After weeks of closed-door meetings, House Republicans on Nov. 2 rolled out their much-anticipated tax bill which would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and create three new individual tax brackets of 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. The top tax rate for high earners would stay at 39.6 percent.
Republican leaders have begun selling their tax plan to rank-and-file legislators and have an aggressive timeline to get legislation to President Trump’s desk this year. The Senate is expected to roll out its own tax plan on Nov. 8.
The tax bill is, of course, complex and contains a vast number of tax changes and offsets to pay for the deep tax cuts for corporations and individuals that are at the root of the legislation. As expected with any complex piece of legislation, there are some potential flash points in the bill, including a proposal to cut in half the amount of mortgage interest Americans can deduct for new home purchases up to $500,000. The bill would also allow people to deduct their local property taxes, but would cap this benefit at $10,000.
Some provisions in the bill apply directly to the tax-exempt sector. For example, a provision in the bill would impose a 20% excise tax on tax-exempt organizations’ compensation in excess of $1 million paid to any of its five highest-paid employees. Another provision stipulates that tax-exempt organizations’ income from research is only excluded from UBIT if it’s made available to the public.
Other provisions in the House tax bill impacting tax-exempt organizations include: a 1.4 percent excise tax on net investment income of private colleges and universities; a provision effectively repealing the so-called Johnson amendment, permitting churches to engage in political speech; and a provision repealing the deduction for lobbying expenses at the local level.
While these provisions will concern some tax-exempt groups, the tax bill introduced this week is also notable for what is absent in the legislative text. For example, there is no attempt (at the moment) to expand the UBIT statute to tax royalty income or to change the tax treatment of certain qualified sponsorship payments. Sponsorship payments and royalties in particular were identified in the 2014 tax reform discussion draft authored by then-Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI). That they are not in the bill text introduced in the House is significant. ASAE delivered a letter to tax-writers on the Hill earlier this week that assessed the impact of possible tax changes on associations. The letter was signed by 330 associations.