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Brady: New Middle-Income Tax Cut Conditionally Expected in 2019

A new, 10 percent middle-income tax cut is conditionally expected to be advanced in 2019, according to the House’s top tax writer. This timeline, although largely already expected on Capitol Hill, departs sharply from President Donald Trump’s original prediction that the measure would surface by November.

Middle-Income Tax Cut

President Donald Trump announced on October 22 that a new 10 percent tax cut would soon be unveiled that will focus specifically on middle-income taxpayers. “President Trump is determined to provide further tax relief for middle-class families,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Tex., said in an October 23 statement. “We will continue to work with the White House and Treasury over the coming weeks to develop an additional 10 percent tax cut focused specifically on middle-class families and workers, to be advanced as Republicans retain the House and Senate,” Brady added.

Comment. Notably, Brady is essentially highlighting in his statement that any such additional tax cut measure would require a Republican majority for congressional approval. As November midterm elections near, there is “talk” on Capitol Hill that Republicans may lose control of the House.

The additional 10 percent tax cut for middle-income taxpayers would aim to build upon the individual tax cuts enacted last December under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97). To that end, the House passed a “Tax Reform 2.0″package last month, which would make permanent the TCJA’s individual and small business tax credits. The TCJA’s individual tax cut provisions were enacted temporarily through 2025 in accordance with certain Senate budget rules. Although the TCJA did not receive one Democratic vote, the Tax Reform 2.0 package did clear the House with some bipartisan support.

New Congress, New Tax Cut

“We expect to advance this in the new session of Congress if Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate,” Brady, said of the tax cut in an October 26 televised interview. However, President Trump said a couple of days before that a ” resolution” would be introduced for the tax cut by the week of October 29.

Democratic lawmakers have been criticizing Trump’s announcement as nothing more than politically-driven rhetoric ahead of the November 6 midterm elections. Several top congressional Democrats have voiced intent to repeal, at least in part, the TCJA enacted last December. While Republicans, on the other hand, want to continue building upon the TCJA’s tax cuts.

“What President Trump is looking at is a 10 percent cut focused on middle-class workers and families…he still believes middle-class families are the ones always in the squeeze,” Brady said on October 26. “We’ve been working with the White House and the Treasury on some ideas about how best to do it,” he added.

Net Neutral

Trump has predicted that the tax cut will be net neutral. A chief complaint of last year’s tax reform among Democrats is the TCJA estimated $1.4 trillion price tag over a 10-year budget window.

“If you speak to Brady and a group of people, we’re putting in a tax reduction of 10 percent, which I think will be a net neutral because we’re doing other things, which I don’t have to explain now,” Trump said. A spokesperson for Brady has reportedly said that cost measures for the tax cut will be addressed once the proposal has been scored.

Looking Ahead

At this time, it is considered likely on Capitol Hill that Republicans will retain control of the Senate, but several predictions continue to float that the GOP will lose its House majority. Republicans would likely need to retain control of both chambers for any chance of approving further individual tax cuts or making permanent those enacted under the TCJA.

Although, the House approved its “Tax Reform 2.0” package last month, which includes measures to make permanent the TCJA’s individual tax cuts and enhance various savings accounts and business innovation, the Senate has showed little interest in taking up the package as a whole before the end of the year. However, consideration of the retirement and savings measure in the lame-duck session remains a possibility.

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Rettig Wants to Modernize IRS and Continue to Implement TCJA

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig gave his first speech since being confirmed as the 49th chief of the Service at the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) November 13 National Tax Conference in Washington, D.C. “You’re going to see things [I do] and go, ‘I can’t believe he did that,’” Rettig said.

Rettig, nominated by President Donald Trump last February and sworn in as IRS Commissioner on October 1, was a practicing tax attorney for over 30 years. “I’m not going to lose my tax edge,” he told CPAs and other tax professionals.

Modernizing the IRS

Rettig, since being confirmed, has maintained that a top priority of the IRS is updating the Service’s technology. “We must work on our IT modernization efforts,” Rettig said in a previous statement.

Additionally, Rettig discussed the IRS’s antiquated information technology (IT) systems and software at the AICPA event. “I can call Google…or All State and a recording…says, ‘you are 14th in line, we can call you back, you won’t lose your place in line,” Rettig said. “We don’t have those tools, we need those tools.”

However, Rettig emphasized that the IRS’s employees should have pride in their roles, and that many IRS challenges are a result of constrained financial resources. IRS employees are “people who care,”Rettig said. Further, Rettig said he wants the IRS to gain taxpayers’ respect.

