International Financial Law Prof Blog

Editor: William Byrnes
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Monday, March 16, 2020

4 tax policy suggestions to address the damage of the Covid-19 / coronavirus pandemic

I have four tax policy suggestions for Congress that it can include in a taxpayer coronavirus relief bill. I welcome acronym suggestions for this proposed bill's name, especially a creative bill name whose acronym is "Zombie" or "Eat Brains". The four tax relief suggestions that will mitigate damage caused by Covid-19 are:

Proposal 1 (stop medical bankruptcy): In 2020 the itemized deduction for medical expenses is reduced by 7.5% of a taxpayer's AGI.  For 2020, I propose eliminating the 7.5% reduction of medical expenses attributed to the coronavirus or any 2020 flu (or zombie bite), such as hospitalization.  Medical diagnosis should suffice. Not going to be used by many people.  But the people who do use will really need it - those that do not awake as zombies that is.

Proposal 2 (stop restaurant bankruptcy): The administration proposes the suspension of the Social Security and Medicare payroll tax to jump-start consumer spending, presumably after the removal of quarantine orders to stay indoors or at least six feet away from each other. Not very targeted.  Someone like me may just shift the payroll tax relief and use it instead to upward adjust my 403(b) retirement savings for 2020, taking advantage of my full $19,500 contribution allowance for 2020 (and because I am 50 years old or older - add another $6,000 retirement 'catchup' to that $19,500 for a full $25,500),  Not only have I not spent the money to help the economy rebound, I have reduced my tax due for 2020 because my retirement contributions reduce my taxable income.  I have saved tax twice!! While I quite like that idea personally, I feel empathy for all the local restaurant owners who may go bankrupt unless I go out to eat at more local restaurants once I assured that 2020 was not the year of the zombie apocalypse.

A better-targeted proposal to save our nation's local restaurants and the local farmers that supply them is to allow taxpayers an itemized deduction up to $1,000 for an individual and $2,000 for a married filing jointly 2020, beyond the standard deduction, of 100% of restaurant meals expense between June 1 and October 31, at U.S. restaurants with the last three years gross annual receipts averaging less than [$5 million - whatever is reasonable so that big chains are not included, Small Business Administration uses a maximum of $8 million for full-service restaurants (NAICS 722511)- I'm OK with that].  I know - many reasons not to do this, such as Americans will become hooked on eating out at local restaurants. Wait, why is that a bad thing?  And we will need to address the tax abusers who will order one slice of pizza and 20 bottles of wine, to go. So maybe the maximum meal receipt must be set at $100 per meal receipt per adult. That should allow plenty of food for a couple, and alcohol, and leave enough for the children to still have mac & cheese. Plus it requires ten different restaurant trips. Local restauranteurs and the local farmers can hold out hope that 2020 will not require filing for bankruptcy protection.  November is Thanksgiving when people eat out anyway, at least in the restaurants that have remained open.  By the way, I am purposely leaving business out of this.  Business has a 50% business meal deduction anyway. And my policy suggestion is about Americans being social and not talking business at the dinner table (and perhaps not politics either).

Proposal 3 (stop hotel bankruptcy): And let's not forget about locally-owned hotels with average gross receipts below $8 million (SBA uses $35 million for hotels and $8 million for B&B Inns so maybe I am way off base with just $8 million - see NAICS subsector 721 Accomodation). A $500 itemized deduction for 2020 for a U.S. hotel stay (not Air BnB homes or apartments, actually licensed hotels/BnB Inns) for an individual or couple between June 1 and October 31. Might not buy a weekend at the Ritz but the Ritz probably exceeds the small business amount of revenue a year.  Is it sound tax policy? Huey Long (I'm from Louisiana) promised a chicken in every pot and a car in every yard.  I promise a get-a-way weekend at a small(ish) hotel.

Proposal 4 (keep employees employed): A tax credit (I am not sure the right amount, let the Labor Secretary decide, something around $5,000 an employee) to employers of less than 500 employees who do not reduce the monthly payroll of the employees, or fire any employees, between June 1 and September 30. October 1 employers start thinking about Christmas hiring for the shopping season.  I can imagine some mathematically-inclined employees thinking "I am going to walk into my boss' office and projectile vomit because the cost of losing the tax credits for firing me is too high." OK, so firing 'for cause including projectile Zombie vomiting on the boss ' will be allowed without loss of the tax credit.  Now if a business wants to expand and hire a lot of employees up to 500 that's great.  I propose that all employees employed and start fulltime work before June 1st qualify for a reduced $4,000 tax credit (basically $1,000 a month of employment for June through September).

These four proposals are enough to keep the economy, restaurants, hotels, and employees out of recession and bankruptcy.  But I have more proposals not currently part of the current bill, but common sense dictates should be (well, maybe not).  Why have we heard nothing from the House to encourage donations of toilet paper rolls to local shelters?   And why hotels and restaurants, but not spas?  I'll leave it to the politicians (and lobbyists) to argue about.  Meanwhile, I look forward to receiving your comments while I set up my anti-zombie chicken wire barricade around the yard.

I'll be covering these and related issues in my weekly Tax Facts Intelligence Newsletter.

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