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Posts Tagged ‘Tax Loophole’

Every so often, I share very weird stories about government regulations, from both America and around the world. And when I say weird, I’m not exaggerating.

But we also have some strange examples of tax loopholes.

I’m not talking about corporate jets, which should be characterized as a business expense.

Instead, I’m referring to bizarre examples of income that is arbitrarily exempt from tax.

The weirdest example in the United States is from Nevada (probably because politicians have a conflict of interest).

Today I want to write about a new tax loophole in Poland.

Polish lawmakers have approved a measure that would exonerate most workers under the age of 26 from income taxes… The bill would exonerate workers under the age of 26 from Poland’s 18 percent personal income tax for those whose gross earnings don’t surpass 85,500 zlotys (20,000 euros, $22,500) per year. That level is higher than Poland’s average income… Some two million people could benefit from the measure.

So what’s motivating this example of age-based tax discrimination?

Poland has long been haemorrhaging skilled workers to other EU states where they can find better paying jobs, posing both a long-term demographic risk and short-term problem finding enough labourers to continue the country’s streak of economic growth since the fall of communism in 1989.

I certainly agree that Poland faces a demographic challenge (along with other nations in Eastern Europe), both because of emigration and low birth rates.

And I also agree that Poland’s economy has been relatively successful since escaping the evil of communism.

But I’m not very confident that this policy is the right recipe for continued prosperity.

  • First, I don’t like discrimination in the tax code, whether based on the source of income, the use of income, the level of income, or – in this case – the age at which income is earned.
  • Second, this policy doesn’t affect social insurance taxes and value-added taxes, which are actually the biggest burden for ordinary workers in many Eastern European nations.
  • Third, unless Poland’s government imposes some spending discipline, a tax preference for young people may lead to higher taxes on other groups, thus offsetting any economic benefit.

To be sure, I’m glad Poland is addressing the issue by lowering taxes rather than by creating new programs and subsidies, as we’ve seen in some other European nations.

I’m simply not expecting big results.

P.S. You can click here to peruse other oddball examples of international tax policy.

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If you’re a libertarian or a small-government conservative, it’s quite likely you believe both these statements.

  1. Instead of picking winners and losers with special preferences and penalties, the tax code should be simple and fair, treating all economic activity similarly.
  2. Anything that reduces revenue to government is a good thing, and it’s especially good if the net result is to improve public safety by expanding gun ownership.

But what happens if these two statements are in conflict?

This isn’t a hypothetical question. As reported by Politico, there’s legislation in Louisiana to have a special three-day “tax holiday” on purchases of selected products, including guns and ammo.

Louisiana’s state legislature decided Tuesday to eliminate a tax holiday for hurricane equipment and school supplies, but keep one for guns and other hunting tools. In a 7-2 vote, the Louisiana Senate’s Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs decided that for a three-day weekend at the beginning of September the state would eliminate its sales tax on firearms, ammunition, knives and ATVs. …Ultimately, three Democrats voted with four of their Republican colleagues to keep the tax holiday for hunting while eliminating the other two.

Is this a good idea?

I’m conflicted. As a fan of the flat tax, I obviously don’t want government to micro-manage the economy with back-door industrial policy in the tax code. And I’ve also written that tax holidays are a less-than-ideal way of reducing taxes. So this suggests that I’m against the Louisiana proposal.

But on the other hand, I’m an advocate of “starve the beast,” which means I support policies that will shrink the amount of revenue controlled by politicians. And I also strongly support the Second Amendment and want safer communities, so I like the idea of expanded gun ownership.

So how would I have vote if (Heaven forbid!) I was a Louisiana legislator?

I guess I would vote yes. Based on the limited information in the article, the proposal is a pure tax cut. So while I don’t like loopholes, I’ve also stated that I only want to eliminate such preferences if all the revenue was used to lower tax rates.

So the bottom line is that I would oppose the policy if the holiday was financed by an increase in the overall sales tax rate (similarly, I would support getting rid of the holiday as part of a proposal to lower the overall sales tax rate). But since such tradeoffs don’t apply, I would grudgingly offer my support (especially since I know the plan would offend anti-gun statists such as Michael Bloomberg).

P.S. We’ll add this post to my collection of libertarian quandaries.

P.P.S. Since we have a gun-related topic, I can’t resist sharing this example of pro-Second Amendment propaganda.

By the way, if you disagree with the message in this image, please take this IQ test for criminals and liberals and reconsider your views.

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For both political and policy reasons, the left is desperately trying to maneuver Republicans into going along with a tax increase. And they are smart to make this their top goal. After all, it will be very difficult – if not impossible – to increase the burden of government spending without more revenue coming to Washington.

But how to make this happen? President Obama is mostly arguing in favor of class-warfare tax increases, but that’s a non-serious gambit driven by 2012 political considerations. Moreover, there’s presumably zero chance that Republicans would surrender to higher tax rates on work, saving, and investment.

The real threat is back-door hikes resulting from the elimination and/or reduction of so-called tax breaks. The big spenders on the left are being very clever about this effort, appealing to anti-spending and pro-tax reform sentiments by arguing that it is important to get rid of “tax expenditures” and “spending in the tax code.”

I recently warned, however, that GOPers shouldn’t fall for this sophistry, noting that “If legislation is enacted that results in more money coming into Washington, that is a tax increase.” I also explained that tax breaks are not spending, stating that “When politicians tax (or borrow) money from one person and give it to another, that’s government spending. But if politicians allow a person keep more of their own money, that’s a tax cut.”

To be sure, the tax code is riddled with inefficient and corrupt loopholes. But those provisions should be eliminated as part of fundamental tax reform, such as a flat tax. More specifically, every penny of revenue generated by shutting down tax preferences should be used to lower tax rates. This is a win-win situation that would make America more prosperous and competitive.

It’s also important to understand what’s a loophole and what isn’t. Ideally, you determine special tax breaks by first deciding on the right benchmark and then measuring how the current tax system deviates from that ideal. That presumably means all income should be taxed, but only one time.

So what can we say about the internal revenue code using this neutral benchmark? Well, there are lots of genuine loopholes. The government completely exempts compensation in the form of employer-provided health insurance, for instance, and everyone agrees that’s a special tax break. There’s also the standard deduction and personal exemptions, but most people think it’s appropriate to protect poor people from the income tax (though perhaps we’ve gone too far in that direction since only 49 percent of households now pay income tax).

Sometimes the tax code goes overboard in the other direction, however, subjecting some income to double taxation. Indeed, because of the capital gains tax, corporate income tax, personal income tax, and death tax, it’s possible for some types of income to be taxed as many of three or four times.

Double taxation is a special tax penalty, which is the opposite of a special tax break. The good news is that there are some provisions in the tax code, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, that reduce these tax penalties.

The bad news is that these provisions get added to “tax expenditure” lists, and therefore get mixed up with the provisions that provide special tax breaks. This may sound too strange to be true, but here’s a list of the biggest so-called tax expenditures from the Tax Policy Center (which is a left-leaning organization, but their numbers are basically the same as the ones found at the Joint Committee on Taxation).

Since this post already is too long, I’ll close by simply noting that items 2, 4, 7, 8, 11, and 12 are not loopholes. They are not “tax expenditures.” And they are not “spending in the tax code.” Every one of those provisions is designed to mitigate a penalty in the tax code.

So even if lawmakers have good motives (i.e., pursuing real tax reform such as the flat tax) when looking to get rid of special tax breaks, they need to understand what’s actually a loophole.

But since politicians rarely have good motives, there’s a real threat that they will take existing tax penalties and make them even worse. That’s another reason why tax increases should be a non-starter.

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