Many Business Provisions Still Being Reconciled in Federal Tax Reform

We’re almost there. Tax reform has passed both the House and Senate. It now seems very possible that the President will have a bill to sign by Christmas. As some have described: All they need to do now is “sand the rough edges”. But another saying is equally applicable to the business tax components: “The devil is in the details”. Specifically, details directly relating to the taxation of both C-corporations and pass-through entities. Terms that will impact those who do business here and those who do business around the globe. In other words, details that will significantly affect big businesses, small businesses and everybody in between.

The process for reconciling the two versions of tax reform is already underway as the House and Senate name members to the conference committee that will determine exactly what will be in the package before it is voted on one last time. Indications are that majority leaders want to have a committee report for their respective bodies to act on by the end of next week. So while the details still have to be worked out, both bodies are very engaged and they’ve passed legislation that defines the general parameters.

There will continue to be debate, in public and in private, over the deficit, how much growth tax reform will generate, who benefits and who doesn’t, but the House and Senate are effectively committed to getting something done at this point. On the individual income tax side, they will need to find agreement regarding the limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT), as well as mortgage interest. These items are important to individuals, important to the numbers and important politically. But the two sides really aren’t that far apart. A $10,000 SALT deduction of some kind and a healthy mortgage interest deduction will almost certainly remain in the final product.

But where they land on many items critical to business is harder to predict; a lot is up in the air. Let’s start with the corporate rate itself. While both plans call for a 20% rate, the President hinted it could still change slightly. That appears unlikely, however, but the rate is tied closely to the fiscal projections. And the fiscal projections are why the Senate delayed the effective date for corporate rate change to 2019, to reduce the cost of the bill. So when exactly the change goes into effect is at issue.

Similarly, the taxation of pass-through income is also unsettled. The House limits the pass-through rate at 25%. The Senate approach was to give a deduction to pass-throughs to keep their tax down. Effectively, the different approaches would not have drastically different bottom line impacts for most pass-through income recipients. The real complications come via provisions directed at guarding against individuals in higher brackets from categorizing personal income as business/pass-through income.

What about the issues of interest to multinationals who conduct huge volumes of business activity around the globe? The House and Senate agree that the U.S. must move to a territorial system and companies shouldn’t be taxed here on income they earn overseas. But beyond that basic principle, how multinationals and their foreign-sourced income is handled is anything but clear right now. Both the House and Senate have included forms of supplemental taxes intended to prevent their perception of “base erosion” and to discourage what they view as corporations “gaming the system”.

Likewise, they are still working through how best to address the repatriation of foreign-earned profits and are looking at special, one-time tax provisions to encourage companies to bring those assets back to the U.S.  Another item important to many businesses of all types and sizes is how quickly, to what extent and for how long will they be able to claim deductions for capital expenditures/investments. Two final differences to note: (1) The Senate preserves the corporate alternative minimum tax; the House repeals it; (2) the House and Senate versions both limit the interest expense deduction, but in materially different ways. (A good summary of all the differences can be found in this report from the Tax Foundation.)

Of course, there are many, many other pending issues wrapped up in this legislation for the tax folks in Washington to resolve in short order. They include the health care mandate, estate tax, exemptions for educational institutions and nonprofits, and the list goes on. Tax reform appears close. Let’s hope good solutions are close too.

Some Puzzling State Revenue Numbers

The Indiana State Budget Agency recently released the revenue collections report for October. The overall collections for the fiscal year now stand 2.8% ($136 million) below projections; not good, but not critical at this juncture.

The troubling numbers for the revenue watchers are the corporate tax collections. They were down again this month and are now at 52% below the April revenue forecast projections. Nobody really knows how to fully explain the drop. While the corporate collections historically fluctuate widely from month to month and are the hardest to predict for many reasons (that are not directly related to predictable economic activity), the gap between projections and collection is extraordinary. Fortunately, corporate collections have never represented a big piece of the pie (only around 6%) when compared to sales (48%) and individual income (36%) tax collections. Still, the unforeseen drop accounts for $126 million of the $136-million-dollar shortfall.

The State Budget Agency has drilled down on the matter and is attributing it to a high volume of refunds. But what is triggering the refunds is not clear either. Sometimes refunds can cover a number of years. They could be tied to a recent settlement of numerous cases or result from changes in the law – lots of possible factors. Whatever they are attributable to, they probably don’t mean that corporate collections will stay down; they are likely to rebound over the balance of the fiscal year and smooth out the impact, but they are not likely to recover to the total of the original projections. Let’s hope this is just a temporary mysterious dip that is evened out over time.

For those interested, you can review all the numbers and commentary from the State Budget Agency.

House and Senate Get Started on Tax Reform; Where Does Donnelly Stand?

Late last week, the House Ways and Means Committee concluded its markup of the GOP tax reform bill (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) and voted along party lines to move the measure, 24-16. The core of the House bill reduces the number of individual tax rates, slashes the corporate tax rate and eliminates many deductions and credits.

The bill now will be taken up by the full House of Representatives for debate and vote – likely before the Thanksgiving recess. What are some sensitive issues being discussed in the tax reform bill? Pass-throughs, adoption tax credits, deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT), excise tax and more.

The GOP can only lose 22 votes in the House and whip counts are being held very close to the vest – only five or six Republicans have publicly stated that they are against the bill in the current form (all due to SALT).

Meanwhile, the Senate decided on Thursday to release its own tax reform plan. From the business perspective, the differences largely are about adjusting the dollar dials and creating negotiation items. In other words, politics. The Senate option does delay some positive economic effects, but if that’s what it takes to get a permanent tax reduction in the books so be it! We do want to point out that there are some notable differences between the two versions, particularly on the individual side – including with the estate tax and mortgage deduction, which, again, serve to set up further negotiations.

Senator Todd Young welcomed the effort from the Senate Finance Committee.

“I’m encouraged by the Senate’s proposal to create a tax code that is simpler, fairer and allows hardworking Hoosiers to keep more of what they earn. I’m also glad that this proposal maintains the adoption tax credit that is important to so many Indiana families. As we continue to debate a final tax relief package, I will keep working to ensure Hoosier voices are heard.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Donnelly, didn’t give away his stance: “As I have said, tax reform should create jobs, protect jobs, invest in American workers and benefit middle class families. I will carefully review the Senate proposal and continue to engage with my colleagues and the White House on behalf of Hoosiers as the Senate works on tax reform.”

Donnelly also met on Thursday with the White House Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn to discuss his tax reform priorities. Earlier last week, Donnelly participated in another such meeting with White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short and Cohn. President Donald Trump called in for a portion of the event. In that meeting, Donnelly discussed his tax reform priorities and shared a letter that he also sent to Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday emphasizing that the tax policies should align with the interests of American workers and support companies that invest in the U.S.

Donnelly’s priorities are consistent with his End Outsourcing Act, which would support companies that invest in American workers and penalize companies that ship American jobs to foreign countries.

The Hill reported late last week that “Blue Dog Democrats are lining up in firm opposition to the Republicans’ tax code overhaul, hoping that Tuesday’s election results (particularly in Virginia) will force GOP leaders to reach across the aisle for a bipartisan alternative.”

Donnelly, a Blue Dog Democrat, has not said anything of the kind publicly and has been heavily courted by the Trump administration for his vote.

Federal Tax Plan = Meaningful Cuts More Than Comprehensive Reform

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (H.R. 1) has finally arrived! The long-awaited details – over 400 pages worth – are now out there for all to debate. This is a debate that will play out before the House Republican Ways and Means Committee this week. Much of the public discourse will focus on how it impacts individuals, but for the business community it is the taxation of businesses, large and small, that is of the most significance.

The plan includes a reduction of the corporate rate from 35% to 20%, an important and meaningful step. It also caps the taxation of income derived from pass-throughs (S corporations, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietorships) at 25%. Key provisions are outlined below. And if you are truly into tax law, the full bill is also available, as is a section-by-section summary.

Now you may note that this legislation is labeled a tax cut, not tax reform. And while many will call it that, it is probably better characterized as a tax cut bill. Cuts are good, and these measures will certainly be the impetus for some level of economic growth. But the trillion dollar questions remain: How much will it spur in gross domestic product (GDP) growth? And, can that realistically be enough to offset the projected reductions in tax collections?

Nobody can really know the answers to these politically-charged questions. But as you read the “scoring” of this legislation (to be published by the Congressional Budget Office after passage out of the House Ways and Means Committee), you may consider these items for context: the GDP growth rate in the United States averaged 3.22% from 1947 until 2017; GDP has pleasantly surprised people by breaking the 3% mark the last couple quarters; and the GDP will probably need to go a good bit higher to prevent the bill from adding substantially to the already staggering federal deficit. So listen for what growth rates are assumed in the projections that will be discussed and debated – and draw your own conclusions.

Key provisions affecting businesses

  • Reduces the corporate tax rate: The rate will drop to 20% from the current 35% and is designed to be permanent.
  • Establishes a repatriation tax rate: The repatriation rate on overseas assets for U.S. companies would be as high as 12%. The bill also may include a mandatory repatriation of all foreign assets. Illiquid assets would be taxed at a lower rate, spread out over a longer period than liquid assets like cash.
  • Creates a 25% rate for pass-through businesses: Instead of getting taxed at an individual rate for business profits, people who own their own business would pay at the so-called pass-through rate. (There will be some guardrails on what kinds of businesses can claim this rate to avoid individuals abusing the lower tax.)

Key provisions affecting individuals

  • Creates new individual income brackets:
    • 12% for income up to $45,000 for individuals and $90,000 for a married couple
    • 25% up to $200,000 individual/$260,000 couples
    • 35% up to $500,000 individual/$1 million couples
    • 6% over $500,000 individual/$1million couples
  • Caps state and local property tax deduction at $10,000, but does NOT cap income or sales tax deductions.
  • Eliminates the estate tax: The threshold for the tax, which applies only to estates with greater than $5.6 million in assets during 2018, would double to over $10 million; the plan then phases out the tax after six years.
  • Does NOT change taxation of 401(k) plans.
  • Increases the child tax credit to $1,600 from $1,000. The bill would also add a credit of $300 for each non-child dependent or parent for five years, after which that provision would expire.
  • Limits home mortgage interest deduction: On new-home purchases, interest on loans up to $500,000 would be deductible. (The current limit is $1 million.)
  • Nearly doubles the standard deduction: To avoid raising taxes on those currently in the 10% tax bracket, the standard deduction for all taxes would increase to $12,000 for individuals (up from $6,350) and $24,000 for married couples (up from $12,700).
  • Eliminates most personal itemized deductions and many credits. The only deductions preserved explicitly in the plan are for charitable gifts and edited home-mortgage interest.
  • Repeals the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The tax, which forces people who qualify because of an outsized number of deductions, would be eliminated under the legislation.

Full policy highlights of the bill can be found here.

Keep in mind this is the House’s plan and it will be subject to a different form of scrutiny in the Senate. So regardless all the prior coordination among those working together on this effort for months, some (perhaps many) things will change – they always do!

As for the timeline, it’s hard to say. But we do know that the House Ways and Means Committee will begin hearing amendments this week, and the process could take several days. A vote on the bill by the full House, as it is passed out of Ways and Means, is anticipated to come as early as November 13. From there it goes to the Senate Finance Committee, then full Senate. Optimists hope for something to pass before the end of the year. However, don’t be surprised if the debate isn’t carried over into the beginning of 2018.

Indiana’s delegation members are also weighing in with their views on the new tax bill. Chief among them is Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02), a member of the pivotal House Ways and Means Committee: “Hoosiers deserve every opportunity to achieve success and live the American Dream, and that’s what tax reform is all about. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will help American businesses expand, invest and hire more workers, and it will let middle-class families keep more of the money they earn. It’s time to fix our broken tax code and level the playing field for hardworking Americans by once again making America the best place in the world to do business.”

Resource: Bill Waltz at (317) 264-6887 or email: bwaltz@indianachamber.com 

Tax Reform the Talk of Fly-in

More than 100 of the state’s top business leaders descended on D.C. this week for the Indiana Chamber’s Fly-in event with our congressional delegation.

Attendees received meaningful and timely information from their representatives and senators through policy briefings, special dinner discussions and office visits.

Tax reform was the hot topic. How ironic that while we were D.C.-bound that President Donald Trump would be heading to Indianapolis to roll out his tax reform plan for the first time, and taking nearly half of the Indiana delegation with him on Air Force One for the announcement. But almost all Hoosier delegation members made it back in time to address their business constituents.

The tax reform message the Indiana Chamber contingent delivered to lawmakers in D.C. was that failure should not be an option – this needs to get done!

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio wraps up his remarks on tax reform – turning the floor over to Sen. Todd Young and Sen. Joe Donnelly for a Q&A session.

What caught our attention was how deeply committed everyone is to have tax reform cross the finish line. We felt that from our guest speaker, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, considered the Senate fiscal expert, to Indiana members in the House and Senate, including Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.

They know it’s important not only to them politically but they also realize that it’s much needed policy.

President Trump’s tax reform framework, which assuredly was done in tandem with congressional leaders, includes actions that the Indiana Chamber and business community at-large have been championing for some time:

• Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35% – the highest in the world today, which drives investment, jobs and even corporate headquarters overseas
• Lowering the top personal income tax rate – which now offers disincentives for initiative, investment and risk-taking while reducing the number of brackets
• Eliminating the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which is overly complex and ineffective, and the estate tax, which endangers many family farms and small businesses
• Adopting a territorial system in which income earned overseas is not taxed in the U.S.

In our Q&A with Sens. Donnelly and Todd Young, they were asked to handicap the likelihood – on a one to 10 scale – of a meaningful tax reform package making it through Congress. Donnelly gave it a fairly hopeful six, while Young said he’s more confident today than even a few months ago and now puts the chances for success at seven-plus.

Young added: “At a time when the rate of business creation is lower than at any period in my own life, I feel like the time is now for tax reform. And the President made a compelling case in what I thought were pretty accessible terms (for Americans).”

Donnelly summed up his thoughts on the matter: “My view on tax reform is simple: I want to try to get to ‘yes’. I think it’s much better if it’s bipartisan. … I think it’s a much better message to the country.”

At our legislative briefing, Congressman Larry Bucshon (IN-08) offered his assessment as well. “As long as both sides don’t go to our corners and stick with our traditional talking points – trying to win an election in 2018 – we are going to get this done.”

Tax reform, if done correctly, would broaden the base while lowering rates across the board – spurring new investment, job creation, economic growth and, ultimately, tax revenues, without increasing the federal deficit.

Our tax code should look like it was designed on purpose for strategic economic growth.
We are hopeful that’s what will happen in the coming months.

A big thank you to our D.C. Fly-in sponsors for making the event possible: Zimmer Biomet (dinner sponsor), Allegion (cocktail reception sponsor), Build Indiana Council (legislative briefing sponsor), AT&T, The Boeing Company, Duke Energy, The Kroger Co., Old National Bank and Wabash Valley Power.

We hope to see everyone who attended – and more – back next year!

Senators Discuss Tax Reform, Trip to Indy During D.C. Fly-in

While the irony of timing isn’t lost on anyone, the Indiana Chamber’s annual D.C. Fly-in delegation was in Washington D.C. yesterday while President Trump and several Indiana congressional representatives were in Indianapolis as the President revealed his tax reform plan.

It was an important moment for Indiana to be in the national spotlight as the much-anticipated tax reform plan was revealed. Read Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar’s statement on the reform plan here.

And though some of Indiana’s federal lawmakers were in Indianapolis, both of Indiana’s senators were able to return in time to attend the D.C. Fly-in dinner and address over 100 Hoosier business leaders about their trip with the President.

Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young  discussed the potential for bipartisan agreement on tax reform (and a “sweet” treat Donnelly brought with him from Air Force One):

Additionally, one of the Senate’s leading tax experts, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), shared his perspective at the D.C. Fly-in dinner. Here are a few of his comments to the group, on the “positive list” of reforms included in the President’s tax plan:

We’ve been keeping you updated on social media (find us on Twitter at @IndianaChamber or follow #ICCinDC, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/indianachamber/).

Thank you to all our event guests and sponsors for the 2017 D.C. Fly-in, including Build Indiana Council, Legislative Briefing sponsor; Allegion, cocktail reception sponsor; and Zimmer Biomet, dinner sponsor.

100+ Business Leaders Going to D.C. This Week for Chamber Fly-in

A record group of more than 100 of the state’s top business leaders and government affairs executives will be attending the Indiana Chamber’s annual D.C. Fly-in on September 27 and 28. The timing couldn’t be more perfect with a potential health care reform vote, rollout of a tax reform plan and the end of the fiscal year all taking place.

This year, legislative briefings will be conducted by congressional members, who will be highlighting key public policy areas that line up with their committee assignments and expertise:

  • Tax reform – Indiana 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski
  • Regulatory reform – Indiana 9th District U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth
  • Health care reform – Indiana 8th District U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon
  • Infrastructure and transportation policy – Indiana 4th District U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita
  • Education policy – Indiana 6th District U.S. Rep. Luke Messer

There is still time to register for the D.C. Fly-in; go to www.indianachamber.com/specialevents.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter at @IndianaChamber or #ICCinDC for up-to-the-minute important information on what’s happening in Washington.

