Last week, the S corporation community was put on high alert when we received word that an S corporation payroll tax increase similar to the provision from the old Rangel “Mother” bill (H.R. 3970) was being discussed as an offset to the extender package. The “Mother” provision (see Sec. 1211) would apply payroll taxes to all the service-related income of active shareholders of S corporations primarily engaged in service businesses. While we anticipate that the language of any new provision will differ somewhat from its 2007 predecessor, the general concept remains the same. As CongressDaily noted:
Sources familiar with the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance discussions said applying payroll taxes to certain S corporation profits could raise anywhere from $10 billion to $15 billion, depending on how it is structured. Revenues in that ballpark would go a long way toward closing a $30 billion gap tax-writers need to fill to pay for extensions of numerous expired provisions.
An earlier proposal floated in 2007 was estimated to raise $9.4 billion over a decade by subjecting S corporation and partnership income earned from providing services to payroll taxes, although the new healthcare law would raise the Medicare portion of the tax beginning in 2013 for wealthier earners. The 2007 proposal was scaled back from an earlier option outlined by the Joint Committee on Taxation that would have applied the payroll tax to all S corporation income, estimated to raise $57.4 billion over a decade.
Team S-CORP has had to fight this battle in the past, and we have been in to discuss this provision with Ways and Means on several occasions to get a better idea what they have in mind. Letters sent back in 2007 on behalf of S-CORP as well as our allied trade associations should give you a better sense of the history of this issue.
The future of this particular effort is still very much up in the air. Our communications with the Hill suggest there continues to be strong interest in legislating on this issue — you could characterize this as just one more legacy item left to us by former Senator John Edwards and his law practice — albeit it may take place on a bill other than extenders.
We have pledged to work constructively with taxwriters on a resolution to this issue, but unless they are willing to dramatically pare back the “Mother” provision to target only bad actors, it is going to be very difficult for business groups to support yet another tax increase on their members.
Stay tuned. More to come.
Latest on Dividends
Whither Tax Rates? The Hill’s On the Money Finance & Economy Blog had an excellent discussion this month on the topic, focusing on the future of dividend rates.
As On the Money notes, “President Barack Obama has proposed that the current rate of 15 percent on dividends be extended for most taxpayers. He’d raise the tax on dividends for individuals making $200,000 or more and families making $250,000 or more to 20 percent. There are several reasons to think wealthier taxpayers will get hit with a much higher tax.”
Meanwhile, The Hill mentions that one possible outcome would be for the dividend tax to fall somewhere between the current 15 percent rate and the top rate on ordinary income. Any divergence from the baseline, however, would require positive action by Congress. As The Hill observes, that’s not something to be taken for granted:
Finally, the lesson of the expired estate tax also has dividend-tax watchers nervous. Congress was expected to extend the estate tax last year, but instead let it expire when Republican and Democratic senators could not reach a compromise. The estate tax is set to kick in again in 2011 at a much higher rate if no action is taken this year.
Also at play is a possible House-Senate dynamic. Our impression is Senate leadership would like to keep capital gains and dividends taxed at the same rates, while their House counterparts are more comfortable seeing the rate on dividends go back to 39.6 percent.
In the end, we believe process will dictate outcome here. The recently enacted “pay-go” rules require Congress to offset any reduction in the dividend tax rate below 39.6 percent for 2011. Exactly what tax increases would Congress use to offset dividend tax cuts for folks making more than $200,000? We don’t know either, and expect the tax hikes already imbedded in current law will take place as scheduled.
Long To-Do List
Tax policy is in danger of becoming that honey-do list that never gets done. The traditional tax extenders — R&E tax credit, state sales tax deduction, etc. — all expired at the end of last year and, almost five months later, are still expired. Legislation to extend them is stuck between the House and Senate without a pay-for, yet (see above).
Meanwhile, the estate tax fix that was supposed to be done last year — before the tax took its one-year sabbatical — remains stalled in the Senate. Efforts to negotiate some sort of permanent fix are actively taking place in the Senate, so there’s hope. As with the extender package, however, the hold-up is primarily over offsets.
