A nonpartisan review of the tax reform plan Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump unveiled in September notes some positives, but also raises serious questions about its economic impact.
In a 32-page report released Tuesday, the Tax Policy Center gave Mr. Trump credit for a plan that would “boost incentives to work, save, and invest and that has the potential to simplify the tax code.”
While much of Trump’s plan resembles proposals by other candidates, including Jeb Bush, there were some novel elements in the document. For example, the Trump plan would tax the future profits of foreign subsidiaries of United States companies when they were earned instead of taxing them when the money is brought back to the US.
“It was interesting for a Republican to be proposing eliminating deferral,” said TPC Director Leonard Burman. “Virtually all of the other Republican plans would go in the other direction and say foreign profits would be exempt from US tax.”
But the TPC study sharply disagrees with candidate Trump’s statement that his tax plan would grow the economy “at a level that it hasn’t seen for decades.” The TPC study also takes issue with the statement on the Trump campaign website that the tax proposals would not “add to our debt and deficit, which are already too large.”
The Trump plan would chop tax rates for individuals and businesses, boost the standard deduction to nearly four times its current level, and repeal estate and gift taxes. The result, Mr. Burman says, “is a very large revenue loss” for the US Treasury.
TPC calculates that the Trump tax plan would reduce federal receipts by $9.5 trillion between 2016 and 2026. In the following 10 years, the revenue loss would be $15 trillion.
“Without implausibly large spending cuts – 82 percent of discretionary spending, 92 percent of Medicare, something like that – the deficits would balloon and would push up interest rates, increase the cost of capital, and almost surely hurt the economy in the long run,” Burman said.
In announcing his tax plan, Trump said the reforms he proposed would “cost me a fortune.” He also said there would “be people in the very upper echelon that won’t be thrilled with this.”
But Burman contradicted this, noting that the benefits of his tax cutting plan “skewed heavily to high income people.”
Overall, Trump’s tax plan would cut taxes by an average of about $5,100. The highest income taxpayers, with incomes over $3.7 million in 2015 dollars, would get a tax cut of $1.3 million.
Candidate Trump proposes cutting the top corporate tax rate to 15 percent, a rate that would also apply to individual income that passes through from partnerships. That is well below the 25 percent top rate Trump proposes for individuals and potentially what Burman called “a giant loophole.” Individuals in the 20 or 25 percent tax bracket under the Trump plan would have an incentive to turn themselves into unincorporated business to save on taxes.
TPC cautioned that it had to make some assumptions on technical issues in estimating the impact of the Trump tax plan, since it contacted the Trump campaign several times for additional details but “never got a response,” Burman said.
Lack of response from a campaign is not unusual, said TPC tax lawyer Steve Rosenthal. Often campaigns fail to get back with additional tax policy details because “they don’t have them.”
TPC released its study on Jeb Bush’s tax plans earlier in December. The organization says it also plans to release studies on Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders.