According to the Tax Foundation, just 13.7 percent of filers itemize their deductions — a prerequisite for deducting state and local taxes. Only at the top 10 percent of the income distribution do even a majority of taxpayers itemize. But among the top 1 percent of taxpayers, 92 percent do, and of course, their higher marginal tax rates make each deduction more valuable.
So it is these taxpayers whom the SALT deduction primarily benefits. According to Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, households in the top 0.1 percent of earners would receive an average benefit of about $150,000, while those in the middle would get closer to $15. Repealing the caps would cost about $350 billion by 2026, and an estimated 85 percent of that revenue would end up in the pockets of the richest 5 percent of Americans.
You can probably think of many better uses of taxpayer money than giving a tax break to the most affluent people in the most affluent parts of the most affluent states in the country. Unless, of course, you are someone who would benefit from a larger SALT deduction. As, I admit, I would.
The Biden administration will need practically every Democratic representative in Congress to vote for its proposed $2 trillion package of tax increases, which would be the largest in 54 years. To gain that support, the president may have to season his legislation with some SALT. The bill, which raises corporate taxes and boosts capital-gains levies, among other things, doesn’t restore the full federal deduction for state and local taxes that Donald Trump’s 2017 tax-cut bill capped.
Democrats in key high-tax blue states, including New York representative Tom Suozzi and New Jersey representative Josh Gottheimer, have been complaining that Trump’s tax bill placed an undue burden on their states’ residents. Some have vowed not to support any tax legislation unless it reinstates the full SALT deduction. The problem: federal data show that restoring the deduction would overwhelmingly profit rich taxpayers—and lawmakers in many blue states have already raised their own levies on the rich.
Subsequent data have shown that the SALT changes fall heavily on the rich, while the vast majority of taxpayers in high-tax states have benefited from the Trump cuts. An analysis of 2018 New York tax returns found that the number of residents subject to the higher rates of the Alternative Minimum Tax declined to just 0.2 percent of all returns, down from 5.9 percent in 2017. Thanks to the doubling of the standard deduction, the number of New Yorkers itemizing their deductions shrank by nearly two-thirds that year, according to an Empire Center report. A recent report by the left-of-center Brookings Institution found that 57 percent of the benefits of restoring a full SALT deduction would go to the top 1 percent of households, providing them with an average tax cut of $33,000.
The SALT provision of the 1862 tax disappeared with the income tax itself in 1872. It returned, on paper if not in practice, when the income tax was briefly revived in 1894 (before being struck down by the Supreme Court in the 1895 Pollock decision). But when the income tax returned for good in 1913, it brought the SALT deduction back for the long haul.
Over the decades, the deduction evolved to reflect its fiscal environment. When states began to rely on sales taxes, the deductibility of those levies in the federal system was made explicit. The introduction of the standard deduction in 1944 also reshaped the SALT deduction, reducing its scope dramatically (and shifting the distribution of its benefits up the income scale). Later revisions in the 1960s and 1970s modestly curbed the deduction, but it remained largely intact through the 1980s.
Its survival, however, did not reflect any sort of elite consensus that the deduction was a good idea. Indeed, policy experts were increasingly hostile to it. In earlier decades, the deduction had escaped careful scrutiny, perhaps because it was widely perceived to be necessary in a system marked by high marginal rates; many experts believed that absent the deduction, the combination of federal and state income taxes might have approached confiscatory levels.
Less than half a year into the Biden Presidency, the Internal Revenue Service is already at the center of an abuse-of-power scandal. That news broke Tuesday when ProPublica, a website whose journalism promotes progressive causes, published information from what it said are 15 years of the tax returns of Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and other rich Americans.
Leaking such information is a crime, since under federal law tax returns are confidential. ProPublica says it received the files from “an anonymous source” and doesn’t know who provided them, how they were obtained, or what the source’s motives are.
Allow us to fill in that last blank. The story arrives amid the Biden Administration’s effort to pass the largest tax increase as a share of the economy since 1968. The main Democratic argument for a tax hike is that the rich should pay their “fair share.” The ProPublica story is a long argument that somehow the rich don’t pay enough. The timing here is no coincidence, comrade.
This still leaves the real scandal, which is that someone leaked confidential IRS information about individuals to serve a political agenda. This is the same tax agency that pursued a vendetta against conservative nonprofit groups during the Obama Administration. Remember Lois Lerner?
This is also the same IRS that Democrats now want to infuse with $80 billion more to chase a fanciful amount of uncollected taxes. As part of this effort, Mr. Biden wants the IRS to collect “gross inflows and outflows on all business and personal accounts from financial institutions.” Why? So the information can be leaked to ProPublica?
ProPublica has obtained a vast cache of IRS information showing how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth — sometimes, even nothing.
In 2011, a year in which his wealth held roughly steady at $18 billion, Bezos filed a tax return reporting he lost money — his income that year was more than offset by investment losses. What’s more, because, according to the tax law, he made so little, he even claimed and received a $4,000 tax credit for his children.
