While the business community is broadly united in support of tax reform, industry leaders expressed mixed views during a congressional hearing Tuesday on whether the border adjustment tax could help the country compete globally.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady introduced a tax blueprint last year alongside House Speaker Paul Ryan. The blueprint is designed to overhaul the tax code to be more competitive with the rest of the world. The border adjustment tax was included to help protect domestic production as many other countries apply similar taxes, but the provision has attracted opposition, primarily from retailers.
The border adjustment tax is a value added tax levied on imported goods. It is essentially applied when a product is produced in a foreign country but sold domestically. The House Ways and Means Committee hosted the hearing to discuss the provision with business leaders.
“We need a new system,” William Simon, the former president of Walmart, testified. “Something needs to change. On that, virtually everyone agrees. I commend you for taking on this most important issue. Many ideas have been discussed in recent months. One of the more controversial for the retail industry is the border adjustment tax.”
The tax code hasn’t been overhauled in any significant way since 1986. The blueprint simplifies the tax code by consolidating the system down to three tax brackets. The plan would also lower the top individual income tax rate to 33 percent while lowering the corporate tax rate.
The White House released a summary of its own plan April 26. The plan mirrored many of the same provisions in the blueprint, without mentioning the border adjustment tax. The business community has generally expressed support for the blueprint, but it has been split on the border tax provision.
Border adjustment tax supporters argue it raises tax revenue while discouraging businesses from moving to a foreign country. Those opposed warn it could backfire by increasing costs on consumers. Many border adjustment tax critics support the blueprint generally.
“Our current tax code is broken,” Target CEO Brian Cornell said during the hearing. “However, we’ve concluded that the new border adjustment tax would undermine the pro-growth principles in the blueprint. And it’s not just us. More than 500 companies and associations feel the same way.”
Cornell adds that with a border adjustment tax rates would double for his company. He warns the provision would undermine economic growth by leaving less available capital to invest in domestic jobs and businesses.
Other business leaders, however, believe a border tax is critical to competing in the global market.
“These are sophisticated competitors with deep regional and often global reach,” Juan Luciano, president of the global food processor Archer Daniels Midland Company, testified. “These companies often enjoy tax systems with lower rates and border adjustments that give them a competitive advantage. When investment in agriculture moves to other countries, jobs move there too.”
Advances in technology have made the global economy more connected then ever before. The changes have opened up new opportunities globally but have also threatened domestic employment. Simon notes there may be a way to implement a border adjustment tax that weighs the concerns of critics.
“It is in the best interest of our country for this to be considered,” Simon said. “However, such a system would have to be implemented with careful consideration of the transitional challenges that U.S. retailers will face. It must allow for adjustments that may be necessary to address the concerns you’ve heard from the industry.”
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found in an analysis that many other developed countries have been moving towards a more competitive tax system for over a decade. The United States, however, has done little to its tax code to stay competitive during that time. The study encompassed changes from 2003 to 2012.
It’s more than just the business community calling for lawmakers to overhaul the tax code. The idea generally has bipartisan support, though the approach is still up for debate. Over 30 economists from leading think tanks and academic institutions argued in a letter to lawmakers May 17 that comprehensive tax reform is long overdue. The letter highlighted the border adjustment tax as being critical to those reforms.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and other critics warn companies could be forced to increase prices to compensate for lost revenue. The free-market advocacy group has launched a digital campaign while also helping to mobilize a grassroots opposition movement. The group says lawmakers should instead look at tax reform as a chance to decrease the size of government.
The Business Roundtable found in a survey that business owners would begin investing more back into their companies and employees if the tax system was reformed successfully. The overwhelming majority of CEOs surveyed, at 76 percent, said they would increase hiring if reforms were done right.