New IRS guidance aiming to curb certain state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap “workarounds” is the latest “hot topic” tax debate on Capitol Hill. The IRS released proposed amendments to regulations, REG-112176-18, on August 23. The proposed rules would prevent taxpayers, effective August 27, 2018, from using certain charitable contributions to work around the new cap on SALT deductions.
The SALT deduction limit is one of the most controversial temporarily enacted provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ( P.L. 115-97) signed into law last December. Under the TCJA, beginning in 2018 and running through 2025, taxpayers may not claim more than $10,000 ($5,000 if married filing separately) for all state and local sales, income and property taxes.
After the tax code overhaul, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (considered high-tax states) passed legislation that essentially allows taxpayers to circumvent the SALT deduction cap by making charitable contributions to state-run charitable organizations. Indeed, similar workarounds for private-school tuition already exists in other states.
“Congress limited the deduction for state and local taxes that predominantly benefited high-income earners to help pay for major tax cuts for American families,”Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The proposed rule will uphold that limitation by preventing attempts to convert tax payments into charitable contributions.”
Congressional Republicans and Democrats, as with the TCJA, are mostly divided on the topic. House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady, R-Tex., praised the IRS proposal for aiming to prevent tax evasion. “These Treasury regulations rightly close the door on improper tax evasion schemes conjured up by state and local politicians who insist on brutally taxing local families and businesses,” Brady said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are criticizing the regulations. “The Trump administration doubled down on its attack on the middle class,” Ways and Means ranking member Richard Neal, D-Mass., said in a statement. “The administration’s new regulations block affected states’ attempts to cope with this significant change and protect residents.”
Tax Policy Experts Weigh-In
Several tax policy experts have criticized states’ efforts to circumvent the SALT deduction cap. Carl Davis, research director at the Democratic-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, has called the workarounds an “abuse” of the charitable giving deduction. “Anyone who wants a fair and transparent tax system should be cautiously optimistic that these rules will put an end…to the workaround provisions enacted by states more recently,” Davis wrote in a recent op-ed about the proposed IRS guidance.
Jared Walczak, senior policy analyst at the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation, has said that states’ strategies to re-characterize SALT payments were pursued to primarily help high-income taxpayers. Additionally, the top one percent of the wealthiest households would reap more than half of the benefit if the SALT cap were eliminated, according to an estimate from the Democratic-leaning Tax Policy Center.