Zimmer Biomet is the Fly-in’s dinner sponsor. Allegion is the cocktail reception sponsor. Build Indiana Council is the legislative briefing sponsor.

Event sponsors are AT&T, The Boeing Company, Duke Energy, The Kroger Co., Old National Bank and Wabash Valley Power.

Taking Care of Our Money – Not!

Living from one paycheck to the next remains common for a majority of workers – 78%, in fact, compared to 75% a year earlier. And the dilemma impacts more women (81%) than men (75%).

According to new CareerBuilder research, 38% of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 17% said they usually do and 23% said they always do.

In addition:

Having a higher salary doesn’t necessarily mean money woes are behind you, with nearly one in 10 workers making $100,000 or more (9%) saying they usually or always live paycheck-to-paycheck and 59% in that income bracket in debt. Twenty-eight percent of workers making $50,000-$99,999 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, 70% are in debt; and 51% of those making less than $50,000 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, 73% are in debt.

A quarter of workers (25%) have not been able to make ends meet every month in the last year, and 20% have missed payment on some smaller bills. Further, 71% of all workers say they’re in debt — up from 68% last year. While 46% say their debt is manageable, more than half of those in debt (56%) say they feel they will always be in debt. And it should be noted that 18% of all workers have reduced their 401k contribution and/or personal savings in the last year, more than a third (38%) do not participate in a 401k plan, IRA or comparable retirement plan, and 26% have not set aside any savings each month in the last year.

Less than a third of workers (32%) stick to a clearly defined budget and a slight majority (56%) save $100 or less a month.

Still, despite financial woes, there are certain things employees aren’t willing to give up. When asked what they’d absolutely not give up, regardless of financial concerns, employees cited:

  • Internet connection: 54%  
  • Mobile device (smart phone, tablet, etc.): 53%
  • Driving: 48%
  • Pets: 37%  
  • Cable: 21%  
  • Going out to eat: 19%  
  • Traveling: 17%  
  • Education: 13%  
  • Buying gifts for people: 13%  
  • Alcohol: 11%

We’ve Got New BizVoice For You!

The September/October edition of BizVoice magazine is now live!

We’ve highlighted venture capital, banking/finance/investments and Indiana innovation. Our own Tom Schuman also followed Indiana Congressman Larry Bucshon (R-8th District) for a day in Washington D.C. Read his story and the rest of the new content in the online edition.

You can also subscribe to receive a hard copy every other month.

What’s Up With Federal Tax Reform

Is anything really happening? Yes.
Will something eventually get passed? Probably.

A group of key individuals who dubbed themselves the “Big 6” has been meeting for a few months and more intently in recent weeks. They include two members each from the administration (Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn), Senate (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch) and House (Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady.)

Are they motivated to find common ground? Certainly. Is there a consensus? Not yet. Right now, they don’t even agree on whether, or to what extent, the legislation must be revenue neutral.

But they all seem to recognize that they need to do something – failure to coalesce is not in anyone’s interest. So what have they agreed on so far? The border-adjustment tax is out. Some method for allowing the repatriation of overseas earnings (at a one-time low-rate tax) is in. The corporate rate must drop to 25% or less (depending on how many deductions and breaks they can eliminate.) They appear to be embracing a way to allow small businesses to immediately deduct investments in new equipment and facilities, i.e. “full expensing.” On the individual income side, a collapsing of the brackets and lowering of rates (no details.)

Possible tradeoffs or “pay-fors” in tax circles: eliminating some business interest deductions, eliminating the state and local tax (SALT) deductions and capping the mortgage interest deduction. These are yet unsettled issues. But listen and watch closely to the SALT discussions going forward; there is a lot of money and a lot of political (with a small p) interest in this item. It is more a geographic than partisan issue because taking the SALT deduction away will have a significant negative impact on people (constituents of Republicans and Democrats) in states that have high state and local taxes. This item could have a big bearing on the entire effort and whether we get true reform or temporary tax cuts.

Tax cuts are the easy part for these folks. The hard part is finding ways to pay for reductions. The last true tax reform was in 1986, 31 years ago, and it required a lot of time and bipartisan buy-in. The Big 6 are all Republicans and they are anxious to get something done. They could mimic the Bush tax cuts of 2002 and 2003, passed through the reconciliation process, which means whatever they do expires after 10 years. Somewhat ironically, most of those Bush cuts were only made permanent as part of the Obama budget deal of 2012.

To recap the status of tax reform: Much remains up in the air.