Thursday, July 11, 2013
MY CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE WHITE HOUSE ON TAX REFORM - CONTINUED
For those who are interested, here is the text of the letter I send to BO, which I posted about yesterday -
“Dear President Obama:
I have been preparing tax returns professionally for individuals in all walks of life since February of 1972.
Our current US Tax Code is, for want of a better description, a mucking fess. There is no doubt that it needs to be seriously reformed. In my opinion the Code needs to be totally rewritten.
And, in my opinion, the guiding principles in the rewriting of the Tax Code should be fairness and simplicity.
Before undertaking to rewrite the Code it must be recognized that the only function of the federal income tax is to raise money to run the government. Our federal tax system should not be used to encourage or discourage behavior, to redistribute wealth, or as a means to distribute social and economic benefits.
I do believe there can be an exception. The income tax system can be used to encourage saving and investment and charitable giving.
The new Code must be simple. Simplicity for simplicity’s sake.
Here is how I would rewrite the federal income tax.
There would be two filing categories – Single and Married – but only one tax rate schedule and tax table. Dual income married couples would be able to file separately as if they were two Single taxpayers on one tax return.
I do not believe in a “progressive” tax system. A higher income individual should not be required to pay a higher tax rate simply because they have more income. This discourages ambition, achievement and entrepreneurship. I support a flat tax rate. A person with taxable income of $1 Million paying a 15% tax is certainly paying more tax than a person with taxable income of $10,000, but not disproportionately so.
There would be no exclusions, reductions or phase-outs based on Adjusted Gross Income or Modified AGI. If a deduction is allowed it would be allowed to all taxpayers at all levels of income. All deduction limitations would be indexed for inflation.
And, of course, there would be no Alternative Minimum Tax.
In rewriting the Tax Code I would start from scratch with “everything is taxable” and “nothing is deductible”. From there I would add in only those exclusions and deductions that are absolutely necessary.
The “pre-tax” treatment of 401(k) and 403(b) plan contributions and employee payments of group health insurance premiums would be allowed, and 401(k) and 403(b) ROTH options would be available.
Dividends, qualified or otherwise, would be taxed as “ordinary income”, the same as interest. But this is because on the corporate side I would allow a “dividends paid” deduction, so there would be no more double-taxation. I would keep a reduction in tax for long-term capital gains, but I would return to the capital gains exclusion of the at this point distant past rather than a separate tax rate.
Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits would be taxed like any other pension, with amortization of employee “after-tax” contributions under the “Simplified Method”. No longer could $1.00 of additional income cause a Social Security or Railroad Retirement recipient to be taxed on $1.85.
All industry-specific deductions, credits and loopholes would be eliminated on all forms of businesses. All business activity, including limited partnership investments, would be taxed on net book income.
The only “Adjustment to Income” would be for contributions to an IRA-like Universal Savings Account, which would be available to all taxpayers regardless of income or employer plan coverage. It would allow for penalty-free pre-age 59½ withdrawals for medical expenses or post-secondary education. There would also be a ROTH-like option.
Early withdrawal penalties on savings accounts would be net against interest income on Line 8a. A self-employed taxpayer’s contributions to a SEP-like Self-Employed Retirement Savings Plan, health insurance premiums, and share of self-employment tax would be deducted on Schedule C, or Form 1065 or 1120-S, and reduce the net-earnings from self-employment subject to the self-employment tax. There would be a ROTH-like option for the Self-Employed Retirement Savings Plan.
The only allowable itemized deductions would be for state and local income tax, real estate tax on your primary personal residence, acquisition debt mortgage interest on your primary personal residence, charitable contributions, employee business expenses, and certain casualty and theft losses.
My reason for maintaining the deduction for real estate taxes and acquisition debt mortgage interest on one’s primary personal residence is not to encourage home ownership – but as a form of “geographical equalization”.
Americans are taxed based on income measured in pure dollars. But the “value” of one’s level of income differs, sometimes greatly, based on one’s geographical location. A family living in the northeast (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) or California with an income of $150,000 may be just getting by, while a similar family that resides in “middle America” lives like royalty on $150,000. Many components of the Tax Code are indexed for inflation, but nothing is indexed for geography.
