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When It Comes to Foreign Investment, Sales Pitch Should be to Congress
Posted By: Nan Swift - 05/20/14

Marketplace reports that President Obama is meeting with business executives today to pitch investment in the U.S.:

Last year, foreign investment in the U.S. was roughly $193 billion -- down from its peak of $310 billion in 2008.

Dartmouth’s Matthew Slaughter says the U.S. attracts investments from foreign companies by telling executives that the U.S. is "the most innovative, open, largest economy on the planet.”

But Slaughter says many foreign company leaders respond by saying growth in the U.S. has slowed compared to developing countries like China, not to mention an aging infrastructure, complicated immigration system and high corporate taxes.

Slaughter does a good job summing up the problem, however, in the past six years our infrastructure hasn’t aged a great deal and the immigration system hasn’t grown significantly more complicated.  While those things don’t help, what is hurting the most is our high corporate tax rate. For the past two years running, the U.S. has had the highest corporate tax rate among industrialized economies and the effects are clearly taking a toll. This problem continues to worsen as more and more countries cut their rate each year.

As NTU has noted again, and again, and again, the best way to declare the U.S. open for business is to lower the corporate tax rate and pursue other reforms, such as rolling back burdensome regulations, making our business climate competitive once again.  Before President Obama sits down with global investors, he should first sit down with the legislators on Capitol Hill who need to act before the U.S. falls further behind.

 

 

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In the Battle for Tax Extenders, "It's Complicated"
Posted By: Nan Swift - 05/19/14

Just a few days ago, GOP Members of the Senate voted to block the EXPIRE Act, offered as a substitute amendment to  H.R. 3474, over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) repeated refusal to consider amendments to the legislation. The same problem shut down debate of the Portman-Shaheen energy efficiency legislation last week. 

Even before Reid once again hijacked the Senate’s normal order, the EXPIRE Act’s future was anything but certain. The bill comprised a two-year extension of 55 tax credits, deductions, and other tax policies, most of which recently expired at the end of 2013. These tax provisions, often referred to as “extenders,” are a complex issue to discuss. Not surprisingly, those within the conservative movement have a variety of perspectives on this matter, centering on the true nature of a tax credit, what constitutes a “good” or “bad” tax extender, and whether or not the bill’s broad-based, pro-growth provisions outweigh its less beneficial elements .

These differences of opinion were evident earlier last week with Club for Growth and Heritage Action holding one view and Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) another.  That these venerable free-market institutions – who agree on many other issues – should come to such different conclusions is a good illustration of just how much remains to be sorted out among people of good will.

The Club for Growth and Heritage Action’s vote alerts focused on the fact that the EXPIRE Act is packed with tax provisions that benefit only a narrow part of the economy, distort markets, and prop up otherwise unprofitable industries, such as the notorious Wind Production Tax credit. Heritage explained:

The Senate’s tax extenders — and indeed the entire process surrounding the extension of expiring tax provisions — is one of the most egregious examples of Washington using its powers to prop up well connected interests.

For example, the Senate package includes over a dozen targeted tax provisions aimed at energy production, most of which are geared toward so-called green energy.  According to the Heritage Foundation, Congress designed many of the provisions to “artificially tilt the energy market in    the direction of certain renewable sources or reward certain taxpayers for behaving how the government would like them to.”  Others are “narrowly tailored so only certain industries can    benefit, which is unfair.”

In light of preferential tax policies directed toward likes of NASCAR and horse racing, it’s easy to see why taxpayers should be outraged at such an obvious manipulation of the tax code on behalf of favored industries. At the same time, as ATR’s supportive vote alert  argued:

Some tax provisions should not return – the wind production tax credit springs to mind, but there are a number of others. However, these are more than balanced out by extremely important tax relief provisions which must not be lost from the code.

The vote alert went to great lengths to differentiate between good and bad provisions, highlighting the fact that “many conservatives have been deeply confused on this distinction,” before finally warning that “the mandate for the Senate is clear: do no harm.”

