This tax bill is a health care bill too.

We anticipate that the House and Senate will vote on the final GOP tax plan early next week. While this proposal is first and foremost a give-away to the super wealthy and corporations, it’s important to remember that it is also a direct attack on the health care coverage of Montanans.

We briefly explained in an earlier post about why the Senate tax bill would hurt Montanans with health care needs. Today we are going to take a closer look at how this tax bill is a health care bill too:

If the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate were repealed, 13 million more Americans would go uninsured. While the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes that the magnitude of the coverage effects is uncertain, it concludes that there’s no doubt that “the number of uninsured people would be millions higher.”

In Montana, 146,717 people are enrolled in Medicaid as of September 2017, and 86,000 people are enrolled in Montana’s Medicaid expansion as of November 2017.

And, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), 92 percent of Montana’s children now have health insurance coverage.

With over 232,000 Montanans insured through Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion, cuts to Medicaid would be devastating for our state. Montana is already grappling with an opioid epidemic, as well as major funding cuts to support rural health care needs and Montanans with disabilities. As recent media has reported, Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion has been a critical lifeline for Montanans.

Without the ACA individual mandate, individual market premiums would also increase 10 percent. Fewer healthy people would sign up for individual market coverage with no mandate, which would increase average costs and therefore premiums in the individual market as less healthy and young people enroll and more people with expensive medical needs tilt the cost of health care needs.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that repealing the mandate would permanently raise premiums by 10 percent, and some major insurers have projected larger effects. As Senator Collins has noted, these premium increases would likely erase — or more than erase — the Senate bill’s tax cuts for millions of people who buy coverage in the individual market. Unaffordable premiums should not be a barrier to folks who need coverage.

The individual mandate is also critical to keeping the individual market stable. As the American Academy of Actuaries commented in its recent letter to Senate leaders about repealing the mandate, “increased uncertainty and instability regarding future enrollment, premium rates, and risk pool profiles if coverage incentives are eliminated would increase the risk of insurers incurring losses. Insurers would likely reconsider their future participation in the market. This could lead to severe market disruption and loss of coverage among individual market enrollees”

And last, but not least, if repealing the individual mandate is included in the final federal tax plan, it would also result in the loss of $5.5 million in general fund revenue per year for Montana. Since it is predicted less Montanans would enroll, the state would lose revenue from no longer collecting the health insurance premium tax from enrollees.

Affordable health care coverage for Montanans is a value that we all share. Our Montana congressional delegation should work to advance tax policies that strengthen the state of Montana and invest in our working families. Equally, our congressional delegation should support health care legislation that strengthens the Affordable Care Act—not provisions that work to cut it down.

Get Ready for the One-Two Punch: Anticipated Cuts to SNAP, Medicaid, and Possibly More

As the U.S. Senate & House conferees are crafting the final GOP tax plan behind closed doors in conference committee, we already have a strong sense of who wins and who loses under this bill. Any changes that happen before the chambers vote during the week of December 18th will not repair the devastating provisions of either the House-passed or Senate-passed bills.

As we anticipate the passage of this final tax legislation, we want to turn toward the details of the future implications of a tax bill that adds $1.5 trillion to the national deficit over ten years.

Get ready for the one-two punch: anticipated cuts to SNAP, Medicaid, and possibly more.

As we expected during the federal budget resolution process in the fall, the tax bill that congressional Republicans are finalizing is just step one of a likely two-step tax and budget agenda. The plan looks like:

  1. Cut taxes now that are heavily skewed toward wealthy households and profitable corporations.
  2. Then decry the enlarged deficits that those tax cuts fuel — and insist that they require cuts to programs for mainly low- and middle-income families.

Republican leaders have repeatedly said in recent weeks that after enacting a tax bill, they will turn to budget cuts — particularly “welfare reform,” long a code for cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Medicaid, Medicare, among others that help families of limited means afford food, housing, health care, and other basic needs.

