May 27, 2019

After Fiscal Deal, Tax Code May Be Most Progressive Since 1979

The last-minute deal struck by the departing 112th Congress raised taxes on a handful of the highest-earning Americans, with about 99.3 percent of households experiencing no change in their income taxes. But the Tax Policy Center estimates that the average family in the top 1 percent will pay a federal tax rate of more than 36 percent this year, up from 28 percent in 2008. That is the highest rate since 1979, at least.

By some measures, the tax code might now be the most progressive in a generation, tax economists said, while noting that every American is paying a lower burden currently than they did then. In fact, the total federal tax rate is still vastly lower for the very rich than it was at any point in the 1940s through 1970s. It has risen from historical lows, but is still closer to those lows than where it was in the postwar decades.

“We made the system more progressive by raising rates at the top and leaving them for everyone else,” said Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center, a research group based in Washington. “The offsetting issue is that the rich have gotten a lot richer.”

Indeed, over the last three decades the bulk of pretax income gains have gone to the wealthy — and the higher up on the income scale, the bigger the gains, with billionaires outpacing millionaires who outpaced the merely rich. Economists doubted that the tax increases would do much to reverse that trend.

With the recovery failing to improve incomes for millions of average Americans and the country running trillion-dollar deficits, President Obama made “tax fairness” a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. In the heated negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner, that translated into the White House’s insistence on tax increases for the top 2 percent of households and a continuation of tax breaks and cuts for a vast number of taxpayers.

Republicans resisted increasing tax rates and aimed for lower revenue targets, arguing that spending was the budget’s primary problem and that no American should see his or her taxes go up too much in such a sluggish economy. But ultimately they relented, and Congress cut a last-minute deal.

“A central promise of my campaign for president was to change the tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of working middle-class Americans,” Mr. Obama said after Congress reached an agreement.

That deal includes a host of tax increases on the rich. It raises the tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent on income above $400,000 for individuals, and $450,000 for couples. The rate on dividends and capital gains for those same taxpayers was bumped up 5 percentage points, to 20 percent. Congress also reinstated limits on the amount households with more than $300,000 in income can deduct. On top of that, two new surcharges — a 3.8 percent tax on investment income and a 0.9 percent tax on regular income — hit those same wealthy households.

As a result of the taxes added in both the deal and the 2010 health care law, which came into effect this year, taxpayers with $1 million in income and up will pay on average $168,000 more in taxes. Millionaires’ share of the overall federal tax burden will climb to 23 percent from 20 percent.

The result is a tax code that squeezes hundreds of billions of dollars more from the very well off — about $600 billion more over 10 years — while leaving the tax burden on everyone else mostly as it was. And the changes come after 30 years of both Republican and Democratic administrations doing the converse: zeroing out federal income taxes for many poor working families while also reducing the tax burden for households on the higher end of the income scale.

“Back at the end of the Carter and beginning of the Reagan administrations, we had a pretty severe income-tax burden for people at a low level of income. It was actually kind of appalling,” said Alan D. Viard, a tax expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-of-center research group in Washington. “Policy makers in both parties realized that was bad policy and started whittling away at it” by expanding credits and tinkering with tax rates.

After those changes and the new law, comparing average tax rates for poor households and wealthy households, 2013 might be the most progressive tax code since 1979. But economists cautioned that measuring progressivity is tricky. “It’s not like there is some scientific measure of progressivity all economists agreed upon,” said Leonard E. Burman, a professor of public affairs at Syracuse University. “People look at different numerical measures and they’ve changed in different ways at different income levels.”

Mr. Viard said that over time the code had become markedly more progressive for the poor compared with the middle class. But it arguably did not become much more progressive for the rich compared with the middle class, or the very rich compared with the rich, in part because of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts on investment income.

An anesthesiologist who earns a $500,000 salary subject to payroll and income taxes might pay a higher tax rate than a hedge fund manager making $1 billion subject mostly to capital-gains taxes, for instance.

Economists are also divided on the ultimate effect of those tax increases on the wealthy to income growth and income inequality in the United States. The recession hit the incomes of the rich hard, but they have snapped back much more strongly than those for middle or low-income workers.

