Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has released details of his tax reform plan, calling it a simple way to provide tax relief for the middle class and grow the economy without adding to an already very high deficit.
The plan proposes the elimination of taxes on an estimated 75 million households. If you are single and earn less than $25,000, or married and jointly earn less than $50,000, you would not owe any income tax.
“They get a new one page form to send the IRS saying, 'I win,' those who would otherwise owe income taxes will save an average of nearly $1,000 each,” Trump said on his website.
Just four tax brackets
The plan would reduce the current seven tax brackets to four – 0%, 10%, 20% and 25%. It would eliminate the marriage penalty, estate tax, and the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) while providing the lowest tax rate since before World War II.
There are also tax breaks for businesses. Under the plan, no business of any size would pay more than 15% of its income in taxes. The Trump plan counts on this provision to lure home trillions of business dollars parked off shore.
So far it sounds like a lot less money coming into the government, which is already in the red at record levels. But Trump says his plan doesn't add to the deficit because it reduces or eliminates most tax deductions and loopholes available to upper income taxpayers.
It also counts on that overseas business cash coming home, taking advantage of a one-time, significantly discounted 10% tax rate.
But it isn't clear how much tax revenue eliminating deductions would produce. It turns out that not all deductions would be phased out.
Under the plan, taxpayers within the 10% bracket would keep all or most of their current deductions. Those within the 20% bracket would keep more than half of their current deductions. Those within the 25% bracket would keep fewer deductions. Charitable giving and mortgage interest deductions would remain unchanged for all taxpayers.
Crunching the numbers
Does it all add up? Economists and policy groups are going over the details now to try to reach that conclusion. Already there are a lot of opinions.
Without seeing all the details, private economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, says it's hard to see how the plan could be anything but a major budget-buster.
"The problem is not that firms are not making enough money, corporate profits are strong," Naroff told ConsumerAffairs. "The problem is consumers are not spending because their incomes are not rising. But, it's a great political piece."
The non-partisan Tax Foundation is now going over the numbers, but at first glance, foundation economist Kyle Pomerleau told Fox News “it's hard to see how the plan would reach revenue neutrality.”
New York Times political blogger Josh Barro's initial take is that the Trump plan benefits the rich, including hedge fund managers, who Trump has said don't pay enough these days. Barro also contends the plan, if implemented, would grow the budget deficit by trillions of dollars over ten years.
The problem facing political candidates is the fact that the U.S. government isn't collecting anywhere close to the money it needs to pay its bills, so reducing anyone's taxes is difficult. The national debt is more than $17 trillion and rising at an average of $1 trillion a year.
Reducing anyone's taxes means increasing the revenue from another source. Reducing government spending in a meaningful way is almost impossible without restructuring entitlements, something neither party has been willing to approach.