INCREASING REVENUE TO CUT THE DEFICIT

ABSTRACT: Increased revenue needs to be part of the effort to reduce the federal government’s budget deficit. Two revenue sources that are not included in the austerity package are closing corporate tax loopholes and enacting a financial transactions tax. They could eliminate over half the deficit with little negative impact on the economy.

 The highest profile revenue issue in the austerity package is the personal income tax. Given that the 2001 – 2003 tax cuts on earned and unearned income were significant contributors to creating the deficit, reversing them for high income individuals would seem appropriate. Maintaining the Bush tax cuts on high incomes would cost up to $160 billion per year in lost revenue. Alternatively, using these funds on high impact spending will reduce the deficit over the long-term while strengthening the economy and creating jobs in the short-term.

FULL POST: Increased revenue needs to be part of the effort to reduce the federal government’s budget deficit. However, the increased or new taxes that produce the revenue should not be so large or so quickly implemented that they put the economy back into recession. Here’s a look at the revenue increases that are part of the current austerity package (aka the “fiscal cliff”), some of the negotiations that have occurred on them, and some alternatives that are not included in the package.

First, two revenue sources that are not included in the austerity package are closing corporate tax loopholes and enacting a financial transactions tax (as 10 European countries are doing). These could provide $250 billion and $350 – $500 billion annually, respectively, in new revenue, and eliminate over half the deficit with little negative impact on the economy. (See my post of 9/29/12 for more detail.) An alternative minimum tax for highly profitable corporations that would ensure that they pay a minimum tax rate – similar to the Buffet Tax proposal for high income individuals – would seem quite reasonable. Roughly a quarter of our large and profitable corporations pay NO federal income tax despite multi-billion dollar annual profits. (See my post of 11/5/11 for more detail.) Google, for example, avoided paying $2 billion in taxes in 2011 by funneling profits to overseas shell companies. [1]

The highest profile revenue issue in the austerity package is the personal income tax. The tax cuts enacted by President Bush in 2001 and 2003 are scheduled to expire. President Obama originally proposed letting the cuts expire on income over $250,000 per year, but keeping the cuts on income under that amount. The Republicans proposed a $1 million cut off and Obama has countered with a $400,000 cut off. As the cut off gets higher, the amount of revenue (and deficit reduction) is reduced. The difference between a $250,000 and a $400,000 cut off is estimated to be $40 billion per year in revenue (i.e., $160 billion versus $120 billion in increased revenue).

Expiration means the tax rate on upper incomes would increase from the current 35% to 39.6%, the rate that was in place in the late 1990s. (Note that for an individual with $20 million in taxable income, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 – 2003 have put roughly $1 million in their pockets each year for the last 10 years.) In addition, increasing the tax rate on unearned income – capital gains, dividends, and interest – back to 1990s rates is another hot topic. Given that the 2001 – 2003 tax cuts on earned and unearned income were significant contributors to creating the deficit, reversing them for high income individuals would seem appropriate.

The bottom line is that maintaining the Bush tax cuts on high incomes would cost up to $160 billion per year in lost revenue. Alternatively, using these funds on high impact spending, such as infrastructure investments or unemployment benefits, would generate an estimated net gain of 1.2 million to 1.5 million jobs and add 1.0% to 1.5% to economic growth. The growth in jobs and the economy will, in and of itself, reduce the deficit because taxes and revenue grow when the economy grows. Therefore, this approach will reduce the deficit over the long-term while strengthening the economy and creating jobs in the short-term. The only revenue increase in the austerity package that has a greater positive effect on jobs and the economy than letting the tax cuts on high incomes expire is terminating the cuts in the estate and gift taxes. [2]

In my next post, I’ll review the arguments against raising tax rates on high income individuals. In subsequent posts, I’ll take a look at cutting the deficit through spending cuts, the spending cuts in the austerity package, and alternatives to them.


[1]       Brown, C., 12/13/12, “Google on ‘immoral’ tax evasion: ‘It’s capitalism’,” Common Dreams

[2]       Bivens, J., & Fieldhouse, A., 9/18/12, “A fiscal obstacle course, not a cliff,” Economic Policy Institute

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