SALT Debates

Recall the SALT—State and Local Taxes—deduction, capped at $10,000 under the Trump income tax reform of a few years ago. Keep in mind the current debate among Progressive-Democrats about whether to raise the cap to $80,000, or higher, or eliminate the cap altogether. Set aside the debate centering on how much lifting the cap would aid essentially exclusively the Evil Rich vs most of those Evil Rich are heavy donors to various Progressive-Democrat politicians.

Consider instead that

some of America’s top earners—including private-equity managers and law firm partners—are already legally circumventing the cap on much of their income.
That is because state governments and the Trump administration blessed a cap workaround for owners of closely held businesses that is proliferating around the country.

That workaround is quite byzantine, too.

Here’s how it works. Normally, so-called pass-through businesses such as partnerships and S corporations don’t pay taxes themselves. Instead, they pass earnings through to their owners, who report income on individual tax returns. That subjects them to state individual income taxes—and the federal limit on deducting more than $10,000, created in the 2017 tax law.
Details vary by state, but the workaround flips that concept. The states impose taxes—often optional—on pass-through entities that are roughly equal to their owners’ state income taxes. Those taxes then get deducted before income flows to the business owners.
The laws then use tax credits or other mechanisms to absolve owners of their individual income-tax liabilities from business income. Thus, they satisfy state income-tax obligations without generating individual state income-tax deductions subject to the federal cap.

The SALT cap was well intended, if set too high at $10k. However, both the SALT and these convoluted workarounds illustrate the foolishness of using our tax code for social engineering and other political purposes instead of simply to raise revenue to cover the few Constitutionally mandated spending purposes.

One low, flat rate tax on income from all sources would simplify things immensely, with no negative impact on revenues for the government. And it would reduce the cost of compliance, with an associated reduction, however small, in end prices to consumers.

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