There’s no real question that something needs to be done about the fate of the alternative minimum tax.
Of course, the rub enters the picture when considering whatever becomes of most issues that need attention down in Washington -- consider the trio of reform albatrosses that never took flight: a fix for Social Security, meaningful tax reform, or a better plan for the nation’s growing fiscal imbalance.
Maybe it’s just the season, and it’s the time of year that hope springs eternal, but there appears to be a chance for solving the AMT conundrum. The AMT might not be the largest of the country’s tax and accounting problems, but that doesn’t make fixing it any less of a feat -- and especially if the fix were made for the long term.
The AMT has been patched to death for some time now, and the issue seems to be one that both Democrats and Republicans can safely gravitate towards. And when they get there, it might be worth taking a look at any number of reports that have been issued recently on the subject.
In March, a House subcommittee heard from the incoming chairman of the American Institute of CPAs’ Individual Income Tax Technical Resource Panel, Joseph W. Walloch, and the president-elect of the New York State Society of CPAs, David A. Lifson on the AMT (http://www.webcpa.com/article.cfm?articleid=23762), while the Tax Policy Center outlined its own options for the AMT back in January (http://www.webcpa.com/article.cfm?articleid=23116) and did itself one better this week, with a proposed surtax of 4 percentage points on couples earning more than $200,000 and on single taxpayers and heads of household who earn half that, a measure that the group says would make it possible to eliminate the AMT, (http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/newsevents/simpletax.cfm).
Add to those last week’s report from the Tax Foundation, “Fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax.” The report offers up a very different take on the AMT, placing it in the context of larger problems associated with the enforcement of the nation’s sprawling tax code. Nonetheless, the report’s author pieces together a quartet of reasonable arguments, saying that:
• The overriding flaw of our income tax system is the vast flow of funds that escapes taxation through the use of various loopholes in the tax code. The AMT corrects a small portion of this problem, albeit imperfectly.
• The AMT is often redundant and complex, but the basic idea behind it -- taxing a broader base at lower rates -- is a sound one that should serve as a guide to tax policy.
• Unfortunately most of the AMT "fixes" currently under consideration would move us in the wrong direction -- shrinking the tax base and taxing what is left at even higher rates.
• The key to fixing the AMT lies in the regular tax code. By curtailing the myriad exclusions, deductions, exemptions and credits in the code, the tax base could be expanded.
That approach might be a tough sell on either side of the aisle, but should the AMT be subjected to yet another year of the agonizingly prolonged application of a patch -- and effectively resigned to the way of Social Security reform in the run up to the 2008 presidential election -- the Tax Foundation’s take can serve as a counterpoint to why expert consensus, never mind political consensus, can be so hard to achieve. The full report is available online, at http://www.taxfoundation.org/files/sr155.pdf.
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