Additionally, in line with the IRS’s increased efforts toward transparency, Rettig said that employee training materials for last year’s tax reform will soon be posted to the IRS’s website. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) (P.L. 115-97) was enacted last December. Rettig is tasked with overseeing the new tax law’s implementation.

Tax Reform

A copy of Rettig’s prepared remarks for the AICPA event was provided to Wolters Kluwer by the IRS on November 14. Notably, an IRS spokesperson told Wolters Kluwer that Rettig “did not stick to the script.” In an informal outline of areas on which Rettig intends to focus, “the top of the list is continuing to implement the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which contains the most sweeping tax changes in 30 years,”Rettig stated in the prepared remarks. “The IRS has already made great progress in this area, but more remains to be done.”

IRS Guidance

The IRS is committed to helping taxpayers and tax professionals understand the new tax law changes, as well as file returns next year timely and accurately, Rettig noted. To that end, the IRS will continue to issue guidance this year related to tax reform, according to Rettig. “You can expect additional guidance in the next several weeks in a number of areas,” he added, which include TCJA provisions related to the following:

  • Opportunity Zones;
  • the limitation on the business interest expense deduction; and
  • the Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT).

Additionally, the IRS will continue to update taxpayer forms and instructions related to new tax law provisions, Rettig noted. “We’re well on our way to having those completed in time for [the 2019] filing season.”

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AICPA, ABA Urge Extensive Changes to Proposed Transition Tax Rules

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation are urging the IRS to make extensive changes to proposed “transition tax” rules.

Transition Tax

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97), enacted last December, revived and amended Code Sec. 965. The new Code Sec. 965 generally requires U.S. shareholders pay a mandatory one-time repatriation “transition” tax on untaxed foreign earnings of certain foreign corporations.

“The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act treats these foreign earnings as repatriated and places a 15.5 percent tax on cash or cash equivalents, and an 8 percent tax on the remaining earnings. Generally, the transition tax can be paid in installments over an eight-year period when a taxpayer files a timely election under section 965(h),”Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The IRS held an October 22 public hearing on NPRM REG-104226-18, which provides rules for implementing the transition tax created under last year’s tax reform. IRS officials did not provide any feedback at the hearing.

AICPA Recommendations

In an October 31 comment letter to the IRS, the AICPA offered 15 recommendations to provide taxpayers further clarity and guidance on tax reform’s transition tax requirements. The AICPA’s recommendations include the following:

  • Clarify that previously taxed earnings (PTI) under Code Sec. 965(b)(4)(A) are deemed included in Code Sec. 951 for purposes of applying Code Sec. 1248(d).
  • Clarify that the portion of a Code Sec. 965 inclusion liability attributable to Code Sec. 956 is eligible for the appropriate reduced rate of tax as a consequence of the deduction provided for in Code Sec. 965(c).
  • Provide taxpayers with additional flexibility when making the basis adjustment election under Proposed Reg. §1.965-2(f) by including the ability to make partial basis adjustments, elect adjustments on an entity-by-entity basis, and modify the proposed consistency provision on related persons.
  • Provide guidance as to the ordering of distributions of PTI between Code Sec. 965(a) PTI and Code Sec. 965(b) PTI for purposes of applying Code Sec. 959(c) and Code Sec. 986(c).
  • Provide relief to taxpayers that make or have made late elections under the proposed regulations and clarify the procedure for obtaining such relief.
  • Provide that U.S. shareholders that are members of the same consolidated group are treated as a single U.S. shareholder for all purposes with respect to Code Sec. 965.
  • Clarify that the PTI amount created under Code Sec. 965(b)(4)(A) is not taken into account under Code Sec. 864(e)(4)(D) for purposes of allocating and apportioning interest expense.
  • Exercise the authority under Code Sec. 965(o) to provide relief from the income inclusion to certain affected taxpayers. Specifically, provide guidance excluding a foreign corporation that is considered a controlled foreign corporation (CFC) solely as a result of the “downward attribution” rules of Code Sec. 318(a)(3) from the definition of an specified foreign corporation (SFC) for any U.S. shareholder not considered a related party (within the meaning of Code Sec. 954(d)(3)) with respect to the domestic corporation to which ownership was attributed.
  • Provide a carve-out for certain “triggering events” of an S corporation Code Sec. 965(i), such as where the S corporation and relevant shareholders maintain direct or indirect ownership of the transferred assets (e.g., tax-free transfers).
  • Provide guidance on the interaction between a Code Sec. 962 election and a Code Sec. 965(i) election, including clarifying that an eligible taxpayer may make a Code Sec. 962 election for a Code Sec. 965 tax liability for which they intend to defer inclusion under Code Sec. 965(i).

