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Congress Should End the Most Regressive Ones, Maintain the Progressive Ones, and Reform the Rest to Be More Progressive and Better Achieve Policy Goals
A new report from Citizens for Tax Justice explains how Senators responding to the “blank slate” approach to tax reform should prioritize which “tax expenditures” to preserve, repeal or reform.
Senators Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch, chairman and ranking member of the tax-writing committee in the Senate, have asked their colleagues to assume tax reform starts from a “blank slate,” meaning a tax code with no tax expenditures (special breaks and subsidies provided through the tax code). Senators are asked to provide letters to Baucus and Hatch by this Friday explaining which tax expenditures they would like to see retained in a new tax code.
CTJ’s report evaluates the ten costliest tax expenditures for individuals based on progressivity and effectiveness in achieving their stated non-tax policy goals — which include subsidizing home ownership and encouraging charitable giving, increasing investment, encouraging work, and many other stated goals.
CTJ’s report concludes that:
1. Tax expenditures that take the form of breaks for investment income (capital gains and stock dividends) are the most regressive and least effective in achieving their stated policy goals, and therefore should be repealed.
2. Tax expenditures that take the form of refundable credits based on earnings, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit, are progressive and achieve their other main policy goal (encouraging work) and therefore should be preserved.
3. Tax expenditures that take the form of itemized deductions are regressive and have mixed results in achieving their policy goals, and therefore should be reformed.
4. Tax expenditures that take the form of exclusions for some forms of compensation from taxable income (like the exclusion of employer-provided health insurance and pension contributions) are not particularly regressive and have some success in achieving their policy goals, and therefore should be generally preserved.