August 11, 2017 Practice Point

Tax Planning Under the (Hypothetical) Tax Reform Act of 2017

By Kathleen L. Ferrell, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP; Shane Kiggen, Ernst & Young LLP; David S. Miller, Proskauer Rose LLP; and Michael L. Schler, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

I. Introduction.

This article1 summarizes some of the tax planning opportunities that would be available if the Blueprint released on June 24, 2016, by the Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee2 or the 2017 Trump Proposal3 is enacted.

A. Summary of the Blueprint.

The Blueprint would reduce the current seven individual brackets to three: 12%, 25%, and 33%.  The maximum rate for capital gains, dividends, and interest under the Blueprint would be 16.5%.  The 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income that applies at higher income levels would be repealed.

Under the Blueprint, the corporate tax rate would be reduced to 20%.  Active business income of pass-through entities, after payment of reasonable salaries, would be subject to a maximum rate of 25%.  Tangible and intangible business assets (other than land) would be expensed when purchased.  (The treatment of inventory is uncertain.)  Financial assets, including stock of corporate subsidiaries, would remain subject to the income tax.  Net interest expense would not be deductible, although net interest expense could be carried forward indefinitely and allowed as a deduction against net interest income in future years.

Net operating losses would not be permitted to be carried back.  They could be carried forward indefinitely and would be increased by an interest factor, but could be used to offset only 90% of taxable income in any year.

The Blueprint would move to a territorial tax system.  Accumulated foreign earnings, whether or not repatriated, would be subject to a one-time tax of 8.75% to the extent of cash or cash equivalents and otherwise at 3.5%, with the liability payable over eight years.  All future foreign earnings, other than foreign personal holding company income (FPHCI), would be exempt from U.S. federal income tax.

The Blueprint proposes a border adjustment feature under which revenues from exports of goods, services, and intangibles would be exempt from inclusion in income, although the related costs of the goods, intangibles, and expenses would be fully deductible (unless subject to disallowance under the rule for the cost of imports).  In addition, the cost of goods, services and intangibles imported into the United States would not be deductible or increase tax basis, but the sale proceeds of those goods, services or intangibles would be fully included in income (unless exempt under the rule for proceeds of exports).

B. Summary of the 2017 Trump Proposal.

The 2017 Trump Proposal contemplates three individual brackets: 10%, 25%, and 35%.  The tax rates for capital gains and dividends would remain at 20%, but the 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income would be repealed.  The 2017 Trump Proposal would reduce the corporate rate to 15%, and would provide for a maximum rate of 15% on income of pass-through entities.  It also would move to a territorial tax system, and contemplates a one-time tax on offshore earnings.

II. Tax Planning Arising From Differentials In Tax Rates.

A. A Lower Pass-Through Rate Than Individual Rate.

1. In General. 

As mentioned above, both the Blueprint and the 2017 Trump Proposal contemplate a maximum pass-through rate that is significantly lower than the highest individual rate.  This disparity would invite pass-through businesses to reclassify their highly paid employees as partners for tax purposes, and to minimize salaries (because salary is taxable at a higher rate than pass-through income).  Employees of a C corporation or pass-through entity also could form their own pass-through entity that would be hired by their employer, thereby converting their wage income into pass-through income taxable at the lower maximum rate.

2. Possible Legislative Responses. 

Some of these planning techniques could be addressed legislatively.  For example, the pass-through rate could be disallowed for specified service businesses, or if services are a material income-producing factor of the entity providing the service.4 Further, a specified percentage of net income could be deemed to be compensation income and taxable at normal graduated rates.5 Finally, the pass-through rate could be limited to a normal return on capital and all other earnings would be taxable at graduated rates.

It would not be effective for Congress or the Service to simply require that a pass-through entity pay reasonable compensation to its service providers.  This is a factual determination that depends on the facts of each case, and it is impossible for the IRS to audit every case and litigate the reasonableness of compensation on the particular facts of each case.  It would also not be effective to deny the pass-through rate for structures designed to avoid the purposes of the lower rate on pass-through income.  Anti-abuse rules are also virtually impossible for the Service to enforce, since they rely on case by case determinations.  In addition, there would be no basis to enforce such a rule without a clear explanation of  the policy rationale for the lower pass-through rate.

