The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 may be the last piece of tax legislation we’ll see this year. That is, unless Congress decides to pass an AMT patch, reinstate the extenders, bonus depreciation, or institute the Obama administration’s just-proposed corporate tax reform.
As an election year proposition, it was a foregone conclusion. Who could say no to a working-class tax break that was already in place? (Well, actually, 132 voted against it in the House, and 36 Senators voted ‘no.’)
Is corporate tax reform just as foregone a conclusion? At first glance, it makes sense, since members of both parties have expressed frustration at the competitive disadvantage placed on American businesses by the high corporate tax rate.
The administration proposes to lower the top corporate rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, while throwing out dozens of deductions. As competitive moves go, this one doesn’t really measure up, since it merely moves the U.S. from its position of the highest corporate tax jurisdiction to the third highest.
Dr. Nathan Oestreich, a professor at the Charles W. Lamden School of Accountancy at San Diego State University, doesn’t see it giving much lift to businesses.
“So, Canada cuts its corporate tax rate to 15 percent, lower for small business,” he said. “The U.S. proposes 28 percent, one assumes to remain competitive. Where will border-based business activity reside? Oh, Canada!”
“And, we are going to impose new tax burdens on oil companies,” Oeistreich continued.
“Just who will bear the burden of increasing this corporate ‘expense’? Me! I paid $4.02 a gallon yesterday for regular gas. If oil company expenses go up, that will push prices higher.”
So, while lowering the overall corporate rate, the proposal has a number of things going against it. Here are just a few that would be objectionable to some members of the tax-writing committees in Congress: It sets a minimum tax rate on foreign earnings, thereby limiting the competitiveness of U.S. companies operating overseas. Rather than being revenue neutral, it picks winners and losers. It virtually triples the tax on dividends. It doesn’t deal with the half of business income that is taxed at individual tax rates. It maintains the current system of worldwide taxation rather than moving to the territorial model favored by the rest of the world. It taxes carried interests as ordinary income. And it would “establish greater parity between large corporations and large non-corporate counterparts” (tax large S corporations and partnerships at the entity level?).
Of course, if the entire proposal is intended more as a campaign document than a policy proposal, these points are less objectionable. But at least they provide an opening to talk about lowering tax rates.