Jobs and Taxes

Earlier this year, the men and women in what Donald Trump famously referred to as “Disneyland on the Potomac” battled it out over the debt ceiling, in a fight that turned largely over whether to include new taxes. Now the “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” in Washington are gearing up for another bout — and once again, taxes are taking center stage.
With “official” unemployment still hovering above 9%, and “unofficial” unemployment estimated at near double that, you might expect to hear clamoring for a New Deal-type employment plan — a sort of “Works Progress Administration” for a new era. Our roads, bridges, and schools could certainly use it! But deficit constraints make that impossible. So what do the candidates’ plans have in common? Well, they all share a reliance on tax reform to encourage “job creators” to hire.
Last week, President Obama took to the airwaves to introduce his plan, which he presents as “recession insurance.” Obama would extend the 2% payroll tax cut for employees (from 6.2% to 4.2%), currently in effect through the rest of this year, through 2012. He would cut the payroll tax on employers from 6.2% to 3.1% on their first $5 million of wages, and eliminate it entirely for any net increase in payroll up to $50 million. He would extend the current enhanced depreciation provisions scheduled to expire at the end of this year. And he would create a new “Returning Heroes” tax credit ranging up to $9,600 to encourage hiring unemployed veterans. (Come on, now . . . what heartless Scrooge could possibly oppose a “Returning Heroes” tax credit for veterans?)
Several Republican candidates have also weighed in with competing proposals:
• Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney argues that “the best course in the near term is to overhaul and to dramatically simplify the current tax code, eliminate taxes on savings for the middle class, and recognize that because we tax investment at both the corporate and individual level, we should align our combined rates with those of competing nations. Lower taxes and a simpler tax code will help families and create jobs.” Romney’s plan would maintain marginal rates at their current level, further reduce taxes on savings and investments, eliminate the estate tax, and cut the corporate tax to 25%.
• Former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China John Huntsman released his “Time to Compete” jobs plan. Huntsman’s plan would take an opposite approach from the President’s plan by eliminating all deductions, credits, and loopholes. He would then introduce three rates of 8%, 14%, and 23%, eliminate the dreaded alternative minimum tax, eliminate tax on capital gains and dividends, and lower the corporate rate to 25%. Huntsman’s plan has won praise from the usual flat-tax suspects — but unfortunately for them, most observers think Huntsman has as much chance of winning the Republican nomination as Lady Gaga.
• Finally, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and radio host Herman Cain has released an even more radical plan that would eliminate payroll taxes completely, cut corporate and personal taxes to 9%, and impose a 9% national sales tax.
The current debate reminds us of the role taxes play in so many seemingly unrelated issues. In today’s political climate, when Washington wants to spend money on anything — whether it be healthcare reform, job stimulus, or even disaster relief — someone has to pay for it. Taxes are clearly at the heart of the job debate. And the candidates’ job proposals, centered on taxes as they are, remind us why we need to pay attention to all the news coming out of Washington. What do you think? Are the candidates sincerely working to create new jobs? Or are they mainly interested in preserving their own?