“I’d still rather be really rich, even if I’m getting taxed much more than a low-income person” would be, Mr. Williams of the Tax Policy Center added.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/business/after-fiscal-deal-tax-code-may-be-most-progressive-since-1979.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Caucus: Romney’s Taxes Compared With Everyone Else’s

The Romney campaign revealed Friday afternoon that Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, paid a 14.1 percent effective federal tax rate in 2011, paying $1.9 million in taxes on $13.7 million in income, much of it from investments. (That $13.7 million in income most likely puts him in the top 0.01 percent of earners, by the way.)

Where does that effective tax rate put him in the universe of taxpayers? The Romneys paid a higher effective tax rate than the average middle-income American, though a significantly lower rate than the average rich, or very rich, American.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the middle quintile of taxpayers – earning between $33,542 and $59,486 a year – had an effective direct federal tax rate of about 12 percent in 2011. The top 1 percent of earners, making more than $532,613 a year, paid a direct federal tax rate of about 22.7 percent. And the top 0.1 percent of earners, making more than $2,178,886 a year, paid a direct federal tax rate of about 21.4 percent.

(We’re just using income, employee-side payroll and estate taxes in this comparison. A fuller picture would include state and local, employer-side payroll and corporate taxes.)

Still, the Romneys revealed that they paid more taxes than they really owed, pushing their effective federal rate higher. The couple made more than $4 million in charitable donations in 2011, but claimed a deduction for only $2.25 million of those donations “to conform to the governor’s statement” that he “paid at least 13 percent in income taxes in each of the last 10 years.”

In light of that, expect Mr. Romney to take some heat for this statement, which he made to ABC News in July: “ I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires.”


Follow Annie Lowrey on Twitter at @AnnieLowrey.

Article source: http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/romneys-taxes-compared-with-everyone-elses/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Bruce Bartlett: Some Big Corporations Don’t Pay Taxes, Either

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Bruce Bartlett held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He is the author of “The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform – Why We Need It and What It Will Take.”

On Sept. 13, Harold Hamm, chairman and chief executive of Continental Resources, testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about achieving energy independence. He said his company, an oil producer, could produce much more if federal policies didn’t hold it back. Among them is the tax system. Mr. Hamm said his company paid an effective tax rate of 38 percent.

Today’s Economist

Perspectives from expert contributors.

One often hears corporate executives make such assertions. Republicans always accept them at face value, because to them there is no public policy problem that isn’t caused by high taxes. Tax cuts are their solution to just about every problem. Cutting the corporate tax rate is among the key measures that all Republicans favor to stimulate growth.

One problem with the Republican theory is that many big corporations actually pay little, if any, federal income tax. For example, The New York Times has reported that General Electric, the sixth-largest corporation in the United States, earned $14.2 billion in 2010, but disclosed in federal filings that it had no federal tax liability.

This disparity between the high taxes that many people say they believe American corporations pay and the low rate they actually pay applies to Mr. Hamm’s business as well. Citizens for Tax Justice, a labor-backed group, looked at Continental Resources’ financial reports, where it must disclose tax payments, and found that in 2011 it paid a federal tax rate of 1.9 percent on profits of close to $700 million. Its average federal tax rate over the last five years was 2.2 percent.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, G.E. paid a federal tax rate about the same as Continental Resources’ over the last 10 years – an average of 2.3 percent, including four years in which it received a net tax refund.

When poor people pay no federal income taxes and get a government refund because of such programs as the earned-income tax credit, Republicans are incensed, implying that if only the poor paid their fair share that the deficit would disappear. They never suggest that corporations like G.E. pay their fair share, even though the G.E. example is far from unique, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

The complexity of the corporate income tax makes it easy to evade and avoid American taxes. Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California, points to the easy availability of tax havens, where corporations artificially book their profits and avoid taxation on them.

I had a personal experience with such tax havens recently. I needed a copy of Microsoft Word for a new computer and went to Microsoft.com to buy and download it. But my credit card company refused the charge. When I checked to see what the problem was, I was told that the credit card company was suspicious because the charge went to a company based in Luxembourg.

Luxembourg is, of course, a notorious tax haven. Arranging to realize its profits in such places has long been a tax-avoidance policy practiced by Microsoft and other big corporations. According to a July 22 report by the London-based Tax Justice Network, as much as $32 trillion of global financial wealth may be parked in the world’s tax havens.

