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.
Of course, no one can know the true extent to which Pritzker has been able to reduce his tax bills through loopholes and carve-outs over the years, because he refuses to release his full tax returns. In recent years it has been revealed Pritzker went to great lengths to avoid paying taxes, removing toilets from his Gold Coast mansion to skimp on his property tax bill by $331,000 and establishing shell corporations in the Bahamas in a likely attempt to avoid U.S. income taxes. The toilet ploy earned him a federal investigation.
The letter, which pushes for tax reforms that would almost exclusively benefit the wealthy, comes less than six months after Pritzker’s progressive income tax amendment was rejected by voters and is a significant departure from his previous stance on taxation. In the letter, Pritzker claims the cap hurts middle-class taxpayers and is “untenable” during these dire economic times. Because the data is clear on who directly benefits from the SALT deduction, one can only assume the governor is implying higher taxes on the wealthy also hurt Americans with lower incomes.
That is precisely the argument opponents of the “fair tax” made after the governor first unveiled his tax-the-rich scheme in 2019.
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.
Mayors in blue states are lining up with Democrats in Congress to pressure the White House into restoring a tax break that was significantly reduced by former President Trump’s tax reform.
On Wednesday, Rep. Thomas Suozzi (N.Y.) joined officials from Albany; Columbia, S.C.; Philadelphia and San Diego to call for a repeal of the rule that limits state and local tax (SALT) deductions. They are calling for President Biden’s $3 trillion infrastructure proposal to include the repeal.
“No SALT, no deal,” Suozzi said on a conference call hosted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
SALT does create distortions of its own, however. SALT was the largest itemized deduction, allowing itemizers to export a portion of their burdens onto Americans elsewhere through the federal tax code. And it is substantial. If I faced a 30% federal marginal tax rate, paying $100 more in SALT lowers my federal tax bill by $30. It only costs me $70. Further, because that subsidy rises, the more property is owned and the higher the income, the distortion overwhelmingly favors the richest, with the middle-class (who own less property, earn less, and face lower marginal tax rates) getting far smaller benefits and non-itemizers getting no subsidy at all.
If citizens do not get their money’s worth from SALT spending, federal deductibility allows state and local governments to export some of the burdens of their waste and inefficiency to others, increasing their incentives for such inefficiency. That is, state governments are subsidized. No wonder Democrat politicians in high budget-high tax states are so strident in their support.
In the example above, federal income tax deductibility means that so long as local citizens get more than 70 cents of value per dollar of spending, and they don’t recognize the added federal burdens they must bear from those similarly subsidized elsewhere, they think they gain.
That encourages those governments to do more of what they should not and what they do badly, not more of what their citizens want them to do.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Monday urged Congress to include repeal of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap in future legislation as House Democrats from the state are pushing to include such a repeal in an infrastructure package.
“Don’t pass another bill until you fully repeal SALT,” Cuomo said during a news conference.
Cuomo’s remarks came as he signed a state budget that raises state taxes for wealthy individuals and lowers taxes for the middle class.
The legislation Cuomo signed Monday raises the top state tax income rate to 10.9 percent for income above $25 million. It also continues phasing in tax cuts for middle-class households that were first enacted in 2016 and provides an income tax credit for certain homeowners with income up to $250,000.
“Taxed twice on the same income”: This is an argument sometimes brought out in favor of the state and local tax deduction, or SALT. But it doesn’t really hold water.
It’s not problematic for different taxes, funding different services, to use the same denominator. County and municipal governments often tax the same property, for instance, and local and state governments often impose sales taxes on the same transactions. In these cases, requiring one tax to be deducted before the other was calculated would just be silly, because legislators would simply increase the second tax’s rate enough to offset the loss, leaving everything back where it started.
With SALT, though, there’s no simple solution like that — federal tax rates apply across the entire nation, while state and local taxes vary from place to place. A federal deduction subsidizes places with high taxes by collecting less federal revenue from those places, while any overall rate increase will hit the whole country. Blue-state lawmakers like Nadler like SALT, and want to get rid of the cap on it, because they want that subsidy, not because it’s fair tax policy.
It’s Senate Bill 2531. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Win Stoller (R-Germantown Hills) and it has picked up additional sponsors from both parties. It would allow a small business to elect to be taxed at the entity level, instead of letting the income pass through to their personal return. The owner would then claim an offsetting credit on their state return. It passed the Senate Revenue Committee with a vote of 9-0 and now goes to the Senate floor for further consideration.
We hope and expect the bill will become law. While we support the $10,000 federal SALT cap, it’s entirely appropriate for Illinois to facilitate exceptions recognized by the IRS, just as other states are doing. At least fourteen other states have passed or are in the process of passing similar legislation. The legislation could help up to 400,000 Illinois small business owners save thousands of dollars annually on their federal tax filings, according to Stoller.