There’s also the most recent in the growing line of “jobs” bills being considered by Congress this year. The latest one passed the House under the banner of a “small business jobs” bill, despite the fact that most of its benefits went to Build America Bonds. We expect the Senate to take up a bill that’s more small-business oriented soon.
Finally, there’s the burning issue of all those tax cuts expiring at the end of the year.
With that as background, reasonable folks might ask themselves “What’s the plan?” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI) addressed this question earlier this month, stating he hopes to complete work with the Senate on both tax extenders legislation and the House-passed small business bill by the end of May, telling reporters, “These bills are a critical priority for the leadership of this Congress and the president…These are jobs bills … and we need to get these done.”
According to BNA, Levin met with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to discuss the two bills, but the two “did not discuss efforts to address the estate tax, which expired at the start of 2010, and no detailed plans have been set for how lawmakers will deal with the middle-class tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 that are set to expire at the end of the year.”
Your S-CORP team has numerous member companies who are intently interested in Congress moving forward on both the estate tax and the expiring tax provisions. We are five months into 2010 already. It’s time for Congress to act.
Built-In Gains in Play
Team S-CORP spent the last couple weeks on the Hill, educating members and staff on the virtues of reducing the built-in gains (BIG) holding period.
When a company converts to an S corporation, it must hold onto any appreciated assets for 10 years or face a punitive level of tax. This tax effectively locks up these assets, preventing the company from selling them and putting the resources to better use. We’ve raised this issue before, but allowing private companies access to their own capital makes lots of sense in an economy where capital is scarce. It also reflects the reality of today’s shorter lifespan for key business investments.
Last year, Congress agreed and included a shorter, seven-year holding period in the stimulus package. That seven-year period expires at the end of 2010 and needs to be made permanent. A five-year period would work, too. Last summer, Senator Grassley (R-IA) introduced legislation to reduce the BIG tax holding period to five years which we view as tremendously valuable to S corporations struggling to raise capital.
With the Senate actively considering provisions to help small businesses grow and create jobs, a shorter BIG holding period is going to give you more job-creating umph than any other tax provision we know. It would benefit Main Street firms located in every state and every sector of the economy and should be included in the final package.
The president released his FY2011 budget yesterday. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the administration begins with a ten year baseline deficit of $5.5 trillion dollars. Simply put, if Congress and the administration left current laws in place, the deficit would average over $500 billion per year for the next decade.
The president’s proposed policies would raise this deficit to $8.5 trillion. As a result, debt held by the public would increase from $5.8 trillion (41 percent of GDP) in 2008 to $17.5 trillion (76 percent of GDP) in 2019.
It always helps to look at the really big numbers — there aren’t any bigger than when you’re discussing federal budgeting — to put things in perspective. Under the president’s proposed budget:
- Total spending over ten years would be $45.8 trillion. Spending is scheduled to move from 24.7 percent of GDP in 2009 to 23.7 percent of GDP in 2020. The historical average is around 21 percent.
- Meanwhile, total revenue collections would be $37.3 trillion. Taxes are scheduled to rise from 14.8 percent of GDP in 2009 to 19.6 percent by 2020. The historical average is 18 percent.
On the revenue front, the president proposes just over $4 trillion in tax relief — most of which comes in the form of extending the 2001 and 2003 tax relief packages which targeted folks making less than $250,000. On the other side of the ledger, the president proposes a large “grab bag” of tax increases — LIFO repeal, carried interest, black liquor, etc. With the odd baseline the administration is using (see below), we’re not sure exactly what the tax increases total, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 to $1.5 trillion.
As expected, the budget calls for allowing taxes on upper-income families (and businesses) to rise back to their pre-2001 levels. As the Wall Street Journal reports this morning,
The two top income-tax brackets would rise to 36% and 39.6%, from 33% and 35% respectively. For families earning at least $250,000, capital gains and dividend tax rates would rise to 20% from 15%. All told, upper-income families would face $969 billion in higher taxes between 2011 and 2020.
For other big ticket items — health care reform and cap-and-trade — the budget includes only cursory references. These placeholders are consistent with the administration’s approach to date of delegating these policy decisions to Congressional leadership.
As we have observed in previous posts, the president’s budget is always an odd duck. The president has no tangible authority to tax or spend — the Constitution reserves that right for Congress, after all — yet there is a leadership quality to any presidential budget that can effectively set the tone for the budget decisions to be litigated through the legislative process.
