Tuesday, November 7, 2017
THE REPUBLICAN TAX PROPOSAL – THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES
Like the historic Tax Reform Act of 1986, the current proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a mixed bag.
There is simplification. Less rates, less deductions and credits, no more Pease phase-out of the remaining itemized deductions, and the repeal of the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax.
But there is new complexity. The ridiculous special tax treatment of “pass-through” business income, apparently including sole proprietorships reported on Schedule C, is truly a convoluted mucking fess. It looks like the computation of pass-through business income will be a nightmare for tax professionals – fortunately, based on my clients, not for me, but definitely for my colleagues.
If we want parity for the tax treatment of pass-through entities here is what I think should happen.
Taxation of pass-through income from Schedule C sole proprietorships should remain the same as current law – taxed as ordinary income subject to SE tax.
Pass through business income of the “general partners” of a partnership, the equivalent of Schedule C sole proprietors, should also not change – it is taxed as ordinary income subject to SE tax. Pass through business income of the “limited partners” of a partnership is basically the equivalent of corporate dividends, and should be taxed as such.
Pass through business income of a shareholder in a sub-S corporation is also basically the equivalent of corporate dividends, and should be taxed as such.
The Act maintains the current special tax rates for qualified dividends and long-term capital gains (it also maintains the NIIT and .9% Medicare “Obamacare” surtaxes). But it appears it also maintains the tax brackets for these rates the same as under current law, and does not just apply the rates directly to the new tax rate brackets – so there will actually be two sets of tax rate brackets.
There are some weird items in the proposal. Taxpayers would be able to contribute to a 529 Education Saving Plan on behalf of an unborn child - described as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb”. And churches would be allowed to make political statements, and pastors endorse specific political candidates from the pulpit, without losing tax-exempt status. Just one more example of the Republican Party pitiful pandering, erroneously and certainly contrary to traditional conservative philosophy, to the “religious right”.
In my opinion, from a tax policy point of view, some of what is wrong with the Act, based on my Principles of Tax Reform (click here) is –
It continues to use the Tax Code to distribute federal social welfare and other tax benefits – the Earned Income Tax Credit and the education benefits for example.
It continues to provide refundable credits, which are a magnet for tax fraud.
It continues to phase-out tax deductions and credits based on an AGI income threshold.
I expect the above will NEVER be changed, and the Tax Code will ALWAYS be used, erroneously and inappropriately, to distribute government benefits and provide refundable credits and a “back-door” progressive tax rate increase without the honesty of actually increasing tax rates. But I can dream, can’t I.