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Senate bill: Short of rhetoric

Posted November 28th, 2017 to Blog

GUEST BLOG
Despite Child Tax Credit change, Senate Tax Bill Doesn’t Live Up to Rhetoric in Supporting Families with Children

One of the few provisions in the proposed Senate tax bill that has bipartisan support is increasing the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which has been designed to better reflect the costs of raising children. It has been cited as a major benefit to working and middle-class families with children.

Like other provisions, however, this change is done in ways that provide almost no help to working low- and moderate-income families, while providing huge breaks for very wealthy ones. For middle-income families, the gains from a higher child tax credit are mostly offset by losses in personal exemptions, and some middle-class families would actually pay more under the proposals than under current law.

The Senate and House versions both provide information needed to calculate the taxes different tax filers would pay on their 2018 income (the year the changes go into effect) and to then compare these with the taxes they would pay under current law.

In the Senate version, the partially refundable portion of the CTC is unchanged, except that it would be indexed for inflation going forward, increasing to $1,100 in 2018. The nonrefundable credit is increased by $1,000 per child, making a maximum credit per child of $2,000 (the House version provides only an additional $600 credit, in addition to also indexing the partially refundable portion to $1,100). Both bills extend eligibility for higher income families (from a current phaseout beginning for married joint filers at $110,000 of adjusted gross income to $500,000 in the Senate version and an even higher level in the House version).

Performing the comparison of what tax filers in 2018 would experience from the CTC increase, a single mother with two children working full time and making a little above the minimum wage, $16,000 per year, gets no benefit under the House version and only $75 under the Senate version, compared with current tax law. A married couple with two children making $29,600 only receives the additional $100 per child of the refundable credit under the Senate and House versions. That the CTC provisions largely leave behind low and moderate-income families is particularly unfortunate, as these are the families that live paycheck to paycheck and could most benefit from additional support in raising their children.

Meanwhile, a married couple with two children making $300,000 per year gets the full benefit of the tax credits, $4,000 for the two children under the Senate version. This is on top of a tax cut from other changes in the tax code of at least $8,639 (which would be more if the family has extensive itemized deductions or tax-exempt income). Overall, this family is at least $12,639 better off after doing its taxes, compared with current law, $4,000 due to its new eligibility for the CTC.

For simplicity, these examples assume that all income is earned income and that the filers all take the standard deduction. If, because of buying a home, paying state and local taxes or a combination of the two, middle-income taxpayers now itemize their deductions, the increase in the standard deduction may not help at all and the loss of personal exemptions may mean they pay more taxes.

A married couple starting out with a young child and $60,000 of income, for instance, who now claims $24,000 as an itemized deduction ($18,000 in mortgage interest and property taxes, $4,000 in state and local taxes, and $2,000 in charitable contributions or other deductions) would owe $359 more in federal taxes under the Senate version. Although the family would benefit from the increase in the CTC, that would be more than offset by other changes, such as the loss of personal exemptions.

The chart below shows the specific impacts on these families of the changes in the child tax credit itself but also the changes of the overall tax changes to their individual income tax:

Tax proposals should be examined both in terms of individual provisions and in terms of their overall impact. On the former, under the Senate version the benefits of raising the Child Tax Credit are highly skewed toward the highest income tax-filers. This needs to change, by making the CTC refundable and not extending it so dramatically to the highest income families.

On the latter, the overall structure of the tax provisions largely negate the positive impact expansions of the CTC have for many middle-income families, while bestowing even more benefits on high income ones. Tinkering with the CTC without major changes in other provisions in the tax proposal cannot correct these flaws.

Rather than adding CTC provisions to a bill with other fundamental flaws, Congress should start with how it can make the CTC better reflect the cost of raising families. There exist different bipartisan proposals that would do this, but the proposal before Congress goes in the opposite direction.

Charles Bruner of Ames, a former member of the Iowa House and Senate, is director emeritus of the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines. CFPC, he worked with the Iowa Policy Project to form the Iowa Fiscal Partnership. Find his commentary on current issues at childequity.org. Contact him here.

Red ink, inequity and pain

Posted November 14th, 2017 to Blog

UPDATED NOV. 20*

redink-capitol

To dive into an ocean of red ink for a tax cut that will do little to boost the economy is one thing. To pretend it benefits middle-class families is, at the least, cynical.

It is impossible to view either the Senate or House tax bills moving in Washington as anything but a boost to the wealthy.

Responsible analysis by respected research organizations makes this apparent. The wealthy don’t just do the best in this legislation — they are the clear focus of it.