Approximately 1 in 8 Montanans struggle with hunger, including 45,000 children living in food insecure homes. Cuts to SNAP would hurt families with kids, seniors, and people with disabilities. As for health coverage, about 232,000 Montanans are insured through Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion as of September 2017. Cuts to Medicaid would be devastating for our state, which is already grappling with an opioid epidemic, as well as major funding cuts to support rural health care needs and Montanans with disabilities.

The budget resolution that Congress approved in October, which created the process and set the parameters for the current tax bill, also calls for $5.8 trillion in budget cuts over the coming decade, including deep cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and other health care programs; basic assistance including SNAP; and non-defense discretionary funding, the part of the budget that funds education and training, transportation and other infrastructure, medical research, child and elder care, and other important priorities.

GOP leaders appear already poised to seek large budget cuts next year before the final tax legislation makes it to the President’s desk.

Ultimately, the true winners and losers of this federal tax proposal and the subsequent plan to cut services that hundreds of thousands of Montanans rely on haven’t changed with small tweaks to the proposals. Low- and middle-income folks, working families with children, and Montanans with health care needs are all set up to fail if the GOP tax proposal becomes law.

Pass-Through Provisions Are Not for Main Street

By now you have heard that the tax bill Congressional Republicans are rushing to get to the President’s desk by Christmas will be a costly new giveaway to the very wealthy and major corporations at the expense of working families in Montana.

Last week we outlined who wins and who loses under the U.S. Senate tax plan. Now we want to dive deeper on the details through a blog series over the next several days.

First up: Pass-Through Provisions Are Not for Montana’s Main Street

Racing to pass a tax bill last week, U.S. Senate Republicans made this bad bill even worse by rushing to include a few provisions that skewed the bill even more toward the rich.

One of the last minute edits sweetened the pot for owners of unincorporated businesses who declare their profits as “pass through” income on their personal tax returns — income from businesses such as partnerships, S corporations, and sole proprietorships that owners claim on their individual tax returns and is now taxed at the same rates as wages and salaries.

The version that passed the Senate Finance Committee would have let business owners deduct 17.4 percent of their pass-through income from their taxable income, meaning that it would be tax free (subject to certain restrictions). That deduction is heavily skewed to the most profitable businesses and wealthiest business owners, who receive a greater share of their income from pass-throughs and enjoy a larger tax break per dollar of deductions since they are in higher tax brackets.

To secure the vote of Senator Steve Daines, GOP leadership agreed to raise the deduction percentage by nearly a third, to 23 percent.

Although Senators Daines claimed that he was trying to help owners of small businesses, the fact is that nationally the richest one per cent of households receives more than half of all pass-through income the economy generates.

Because Montana allows all deductions permitted by federal law, the 23 percent deduction to federal income taxes in the passed Senate bill would be taken out again at the state level. According to the Montana Department of Revenue, this pass-through deduction combined with other changes to income tax, would result in a state revenue loss to $80 million.

While sold as a benefit to Main Street, this revised pass-through provision is a sham. As we have explained before, it does not help Montana’s small business owners. It is just one more give-away to the super wealthy in Montana, it increases pressure on Montana’s already strugging budget, and it leaves the average working family high and dry.

MPBC Statement: GOP Senate Tax Plan Guts Health Care Coverage for Millions of Americans while Giving Massive Tax Cuts to Corporations and Wealthy

Following Senate passage of the Republican tax bill, Heather O’Loughlin of the Montana Budget and Policy Center released the following statement:

“Both the Senate and House tax bills are costly new giveaways to the very wealthy and major corporations at the expense of working families, including tens of millions of low-income and middle-class Americans who actually would face a tax increase. The GOP tax plans won’t create new jobs or help Main Street businesses—in fact, they could actually hurt Montana businesses and workers by giving large multinational corporations a permanent tax advantage. We call on Senator Daines and Representative Gianforte to stand with their constituents and reject the final tax bill.