B. Lower Corporate Rate than Individual or Pass Through Rate.

The accumulated earnings tax has not been successful at preventing earnings from being accumulated in C corporations that are taxed at a lower rate than individuals.The Blueprint contemplates a corporate rate (20%) that is lower than the individual (33%) or pass-through rate (25%).  The 2017 Trump Proposal also contemplates a corporate rate (15%) that is significantly lower than the highest marginal individual rate (35%).  An incentive would exist under either proposal for pass-through businesses to incorporate and for individuals to hold assets that generate ordinary income and collectibles in C corporations.  If the step-up basis at death is retained, undistributed earnings at death would escape shareholder-level tax.

III. Expensing.

A. General.

As mentioned above, the Blueprint contemplates expensing for all business assets except financial assets, land, and possibly inventory.  As a result, the buyer of most business assets would get an immediate deduction for the full purchase price.

B. Deferral of Tax Liability.

Expensing may allow taxpayers to defer their tax liability indefinitely by buying business assets.  When business assets are no longer needed, taxpayers can buy business assets (such as a building) subject to a triple net lease.  Deductions generated by the purchases would offset taxable income from other sources.

Taxpayers that can use current deductions will have a greater incentive than today to buy assets; taxpayers that cannot use a current deduction (such as exporters if the border adjustment feature is adopted) will have a greater incentive than today to lease and, if they own property, to sell it (so that their counterparty would receive an immediate deduction) and lease it back.  A portion of the benefit of the buyer’s tax deduction would be passed along to the lessee through lower rent.  Also, because taxpayers will have a zero basis in an expensed asset, taxpayers wishing to sell will be more inclined to lease the asset on a long-term basis.

C. Inventory.

The Blueprint indicates that the “last in first out” (LIFO) method would be retained for inventory, which suggests that inventory would not be expensed.  If inventory is not expensed, the tax law would discourage U.S. businesses from buying inventory and encourage them to buy the equipment to produce inventory.  In addition, the costs of raw materials would still have to be capitalized.

D. Earnings and Profits Under Expensing.

If existing earnings and profits rules are not retained (i.e., earnings and profits are computed on a cash-flow basis), a taxpayer could buy a building subject to a net lease, use the deduction to offset earnings, borrow to pay tax-free dividends, and use the rental income to pay off the debt.  Likewise, a United States shareholder of a controlled foreign corporation (CFC) could shelter foreign personal holding company income, or a U.S. investor in a passive foreign investment corporation (PFIC) could shelter the income of a qualifying electing fund (QEF) PFIC, when the CFC or PFIC purchased business assets.  If earnings and profits rules are retained, the concepts of tax basis and depreciation will also have to be retained to calculate earnings and profits.

E. Purchases From U.S. Exempt Sellers.

Expensing apparently applies even to assets purchased from U.S. tax-exempt sellers.  Moreover, capital gain would not normally constitute “unrelated business taxable income” (UBTI) to a tax-exempt seller.  As a result, U.S. taxpayers could purchase the dormitories or classroom buildings of an educational institution, claim an immediate deduction, and lease them back on a long-term lease with an option to purchase.

F. Purchases from Foreign Sellers.

Also, absent a border adjustment, expensing would also apply to assets purchased from a non-U.S. seller.  Therefore, expensing without a border adjustment would encourage asset purchases from non-U.S. sellers that have tax basis in the assets for foreign tax purposes, or are resident in a low-tax jurisdiction.  The U.S. buyer would claim an immediate deduction.  These assets could then be leased back to the seller.

G. Sections 351 and 721.

Section 351 could be used to allow a parent and its subsidiary to choose which of the two is entitled to claim the expensing deduction for assets that would be used by the subsidiary.

If the parent wants the deduction, it would purchase the asset, claim the deduction, and contribute the asset to its subsidiary.  Otherwise, the parent would contribute cash to its subsidiary, and the subsidiary would buy the asset and claim the deduction.

