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Politics

A feast for regulatory parasites

Catherine Rampell on

The GOP tax plan's top beneficiaries aren't actually rich people, or even corporations, though both groups will indeed benefit mightily. The biggest winners are the nation's tax planners, thanks to the tax-sheltering bonanza this bill is about to unleash.

As my own CPA father likes to say: Congress has once again taken pity upon the nation's poor accountants and guaranteed them all lifetime employment.

Tax-filing is already unbelievably resource-intensive. Every year, the nation collectively spends billions of hours and hundreds of billions of dollars on tax planning, compliance and preparation.

At many companies, tax departments have effectively become profit centers, where armies of accountants and tax attorneys devise ways to legally shortchange Uncle Sam.

With all due respect to my dad and his fellow "regulatory parasites" (his term, not mine), these are surely resources that could be more productively deployed elsewhere.

For all these reasons, Republicans have said that simplification is one of their primary goals in overhauling the tax code. And it's true that their proposal to nearly double the individual income tax's standard deduction would streamline tax preparation for many households (at least for a few years, before this provision expires).

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But on the corporate side -- and for higher-income individuals who may soon decide to self-incorporate -- it's a different story.

"The amount of complexity they're adding is staggering, just unbelievably staggering," fumes the usually mild-mannered Steven M. Rosenthal, a tax attorney and senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

There are lots of changes to the tax code that will cause a boom in aggressive tax planning. Some of these are deliberate, others clearly accidental.

Among the intentional changes, for example, are new rates and rules for pass-through businesses. These would create an entirely new, parallel system of taxation.

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