Comparing the House and Senate versions of the Tax Cuts

The Joint Committee on Taxation released a report Thursday comparing the House and Senate versions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, highlighting differences that include where tax brackets begin, the standard deduction, maximum rate on business income of individuals and the child tax credit.

For personal income tax, the House version of the tax bill consolidates the current seven income tax bracket rates to four but keeps the top marginal rate at 39.6 percent. The Senate version, on the other hand, keeps the seven brackets but reduces the top marginal rate to 38.5 percent. The House and Senate also both have slightly different rates for the standard deduction.

The House and Senate bills also treat pass-through income differently. The House bill introduces a top rate of 25 percent for members of pass-through entities while individual tax rates can go as high as 39.6 percent. The lower rate would apply to only 30 percent of income that can be categorized as qualified business income. The remaining 70 percent would be attributable to wages or labor income and be taxed at individual rates — a mechanism put in place to prevent tax avoidance maneuvers to characterize personal wages as business income. The Senate’s tax bill introduces a 23 percent deduction for pass-through income, bringing the top effective rate to 29.6 percent.

Both the Senate and House increase the child tax credit, but while the House increases it to $1,600, the Senate increases it to $2,000. The phase-out amount for joint filers comes at $230,000 for joint filers in the House version and at $500,000 in the Senate version. The House version creates a $300 per-person nonrefundable family tax credit for those not eligible for the child tax credit that would expire by 2023, whereas the Senate version would create a $500 nonrefundable tax credit for non-child dependents.

The House also repeals the alternative minimum tax for corporations and individuals, while the Senate retains both alternative minimum taxes but increases the exemption rate for individuals.

For homeowners, the House lowers the limitation on qualifying indebtedness for the mortgage interest deduction to $500,000, grandfathering in indebtedness incurred on or before Nov. 2, 2017, at $1 million. The Senate version keeps the mortgage interest deduction for new debt but eliminates the deduction for home equity interest indebtedness.

On the health care side, the House bill repeals medical expense deductions while the Senate retains them and decreases the floor for the medical expense deduction to 7.5 percent from 10 percent for taxable years 2017 and 2018. The Senate also reduces the penalty for failure to obtain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act to $0, while the House version doesn’t touch the penalty under the individual mandate.

The House version increases the estate tax exemption from $5 million to $10 million, reduces the gift tax rate from 40 percent to 35 percent for gifts made after Dec. 31, 2024, and repeals the estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes for estates of decedents dying, gifts made, and generation-skipping transfers made after Dec. 31, 2024. The Senate version doubles the basic exclusion amount for estate and gift tax purposes from $5 million to $10 million.

Martin J. Milita


Part 4. PPPs Contrasted with Outsourcing and Privatization

PPPs are often associated with other government reforms or functions involving the private sector. For example, the outsourcing of government functions (transferring them to the private or nonprofit sector) is an effort to achieve greater fiscal control and more efficient service delivery. Government outsourcings is an application of the classic make or buy decision to government operations, even functions that have been the traditional domain of governments. The presumption is that private vendors can provide some public services more cheaply than government agencies. However, there is nothing intrinsic to outsourcing that requires a partnership.

Privatization of traditional state-owned or state-run enterprises is another popular reform strategy. Privatization involves the transfer of some activity and its assets that in the past was operated by the public sector to the private sector, through a sale, concession, or some other mechanism. In privatization, either a government eliminates direct control and ownership of the function and the delivery of services (full privatization), or it retains some influence by holding stock in the privatized firm. The intention in all such arrangements is that the day-to-day production and delivery of these goods and services will be left to private operators, and thus the market, and that the government’s involvement will be primarily regulatory. Again, there is nothing intrinsic to privatization that requires a partnership.

House Tax Bill-next steps

The House took a step toward arriving at a final tax bill Monday, setting up the process to reconcile the differences between the Senate-passed tax overhaul and the House’s own bill passed last month.

Congressional leaders have said they want to arrive at a final tax bill by Christmas and intend to iron out the differences between the two chambers’ legislation over the next several weeks.

The bills have substantial differences in treatment of intellectual property, offshore profits, pass-through enterprises, and even a resurrected alternative minimum tax. The Senate version of the bill also includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and provisions opening parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

House leaders, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said they wanted to move forward on a singular tax bill.

“It is time to go in a new direction. It is time to be pro-growth. And it is time to leave this slow-growth tax code for good,” Brady said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made similar remarks on the Senate floor Monday, after praising his party’s effort to pass the tax measure 51-49 in the early hours of Saturday morning.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we are going to meet the challenge,” McConnell said. “We’re looking forward to getting a bill to the president’s desk soon.”