Likewise, a partner could either buy assets, claim a deduction, and contribute the assets to the partnership under section 721, or else contribute cash to the partnership that the partnership uses to buy the assets.  This choice could result in very different tax effects if the partners were in different tax brackets or if some partners were tax exempt.

H. Effect on Merger and Acquisition Transactions.

The tax incentive to buy assets rather than stock would be increased by an expensing regime.  Under current law, a buyer that acquires assets instead of stock is entitled to future tax benefits in the form of the amortization of the step-up in asset basis.  Under expensing, an asset purchase would allow immediate deduction of the full purchase price, and the assets would have no basis.  On the other hand, a buyer of stock of a corporation that holds assets eligible for expensing would not be entitled to any tax benefits ever.

Sellers of assets would have more taxable gain under expensing than under present law by reason of expensed assets having a zero basis, but the tax could be deferred by reinvesting the proceeds in new business assets.

If a section 338(g) election is made, we presume that the “old target” would recognize gain on its one-day return and the “new target” would have a deduction on its first post-closing return that it could carry forward.  On a sale of assets of an entire business or a section 338(g) election, Congress could choose to allow the buyer and seller to make an election to avoid both income and deduction. 

I. Selling Stock or Assets of a Consolidated Subsidiary.

Stock basis in consolidated subsidiaries will be zero except for transition basis and basis attributable to the subsidiary’s financial assets and land.

We presume that a section 338(h)(10) election would still be available.  The seller of stock of a historic consolidated subsidiary would still generally be indifferent as between a stock and asset sale because stock basis would continue to be the same as asset basis.  Therefore, just as today, sales of historic consolidated subsidiaries would generally be asset sales, or stock sales subject to a section 338(h)(10) election.

If a seller has a purchased basis in the stock of a consolidated subsidiary, the excess of stock basis over asset basis will likely be higher than today because of the reduced asset basis at the time of purchase.  Even so, there would likely be more asset sales or section 338(h)(10) elections in this situation than today because expensing produces a greater benefit to a buyer than current law amortization, and because sellers will be able to defer their tax by reinvesting in other assets.

J. Other Effects on Consolidated Returns.

Because there would be less basis in the stock of consolidated subsidiaries, there would be less opportunity to extract cash before a spin-off or other tax-free disposition.  Second, intercompany gains on sales of business assets would be offset by an immediate deduction for the buying member and therefore would be triggered immediately under regulation section 1.1502-13. Third, the loss duplication rules under regulation section 1.1502-36(d) would be less likely to be relevant because business assets would not have built-in loss although net operating losses (NOLs) could still result in application of the section.

Finally, the anti-son-of-mirror rule in regulation section 1.1502-36(c) would still be needed.  For example, assume that a parent buys the stock of target for $100 and target has a single asset with a basis of $0.  If target were to sell the asset to a third party for $100, parent’s basis would increase to $200.  Under current law, parent’s loss of $100 on a sale of target stock would be inconsistent with General Utilities (GU) repeal because the buyer received a stepped-up basis in the assets.  Under expensing, while there would be no step-up in asset basis, the buyer would receive an immediate deduction, which is even more favorable (and would provide even more reason for GU repeal to deny parent’s stock loss).

K. Other Subchapter C Effects.

We would expect more net unrealized built-in gain (NUBIG) and less net unrealized built-in loss (NUBIL) under section 382, more NOLs, and more liabilities in excess of basis under section 357(c).  Finally, the rules for allocating earnings and profits would have to be revisited.  For example, in a “proper case,” earnings and profits are allocated in a spinoff based on the net basis of assets.6   It is unclear whether fair market value, or earnings and profits basis, would be required under an expensing regime.

L. Partnership Transactions.

We presume that the purchaser of a partnership interest with a section 754 election would be entitled to deduct the full purchase price allocable to business assets subject to expensing.  Thus, section 754 elections would be more important than under current law.  Whether or not a section 754 election is in effect, if a partner has basis in its partnership interest, the liquidating distribution of partnership business assets (other than land, financial assets and possibly inventory) would entitle the partner to a deduction for its basis in the partnership interest. 

