Months after he said he would release his tax returns, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has decided that the American public doesn’t need to see how much (or little) he has paid in taxes until after the November elections, marking a shift in the vague promises he previously made to release the records to the public.
He solidified his position in an interview published by the Associated Press today, in which he said that “there’s nothing to learn from them.” Trump has also claimed that he is in the process of being audited by the IRS, and that releasing his returns for the year under audit would be imprudent, despite the agency confirming that being audited doesn’t legally interfere at all with the ability to release one’s tax records.
As far back as October 2015, Trump promised to release his tax documents. “I’m not going to say it, but at some point I’ll release it,” he said at the time. In that same interview, he also said, “I pay as little as possible, I’m very proud to tell you.”
In January, Trump said again that he would release his taxes soon. “We’re working on that now. I have big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time,” he said. Months later, they still haven’t been released.
Then again on May 8, just days before his announcement that he wouldn’t release his returns, he said, “Sure. If the auditors finish. I’ll do it as fast as the auditors finish.You don’t learn much from tax returns. But I would love to give the tax returns. But I can’t do it until I’m finished with the audit.”
But how little does Trump actually pay in taxes? David Cay Johnston, who spent three decades covering Trump as he moved from one business venture to another, noted that in 1978 and 1979 the businessman had paid exactly $0 in taxes.
He further explained how wealthy Americans like Trump use the tax code to their advantage, writing:
It’s all about tax rules that require you to depreciate, or reduce, the value of buildings over time, even if the market value of the structures is going up. If your depreciation is greater than your traditional income from work and businesses, Congress lets you report negative income. If these paper losses are just a dollar more than traditional income, it wipes out your income taxes for the year.
If Trump’s returns show he has paid no income taxes in some years, that could be a reason he has not yet released details.
Congress says most Americans can deduct no more than $25,000 of real estate depreciation against their income. But if you work two days a week managing real estate and own enough that the depreciation exceeds your salary and other income, Congress lets you live income-tax-free. And for as long as you keep buying buildings and depreciating them, the tax does not come due.
There are numerous reasons why Trump wouldn’t want to release his taxes. First, he has amassed his fortune partly by using tax loopholes that allowed him to effectively pay no income tax for years — possibly up to the present day. More recently, he changed his tune, saying, “I am willing to pay more, and you know what, the wealthy are willing to pay more.” America should be thankful Trump wants to pay more than… whatever he’s currently paying. It could be nothing at all.
Second, the tax returns could show that he has far less money than he claims. This possibility was seized upon by anti-Trump Republicans who have tried to coerce Trump into releasing his returns. During the opening shots of the fight against the racist billionaire’s takeover of the party, Mitt Romney raised the possibility, saying, “Either he’s not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is, or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay.”
There is evidence to back up Romney’s claim. Forbes calculated Trump’s worth to be $4.5 billion at most. “Trump has filed statements claiming he’s worth at least $10 billion or, as he put in a press release, TEN BILLION DOLLARS (capitalization his). After interviewing more than 80 sources and devoting unprecedented resources to valuing a single fortune, we’re going with a figure less than half that–$4.5 billion, albeit still the highest figure we’ve ever had for him.”
Even harder to explain is the jump in Trump’s cash-on-hand. The National Review wrote that his organization showed documentation for cash and cash equivalents of $307 million in 2014. This year, that number jumped up to $793 million, sans documentation, making it difficult to believe that he actually has that much money. “I’m running for President,” said Trump in an interview with Forbes. “I’m worth much more than you have me down [for]. I don’t look good, to be honest. I mean, I look better if I’m worth $10 billion than if I’m worth $4 billion.”
Trump’s obstruction has not only served his purposes, but that of his likely rival, Hillary Clinton. During the Democratic debate in Brooklyn last month, she responded to a question about her speech transcripts with a criticism of other presidential candidates, namely Trump, who didn’t release their tax returns.
“There are certain expectations when you run for president,” said Clinton. “This is a new one but I will tell you this, there is a longstanding expectation that everybody running release their tax returns.”
By: Saif Alnuweiri, The National Memo, May 11, 2016
So Donald Trump has unveiled his tax plan. It would, it turns out, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.
This is in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.