Both tax bills would explode deficits, strain our state budget, and almost certainly force cuts to everything from nutrition assistance for families to education, Medicare, and infrastructure. To make matters worse, the Senate bill guts the Affordable Care Act, increasing the number of uninsured people by 13 million all to pay for corporate tax cuts.

Small changes won’t fix these terribly flawed bills, and the merged tax bill that comes out of a conference committee will be more of the same – offering nothing to most working families and ultimately hurting many Montanans. Instead of tax cuts that help those who need it the least, Senator Daines and Representative Gianforte should work to advance tax policies that invest in working families and ensuring that any tax bill is paid for by closing tax loopholes or other responsible tax changes.”

Why the Senate Tax Bill Hurts Montana Small Businesses & Main Street – Even with a change to benefit pass-through entities

On Monday Senate Daines announced that he would vote “No” on the Senate tax proposal, citing that the current bill does more for large corporations at the expense of small businesses. While we appreciate Senator Daines’ concern that this bill doesn’t work for Montana, the issues and threats we face in this tax bill are far greater than this narrow issue.

Daines’ concern relates to the provisions for pass-through entities. Pass-through entities include partnerships, sole proprietorships, S-corporations, and other companies whose earnings pass straight through to owners’ individual returns, rather than being taxed at the corporate level.

The current Senate bill includes a new deduction for taxpayers who have income from a pass-through entity. The Senate bill provides a 17.4 percent deduction on income earned from pass-through businesses, effectively bringing the taxpayers top tax rate down to about 32 percent. Senator Daines is calling to increase this deduction to 20 percent on income, which would further lower their rate.

However, small tweaks like this one do not fix this bill. There are several key provisions of the Senate tax plan that are far more harmful to middle-class Montanans and small businesses, which Senator Daines has not yet addressed.

For example, decreasing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent largely benefits large corporations that are experiencing record profits, while tax revenue from the same group has been plummeting. The decrease in the corporate tax rates further tilts the scales in favor of large corporations, giving them an unfair edge over Main Street small businesses. 
At the end of the day, the Senate bill’s corporate tax cuts are permanent, while pass-through entities would see a tax hike by 2027 because the deduction is a temporary provision set to expire after 2025.

Repealing the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction means increased taxes for small business owners and their customers, and increased pressure on state budgets.

Finally, repealing the individual mandate requirement under the Affordable Care Act would cause 13 million Americans to become uninsured. The increase in uncompensated care costs could force some providers to close their doors or cut back spending in ways that undermine the quality of care. Providers might also raise prices, shifting costs to people with private insurance coverage (including employer coverage). Or, states or the federal government might be forced to step in to cover some of these uncompensated care costs, shifting costs to taxpayers.

Regardless of what changes are made to the Senate tax bill before a vote later this week, this proposal is still bad for Montana, and it does nothing to help working families. Main Street small businesses don’t benefit from tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. They deserve Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to find ways to really help small businesses.

US Senate Tax Plan in Montana: Winners and Losers

In mid-November, the House passed a tax plan that would add $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit and increase taxes on working and middle-class people to pay for permanent tax cuts for large corporations and the super wealthy. The proposal also sets up deep cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, education, and SNAP that would add to the pain families feel as a result of this bill.

The Senate bill has the same basic flaws as the House bill, but this time the tax legislation also includes a direct attack on the Affordable Care Act, resulting in millions of Americans losing coverage. As we anticipate the Senate vote this week, let’s take a closer look at who are the real winners and losers in the Senate tax plan:

WINNERS

The Super Wealthy: Despite all of the talk about helping the middle class, wealthy individuals and their heirs win big from the Senate tax plan. The top tax rate for millionaires has been shaved down to 38.5 percent from 39.6 percent, while the exemption from the estate tax—which is a an inheritance tax on multi-million dollar estates—doubles to $11 million for individuals and $22 million for couples. The Senate bill also eliminates the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a levy aimed at ensuring that higher-earning people pay at least some tax.