M. Foreign Transactions.

In the absence of a border adjustment, a foreign parent could contribute cash to its U.S. subsidiary, the U.S. subsidiary could buy business assets from the foreign parent and the U.S. subsidiary would receive a deduction.  By contrast, if the parent bought the asset and contributed it to the U.S. subsidiary, the parent would have a zero basis for U.S. tax purposes and the U.S. subsidiary would obtain a zero basis in the asset and no deduction.  Conversely, a U.S. corporation could buy a business asset and contribute it to a foreign subsidiary in a transaction that is exempt from section 367.  The U.S. corporation would claim a deduction which it could not have claimed if it had contributed cash to its foreign subsidiary and the foreign subsidiary had purchased the asset.

In the absence of territoriality, we presume that expensing would apply to purchases by a foreign branch.  However, if territoriality is adopted, we presume that no deductions would be permitted by a foreign branch and no income would be reported on the sale of business (i.e., non-FPHCI-generating) assets by a foreign branch.

N. Possible Legislative Responses to the Issues Presented by Expensing.

Congress could moot most of the tax planning opportunities with respect to expensing by providing that losses are refundable allowing taxpayers to use their losses to offset payroll taxes.  Allowing refunds or offsets would, however, increase the costs of expensing, increase fraudulent refund claims, and create the perception of the government providing cash subsidies to multinational corporations.

Second, Congress could treat any business assets contributed to a subsidiary under section 351 or as a capital contribution, or to a partnership under section 721, as a deemed sale for cash, followed by a contribution of the cash.  Unless such rules were limited to recently purchased assets, however, they would have far-reaching effects on section 351 and section 721 transactions with long-held assets that are routinely treated as tax-free today.

Third, Congress could deny a deduction for any purchase from an exempt or foreign entity if the asset is leased back.  If Congress did deny a deduction under these facts, it should provide “basis credit” for the portion of lease payments that are not treated as interest.  It might also be possible to avoid these rules by a lease of a similar but different asset.

Finally, if Congress enacts territoriality (so that income of foreign branches is exempt from U.S. tax), then it could treat a foreign branch as a corporation and therefore deny a U.S. deduction for the purchase of an asset by the foreign branch and outbound transfers to the foreign branch.

O. Transition Issues.

Existing tax basis of business assets could be (i) permanently eliminated with no tax basis, (ii) allowed as an immediate deduction, (iii) amortized under existing rules, or (iv) phased out in some other manner.  If existing tax basis is amortized under existing rules or otherwise, there would be an incentive for the owner of an asset to sell it in order to create the net result of an immediate deduction for the existing tax basis of the asset.  Moreover, absent anti-churning rules, the seller could lease back the old asset.  Even if anti-churning rules were adopted, the seller could potentially avoid those rules by buying a similar asset from a third party and obtaining a full deduction.

IV. Denial of Net Interest Deductions.

The Blueprint would deny net interest deductions.  Net interest income would be fully taxable.

A. Converting Interest Expense to Non-Interest Expense.

Several strategies exist to avoid the denial of net interest deductions.  First, a taxpayer that would have borrowed to buy a building could enter into a “true” lease for tax purposes.

Second, on a bank borrowing, a portion of the interest expense could be relabeled a deductible service fee.

Third, on an installment purchase, the purchase price could be maximized and the interest limited to the applicable federal rate (AFR).

Fourth, a taxpayer could enter into a prepaid forward sale of a financial asset and simultaneously forward purchase the same asset on the same future date.  The difference in price would be an interest factor, but the taxpayer would have a capital loss on the forward purchase date.7

Fifth, instead of issuing debt, a pass-through entity could issue debt-like partnership interests paying guaranteed payments or providing for allocations of fixed amounts of gross or net income.  These allocations would be economically similar to interest, and would give rise to ordinary deductions that would not be treated as interest, or would divert income away from the taxpayer.

