination of adoption tax credits is unconscionable.   This really isn’t a great formula for the benefit of Nevada families and their children.

Voters in Nevada District 2 can let Representative Mark Amodei know how they feel about this at: 775-686-5760; 775-777-7705; or 202-225-6155.

Senator Heller can be contacted at: 702-388-6605; 775-686-5770; and 202-224-6244.

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Filed under Amodei, Nevada politics, Politics, Taxation

Taxscam 101: A Look At Deductions Lost by Individuals and Families (Part 2)

In general, the Republican tax plan makes tax cuts for corporations and businesses permanent while making those for individuals and joint filers temporary.  Further, those closed loopholes are YOURS.  Those special interests are homeowners, students, and employees.  The short version is: The loopholes being closed are those which benefit working Americans and not those which benefit the 1% or corporate America.

Here are a few: (pdf)

Section 1204: Under the provision, the deduction for interest on education loans and the deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses would be repealed. The exclusion for interest on United States savings bonds used to pay qualified higher education expenses, the exclusion for qualified tuition reduction programs, and the exclusion for employer-provided education assistance programs would also be repealed.

One of the ways the tax code can be used to encourage people to do certain things is by giving people a deduction for it — like deductions for the interest paid on student loans.  It really makes no sense to pontificate on the jobs/education mismatch if one isn’t going to help people retrain for new positions.  Nor does it help people wanting to enter STEM jobs to tell them, go ahead but we aren’t going to offer any assistance like a tax deduction for the student loan interest you’re paying.  And you can’t even deduct the interest paid by your US Savings Bonds used to pay educational expenses!

Section 1303: Under the provision, individuals would not be allowed an itemized deduction for State and local income or sales taxes, but would continue to be entitled to a deduction for State and local income or sales taxes paid or accrued in carrying on a trade or business or producing income. Individuals would continue to be allowed to claim an itemized deduction for real property taxes paid up to $10,000.

This provision doesn’t hit Nevada (with no income taxes) all that hard, but it does hurt states that do have an income tax — like the other 43 of them.  Notice the phrase “or producing income?”  if your tax liabilities come from (1) carrying on a trade, or (2) running a business, or (3) producing income — you get to deduct them.   Now, what produces “income” without trade or business activities?  If you guessed “investments” you’d be correct.

Section 1304: Under the provision, the deduction for personal casualty losses would generally be repealed. The provision would be effective for tax years beginning after 2017. The deduction for personal casualty losses associated with special disaster relief legislation would not be affected.

We’ve highlighted this one previously, and no matter how you cut it, unless Congress votes to declare your area a national disaster (like Texas after Hurricane Harvey) your personal casualty losses aren’t deductible.  Thus, if everything you own is pretty much gone after the earthquake, wildland fire, blizzard, or whatever… unless you get the Special Nod from Congress, YOYO.

Section 1307: Under the provision, an individual would not be allowed an itemized deduction for tax preparation expenses. The provision would be effective for tax years beginning after 2017.

Remember the Republicans are touting this bill as a Job Creator — a notion as fictional as the “job creators” who sit around exchanging hybrid and artificial financial products — but consider for a moment the jobs this section eliminates.  About 43% of Americans file their taxes from home (using some tax software or the plastic brains calculator and some pencil sharpening) the rest use a tax preparation service — an industry sector with about 109,000 firms in 2012, and a 2% growth rate to 2015.  Further, “The vast majority of tax preparers are small businesses – 37% are run by a single person, while 53% employ less than ten people.”   And, yet we hear the Republicans claim to be all about “small businesses.”  The big accounting firms are going to do quite well under the GOP plan, those Mom & Pop bookkeeping services or small local accounting firms/franchises are the ones to worry about.

Section 1308: Current law: Under current law, a taxpayer may claim an itemized deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses of the taxpayer, a spouse, or a dependent. This deduction is allowed only to the extent the expenses exceed ten percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Provision: Under the provision, the itemized deduction for medical expenses would be repealed. The provision would be effective for tax years beginning after 2017.

Again, this one! Of all the egregious provisions in the Republican plan this has to be the very worst.

Section 1310: Under current law, a taxpayer may claim a deduction for moving expenses incurred in connection with starting a new job, regardless of whether or not the taxpayer itemizes his deductions. To qualify, the new workplace generally must be at least 50 miles farther from the former residence than the former place of work or, if the taxpayer had no former workplace, at least 50 miles from the former residence.
Provision: Under the provision, the deduction for moving expenses would be repealed. The provision would be effective for tax years beginning after 2017.

And this one again. Notice it’s all on the individual employee — the JCT expects this will put about $10.6 billion in the Treasury from 2018 to 2027. ($1.06 billion each year)  For about a billion bucks a person could buy a couple of Airbus 380s.  Not exactly a major revenue stream for the government in comparison to what employees would face in a major career move or reassignment.

