Overhauling the tax code is a task Republicans in Congress have been attempting to accomplish for 30 years. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump unveiled his administration’s tax plan, called the “Unified Framework For Fixing Our Broken Tax Code.” The plan is reported to cost an upwards of $5 trillion dollars and has been described by his officials as “completely designed with the middle class in mind.”
Trump has promised he would “cut taxes tremendously for the middle class” while also promising as recently as September 14 that the wealthiest Americans “will not be gaining at all with this plan,” but the framework provided by his administration proves otherwise.
Here’s what the tax plan actually does.
Repealing the individual alternative minimum tax
The alternative minimum tax (AMT) will be eliminated under Trump’s tax plan. The AMT, which was created to ensure that wealthy taxpayers pay their fair share and don’t take advantage of all the deductions in the current tax code, is the only reason Trump paid significant taxes in his leaked tax return from 2005. In 2005, he paid a total tax rate of about 24 percent on $150 million of income; without the AMT, he would have paid less than 4 percent.
Since it was enacted, the AMT has gone under several iterations and now affects roughly over 4 million taxpayers, mainly those who earn $250,000 in adjusted gross income. Tax policy experts have concerns that repealing it would result in a federal budget shortfall.
Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders have also proposed to eliminate the AMT, but replacing it with a flat tax on the wealthy of around 28 percent.
Repealing the tax deduction for state and local taxes
This is the tax measure that will cause the biggest trouble for state lawmakers. The Trump tax plan includes repealing itemized deductions for state and local taxes as a way to help pay for the massive tax cuts provided to individuals and corporations.
This is good news for Republicans, as the state and local tax deduction (SALT) is most valuable in blue states like New York and New Jersey, but bad news for tax payers in those states. Rep. Pete King (R-NY) a Trump loyalist, has said he can’t vote for any bill that repeals the SALT. In New Jersey, losing the break would cost taxpayers an upwards of $3,500, and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) told Bloomberg he has the “gravest reservations” on voting for a bill that includes a repeal of the SALT.
There are 52 Republicans from districts in blue states that use the state tax deduction disproportionately, just enough to stop any legislation in the House that repeals the state and local tax deduction.
Eliminating the estate tax
Trump’s tax plan includes a tax reform measure many Republicans have wanted to repeal for a long time: the estate tax. It’s a 40 percent levy on assets that exceed the $5.49 million exemption per person and $10.98 million for a married couple. This measure is only really utilized by the country’s wealthiest tax payers, affecting less than half of a percent of all estates today, according to IRS figures. This is another tax break to the wealthiest Americans.
Slashing corporate tax rates
Some good news for Trump’s friends in the business world: the corporate tax rate will be lowered nearly 15 points, from 35 percent to 20 percent. When Trump was on the campaign trail, however, he repeatedly promised a 15 percent tax rate, which many experts saw as nearly impossible.
The plan also includes a special income tax rate for “pass-through” businesses, which include partnerships and LLCs. These businesses don’t pay the corporate rate, rather their owners pay taxes on their share of the profits from the business at their own personal rate, which now will be lowered to 35 percent under the Trump plan. There’s a provision in the Trump plan that would cap the rate on income from pass-through businesses at 25 percent.
The Trump Organization, which still has ownership of, owns more than 500 pass through business entities. This loophole would slash the tax rate on the profits from these businesses by more than a third.
Raising the bottom tax rate and cutting the top rate (while doubling standard deductions)
Republicans have agreed on raising the bottom tax rate two percentage points to 12 percent in order to offset a huge tax cut for the top individual tax rate, down nearly five points to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. However many tax experts say this doesn’t come anywhere near close enough to paying for those massive tax cuts for wealthier individuals.
By raising the bottom rate to 12 percent, the plan consolidates the seven current tax brackets into just three, set at 12 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent, with the option of including a fourth tax bracket should the tax writing committees in Congress deem it necessary to include one, but the plan doesn’t detail at what income levels these individual brackets will be set at, also leaving that up to congressional committees.
Trump’s tax plan also proposes doubling the standard deduction, which is generally good for lower to middle income families, but when paired with other tax measures, like the elimination of the personal exemption, can end up actually raising taxes on middle-income families.
Eliminating personal exemptions
The personal exemption, currently at $4,050, will be eliminated under the White House’s tax plan. Bloomberg estimates that a middle-class couple with three kids would actually have to add $20,250 to their taxable income to make up for this. That amounts to nearly double the “benefit” they would receive by a doubled standard deduction. It’s again hard to determine the exact impact on a particular family because the plan lacks critical details.
The White House plan also proposes an increased child tax credit of over $1,000 dollars while also creating a $500 dollar tax credit for tax payers with non-child dependents, which they hope will offset the elimination of the personal exemption. However, because the White House didn’t provide at what income level the three individual tax brackets will be set at, middle-income families will just have to take the administration’s word for it and depend on the work of the tax writing committees.