Monday’s vote came after a significant amount of the House Freedom Caucus withheld its support for close to half an hour, threatening to sink the House conference effort. Members of the conservative group have complained about the way the chamber is proceeding on a temporary government funding bill and planned to have a meeting Monday night to discuss this issue.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders have already put their eyes on portions of the Senate bill they want to change. During a Sunday appearance on CNBC, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said some provisions like the Senate’s revived alternative minimum tax “should be eliminated for sure” from the final bill. He said that provision might choke off research and development funding in private industry.

In addition, the two chambers will have to iron out their differences on individual tax brackets — the House plan has four, and the Senate kept the seven that exist under current law — the mortgage interest deduction, estate tax and other provisions.

Speaking before a failed effort to change the conference instructions Monday, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass, said that Republicans were gleefully adding $1 trillion to the national debt “that they’ve beaten Democratic presidents with” in previous administrations.

Democratic leaders have also bashed the plan, but opposition from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others cannot sink the bill without more Republican defections.

The Senate is expected to take up its own motion to instruct a conference later this week


The tax bill, reconciliation & the ACA

The tax bill making its way through Congress will more than likely get rid of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

As the House and Senate versions of the tax bill are reconciled, lawmakers are likely to agree on eliminating the requirement to purchase health insurance, Kevin Brady, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said. (AP)

The Senate scrapped the mandate in the version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that chamber passed early Saturday. The legislation passed in the House last month did not address the issue, but as the two versions of the tax bill are reconciled, lawmakers are likely to agree on eliminating the requirement to purchase health insurance, Brady, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview that aired on CNBC.

Brady also said tax writers are likely to hold their ground on keeping the corporate tax rate at 20 percent despite President Donald Trump’s indicating on Twitter he was open to increasing that rate to around 22 percent.

When asked about the Senate’s decision to reinstate the corporate alternative minimum tax, Brady said the House and Senate would have to work out that difference. He said he still opposed the corporate and individual alternative minimum taxes because they are costly and complex.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a separate interview on CNBC Monday he wanted to eliminate the corporate AMT because keeping it would destroy research and development.

McCarthy also addressed the disparity between the individual income tax rates in the House and Senate versions of the bills. The House bill would collapse the individual income tax brackets to four, with a top rate of 39.6 percent, while the Senate bill would maintain seven brackets and decrease the top rate to 38.5 percent.

McCarthy said he expected to have the tax bill finalized by the end of the year.

The House on Monday took a step toward reconciling the two bills by voting to send the legislation to a conference committee. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also named nine Republican lawmakers to the committee and designated Brady to chair the panel. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, named five Democrats to the committee, with Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., as ranking member.

Part 3.What Public–Private Partnerships Are

Even with their ubiquity, there remains some ambiguity as to what exactly constitutes a PPP. For this article, however, we focus on a more specific, emerging form of PPP that gives the private sector a greater role in decision making and assumption of risk in the joint venture.

The private sector has long been involved in infrastructure projects, under arrangements by which the private sector, under contract, designs and builds facilities (or roads) and then turns them over to the government to operate and maintain. Our specific focus is on long-term partnerships involving the private delivery of public infrastructure services. Thus, Public–private partnerships are ongoing agreements between government and private sector organizations in which the private organization participates in the decision-making and production  of a public good or service that has traditionally been provided by the public sector and in which  the private sector shares the risk of that production.

Three critical conditions characterize this conception of these emerging PPPs:

  1. The relationship between the public and the private sector organization is long term, rather than a one-time relationship, such as might occur in a conventional contract for a good or service (such as office products or secretarial assistance).
  2. The private sector cooperates in both the decision making as to how best to provide a public good or service and the production and delivery of that good or service, which normally have been the domain of the public sector.
  3. The relationship involves a negotiated allocation of risk with the private sector instead of government bearing most of the risk.

These emerging forms of PPPs take a variety of forms that reflect varying degrees of private involvement, including design, build, and operate; build, own, operate, and transfer; and design, build, finance, and operate.

Next time we will explore important elements of successful conventional contracting including arm’s-length negotiations, transparency, clear specifications of the good or service being bought, and specific evaluation criteria.

