Category Archives: tax revenue

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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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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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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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

Demolition Days On End

The television talking heads are talking about today’s sound and fury from the White House as “Demolition Day;” as if every day the mullet-maned moron occupying the Oval Office hasn’t been doing this from day one.

What is buttressing my sanity for the moment is the fact that MMM had a 49.4% approval rating in Nevada as of January 2017 (38.9% disapproval) and dropped to an approval rating of 43.6% in September 2017 and a disapproval rating of 51.2% in the Silver State.  [CNBC]

Much more love from the Republican Congress and the President and Nevada’s going to find itself in a world of hurt.   Case in point:  If the Republicans get their way in the FY 2018 budget 56,044 Nevada families will lose food assistance as of 2023, and 52,613 will lose them as of 2027.   But wait, there’s even more fun … another grand idea in this budget fiasco is to shift $100 billion of SNAP costs to the states.  So, Nevada would have to come up with 10% of the costs by 2020 and this increases to 25% in 2023 and beyond. Just in case lower income, mostly working, families in Nevada aren’t punished enough the GOP plan says states will have more “flexibility” to cut benefit levels to “manage costs.”  Of course Nevada will have to figure out how to get lower income working families basic food items at the local groceries, at state expense.  In case someone’s thinking this makes economic sense (that tired old canard about welfare queens on food stamps with waste and fraud) the actual numbers indicate that for every $5.00 spent on food stamps $9.00 is generated in economic activity. [CBPP] [MJ]

Case in point: The FY 2018 budget calls for cuts in fire-fighting operations.  As if the fires in California weren’t headline news at the moment.  The IAFC isn’t happy  seeing an FY 2017 budget of $2,833,000 for wildland fire management cut to $2,495,058 in FY 2018; or cuts to State Fire Assistance from $78 million down to $69.4 million, and Volunteer Fire Assistance from $15 million to $11.6 million.  And, by the way, the FLAME program (pdf) funding (wildfire reserve suppression fund, large fires) would be eliminated in the GOP budget.  Supposedly, the FY 2018 would sustain current 10 year average costs for fire suppression. [ECO]  The word “supposedly” is used with some caution, because as we experience climate change effects, the cost of fire suppression can be reasonably expected to increase, with a coterminous effect on budgets.   Meanwhile, there’s the matter of expensive fires in Napa and Sonoma counties.

And, then there’s the not-so-small matter of FEMA:

“The president’s budget blueprint calls for FEMA’s budget for state and local grants to be cut by $667 million, saying that these grants are unauthorized or ineffective. The program it explicitly calls out as lacking congressional authorization is the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, and a second proposed change would require all preparedness grants to be matched in part by non-federal funds. All of FEMA’s pre-disaster grants are meant to reduce federal spending after disasters, and according to the agency’s website, there’s evidence that $1 in mitigation spending saves $4 in later damages.”  [Newsweek]

There are two points to highlight in this paragraph.  First, the budget cuts are made to grants for disaster mitigation efforts, without saying why the grants are “ineffective,” and we should note that any program can be declared “ineffective” if the standards aren’t reasonable. Secondly, as in the case of food stamps, there’s an upfront economic benefit — for every $1 spent on mitigation we save $4 in subsequent damage costs.   Once more we have a grand example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Nor are the Republicans keeping their promises not to mess with Social Security and Medicare.

“Not only would it (the FY 2018 budget) cut Medicaid by $1 trillion, it would also cut Medicare by more than $470 billion in order to pay for hundreds of billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in America. Further, the Republican tax plan this budget calls for would increase the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, which will likely pave the way for savage cuts to Social  Security.”  [SenDem]

Oh, and by the way… let’s sabotage the NAFTA talks, scrap the only treaty containing Iran’s arms aspirations (and tick off all the other European allies who signed on), send a signal to North Korea that our word’s not worth paper on which it’s written, let the health insurance market destabilize into chaos, and withdraw from UNESCO.

And here we sit, not a shining beacon on a hill, but a flickering flame bent to whatever winds happen to be blowing through the head of MMM in the White House.  Not only are programs and services in peril within our own state, but the nation and the world are facing similar dangers emanating from an unraveling White House.

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Filed under Economy, FEMA, Health Care, health insurance, Nevada, Nevada budget, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics, public health, Republicans, Social Security, tax revenue, Taxation

That Changing Trump Tax Plan and the People Who Love It

 Trump Tax Plan It’s time to haul out the old Etch-A-Sketch template from the Romney campaign for another deployment in the Trump 2016 version – Trump has offered two tax policy proposals.  Neither one accomplishes much more than exacerbating the problems of the current tax code; in fact they’d both do more damage than good.  

Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) candidate for the Nevada Senate seat and Danny Tarkanian, perpetual candidate and now a contestant for the 3rd Congressional District seat, have both endorsed Donald Trump as their choice for president, and here’s what they’re getting in the bargain.

A Tax Plan for the Top 0.1%

Bracketology: The Tax Policy Center analyzed the initial Trump Tax Proposal (December edition) and this release was followed by significant changes in the original proposal as of August 16, 2016.   And here comes the confusion:

“Trump’s original tax plan included defined brackets, which have since been removed from his campaign website. Trump’s standard deduction increase would make the first $25,000 in income tax-exempt. According to his original plan, the lowest bracket would then apply to all taxable income between $25,000 and $50,000 for single taxpayers, the middle tax rate would be assessed on income of $50,001 to $150,000 and the highest rate would apply to income above $150,000. For married couples, the income ranges would be double these amounts.”  [Motley Fool]

And now:

“As a practical matter, Trump’s plan features a sizable tax-free bracket. He wants to quadruple the standard deduction (currently $6,300) to $25,000 for single filers and $50,000 for joint filers. As a result, about half the population wouldn’t pay income tax.” [TaxAnalyst]

As everyone who has ever filed with the IRS knows full well, what a person actually pays is tax on the adjusted income – income after deductions. If we don’t know what the allowable deductions are then it’s almost impossible to discern what the tax proposal actually means for the average tax payer.  It also isn’t helpful that the ‘defined brackets’ have been removed from the policy section of the Trump info-site.  We can guess that the 12% rate goes for those with taxable incomes between $25,000 and $50,000; 25% for those with taxable income between $50,000 and $150,000; and, 33% for those with taxable income over $150,000.

