What Might Fundamental Tax Reform Look Like?

 

All four of the major presidential candidates have tax plans. Hillary Clinton would make small tweaks in our current tax system.  Bernie Sanders would raise current taxes substantially.  Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz would both radically reduce the size of the federal income tax but would also greatly add to the national debt over the next ten years.
I have been trying to make the case on this blog that fundamental tax reform is the best thing we can do to get the economy growing faster in order to create more and better paying jobs.  I have also discussed a specific way to accomplish fundamental reform, namely the so-called Competitive Tax Plan proposed by the tax law expert, Michael Graetz.  It is a progressive consumption tax, a so-called Value Added Tax.
Capture2As reviewed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal by Reihan Salam, the editor of the National Review, the Graetz Plan has these features:

  • A broad-based VAT of about 14% on goods and services.
  • Families earning less than $100,000 per year are exempt from the income tax. The tax rate would be 15% for incomes between $100,000 and $250,000 and 25% above this level.
  • The payroll tax (supporting Social Security and Medicare) would be greatly reduced for all workers earning less than $40,000 per year.
  • The corporate tax rate would be lowered to 15%, making it among the lowest in the world.
  • The Graetz Plan is revenue neutral as verified by the Tax Policy Center.

Think of the incredible advantages of such a tax plan. Of the expected 145 million tax returns for this year, 120 million would no longer be necessary.  Extravagant deductions such as for mortgage interest would have much less political support. The low corporate tax rate would bring jobs back to the U.S. instead of sending them overseas.  The rampant cronyism involved in tax breaks being handed out by Congress would be greatly reduced.
What is not to like about the Graetz Plan?

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We Need Fundamental Tax Reform!

 

Most Americans would agree that our tax code is a mess and needs major reform.  The last reform was in 1986 when the top rate was reduced from 50% to 28% and many deductions were eliminated.  However this reform effort turned out to be short lived in the sense that many of these deductions have now been added back in.  The Romney plan of 2012, cutting all tax rates by 20% in a revenue neutral way, would have been an improvement over our current system.  But, it’s gains would likely also have been only short-lived.
CaptureConsumption taxes are now being used in many parts of the world and, in recent years, the idea of a national sales tax has gained popularity in the U.S.  The so-called Fair Tax would impose a single 30% tax on all sales at the retail level.  The proponents claim that this would raise enough income to replace all federal taxes: the individual income tax, the corporate income tax, the payroll tax and the estate tax.
The tax attorney, Michael Graetz, has evidence that a 34% tax rate would be necessary to replace just the individual and corporate income taxes alone.  This is a large discrepancy.  Regardless, a major argument against the Fair Tax is that such a high single tax of 30% or higher would create a compliance problem because of the incentive for people to try to avoid paying it.
Mr. Graetz has proposed a hybrid consumption and income tax, which he calls the Competitive Tax Plan, as a more reasonable but still fundamental change to our current tax system.  Although I have discussed this proposal previously, I will summarize it again here:

  • A broad-based Value Added Tax of about 14% is enacted on goods and services.
  • Families earning less than $100,000 per year are exempted from the income tax. The tax rate would be 15% for incomes between $100,000 and $250,000, and 25% above this level.
  • The corporate income tax rate is lowered to 15%.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit is retained and used to provide relief from the Payroll Tax for low-income families.
  • The plan is designed to be revenue neutral as verified by the Tax Policy Center.

There are many advantages of the Graetz Plan over our current system.  100 million returns, for all those with incomes under $100,000, would be eliminated.  This would, in turn, make it less politically expedient for Congress to constantly add new exemptions and preferences into the code.  Lower income tax rates for both individuals and corporations would give the economy a big boost.
The Competitive Tax Plan is an example of the type of bold, fundamental reform that we need to make to our federal tax system.