Is getting rid of a special interest loophole the same as raising taxes? When general tax rates are being reduced?

The title to an essay by  A.J. Spiker’s recently published in the Des Moines Register was, “Republicans must ignore pleas to raise our taxes”. (11/262017 – see link below.)  The essay advocated for not raising tax rates on carried interest income – bonuses earned by hedge fund managers and real estate development managers. He urged our Senators to make sure the tax bill did not get rid of the special low capital gains tax rate for carried interest.  Regular people who earn the same type of bonuses pay taxes at ordinary Earned Income tax rates.  For years, carried interest has been tax at this lower special rate and those who benefit from it simply don’t want to lose it.  (The same seems to be true for people in every special interest group that gets politically favored tax breaks.  The ask our elected representatives to get rid of all the special tax breaks… except for mine…  which is vitally important to job creation!)

I thought that a stated goal for tax reform is to simplify our 70,000+ page the tax code.  In large part, this means getting rid of the many many special interest tax breaks, and then lowering the tax rates for all.  If certain individuals lose their precious special interest tax breaks and actually have to pay more in taxes, so be it.  They should feel lucky for what they got in the past.  This is part of “draining the swam” that our President has called for.  I urge our elected federal representatives to resist the tremendous pressure that they are under from those who received the tax breaks and their lobbyists, and proceed to get rid of the carried interest and many other special interest tax breaks, and lower general tax rates for all.

Link: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2017/11/24/gop-must-ignore-pleas-raise-taxes-carried-interest-capital-gains/887643001/

Trump’s proposed tax rate for “pass-through” businesses is unfair

President Trump has proposed a maximum 25% tax rate on income that individuals receive from “pass through entities”.  Pass through entities are businesses that don’t pay corporate income taxes, but rather pass their net income each year through to the owners to be taxed as part of the owners’ individual tax return.  These pass through entities include S-Corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and sole proprietorships.  Currently, income from pass through entities is taxed at the same rate as any other ordinary income – up to a maximum rate of 39.5%.  (President Trump’s proposal for ordinary income for most taxpayers is a maximum tax rate of 35%.)  He justifies the lower tax rate for pass through entities because, he says, these pass through businesses are the job creators.

This begs at least two questions:  Do pass through entities really create more jobs than non-pass through entities?  Even if so, why should the income of an employer be taxed at a lower rate than an employee if they earn the same amount?  Tax fairness would dictate that two people with the same income would pay the same amount of tax, regardless of source.

Regarding job creation, it is important to know that pass through entities are not just manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers, who may or may not be job creators.  They are also professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants. Most hedge funds and private equity funds are pass through entities.  About 95% of all businesses are pass through entities.  Of those, about 99% have revenues of less than $10 million.  The 1% of pass through entities with revenues of more than $10 million earn about 83% of all profits!  So, some pass through entities are very large, and many owners of pass through entities have very high incomes.  Is it fair for business owners to pay at a 25% rate while regular workers with the same income pay at a 35% rate?  I don’t think so.

I expect to write several blog posts on President Trump’s tax proposal.  The idea of reducing tax rates is a good one – especially if the total plan is revenue neutral and doesn’t increase our $20 Trillion debt.  This means that tax reform that reduces rates must also reduce special tax breaks for politically favored groups and/or reduce spending.  I hope that Congress, which controls all tax legislation, will not “bet on the come” – that is assume future tax revenue will increase due to future growth in the economy.  Our government uses a 10 year look forward to determine the deficit/surplus effect of any change in taxing or spending.  In recent decades, it seems that all tax and spending changes have significant costs up front with the promise of savings toward the end the the 10 year period.  Let’s not keep doing that.

Source: https://www.brookings.edu/research/9-facts-about-pass-through-businesses/

New YMCA pool should not receive federal or state funding assistance

The new downtown Des Moines YMCA should not receive federal funding for its new Olympic size swimming pool.  The Register reported that the Y did not receive the $6 million in federal tax credits it had requested, but that it had reapplied for funding next year under the same program.  I don’t blame the Y, or any of the thousands of similar organizations across the nation, for applying for available grants.  I blame our federal government and elected representatives for creating such spending programs.  Building swimming pools, and other local community projects, is clearly an improper role for our federal government.  There is no authorization for this kind of spending in the Constitution.  Wanting to fund good causes is not sufficient.  (As a longtime member, financial supporter, and twice past board member, I believe in the good cause of the Y.)   Spending proposals that are not authorized under the Constitution must be opposed for that reason alone – no matter how good the cause.  Let’s see if the newly Republican controlled Congress will honor their oath to uphold the Constitution and work to reign in these Constitutionally abusive spending programs.

National Institute of Health – budget does not need to increase.

