Op-ed: Forget tax cuts – Here’s a five-point plan to help people through the crisis and boost the economy

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Please, let’s stop all the tax cut talk.

The Trump Administration has become quite single-minded when it comes to policies that could help the economy rebound from the coronavirus-induced coma that has gripped the country since March.

My good friend and former colleague, Larry Kudlow, who sits atop the National Economic Council, has proposed cutting the corporate tax rate further, from the current 21% all the way down to 10%.

In addition, he, and others, have also proposed a payroll tax holiday for both employers and employees, as well as a reduction in the capital gains tax rate.

There has also been a proposal to offer American citizens “advances” of between $5,000 to $10,000 of their future Social Security benefits, a payment today that will cost them tomorrow.

I have been quite vocally opposed to such ideas as they would most certainly fail to benefit those most in need of financial assistance.

It is now widely agreed that a payroll tax holiday won’t help employees who have fallen on hard times. Those who have been laid-off, or furloughed without pay, are not paying those taxes anyway, so no help there.

As it is, corporations, which have a top marginal tax rate is 21%, pay far less than that in real terms. They don’t need another cut.

In addition, corporate taxes, as a percentage of federal revenue, are at their lowest point in history, meaning that individuals paid the bill for the $1.5 trillion tax cuts passed in late 2017.

That plan, aside from boosting corporate dividends and stock buybacks, did little to stimulate capital investment, increase employment or raise wages.

In short, there was no boost to economic growth, just a big boost to government debt.

The federal budget deficit was lifted to over $1 trillion dollars with that cut, just before the government was forced to spend an additional $3 trillion to offset the economic shock delivered by the coronavirus.

Instead of further cutting taxes, I am offering a five-point plan that will help individuals through this crisis and boost economic activity without offering additional assistance to those who need it the least.  

  1. Eliminate the $10,000 limit on state, local and property tax deductions (SALT taxes).
  2. Bring back income averaging.
  3. Restore deductions for interest rate payments on credit card and other installment credit for individuals and allow state sales taxes to be deductible, as well.
  4. Restore full destructibility for travel and entertainment expenses for individuals who incur such costs.
  5. Restore deductions paid for “professional services” like accounting, business management and agent commissions.

(Because I am a small businessperson with an LLC, this would not benefit me personally.)

These five changes to the existing tax code while, yes, complicating rather than simplifying it, would reduce the tax burden for individuals across the wide spectrum of income brackets and boost economic activity in housing, restaurants and the like.

Income averaging, which was eliminated in the 1986 tax reform legislation, would allow individuals, if 2020 is used as the base year, to lower their tax bill in 2021, assuming there is a meaningful economic rebound.

Income averaging, which still allows just farmers and fishermen to average their income over a rolling four-year basis, allows taxpayers to pay at a more consistent rate by taking into account annual fluctuations in earnings.

No doubt this year’s earnings will be far less than next year’s income for millions of people.

Allowing them to average their incomes over the next several years will hold down their tax bills next year, giving them more disposable income to spend in 2021, as would the elimination of caps on state, local and property taxes.

Some will argue that this would be a boon to high-tax states, typically blue, and would assist business in states either unfriendly to the current administration or support states that are profligate spenders.

It doesn’t really matter. Everyone, everywhere needs as much assistance as possible.

Certainly, these five points would cost the government money. Any additional programs would, especially additional corporate and payroll tax cuts.But this plan will help get people back on their feet more quickly.

Corporations, especially large ones, have already received more than their fair share. It’s time to tilt the benefits back to consumers, not producers.

Commentary by Ron Insana, a CNBC and MSNBC contributor and the author of four books on Wall Street. Follow him on Twitter @rinsana.

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