New Treasury Rules Could Blunt Impact of Tax Cuts for Some Companies
WASHINGTON — Some multinational companies may not see as much of a benefit from President Trump’s signature tax cuts as they had hoped, under proposed regulations that the administration issued on Wednesday.
If they are made permanent, the rules, released late in the day by the Internal Revenue Service, will force some corporations that operate in relatively high-tax countries abroad — like France or Mexico — to pay a higher effective tax rate than they might have under an alternative interpretation of the law. Mr. Trump last year signed the law, which many business groups had pushed for.
The Treasury Department acknowledged that likelihood in the proposal, which runs over 300 pages. It said the law’s international provisions, as the administration construes them, have “limited the benefits” of certain tax-reduction strategies that companies employ. The department is also offering a consolation to affected companies, by promising to review a related set of regulations, with an eye toward easing them.
The regulations cover interactions between existing credits that companies can take for taxes paid abroad and a new type of international minimum tax that the law created this year, called the Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income tax.
Tax experts warned that the rules appeared to run counter to Congress’s promises to multinationals about the benefits of the law — and said they could undermine domestic investment.
“I think it will present both an economic and political problem if, under these rules, U.S. companies paying taxes at a relatively high rate — even at rates higher than the U.S. rate — find themselves still subject to the so-called Gilti tax,” said Rohit Kumar, a former aide to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is now the tax policy services leader at PwC.
“That result would be at odds with the way the provision was marketed and would undermine one of the primary features of reform, which was to make the U.S. a more attractive place to invest.”
Administration officials on Wednesday pitched the regulations as a win for business, at least in part.
“The proposed guidance provides clarity and certainty for taxpayers in applying the new law, as well as modernizes current regulations and repeals out-of-date provisions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a news release.
“We are equipping taxpayers with the autonomy and information they need to effectively manage their finances and grow American business as we shift to a territorial system.”
The discrepancy between what companies thought the law would mean for them, and what officials in the administration ultimately decided Congress intended it to mean, in part reflects the confusion sowed by Republicans’ rush to pass the law over the course of two breakneck months late last year.
The law included some drafting errors that Republicans are now trying to fix in the lame-duck session before they cede control of the House to Democrats next year. And it included several provisions, particularly in the case of international taxation, that left the Treasury Department wide latitude to interpret.
The law reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent on income earned in the United States, down from a high of 35 percent. It also overhauled the way America taxes corporations that operate in multiple countries. It scrapped the previous system, which forced companies to pay taxes on foreign-earned income when it was moved — physically or on paper — back to the United States.
Now, after paying a one-time tax on assets held abroad, multinationals no longer face the prospect of paying the full corporate rate if they bring foreign-earned cash home. Instead, they are subject to what amounts to a minimum tax on income earned abroad. Companies believed that the law made that tax a sort of maximum foreign tax as well — capping their effective rate for income abroad at 13.25 percent.
But because of certain interactions between the Gilti and foreign tax credits, the new regulations could end up with some Gilti-affected companies paying an effective foreign tax rate of more than 13.25 percent, said Kyle Pomerleau, an economist at the Tax Foundation in Washington.
Mr. Pomerleau said the interpretation reflected an apparent reluctance inside the administration to reinterpret the language of the new law as aggressively as businesses had hoped. “Treasury wasn’t willing to go far enough to say, Congress made an oops, and we’ll fix it,” he said.
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