New data released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy offer several key illustrations of how the Senate Republican proposal approved last week by the Finance Committee, which includes Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, will affect Iowans:

  • The middle 20 percent of families, people making between $59,300 and $87,080 (average $72,400) receive only 12 percent of the overall tax cut in 2019. Meanwhile, the top 20 percent receive more than half — 62 percent.
  • In 2019, the top 1 percent has a larger overall tax cut than the bottom 60 percent, $483.1 million (average $32,200) to $407.9 million (average $450).
  • In 2027, as the small benefits at the middle phase out and structural changes at the top are made permanent, the bottom three-fifths of Iowa taxpayers will see $58.7 million in tax increases averaging $60, while the top 1 percent will keep an average $4,770 tax cut at a cost to the treasury of $67.7 million.

Those who are promoting this bill should at least have the honesty to call it what it is: a new handout to the wealthy — one that everyone will pay for, to the tune of $1.5 trillion over 10 years, and an almost certain loss of critical services that benefit all.

* Note: The original post from Nov. 14 has been updated with figures from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy analysis of the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee.

2017-owen5464Mike Owen is executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.

mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

 

More debt, inequity and pain

​FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017

Senate tax plan: More debt, more inequity, more pain
Like House bill, Senate plan stacks the deck against services and opportunity

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Nov. 14, 2017) — Senate Republicans’ new tax proposal in Washington carries many of the same problems of equity and fiscal irresponsibility of the House plan.

“This plan is not only unbalanced. The scales are being tipped all the way over,” said Mike Owen, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP). “Adding $1.5 trillion in debt at the almost certain cost of food and health assistance for the vulnerable and educational opportunities across the board — really, did anyone promote doing that in the last campaign? Did anyone vote for it?”

In addition, the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has released new estimates showing that for Iowa, well over half of the tax reductions would go to the top 20 percent in both 2019 and 2027 under the Senate plan. Some taxpayers would pay more, but very few of those at the top — 2 percent — while in both years, 13 percent of the middle one-fifth of taxpayers would pay more. [Find the full ITEP report here]

“Overall, these are especially troubling implications for Iowa, with daunting fiscal challenges coming in only two months with the new legislative session. Besides penalizing low-income families at a steep cost to all taxpayers, this plan would shift new costs to the state, which is becoming a common theme in Washington,” said Mike Crawford, senior policy associate for the Child & Family Policy Center (CFPC) in Des Moines.

“This Congress, many will recall, also attempted to shift hard choices and big costs to the states with health-care proposals that, thus far, have been unsuccessful. The tax choices being offered in the House and Senate threaten state resources and services as well.”

Specifically, the Senate bill would eliminate the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes paid. The largest beneficiaries of this deduction are high-income taxpayers.

“This change could pressure states to make new reductions in taxes for those taxpayers — who already pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than do low- and moderate-income taxpayers,” Owen said. “Furthermore, this would cut into revenues, which already are running short of expectations and pose difficult choices for state legislators in January.”

The bill would provide nearly half of total tax benefits to the top 1 percent of households, which would receive tax cuts averaging over $50,000 by 2027. In addition, the legislation would:

  • Skew a critical tax credit now targeted for low-income working families, the Child Tax Credit (CTC), to couples with incomes between $110,000 and $1 million. While extending this benefit to those higher-income families, it would deny any significant help ($75 or less) to 10 million children in low-income working families. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that in Iowa, the House bill would totally leave out 89,000 children in those working families, and either fully or partially exclude 203,000 from the bill’s increase in that benefit.
  • Further reduce the federal estate tax, which already carries significant exemptions from tax for the very wealthy — $5.5 million per person and $11 million per couple. Because of these already generous exemptions, the estate tax already only affects two-tenths of 1 percent of estates nationally and in the state of Iowa. It is the only way a small amount of tax is collected on certain income. (The House bill would fully phase out the estate tax.)
  • Cut taxes for millionaire households by lowering the top income tax rate compared with the House bill, and by providing a deduction for “pass through” businesses that mean big tax cuts for high-income households.

“Elements of the Senate bill make only slight improvements to the House bill, and like the House bill it is heavily skewed to the wealthy,” Owen noted.

“Take the example of the Child Tax Credit. This program is intended to be a work support, to assist people in low-paying jobs. In our low-wage state especially, it makes no sense to be extending this credit to wealthy families when low-income families are being left out of an improvement.”

Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill would not cut the wind production tax credit, which has been critical in making Iowa a leader in clean energy.

IPP and CFPC are nonpartisan, nonprofit Iowa-based organizations that collaborate as the Iowa Fiscal Partnership on analysis of public policy choices affecting Iowans, particularly those in working families and at low incomes. Find reports at iowafiscal.org.

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