Part 2. What Public–Private Partnerships Are and What They Are Not

What Public–Private Partnerships Are and What They Are Not

After years of underfinancing much-needed repairs and maintenance to America’s infrastructure—by as much as $2.2 trillion, according to some estimates—digging out of the current deficit will be costly. And with state and local governments facing tight budgets, it may be decades before the work will be affordable. The lack of resources for infrastructure improvement and maintenance extends beyond highways and affects a range of public capital investments, from levees to wastewater treatment and from transportation to schools. The dismal state of the nation’s current infrastructure could hamper future growth.

The ways that governments allocate new funding for infrastructure projects and the ways they build, operate, and maintain those projects has contributed to the problem. New spending often flows to less valuable new construction at the expense of funding maintenance on existing infrastructure.  Further hindering efficiency, the traditional process for building infrastructure decouples the initial investment—the actual building of a highway, for example—from the ongoing costs of maintaining that highway. As a result, the contractor building the highway often has little incentive to take steps to lower future operations and maintenance costs. Such inefficiencies likely contribute to falling rates of return on public capital investments. PPPs can be used for solid waste, transport (airports, bridges, ports, rail, roads, tunnels, and urban railways), tourism, and water.

The United States is a relative newcomer to PPPs. Public–private partnerships have existed worldwide at least since the time of the Roman Empire (e.g., the use of private tax and toll road collectors) and in the United States since its founding. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress authorized the use of privateers to harass the British navy. Later, much of the West was developed through a variety of PPPs, including the cross-continental railway. The production of transportation infrastructure often has been undertaken with PPPs, from the development of private toll roads and canals during the nation’s early history up to the recent Dulles Greenway—a privately financed, built, and operated toll road in northern Virginia.

Even though there is an old nineteenth-century tradition of privately provided public infrastructure and even of private tolled roads and bridges,  the United States still depends almost exclusively on the government for its public transport infrastructure (with the important exception of railroads).The two-decade trend toward PPPs that has revitalized the ways that many countries provide infrastructure has gained only little traction  in the United States. Whereas the United Kingdom financed $50 billion in transportation infrastructure via PPPs between 1990 and 2006, the United States, an economy more than six times as large as that of the United Kingdom, financed only approximately $10 billion during the same period.

Even with their ubiquity, there remains some ambiguity as to what exactly constitutes a PPP. . . For future articles . . . we shall focus on a . . . form of PPP that involves a greater role by the private sector in decision making and assumption of risk in the joint venture.

Public–Private Partnerships: Public Accountability

Public–private partnerships (PPPs or P3) are growing in popularity as a governing model for delivery of public goods and services. In recent years, the state of California for instance has partnered with the private sector to finance, design, construct, operate, and maintain two state infrastructure projects—the Presidio Parkway transportation project in San Francisco and the new courthouse in Long Beach. Both the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) entered into P3s for these projects in order to achieve benefits that they might not have obtained under a more traditional procurement approach (such as design-bid-build).  PPPS potential benefits include greater price and schedule certainty and the transfer of various project risks to a private partner.

PPPs have existed since the Roman Empire, but their expansion into traditional public projects today raises serious questions about public accountability. In a series of articles we plan on examining public accountability and its application to government and private firms involved in PPPs.

Part One-The Model:

Public–private partnerships (PPPs) increasingly have become the default solution to government problems and needs, most recently for infrastructure, and they are embraced by a wide range of constituencies, across political parties, and throughout the world. This trend may accelerate as governments experience fiscal deficits and look for alternative ways to finance and deliver government services. The rationale for creating such arrangements includes both ideological and pragmatic perspectives.

Ideologically, proponents argue that the private sector is superior to the public sector in producing and delivering many goods and services.

Pragmatically, government leaders see PPPs as a way of bringing in the special technical expertise, funding, innovation, or management know-how from the private sector to address complex public policy problems. The expanding domain of goods and services provided by PPPs includes private toll roads; schools, hospitals, security services, wastewater treatment, and emergency response.

There are many challenging technical and structural aspects to creating successful PPPs that have been addressed by other authors (see, e.g., Grimsey and Lewis 2004; Hodge and Greve 2005; Yescombe 2007). However, with the increased use of PPPs, the issue of public accountability has become one of the more important of policy questions raised (see, e.g., Guttman 2000; Sclar 2000). The purpose of upcoming articles is to provide a framework to assist public managers in effectively exercising accountability with PPPs. We will begin with a discussion of the nature of PPPs and the traditional concept of public accountability. Second, we focus on the unique characteristics of inter-organizational relationships that are pertinent to the exercise of accountability in PPPs. Finally, we shall offer a framework to analyze PPP accountability issues along several important dimensions that shape the relationships forged in public–private partnerships.

Next Time: What Public–Private Partnerships Are and What They Are Not