In the case of this budget, that leadership appears wholly absent. No details on his biggest policy priorities. No meaningful proposals for holding down spending or bringing down the deficit No hints at entitlement reform. There is a proposed deficit reduction commission, but it has no teeth.
Congress this year will face as difficult a budgeting challenge as any in recent memory. The economy has stabilized and a continued financial meltdown is no longer imminent. The biggest threat to economic growth now is the federal deficit and its impact on interest rates and prices. As this budget release makes clear, Congress will be addressing these challenges alone.
Estate Tax Update
On the estate tax front, the president continues to call for making permanent the estate tax rules from 2009 — a 45 percent top rate and a $3.5 million exemption — but you’d be hard-pressed to find much discussion of this policy in the budget. That’s because the administration is using something other than the usual “Current Law” baseline. As Treasury’s Green Book notes:
The Administration’s primary policy proposals reflect changes from a tax baseline that modifies current law by “patching” the alternative minimum tax, freezing the estate tax at 2009 levels, and making permanent a number of the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. The baseline changes to current law are described in the Appendix. In some cases, the policy descriptions in the body of this report make note of the baseline (e.g., descriptions of upper-income tax provisions), but elsewhere the baseline is implicit.
In other words, they have taken a projection of current policy and modified that baseline to accommodate changes to AMT, Medicare Physician Payment policy and the estate tax. In budget world, no mention of the estate tax in the budget means an extension of current policy. A footnote on page 158 of the budget makes clear the “current” policy they’re referring to for the estate tax is the 2009 policy, not the 2010 policy currently in place. Not exactly a strident endorsement for the 2009 rules, but it’s there nonetheless.
The second set of estate tax proposals in the budget looks similar to last year’s budget proposals. There are three, the headings are the same, and the revenue estimates are similar:
1. Require consistent valuation for transfer and income tax purposes: Ten Year Estimate — $1.8 billion (2010 budget); $2.1 billion (2011 budget);
2. Modify rules on valuation discounts: Ten Year Estimate — $19.0 billion (2010 budget); $18.7 billion (2011 budget);
3. Require a minimum term for grantor-retained annuity trusts (GRATS): Ten Year Estimate — $3.3 billion (2010 budget); $3.0 billion (2011 budget).
We spent the past year working on issues related to provision 2 — the valuation discounts. While the write-up of the administration’s proposal refers to “estate freezes” rather than the “family attribution”, we remain wary that restoration of the old “family attribution” approach is part of the policy mix being discussed at Treasury and on Capitol Hill. With that in mind, we will continue our work to educate policymakers on why family attribution is a really bad idea.
Regarding work on an estate tax compromise, the Finance Committee has been working with key offices to come up with some sort of process to move a compromise forward in the next couple months. They appear to be still working on what that compromise might look like, even at this late date. Possible policies range from restoring 2009 rules to implementing a more business-friendly compromise centered around a 35 percent top rate and $5 million exemption.
The bottom line question for everyone involved remains the same — is there a proposal out there that can garner 60 votes? If not, expect to see the current repeal stay in place through the rest of the year, followed by the restoration of the old pre-2001 rules. The longer this process takes, the more likely that is the final outcome.
The economic fear that gripped folks in the Fall of 2008 has resulted in a historic collapse of federal revenues.
Revenue collections since 1960 have stayed in a relatively tight pattern centered around 18 percent of our GNP. Considering the range of tax policies we’ve imposed on taxpayers during that time, the steadiness of the 18 percent mean is remarkable and suggests some sort of political or economic boundary is in effect.
That steadiness was broken last year when federal collections fell to their lowest level since 1950. Meanwhile, Washington’s response to the crisis has driven federal spending to levels not seen since World War II. Record low revenues and record high spending means record high deficits.
While record high deficits are obviously a negative, what your S-CORP team finds most troubling is the long-term outlook. For the next decade, the trend is definitely not our friend.
Once we get past the immediate effects of the “fear” and revenues move back to their historic mean, deficits of 4 or 5 percent GNP will persist. And when revenues move well above their historic mean? Deficits of 4 or 5 percent will persist.