Who plays in the Brackets?  Here comes the fun, and the way the Trump Tax Plan benefits the upper income earners.   We need to look at Trump’s “pass through entities.”   This is a loophole not only large enough to drive a tractor trailer through, but most of the freight cars on the Union Pacific as well.

“Trump would go one step further, creating an enormous tax loophole for the rich by applying his 15 percent corporate rate to “pass-through” entities as well. Pass-through entities are businesses whose income are not taxed at the corporate level, but rather passed through entirely to the businesses’ owners and then taxed at the owners’ individual income-tax levels. High-income households can easily avoid paying their full income tax bill by reclassifying their income as pass-through income. This loophole allows Trump to claim that he is closing the carried interest loophole, while actually lowering the rate that hedge fund managers would pay from 23.8 percent to 15 percent.”  [EPI]

In 2012 the state of Kansas under the direction of Governor Sam Brownback and a GOP controlled legislature enacted this loophole with disastrous budget results, because of  reduced taxation rates for LLC’s, S Corps, partnerships, farms, and sole proprietorships.

The normally extremely conservative Tax Foundation is not amused:

When the exemption was passed in 2012, it was projected that 191,000 entities would take advantage of the provision. As more and more people have realized the very sizeable tax advantage of being a pass-through entity in Kansas, that number ended up being 330,000 claimants, over 70 percent more than was anticipated.  It’s important to note here that while decreasing taxes is generally associated with greater economic growth, the pass-through carve out is primarily incentivizing tax avoidance, not job creation. [TaxFnd]  (emphasis added)

Thud.  That’s the sound of budget and revenue problems hitting the floor as a result of a ‘carve out’ for the top income earners disguised as a tax cut for small businesses.  Here’s a simple example. If I were earning $165,000 per year working for the Acme Explosives Company, I would ask my employer Wile E. Coyote to immediately re-hire me as an “independent contractor.”  I would re-create myself as an “S” corporation. Handy, since I live in Nevada which doesn’t have a personal income tax, and thus doesn’t recognize the federal S corporation election.  I file the paperwork, get my EIN number, pay some fees, and bingo! – I am taxed at the 15% rate rather than 33%.  There is obviously no job creation here – just a wonderful and perfectly legal way for me to reduce my “bracket” at the expense of those who don’t have the wherewithal to follow my shady example.

The Wichita Eagle editorial board summarizes:

“As part of the 2012 tax cuts, about 300,000 business owners in Kansas don’t have to pay state taxes on pass-through business income. Not only do many Kansas wage earners think this is unfair, so do some of the business owners receiving the tax break – especially when the state is facing serious budget problems.  The exemption is costing Kansas about $260 million a year in revenue. And contrary to what Gov. Sam Brownback promised, it hasn’t acted “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”

Trump, Tarkanian, and Heck would seemingly like to have Nevada and 48 other states go the way of Kansas?  Only if we’d like to raise tax avoidance and cheating to an art form.

Playing with Children:  Another element of the Trump Tax proposal is the child care tax deduction, and here too the top 1% fare very well thank you.   It’s important to remember at this point that the economic value of a tax deduction increases with the marginal rate of the payer. Or, the higher your tax bracket the more valuable the deduction – for child care.  The deduction is of no use whatsoever to someone already in the Zero bracket but is ever so helpful for those in the upper income levels.

Playing for the Children:  Mr. Trump is pleased to tell us that the Federal Estate Tax is a “horrible weapon which has destroyed many families…”  Not. So. Fast.  “Today’s estate tax is only imposed on less than 0.2 percent of households. Fewer than two estates in a thousand pay it. More than 2.5 million Americans die each year, but less than 5,000 estates were taxed in 2014. Only estates of $5.4 million or more must pay any estate tax at all.” [C&L]   Perhaps it is not too much to return to the appellation “The Paris Hilton Legacy Protection Act,” for this long sought GOP gift to the rich.

There are some serious questions which should be posed to Mr. Trump and his supporters like Mr. Tarkanian and Representative Heck:

#1.  What exactly are the specified brackets in the modified Trump tax policy proposal?  We can assume that the new rates apply to the old brackets but without clarification from the campaign there are significant questions about the revenue projections (or revenue deficit projections) which remain unanswered.  Do those brackets leave us with a revenue deficit of $3 trillion over ten years?  [Tax Analyst] If so, thus much for budget balancing and other forms of fiscal contortion.

#2. Does Trump mean to allow individuals to avail themselves of the Great Pass Through Tax Dodge?  If so, how does he intend to avoid what’s happened in Kansas?

#3. Does Trump intend to provide child care deductions for the rich while working families see none of the economic benefits of it?

#4. Do Mr. Trump, Mr. Tarkanian, and Representative Heck really mean to advocate for estate tax avoidance for those estates of $4.5 million or more? For less that 0.2% of the United States population?

We may have to wait for Trump Tax Policy 3.0 before these questions can be fully answered?

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Filed under Economy, Heck, income tax, Nevada politics, tax revenue, Taxation