The Tax Foundation  did not take a position on the EXPIRE Act, but it added further nuances to the debate as it carefully laid out the case for good and bad tax extenders in this article:

Often, Congress keeps all of the extenders – which includes a whole slew of tax breaks for individuals and businesses – but they shouldn’t. Many of the 55 expired provisions are economically distortive, encouraging some economic activities over others. In fact, there are only a small few that should be kept in order to make the tax code more neutral by mitigating the tax code’s biases against savings and investment.

And here the Tax Foundation delineated the “cost” of each provision, bringing to light to another major complicating factor in the tax extenders fight.  While some repeatedly reference the “cost” of a particular tax credit, others argued that these provisions are effectively already on the books and thus, did not reduce anticipated tax revenue. Due to the perceived “cost” of the tax credits, the EXPIRE Act also contained other revenue raisers to “offset” the extenders. The Heritage Foundation did a good job of explaining the problem:

… the Congressional Budget Office incorrectly scores an extension of previously-enacted tax cuts as if they were wholly new tax cuts. Under budgeting rules it follows, this means Congress must cut spending or raise other taxes to avoid “adding” to the deficit.

But reviving once again a repeatedly-extended tax policy is not a tax cut. These policies have been in place for years, some — such as the Research and Experimentation (R&E) Credit — for three decades. If they expire, taxes will rise on those taxpayers who use them. Extending them merely prevents a tax increase, so there is no need to offset their “cost.”

While it will be hard to ever completely reconcile these very thoughtful perspectives, what all free market advocates can agree on is the need for fundamental, comprehensive tax reform, in particular a lower corporate tax rate.

Despite earnest attempts to jump-start such a discussion, that day is still a long way off. However, in the meantime, the House has taken a good approach toward the extenders problem by bringing the provisions up in a piecemeal fashion that will allow them to pass or fail based on their specific merits. Such was the case earlier this month with a bill to make permanent the research and development tax credit that NTU supported here. This also avoids the log-rolling of the Senate’s EXPIRE Act package while keeping some of the more voracious special interests at bay.

The best prospect for taxpayers to emerge from this extenders fight with a win is to urge the House to stay the course and when it comes up again, encourage your Senators to insist on good amendments to the EXPIRE Act that would remove some of its narrowly tailored and economically dubious tax provisions with an eye toward across-the-board rate reductions. Still, one thing is for certain: without real reforms to make good policies permanent, we’ll be haggling over the minutiae of tax extenders again soon.

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The First Missouri Income Tax Cut in Nearly 100 Years
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 05/07/14

For the first time in almost a century, Missourians will see their income tax reduced.

It’s not every day that a state legislature defies its governor in the name of pro-growth income tax reductions. But that’s exactly what happened in the Show Me State this week thanks to votes of 109-46 in the House and 23-8 in the Senate to override a veto by Governor Jay Nixon.

Last year, in a similar scenario, lawmakers were unable to buck Nixon’s rejection of income tax cuts. This time around, Republican lawmakers and a single Democrat stuck together to make income tax relief a reality.

With SB 509 in place, income taxes for hardworking Missourians will be lowered by $620 million annually, starting in 2017, and small business owners will benefit from a 25 percent tax cut. Additionally, taxpayers making less than $20,000 annually will receive an extra $500 personal exemption.

By gradually lowering the top income tax rate to 5.5 percent, lawmakers have created a more competitive tax climate amongst neighboring states such as Kansas and Oklahoma, where top marginal rates are 4.9 and 5.25 percent, respectively.

SB 509 is not on par with North Carolina’s tax reform; however, the bill represents a step in the right direction that will allow taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money to spend, save, or invest. And by lightening the tax load on small businesses, entrepreneurs will have additional resources to create jobs and expand operations. This historic tax cut package is truly a victory for the people of Missouri.

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"A Taxing Trend", & Tax Day Aftermath - Speaking of Taxpayers, April 18
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 04/22/14

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes!

Pete & Doug examine NTU's study of tax complexity, "A Taxing Trend", which found a $224 billion cost due to 6.1 billion hours lost in complying with the tax code; as well as IRS online monitoring, and what to look for next year. Plus, the Outrage of the Week!

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Another Tax Day Gone...
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 04/17/14

“Man is a creature that can get used to anything.”