And this is the baseline! It doesn’t include expensive policies that are either set to expire or those that are simply politically unsustainable.
Obama 2009 Tax Proposals vs. CBO Baseline Deficit
The chart above takes CBO’s September deficit estimates and superimposes CBO’s June estimates of President Obama’s 2009 tax proposals. Not exactly kosher, but the underlying point is undiminished: even the President’s modest policies to extend just part of the Bush tax relief would add hundreds of billions to the deficit each year.
“Unsustainable” is the word that comes to mind. Herb Stein once observed that unsustainable trends will not be sustained, which suggests these projected deficits are unlikely to become a reality, but that just means something has to give. Stuck between a rock (record deficits) and a hard place (a weak economy), there are simply no easy answers.
For S corporations, the challenge is to spend the next year demonstrating to taxwriters the economic importance of our community, especially as Congress grapples with the “too big to fail” concept for financial services.
S corporations were created to fight economic consolidation. They move economic power and decision-making away from Wall Street and on to Main Street. If policymakers want proactive policies that reduce the incidence of systemic risk, empowering closely-held businesses is a sure-fire means of doing so.
Health Care Pay-Fors
Health care reform is in the final stages of its legislative journey — last half of the fourth quarter perhaps? — and while the pro-reform team has plenty of momentum, exactly what tax items make it into the final package remain undecided.
Of most concern to S corporations are the marginal rate increases included in both bills. In the House, it is the 5.4 surtax applied to individual incomes above $500,000, while in the Senate it is the 0.9 percent HI tax increase applied to individual incomes over $200,000.
Moreover, recent stories on possible compromises should raise S corporation eyebrows. As first reported in CongressDaily, negotiators are considering expanding the Medicare HI tax beyond wages to include all types of income, including S corporation income.
According to JCT, applying the existing 1.45 percent payroll tax to investment income, including capital gains, taxable interest, dividends, estate and trust income and income from rents, royalties, S corporations and passive partnership income, to those earning above the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds would raise $111 billion over a decade.
S-CORP has a long history of fighting efforts to expand payroll taxes beyond, well, payrolls. Payroll taxes like the HI tax were designed to resemble private insurance premiums on the premise that Medicare and Social Security were “earned” benefits. This proposal would blur the line beyond taxes on labor and taxes on capital, undermine the notion that Medicare is an “earned” benefit, and should be of considerable concern to the business community.
GAO Releases S Corporation Report
In response to a request by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), the Government Accountability Office spent the last year looking into tax compliance by the S corporation community. The GAO presented its findings in a report released yesterday.
Reports like this always carry with them a large degree of headline risk. Words like “noncompliance” and “misreported” jump off the first few pages. Look beyond the first couple pages, however, and the GAO has compiled a comprehensive review of the challenges S corporation face when calculating their taxes.
Questions covered by the GAO include why some businesses choose to be S corporations, what are the types of S corporation non-compliance, and what are the options for improving S corporation compliance. To answers these questions, the GAO interviewed numerous stakeholders, including the S Corporation Association, and, in their just-released report, came to the following conclusions:
- Congress should require S corporations to calculate and report the basis for their shareholders’ ownership shares;
- The IRS should research options for improving the performance of professional tax preparers;
- The IRS should provide additional guidance to new S corporations on calculating basis and compensation; and
- The IRS should require examiners to document analysis of compensation, and provide more guidance on compensation.Having given the report a first read, what is our reaction? First, the S corporation was created to encourage private enterprise, not avoid lawfully-owed taxes. We don’t support or help those taxpayers who knowingly avoid paying their taxes.
Second, the legislative recommendation included in the report is for Congress to require an entity-level basis calculation. According to the GAO, this proposal would help address the problem of shareholders claiming losses beyond their basis in the firm. This recommendation is new to S-CORP and we have asked our advisors to weigh-in on its merits.
Third, we’re glad to see the GAO agrees with us that the IRS has tools to address one of the larger areas of non-compliance. Some S corporation owners who work in their business underpay their salaries in order to reduce their payroll tax obligations. As the GAO notes, the IRS needs to do a better job of both defining the existing “reasonable compensation” standard in its guidance, and applying the standard in its examinations.
