For example, raise taxes on domestic energy producers, and it will not matter in terms of energy production or costs. Increase income taxes on investors and entrepreneurs, and it will not matter in terms of the critical roles that these risk takers play regarding economic growth and job creation.
Such wishful thinking on the effects of higher taxes not only is illogical, but it is, of course, quite dangerous in terms of our economy. Just consider the push to raise taxes on carried interest and enterprise value.
For more than a half-century, partnership tax law has recognized that carried interest -- ownership returns for investment partnerships – is subject, obviously, to all the risks of ownership, and any returns are forms of capital gains, and certainly not ordinary income. For good measure, the returns on investments made by partners to increase enterprise value are correctly treated as capital gains, and are not and should not be treated as ordinary income. Build your business over many years, and upon selling all or part of that business, the returns plainly are capital gains, not ordinary income.
Nonetheless, the President and some in Congress have pushed relentlessly for taxing carried interest and enterprise value for partnerships as ordinary income, which would jack up the top tax rate from 15 percent to 35 percent, with that rate potentially hitting 43.4 percent by 2013. That would be a near tripling of the tax rate. Clearly, such an enormous tax increase would punish risk taking, that is, entrepreneurship and investment.
Keep in mind, as noted by John Rutledge in a Wall Street Journal piece last year, that the returns on private equity, venture capital and real estate investment partnerships are made up mainly of long-term capital gains. While the effort to increase carried interest taxes are billed as being meant to hit hedge funds – another case of political demonization attempting to trump economics – in reality, since much of the returns for hedge funds are short term, they are taxed as ordinary income anyway. This proposal negatively affects long-term investment.
Rutledge drove home the ills of this tax increase on entrepreneurial ventures and investment:
“In 2007, real estate made up the largest category (48%) of partnerships, representing $4.4 trillion in investments by 6.8 million investors. Most of those are small, one-or-two property partnerships where one partner puts up the money to buy a dilapidated building and the other is the general partner who manages the work to improve the property. If you triple the tax rate on the general partner, many of the small deals simply will not happen and fewer buildings will be renovated. Venture capital also will be hit. According to the National Venture Capital Association, more than 27,000 venture-backed companies in the U.S. had revenue of $2.9 trillion. Venture capital (like other investment partnerships) competes for pension fund money based upon after-tax returns. The drop in after-tax return caused by the carried interest tax hike means less money steered their way, and so promising biotech, software or clean-tech ventures may not get funded.”
Taxes cannot be raised with impunity. If you increase taxes on investments in new or expanding businesses, and in real estate, for example, that will negatively impact such investment. And the resulting diminishment in risk taking, in turn, will be felt throughout the economy. That’s simply the harsh economic reality if those pushing for increased taxes on carried interest and enterprise value actually succeed.
Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council