The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
So much has changed. Yet, when it comes to taxes, so much has not.
Republicans have taken control of Congress and now hold governorships in 31 states. The U.S. economy is finally on solid ground. And presidential hopefuls are gearing up for the 2016 election. But for all that, the top tax stories of 2015 will look a lot like the top stories of 2014, especially since so many critical tax issues were unresolved last year.
Here are some key stories to watch in 2015:
Business Taxes: Will Congress and President Obama move beyond platitudes and try to tackle business tax reform? The odds are against them: Much of 2015 will likely be taken up with contentious battles over spending and the Affordable Care Act—contests that will suck up time and trash any remaining shreds of goodwill between the two parties. Besides, while lawmakers love to talk about rate cuts, who will lead in 2015 with specific proposals to slash popular business tax breaks? And if they do, how can they avoid deep divisions within the business community over who loses preferences? Best bet: Lots of hearings. Little action.
Dynamic Scoring: Will congressional Republicans demand the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office include macroeconomic effects of tax law changes in their official budget estimates? The House has already prepared these marching orders (though they are flexible). But will it matter? Tax changes often have only modest effects on the overall economy and are unlikely to generate the sort of revenue windfall some Republicans expect.
The IRS and the Affordable Care Act: The underfunded and beleaguered IRS has the impossible task of administering the ACA’s tax-based subsidies and penalties. People who miscalculated their income and received the wrong insurance subsidies must correct the errors when they file their 2014 tax returns. Many of those who do not have any insurance will owe penalties. This promises to be a mess and yet another excuse for Congress to toss Commissioner John Koskinen on the made-for-TV grill.
International Taxes: Multinational corporations are awaiting Treasury rules aimed at curbing the practice of earnings stripping, where firms shift revenue to low-tax countries and claim expenses such as interest costs to the U.S. where deductions are most valuable. Firms are also watching to see whether the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project will result in better cooperation and less tax competition among the world’s trading partners. Watch what OECD recommends and, most importantly, whether individual nations adopt any of the changes.
Internet Taxes. One of those cans Congress kicked down the road in 2014. Lawmakers extended until October a largely symbolic ban on state taxation of Internet access and once again failed to address the separate matter of state efforts to require online sellers to collect sales taxes. With governors, including many Republicans, anxious to act on sales tax collections, the pressure will be on Congress to clarify the rules. It will be tough to do, especially since critics of the sales tax measure dub it a tax hike.
State tax cuts: Republicans now have complete control of both the legislative and executive branches in 24 states. Many GOP lawmakers campaigned on tax cuts. But faced with revenue shortfalls and already-tight budgets, how many will push rate reductions? Already, some newly elected GOP governors, including Arizona’s Doug Ducey, are backing away from bold promises of big tax cuts while some governors, such as Mississippi Republican Phil Bryant and Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton, are looking at targeted tax cuts for middle-income households.
The Highway Trust Fund: Another kicked can. This one is probably squashed at the bottom of a pothole. Congress temporarily funded road and transit construction through May, but only by relying on shameless gimmicks such as allowing employers to delay funding employee pensions. With oil prices plummeting to $50-a-barrel, it is an ideal time to raise gas taxes but it is hard to imagine a GOP-controlled Congress doing so. President Obama’s plan to pay for new infrastructure with a tax cut on repatriated foreign earnings will also get some attention. In the end, watch for another temporary funding bill.
Carbon Taxes: Speaking of low oil prices….2015 may bring increased talk about a carbon tax, perhaps as part of a deal that cuts corporate rates. Hard to imagine Congress passing such a bill this year, but the idea could generate some headlines.
Tax extenders: They are, after a resurrection of two weeks, once again expired. This is tiresome to even write about, but the best bet is Congress will once again delay action on these 50-plus tax breaks until at least next fall, when the budget wars are likely to come to a head. After that, well, don’t ever bet against another short-term extension.
Posts and comments are solely the opinion of the author and not that of the Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute, or Brookings Institution.