Why are we discussing these items? Because the Republicans want a plan of which 80% of the benefits go to the top 1% of the population.  But, how about those ads on TV about how much money we’ll get back to put in our own pockets?  A bit of unsolicited advice: (1) the numbers are fudgy — too much of it depends on the Growth Fairy waving her magic wand; (2) the numbers are fudgy — the studies from which the numbers are selected aren’t very well tested; and (3) the numbers are fudgy — the numbers actually show us that what the Republicans are proposing is a deficit financed tax cut.  And, here we we’re thinking they were “deficit hawks” and all for “fiscal responsibility” and “lower national indebtedness.”  Maybe not. so. much.

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Taxscam 101 Part One — Satisfy the 1% and Soak the Rest of Us

I think it’s safe to assume that Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) will be supporting the House Republican version of the Tax Cut Cut Cut… the last three words indicating what will happen for corporations, not what average Nevada income earners can expect from the proposal.  USA Today has a preliminary summation of some deductions INDIVIDUALS and FAMILIES won’t be able to use, that increase in the standard deduction is supposed to make up for this?   USA Today’s points are listed below, in red font.

Adoption: A tax credit worth up to $13,750 per child would end.  It’s a little hard to explain this one, given the GOP “pro-life” stance. It’s even harder to understand when the average cost for an adoption (2012-2013) was $39,996 using an adoption agency and $34,093 for an “independent” adoption. [AmAdopt]  Eliminating the tax credit to alleviate the impact of these expenses seems a strange way of encouraging couples to adopt children in need of permanent homes.

Alimony: To eliminate what Ways and Means Committee documents referred to as a “divorce subsidy,” alimony would no longer be deductible by the payor for decrees issued after 2017. Payments would be excluded from the recipient’s income.  I’m not at all certain that rebranding alimony as a “divorce subsidy” encourages support for single parents? This would also seem to make it all the more difficult for a parent to make child support payments?

Classroom costs: Teachers could no longer write off the cost of supplies they buy.  The reality is that not so long ago school districts kept supplies from pencils to facial tissues on hand; today these items (along with hand sanitizer) end up on lists of items parents are expected to purchase when the school year begins.  What isn’t subsidized by parents whose children are enrolled in cash strapped districts is usually purchased by teachers, to the tune of an average of $500 per teacher per year, with some teachers spending much more. [CNN money]  It’s been reasonably obvious Republicans aren’t great friends of public school teachers — but this suggestion is a direct slap at teacher’s own bank accounts.

College boosters: Sports fans would no longer be able to deduct 80% of the cost of donations to colleges if they are made only to become eligible to buy seats for games or get preferences such as prime parking spots.  The University of Minnesota isn’t sure what will happen to its program in light of this proposal, and universities in Nevada probably aren’t either.   UNLV and UNR both use booster donations to support their athletic scholarship funds. Perhaps lost in this controversial proposal is the notion that scholarship funds are, in most cases, not limited to a particular program but also support our “Olympic Sports.”  Donors to UNR and UNLV athletic funds might want to ask Representative Amodei why he might be in favor of this Republican plan.

Disaster losses: Currently, losses from theft or events such as flood, fire or tornado that exceed 10% of adjusted gross income are deductible. The bill would repeal that deduction, with one exception — disasters given special treatment by a prior act of Congress. A law enacted Sept. 29 increased the deduction for losses caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and it was sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. Brady, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is also sponsoring the tax overhaul.  How interesting — the plan doesn’t affect those battered by “Harvey” in Texas — but Florida, Puerto Rico, and others it’s YOYO time as far as the Republicans are concerned.  Since when do we, as a nation, not give people a break when they’ve lost everything, or nearly everything in a natural disaster?

Employee achievement awards: Complicated rules that allowed some cash awards from employers to be tax-free to the worker would become taxable.  Another interesting point — corporations can expect a big tax cuts, but employees earning cash awards from those corporations would be required to pay taxes on these kinds of achievement awards.

Employer-provided housing: Rules allowing for some workers to get housing and meals tax-free from their employers would face a new cap of $50,000, and benefits would be phased out for those earning more than $120,000.  So, if the employer has you (and perhaps your family) parked in “West Moose Bay” where groceries have to be flown in, and “housing” is only provided by the corporation — the subsidy is taxable?  And we haven’t even mentioned that Section 1310 eliminates moving expenses. (pdf)

Home sale gains: Right now, the gain on the sale of a home is not taxable if it is under $500,000 for joint filers as long as the home was the owner’s primary residence for two of the previous five years. New rules would require a home to be the primary home for five of the past eight years to qualify, and the income exclusion would be phased out for taxpayers with incomes over $500,000.  I suppose we can kiss the Bush Administration’s emphasis on home ownership goodbye? Little wonder there’s opposition to this proposal from the housing industry — and from those who construct homes as well. There’s more from USA Today on the topic of housing at this link.

