The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed by the House of Representatives recently is an equal opportunity tax bill.
While tax bills are rarely popular, the TCJA has something for everyone to equally dislike: liberals, conservatives and any one in between. House Speaker Paul Ryan, longtime advocate for tax reform, reserved the first bill number of the 115th Congress — HR 1 — for his pet project. The Senate version, digested over the Thanksgiving recess, is only slightly less unpleasant.
The effort for true tax reform seems to be tossed aside for a mishmash of revenue raising measures on individuals that pay for reduced corporate tax rates.
The 450-page HR 1 has dozens of sections that begin with “Repeal” and many subtitles headed with “Simplification.” As tax policy observers may note, simplification is rarely simple and repeal always means someone loses something.
There is much to digest in the proposed law, including changes in the territorial tax system, rationalization of pass-through tax entities, repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax system and another attempt to eliminate the estate tax.
However, what is relatively clear is that over $3 trillion in tax increases apply to individuals. Some of the people negatively impacted include:
Homeowners, long protected as embodiment of the American Dream, lose big time. Deductions for mortgage and home equity loan interest and property taxes are either repealed or significantly reduced. The long standing tax-free gain on sale of a personal residence is reduced and restricted.
Despite HR 1’s “Jobs Act” title, workers get blindsided as a host of tax-free or deductible employer provided benefits face repeal. Many are indirect benefits rarely seen on a paycheck: support for child care, transportation, employer provided gyms, education and training expenses, further limitations on entertainment and meals, employer provided housing, job-related moving expenses and even employee recognition gifts are all impacted.
And the deduction for direct employee paid business expenses are eliminated. The Work Opportunity Credit, an incentive to hire certain disadvantaged workers, also faces the ax.
Teachers, on top of the rest of the worker adjustments, could no longer deduct $250 in school supplies paid out of pocket.
Students not only lose the ability to deduct student loan interest but also face repeal of tax-exempt scholarships and tuition exemptions.
In the spirit of simplification, education credits are being revised with the net impact being less educational support for some families.
Parents face elimination of one of the largest tax benefits with repeal of the personal exemption. While partly offset by a higher standard deduction many families sadly lose out. Other hits to the family net income include repeal of employer supported child care and adoption assistance programs.
Retirees and the elderly face their own negative adjustments as the extra standard deduction for elderly is on the block, as are IRA Roth conversions. Medical expense deductions, a significant cost and tax benefit for aging taxpayers, also face repeal.
The list of people facing negative impact continues: disaster victims, divorcees, residents of high tax states, inventors, alternative energy supporters, restaurant owners and employees, historic preservationists, and even gamblers and lobbyists have something to dislike!
Despite lower tax rates, corporate beneficiaries may be less than enthusiastic as significant deductions and tax credits are being repealed. Pass-through company benefits are highly dependent on the size and structure of the business, particularly for families.
While the final law depends on further congressional negotiations, one thing seems certain: the “chicken in every pot” moniker may be repealed and replaced by “something for everyone to dislike!”