As to the headline risk, last summer the IRS reported that tax compliance by S corporations likely was as good, and possibly better, than taxpayers’ compliance in general. Meanwhile, the SBA reported last year that S corporations shoulder the highest effective tax burden of any business type. As an investor, as an employer, and as a taxpayer, S corporations are a valuable component of America’s business community. The GAO has given us some suggestions on how we can do better.
The legislation is the companion bill to legislation (S.996) introduced in the Senate earlier this year, and represents the priorities of the S Corporation Association for the 111th Congress, including a provision to make permanent the built-in gains reform enacted as part of the larger economic stimulus package adopted earlier this year.
In a statement accompanying the legislation, Congressman Kind noted, “This bill is a commonsense tax code change that will have huge returns in terms of growth and investment for S corporations. Especially in this tough economic time, my goal is to look out for the small and family-owned businesses which drive our economy. This bill speaks to that, reducing a penalty on S corporations, and thus encouraging them to reinvest the savings into growing their business and creating jobs.”
“At a time when small, family and closely-held businesses are struggling to survive, it is encouraging to see that these Members of Congress are dedicated to ensuring the long term viability of S corporations,” said S-CORP Chairman Dick Roderick. “S-CORP would like to congratulate our champions on the timely introduction of this legislation, and express our gratitude for their commitment to the nearly 4.5 million S corporations across the country.”
With legislation now introduced in both the House and Senate, your S-CORP team will be working hard to garner additional support for the legislation. Reforming the rules governing S corporations will allow countless S corporations to reinvest in their businesses and create jobs – something the economy desperately needs at this moment.
S-CORP wishes to thank Representatives Kind, Herger, Schwartz and Reichert for their commitment to closely-held businesses and looks forward to working with these advocates to move this legislation forward this Congress.
Chairman Max Baucus today announced he now has a plan to cover the cost of reforming health care. Past options to cover the cost put forward by the President, the Senate Finance Committee, and the House Ways and Means Committee include:
- A value-added tax
- A rate increase on upper-income families
- A rate increase on Medicare payroll taxes
- Capping employer-provided health insurance benefits
- Capping itemized deductions
- A sin tax on alcohol and soda
None of these options is particularly attractive and, given the challenge of raising this much money, our expectation was that the overall scope of the House and Senate reforms would get smaller as the debate moves into July.
It appears that whittling down process is underway. According to his comments, the Finance Chairman now has in mind a $1 trillion expansion of health insurance coverage (down from previous drafts) to be paid for through an even split of spending cuts and tax increases, including a slimmed down version of capping the employer-provided health care exclusion.
“We are much closer on the scores for a health care reform package than we were at this point last week. We have options the Congressional Budget Office tells us would cost under $1 trillion and are fully paid for,” said Baucus. “Based on these developments, I’m even more confident in our ability to move forward. And as I’ve said before, we will not put out a mark until we are sure we have it right. I’ll continue to work with Senator Grassley and Senators on both sides of [the] aisle to turn these options into a package that can pass the Senate and become law this year.”
The reforms themselves seek to widen health insurance coverage by expanding Medicare and Medicaid while creating a new health insurance exchange for employers and families. The exchange would include both private insurance options as well as some sort of public alternative, and there would be carrots to encourage small employers and low-income families to participate as well as sticks for those who don’t.
The overall cost of these proposals is in the $100 to $200 billion range and would be added on to the $750 billion the federal government already spends on health care programs annually.
But even if Senator Baucus succeeds in offsetting half that cost through spending cuts elsewhere, there is simply no way to efficiently raise $50 billion a year by focusing on individuals making more than $250,000. To raise that kind of money, you need to reach down to the middle class, which is why options like capping the employer-provided health care exclusion are now part of the discussion.
For S corporations, the concern is that the new taxes (whatever form they take) are going to come on top of likely tax increases on income, capital gains and dividends, and estates. These taxes are already scheduled to go up, and with Congress operating at a deficit several times larger than average, they are unlikely to get pared back before they take effect in 2011. Congress simply can’t afford it. Whether Congress (and taxpayers) can afford an expensive expansion of health coverage too is certain to be part of the debate.