B. Methods to Convert Non-Interest Income to Interest Income.

The Blueprint allows interest expense to be deductible to the extent of interest income.  This encourages taxpayers to convert non-interest income into interest income.  For example, a taxpayer could sell goods to consumers or foreigners at low prices financed with loans at high interest rates.  Alternatively, a taxpayer could loan funds in exchange for a note that provides for interest equal to the total return on a specified number of shares of the S&P 500, and hedge its exposure by selling short that number of shares of the S&P 500.  If the S&P 500 increases, the note will generate net OID income that will eventually be offset by a capital loss.  (If the S&P 500 declines, the taxpayer would have no net OID income and a short-term capital gain.)

C. Avoiding the Denial of Interest Expense By Borrowing Offshore.

If interest expense reduces earnings and profits for CFCs and PFICs, then borrowings by CFCs and PFICs with a QEF election could be used to offset the FPHCI of a CFC, or all of the income of a PFIC that had made a QEF election.

Also, in the absence of border adjustments, a foreign affiliate could borrow to buy an asset and then lease or license it to a U.S. affiliate.  The U.S. affiliate would deduct the lease or license payments, which would be used by the affiliate to pay interest and principal on the loan.

Alternatively, if a U.S. corporation has a foreign parent and the foreign parent’s jurisdiction allows interest deductions for debt used abroad (i.e., in the United States), the foreign parent could borrow and contribute cash to the U.S. corporation, and the U.S. corporation could buy assets and expense the purchase price to offset its taxable income.  If the treaty between the United States and foreign parent’s country provides for a zero rate of withholding tax on dividends, the U.S. corporation could pay dividends to its foreign parent tax-free and, if the dividend is eligible for a participation exemption in the foreign parent’s jurisdiction, the foreign parent’s interest expense could shelter other income of the foreign parent, with the same result as if an interest deduction were allowed in the United States.

V. The Border Adjustment.

The Blueprint proposes a border adjustment under which proceeds from an export would be exempt from tax, but imports would not be deductible.  The cost of exports would be fully deductible as today, unless the cost was a disallowed import expense.  As a result, exports would generate expenses, but not taxable income.  Since the Blueprint does not contemplate refunds for losses, exporters will be in perpetual loss positions.  Several tax planning opportunities will be available to them to obtain a tax benefit from these losses.

First, they could merge with the importers who will be denied deductions or tax basis for their imports and therefore have relatively high tax bills.

Second, the exporter could buy imported goods directly from abroad and sell the goods to the U.S. importer.  This would result in net income to the exporter and a net deduction to the importer, effectively shifting part of the exporter’s NOL to the importer.

Third, the importer could buy from the exporter the goods to be exported and export the goods itself, also effectively shifting the exporter’s NOL to the importer.

Finally, the importer and the exporter could form a “splitter partnership” that both imports and exports, allowing net export deductions to offset the partnership’s net import income, again with the effect of shifting the exporter’s NOL to the importer.

U.S. sellers or licensors would tend to maximize the sales price or license fee received from a non-U.S. affiliate.  This would maximize the tax basis or deduction in the foreign jurisdiction, with no U.S. tax effect because sales proceeds would be exempt.

Conversely, a U.S. purchaser or licensee from a non-U.S. affiliate will minimize the sales price or license fee paid to its non-U.S. affiliate because the sales price or license fee would not be deductible and license fees would be FPHCI if the affiliate is a CFC.

U.S. taxpayers would be likely to sell all of their existing non-U.S. intangibles to their non-U.S. affiliates because this would allow the U.S. taxpayer to receive tax-free proceeds and avoid the possibility of the future repeal of the border adjustment.

A. Incentives for Inversions.

The border adjustment may also create incentives for inversions.  If a U.S. corporation owns intangibles that relate to foreign sales and a foreign corporation could borrow locally, buy intangibles from the U.S. corporation if it was a subsidiary, and obtain local amortization and interest deductions, there would be tax benefits for the foreign corporation to buy the U.S. corporation.  The U.S. corporation would develop intangibles and deduct the costs associated with their development.  The foreign parent would borrow to purchase the intangibles.  There would be additional tax benefits at the shareholder level if the foreign parent earns FPHCI and its interest deductions are permitted to reduce its earnings and profits.

