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Winners and losers from a tax proposal  

The proposal would expand a tax deduction for manufacturers, and create a permanent tax credit for corporate spending on research and development. It also would create an even more tightly targeted tax credit for the production of renewable electricity.

Credit:  By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com 22 February 2012 ~~

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration, seeking to promote domestic manufacturing without increasing the federal deficit, proposed Wednesday to offset new tax breaks for manufacturers by raising taxes on a wide range of other companies.

Some of the prospective losers are familiar targets, including oil and gas companies, private equity firms and companies that move jobs overseas.

The proposal would also roll back provisions that benefit a range of other companies, including Menards, the Midwestern home improvement chain; Brown-Forman, which distills Jack Daniel’s; and Duke Energy, of North Carolina.

Some manufacturing firms could face higher taxes, too, because they are major beneficiaries of those same provisions. Over all, the plan seeks to reduce the share of profits manufacturers pay in federal taxes from an average of 26 percent in 2007 and 2008 to a maximum of 25 percent.

The White House provided few details on Wednesday, and most concerned the proposed reductions rather than the offsetting increases, thwarting detailed analysis. The administration introduced its overhauls of financial regulation and health care in the same way. But the high-concept approach also reflects that Wednesday’s announcement was a campaign event. There is little chance that a divided Congress, its attention focused on November, will overhaul the corporate tax code this year.

“It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America,” Mr. Obama said in a statement announcing the plan.

Republicans agreed with the goal, but not the particulars. “Instead of a campaign document, and one that isn’t a credible plan of action, American workers need and deserve leadership from the White House for a tax code that will encourage economic growth and job creation,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is the party’s senior statesman on tax issues.

The headline goal of the proposal is to cut the highest official tax rate for all corporations to 28 percent from 35 percent – without reducing federal revenue. A wide range of economists, and policy makers in both parties, say such a change would distribute the burden of taxation more fairly and reduce the warping influence of the tax code on investment decisions. The government estimates that companies spend $40 billion each year figuring out how much they owe in taxes, and considerably more figuring out how to reduce that number.

Among the options outlined by the White House in a 25-page paper: taxing large businesses that currently avoid paying any taxes by organizing as partnerships.

The government has long allowed businesses to organize as partnerships, which avoid corporate income taxes by “passing through” the profits to the partners. But what began as a shelter for small businesses, the so-called subchapter S partnerships, has increasingly attracted very large ones, including Menards, the mutual fund giant Fidelity and the huge engineering firm Bechtel. About 69 percent of domestic companies were organized as partnerships in 2008, according to the latest Internal Revenue Service data, and they distributed about $1 trillion in income to their partners.

Another big idea: changing a tax break widely used by oil companies, but also by car dealerships, supermarkets and distillers, including Brown-Forman. The provision lets firms calculate profits based on their current costs, rather than the prices they actually paid in the past. This is particularly valuable for companies that make things slowly.

The top corporate tax rate of 35 percent is a theoretical marker. Corporations actually paid an average of 26 percent of income in federal taxes in 2007 and 2008, according to the Treasury Department, thanks to a wide range of deductions, subsidies and loopholes. As a result, some large companies pay little or nothing while others pay much more.

The Treasury estimated that utilities paid 14 percent of income in taxes in 2007 and 2008, while construction firms paid 31 percent.

The administration’s proposal is not aimed at shifting the overall average significantly; rather, the goal is to cluster companies closer to the midpoint.

“Because many of these subsidies flow to certain industries and not others, they are fundamentally unfair,” the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, said. “Right now, companies in some industries pay two or three times the effective tax rates as companies in other industries.”

But there is a significant and countervailing exception: the White House wants to create several new loopholes and subsidies for manufacturing companies, with the explicit goal of ensuring they pay less in taxes than other kinds of companies.

The proposal would expand a tax deduction for manufacturers, and create a permanent tax credit for corporate spending on research and development. It also would create an even more tightly targeted tax credit for the production of renewable electricity.

“My guys are totally freaked out by manufacturing getting a different tax rate than we do,” said Jade West, senior vice president for government relations at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. “They’re not more important in the economy than retail or distribution or anything else.”

It’s not even clear how many manufacturers would benefit. One crucial reason: The proposals benefit companies that make things in America, but penalize American companies that make things in other countries.

Also, a number of experts said the absence of details made it impossible to assess which companies would ultimately bear the cost of the plan.

That is regrettable but also perfectly understandable, said Martin A. Sullivan, a former Treasury economist now a contributing editor of Tax Analysts, a trade publication. “Why get specific and get your head blown off,” he said, referring to the inevitable objections by those companies, “especially when it’s not going to become law anyway?”

Source:  By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com 22 February 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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