Obama LIFO Proposal and S Corps
Speaking of tax increases, the S Corporation Association has been fighting LIFO repeal ever since the issue first emerged as part of a 2006 bill to protect consumers from rising energy prices.
Over the years, we’ve made the case that LIFO is a perfectly legitimate inventory accounting method that can provide the IRS with a more accurate picture of a firm’s income, especially in an environment where prices are rising. (Has anybody looked at long-term Treasuries recently?)
And over the past three years, Ways and Means, Finance, the Joint Committee on Taxation, FASB, and the SEC have all taken positions that, to one degree or another, would undermine the ability of firms to use LIFO in the future.
The most recent shot in the LIFO wars was included in President Obama’s FY 2010 budget. The Obama proposal would repeal LIFO for tax purposes effective in 2012. This change would adversely affect LIFO firms in two respects. First, firms would no longer be able to use LIFO moving forward, likely resulting in higher reported income and higher taxes.
Second, firms would need to pay taxes on their so-called LIFO reserves — an accounting entry that doesn’t reflect real wealth or income. As we’ve observed, for firms that have been on LIFO for any significant period of time, their LIFO reserves are going to be substantial. The Obama proposal recognizes this double hit by allowing LIFO firms to pay tax on their reserves over an eight year period.
Firms will still be hit with a double tax increase for the privilege of switching to FIFO, but at least the second tax will be spread out over eight years. Of course, they’ll also be paying for health care reform and shouldering the 2011 tax increase and paying down record federal deficit…
Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will hold a one day conference on July 26th to focus attention on the US tax treatment of business income and how it might be improved. The conference will include a larger meeting in the Treasury Cash Room open to the press followed by at least two “break out” sessions for conference participants.
Why focus on corporate tax policy now? The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Markets, and other publications have recently observed how the United States’ corporate tax rate is now the highest among our major trading partners. While our corporate tax has stagnated, other countries have been cutting rates. The Wall Street Journal writes:
There’s a trend here. At least 25 developed nations have adopted Reaganite corporate income tax rate cuts since 2001. The U.S. is conspicuously not one of them. Vietnam has recently announced it is cutting its corporate rate to 25% from 28%. Singapore has approved a corporate tax cut to 18% from 20% to compete with low-tax Hong Kong’s rate of 17.5%, and Northern Ireland is making a bid to slash its corporate tax rate to 12.5% to keep pace with the same low rate in the prosperous Republic of Ireland. Even in France, of all places, new President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed reducing the corporate tax rate to 25% from 34.4%.
What do politicians in these countries understand that the U.S. Congress doesn’t? Perhaps they’ve read “International Competitiveness for Dummies.” In each of the countries that have cut corporate tax rates this year, the motivation has been the same — to boost the nation’s attractiveness as a location for international investment. Germany’s overall rate will fall to 29.8% by 2008 from 38.7%. Remarkably, at the start of this decade Germany’s corporate tax rate was 52%.
Aside from high rates, other aspects of our corporate tax code are also blamed for hamstringing American corporations’ ability to compete, including our policy of taxing US citizens on their income worldwide, rather than just within our borders.
Flow-through businesses like S corporations and partnerships will also be addressed at the conference. Speakers and panelists will be asked to address the impact of the tax code on business formation and structure and what impact the overall tax burden has on entrepreneurial activity. Anytime tax writers get together to discuss the divergent tax treatment of C and S corporations, S-Corp members should pay attention.
The different tax treatment of C versus S corporations and partnerships parallels recent policy discussions of the treatment of hedge fund earnings. When different types of income are taxed at different rates, activity tends to flow into the activity that faces the lower tax. As CBO Director Peter Orzag observed at Wednesday’s Finance Committee hearing on hedge fund taxation:
Much of the complexity associated with the taxation of carried interest arises because of the differential between the capital gains tax rate and the ordinary income tax rate, which creates an incentive to shift income into a form classified as capital gains. Further widening of the differential between the taxation of ordinary income and of capital gains would create even stronger incentives to shift income into the tax-preferred capital form.
Those of us who know Peter can guess how he’d close the gap — raise the tax rate on capital gains and dividends. But that would increase the double tax on corporate income, exaggerate the tax gap between C and S corporations, and put additional pressure on the S corporation community to defend its current tax treatment.