His tax avoidance is even more striking if you examine 2006 to 2018, a period for which ProPublica has complete data. Bezos’ wealth increased by $127 billion, according to Forbes, but he reported a total of $6.5 billion in income. The $1.4 billion he paid in personal federal taxes is a massive number — yet it amounts to a 1.1% true tax rate on the rise in his fortune.
Author(s): Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen, Paul Kiel
Three years after the passage of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, partisan mischaracterizations have left the law deeply misunderstood. The tax cuts benefited typical American workers through direct tax cuts and higher wages. The changes did not raise taxes on the middle class, did not devastate home prices, and did not reduce charitable giving. Businesses have created domestic jobs, and the new 21 percent corporate tax rate still leaves American employers paying rates higher than most competitors. As the law begins to expire in the coming years, lawmakers will be better able to assess the merits of keeping the tax cuts if they understand 12 common myths.
The SALT tax deduction allows state and local taxes like property taxes to be deducted from federal taxes. The deduction is particularly beneficial to wealthy property owners in Democratic states, which typically have higher property tax rates. In 2017, the deduction was capped at $10,000 under President Trump’s tax reform bill, in what many saw as a Republican attack on blue states.
Repealing the SALT cap would cost the government $600 billion in revenue over nine years. That outlay would essentially negate any financial benefits from the Democrats’ proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 25 percent, the party’s preferred alternative to Biden’s proposed 28-percent corporate tax rate. With all of the money from raising the tax rate being funneled back to wealthy homeowners, there would likely be little money left to fund Biden’s infrastructure package.
“I want to tell you this: If I become majority leader, one of the first things I will do is we will eliminate it forever,” Schumer said during a July 14 press conference on Long Island. “It will be dead, gone, and buried.”
“It” in this case was the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which was imposed as part of the 2017 federal tax reform bill passed by Republicans and signed by President Donald Trump. As a result of that law, Americans are allowed to deduct a maximum of $10,000 in state and local tax payments from their federally taxable income; previously the deduction was uncapped, and it overwhelmingly benefitted the richest households while shifting their federal tax burden to everyone else.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) is correct to point out, as he did in an interview with Axios this week, that the SALT cap creates a serious optics problem for Democrats. Sanders says he will oppose Schumer’s effort to attach the SALT cap repeal to the transportation bill because “it sends a terrible, terrible message when you have Republicans telling us that this is a tax break for the rich.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking on the leaders of his own Democratic Party — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — for supporting a repeal of the cap on deductions for state and local tax on federal income taxes.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer (D-NY) — who represent two of the highest tax states — back repealing the $10,000 cap instituted by former President Donald Trump on SALT deductions, which Sanders said “sends a terrible, terrible message” to working-class people.
“We could reverse that for 2018 and 2019 so that people could refile their taxes” and get a refund, Pelosi told The Times in March. “They’d have more disposable income, which is the lifeblood of our economy, a consumer economy that we are.”
All three options would primarily benefit higher-earning tax filers, with repeal of the SALT cap increasing the after-tax income of the top 1 percent by about 2.8 percent; the bottom 80 percent would see minimal benefit.
Removing the marriage penalty and raising the SALT cap would also mostly benefit higher earners, though after-tax incomes of filers in the 95th to 99th income percentiles would rise the most. For example, raising the SALT cap to $15,000 single and $30,000 joint would result in a 0.8 percent increase in after-tax income for the 95th to 99th income percentiles and a 0.4 percent increase for the top 1 percent.
The top 1 percent benefits less because the SALT cap remains in place, so there is less of a benefit as a portion of their incomes when slightly increasing the cap. For example, a joint filer with $5 million in after-tax income could receive an additional $7,400 in reduced tax liability ($20,000 in increased SALT deductions times the 37 percent top individual income tax rate), which is a 0.1 percent increase in after-tax income.
However, the SALT cap didn’t so much go after “Democrats” as “affluent Democrats.” It only applied to people who itemize their taxes, which meant the 90% of Americans who take the standard deduction were unaffected. The deduction raised over $70 billion in just the first year, and roughly 56% of that money came just from the top 1% of taxpayers, living in a few states in particular.
The tax nastygram seemed directed at Trump’s hometown delegation. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in April of 2017 complained about the cost of protecting “Trump and his family here in NYC”; the SALT cap affected 19% of Maloney’s constituents in Brooklyn and on the Upper East Side, and taxpayers in that 19% each lost an average of $100,405 in breaks. Chuck Schumer, one of Trump’s fiercest critics, personally took over $58,000 in SALT deductions just in 2016.
Overall, 39 of the 40 districts most affected by the SALT cap were represented by Democrats. Of those, 28 came from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Also affected: Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district, where residents lost an average of $53,471 of write-offs. Trump’s campaign promises to take on “elites” proved phony, except when he was able to effect this targeted partisan strike at the people he knew and hated the most: rich, socially liberal Democrats, especially ones from the tri-state area.