Winners and Losers in the Trump Tax Plan

The tax plan the Trump administration released Wednesday consists (so far) of a single page of bullet points.
If this were a more rounded plan, we could wait for the tax wonks at various think tanks to run it through their models and tell with some precision how it would affect people at different income levels and who would benefit from different deductions.

Lacking that level of detail, we can know only in broad-brush strokes which Americans would win and which would lose. In a homage to the Trump plan itself, here are those winners and losers in bulleted form.

Winners

■ Businesses with high tax rates. The plan would cut the 35 percent corporate income tax to 15 percent. While few businesses pay the full 35 percent rate, those that pay something close to it are in line for a huge tax cut.

■ High-income earners. The plan would reduce the top rate on individual income tax — now 39.6 percent for income over $472,000 for a married couple — to 35 percent. But that’s only part of the gain for high-income earners. It also would eliminate a 3.8 percent tax, used to help fund Obamacare, that applies to investment income over $250,000 for a couple.

■ People with creative accountants. The 15 percent business tax rate could open a huge loophole for people to receive business income through a limited liability company or other pass-through entity instead of as wages. Depending on how the law is drafted, that could enable some people to pay that low 15 percent rate on their earnings instead of an individual income rate up to 35 percent. People who already receive their income through investment vehicles wouldn’t have to change anything for a windfall.

■ Multimillionaires who want to pass money to their heirs tax-free. The plan would eliminate the estate tax, which currently applies to individuals with estates of $5.5 million or couples with estates worth $11 million.

■ People who still fill out their tax returns by hand. Administration officials said the plan would simplify paying taxes, particularly emphasizing plans to eliminate the alternative minimum tax. The A.M.T. can definitely be annoying, and costly, but if you use an online tax preparation service, the software does most of the work.

■ Retailers and other companies that feared a “border adjustment tax.” The Trump administration did not embrace House Republicans’ big strategy to pay for the tax cut, which was strongly opposed by the retail industry and others that thought they would be losers.

■ Donald J. Trump. It is striking how many of the categories listed above affect the president and his family. He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on “pass-through” companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free.

Losers

■ Upper-middle-income people in blue states. The plan would eliminate the federal tax deduction for state and local income tax. If you are in a place where such taxes are high, like New York or California, you would lose a valuable deduction.

■ Deficit hawks. The Trump plan doesn’t come with any estimates of its impact on the federal deficit. But his campaign plan, to which the new document is distinctly similar, was estimated by the analysts at the Tax Policy Center to reduce federal revenue by $6.2 trillion over a decade. That implies either a very large increase in the national debt or huge reductions in federal spending.

■ People who want Congress to pass something. While the Trump plan solves some of the policy contradictions of his earlier promises with a “candy for everyone” approach to cutting taxes, that leaves it with even bigger political contradictions. The plan’s tilt toward businesses and the affluent means that Democratic support will be scarce to nonexistent. A law passed via the Senate’s budget reconciliation process — preventing a filibuster by Democrats and allowing a narrow majority of Republicans to prevail — is not permitted to increase the deficit beyond a 10-year window. That means the major provisions would probably have to be temporary. Even if adjusted to be temporary, the presence of deficit hawks among Republicans would make the Trump plan no slam dunk to pass.

© Peter DaSilva for The New York Times The new tax plan would eliminate the federal deduction for state and local income tax. If you live in a place where such taxes are high, like California and this San Francisco street, that’s unwelcome news.


How Trump's tax plan would affect households

President Trump’s tax reform plan will benefit most U.S. households and make filing taxes simpler but it will provide the biggest windfall to the wealthy, experts say.

“It’s a very lopsided plan to the top end of the income scale,” says Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Here’s a look at some of the main provisions:

•The current seven tax brackets will be streamlined to three --10%, 25% and 35%. The top rate will drop to 35% from 39.6%. But the Trump administration has not said which income ranges would apply to those brackets.

Alan Viard, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says administration officials will almost certainly ensure that no one pays a higher rate on the same income. Yet the elimination of most deductions could nudge some wealthier Americans into higher brackets, he says.

Overall, Marr notes the Tax Policy Center has estimated the top 1% of households would see a 14% increase in after-tax income, while low and middle-class Americans would see gains of just 1.2% to 1.8%.

•The standard deduction, currently $6,350 for single people and $12,700 for married couples, would double. As a result, many more low to moderate income families would pay no taxes. But all other deductions, except for mortgage interest and charitable contributions, would be eliminated, including state and local taxes and medical expenses.

About 70% of Americans, mostly low- to moderate-income, currently take the standard deduction and would benefit, Viard says. Many of the remaining 30% who itemize, largely higher income households, would likely switch to the standard reduction, leaving only about 5% itemizing, he says.  Some wealthier Americans could end up paying higher taxes, though most would save. Marr says scrapping the state and local provision would have the biggest impact and would largely hurt Americans in “blue,” or Democratic states on the coasts that pay higher state and local tax rates.

Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at the Mercatuss Center at George Mason University, says the elimination of millions of people from the tax rolls would mean a big decline in federal revenue.

•The estate, or so-called “death,” tax, would be scrapped. The 40% tax currently applies to a $5.5 million inheritance for individuals and $11 million for married couples.

“You ran on a populist agenda but it’s wealthy heirs who will pay no taxes,” Marr says.

And James Nunns, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, says that getting rid of the tax removes the incentive for the wealthy to make charitable contributions.

But Viard says the tax unfairly hurts households that have spent a lifetime building up savings.

•The alternative minimum tax -- which generally hits households with incomes of at least several hundred thousand dollars – would be ditched. The current rate is 28% for income that qualifies, and it hits individuals who otherwise would benefit from a sharply lower effective tax rate because of deductions.

Marr calls this another gift to the wealthy. Yet Viard says deductions that aren't favored should be eliminated, but those that are valid shouldn’t be negated with an alternative tax.

•A 3.8% tax on tax on the interest, dividends and capital gains of higher income households that helps fund the Affordable Care Act would vanish.

“It’s a terrible idea” that would favor the affluent and reduce funding needed for the health care law, Marr says.

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