Major medical costs: The decision to eliminate the deduction for medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of adjusted gross income was one of the bill’s “tough calls,” Brady said Friday. “The call is this: Do we want a tax code that has special provisions that you may need once in your life, or do we want a tax code that lowers rates every year of your life?” he said.  This may take the prize for lame explanations — ever.  Consider for a moment the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, some of whom will be facing major medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of their AGI — not just now but for years to come.  The idea that we should eliminate affordable comprehensive health insurance is bad enough, but this notion is downright heinous.  And, this from those who want to cut Medicare and Medicaid?

And this isn’t all — there are more atrocities in the USA Today article, and more specifics in the Ways and Means Committee summary of the bill.  (pdf)

Not to put too fine a point to it, but this bill, which will most likely be supported by Representative Amodei, could have been drafted by accountants and tax lawyers for major corporations and the top 1% of American income owners — to be paid for by those who are working in everyday jobs, who have to move to find employment, who are adoptive parents, who are victims of natural disasters, who are facing major medical expenses…

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Whatever Happened to HR 3364? The Amazing Disappearance of the Russian Sanctions Law

On July 25, 2017 members of the House of Representatives voted 419-3 to pass the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act; and on July 27, 2017 the Senate voted to pass it 98-2.  [HR 3364]  This is about as close to “veto proof” as any bill is likely to get.  The President* signed it on August 2, 2017.  [Hill]  Thus, HR 3364 became PL 115-44.

“Per the legislation, the administration was required to issue guidance by October 1 on how it was implementing the sanctions against Russia. That process includes publishing a list of the people and organizations who will be targeted by the sanctions, which are primarily aimed at Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.” [TDB]

Yes, it’s now October 25, 2017 and what have we heard about those published lists of people and organizations targeted for (among other things) cyber attacks on our election systems and democratic institutions?

About all that’s come from the Oval Office is “we’re working on it,” at the Treasury Department, State Department, and Director of National Intelligence…but that October 1 deadline is in the rear view mirror and members of Congress aren’t getting any answers.  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did the ‘aw shucks’ reaction last Sunday:

“The Trump administration is slow when it comes to Russia. They have a blind spot on Russia I still can’t figure out,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. When asked what Congress could do to force the administration to act, Graham was vague, saying only: “The Congress will have a way to hold the president accountable.”  [TDB]

Perhaps the South Carolina Senator can’t figure it out, but it’s getting ever more obvious the President* is singularly unwilling to address anything even remotely critical of Russia and its klepto-dictator Putin. [see also VF]  A person might even think PL 115-44 has been sent to Siberia? That “blind spot” doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. [MSNBC]

However, there is some evidence the administration is aware of the requirements of the sanctions bill, there simply isn’t a sensation of alacrity or urgency?

“Several recent actions suggest that the Trump administration is aware of the bill’s sectoral sanctions requirements. For example, on September 29, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum delegating “to the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, the functions and authorities vested in the President by” Section 231. Additionally, the administration has complied with other 60 day sectoral sanctions-related deadlines. For example, Sections 222 and 223 effectively codified and intensified pre-existing sectoral sanctions that had been imposed under Executive Order 13662. The government made the modifications that Section 223 required be done within 60 days on September 29. Moreover, although President Trump’s signing statement included a number of constitutional objections to specific provisions of the bill (including Section 222), Section 231 is not among them.”  [Lawfare]

There’s no great urgency demonstrated when a bill is signed on August 2, 2017 and the initial instructions don’t go out to the departments until September 29, 2017.  Section 231 (Russia) isn’t all that complicated, and more could certainly have been done to implement the provisions.

It isn’t often that every member of the Nevada congressional delegation votes in unity on any major piece of legislation, and it seems a shame that the President* hasn’t seen fit to move on this topic of important national interest.  Unlike the South Carolina Senator, I think we can guess why little action is taking place concerning Section 231.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Heller, Lindsey Graham, Nevada politics, Politics

New Bull, Same Old Product: The Latest Incarnation of GOP Tax Cuts

For some reason, probably known but to the major donors of the Republican Party, “we” need a tax cut.  The rationale for this exercise echos the ubiquitous adolescent argument for automobile ownership — I need the car to go to work, I need to work to pay for the car.   In this instance, it’s argued that we need the tax cut to promote growth, and the growth to pay for the tax cut.  It’s the same old southbound product of a northbound male bovine we’ve heard so many times before.

