Has It Been Four Years Already?

Although I have lived just outside of Washington, DC for over twenty-five years now, I have never been a huge fan of politics (which is blasphemy around here). Politicians can have a positive impact on our lives, and even be transformational on occasion, but too often they are a bit manipulative, disingenuous, divisive, and hypocritical (I apologize for the early negative tone of this quarter’s musings, but I am writing this after just watching the latest presidential debate). As Groucho Marx once quipped, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

Well, regardless of my feelings towards politics and politicians, as we quickly approach Election Day, I thought it relevant to review some of the tax proposals of the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. As a quick aside, in speaking with a colleague the other day about this commentary, he reminded me that federal income tax is not a permanent fixture in the US. There was no income tax in the United States until 1861. Income taxes disappeared again from 1872-1894, and only came back for one year before being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., 1895. This decision stood until the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913. Now I know why they called them “the good old days.”

As the current favorite to win the Oval Office, Hillary Clinton has proposed a number of law changes that would increase taxes on high-income taxpayers as well as increase estate and gift taxes. In summary (and it is not pretty for higher income taxpayers, so you better sit down):

  • Impose a 30% minimum tax on taxpayers with an Adjusted Gross Income (“AGI”) above $1 million (the “Buffett Rule”)
  • Enact a further 4% surcharge on taxpayers with an AGI over $5 million (so a Federal top tax rate of 43.6%)
  • Limit the value of itemized deductions and exclusions to 28% (a further tax increase, really)
  • Create a new (and rather complicated) tax schedule for capital gains, with rates declining over substantially longer periods of time than current law (in the chart below, the surtax mentioned is the 3.8% tax on investment income (for higher income taxpayers) passed as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, also known as “Obamacare”):

  • Tax carried interest as ordinary income
  • Prevent taxpayers with high balances in tax-deferred accounts from making additional contributions
  • Permanently reduce the tax threshold for estates from $5.45 million to $3.5 million ($7 million for married couples) with no adjustment for future inflation, increase the top rate to 65%, and set the lifetime gift exemption at $1 million