Details of the president’s State of the Union tax proposals

By Alistair M. Nevius, J.D.

President Barack Obama used Tuesday’s State of the Union address to announce that he will propose tax increases for higher-income individuals and provide tax relief for middle-class taxpayers. Ahead of the speech, the White House provided details of what the president plans to propose, which it characterized as simplifying the Internal Revenue Code, eliminating loopholes, and helping “middle class families get ahead and grow the economy.”

Specific proposals on the president’s wish list include:

  • Eliminate the step-up in basis for assets that are transferred at death, treating transfers at death as realization events for capital gains tax purposes;
  • Raise the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 28%, which would be imposed on taxpayers with incomes over about $500,000;
  • Impose a 7-basis-point fee on the liabilities of large financial institutions to discourage “excessive borrowing”;
  • Create a $500 second-earner tax credit for families in which both spouses work (5% of the first $10,000 of the lower-earning spouse’s income; credit would phase out for couples with incomes between $120,000 and $210,000);
  • Modify various child care tax incentives, including increasing the earned income tax credit (EITC) for childless taxpayers, increasing the EITC phaseout level, making permanent EITC increases that are scheduled to expire after 2017, tripling the maximum child and dependent care credit and making the income cutoff $120,000, and eliminating child care flexible spending accounts;
  • Consolidate and expand education tax benefits, including making the American opportunity tax credit permanent and folding the lifetime learning credit into it, increase the refundable portion to $1,500, and make it available to more students; and
  • Reform retirement tax incentives, including automatically enrolling workers in IRAs, requiring employers to allow more part-time workers to participate in their retirement plans, and providing a cap of about $3.4 million in an IRA.

The White House did not provide a timeline for when legislation embodying these proposals would be introduced. Since both houses of Congress are now controlled by Republicans, any proposal by the president will face a steep uphill climb.

Alistair M. Nevius is the JofA’s editor-in-chief, tax.

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