B. Direct Foreign Sales to Consumers.

If the border adjustment for imported goods is implemented solely by denying importers a deduction, it would be easily avoided by foreign direct sales to U.S. consumers.  In fact, a U.S. retailer could organize a foreign affiliate to sell directly to U.S. consumers and avoid the border adjustment.

To prevent these results, tax would need to be imposed on the foreign seller, which raises tax treaty issues if the seller does not have a permanent establishment in the United States, or on the consumer, possibly by requiring the foreign seller to withhold a U.S. excise tax.  Imposing a tax on direct sales by foreigners to U.S. consumers would require an army of border agents to check goods sent to U.S. consumers, but border agents could not prevent computer downloads of intangible products and fraud is still possible.  U.S. consumers could purchase consumables through U.S. limited liability companies and claim that the consumables are being used for business, or consumers could use property legitimately purchased by businesses for their own personal use.  These activities exist to some extent now, but will be much more prevalent if a tax is imposed on consumable goods imported directly by U.S. consumers from foreigners.

The border adjustment presents other tax planning opportunities.  Suppose a U.S. hedge fund manager manages funds for offshore investors and receives a carried interest.  If the carried interest is restructured as an incentive fee for services provided to a foreigner, under the border adjustment, it would not be subject to tax.  Assume instead that a hedge fund manager provides services to a Cayman Island corporation that happens to be owned by U.S. tax-exempt investors.  Would the manager be able to treat its fee income as exempt under the theory that it is providing services to a foreign corporation, or would the manager have to look through the Cayman Islands corporation?  If the manager is not required to look through the Cayman Islands corporation, would the Cayman Islands corporation be treated as rendering services to the U.S. tax-exempt investors (i.e., an import of services) so that the tax-exempt investors would be subject to an excise or withholding tax?

Similar issues would exist if a U.S. law firm provides services to a multinational group for worldwide corporate planning.  Would the U.S. law firm be able to treat its nominal client (which will always be a foreign person) as the client for purposes of applying the border adjustment, or would the bill have to be substantively allocated between export service income and domestic service income?  Similarly, if a U.S. law firm advises a foreign parent on the acquisition of a U.S. target, would the characterization of the service as an export depend upon whether the foreign parent makes the acquisition directly and then contributes the target into its U.S. group, or the U.S. subsidiary in the group acquires the target directly?

Likewise, if a U.S. taxpayer buys cloud computing services, is the determination whether the services are a nondeductible import dependent upon the residence of the seller or where the servers are actually located (or some other factor)?

C. Inbound Related-Party Transactions.

Suppose a foreign parent contributes inventory to the capital of a U.S. subsidiary.  If inventory is not subject to expensing, the foreign parent would have tax basis in the inventory and then, under section 362(a), the U.S. subsidiary would have tax basis in the inventory.  This result would be much better than had the foreign parent contributed cash to the U.S. subsidiary and the U.S. subsidiary had purchased the inventory because the purchase of the inventory from the foreign parent would be an import and the U.S. subsidiary would not get any basis.  To achieve symmetry if inventory is not expensed, inventory that is contributed by a non-U.S. parent to a U.S. subsidiary should not have any basis in the hands of the U.S. subsidiary.

D. Outbound Related-Party Transactions.

Assume a U.S. parent buys an asset from a U.S. seller and immediately sells it to a foreign subsidiary.  The U.S. parent should be able to expense the purchase and exclude the gross proceeds of the sale.  This result makes sense because the U.S. seller reported income on the sale.

If the U.S. parent had contributed cash to the foreign subsidiary and it had purchased the asset from the U.S. seller, then the U.S. parent would not have received a deduction.  This result also makes sense because the seller would be selling to a foreign person (the foreign subsidiary), and the seller would be able to exclude the export income.

If a U.S. parent contributes the asset to the foreign subsidiary, the contribution should not be taxable because a sale to the foreign subsidiary would not be taxable.

