Federal Tax Reform: Property Taxes Would Still Be Deductible . . .

Economic Tidbits 12.18.17

Lawmakers moved forward on federal tax reform after negotiators agreed to language in a conference report.  Both the House and Senate are voted on the conference report this week.  Many farmers and ranchers continue to ask whether property taxes paid on agricultural land, buildings, and equipment in their farm or ranch operations could still be deducted.  Yes—the conference report does not change the ability to deduct property taxes as a business expense by farmers and ranchers on Schedule F, Schedule E, or Schedule C.  The report does establish a $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local income and property taxes, but the limit only applies to itemized deductions claimed on Schedule A filed by individual filers.  Even though most farmers file income taxes as individuals, business income from a farm or ranch is reported on Schedule F, E, or C, where property taxes can still be deducted as a business expense.

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Federal Tax Saga Enters Next Chapter . . .

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The federal tax reform saga has turned a page and is moving into the next chapter in the U.S. Congress.  On the House side, the Ways and Means Committee advanced H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, to the House floor with a committee amendment.  The full House is expected to take up the bill later this week.  On the Senate side, Senate Republicans last week released a draft of a reform proposal which differs markedly in some provisions with the House plan.  The Senate plan will be taken up by Senate Finance Committee this week.

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SALT & Taxes . . .

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The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the tax writing committee of the House of Representatives, announced a draft of the federal tax reform bill will be released November 1.   Leaders in both the House and Senate have expressed hope a tax package could be passed by Thanksgiving.  One taxing concern on the minds of many farmers and ranchers is the fate of the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT).  The concern is especially acute in Nebraska given the large amount of property taxes paid by agriculture, roughly $1.3 billion in 2016.

 

Captiol at night

Under the unified framework for tax reform, the Trump Administration and Republican Congressional leaders said they want to simplify the federal tax code by repealing all itemized deductions, except deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.  Itemized deductions are claimed by individuals on Schedule A filed with Form 1040.  Most farmers and ranchers file taxes as individuals-the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture showed 85 percent of Nebraska farms filed taxes as either an individual or family.  Additionally, only 28 percent of farmers and ranchers itemize deductions.  It is these operations who itemize deductions the loss of the ability to deduct state and local taxes could affect.  The average annual deduction for state and local taxes reported by farm sole proprietors on Schedule A for 2009-2015 (excluding 2013) was $128.4 million.  Presumably, the deduction is for state income taxes, property taxes on farm residences, and taxes on personal vehicles.  For these operations, the loss of the deduction could increase federal income taxes an estimated $18 million per year if not offset by other changes.

Corn harvest in Illinois - SeptemberFarmers and ranchers also deduct state and local taxes paid as a business expense for their operations, be it as sole proprietors, partnerships, or corporations.  It is here where most of the property taxes paid by agriculture on land and machinery are likely reported and losing the ability to expense state and local taxes would result in a significant increase in federal taxes.  Fortunately, according to the lobbyist for American Farm Bureau, the ability to expense state and local taxes as a business expense will continue.  Congressional leaders have indicated the repeal of the state and local taxes deduction would only apply on individual returns, and not affect the expensing of taxes by businesses.  But stay tuned, the reform discussions are now beginning in earnest, and no one can predict what might happen.

 

Jay RempeJay Rempe is the senior economist for Nebraska Farm Bureau. Rempe’s background in agricultural economics, years of experience in advocating at the state capitol, and firm grasp of issues allow him to quantify the fiscal impact of a regulatory proposal, and provide in-depth examination of key issues affecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.

Federal tax reform-a first impression . . .

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The Trump Administration, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee announced last week they have agreed to a unified framework for federal tax reform.  The framework outlines several tax proposals for both business and individual filers.  Many details remain to be filled in, and legislation needs to be written, but the unified framework does provide some guidance for farmers and ranchers on issues they should monitor as the tax discussion evolves.

Most farm and ranch operations in Nebraska file federal taxes as individuals (Form 1040).  The 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture reported that 85 percent of Nebraska farms claimed the legal status of a family or individual for tax purposes.  The average annual federal income tax after credits reported on returns filed by Nebraska farm sole proprietors was $443 million for 2009-2015 according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data (2013 was not included as data was not readily available).  The average annual effective rate of taxation on farm returns over this period was 14 percent, which was two percentage points higher than the effective rate for all Nebraska individual returns over the same period.

For individual filers, the unified framework proposes to double the standard deduction, consolidate tax brackets from seven to three, lower the top rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, eliminate itemized deductions except for mortgage interest and charitable deductions, repeal personal exemptions for dependents but increase the child tax credit, and repeal the alternative minimum tax.  So, what are the tax implications for farmers and ranchers?

Like most Nebraskans, most producers claim the standard deduction on their individual returns.  In 2015, according to IRS, 72 percent of Nebraska farm returns claimed the standard deduction.  Thus, doubling the standard deduction has the potential to reduce taxes for these filers subject to other changes in tax brackets and rates, which are not known now.  For producers who itemize, total Schedule A deductions amounted to $196 million in 2015, excluding home mortgage and charitable contributions.  Losing these deductions, and what it means in ultimate taxes paid, will depend on individual filer’s amount of itemized deductions relative to the increase in the standard deduction, and ultimately, the changes in tax brackets and rates.  The proposals addressing the child tax credit and repealing the alternative minimum tax will have little impact on farm and ranch taxes.  Combined, the two provisions amounted to $23 million for farm tax filers in 2015, or 0.7 percent of reported adjusted gross income that year.

At this point, because all the details on tax brackets and rates are not known, the implications of federal tax reform for farmers and ranchers are difficult to grasp.  The changes to business taxes will also have implications for farm and ranch operations.  Future Tidbits will highlight provisions in the unified framework for businesses and other taxes that might impact farmers and ranchers.  Tidbits will also return to the topic of changes for individual filers when more is known on changes to brackets and tax rates.

 

Jay RempeJay Rempe is the senior economist for Nebraska Farm Bureau. Rempe’s background in agricultural economics, years of experience in advocating at the state capitol, and firm grasp of issues allow him to quantify the fiscal impact of a regulatory proposal, and provide in-depth examination of key issues affecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.