Rep. Devin Nunes: Unleash corporate wealth by reforming business taxes

10/15/2012 12:00 AM

10/12/2012 5:54 PM

In November 2007, Americans had 146.6 million jobs; now, we have just 143 million. Then, 66 percent of working-age Americans had a job or were looking for one; as of September, that figure was 63.6 percent, the second-lowest result in three decades.

Recent Federal Reserve statistics highlighted a core problem hindering our economy: Liquid assets held by U.S. corporations total $1.73 trillion, up from around $1 trillion a decade ago. That sum and the vast liquid assets held by noncorporate businesses show that instead of investing and expanding, U.S. companies are keeping their money on the sidelines.

Considering all the regulatory uncertainty they face and our punishing, indecipherable tax code, who can blame them?

Were it invested, this private-sector wealth could kick-start our economy. But that’s unlikely to happen under current conditions. In fact, Blue Chip Economic Indicators said in August that it had found that almost nine out of 10 top analysts expect overall U.S. business investment to drop further this year. Tinkering with tax rates won’t encourage firms to take more risk and put this money in play. We need to dramatically change the tax code so that investing is not only easier for businesses but becomes a far better option than not investing.

The current debate over tax policy focuses on whether we should raise taxes and, if so, whether to raise them on individuals making more than $200,000 a year or on millionaires. We need to talk about the bigger picture: what it takes to get people and businesses to invest their money and create jobs.

That is what the American Business Competitiveness tax reform, which I intend to introduce in Congress, would achieve. Designed to complement current congressional efforts on tax reform, the ABC tax reform would replace the business tax structure with a new form of consumption tax. Many macroeconomists recognize consumption taxes as the best tax system for encouraging capital investment and economic growth.

Most of the world’s consumption taxes are sales taxes or value-added taxes. The ABC tax reform is different. It would encourage business investment by allowing 100 percent expensing in the current year. This means that companies of any size, no matter how they’re organized, would pay no taxes on any of their spending for personnel, equipment, property or other expenditure related to the operation of their business in the United States.

Expensing – essentially, tax deductions for business investment – is allowed under the current tax code but is subject to innumerable and ever-changing conditions and limits; what a company can expense depends on a firm’s size and industry, the type of asset bought and its cost, the amount of time over which the firm can deduct costs (“depreciation”) and whether the business is entitled to “bonus depreciation” measures. By replacing this convoluted system with a uniform rule of 100 percent expensing, the ABC tax reform would quickly spark economic growth. Simply put, the more a company invests and expands, the more it reduces the percentage of its income that is taxed.

To boost growth even further, non-expensed income for all businesses would be taxed at one low, globally competitive rate – 25 percent – and all credits, special deals and loopholes on the business side would be eliminated. Because all businesses, whether a mom-and-pop grocery or a billion-dollar conglomerate, would be subject to the same clear rules and rate, special interests and big business would no longer be able to manipulate the tax code.

The ABC tax reform would have something for everyone. Small businesses would be put on equal footing with corporations, while corporations would profit from a lower tax rate and 100 percent expensing as long as they invest here in the United States. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans alike should support a reform that levels the playing field for all businesses, brings certainty and clarity to the tax code, disempowers special interests, incentivizes the return of money parked in foreign tax havens and gets the economy moving.

The ABC reform would also enable more Americans to become entrepreneurs. Right now it’s difficult for most people to open a business. It’s hard to scrape together the capital, and the tax code is nearly impossible to comprehend. But under the ABC reform, potential entrepreneurs would understand their tax burden precisely. What’s more, people with a good idea for a business would be encouraged to take risks to realize their dream because they would be able to expense big initial investments, as would any firm that invests in an entrepreneur’s startup.

Adjusting current rates a few percentage points one way or another won’t eliminate the tax system’s structural inefficiencies and perverse incentives. We should do something that actually works: advance a comprehensive overhaul that supercharges economic growth and job creation.

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