E. Tax Planning by U.S. Tax Exempts.

Under the border adjustment feature, the tax exemption of tax-exempt entities is “wasted”.  As a result, taxable entities may receive more favorable treatment than tax-exempt entities.  For example, instead of selling an asset to a non-U.S. person, a tax-exempt entity would first sell the asset to a U.S. intermediary which would resell to the non-U.S. person.  The intermediary would receive a deduction but not report any income and would share its tax benefit by increasing the price it pays for the asset.

Likewise, it would make more sense for a non-UBTI “export” business of a tax-exempt entity to be operated through a taxable subsidiary, in order to obtain a net deduction for the costs.  (A tax-exempt operating a non-UBTI business directly today does not obtain a deduction for the costs, since the related income is not taxable.)  Assume that a tax-exempt college conducts a “massive open online course” (MOOC) that is offered to foreign students.  It would make more sense to operate this business through a taxable subsidiary.  The taxable subsidiary would take deductions for creating and operating the MOOC, but the fees and royalties received from the foreign students would be exempt export receipts.  The subsidiary would then have losses that could be utilized against other income.  For example, the tax-exempt could then contribute to the subsidiary any assets that would otherwise generate UBTI to the tax-exempt.

F. Earnings and Profits Partnerships, and Consolidated Subsidiaries.

We assume that exempt export income will increase earnings and profits and nondeductible import expense will reduce it.  Under this approach, shareholders would be taxable on dividends arising from export profits.

We also assume that tax basis in a partnership interest, or in stock of a consolidated subsidiary, is reduced by nondeductible import expense and is increased by exempt export income.  Otherwise, the loss of deduction for importing and the exemption of export income would be mere matters of timing rather than a permanent penalty or benefit.

G. States.

We believe that states will be reluctant to adopt conforming legislation.

H. Transition Issues.

Prior to enactment, there is an incentive for taxpayers to accelerate imports (to obtain tax basis) and defer exports.  It is unclear whether pre-enactment payments for post-enactment imports would be deductible or create basis (e.g., a prepaid royalty paid to a non-U.S. person for intangibles used in the United States).  It is not clear whether a pre-enactment installment sale of export property would result in tax-free receipt of post-enactment installment payments.

VI. Conclusion.

The Blueprint promises a simpler tax code.8   This will be a broken promise.  As we have illustrated, every major aspect of the Blueprint—the significant reduction in the corporate rate, the special pass-through rate, expensing, the denial of net interest deductions, and the border adjustment—would create tax planning opportunities that either do not exist under current law or would be much greater under the Blueprint.  These opportunities will inevitably require special statutory or regulatory rules to address them or else will give rise to transactions to exploit them. ■


1 This article is based on a presentation by the authors for the Corporate Tax Committee at the 2017 May Meeting in Washington, D.C. on May 13, 2017.  The slides for the presentation are available on TaxIQ.

2 A Better Way: Our Vision for a Confident America, U.S. House of Representatives – Committee on Ways & Means (June 24, 2016).

3 White House Fact Sheet, 2017 Tax Reform for Economic Growth and American Jobs. We also refer to President Trump’s prior campaign proposal, which was described in various 2016 speeches. See Transcript of Donald Trump’s economic policy speech to Detroit Economic Club, The Hill (Aug. 8, 2016); Donald Trump Speech in Aston, Pennsylvania (Sept. 13, 2016); Read Donald Trump's Speech on Jobs and the Economy, Time (Sept. 15, 2016).

4 Cf.  IRC § 1202(e)(3).

5 Cf.  Discussion Draft of the Tax Reform Act of 2014, released by Dave Camp, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means; IRC § 1502 (b) and (c) (Determination of Net Earnings from Self-Employment) (imposing self-employment taxes on 70% of an individual’s pass-through net earnings).

6 Treas. Reg. § 1.312-10(a).

7 If the taxpayer is permitted to mark-to-market the two positions, which the Modernization of Derivatives Tax Act of 2017, S. 1005 (115th Cong.), introduced on May 2, 2017, would allow, then the taxpayer’s annual net ordinary loss with respect to the two positions would be exactly equal to interest on a loan, but would not be treated as interest.

8 Blueprint at 6, 15, 16, 26, 30, 31, 32, 34.