By 2025 (when most of the Senate bill’s provisions would be in place), high-income households would get the largest tax cuts as a share of after-tax income, on average. Meanwhile households with incomes below $30,000 would, on average, face a tax increase.

Multi-National Corporations: The Senate bill slashes the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, going into effect in 2019. U.S. oil companies with foreign operations would pay reduced taxes under the Senate bill on their income from sales of oil and natural gas abroad. Beer, wine and liquor producers would also reap tax reductions under the Senate measure. Like the House bill, the Senate bill creates a lower corporate tax rate for multinationals’ foreign profits. That’s a big incentive for companies to shift profits and investments offshore to get the lower rate, and it advantages large multinationals compared to small, domestic firms.

The Senate bill makes all these tax cuts for corporations and multinationals permanent—paying for that by repealing the individual mandate and making millions more uninsured, even while allowing provisions that are intended to benefit middle-income families expire at the end of 2025.

Senate tax plan

LOSERS

Montanans with Health Care Needs: The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate would be repealed, which would cause 13 million more Americans to be uninsured and raise individual market premiums by 10 percent. The individual mandate is critical to keeping individual market coverage affordable and keeping the individual market stable. The $338 billion in savings from repealing the individual mandate are being used to pay for making part of the Senate bill’s corporate tax rate cut permanent, which overwhelmingly benefits high-income households: the top 0.1 percent of households would get an average tax cut of about $100,000 annually.

Working Folks: Many families making less than $30,000 a year would face tax increases starting in 2021 under the Senate bill, according to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. By 2027, when many of its provisions would have expired, those at the top would still get large tax cuts, but every income group below $75,000 would face tax increases, on average.

Working Families with Children: The Senate plan’s signature “middle class” tax cut, its Child Tax Credit (CTC) increase, provides almost no benefit ($75 or less) to 10 million children in low-income working families, and provides less than the full $1,000 increase in the credit to millions more. At the same time, it newly extends the full $2,000 per child credit to couples with incomes between $110,000 and $500,000. Even this meager increase would be temporary, as the Senate tax plan ends the entire CTC increase after 2025. Low-income working adults without children and non-custodial parents are also largely excluded from the plan’s tax cuts, so millions would continue to be taxed into or deeper into poverty.

Charities: Charities that support low-income families and supplement government services are nervous about the impact of doubling the standard deduction. The National Council of Nonprofits warns that charitable deductions are likely to go down under this bill. While the GOP enables the wealthy to continue deducting their charitable giving, many middle- and upper-middle-class families would no longer get that tax break, because they probably would stop itemizing their deductions. At the moment about 30 percent of Americans itemize, but under the GOP bill, the standard deduction roughly doubles from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals and $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples, meaning fewer people would probably itemize.

All of us in Montana: About half of Montana’s budget comes from federal funding. If these cuts become law, state policymakers will have to find ways to pay for health care, food aid, grants for college, and more. Thanks to low revenue due to our own trickle-down policies, it is highly unlikely Montana will make up the difference. This tax proposal on top of our current budget crisis in the state will be devastating to our economy, our communities, and our families that are already struggling.

MBPC Statement in Response to the US House Tax Bill

Below is a statement by the Montana Budget and Policy Center in response to the United States House release of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:

“The House GOP’s tax plan would enact large tax cuts that are heavily skewed toward wealthy households and profitable corporations, while increasing the federal deficit over time,” said Heather O’Loughlin, co-director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center. “These tax cuts will result in even greater pressure on Congress to make cuts to programs that serve Montana seniors, people with disabilities, children, and working Montana families, all the while putting millions of federal dollars that are injected into Montana’s local economies at risk.” 

The House Republican tax plan released today is more of the same. Just like earlier proposals from the Administration and congressional Republicans, it would increase federal deficits, provide enormous tax cuts to high-income households and corporations, and hurt working and middle-income families.

The House tax plan would increase federal deficits by at least $1.5 trillion over the coming decade.

