What’s at Stake
We are in the midst of yet another great American discussion about taxation. Perhaps no policy area has become more sensitive or controversial. At stake are two vital concerns for the American future: How will we generate sufficient revenue to balance our budget without discouraging economic activity, and will the burden of taxation fall equitably on all Americans?
Tax policy shapes almost everything individuals and enterprises do as they participate in the economy. With bad design, tax policy can discourage economic activity. With good design, it can encourage it. Yet our current tax system is an accretion of decades of patchwork decisions that came into being with no systematic thought for their implications for job creation or economic growth. Every year, individual taxpayers are forced to confront a Rube Goldberg contraption of bewildering complexity that leads to a range of undesirable outcomes, including the fact that millions of Americans have to pay hundreds of dollars to have their tax returns prepared by a professional who understands the rules. Corporations, for their part, are subject to rules and regulations that all too often encourage tax gamesmanship while discouraging reinvestment in the American economy.
In approaching the nation’s fiscal challenges, President Obama has repeatedly called for a “balanced approach,” by which he means cutting spending but also raising taxes. That may sound appealing on the surface. However, the reality is that before President Obama exploded the size of the federal government, our existing tax rates were more or less adequate to pay for the government we needed. President Obama claims now to be offering a compromise. In fact, by undoing only some of the harm he has inflicted on our fiscal health over the past three years, he would ratchet up permanently the size of government and the tax burden on the American people.
President Obama’s proclivity for fostering uncertainty about the long-term shape of the tax code is particularly troublesome. He has embraced one temporary solution after the next while rejecting permanent adjustments that would bring some predictability and stability to investment decision-making. The result is a business climate marked by hesitation. When President Obama complains about banks refusing to lend and businesses refusing to hire, he should consider the impact of his own policies on that state of affairs.
No discussion of President Obama’s tax policies would be complete without a reference to Obamacare and its $500 billion in tax increases. Whenever President Obama discusses the need for more tax revenues, Americans should remember that he already got them and spent them on a health care scheme that is itself proving to be hugely disruptive to the economy.
Mitt Romney will push for a fundamental redesign of our tax system. He recognizes that we need to simplify the system. He also recognizes that we need both to lower rates and to broaden the tax base so that taxation becomes an instrument for promoting economic growth. We also need to find a way to keep the tax structure stable so that investors and entrepreneurs are not confronted with a constantly shifting set of rules that makes it impossible for them to plan ahead.
Mitt Romney believes in the conservative principle that Americans, to the maximum extent possible, should be able to keep the money they earn. Unfortunately, as Benjamin Franklin wrote, there are only two things that are unavoidable: death and taxes. We need taxes to pay for the operations of government. But they should be collected by a system that is simple and fair, and that causes the least possible disruption to the productive economy.
- Maintain current tax rates on personal income
- Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains
- Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains
- Eliminate the death tax
- Pursue a conservative overhaul of the tax system over the long term that includes lower, flatter rates on a broader base
Our system of corporate taxation is also in urgent need of an overhaul. Right now, with a top marginal rate of 35 percent, it vies for the developed world’s highest, placing our companies—indeed, our entire country—at a competitive disadvantage. That is the bad news. The good news is that with the rate set so high, there is a lot of room to bring it down.
- Reduce corporate income tax rate to 25 percent
- Pursue transition from “worldwide” to “territorial” system for corporate taxatio