‘Twas the night before tax reform

Posted by Evan Piccirillo, CPA

As you may have read in the news, or heard from your coworker or surly uncle, the wheels of legislation are grinding forward on real and transformative tax reform in our country; it is difficult to avoid talking about it and having an opinion (informed or not). The House put together a bill. The Senate put together a similar bill (which is a sign that they agree on many of the issues at hand). The House revised their bill and now plans to put it to a vote on the floor… this Thursday!

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All this talk of “winners and losers” and “is this is a middle-class tax cut or not” is dizzying. Eleven months ago, tax reform was destined to be a slam-dunk, with the Republicans controlling the Presidency and majorities in the House and Senate. Fast-forward to November 2017 and things aren’t nearly as certain. The failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and a series of gaffes and in-fighting among visible members of the GOP have blown tax reform off course.

On the other hand, passing the budget with the allowance for a decrease of $1.5 trillion in revenue over the next ten years was a critical step to the potential realization of tax reform. This was accomplished just recently by a narrow margin.

Passing the bill faces many hurdles. One such point of contention is the issue of the State and Local Tax (SaLT) deduction limitations and eliminations that are proposed therein. The SaLT deduction allows taxpayers to reduce federal taxable income by taxes paid to state and local governments. For obvious reasons, this deduction is very popular in high-tax states (such as NY, CA, NJ, etc.). The proposed bills eliminate income tax deductions and either eliminate or limit the real estate tax deduction. This is a sticking point for taxpayers in those states, and therefore their elected officials. Assuming either the limitation on the deduction is increased or some other compromise is reached to satisfy Republican representatives from those states enough to vote in favor and the bill will still operate in the confines of a $1.5 trillion decrease in revenue, this hurdle can be cleared.

However, the longevity of tax reform is still at stake.

The Senate will most likely try to pass the bill through reconciliation, which is a back-door way to enact legislation. Reconciliation allows a bill to be passed without minority support (the Democrats), provided that the legislation not add to the debt after a period of ten years. This means that some parts of the bill will necessarily have a limited lifespan or tax hikes in the future.

The President hopes to have the bill on his desk and ready for his signature in late December, just in time for Christmas. It is a near certainty that any kind of legislation that reaches his desk will be passed for the mere fact that the administration is thirsty for a “win.” Whether tax reform for you is a shiny gift or a lump of coal is still difficult to determine. We will have to see the bill in its final version to be certain.