Even without taking account of offshore tax havens and other aggressive tax avoidance activities, corporate taxes are grossly overrated as a cost of doing business in the United States. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the corporate income tax raised just 1.2 percent of the gross domestic product last year. Even in 2007, before the economic crisis, it raised only 2.7 percent of G.D.P. This is well down from the 1950s, when the corporate tax raised twice as much revenue as a share of G.D.P.

Republicans often point to the statutory corporate tax rate in the United States as evidence that American companies are overtaxed. Indeed, it is true that the United States has the highest statutory central government tax rate among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The combined statutory rate in the United States is 39.2 percent, including state taxes, compared with an average of 29.6 percent in the O.E.C.D.

However, as a Sept. 13 report from the Congressional Research Service explains, looking only at the statutory rate is highly misleading as an indication of the burden of the corporate tax. That is because it does not take account of the many tax expenditures that reduce the effective tax rate paid by American corporations. In 2011, they reduced corporate tax revenues by $159 billion.

As a consequence, the weighted effective tax rate – taxes as a share of profits – is 27.1 percent in the United States, which is below the 27.7 percent average rate of O.E.C.D. nations. The weighted average marginal tax rate on corporations – the tax on each additional dollar earned – is 20.2 percent in the United States, compared with 18.3 percent in the O.E.C.D.

For these reasons, the investor Warren Buffett says it’s “a myth that American corporations are paying 35 percent or anything like it.”

The Congressional Research Service report also notes that in the United States corporate taxes as a share of G.D.P. were the third lowest among all O.E.C.D. countries in 2009 – 1.7 percent of G.D.P. (including state taxes), compared with an O.E.C.D. average of 2.8 percent of G.D.P. Even Ireland, which conservatives often point to has having an exemplary corporate tax system, raised corporate taxes equal to 2.4 percent of G.D.P.

One continuing confusion in the corporate tax debate is who, exactly, pays it. Corporations, after all, are not entities separate from their owners (shareholders), employees and customers. They are the ones who pay the tax, but economists have been debating about who and to what degree for a century.

A Treasury Department report in May concluded that 82 percent of the corporate tax is borne by capital, with 18 percent borne by labor. Contrary to popular belief, none of the tax is shifted to consumers, which stands to reason because prices are set by producers that pay different tax rates or may even be tax-exempt.

The private Tax Policy Center published a study on Sept. 13 with similar conclusions. It estimates that 20 percent of the corporate tax is paid by labor, 20 percent is borne by the “normal” return to capital – roughly, the risk-free interest rate – and 60 percent by the “supernormal” return to capital. The latter is the extent to which the return to corporate stock has historically exceeded the risk-free interest rate.

One driving force for tax reform is a widespread belief, on both sides of the aisle, that the statutory corporate tax rate should be reduced. That is fine as long as the tax base is broadened by eliminating loopholes. But the idea that cutting the tax rate is a magic bullet to jump-start growth is nonsense, because corporate taxes are, in fact, quite low.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/are-corporations-overtaxed/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Capital Gains: Romney and the 1%

Few aspects of the division between the 1 percent and the 99 percent have proven so divisive as the fact that the rich often pay a lower tax rate than everybody else. That is because the top federal tax rate on capital gains income is 15 percent, compared with a top marginal tax rate of 35 percent on other taxable income, like wages and salaries, that exceeds $380,000 a year.

The 1 Percent

Looking at the top of the economic strata.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, who has declined to release his tax returns, acknowledged on Tuesday that his own tax rate was “probably closer to the 15 percent rate,” because much of what he earns is from investments. The rich earn far more from capital gains than everyone else. The percentages fluctuate from year to year, but in 2007, the top 1 percent of earners received 20 percent of their income from capital gains, while everyone else received, on average, 2 percent of their income from capital gains. In 2011, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent paid 70 percent of the total federal tax on capital gains.

The center also estimates that the top 1 percent, of which Mr. Romney is a member, pays an effective income tax rate of 18.5 percent, compared to 9.5 percent for the population as a whole. But when it comes to payroll taxes, the rich pay a far lower effective rate than everyone else – 1.7 percent compared to 7 percent – because the income subject to payroll taxes is capped at $107,000.

Mr. Romney might manage to largely avoid payroll taxes, except for those on the $374,000 he makes in speaking fees, said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, and he might deduct large amounts for charitable contributions. “Trying to figure out what taxes he actually pays without seeing his tax return is very difficult,” he said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=784668da2e897ce789dba310547ca7cf