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The Tax Foundation Reviews the Presidential Candidates’ Tax Proposals

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Goals for Sound Tax Policy

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation states that its goals for sound tax policy include, “simplicity, neutrality, transparency and stability.”

The Review

It published a review on September 6, 2012 of three different major tax proposals. The review discussed the tax proposals of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the proposals of President Obama and the proposals of Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. The nonpartisan Tax Commission attempted to provide an objective comparison of the three proposals. It discussed proposals for income tax, capital gains tax, corporate tax and gas tax for each plan.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform produced a plan in December of 2010. With nine Democrats and nine Republicans on the committee, the plan received 11 of 18 votes. However, it did not receive a sufficiently large majority to be submitted for a vote by the House and Senate.

The plan is commonly described as the “Simpson-Bowles” plan after the Republican and Democratic Co-Chairs of the Commission.

The “Simpson-Bowles” Plan

Simpson-Bowles proposes a 28% top rate on personal income taxes. Capital gains and corporations would also be taxed at 28%. Corporations would not pay tax on earnings overseas. The alternative minimum tax would be repealed. Taxes on gasoline would be increased from 18 cents to 23 cents per gallon.

With the reduction in the top income tax rate, most credits and deductions would be greatly limited. There would be a child credit, an earned income tax credit, a limited deduction for mortgage interest and deductions for health and retirement plans.

The principal goal of Simpson-Bowles is to reduce spending to 21% of gross domestic product (GDP) and to raise taxes to that same level. Simpson-Bowles is projected to balance the budget by 2037.

The Tax Foundation

The Tax Foundation study of proposals by President Obama covered many of the same areas. The top income tax rate would be set at 39.6%. Long-term capital gains are taxed at 30% under the “Buffett Rule.” Dividends are potentially taxed at the top rate of 39.6% plus the 3.8% additional tax under the Affordable Care Act. Corporate taxes for both U.S. and foreign profits are 28%. The alternative minimum tax is retained with the “Buffett Rule” level of 30%.

President Obama proposes retaining most credits and deductions with some technical changes. The benefit of deductions for the upper income brackets of 39.6% and 36% would be limited to the tax savings in the 28% bracket.

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney proposes a top income tax rate of 28%. Capital gains would continue to be taxed at 15% and dividends at 15%. Corporate tax rates would be reduced to 25%, and foreign income would not be taxed. There would be substantial limits on credits and deductions. There would be limited deductions for home mortgage, charitable gifts, retirement plans and health plans. The alternative minimum tax would be repealed. Candidate Romney’s plans are projected to balance the budget by 2020.

Editor’s Note: This nonpartisan review by Dr. McBride and the Tax Foundation is offered as an educational service to our readers. Your editor and this organization take no position on the specific provisions that are involved. Our readers should recognize that with the complexity of our tax system, the comparison by Dr. McBride involves review of extensive information and a number of judgments on the various proposals.

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One Response

  1. Rebuild the Entire Tax Code?

    The Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee held a joint session on September 20. The purpose of the session was to discuss tax reform options for capital gains. Sen. Max Baucus stated, “Our entire tax code – including its treatment of capital gains – needs to be rebuilt for the 21st Century economy. We need a system focused on broad-based economic growth and jobs.”

    Baucus focused on four specific objectives. He noted that reform must consider the capital gain rate as compared to the rate on ordinary income. It must review who benefits most from the lower rate for capital gains. Any reform should give thoughtful consideration to the need to increase the current low savings rate. Finally, with approximately 20,000 Internal Revenue Code pages (of the 40,000 total pages) defining all of the rules for reporting and paying tax on capital gains, he observes that the complexity of the system is not helpful.

    The ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). He pointed out that the current 15% capital gain rate is scheduled for a dramatic increase on January 1. First, the 3.8% Medicare rate will raise the rate from 15% to 18.8%. Next, the additional five percentage points of increase scheduled for January 1 would raise the rate to 23.8%. In many states, the combined federal and state capital gains rate could be 28% to 30% in 2013.

    Hatch observed that there is a “locked-in gain” problem when the rates are that high. Taxpayers are unwilling to sell appreciated assets and that reduces liquidity, harms the economy and increases unemployment.

    House Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) agreed that “how to tax capital gains will be one of the biggest and likely most controversial” issues in the 2013 tax reform bill. He noted that the majority of the benefit of the reduced rates helps high-income taxpayers.

    House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-MI) observed that the capital gain rate did not necessarily have to be increased in order to reform taxes. He believes that it may be possible to lower the income tax rate without increasing the capital gain rate.

    Editor’s Note: In the last comprehensive tax reform in 1986, there was a bipartisan cooperation between President Reagan and House Ways and Means Chair Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL). In order to lower the income tax rates, they agreed to increase the capital gain rate and both were taxed at 28%. This increase in capital gain rate had major impact on real estate for the next several years. If there is major tax reform in 2013 and the income tax rates are reduced, there may need to be a combination of reduced itemized deductions and higher capital gain rates to pay for the lower income tax rates.

    Source: Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

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