WASHINGTON, April 26, 2017 - President Trump is proposing to slash the tax rate for owner-operated businesses and corporations to 15 percent, a rate cut that could potentially benefit farms.
The president's plan, released only in broad outline on Wednesday, also would eliminate the estate tax.
The plan would omit the border adjustment to business taxes that House Republicans have embraced. The border adjustment, which would raise revenue to offset the impact of cutting tax rates, could increase the cost of imported products, including many farm inputs.
The president also wants to limit the capital gains tax rate at 20 percent and to shrink the number of personal income tax brackets from seven to three: 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. All personal tax deductions would be eliminated except for mortgage payments and charitable contributions.
Current individual tax rates range from 10 percent to 39.6 percent. The top capital gains rate is currently 23.8 percent, including a 3.8 percent tax that helps fund the Affordable Care Act.
“Our objective is to make U.S. businesses the most competitive in the world,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at a White House briefing. He said there also would be a one-time tax on overseas profits to encourage corporations to bring home trillions of dollars that are parked outside the United States because of the relatively high U.S. corporate tax rate, 35 percent.
Democrats quickly attacked Trump’s plan as a giveaway to the wealthy and to corporations. “This plan will be roundly rejected by taxpayers of all political stripes,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "The American people, once again, are learning that what President Trump promised in his campaign and what he’s doing are totally at odds.”
Critical details of the tax plan are still being worked out. Among the key issues for farmers is what expenses they would still be allowed to deduct. “If all expenses remain deductible, the maximum 15 percent rate will provide a tax reduction for farmers,” said Chris Hesse with the Minneapolis accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen.
There woudl be restrictions on how much farm revenue could be taxed at 15 percent. Business entities would be required to pay "reasonable compensation" to participants, and that income would be taxed at the higher personal rates.
One unanswered question is whether rental income would be treated as business income, subject to the 15 percen tax rate, rather than the higher personal tax rates. For many purposes, rental income isn't treated as business income, Hesse said. Holding farm land outside the entity might mean the rental income would be subject to the higher individual tax rates, he said.
Patricia Wolff, a tax policy specialist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said it will be important to clarify that the 15 percent rate would apply to all types of businesses. "Any tax reform proposal that fails to treat all businesses fairly will not help, and could even hurt agricultural producers," she said.
A reduction in taxes for pass-through entities that Trump is proposing would represent a major change. Most farms are organized as sole proprietorships or partnerships, and those pass-through businesses as well as subchapter S corporations are currently taxed at individual rates rather than the corporate rate.
Mnuchin said the president’s plan would seek to prevent wealthy people from avoiding taxes by structuring income to qualify the 15 percent rate on pass-through entities.
Most farmers aren't affected by the estate tax because of the existing exemption – $11 million for a couple in 2017 – but farm groups have been lobbying for years to kill it. “Since the death tax was implemented nearly a century ago it has not only failed to meet the misguided goals set by Congress, but has threatened the existence of many multi-generational farms and ranches," said Danielle Beck, director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
The House GOP plan also proposes to eliminate the tax.
“The threat of being hit by the death tax leads small-business owners and farmers in the country to waste countless hours and resources on complicated estate planning to make sure their children aren’t hit with a huge tax when they die,” said Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council.
USDA’s Economic Research Service estimated that 663 farm estates, representing 1.7 percent of total estates, would have been required to file an estate-tax return in 2016. Of those, 161 farm estates would likely have owed taxes.
Mnuchin didn’t rule out considering a revised version of the border adjustment. “We don’t think it works in its current form and we’re going to continue to have discussions with them (House Republicans) about revisions that they will consider,” Mnuchin said at an event sponsored by The Hill newspaper.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and the chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees issued a joint statement saying that Trump’s proposals would serve as “critical guideposts for Congress and the Administration as we work together to overhaul the American tax system and ensure middle-class families and job creators are better positioned for the 21st century economy. Lower rates for individuals and families will allow them to keep more of their hard-earned money and empower them to invest more in their future.”
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