That’s Dostoyevsky, though he’s not the only person to express that sentiment.

After another tax season, as the federal government vacuums up record revenues while the economy sputters, that seems to be the appropriate theme. Though one might add, “especially if he cannot see or understand it.”

Last year I wrote on a few topics related to Tax Day and NTU’s study of tax complexity: A Taxing Trend. Unfortunately, from the challenges faced by overseas taxpayers, and the spike in the cost of tax complexity in the ‘10s, to the IRS tracking of your digital footprint, nothing has really changed.

There are more stories about the IRS’ monitoring of social media presences, overseas taxpayers still have to deal with FATCA, and we still lost north of $200 billion to tax complexity.

Though for the cost of tax complexity, that is quite noteworthy… This year the hour cost of tax complexity seems to have come down a bit, and, while that has brought the dollar cost down ever so slightly, that second figure has not come down much.

In fact, it is still in the stratosphere at $224 billion this past year. The charts illustrate how the dollar cost of tax complexity is, at best, very slow to react to the hour burden - and with more Obamacare measures still being implemented the dip may be short-lived.

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The story is a familiar one as our tax code remains a huge burden, and the agency enforcing it looks for more ways to track your every move, but perhaps it’s not that much of a problem?

It might seem anathema to consider such a question, yet, the Associated Press asked whether filing taxes was truly difficult in a recent poll, headline: “Most Americans Say Filing Taxes Easy.”

How could something that is costing the economy 6.1 billion hours be “easy”? How could it take the average taxpayer 15 hours and $280 out of pocket to get it done? Maybe we just aren’t that bright.

Well the AP found that 58 percent of respondents thought filing a tax return was easy. Sad to say, that relief you’re feeling will be short lived.

The poll’s other findings undermine their own lead finding. First of all, they peg the number of taxpayers using assistance of some type (from Turbo Tax to an accountant) at 91 percent!

That’s right, practically everyone gets help with their taxes, and then claims filing them is “easy.” Something is amiss…

This is like saying changing your oil is easy because you take your car to Jiffy Lube. By this logic I have no problem flying a plane, just look how many times I’ve flown on airplanes! One could go on and on.

AP also needles simplicity by asking: “Would you be willing to pay more in federal taxes if the process of filling out a tax return were easier, or not?”

Of course only 7 percent of respondents said yes. It is very disappointing this loaded question was asked, as if paying more is somehow a feature of simplifying the tax code.

Maybe if they had told them how much they are losing just due to tax complexity those polled would have had some math to do.

This poll does show that the convenience tax filing products have brought to the table is now obscuring the true pain of complying with the tax code for almost everyone. We are all glad to have this arduous process made easier on us, but when you combine this situation with the real cost of tax complexity as shown by A Taxing Trend, you have the worst possible situation: A complex tax code that costs our economy billions, and remains hidden from view.

Similar to how automatic withholding and deficit spending can obfuscate what you pay in taxes, when everyone has help filing their taxes, the inefficiencies and burdens of the system are not clear to individuals.

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A State-Based Federal Tax System?
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 04/14/14

If you’re following HBO’s Game of Thrones, winter’s always coming. The problem for taxpayers is that our winter comes every year in mid-April and it’s increasingly becoming a game with only losers. Around this time of year, I hear from citizens and even policy experts not only complaining about their tax burden but wondering why the system itself is in such dire straits. There are many reasons (NTUF recently laid out some of the problems and solutions in The Taxpayer’s Tab -- seriously, if you’re not subscribed to the Tab, you’re missing out) but some Americans see no hope for our graduated progressive-income tax system and are looking to completely replace it.

One such reform was pointed out to me by Tom, whom I met at NTU and Foundation’s CPAC 2014 booth. His idea is to streamline America’s tax system in a way similar to what the Founding Fathers originally created. I later found a short description of what Tom calls the Neutral Tax on his website:

[The Neutral Tax] eliminates all federal taxes on citizens and businesses (including federal income, payroll, personal income, unemployment, corporate, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, self-employment, gasoline, etc.) and replaces them with a singular flat tax on the gross revenue of each state government (including all local taxes & fees.)