ABA Recommendations

Likewise, the ABA made similar recommendations on the proposed regulations and related guidance in an October 29 letter sent to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. The ABA’s 80-page letter grouped its principal recommendations into the three categories:

  • the application of Code Sec. 965 to passthrough entities (other than S corporations) and individuals;
  • the application of the netting of accumulated post-1986 deferred foreign income with deficits in other related entities; and
  • issues in applying the foreign tax credit.
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Practitioner’s Corner: Proposed IRS Rules on Opportunity Zones Provide Clarity, But Gaps Remain

Last year’s tax reform created a new Opportunity Zone program, which offers qualifying investors certain tax incentives aimed to spur investment in economically distressed areas. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has predicted that the Opportunity Zone program will create $100 billion in private capital that will be invested in designated opportunity zones.

The IRS released the much anticipated proposed regulations for the Opportunity Zone program in October ( REG-115420-18). The proposed rules provide “clarity and some good news for taxpayers,” Micheal Bernier, partner at Ernst & Young’s National Tax practice, told Wolters Kluwer in an emailed statement.

Opportunity Zones

The Opportunity Zone program was created under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ( P.L. 115-97) enacted in December 2017. The TCJA added Code Secs. 1400Z-1 and 1400Z-2, which include procedural rules for designating opportunity zones and provisions allowing qualifying taxpayers to elect certain income tax benefits. Although not a single Democrat voted for the TCJA, the Opportunity Zone program was based on a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. The program “creates tax incentives to help stimulate the flow of capital into communities that need opportunity the most,” Cory Booker said in an October 29 tweet.

Generally, the proposed rules have been considered on Capitol Hill as leaning favorably toward taxpayers. However, stakeholders and practitioners are reporting that many questions remain. To that end, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), housed under the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has announced that a second package of regulations is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Qualified Opportunity Funds

The TCJA’s Opportunity Zone program generally established the following investor tax benefits:

  • a temporary tax deferral for capital gains realized on the sale of appreciated assets and reinvested within 180 days in a qualified opportunity fund (QOF);
  • the elimination of up to 10 or 15 percent of the tax on the capital gain that is invested in the QOF and held between five and seven years; and
  • the permanent exclusion of tax when exiting a qualified opportunity fund investment held for at least 10 years.

“Most importantly, taxpayers can use the fund as collateral. This was a surprise and is important,” Bernier told Wolters Kluwer. “The type of investments made by Opportunity Funds do have some strings attached, which are designed to make sure the investments are creating economic activity in the Opportunity Zones, not just buying and holding existing assets,” he added. “Under an Opportunity Zone structure, if you refinance the property and take cash out of the Opportunity Zone fund, that would be a disposition and would trigger the gain, thus reducing the amount of investment that is eligible for the 10-year deferral.”

Real Estate Investors

Additionally, real estate investors stand to receive significant tax advantages through the Opportunity Zone program, according to Bernier. “As collateral, it is possible to borrow against the Opportunity Zone fund, a very important option for real estate investors,” he said. “There are a few extra hurdles to using that strategy, but it’s valuable in the real estate world and would be the rough equivalent of a cash-out refinancing.”

Additionally, Bernier noted the generous latitude that Treasury and the IRS used in defining certain statutory terms. For example, “‘substantially all’ of owned or leased assets was defined as 70 percent [in the proposed regulations]; this could have been as high as 90 percent or more,” Bernier said. Further, “the time allowance for working capital is set at 30 months to deal with cash. This helps in getting the development done,” he added.

Too Flexible?

The proposed regulations for the Opportunity Zone program may be too flexible, according to an October article released by the liberal-leaning Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (TPC). “Neither the statute nor the guidance ensure that the investments will benefit low- and moderate-income residents of these communities,”the TPC article noted. “The investment flexibility makes it very difficult to evaluate the success of Opportunity Zones.”

Additionally, TPC researchers noted the need for proper reporting under the Opportunity Zone program. “The next round of IRS regulations and tax forms is expected to detail those reporting requirements,”the TPC article said. “It will be vital that this disclosure provide the public with the answers to a series of basic questions: Who is investing in Opportunity Zones? How much is being invested? How is the money being used?”

