Every federal budget proposal is just that: a proposal, or a list of recommendations from the White House to Congress. Ultimately, it is for Congress to decide whether to fund a particular government program and at what level. The same is true for tax cuts and tax increases. The final budget for FY 2012 will be a compromise. Nonetheless, President Obama’s FY 2012 budget is a helpful tool to predict in what direction federal tax policy may move.

Individuals
In his FY 2012 budget, President Obama repeats his call for Congress to end the Bush-era tax cuts for higher-income individuals (which the president generally defines as single individuals with incomes over $200,000 and married couples with incomes over $250,000). The top individual income tax rates would increase to 36 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively, after 2012. For 2011 and 2012, the top two individual income tax rates are 33 percent and 35 percent, respectively. The president also proposes to limit the deductions of higher income individuals.

Additionally, the president wants Congress to extend the reduced tax rates on capital gains and dividends, but not for higher-income individuals. Single individuals with incomes above $200,000 and married couples with incomes above $250,000 would pay capital gains and dividend taxes at 20 percent rather than at 15 percent after 2012.

The president’s FY 2012 budget, among other things, also proposes:

  • An AMT patch (higher exemption amounts and other targeted relief) after 2011
  • A permanent American Opportunity Tax Credit (enhanced Hope education tax credit) after 2012
  • A permanent enhanced earned income credit
  • A new exclusion from income for certain higher education student loan forgiveness
  • One-time payments of $250 to Social Security beneficiaries, disabled veterans and others with a corresponding tax credit for retirees who do not receive Social Security
  • A temporary extension of certain tax incentives, such as the state and local sales tax deduction and the higher education tuition deduction, for one year

Some of the proposals in the president’s FY 2012 budget impact how individuals interact with the IRS. Many taxpayers complain that when they call the IRS, the wait times to speak to an IRS representative are so long they hang up. The president proposes to increase the IRS’s budget to hire more customer service representatives. The president also proposes to allow the IRS to accept debit and credit card payments directly, thereby enabling taxpayers to avoid third party processing fees.

Businesses
The tax incentives for businesses in the president’s FY 2012 budget are generally targeted to specific industries. One popular but temporary business tax incentive would be made permanent. President Obama proposes to extend permanently the research tax credit. The president also proposes to permanently abolish capital gains tax on investments in certain small businesses.

Other business proposals include:
1. Employer tax credits for creating jobs in newly designated Growth Zones
2. Additional tax breaks for investments in energy-efficient property
3. More funds for grants in lieu of tax credits for specified energy property
4. One-year extensions of some temporary business tax incentives, such as the Indian employment credit and environmental remediation expensing
5. Modifying Form 1099 business information reporting
6. Extending and reforming Build America Bonds

The president’s FY 2012 budget does not include a cut in the U.S. corporate tax rate. Any reduction in the U.S. corporate tax rate is likely to come outside the budget process. The president has spoken often in recent weeks about reducing the U.S. corporate tax rate but he wants any reduction to be revenue neutral; that is, the cost of cutting the U.S. corporate tax rate must be paid for. President Obama has discussed closing some unspecific tax loopholes.

IRS operations
President Obama proposes a significant increase in funding for the IRS. Most of the money would go to hiring new revenue officers and boosting enforcement activities. The White House predicts that investing $13 billion in the IRS over the next 10 years will generate an additional $56 billion in additional tax revenue over the same time period.

Estate tax
Late last year, the White House and the GOP agreed on a maximum federal estate tax rate of 35 percent with a $5 million exclusion for 2010, 2011 and 2012. In his FY 2012 budget, the president proposes to return the federal estate tax to its 2009 levels after 2012 (a maximum tax rate of 45 percent and a $3.5 million exclusion). President Obama also proposes to limit the duration of the generation skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption and to make other estate-tax related changes.

Revenue Raisers
The White House and Congress are both looking at ways to cut the federal budget deficit. Taxes are one way. The president’s FY 2012 budget proposes a number of revenue raisers, especially in the area of international taxation and in fossil fuel production.

International taxation. The president’s budget proposes to reduce tax incentives for U.S.-based multinational companies. One goal of this strategy is to encourage multinational companies to invest in job creation in the U.S. The president’s FY 2012 budget calls for, among other things, to limit earnings stripping by expatriated entities, to limit income shifting through intangible property transfers, and to make more reforms to the foreign tax credit rules. If enacted, all of the proposed international taxation reforms would raise an estimated $129 billion in additional revenue over 10 years.

LIFO. President Obama proposes to repeal the last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventory accounting method for federal income tax purposes. Taxpayers that currently use the LIFO method would be required to write up their beginning LIFO inventory to its first-in, first-out (FIFO) value in the first tax year beginning after December 31, 2012. This proposal would raise an estimated $52.8 billion over 10 years.

Fossil fuel tax preferences. The Tax Code includes a number of tax incentives for oil, gas and coal producers. President Obama proposes to repeal nearly all of these tax breaks for oil, gas and coal companies. These proposals would raise an estimated $46.1 billion over 10 years.

Financial institutions. President Obama proposes to impose a financial crisis responsibility fee on large U.S. financial institutions. The fee, if enacted, would raise an estimated $30 billion in additional revenue over 10 years.

Carried interest. The president’s FY 2012 budget proposes to tax carried interest as ordinary income. This proposal would raise an estimated $14.8 billion in additional revenue over 10 years.

Insurance company reforms. Insurance companies are subject to specific and very technical tax rules. President Obama proposes to overhaul the tax rules for insurance companies. If enacted, these reforms would raise an estimated $14 billion over 10 years.

These are just some of the revenue raisers in the president’s FY 2012 budget. All of them will be extensively debated in Congress in the coming months. Our office will keep you posted on developments. If you have any questions about the president’s FY 2012 budget proposals, please contact us.