Trump’s ‘Small-Business’ Tax Cut Is Actually a Tax Cut for Trump and Fellow Millionaires

President Donald Trump speaks at the 36th Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service, May 15. 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A tax proposal that President Donald Trump is describing as a tax cut for small businesses is actually a giant tax cut for millionaires, new model estimates from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center show.

The proposal would provide massive tax windfalls for high-income owners of passthrough business entities, including President Trump himself. In light of this, perhaps a more appropriate name for the tax cut is the “Trump loophole.”

The tax plan released by the Trump administration on April 26 proposes capping the tax rate on passthrough business income to 15 percent. “Passthroughs” are business entities that do not pay the corporate tax, including S corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Currently, the owners of these entities pay tax directly on their profits at regular income tax rates, which range from 10 percent for people with a modest amount of taxable income to 39.6 percent for people with very high incomes. Therefore, Trump’s plan would slash the tax rate that millionaires and high-income people pay on passthrough business income by nearly 25 percentage points, from 39.6 percent to 15 percent—a massive windfall.

The Tax Policy Center’s new estimates* show just how skewed this tax cut is toward people at the very top of the income ladder:

  • 68 percent of the tax cut from the Trump loophole goes to millionaires, while less than 1 percent goes to taxpayers with annual incomes of less than $200,000.
  • Millionaires get an average tax cut of $114,000 from the Trump loophole. That is on top of the massive tax cuts they would get from the other parts of Trump’s plan, including cutting the corporate tax rate, cutting the top individual tax rate, and eliminating the estate tax. Nor does it include the windfall that millionaires would get from repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
  • 77 percent of the tax cut from the Trump loophole goes to the top 1 percent of income earners; the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers get less than 2 percent of the tax cut.
  • The top 1 percent get an average tax cut of $76,190—again, on top of other massive tax cuts they would receive under President Trump’s plan. The top 0.1 percent would get an average tax cut of $362,630.

The Trump loophole would reduce revenue by $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the Tax Policy Center—meaning that millionaires would receive a tax cut of nearly $1 trillion from this one policy alone.

And that estimate does not even reflect the fact that the Trump loophole would cause massive tax avoidance, as high-income people could recharacterize their wages and salaries as passthrough business income to take advantage of the special 15 percent rate. The Tax Policy Center estimates that such tax avoidance could increase the revenue loss from $1.4 trillion to nearly $2 trillion over 10 years. The organization also notes that by prompting business owners to recharacterize income as profits rather than wages, the special passthrough rate could reduce the payroll revenue that goes into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. This would hasten the depletion of those funds and put those vital programs at greater risk.

The Trump loophole, the Tax Policy Center estimates show, is not aimed at actual small businesses. The passthrough businesses that would benefit the most from the president’s proposal include hedge funds and other investment partnerships; large S corporations, including some of the nation’s biggest companies; global law firms and accounting firms; and other large businesses—including The Trump Organization, which is an agglomeration of more than 500 passthrough entities.* The Trump loophole would slash the rate that the president pays on his income from The Trump Organization from 39.6 percent to 15 percent.

Meanwhile, most small-business owners are already in the 15 percent tax bracket or lower—so they would not benefit at all from the Trump loophole. Prior Tax Policy Center estimates found that more than two-thirds of all passthrough business owners are in the 15 percent tax bracket or lower.

In sum, the Trump loophole is not a policy aimed at actual small businesses. It is yet another tax windfall for millionaires.

Seth Hanlon is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

* Author’s notes: Figures are derived from Tax Policy Center tables T17-0162, T17-0163, and T17-0164, which model a 15 percent cap with a broad definition of passthrough income. For information on the number of passthrough entities that make up The Trump Organization, see this letter from Sheri A. Dillon and William F. Nelson to Donald J. Trump, March 8, 2017. See also candidate Trump’s financial disclosure form.