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What we found in the new Senate tax bill

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Senate Republicans passed their version of a sweeping tax overhaul. Roughly five hours earlier, the Senate Finance Committee publicly released their final proposal — read it here.)

Democrats tried to outdo each other pointing to handwritten changes in the bill, some of which are nearly illegible. Republicans stressed it will benefit millions of American taxpayers.

As we read through it, we focused on the bill’s last-minute changes. Here’s what stood out to us in our initial look.

Update: Early Saturday morning, four Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to delete a section of the bill that would have exempted one college in Michigan from paying a specific higher education tax. That item is crossed out below.

Also see the addition of an amendment by Sen. Ted Cruz aimed at helping families who home school or send this children to private schools.

BIG TAX CHANGES

Alternative Minimum Tax – Senate Republicans initially repealed the AMT, but have brought it back now in order to pay for some other additions (see below). The AMT is intended to be a minimum tax on the wealthy. In this version, the GOP raises the income levels where it hits so it will affect fewer people. For individuals, the minimum threshold goes from $50,600 to $70,600. For those filing jointly, the threshold rises from $78,750 to $109,400. (Pg. 95)

Property Tax Deduction. Thanks to Maine’s Susan Collins, the Senate added back a potential property tax deduction of up to $10,000. (Pg. 81)

Pass-through Businesses – These businesses will see a bigger tax cut. The Senate boosted the planned 17.4 percent deduction for them to now 23 percent. What are pass-throughs, by the way? (And how can I get that deduction?) These are businesses in which the profits are not taxed by any business tax but instead “pass through” to the owner and the owner pays taxes on the profits as their individual income. Think of an owner-operator business, like an accountant. It can also be large, tightly-run companies as well. Like the Trump Organization, which is a pass-through. (Pg 22.)

Publicly Traded Partnerships (PTP) – Watch this one. It was dropped into the bill unannounced. This change appears to extend the sizable pass-through tax break (above) to a another category of business: Publicly Traded Partnerships. (Note: this does not affect investment firms like The Carlyle Group, which are Publicly Traded Partnerships, because most of their income is taxed in a different way.) We’ve asked the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for more details.

Medical Expense Deduction – As part of another push from Sen. Collins, the Senate bill will temporarily open up a deduction for large medical costs to more people. Currently people can deduct any medical costs over 10 percent of their income. The Senate bill would lower that threshold to 7.5 percent of income, but just temporarily. It’s for the next two years only. (Pg. 58.)

OTHER GROUPS THAT STAND OUT

Car Dealers – The latest version restores a 100 percent deduction on something called “motor vehicle floor price financing”. Turns out this is actually a significant part of how cars are sold. Car dealers use loans to buy their inventory, the cars that sit on their lots. Currently they can deduct all the interest they pay on those rather large loans. The original Senate bill had cut that deduction to just 30 percent of the interest. But car dealers and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, made a lot of (figurative) noise and now the full deduction is back. (Pg. 198)

Members of Congress – The new Senate bill would completely eliminate a tax break for members of Congress. Currently, they may personally deduct up to $3,000 spent on living expenses while in Washington D.C. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, pushed for this change in something she called the “SQUEAL” Act. (Look it up – the acronym is not the worst one we’ve seen in Washington.) (Pg. 200.)

Families that Home School or Send Kids to Private Schools – One of the few amendments to pass Friday night was a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. It expands the tax benefits of college savings plans known as 529s to families who want to save money for K-12 education, either for private school or homeschooling.

Colleges – Teams with big names and big fan bases just got a win. The Senate originally added a new tax on royalties from logos that could have included things like the University of Texas’s “T” with the longhorn background or Alabama’s signature “A”. That has now been taken out of the bill. It is not clear to us (we are asking) if that could have included private corporate logos, like the “Trump” name in its commonly-used font. (Was on Pg. 306 of the original draft. Now is not in the bill.)

One Specific College – In a story first reported by NBC News, the bill contains an exemption from a new higher education tax that seems to be a carve-out for one conservative institution: Hillsdale College in Michigan. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., has been a central architect of the tax bill and said on the Senate floor that the exemption from the tax does apply to Hillsdale, though he said it could theoretically apply to other colleges that fit the narrow qualifications in the bill as well (large endowment with small student population and no federal funding). (Pg. 289.)

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