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Monday, September 25, 2017

Who should get a rate cut in tax reform?

For the past few years, the focus of federal tax reform has been on reducing the corporate statutory rate from 35% down to 25% (H.R. 1 (113rd Congress, Camp)), 20% (House Republican blueprint of June 2016) or 15% (Trump 1-pager). The rationale for a corporate rate cut is that ever since we last reduced the top corporate rate from 46% to 34% with the Tax Reform Act of 1986, other industrialized countries did the same (in 1993 the rate was increased to 35%). You can see from this OECD data that most countries have a lower rate, although France is at 34.43%.

Most businesses don't operate as C corporations. Instead, they operate as sole proprietors, partnerships, LLCs and S corporations. For these entities, the income mostly is taxed at the individual tax rates where the top rate is 39.6% although less than half of one percent of individuals are in that top bracket. According to a recent report from the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), for 2016, it is estimated that only 6% of individual returns report income of $200,000 or more. For married taxpayers filing jointly, at $200,000 of taxable income, about $45,000 of that income is taxed at 28%. They would need to have over $233,350 in 2016 to get to a 33% marginal tax rate, over $415,700 to get to a 35% marginal rate and over $470,700 to reach a 39.6% marginal rate.  If their income consists of capital gain income, it is taxed at 0% and 15% and doesn't reach 20% until income exceeds $470,700. Basically, very few individuals are at today's top individual rates although many who are have a lot of income.

JCT, JCX-42-17 (9/15/17)
Should only C corporations get a rate cut? I don't think so.  If the goal of lowering rates is to improve competitiveness, than it makes sense to lower rates for all entities. Also, if only the C corporation rate is lowered, some other types of entities might find it advantageous to convert to the C corp form despite double taxation of corporate income (once by the corporation and again by the shareholders when a dividend it issued).

Recently, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin stated that accounting firms would not get a lower rate even if the rate is reduced for non-C corp entities. He implied that only firms creating manufacturing jobs would justify a rate cut. (Bloomberg, "Trump Officials Temper Expectation of 15% Corporate Tax Rate," by Mohsin and Sink, 9/12/17.) Wow! The government produces lots of data, but I'm concerned that not many policy makers look at it.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting jobs are growing faster than for other industries - at an 11% rate. And these are good paying, interesting jobs that are key to business growth overall. In contrast, jobs for fabricators and assemblers are declining by 1%.

Barry Melancon, President and CEO, has a blog post on Secretary Mnuchin's comments and the justification for lowering all business tax rates as part of reform - check it out. Also see this AICPA testimony for the Senate Finance Committee's hearing of 9/19/17 on business tax reform.

Note: For the rate cut for non-C corporations, the owners must first pay themselves reasonable compensation to be taxed at individual rates + payroll taxes. The remaining income would be taxed at a lower top rate than other individual income though.

What do you think?


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