Even the GOP assertions connect to this circuitous argument.  A tax cut, we are told, will promote economic growth — and Everyone will win.  Unfortunately, there’s no unanimous jury decision on this question.  First, there are some common methodological problems with altogether too many academic studies purporting to answer the question definitively.  Secondly, there are further issues intrinsic to discussion about how the tax cuts are to be offset.  Not all tax cut/reform proposals are created equal.

“The results suggest that not all tax changes will have the same impact on growth. Reforms that improve incentives, reduce existing subsidies, avoid windfall gains, and avoid deficit financing will have more auspicious effects on the long-term size of the economy, but may also create trade-offs between equity and efficiency.” [Gale, Brookings]

Therefore, if we step back and adopt the centrist conclusions of the Gale-Samwick Study quoted above, there appear to be some boxes to be checked off if the goal is to encourage long term economic growth, and one of those boxes calls for the avoidance of deficit financed tax cuts.

We are cautioned by Republican advocates that there are only two ways to reduce a federal deficit, either raise taxes or reduce spending.  The last iteration of a Republican tax cut, was not only deficit financed but the deficit was enhanced by the spending associated with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Since raising revenue by increasing taxation is anathema to Republican orthodoxy then there must be a reduction in spending.  Enter the proposals from the current Republicans to reduce Medicare spending by $472.9 billion over the next decade, and a further reduction of $1 to $1.5 trillion in cuts to the Medicaid program.

The current FY 2018 budget makes some assumptions which may be quickly frustrated. For example, the budget assumes no further military conflicts — the military expenditures assume readiness costs, not military operations; and, cuts to domestic expenditures  to a level not seen since the Hoover Administration.

If this sounds like the same old prescriptions from GOP decades past, there’s a reason for it which becomes obvious when the framework is examined.  What we have herein is NOT a new proposal for tax reform, but a recycling of ideas included in every recent Republican tax plan.

Cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.  As noted previously in this site,  there are several options available to corporations, none of which have anything to do with increasing employment or raising wages — share buybacks, dividend payments, mergers and acquisitions, corporate bonuses, management compensation, etc.  The GOP argument rests on the fluid assumption that corporations will reward the nation with more plant expansion, research and development, and rising wages — without a scintilla of proof this will actually happen.

The 25% (15%) pass through rate.  This purports to be a bonus for small businesses.  In the real world most small businesses are already paying this rate or rates even lower.  Consider the following evaluation of the Pass Through business:

“Finally, the top statutory rates and average effective rates mask substantial differences in what individual business owners pay in taxes. Most businesses are small, earn relatively modest income, and thus face relatively low bracket rates. As a result, more than 85 percent of pass-through businesses in 2014 faced a top rate of 25 percent or less; only 3 percent faced a marginal rate greater than 30 percent (Figure 6).[10] However, a much larger share of pass-through income does face high marginal income tax rates. Almost half of pass-through income in 2014 came from businesses with a top rate of at least 35 percent.  In other words, a small number of large pass-throughs are responsible for the vast majority of the sector’s tax burden.”  (emphasis added)

Consumer Warning: Beware of muddled conflation of pass through taxation with income from pass through businesses.  85% of small businesses are already paying low pass through rates, and the income is coming from a small number of very wealthy pass through businesses.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out these are lobby shops, law firms, and other wealthy operations which bear little resemblance to small law offices and other independent businesses.

The Death Tax is Coming, The Death Tax is Coming.  I have no reason to believe that there won’t be one more “small business owner,” or one more family farmer, hauled into camera range at a GOP function who will have some tale of woe about inheritance taxation — or as I prefer to call it: The Paris Hilton Legacy Protection Act.   99.8% of all Americans don’t have to pay the estate tax, and such taxes as are paid are 40% of the excess above $5.45 million.   One other point might be made at this point, it’s not the heirs who pay the estate taxation if any is due — it’s the estate, via the executors.  But the major number here is 99.8%, the 99.8% of Americans who will see absolutely no benefit from this “tax cut” at all.

Eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, “which is intended to ensure that higher-income people who take large amounts of deductions and other tax breaks pay at least a minimum level of tax.”   Now, gee, if I could just see a certain President’s tax returns I could tell if he were liable for the AMT?  If I could be reassured that high profile NYC real estate developers, who take a spectacular range of deductions, might have to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax so they aren’t dodging their contributions almost entirely?  However, it’s been since May 20, 2014 since a certain presidential candidate said that if he decided to run for high office he’d release his tax returns — some 1,313 days ago…

In short, there’s nothing new here. It’s the same old south bound produce of a north bound bull.  Repackaged, with a new face in the Oval Office, and I remain convinced that two of our Congressional representatives, Senator Dean Heller and Representative Mark Amodei, will happily twist themselves into rhetorical knots trying to explain how cutting Medicare and Medicaid will benefit middle income Nevadans by pleasing the millionaires and billionaires among us.

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Filed under Amodei, Federal budget, Heller, income tax, Nevada politics, 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