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Dean Zerbe published on Forbes - Obama Jobs Bill and Taxes, What Does It All Mean For Business?

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Reprinted from Forbes.com | September 9, 2011

Let's start with good marks.  The President had heartening things to say about the role of small business, recognizing that it is they that create the jobs, and he put forward proposals that will be of some help.

To that end, the President proposes cutting in half the payroll taxes for businesses (limited to the first $5 million in payroll for all companies).  This proposal will put some dollars in the pockets of business owners.  With businesses desperate for lines of credit and cash-in-hand this will be of some help.

Of note:  the President expands the payroll holiday on the employee-side (everyone working) from last year to now he proposes increasing it to half of payroll tax.

Also good news for business – the allowance for continuing to allow businesses to write off investments in 2012 means a continuance of current law as to accelerated depreciation (100% expensing) and Section 179.

The President's proposal for a payroll holiday for any increase by a business in payroll is interesting (available for businesses with growth in payroll up to $50 million — pretty generous).  Meaning if payroll for a company goes up (from previous year) because of increased hiring or an increase in wages than no employer-side payroll tax due on the increase in payroll for the year.   Pretty straightforward.

The credit for new hires ($4,000) is somewhat more bells and whistles.  This proposal requires proof that the new hire has been looking for work for 6 months. I hope Congress looks closely as to how easily for small businesses to qualify for the new hire credit.  Also a sidenote, worried that there is chaff with the wheat – businesses can be sued under the President's proposal if found to discriminate against the unemployed in hiring.  This is one of those sounds-good proposals but in practice places another grind on business (but at least a jobs bill for employment lawyers).

As discussed in an earlier column, the President has put forward a proposal for a tax credit for hiring veterans.  That will certainly be popular – but again hope Congress makes it simpler and easier for businesses to qualify.  The proposal won't help veterans if businesses view it as too complicated.  In addition, be nice if Congress added provisions to encourage veterans to start their own business (basically wish more tax policies in general to encourage investments in new businesses  – disappointing).

While not tax, the unemployment insurance extension – coupled with the Georgia plan of allowing training while collecting unemployment is well-considered to give the Congress greater comfort in looking at an extension.

Now the incomplete marks.  The President again leaves us with rhetoric and not practical proposes on tax reform and closing tax “loopholes.”  The President needs to lead with actual proposals with details not 10,000 foot, pie-in-the-sky rhetoric (especially tax reform – enough jawing already).  Cutting taxes is always popular – but raising taxes, eliminating loopholes – that is not a happy place for lawmakers.   If these tax proposals are going to happen they are going to be offset it appears – with both Congress and the White House saying a jobs bill needs to be revenue neutral.  The price tag of the President's proposals is significant ($245 billion on the tax-side alone according to the White House – and probably a low estimate – will see what Joint Tax says).

From being on the front lines of finding tens of billions of dollars in revenue raisers during my time as tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee – there is not $245 billion to be found through loophole closers, checking under the cushions and shaking the penny can.  Raising $245 billion in taxes (if not more to pay for increased spending – a nonstarter for House Republicans) is not going to happen with just loophole closers.  An increase in $245 billion in taxes will require changing basic tax provisions – and recognized by the President in his statements — could involve raising tax rates (another nonstarter for the House Republicans).  I don't know how much businesses and investors will be rocked to sleep wondering if the knock on the door will be the delivery of a new tax bill. The President promises more details to follow – here's hoping.   The President needs to lead in this area.  It can't be all dessert.

I welcome readers' comments — my own take is this:   While I think there is merit to the tax proposals (some of it already current law), I don't see proposals that are electrifying and game-changing.   The tax proposals must also be weighed with the great- unknown: who is going to see their taxes increased – by $245 billion plus – and what impact will those tax increases have on the economy?  How much is concern of these tax increases going to freeze business activity?  I am concerned that the speech and proposed policies are not enough to give the jobless, workers, business owners, and investors the confidence that there is a new direction from Washington and prosperity is just around the corner – but to be fair that may be too much to ask of any speech or policy.  Perhaps the real test – will Washington still be considering these proposals seriously two weeks from now.  Here is hoping that if not these proposals, that Washington is still seriously considering a jobs bill.

Dean Zerbe is alliantgroup's National Managing Director. Dean was formerly Tax Counsel and Sr. Counsel on the Senate Finance Committee and was a key player in all the major tax legislation passed during his tenure. Dean speaks throughout the country and meets with accounting firms and their clients to discuss the outlook for shortterm and long-term changes in tax policy as well as ways accounting firms can help their clients lower their tax bill.

Visit Dean's Forbes Blog at http://blogs.forbes.com/deanzerbe and share your comments!