Don’t Tax Book Income



There are rumors that the Biden administration is thinking of a 15% minimum tax on companies with book or accounting income (“GAAP” income) of $100 million or more. This proposal tends to bubble up on the national policy agenda off and on with unfailing regularity. For example, in April 2019 Senator Elizabeth Warren raised a similar proposal in the early days of her presidential campaign and the Joint Committee on Taxation, as far back as 2006  examined Treasury’s advocacy of such a tax.  Sadly, this was tried once and was a failure. In 1986, the corporate minimum tax was amended to include an adjustment for book-tax differences, being applied from 1987 to 1989 before it was not renewed.

There are many pitfalls associated with the idea of taxing book income. For starters, companies that meet the threshold will try and minimize GAAP income to pay lower taxes. One could argue that is desirable as we often suspect that companies today inflate GAAP income to look better to their shareholders. Tying tax rates to book income would imply that earnings management, or attempts to artificially inflate GAAP earnings, will now incur a real cash outflow cost in terms of higher taxes. However, the usefulness of GAAP earnings would be severely compromised and if distorted by tax related maneuvers, will give managers and speculators even more fuel to spin narratives to justify wild valuations. One can even imagine a world where stock return volatility driven by uninformative earnings numbers might drive away uninformed investors from equity markets.

Author(s): Shivaram Rajgopal

Publication Date: 17 February 2021

Publication Site: Forbes