It costs an awful lot to live in the northeast and California. State and local income and property taxes are the highest in the country. The cost of real estate is also excessively high, and so acquisition debt is higher. As a result one must earn a lot more money to be able to live in these states – and so salaries are arbitrarily increased to reflect the higher cost of living. Since we pay taxes on “net income” after deductions, allowing an itemized deduction for these items would help to somewhat geographically equalize the tax burden.
I would allow a deduction for unreimbursed employee business expenses also as a form of “income equalization”. Some employees receive a salary and are reimbursed in full for any and all employee business expenses via an “accountable plan”. Others, generally outside salesmen, receive a base salary and/or commission, and perhaps a flat monthly “expense allowance” which is included in taxable wages, and any and all employee business expenses are truly “out of pocket”.
Job-related moving expenses would be deductible, using current rules, as an employee business expense.
I would remove the depreciation component of the deduction for business use of an automobile from both the standard mileage allowance and the use of actual expenses. I use my car extensively for business, but that is not my main reason for owning a car.
Casualty and Theft Losses would be limited to “out of pocket” casualty losses from Presidentially-declared natural disaster areas and theft losses from Madoff-like Ponzi schemes.
There would be a Standard Deduction and two Personal Exemption amounts – a higher one for a dependent child and one for all others.
There would be no tax credits – except for the foreign tax credit. A credit for all foreign taxes deducted from dividends would be allowed in full, regardless of the amount. Form 1116 would only be required for non-dividend-related foreign taxes.
You will note that the rewritten Tax Code does not include any deductions or credits for education or energy efficient purchases, or the Earned Income Credit. Many of the social and economic benefit programs that are currently distributed via the Tax Code are good and have merit. But they should be delivered and distributed separately out of the budget of the appropriate cabinet department – and not on the 1040.
This is a much better method of distribution for many reasons -
(1) It would be easier for the government to verify that the recipient of the subsidy or hand-out actually qualified for the money, greatly reducing fraud. And tax preparers would no longer need to take on the added responsibility of having to verify if a person qualifies for government funds.
(2) The qualifying individuals would get the money at the “point of purchase”, when it is really needed, and not have to go “out of pocket” up front and wait to be reimbursed when they file their tax return.
(3) We would be able to calculate the true income tax burden of individuals. Many of the current 47% would still be receiving government hand-outs, but it would not be tied into the income tax system so they would actually be paying federal income tax.
(4) We could measure the true cost of education, housing, health, and welfare programs in the federal budget because the various subsidies would be properly allocated to the appropriate departments and not be reported as a part of net income collected via income tax.
(5) The Tax Code would be much less complicated, the cost to the public for preparing a tax return would be reduced, and the IRS would have much less to process and to audit.
Let’s look at the deductions and credits for tuition and fees. In order to claim these tax benefits the student, or more likely the student’s parents, must spend the money for tuition and fees and then wait until they file their tax return to get the “student financial aid” from the government.
These students, and parents, need the money when the tuition and fees are due. If they do not have it at the point of purchase they often turn to borrowing, placing themselves further in debt.
There is currently in place a process for providing student financial aid at the point of purchase. And this aid is based on student and family income, using information from tax returns. Instead of giving those who qualify a tax deduction or credit on their Form 1040 a year or more later, why not give the same benefit, based on the same income formula, as part of the existing student financial aid system. This way the student, or parents, gets the money upfront to pay for college expenses or, better yet, the money is distributed directly to the college - and there is no need for additional borrowing.
In the past there have been credits for purchasing energy-efficient products and improvements, and some still exist. But again, the money is provided after-the-fact – as much as a year or more after the purchase. More individuals would be encouraged to purchase energy-efficient items if the money was provided upfront as a point of purchase discount. The “Cash for Clunkers” program of a few years back proves that this can be done effectively and efficiently.
The Earned Income Tax Credit, refundable and otherwise, and the refundable Child Tax Credit are really forms of welfare, and are magnets for tax fraud. It would certainly be more efficient and effective to distribute these benefits via the existing Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.
Thank you for the opportunity to present my proposals for tax reform.
Very truly yours,
Robert D Flach”
Do you agree with me?