Amid the current debate over tax policy in Washington, there is a bipartisan consensus on one issue: the corporate tax rate, which is currently 35 percent, should be reduced to roughly 25 percent. At the same time, budgetary pressures preclude any significant increase in the deficit to accomplish corporate tax reform.
In light of these competing demands, most corporate tax reformers advocate broadening the corporate tax base to pay for any rate reduction. Unfortunately, few politicians have put forth base-broadening measures that would generate revenue sufficient to significantly lower the corporate tax rate on a revenue-neutral basis.
In fact, revenue-neutral corporate income tax reform is likely to be very difficult, because corporate tax expenditures represent a relatively small portion of total corporate tax revenues. A preliminary analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation suggested that the elimination of all corporate tax expenditures—except for the deferral of tax on foreign source profits, a provision whose repeal would be politically and economically infeasible—would allow for the corporate tax rate to be reduced to only 28 percent.
Therefore, if policymakers want to reduce the corporate tax rate on a revenue-neutral basis, they will likely have to adopt other types of reforms to broaden the corporate tax base. Ideally, those reforms should offer the potential for significant revenue gains and reduce economic distortions.