Not All Tax Cuts Are Created Equal

September 8, 2011

We know that a vast majority of Republicans in Congress have pledged to oppose any and all tax increases unless they’re matched, dollar for dollar, by reduced tax rates. They also seem to have taken a pledge to preface any mention of tax increases with “job-killing” or the equivalent.

But come January 1, all workers will face higher payroll taxes unless the one-year 2% cut agreed to last December is extended. Congressional Republicans, including two on the so-called Super Committee, seem inclined to let it expire.

“Not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of getting the economy moving again,” says Super Committee Co-Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).

Congressman David Camp (R-MI) has other objections. “No matter how well intended,” he says, tax reductions “will push the deficit higher.”

These are the same folks who were ready to let the government shut down unless the Bush tax cuts for high earners were extended. CNNMoney put the two-year cost at about $81.5 billion.

We didn’t hear a peep from the Republicans about driving up the deficit. Nor much concern about evidence of potential impact on economic growth.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office ranked income tax cuts generally as the least effective of the 11 options it reviewed. A payroll tax cut for employees came in fourth.

Now is another tax cut fight brewing — this one centered directly in the ongoing jobs crisis.

Seems to me the comments above raise two main issues — the effectiveness of the employee payroll tax cut and the tax relief House Republicans want instead.

No one, to my knowledge, is arguing that an extension of the employee payroll tax cut will give our sluggish economy the boost it needs to start creating jobs for the more than 23.7 million unemployed and under-employed workers who need them.

The rationale, as I understand it, is rather that jobs will be lost if workers have to pay the full tax again because they’ll compensate by cutting back on spending.

The President has said this could cost the economy a million jobs. John Irons at the Economic Policy Institute puts the figure at 972,000 — still a significant dent in a job market that’s already shy about 11.1 million jobs.

The House Republicans’ latest job creation plan doesn’t delve into such specifics. Merely cites gross job creation figures from the hardly reliable analysts at the Heritage Foundation.

It does, however, specify two forms of tax relief.

One is a cut of at least 10% in the nominal corporate tax rate, apparently offset by some other specified changes in the tax code. The other is a “tax holiday” that would let corporations bring home profits gained abroad at a fraction of what they’d otherwise pay.

These measures would, in theory, enable corporations to invest more funds in creating jobs here. But there’s no evidence they’d do anything of the sort.

Corporations, after all, aren’t exactly short on cash. Many are sitting on big bundles of it. They’re creating jobs, as they always do, when they need them and where they can fill them at the lowest cost.

For multinationals as a whole, that appears to be mainly outside the U.S. No indication that the corporate tax rate cut the Republicans have in mind would change this.

For the “tax holiday,” we can look to past experience, since Congress put one into a job creation package in 2004.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, a number of studies found that it didn’t increase domestic investment or employment. In fact, some large companies that brought home billions turned around a laid off American employees.

CBPP argues — persuasively, I think — that another “tax holiday” would probably encourage corporations to shift even more of their income overseas.

For this reason, among others, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates lost federal revenues at up to nearly $79 billion over the next 10 years.

If past is prologue, there’d be more American jobs lost too.

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this, I saw a new brief on the employee payroll tax cut by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It includes an interesting table showing how much more, on average, workers in different occupations would pay if the cut expires. An even more interesting (to me) table showing how much workers in each state are receiving as a result of the cut.

CBPP makes the important point that other measures will be needed to boost job creation and economic growth. But letting the employee payroll tax cut expire without putting something more effective in its place would decrease consumer purchasing power by well over $110 billion.


Benefits Will Jump Start Economic Recovery

January 29, 2009

The Coalition on Human Needs has done us all a great service. It has issued a summary of the provisions in the House economic recovery package that will benefit low-income people and others at immediate risk of hardship. Anyone who’s tried to read the legislation–or even the Appropriations Committee’s summary–knows how useful this is.

CHN also identifies shortcomings in the package, including the short shrift given to affordable housing. No funding for additional housing vouchers, despite the rising tide of homelessness. No funding to support the construction of new affordable housing, despite the job creation potential. To me, these are glaring gaps.

However, CHN’s most important message is that the provisions targeted to low-income people and laid-off workers will do more than alleviate hardship. Combined with proposed increases for K-12 education programs, they will save or create nearly two million jobs.

This is because they will quickly put money into the hands of people who will spend it to meet their needs. Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com has translated this obvious truth into dollars and cents. He says, for example, that a $1.00 increase in food stamps will generate an estimated $1.73 in near-term economic growth.

The Economic Policy Institute has crunched the numbers another way. Its analysis for CHN shows that the food stamp provisions in the House package will save or create about 185,000 jobs. Think grocery store clerks, drivers for distribution companies, workers in food processing plants, etc.

Experts, including Zandi and the Congressional Budget Office, say that tax cuts are a less effective economic stimulus. CBO is particularly unenthusiastic about reductions in the corporate tax rate. As it says, businesses will not spend more money on labor or produce more just because they have more after-tax income. They need increased consumer demand. And that’s what the proposed food stamps increase and other measures targeted to low-income people will deliver.

Nevertheless, Congressional Republicans want less spending and more tax relief in the economic recovery package. And on the House side, they clearly won’t budge. Not a single Republican voted in favor of the package the House passed yesterday.

Now, there’s a reasonable argument to be made for paring down the spending part to focus it more on jump starting the economy and perhaps also for expanding the tax part. But substituting tax relief for the major measures CHN endorses should be a non-starter. Fortunately, it looks as if it will be.


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