Cutting Corporate Tax Rates: Another View

On Nov. 2, TaxVox reported on a new Joint Committee on Taxation study on whether it is possible to reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent by eliminating business tax preferences. In response, we heard from George Callas,  staff director of the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, who has a very different view of the study. George has graciously given us permission to post his comments. Here they are:

In his November 2 blog entry, Howard Gleckman  repeated a grossly inaccurate claim being made by the Ways and Means Democrats as if it was true and undisputed.  With respect to the JCT analysis on eliminating corporate tax expenditures, he said on the TaxVox blog: “The non-partisan JCT found that even if Congress scrubbed every single corporate preference from the code (a political fantasy if ever there was one) it could not get the corporate rate below 28 percent without adding to the budget deficit, raising taxes on individuals, or cutting spending.”

This is patently false, as anyone who bothers to look at the JCT analysis should see right away.  There are exactly 90 tax expenditures in the JCT table for which the revenue estimate is “Presently Unavailable,” and these 90 provisions are not counted towards getting the rate down to 28%.  Clearly, once the JCT estimates the revenue effects from eliminating these 90 provisions, the revenue neutral rate will be somewhat less than 28%.  For Gleckman to misrepresent the JCT analysis by claiming that “every single corporate preference” has been “scrubbed” is, frankly, stunning.

And these 90 provisions do not even include various tax preferences that do not show up on the official JCT tables.  For instance, the tables generally do not include the class lives of particular types of depreciable property.  The fact that corporate jets are depreciated over 5 years instead of 7 years (like commercial jets) does not show up anywhere in the JCT
numbers.  The games that are played to generate excess interest deductions through sophisticated financial products that are treated as equity for regulatory purposes, but debt for tax purposes, do not show up as “tax expenditures.”  And those examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  When combined with the 90 provisions that JCT does identify but hasn’t scored yet, it is pretty clear that getting to a 25% corporate rate is mathematically easy (if politically difficult).  That is what the Ways and Means Democrats inadvertently proved, even though Mr. Gleckman simply repeated their false claims apparently without trying to verify those claims himself.