Tag Archives: Pass Through Loophole

To Do List In Preparation For A Post GOP Tax Plan Life

I’d write a longer post today, but I feel the need to get started on my Post GOP Tax Plan financial life.  First, I need to get cracking on the purchase of my private jet.  I’ve been thinking of a Gulfstream G650,  but I may have to settle for a Dassault Falcon 900.  Either way I am assured that I can deduct the expenses involved in this purchase.  So, some public school teachers have to dig into their pockets for paper, and other school supplies, for someone else’s children? So. What.  If those needy-greedies will just have some patience I might get around to hiring someone who lives in their district who might pay property taxes.  But, maybe not.

Speaking of education,  I should get on the horn and let younger relatives who are in graduate school know that the tax plan benefiting the Rich will mean that they will be liable for taxes on their tuition waivers — that they’re actually earning some sub-minimal pittance for slaving away on research which will never bear their names is of no consequence.  Well, at least they can file their returns on one sheet of paper.

Meanwhile, I ought to look into getting my offspring into some pricier private schools. Why? Because I can deduct the costs of their pricey-private-tuition while those silly grad students, especially the ones in STEM subjects, will be paying on their tuition waivers and  won’t be able to deduct the interest on their student loans. They could be looking at 400% increases in their taxes. Bad for them. So nice for me!

This means I will be able to focus on the important things in my life, like managing my tax deductible golf courses.  After all, golf is relaxing, relaxed people are more productive, and more productive people earn more. Therefore, they are of greater good to society.  Greater, that is, in comparison to those little drones who manicure the greens and keep the landscaping trimmed.

And, what a lovely gift to the Middle Class that they will not have to deduct the interest on their home mortgages on properties costing more than $500K.  They shouldn’t be shopping in those districts anyway.  So, housing prices are a little creepy in some areas? Pretty high in some parts of the country?  Just stay away from high market homes in areas with high paying jobs! Problem solved.

Okay, there might be some security issues — like disallowing deductions for state and local property taxes means that police, fire, and emergency services will get pinched. But, this is a small price to pay for Freedom from Big Government. Or little government. Or, any government.   There could be some quality of life issues too.  Eliminating deductions for SALT could mean further pressure on budgets for public hospitals, schools, parks, and libraries.  Oh well, nothing the Gotrocks Family has to deal with.

The bills could, however hurt my accountant — if the inheritance tax is eliminated and the AMT is gone, then I don’t have to worry about creating elaborate tax dodging schemes to prevent paying “more than I should,” meaning — more than I want to.  However, this doesn’t necessarily mean my accountant should be all that worried. After all, I can still ask him to find ways to further protect my gains — like turning the Gotrocks Family into the Gotrocks Family LLC so we get the benefits of the Pass Through Loophole.

The House version of the Great Tax Shift (Did I mean to type “Shaft?”) eliminates deductions for major medical expenses.  Perhaps my accountant’s employees should hope for the Senate version, in case I give them heart attacks with my continual demands that they find more ways to hide more of my money.  Only old people have big medical expenses anyway.  Ah, the good old days when Grandpa died in his bed at home, surrounded by family.  Why should he go to a hospital for palliative care when it would be cheaper to pass away on the sofa?  The House version also eliminates the deduction for alimony payments — now, this could be an issue!

Too much alimony and I might have to head to a foreign country?  No problem.  The tax plan could help.  Remember that major short term tax breaks go to corporations.  Foreign investors own about 35% of all shares, thus when the short term benefits of the tax plan go to shareholders — Shazaam! — of the $200 billion in savings expected by the corporations 35% will go to foreign investors.  That could be something like $70 billion?

So, as I gaze upon the picture of the Secretary of the Treasury and his bride proudly displaying a whole sheet of wonderful Money, I remember that the Tax Plan is meant for the Gotrocks (LLC) — who benefit from university research but don’t want to pay for it, who benefit from local police, fire, and emergency services, but don’t want to pay for it, who benefit from schools, parks, and libraries, but don’t want to pay for them.

Happy the Gotrocks will be when there is no AMT to insure we pay at least Something. When there is no inheritance tax!  When those Little People Out There In The Dark will be paying to support the services I enjoy!  On behalf of the Gotrocks Family LLC: God Bless America!

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Filed under Economy, Politics, Taxation

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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Filed under Economy, Nevada, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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