Likewise, the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation noted in an October 23 article that the proposed regulations do nothing to ensure the program’s success. “The benefits given to investors through opportunity funds are remarkably generous, and many of these regulations only increase and widen those benefits without regard to the results,” the article said.

Further, stakeholders testifying before the Senate Small Business Committee in early October also emphasized the importance of establishing proper reporting metrics for the program.

Questions Remain

Although stakeholder feedback has been largely positive, stakeholders and practitioners have noted several areas where additional IRS guidance is needed. Particularly, uncertainties surrounding the application of the QOF penalty, tax treatment of the sale of a QOF asset, and clarity on the definition of qualified opportunity zone business property are reportedly among items circulating the tax community as needing further guidance.

After the IRS released the proposed regulations, Sen. Scott praised the guidance while also noting that it is incomplete. “The first set of rules released by the Treasury Department today reinforce that this will not be another bureaucratic process burdened by red tape, but rather a streamlined, efficient process that allows for investments to truly help communities in need,” Scott said.

Additionally, Bernier told Wolters Kluwer that future regulations are needed to “fill in gaps.” The next package of proposed regulations are “anticipated in November and December, “he added.

To that end, the House’s top tax writer has urged stakeholders in a recent statement to provide feedback on the proposed regulations. Moreover, those comments should include “identifying any areas where additional technical guidance would be valuable in providing certainty to potential investors and project managers,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Tex., said.

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Practitioner’s Corner: Proposed Regs for Tax Reform’s Business Interest Limitation Expected Soon

The IRS is expected to soon release proposed regulations for tax reform’s new business interest limitation. “They are so broad that nearly every domestic taxpayer will be impacted,” Daniel G. Strickland, an associate at Eversheds Sutherland, told Wolters Kluwer.

The first set of proposed regulations for the Code Sec. 163(j) business interest limitation is expected to focus primarily on corporations. A second package of proposed regulations, expected sometime in December, will reportedly address the business interest limitation’s treatment of partnerships and S corporations.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97), enacted last December, amended Code Sec. 163(j) to include a broader limitation on the business interest expense deduction. Before last year’s tax reform, the former Code Sec. 163(j) “earnings stripping” rules were applied much more narrowly to a specific type of debt-to-equity ratio held by corporations. Now, the amended Code Sec. 163(j)limitation encompasses all debt, regardless of entity or individual. The new business interest limitation was intended by Republicans, at least in part, to serve as a revenue raiser to help offset tax reform’s significant corporate tax rate reduction from 35 to 21 percent.

OMB Review

Currently, the proposed regulations for the Code Sec. 163(j) business interest limitation are under review at the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). OIRA received the proposed regulations from Treasury and the IRS on October 25, according to OIRA’s website.

It is expected on Capitol Hill that a 10-day expedited review process that is available for tax reform-related regulations was requested.

Business Interest Limitation

Under the amended Code Sec. 163(j), a taxpayer’s annual business interest expense for the tax year, effective for tax years after December 31, 2017, is limited to the following three factors:

  • business interest income;
  • 30 percent of adjustable taxable income (ATI); and
  • floor plan financing interest.

Under the TCJA, business interest excludes “investment interest” as defined in Code Sec. 163(d). Additionally, the calculation requirements for “adjusted taxable income” are set to change in 2022.

Practitioner Insight

“In terms of statutory language, phrases like ‘properly allocable’ jump off the page,”Strickland told Wolters Kluwer. Under the TCJA, “business interest” is defined as any interest paid or accrued on indebtedness that is properly allocable to a trade or business. It remains to be seen how the IRS will identify what is “properly allocable,”according to Strickland.

“Since propriety differs between taxpayers and the government, it will be interesting to see how the regulations handle it,” Strickland said. “Will we get a two-pronged objective and subjective test or will there be a bright line rule?” he posited.

Additionally, Strickland said that tax practitioners expect allocation rules will be included, but noted that it remains unclear what form the rules will take. Whether there will be separate rules for different types of entities and how the IRS will treat allocation between exempt and non-exempt entities and within consolidated groups are all interesting yet unsettled components, according to Strickland.

Further, Strickland predicted that the forthcoming regulations will clarify how Code Sec. 951A’s global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) provision will interact with Code Sec. 163(j). “In the same vein, I expect that we will see how 163(j) plays with 168(k) and 267A, among other sections,” he added. “As we get each new piece of the puzzle, the whole picture comes into focus.”

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