Articles from Stephen Haner

Global Intangible Low-taxed Income (GILTI) And Other Tax Provisions Of Great Interest

Reprinted with the Author’s Permission.  Originally published in Bacon’s Rebellion.

In proposals which would further distance Virginia from the tax reforms of President Donald Trump, the General Assembly is being asked to let Virginia corporations keep two major deductions no longer allowed at the federal level.

The protection of a well-connected few will outweigh a possible benefit to the many, which seems to be what always happens when Virginia tries tax reform.

TCJA Adds 1.2 BillionIf the General Assembly agrees, the chance for a general corporate income tax rate reduction probably goes away. The protection of a well-connected few will outweigh a possible benefit to the many, which seems to be what always happens when Virginia tries tax reform.

The focus so far in the tax conformity debate has been on individual taxpayers, but $318 million of the $1.2 billion in new revenue generated by conformity over two years will come from corporations. You won’t find that number in any presentations from the Northam Administration, but the Senate Finance Committee reported it (see chart above.) In future years the new corporate income taxes grow faster than the individual taxes.

It works the same as with individual taxes. Congress eliminated several popular deductions but compensated with major rate cuts, leaving lower taxes overall. If Virginia conforms to all the lost deductions but keeps its corporate tax rate the same, the result is higher taxes overall.

Many businesses don’t use either deduction, but some that do are pushing hard to maintain them at the state level.

There are several bills pending in the House and Senate that propose to reduce the state’s corporate income tax rate from 6 to 5 percent, in two half-percent steps. That step has been endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business and the Virginia Manufacturers Association.

If the $300 million in expected corporate tax revenue growth is all you can work with, both steps cannot be taken at once. The 2019 General Assembly must either restore deductions to protect the select few or cut the rates to benefit all. (It also might do nothing on corporate taxes, and just spend the money.)

It is the same question as with the competing proposals dealing with individual taxes. Do you fully conform to the new federal system, but use the revenue to provide general tax relief through a higher standard deduction or lower rates? Or do you reject key parts of the new federal system and restore the status quo ante Trump.

The largest of the two deductions involved interest expenses, which are still deductible but now more limited under the new federal rules. Bills to restore the full interest deduction in Virginia include House Bill 2701 and Senate Bill 1697. According to the conformity revenue study commissioned by the Northam Administration, the new rules will cost certain Virginia taxpayers an additional $123 million for Tax Year 2018 and $90 million for Tax Year 2019.

That one conformity provision accounts for two-thirds of the additional revenue generated from corporations in 2018 and 2019.

The other issue has smaller dollars attached to it, about $7 million a year. Everybody enjoys the associated acronym, GILTI, which stands for Global Intangible Low-taxed Income. The bills to create a Virginia-only deduction for GILTI are House Bill 2700 and Senate Bill 1698. Virginia has long allowed a deduction for income earned overseas, so there is a strong argument that exempting this new category of taxable income is in line with that old policy.

Because there are individual bills, it is easy to adopt one and reject the other, which could happen. More details follow on the interest deduction, a.k.a. IRC Section 163(J).

As previously noted, Congress didn’t eliminate interest deductions for businesses but imposed major new limits. Those seeking to keep the full deduction on their state taxes argue it will make Virginia more attractive to investment and point to other examples where Virginia has refused to conform on business deductions.

“Congress only limited interest deductibility to pay for a lower federal corporate income tax rate and 100 percent expensing,” reads an industry handout supporting the deduction. “This way, companies are incentivized to invest in new assets without over-relying on debt. However, Virginia decouples from federal 100 percent expensing under IRC §168(k). Therefore, Virginia should decouple from IRC §163(j) because Congress intended for these provisions to act together.”

The sheet is being distributed by an organization known by the acronym OFII, made up of foreign-owned companies, which often do have complicated corporate structures and internal loans going back and forth across borders. Arguments over how to tax those structures and transactions have gone on as long as the U.S. has had an income tax.
Here is how the Department of Taxation described the issue in a recent presentation:

“Prior to TY 2018, the deduction of investment interest was limited. For individuals, the deduction is limited to investment income. For corporations, interest may be disallowed if debt-to-equity ratio exceeds 1.5/1.0 and net interest expense exceeds 50% of adjusted income. Disallowed interest may be carried forward.

“Beginning in 2018, the deduction is limited to 30% of the business’s adjusted income. Special rules or exemptions for partnerships, certain utilities, and businesses with gross receipts less than $25 million. Disallowed interest may be carried forward.”

It’s way more complicated than that. The actual IRS guidelines on the issue are long and illegible.

Easier to understand are two articles from Forbes magazine, here and here, which indicate Congress had policy reasons for what it did and was not just trying to grab revenue. For businesses or individuals, deductions nudge taxpayers toward a certain decision or investment. Congress was interested in reducing the incentives for corporate debt and creating a level playing field between debt and equity.