There is another way to close a tax rate gap — cut them for the disadvantaged party. As the Treasury tax conference will highlight, the rest of the world is cutting tax rates and making their corporate citizens more competitive. Will the United States follow?
Congress returns this week following its Memorial Day recess. As expected, the Small Business tax package was signed into law along with the Iraqi War funding just before they left. This package included a number of S corporation reforms that we have been working on for years, and represents a significant improvement to the rules governing how S corporations operate.
Key reforms included relief from the dreaded “sting tax” as well as allowing trusts that hold S corporation stock to deduct their interest expenses, something other trusts have long been allowed to do. And while we did not get everything we sought in the bill, these new provisions are extremely welcome and we appreciate the members and staff who worked to make them happen.
Tax Bills on the Horizon
With the Small Business tax package behind us, it’s time to focus on what comes next. As we have observed, there are lots of actual and potential tax bills on the agenda for this Congress, and keeping track of them is becoming a full time job. Fortunately for S Corp members, that’s what we do. Here’s a list of tax bills to watch:
AMT Reform: Ways and Mean Chairman Rangel previously announced his plans to introduce a permanent fix to the growth of the Alternative Minimum Tax sometime this month. As we’ve written in past Wires, the threat to S corporations is the potential pairing of AMT relief with an increase in individual tax rates, a reduction in the thresholds at which those rates apply, and the change in the tax treatment of capital gains and dividends.
Energy Tax Incentives: Ways and Means is planning to take up tax legislation next week to provide new and expanded incentives for renewable energy sources. Offsets reportedly include denying the manufacturing income tax deduction to oil and gas producers as well as lengthening certain energy depreciation lives. Significantly, the offsets do not appear to include changes to the LIFO inventory accounting method for oil companies or others, at least in the House version.
Extending Family Tax Relief: The budget adopted last month allows part of the tax relief enacted in 2001 and 2003 to be extended past its current December 31, 2010 sunset. Whether Congress actually acts on this issue prior to the 2008 elections is very much up in the air, but the budget gives Congress the ability to move legislation to retain the 10 percent tax bracket, the $1000 child credit, the higher standard deduction and income tax rate thresholds designed to reduce the marriage penalty, and some sort of permanent fix to the estate tax rules. The budget does not make room for extending the lower rates on capital gains and dividends, nor the reduced rates on income taxes above the 15 percent bracket.
SCHIP: The Finance Committee will also consider legislation to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Senate has already voted to offset the cost of this increase through a tobacco excise tax during debate over the budget resolution.
Technical Corrections: As S Corp readers know, last year’s technical corrections package did not move forward based, in part, on concerns raised about increasing tax rates on exporters who have an IC-DISC. Ways and Means is working on another version, and the most recent word is the IC-DISC provision is still in the package. No word on timing of this package just yet.
Education Incentives: The Senate Finance Committee has been working on legislation to increase and reform the tax incentives for education. A proposed markup on legislation prior to Memorial Day was postponed, but this is a priority for Chairman Baucus, so expect something soon. On the House side, Chairman Rangel joined other Ways and Means members to introduce legislation to fund public school construction and rehabilitation with tax-free bonds. And several House members introduced legislation to increase tax benefits tied to the Hope Scholarship and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
International Tax Reforms: Earlier this year, Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced legislation (H.R. 1672) to change the tax treatment of dividends for certain hybrid foreign stocks. In May, the Senate Finance Committee held hearings on offshore tax evasion. And this week the Finance Committee will hold hearings on the impact globalization has on the American workforce, with a particular focus on the tax incentives that make up part of our Trade Adjustment Assistance programs. We expect these mutual concerns to coalesce into a package of international tax provisions — mostly revenue raisers — to accompany other tax legislation.
Housing: The implosion of the sub-prime lending market and the general rise in housing and land prices suggest that a housing tax bill or tax title could be considered by this Congress. The House Revenue Measures subcommittee held hearings last month that focused on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, private activity tax-exempt bonds, and the historic rehabilitation tax credit.
Bottom Line: The combination of lots of tax bills together with the desire to offset any tax decreases with tax increases should make all taxpayers wary, especially those that, like S corporations, have been the target of unwarranted criticism in the past couple years.