  • To put that number in context, $150 billion per year would roughly equal:
    • Doubling the Pell Grant program, which provides aid to low- and moderate-income college students; AND
    • Doubling cancer research at National Institute of Health (NIH); AND
    • Funding the full backlog of needed maintenance at our national parks; AND
    • Providing child care assistance to six million children; AND
    • Providing opioid addiction treatment to 300,000 people; AND
    • Training 3.5 million workers for in-demand jobs.

Tax cuts under the House plan would go overwhelmingly to high-income households.

  • Even though the House tax plan does not cut the top rate, it still delivers large tax cuts to the top 1 percent because of the corporate tax, pass-through, and estate tax cuts. And the new “millionaires bracket” is itself a tax cut of $24,000 to millionaires since they would no longer need to pay a 39.6 percent rate on income between $481,100 and $1 million.

Business tax changes in the plan would benefit high-income households and large multinational corporations, not small businesses or the middle class.

  • The House bill creates a lower corporate tax rate – 10 percent – for multinationals’ foreign profits, half its 20 percent rate on domestic profits. That’s a big incentive for companies to shift profits and would give international corporations a tax advantage against local small businesses.
  • The special lower rate for pass-through businesses overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy, such as hedge fund owners and real estate investors.

The plan offers no benefits to most low-income working families: instead, it hurts many.

  • While the plan increases the Child Tax Credit (CTC) increase, it leaves out more than 10 million children in low-income working families. Another roughly 6 million would receive only small benefits over time because their credit would grow with inflation.
  • Low-income working adults without children and non-custodial parents are also largely excluded from the plan’s tax cuts, so millions would continue to be taxed into or deeper into poverty by federal income and payroll taxes.

Policy Basics: Taxes in Indian Country. Part 1 – Individual Tribal Members

Few people understand the nuances of how taxes work in Indian Country. As a result, taxation authority in Indian Country has been one of the most litigated issues between tribes, states, and local governments. Furthermore, there is much misinformation and many missed opportunities for innovative and mutually beneficial inter-governmental collaborations that respect tribal sovereignty. 

This is the first in a series of MBPC Policy Basics reports on taxes in Indian Country. This report provides a brief overview of the taxes that individual Indians in Montana pay. Part 2 will focus on tribal governments and the taxes they pay and assess. Part 2 reviews the state-tribal revenue sharing agreements made between the seven reservation governments and the Montana Departments of Revenue and Transportation

Here is the full report – Policy Basics: Taxes in Indian Country. Part 1 – Individual Tribal Members.

Initiative 172: Statement in Response to Settlement Agreement

June 20, 2014 | Montana Budget and Policy Center

In response to the announcement of a settlement agreement between the Montana Department of Revenue and Charter Communications, Inc.

“The Montana Budget and Policy Center is glad that I-172 will not be on the November ballot, and Charter Communications will continue to pay its fair share as a centrally assessed telecommunications company going forward. The citizen’s ballot initiative should not be used by corporations to lower their taxes and shift responsibility onto local property tax payers. We are encouraged that millions in protested taxes held hostage by Charter’s tactics will now be released and can be put to good use by local governments and schools,” said Sarah Cobler Leow, Executive Director of Montana Budget and Policy Center. 

Read our full report on I-172 here. 

Initiative 172: Charter Refuses to Pay Its Fair Share

Initiative 172 (I-172) is a fiscally irresponsible ballot measure that will benefit one out-of-state corporation, take money away from our schools and universities, and raise property taxes for Montana homeowners and small businesses.  I-172 sets a dangerous precedent of using the citizens’ ballot initiative to lower corporate taxes, and sets the stage to dismantle centrally-assessed taxation of statewide corporations operating in Montana.

If passed, I-172 will provide a tax cut for one telecommunications company. To offset the loss of millions in local property tax revenue, this initiative will result in tax increases for all other Montana property taxpayers or cuts to local services like K-12 schools, roads and law enforcement.

Read MBPC’s full brief here.

Read MBPC’s statement on I-172 here.