And it was going after the kind of behavior described in this Forbes excerpt:

“When you allow businesses to deduct interest expense, big businesses will abuse that deduction. A primary example is so-called “earnings strippings,” where a U.S. corporation borrows money from a foreign affiliate in a low-tax jurisdiction. When the U.S. (affiliate) deducts the interest it pays on the borrowing, it “strips” the earnings out of the (pre-2018) high-tax U.S., and moves those earnings to a lower-tax or tax-indifferent locale.”

Just Give It Back and Here’s How

Steve Haner | Senior Fellow, Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy

A joke making the rounds Wednesday had Governor Ralph Northam agreeing that Virginians did deserve a return of the windfall tax increase flowing to the state due to conformity, but we’d have to take it as Amazon Prime memberships.  Don’t expect laughter if the 2019 General Assembly votes out a massive multi-year incentive package for a super-wealthy corporation and refuses a simple and broad-based tax reform proposal for almost everybody else.

Virginia Fiscal Year 2019 and 2020 additional revenue

Give it back.

In the past few days the General Assembly’s key money committees have discussed what to do about the gush of new revenue the state will garner when it conforms to this year’s new federal tax regime. They should give it back.

After wrestling with different approaches over the last few months and consulting stakeholders, the public policy group I’m affiliated with, the Thomas Jefferson Institute, has settled on two basic steps that have always been on the options short-list.

1) For individual taxpayers, the state should double its standard deduction to $6,000 for individuals and $12,000 for couples. That removes up to $6,000 from the taxable income of an estimated 2.8 million Virginia tax returns, the vast majority of Virginia taxpayers.

2) For Virginia’s incorporated businesses, the corporate income tax rate should be cut from 6 percent currently to 5.5 percent for 2018 and 5.0 percent for 2019.
Both steps should be retroactive to tax year 2018 so they would reduce the taxes you compute for the state in a few months.

Both steps are first steps, because all indications are the state tax increases created by the federal tax changes will accelerate in future, by the state’s own estimates. Even a standard deduction of $12,000 is too low for a family and should rise more.

Neither step squeezes the state budget. The amount of “windfall” revenue returned by these changes is still lower than the estimated new revenue conformity creates. On an individual basis there will still be winners and losers, but the current state budget is not among the losers. No spending need be cut.

The drumbeat on this issue started by multiple posts on Bacon’s Rebellion has spread, sparking only a few comments at a recent House Appropriations Committee meeting and a presentation in front of the Senate Finance Committee Thursday. The tone of the Senate meeting, which I did not attend, may be reflected in this Richmond Times-Dispatch account where any effort to prevent the tax increase is framed as a loss of state revenue.

The Senate Finance staff produced the slide used above which slices the conformity revenue projection a new and useful way. It separates the business tax impacts into two measures, those that show up on individual returns because the business is not incorporated and those that show up on corporate returns. With that split you can see that the state impact of conformity is immediately quite positive to pass-through businesses and immediately a substantial tax increase on corporations.

The way the Northam Administration had packaged the same data implied the impact on business in the first year was minimal. Not so.

The extra $157 million hit to corporations in the first year represents about a 17 percent increase over the the base projection for corporate income taxes … we propose a 17 percent cut in the rate.

The extra $157 million hit to corporations in the first year represents about a 17 percent increase over the base projection for corporate income taxes and (don’t you love it when a plan comes together?) we propose a 17 percent cut in the rate.

The idea of increasing the standard deduction for individuals must also have great appeal, because the Senate is considering a temporary substitute – a tax credit that would have a similar impact for taxpayers (perhaps not as substantial) but would not be a permanent change in the rules. What Virginia needs, and what taxpayers should demand, is a permanent change. The idea that Virginia would continue to stand on its ridiculously low standard deduction deeper into the 21st Century is troubling.

People who have large mortgages, second homes, large local property tax bills, large charitable deductions and other ways to lower their taxes will continue to use them as itemized deductions. Low income and middle-class workers who don’t have those deductions have been stuck with the same inadequate standard deduction for decades. This is the best opportunity to change that since 1987.

State revenues are finally growing again, at least in part because of the economic activity resulting from the federal tax changes. In the first four months of the fiscal year (July-October) revenue shot up ten percent, blowing past a 1.5 percent growth estimate. Both the Senate and the House committee staffs this week projected hundreds of millions in new dollars that are not due to conformity, and not yet committed to any spending requirement.

Both committee staffs were quick to add long lists of unexpected bills showing up, the largest due to errors in Medicaid cost forecasting that are embarrassingly large, large enough to question the competence of the forecasters or the diligence of overseers or both. These Medicaid cost overruns will be among the first things cited by people arguing Virginia cannot afford to offer any tax relief and must keep all the “windfall” dollars.

Stephen Haner

About Stephen Haner

Stephen D. Haner is a Senior Fellow for State and Local Tax Policy at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. He is a former reporter, lobbyist, state employee and political advisor, with an emphasis on tax and business issues. He has lobbied in Richmond on behalf of about 30 clients over 20 years and may be reached at