For what it’s worth, it looks as if Trump’s plan would make an even bigger hole in the budget than Jeb’s. Jeb justifies his plan by claiming that it would double America’s rate of growth; The Donald, ahem, trumps this by claiming that he would triple the rate of growth. But really, why sweat the details? It’s all voodoo. The interesting question is why every Republican candidate feels compelled to go down this path.
You might think that there was a defensible economic case for the obsession with cutting taxes on the rich. That is, you might think that if you’d spent the past 20 years in a cave (or a conservative think tank). Otherwise, you’d be aware that tax-cut enthusiasts have a remarkable track record: They’ve been wrong about everything, year after year.
Some readers may remember the forecasts of economic doom back in 1993, when Bill Clinton raised the top tax rate. What happened instead was a sustained boom, surpassing the Reagan years by every measure.
Undaunted, the same people predicted great things as a result of George W. Bush’s tax cuts. What happened instead was a sluggish recovery followed by a catastrophic economic crash.
Most recently, the usual suspects once again predicted doom in 2013, when taxes on the 1 percent rose sharply due to the expiration of some of the Bush tax cuts and new taxes that help pay for health reform. What happened instead was job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s.
Then there’s the recent state-level evidence. Kansas slashed taxes, in what its right-wing governor described as a “real live experiment” in economic policy; the state’s growth has lagged ever since. California moved in the opposite direction, raising taxes; it has recently led the nation in job growth.
True, you can find self-proclaimed economic experts claiming to find overall evidence that low tax rates spur economic growth, but such experts invariably turn out to be on the payroll of right-wing pressure groups (and have an interesting habit of getting their numbers wrong). Independent studies of the correlation between tax rates and economic growth, for example by the Congressional Research Service, consistently find no relationship at all. There is no serious economic case for the tax-cut obsession.
Still, tax cuts are politically popular, right? Actually, no, at least when it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy. According to Gallup, only 13 percent of Americans believe that upper-income individuals pay too much in taxes, while 61 percent believe that they pay too little. Even among self-identified Republicans, those who say that the rich should pay more outnumber those who say they should pay less by two to one.
Well, consider the trajectory of Marco Rubio, who may at this point be the most likely Republican nominee. Last year he supported a tax-cut plan devised by Senator Mike Lee that purported to be aimed at the poor and the middle class. In reality, its benefits were strongly tilted toward high incomes — but it still drew harsh criticism from the right for giving too much to ordinary families while not cutting taxes on top incomes enough.
So Mr. Rubio came back with a plan that eliminated taxes on dividends, capital gains, and inherited wealth, providing a huge windfall to the very wealthy. And suddenly he was gaining a lot of buzz among Republican donors. The new plan would add trillions to the deficit, which conservatives claim to care about, but never mind.
In other words, it’s straightforward and quite stark: Republicans support big tax cuts for the wealthy because that’s what wealthy donors want. No doubt most of those donors have managed to convince themselves that what’s good for them is good for America. But at root it’s about rich people supporting politicians who will make them richer. Everything else is just rationalization.
Of course, once the Republicans settle on a nominee, an army of hired guns will be mobilized to obscure this stark truth. We’ll see claims that it’s really a middle-class tax cut, that it will too do great things for economic growth, and look over there — emails! And given the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism, this campaign of obfuscation may work.
But never forget that what it’s really about is top-down class warfare. That may sound simplistic, but it’s the way the world works.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 2, 2015
“The Tax Rates That Don’t Cause Bernie Sanders To ‘Flinch'”: About As Radical As Republican Plans To Slash Taxes On The Wealthy
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is many things, but subtle isn’t one of them. Take a look at these comments the Democratic presidential candidate made to CNBC about higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
“These people are so greedy, they’re so out of touch with reality,” he said. “They think they own the world…. I’m sorry to have to tell them, they live in the United States, they benefit from the United States, we have kids who are hungry in this country. We have people who are working two, three, four jobs, who can’t send their kids to college.
“Sorry, you’re all going to have to pay your fair share of taxes,” he asserted. “If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent.”
That last part is true, by the way. In the 1950s, when Republicans were far more interested in deficit reduction than tax breaks, Eisenhower was committed to helping pay off World War II-era debts. He kept Roosevelt’s 90% top marginal rate in place, and the post-war economy boomed anyway. (It wasn’t until JFK in 1961 that Washington approved a “peace dividend,” and even then, some Republicans of the era balked, still preferring to focus on the debt, not tax breaks.)
