I had the pleasure of speaking to students and faculty at Washington State University about federal tax reform, thanks to the Hoops Institute, the Foley Institute and the Carson School of Business. The talk was Wednesday night when the Senate began its deliberations on tax reform. The talk was very timely, and how sausage, I mean legislation, is made has been in clear view.
Tax reform is still a moving target, but the House and Senate Finance Committee legislation have much in common so it is a highly likely that there will be tax "reform" in 2017. Two key messages I hoped to leave with the students. First, although the media and lots of people focus on the politics, process and personalities around tax reform, our tax system and tax reform legislation reflects our politicians' (and thus our country's) social and economic values. Tax reform reflects the trade-offs between economic growth, efficiency, fairness, simplicity and certainty. The Republican majority that is passing this tax legislation has made trade-offs with respect to current vs. future generations in terms of using deficit financing, between growth and fairness as shown in the JCT distributional tables, and between stability and uncertainty with its choice of sunsetting most of the individual tax changes. Those values are different than mine.
Second, elections matter. Our democratic process has provided us with the current President and current Congressional majorities that are voting for this particular type of tax legislation. There will be elections in 2018 and 2020, and voters will be able to decide if this type of tax legislation reflects their social and economic values.
In the presentation, I stress several positive features of the current tax bills, especially the need to have a more competitive corporate tax rate and strong anti-base erosion and profit rules. However, the current legislation is a serous missed opportunity for our country, especially if we are going to use a trillion dollars in tax cuts instead investing in needed productive infrastructure, while doing minimal base broadening of the major tax expenditures on the individual side. I stressed that each person has to make their own assessment of the trade-offs between growth, fairness, and simplicity, and then vote accordingly at the next opportunity.