In short, the new system would transfer the requirement of collecting federal revenues from individuals, households, businesses, and corporations to state governments. State governments tend to be more efficient in costs and accountability when collecting taxes because they are made up of much smaller jurisdictions than the entire country. Dealing with a smaller pool of people means lower operating and enforcement costs. Though there are still horror stories coming out of state Departments of Revenue, taxpayers are better able to walk down the street or travel to their state capitol to dispute their tax burden compared to traveling all the way to Washington, D.C. and/or dealing with examiners of a large and oftentimes cumbersome agency, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The new system would take the responsibility of collecting taxes away from the federal government, leaving the states to decide the methods and parameters to tax citizens. Bringing the notion that states are laboratories for democracy into play, governments could choose to merely expand existing systems or choose to reform to collect the necessary funds. The goal is to allow states to have the freedom to reform their systems without having to also conform to the federal income tax-based framework. For example, today, taxpayers in Florida (and six other states) don’t pay state income taxes (and generally pay higher sales or use taxes) but still must pay federal income taxes. This system makes having a comparatively more efficient sales tax system less advantageous because people are a part of two systems. Having a Neutral Tax system might increase efficiencies by decreasing compliance costs for households and businesses. Of course, the tax system that states would adopt is all dependent on the Governor and state legislators.

With the basic concept out of the way, let’s delve down into what a Neutral Tax system might look like, how it would affect taxpayers, and how it might change the federal budget.

Calculating the Neutral Tax: As it appears in Tom’s document, the Neutral Tax would be revenue-neutral, meaning that the system would collect the same amount of revenue as before the fundamental reform. At the federal level, tax rates would be set at zero. Each state would calculate the state, local, and federal tax makeup of its citizens to determine how much it would need to increase its own collections to offset the federal income tax repeal.

For 2014, total projected federal revenue ($3.0 trillion) is divided by total tax revenue ($5.7 trillion – federal, state, and local total) to reveal that 52.6 percent of taxes paid go to the federal government. To be compliant in the new system, state revenue departments would need to increase average collections by 52.6 percent, which would not change the taxpayer’s tax burden (just the method of collection). It would be up to the Department of the Treasury and Congress to determine what percentage of the tax mix would go to federal accounts.

The Neutral Tax & Taxpayers: At least initially, taxpayers would likely not see a change in their tax burden. States would have the freedom to decide how to collect revenues and how much to collect, which would also leave it to state officials to decide who collects taxes. For example, it’s possible that one state could adopt a more progressive income tax while its neighbor could have a Fair Tax system.

The policy document also notes that “it cannot be argued The Neutral Tax inherently falls more heavily on one group or another. It will be up the states to determine how they modify their existing tax/fee structures to collect the additional federal tax… .”

A Different Federal Budget: Even with the same amount of revenue coming in, the Neutral Tax would not necessarily lead to similar spending levels. Enacting the new system would mean refundable tax credits would no longer be in effect. These credits are payments given to households in excess of their tax liability and are counted by both the Congressional Budget Office and NTUF’s BillTally project as spending, not revenues. Without these credits, federal spending would be reduced by $86.4 billion if the Neutral Tax was enacted this year. This line of reasoning is also found in our scores of the flat tax and Fair Tax proposals.

I took a similar view of the Neutral Tax as with the Fair Tax with respect to the IRS. With the elimination of most of the Tax Code, the IRS would be significantly downsized. The agency is approved to spend $12.1 billion this year, which would be counted as savings if the Neutral Tax is passed and the IRS is eliminated. BUT, a couple of further details: The IRS would need a multi-year wind-down to finalize remaining tax cases and to transfer data and authority to a smaller entity, comparable to the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. They spend $96 million last year (page 1070 of the Budget Appendix) on operations and so I would credit that figure against the total IRS deauthorization.