But Sanders’ support for similar rates is so far from mainstream norms that his comments strike much of the political world as somehow bizarre. The New York Times noted with incredulity that the Vermont senator “doesn’t flinch over returning to the 90 percent personal income tax rates of the 1950s for top earners.”
Over at Salon, it led Simon Maloy to raise a good point: “We’ve become so accustomed to historically low rates of taxation for the wealthy that when someone like Sanders comes along and says the rich can and should pay a far higher rate, people assume he’s out to lunch.”
The flip side to the dynamic is that while reporters and pundits raise their eyebrows at the notion of dramatically increasing the tax burden on the wealthy, absurd and irresponsible tax cuts for top earners are now just assumed to be a given when it comes to Republican policymaking. Several current Republican candidates for the presidency have laid out plans that would eliminate capital gains taxes and the estate tax while cutting the top income tax rate. […]
The thrust of GOP policymaking is to redirect an even greater share of the nation’s wealth to the already engorged few sitting at the top of the income ladder. Sanders is proposing instead that we funnel some of that wealth away from the rich and toward the middle class. And while we’re supposed to “flinch” at a high rate of taxation for income, a zero percent rate on investments is taken in stride.
I think that’s right. Sanders’ position is clearly far from the traditional menu of tax-policy options, so far that he practically sounds like a visitor from another country (if not another planet). We’re accustomed to hearing national figures talk about raising taxes on the rich a little; we’re not accustomed to hearing them talk about raising taxes on the rich a lot.
But what Sanders is proposing is about as radical as Republican plans to slash taxes on the wealthy by hundreds of billions of dollars. It just seems more extreme because our expectations have begun to adapt to a ridiculous GOP wish list that we’re confronted with all the time.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 28, 2015
“Heightening Inequality To Even More Astronomical Levels”: If Inequality Worries Republicans, Why Do They Keep Making It Worse?
You can tell things have gotten very bad when the issue of economic inequality — a serious national problem mostly ignored for more than three decades — is suddenly in political vogue. And you can be sure things have gotten very, very bad when Republicans — who usually insist that inequality is natural, inevitable, even beneficial — suddenly claim they’re worried about it, too.
As the 2016 contenders officially declare their intentions, all of them seem aware that voters want to restore a vestige of fairness to the American economy. Regardless of personal ideology or political reliance on plutocratic billionaires, every presidential candidate must, at the very least, display concern for working families, single mothers, indebted students, and everyone struggling to achieve or maintain a decent living.
Yet how concerned are they, really? In the video that announced her candidacy, Hillary Clinton spoke briefly but bluntly: “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.” The only Democrat in the race so far, Clinton realizes that a populist agenda will be required to excite her party base — and to answer those who regard her as too wealthy and too well connected to empathize with the downtrodden.
That unflattering portrait omits many relevant facts about Clinton’s life, from her own modest origins to her many years of advocacy for the disadvantaged, especially women and children. She spoke out publicly about economic fairness long before doing so became politically fashionable, both as a United States senator and during her last presidential campaign. Now the skeptics can listen and decide for themselves.
But voters should also listen closely to the Republicans who mock Clinton’s populism and assert that they are the true spokesmen for the working class. What do they propose to address inequality? And how “authentic” is their concern?
At least two of the Republican candidates, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), want to institute a so-called flat tax — which would severely exacerbate inequality by reducing tax levies on the wealthy and increasing the burden on everyone else. Such plans would cost the Treasury an annual amount estimated between $700 billion and $1 trillion. Yet Paul and Cruz insist that they will simultaneously slash taxes, increase defense spending, and balance the budget — and so does Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who proposes his own regressive tax breaks for the rich.
Those promises are mathematically impossible — unless, perhaps, the federal government permanently ended all discretionary spending on student aid, unemployment insurance, health care, veterans benefits, environmental protection, food safety, and dozens of other programs necessary to working- and middle-class families. Somehow they never mention that part.
