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Tax policy is among the most basic tools of any government to accomplish its objectives. From the private sector perspective, taxes are one of largest expenses of any business. But despite being such an important topic for government and business, there is widespread agreement that the U.S. federal tax code is a mess. Most observers agree it does not strike the right balance between ensuring fairness and simplicity, raising needed revenues, and spurring economic growth.
Now, with the new political line-up in Washington, D.C., the prospect of sweeping tax reform is back at the center of political debate, and it’s crucial that policymakers strike a better balance.
It has been 30 years since there has been a comprehensive overhaul of the federal tax code.
Today, the U.S. has the third-highest corporate income tax burden in the world at 39%. Many nations in the Americas, Asia, and even Europe have much lighter tax burdens, putting the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. And because the tax code is filled with special provisions to lower taxes for various favored groups, the overall tax rate must be higher to compensate for this imbalance.
President-elect Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have all said they want to enact a sweeping tax reform package that cuts the overall tax burden for individuals and businesses. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), says House Republicans are ready to move a bill in 2017.
Donald Trump’s campaign tax plan proposed lowering the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 15%, eliminating most business tax credits except the R&D credit, and allowing accelerated write-offs for capital investments. Chairman Brady’s plan is similar in that it would lower the corporate rate to 20% and shift to a territorial system under which revenues earned abroad would not be double-taxed in both the United States and the country of origin.
Meanwhile, it has been a year since Congress enacted, and President Obama signed, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act in December 2015.
IPC and many other business groups fought hard for the PATH Act, which provided for long-term extensions of more than 50 tax provisions that were previously renewed—or not—on an annual basis. Among those provisions were a permanent extension of the R&D tax credit and the extension of bonus depreciation. Both were significant victories for companies that rely heavily on R&D to stay competitive in the global economy, which includes nearly all IPC member companies.
IPC continues to advocate for a stronger R&D tax credit by supporting H.R. 5187, the Research and Experimentation Advances Competitiveness at Home (REACH) Act of 2016, introduced by Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), which would increase the alternative simplified credit (ASC) from 14% to 20%. Although the PATH Act made the R&D tax credit permanent, the ASC was kept at the 14% rate. Most IPC members utilize the ASC, which is an alternative method used to compute tax credits for R&D.
An interesting aspect of the tax reform debate is that the PATH Act improved the budget baseline by raising more than $500 billion, which should make it easier for Congress to lower tax rates this time around. However, the lower rates could come at the expense of eliminating many of the special provisions that impact various industries. During a time when the United States is working so hard to bring back and retain manufacturing jobs, one idea that IPC is exploring is a lower tax rate for advanced manufacturing that is done in the United States.
Even if the momentum for tax reform continues to build, there will be many hurdles to cross: competing proposals, hearings, committee markups of draft legislation, committee votes, floor votes, and a possible House-Senate conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers’ approaches.
IPC will lead efforts on tax reform specific to our industry as well as work in collaboration with other industry associations to advocate for the best possible balance among all the competing priorities. Tax policy will be among the priority topics of IMPACT Washington, DC 2017—our annual executive-level advocacy event—coming up on May 1–3, 2017. But with one-party control of the Congress and the White House, we are cautiously optimistic that policymakers will complete the process and for the first time in decades, the United States will revamp its tax code to be more competitive in the global economy.
Stay tuned! PCB
- How U.S. Corporate Tax Rate Compares to the Rest of the World
- A Better Way Tax Snapshot
- IMPACT Washington DC 2017
John Hasselmann is IPC’s VP of Government Relations. To contact him, click here.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of The PCB Magazine.