Changes to FY 2014-2018 Federal Spending Under a Neutral Tax System
(in millions of dollars)

 
FY 2014
FY 2015
FY 2016
FY 2017
FY 2018
Total
Repeal Refundable Tax Credits
-$86,743
 
 
 
 
-$86,743
IRS Wind-Down
 
 
 
 
-$12,106
-$12,106
Tax and Trade Bureau
$96
$96
$96
$96
$96
$480
Total
-$86,647
$96
$96
$96
-$12,010
-$98,369

Note: NTUF's BillTally system only tracks changes in budget outlays.

Much like other fundamental tax reform measures, this proposal also has a slim chance of passing a divided and pro-establishment Congress. In this proposed system, as with other reforms, the decision making power of how much to tax Americans rests with Congress and the Treasury Department. This then relies on individuals, local taxpayer associations, and national organizations to push for changes in the overall rate. It is difficult to tell if taxpayers would organize to keep rates low or if we could face a situation similar to today where rates are often times arbitrarily increased. However, it is good to keep the ideas coming for taxpayers to consider how best to fund the government in challenging economic times. Thanks to Tom for stopping by our CPAC booth and helping me add another alternative to the growing list of reforms!

Have an opinion of the Neutral Tax or another tax reform? Let us know in the comments.

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High-Frequency Trading and the "Transaction Tax"
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/11/14

When most of us think of trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, images of traders frantically running across the room as they take orders over the phone come to mind. Many Americans also trade at home, relying on internet services or financial advisors to relay the latest information on the stocks and funds that they're interested in.

However, there is growing concern that automated "high-frequency trading", which utilizes computer algorithms and software to make split-second decisions as trading conditions change in real-time, might give some traders an unfair advantage over others. The problem stems from the idea of marginal profit -- that is, even very small profits on minor trades can accumulate into larger ones so long as the trader conducts enough transactions. Software and computer algorithms are already capable of trading at exponentially higher speeds than the every-day financier, yet some firms spend hundreds of millions of dollars to cut down on communication time even further in order to get their hands on a stock first, then immediately resell it at a marginally higher price.

Author Michael Lewis has chronicled the debate in a recent book and several media appearances. The issue has gotten the attention of some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, too, who are pushing a national transaction tax in response. That tax would be levied on every financial transaction that investors make, which, according to Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), could serve as a deterrent for firms who are supposedly gaming the system by conducting thousands of small transactions at a time and rely on the very small marginal profits made on each one.

Ellison's idea -- which he has dubbed the "Inclusive Prosperity Act" -- attempts to counteract the effect of "Wall Street speculation" that "is currently subject to zero sales tax on its trillions of dollars of annual transactions- while consumers regularly pay sales taxes even on daily necessities." It has been proposed before in previous sessions of Congress.

NTUF featured an even broader transaction tax proposal in a 2012 edition of The Taxpayer’s Tab. Congressman Chaka Fattah's (D-PA) Debt Free America Act proposed to eliminate the personal income tax, virtually all tax credits, and the Alternative Minimum Tax and replace them with a one-percent fee on each and every cash, credit, debit, and stock or bond transaction. While it's unknown whether the bill would have any administrative costs associated with tracking every financial transaction Americans make, Rep. Fattah claims that his legislation will generate enough revenue to pay down the national debt in just ten years. Variations on that proposal include a 0.35 percent tax on all transactions, which proponents argue would simplify the current tax system and expand the revenue base.

Since our feature on Rep. Fattah's legislation, NTUF has offered a preview of other tax reform proposals -- including the Fair Tax and a flat tax -- that have been proposed in Congress. You can read our analysis here.

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New Report on State and Local Tax Burdens
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 04/04/14

The good folks at the Tax Foundation have released another eye-opening report with their Annual State-Local Tax Burden Rankings, which “estimates the combined state and local tax burden shouldered by the residents of each state.”

Not surprisingly, New York placed first, with taxpayers shelling out 12.6 percent of their income to pay for state and local taxes, while Wyoming replaced Alaska at number 50 with a burden of 6.9 percent.

