When GOP leaders and the Trump administration unveiled their framework for overhauling our outdated tax code late last month, they moved real tax reform closer to reality than its been since President Reagans game-changing 1986 revisions to the IRS code.
Tax-law change is an issue important to millions of taxpayers, as shown by a recent poll reporting that 73% of Americans believe that tax reform should be a priority for Congress. Fixing a tax code that has spiraled out of control will boost the economy and help the private sector, especially small businesses, create jobsall the while helping lift Washingtons heavy burden off the shoulders of most taxpayers.
Congress finally has within its grasp the opportunity to pass comprehensive and lasting tax reform. Its imperative that our elected representatives take advantage of this moment.
We truly cant afford to wait any longer. Individual taxpayers find themselves lost in myriad complex tax provisions, devoting time and resources that could be spent doing something productive or enjoyable. The proposed reform framework would simplify the code dramatically and reduce significantly the costs of complying with it.
Because taxable income is computed on a global basis, businesses nowadays are forced to pay taxes twice on any income earned abroad. Most other countries employ a territorial system, which taxes income once and only where it is earned. Our out-of-date tax code creates strong incentives for U.S. corporations to relocate offshore, moving their headquarters to nations offering friendlier tax environments. Shifting to a tax system that is more in line with how the rest of the world operates would help prevent U.S. companies from moving overseas and would stop unfair double taxation of their incomes.
Further compounding the problem is that American companies face the highest corporate income tax rates in the industrialized world. The worldwide average corporate tax rate declined from 30% to 22.5% between 2003 and 2016, but the United States has not budged from a combined top federal-state rate of 39%.
Most other countries employ a territorial system, which taxes income once and only where it is earned. Current estimates suggest that $2 trillion in profits made overseas are being stashed abroad by American companies in order to avoid paying stratospherically high IRS tax bills. Lowering the corporate tax rate and shifting to a territorial system would bring those dollars back home, generating more revenue for the U.S. Treasury.
As it now stands, the tax reform framework would lower the corporate tax rate to a competitive 20%, which is more in line with the worldwide average and would spur investment in new plants and equipment, as well as the new jobs that would go along with it.
In addition to lowering rates, its important for corporate tax reform to be neutral. The tax code shouldnt pick winners and losers; it shouldnt drift toward playing favorites and provide some sectors of the economy with preferential treatment or single out specific industries, like energy, for punitive taxation.
The energy industry consistently appears on lists of the nations most profitable business sectors, making it an easy target for populist policymakers. It is important to remember, though, that profits supply some of the wherewithal for financing capital spending and, moreover, that the owners of private firms know better than any politician which investment projects offer the highest returns.
The Progressive Policy Institute reports that oil and gas producers rank second on the list of investors in infrastructure, spending more than $33.8 billion in the most recent year and over $160 billion from 2011 through 2015. Raising taxes on domestic oil and gas firmsor denying them the same tax credits available to virtually every other business sectorobviously will slow down the pace of the industrys new and ongoing infrastructure projects, a major employer of construction workers. According to the U.S. Energy Department, roughly 30% of the 6.8 million employees in the U.S. construction industry work on energy or building energy-efficiency projects.
A neutral tax code is one that encourages economic growth, not one that favors certain industries over others. The tax reform proposal now on the table represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put American business enterprises on equal footing with the rest of the world. If Congress does only one thing on the business tax front, it must get U.S. corporate income tax rates down, in the process treating every sector of the economy the same way.
|William F. Shughart II is Research Director and Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, Editor-in-Chief of Public Choice, editor of the Independent Institute book, Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, and co-author of the Independent Briefing, Plastic Pollution: Bans vs. Recycling Solutions.|
So-called sin taxesthe taxing of certain products, like alcohol and tobacco, that are deemed to be politically incorrecthave long been a favorite way for politicians to fund programs benefiting special interest groups. But this concept has been applied to such sinful products as soft drinks, margarine, telephone calls, airline tickets, and even fishing gear. What is the true record of this selective, often punitive, approach to taxation?