In the first presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump once again suggested that he would raise taxes on private equity and hedge fund managers.
Faced with a question about his tax policy, Trump reiterated that he plans to get rid of the so-called "carried interest provision," noting that his approach is "not a great thing for the wealthy" and it would be a "great thing for the middle class."
Like his rival, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump is suggesting he would treat so-called carried interest -- the profits received by fund managers -- as ordinary income. Right now, carried interest investments are treated as capital gains with a top basic rate of 23.8% as opposed to the top ordinary income rate of 39.6%.
Opponents have argued that the taxation structure allows the wealthy who manage funds on behalf of other investors to pay effectively a lower tax rates than many middle-class families.
However, critics contend that a provision in Trump's recently released revised tax plan would offer up an alternate route for fund managers to get a lower tax rate even if the carried interest measure is eliminated. Trump's plan calls for a special low tax rate on business income that many believe would give investment managers essentially a lower tax rate than they get now.
"Since these funds tend to be organized as partnerships or some other kind of pass-through businesses they would be able to pay a 15% tax under Trump since that's his tax rate on business income," notes Harry Stein, director of Fiscal Policy at the Center for American Progress. "It wouldn't be a stretch for funds to figure out how they could take advantage of this ambiguity. It is easy to re-characterize your income as business income."
However, fund managers would have other advantages even if Trump's special low tax rate on business income somehow wouldn't end up applying to them -- or if it wouldn't be approved by Congress as part of a broader tax overhaul. Stein notes that Trump's plan would lower the top tax rate to 33%, which would be a benefit for fund managers because part of their income is currently taxed at the ordinary rate of 39.6%.
In addition, corporate taxes would be cut dramatically from 35% to 15% based on Trump's plan, which would be a benefit for fund managers and their investments in publicly-traded corporations. "So either way, fund managers will come out ahead," said Stein.
Meanwhile, Trump's plan would raise taxes on some low and middle income families, especially single parents. "It gets rid of personal exemptions and the lowest tax bracket increases from 10% to 12% for single parents," Stein notes.
Clinton has been calling for hiking taxes on private equity and hedge fund managers since 2007. She urged it again during her presidential launch rally in June. However, Clinton in June has promised to close what she and others call the carried interest tax loophole by executive action-- without an act of Congress. The Deal in June analyzed how the Treasury Department could act unilaterally to treat carried interest as ordinary income.
That means, as president, Clinton could take action to raise taxes on private equity and hedge fund managers even if Congress doesn't act. That would mean fund managers would have all their income taxed at a 39.6% rate for salaried income rather than their current 23.8% level.
But for all the bluster, regulatory observers in Washington don't believe that hiking carried interest taxes as part of a broader tax overhaul will gain any serious legislative traction in Washington any time soon. That means Hillary Clinton's approach to the repealing the measure is the more likely one to be approved.
Meanwhile the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget suggested that Trump's latest tax plan, introduced earlier this month, would increase the federal debt by $5.3 trillion.