On 9/29/2014, The Des Moines Register reported on its front page, “The budget for the National Institute of Health… has shrunk about 20% over the past decade…”  The article went on to describe the reduction in medical research dollars flowing to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.  What was not stated was the the reduction in spending was not a reduction in the actual dollars.  It was only after adjusting for inflation that there was any decrease.  Over the last decade (2003 – 2013) the dollars increased by $2.2 billion from $27.1 to $29.3 billion, an increase of 8%.  Adjusted for inflation, this equals a cut of about 15%.  If we look at the prior decade, (1993 – 2003), the appropriations increased from $10.3  to 27.1 billion – an increase of 164%!  Taking the two decades together, the increase is 67%.  Over the same two decades inflation totaled 61%.  So, it appears that funding has mostly kept up with inflation plus a little more.
The demand for medical research funding paid for by taxpayers is almost unlimited.  Therefore we must first decide how much we can spend, and then select research projects based on our priorities.  Maybe the research that U of I and ISU have been proposing is not as high on our priority list as other proposals.  Or, maybe we don’t have as much political power as some of the other research institutions.
Source NIH appropriations: http://www.nih.gov/about/almanac/appropriations/part2.htm
Source inflation – see table 24:  http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpid1408.pdf

Don’t demonize Walgreens.

Don’t demonize Walgreens for taking action to legally lower its U.S. federal income taxes.  The Des Moines Register and President Obama are wrong when they say that taking advantage of this legal tax break is unpatriotic.  As the Register reported, Walgreens can save $4 billion in federal taxes over the next 5 years by changing its corporate headquarters to Switzerland.  (See Register article: “Walgreens turns back on taxpayers” 8/3/2014)

The Register asked: “How much profit does a company need?”  “How much is enough?”  They went on to list all of the benefits that Walgreens receives by operating in the U.S. They tried to shame Walgreens for their proposed action, and effectively called for a boycott of Walgreens in protest.

The Register gave lip service to the fact that the U.S. has very high corporate tax rates compared to most other modern countries, and that tax reform is needed to close loopholes and bring down rates.  That should have been the primary message of the editorial, that we need to close loopholes and lower rates, not that Walgreens might take advantage of one.

Many companies and other taxpayers pay substantially lower their taxes by taking advantage of loopholes:  Oil and other natural resource extraction industries have their depletion allowance; hedge fund managers have their “carried interest” bonuses payments.  There are many many types of tax credits and deductions that benefit only politically favored businesses.  Many unfair loopholes go to very wealthy and profitable companies and individuals.  How does Warren Buffet pay less than 20% in federal income taxes?  Loopholes.  Why do some of the largest, wealthiest, most profitable research based companies in Iowa pay no income tax?  Loopholes.  Are all of these people and companies unpatriotic because they don’t pay more taxes than required by law?

In this case, the problem is not Walgreens or the specific loophole.  It is the high corporate income tax rates in the U.S.  The U.S. needs to significantly lower its corporate income tax rates.  Otherwise, over time, companies will actually move their headquarters to lower tax countries.  Given the inherent unfairness of special interest loopholes, and given the unconscionably high U.S. federal debt, it seems obvious that we should close as many of these loopholes as possible, and lower tax rates at the same time in a revenue neutral way.

Full disclosure:  I am a Walgreens stockholder.

Link to Register editorial:  http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/2014/08/03/editorial-walgreens-turns-back-taxpayers/13531911/

Debt ceiling compromise.

Republicans are right to not increase the debt ceiling without some action to reduce our Country’s spending deficit.  They are not right to pick out Obamacare as the only possible target.  President Obama and the Democrats are wrong to insist that the Republican in the House of Representatives pass a “clean” debt limit expansion bill.  The compromise should be to agree on spending cuts that are not specifically related to Obamacare.  The four big drivers of the Federal budget deficit are Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Military spending.  Any other spending cuts, although helpful, do not really solve our long-term problem.  Republicans should propose some type of binding agreement on entitlement and military spending cuts in return for passing a debt increase bill.  The real problem to be solved is that we must stop spending beyond our means.

Giving money to Egypt is actually welfare for rich corporations

Planet Money reported recently that the $1.3 billion in military aid that we send to Egypt every year is being wasted.  All of the money we give them is to buy military equipment from U.S. manufacturers.  Much of what they buy is duplicative and excessive for the Egyptian military and is simply being stored in crates.  The primary reason that this continues is that U.S. manufacturers lobby Congress for it to continue, and Congressmen and Senators want to keep the jobs and money flowing into their States.

Listen to the audio report at this link:  http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/08/23/214928040/episode-482-why-the-u-s-keeps-sending-weapons-to-egypt