Friday, August 19, 2016

Scrutinizing the Candidates' Tax Policy Proposals

Professor Katherine Pratt, who teaches Tax Policy and related subjects, scrutinizes the tax policies of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates:

Hillary Clinton’s Tax Plan
Hillary Clinton’s tax plan would increase federal revenue by over $1 trillion in the next 10 years, by increasing taxes on very high-income Americans, but not on middle-class and poor Americans. Her tax proposals, which are detailed and complex, combine a new surtax (an income tax rate increase) on the top 1 percent of earners, a new minimum 30% effective tax on taxpayers earning $1 million or more per year, limitations on the tax benefits of itemized deductions, and estate and gift tax increases. She also proposes an “exit tax” on U.S. corporations that try to avoid U.S. taxes by moving to low-tax jurisdictions overseas.

Follow-up questions for Hillary Clinton:
What do you propose to do with the additional $1+ trillion of revenue your tax plan would raise in the next decade? For example, would you prioritize federal deficit reduction, funding the infrastructure improvements or new child care programs you’ve proposed already, or funding new proposals for tax cuts for middle-class or poor Americans?

Donald Trump’s Tax Plan
Donald Trump has scaled back an earlier tax plan that would have dramatically reduced income taxes, but also would have reduced federal revenue by many trillions of dollars and risked serious, negative macroeconomic effects. His revised tax plan proposes tax rate cuts for taxpayers at all income levels, but disproportionately benefits high-income Americans, through individual income tax rate cuts, corporate tax and business tax rate cuts, repeal of the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, and the conversion of certain tax credits into tax deductions. The revised tax plan is difficult for economists to model because it quite vague and lacks details. In light of the extensive tax cuts in the revised plan, it probably would reduce federal revenue and increase deficits and interest costs over the next 10 years, which ultimately would undermine the intended pro-growth effects of the Trump tax plan unless Trump proposes enormous new spending cuts.

Follow-up questions for Donald Trump:
  • How would you pay for your tax cut proposals? Both liberal and conservative economists agree that “pro-growth” tax cuts don’t pay for themselves. Your proposals are intended to promote economic growth, but that assumes that your tax cuts are not deficit-financed. If you plan to fund tax cuts through spending cuts, what spending programs would you cut? “Discretionary” federal spending already has been slashed. Would you propose spending cuts in any of the mandatory spending programs (such as Medicare and Social Security) that comprise over half of federal spending? 
  • How and when will you fill in the details of your revised tax plan, so that economists can model the revenue effects of your plan?
  • Are you being vague about your tax plan to deflect attention away from federal taxes and your refusal to disclose your tax returns? 
  • Why do you propose converting tax credits (such as the child tax credit), which benefit all taxpayers, into deductions, which do not benefit non-itemizers at all and disproportionately benefit Americans in the highest tax brackets? Respected scholars in economics and law (Lily Batchelder, Fred Goldberg, and Peter Orszag) recommend the opposite of what you are proposing; they suggest that we convert tax deductions and exclusions into tax credits, to contain the runaway costs of unlimited tax benefits and to eliminate upside-down tax subsidies that disproportionately benefit high-income Americans. Why are you proposing the conversion of tax credits into deductions?

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