While decrying economic inequality, Republicans tend not to emphasize their other proposed giveaways that would benefit wealthy donors, such as Paul’s plan to end capital gains taxes, or Rubio’s plan to end not only all taxes on capital gains but on interest and inherited estates, too — leaving only wage earners to be taxed. Schemes like this delight the Koch brothers precisely because they would heighten inequality to an even more astronomical level.
Although Republicans often mention the “right to rise,” as Jeb Bush would put it, they’re hostile to any measure that would actually elevate the incomes of those at the bottom — for example, increasing the minimum wage. Indeed, they tend to be opposed to the very idea of a legislated wage floor because, as Rubio once said, “I don’t think a minimum-wage law works.”
The Florida senator’s economic knowledge is as weak as his budgetary arithmetic. The most recent studies show that in states without a minimum- wage law, inequality is considerably worse than in states with a minimum wage that is at least a dollar above the federal minimum.
But don’t worry, Rubio says he knows a better way to reduce inequality than either higher wages or fairer taxes. Instead, for people languishing in low-wage jobs, government should “incentivize the creation of innovations in education that are accessible.”
So he offers something for everyone: The wealthy get still more big tax cuts; and the not-so-wealthy get a few phrases of incomprehensible, pseudo-wonkish jargon.
By: Joe Conason, Editer in Chief, The National Memo, April 18, 2015
“Your Dollars At Work — For The Rich”: We’re Not Talking Trickle Here, We’re Talking Cascading To Privatize Everything
Conservative pundits and politicians routinely divide our U.S. economy into two totally distinct spheres. We have the noble private sector over here, they tell us, and the bumbling, bloated public sector over there.
In reality, of course, we have just one economy, with the private and public sectors inextricably entangled. Each year, in fact, hundreds of billions of tax dollars end up flowing directly into the private sector.
The federal government alone, a new Congressional Budget Office report calculates, annually spends $500 billion — that’s half a trillion dollars — to purchase goods and services from private companies. State and local governments spend many billions more on top of that.
We’re not talking trickle here — we’re talking cascade, as our elected leaders rush to privatize services that public employees previously provided.This massive privatization of everything from prisons to public schools hasn’t done much of anything to make the United States a better place to live.
On the other hand, this privatization has paid off quite handsomely for America’s most affluent. They’re collecting ever more generous paychecks, courtesy of the tax dollars the rest of us are paying.
In Washington, D.C., for instance, top officials of the private companies that run many of the city’s charter schools are taking in double or triple what traditional public schools take in, or even more.
The CEO at one company that runs five of these charters, The Washington Post recently reported, pulled in $1.3 million in 2013. That’s nearly five times the pay that went to the top public official responsible for the District of Columbia’s 100-plus traditional public schools.
America’s taxpayer-funded military contractors would, of course, consider that chump change. The CEO at Lockheed Martin, for one, personally pocketed over $25 million in 2013.
So do you like this idea of executives in power suits raking in multiple millions of your tax dollars?
Rhode Island state senator William Conley sure doesn’t. He and four of his colleagues have just introduced legislation that would stop the stuffing of tax dollars into the pockets of wildly overpaid corporate executives.
Conley’s bill directs Rhode Island to start “giving preference in the awarding of state contracts” to business enterprises whose highest-paid execs receive no more than 25 times the pay of their median — most typical — workers.
Back in the middle of the 20th century, only a handful of top corporate executives ever made more than 25 times the pay of the average worker. Today, by contrast, only a handful of top execs make less than 100 times median pay.
If Conley’s bill becomes law, the ramifications could be huge.
That’s because we may soon know, for the first time ever, the exact ratio between CEO and median worker pay at every major American corporation that trades on Wall Street.
Five years ago, legislation that mandates this disclosure passed Congress and made it into law. Intense corporate lobbying has been stalling its enforcement, but the stall may soon end. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission finally appears ready to issue the regulations needed to enforce full pay ratio disclosure.
CEO-worker pay comparisons for individual companies will likely start hitting the headlines the year after next. With these new stats, taxpayers will be able to see exactly which corporations feeding at the public trough are doing the most to make America more unequal.
With this information, average taxpayers could then do a great deal. They could, for starters, follow Senator Conley’s lead in Rhode Island and urge their lawmakers to reward — with our tax dollars — only those corporations that pay their workers fairly.
By: Sam Pizzigati, Columnist, OtherWords; Associate Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies: The National Memo, March 25, 2015