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Fighting to end destructive double taxation

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Romney: A Total Failure on Double Taxation

Posted by Dan Mitchell on January 24, 2012

Last night’s GOP debate did nothing to change my sour opinion of Mitt Romney.

During a discussion about tax reform, he attacked Newt Gingrich for the supposed crime of not wanting to double tax capital gains. Here’s how Politico reported the exchange.

Newt Gingrich joked about Romney’s 15 percent tax rate, saying: “I’m prepared to describe my flat tax as the Mitt Romney flat tax.” Romney jumped in to ask: Do you tax capital gains at 15 percent or zero percent? Gingrich’s answer: Zero. “Under that plan, I’d have paid no taxes in the last two years,” Romney said, alluding to the fact that all his income is from investments.

Romney’s remarks are amazingly misguided. Getting rid of the capital gains tax doesn’t result in a tax rate of zero. It simply means that there is no second layer of tax on top of the punitive 35 percent corporate income tax.

I’ve had to correct Warren Buffett when he makes this mistake. One would think, though, that GOP presidential candidates would have a better understanding of taxation.

In addition to being wrong on policy, Romney also is politically tone deaf. By demagoguing against Gingrich’s tax plan, he lends credibility to the dishonest claims that his personal tax rate is “too low.”

In a column for today’s Wall Street Journal, John Berlau and Trey Kovacs of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explain how the GOP candidates should deal with this issue.

The former Bain Capital CEO and Massachusetts governor caused a brouhaha last week when he estimated the tax rate on his investment income at 15%. “How unfair!” pundits exclaimed, noting that the top marginal rate for wage income is more than 30%. The tax rate on investors is unfair, but for the opposite reason. Our tax code layers taxation of dividends and capital gains on top of a top corporate tax rate of 35%—which even President Obama acknowledges is one of the highest in the world. …This double taxation brings the effective tax rate on investment income to as much as 44.75%. In other words, after the combined top tax rates hit $100 of corporate income, $55.25 remains for the investor. And this figure doesn’t even include various state and local taxes, or the death tax. Moreover, like the rest of us, Mr. Romney paid income taxes before investing… Mr. Romney and other presidential candidates should use the opportunity of releasing their tax returns to make an important policy statement. They should include not only their individual returns, but information about the taxes their corporations pay. …In this way the candidates can help explode the myth of the U.S. as a low-tax nation. As Cato Institute tax experts Chris Edwards and Daniel J. Mitchell write in their book, “Global Tax Revolution,” while the U.S.’s “overall tax burden . . . is lower than in many other nations,” the country “imposes more punishing taxes on savings and investment than many advanced economies.” The most popular tax reforms—from the “9-9-9 plan” of former candidate Herman Cain to flat tax proposals—all have in common the reduction or elimination of double taxation on investment. …If the traditional disclosure of tax returns is elevated into a “teachable moment” about the burdens of double taxation, all Americans could be winners.

The authors are very kind to reference the book Chris and I wrote, but I mostly like this article because it does such a good job of explaining double taxation.

I made many of the same points in my video on capital gains taxation.

And keep in mind that the capital gains tax isn’t indexed for inflation, so the rate of double taxation in many cases is far higher than these estimates suggest.

As illustrated by this chart, double taxation is a serious self-inflicted barrier to American growth and competitiveness. Too bad Republicans are too short-sighted to address this issue intelligently.

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