Other key findings, according to the Tax Foundation:

  • During the 2011 fiscal year, state-local tax burdens as a share of state incomes decreased on average. This trend was largely driven by the growth of income in all states.
  • In 2011, the residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut had the highest state-local tax burdens as a share of income in the nation. In these states, residents have forgone over 11.9 percent of income due to state and local taxes.
  • Residents of Wyoming paid the lowest percentage of income in 2011 at just 6.9 percent. They replaced Alaska, which had previously been the least-taxed for multiple decades, as the lowest-burdened state in the nation. After Wyoming and Alaska, the next lowest-taxed states were South Dakota, Texas, and Louisiana.
  • State-local tax burdens are very close to one another and slight changes in taxes or income can translate to seemingly dramatic shifts in rank. For example, the twenty mid-ranked states, ranging from Oregon (16th) to Georgia (35th), only differ in burden by just over one percentage point.
  • On average, taxpayers pay more to their own state and local governments (73 percent of total burden). Taxes paid within states of residence decreased on average in 2011, while taxes paid to other states increased, leading to a slight decrease in total burden. Some states deviated from these national trends, however.

The report serves as an excellent reminder for taxpayers to continue the push for tax reform and decreased spending at state and local levels of government. For more from the Tax Foundation or to read the entire report, click here.

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Taxpayers Claim Big Win in Fight Against IRS Free Speech Silencing Rule
Posted By: Nan Swift - 04/04/14

NTU members deserve a pat on the back for their hard work in the on-going fight against IRS-overreach. For months, NTU and other grassroots organizations (categorized under section 501(c)(4) of the Tax Code) have been engaged in an uphill battle against an oppressive new IRS rule proposal that would significantly restrict our ability to educate citizens and hold elected officials accountable. Thanks to your help however, this silencing of free speech has been thwarted...for now.

After concerned citizens filed an overwhelming number of comments with the IRS to oppose the rule – thousands of which came from NTU members – IRS Commissioner Koskinen announced yesterday that the rule will not be finalized this year. So, it’s clear that taxpayers have won the first round.

According to Koskinen:

During the comment period, which ended in February, we received more than 150,000 comments. That’s a record for an IRS rulemaking comment period. In fact, if you take all the comments on all Treasury and IRS draft proposals over the last seven years and double that number, you come close to the number of comments we are now beginning to review and analyze.

It’s going to take us a while to sort through all those comments, hold a public hearing, possibly repropose a draft regulation and get more public comments. This means that it is unlikely we will be able to complete this process before the end of the year.

As you can see from Koskinen’s comments, this fight is far from over. Largely developed behind closed doors, the new ruling would have constituted a profound infringement of the First Amendment rights of NTU and each of our members. It would have made it difficult – if not impossible – for NTU to hold elected officials accountable for their actions and ensure that the voice of the taxpayer is heard in the nation’s capitol.  It should come then as no surprise that imposing this rule was a major priority for the Obama Administration to finalize ahead of 2014 Congressional elections. (Click here for more background information).

 It’s important that we use the time we have to keep up the pressure on our legislators to oppose this terrible rule!

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Take Action and urge your Senators to support S. 2011, the “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014” – this would impose a statutorial one-year delay of the proposed rule.
  2. Give generously to ensure we have the tools and resources we need to stop the IRS’s bullying of grassroots organizations.

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April Fool’s Day Still Real Anniversary of Highest Corporate Tax Rate
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 04/01/14

Happy April Fools’ Day! Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the United States having the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world – a foolish policy situation that continues to plague our economy.

Last year, I analyzed this dubious occasion in an op-ed for the Washington Times. Sadly, virtually nothing has changed since then. The rate remains far too high. And even after all loopholes, credits and deductions are accounted for, our average effective rate is among the world’s highest. This has put American businesses at a huge competitive disadvantage when compared to international rivals.

A few weeks ago, House Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced a tax reform draft that would significantly alter the existing Tax Code. While NTU has several concerns about the plan, it represents a promising step toward fundamental tax reform. One of its most encouraging pro-growth provisions would flatten the corporate rate structure and move to a single rate of 25 percent – significantly lower than the current 35 percent rate. Such a change would create 391,000 full time jobs, according to the Tax Foundation.

Let’s hope that Camp’s proposal builds momentum for the passage of a new Tax Code that is simpler, fairer, and less burdensome than the current one. Otherwise, we’ll be “celebrating” on April Fools’ Day again next year.

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