WASHINGTON — President Trump’s decision to cap a popular tax break will hit 11 million filers this year, as they can no longer deduct more than $10,000 in state and local taxes from their federal income taxes.
This cap on deductions — intended to lessen the bottom-line cost of Mr. Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut — will mean filers cannot deduct $323 billion in state and local tax payments on their 2018 federal returns, according to a Treasury audit that was released on Tuesday.
The report offers the Trump administration’s first detailed public estimate on the effects of one of the law’s most controversial provisions, which largely affects people in high-tax, Democratic-leaning states like New York, California and New Jersey. While 11 million filers will hit this cap, out of roughly 150 million income tax returns, it doesn’t mean all of their total tax bills are rising.
Other analyses suggest many filers will benefit from different parts of the tax cuts, such as the elimination of the alternative minimum tax and the reduction in marginal tax rates. Additionally, the law doubled the standard deduction that taxpayers may take, along with a host of other tax changes.
The so-called SALT cap is, however, most likely to affect the richest Americans: More than half of the tax increases from the change will fall on the top 1 percent of income earners, according to estimates by the independent Tax Policy Center in Washington.
Before Tuesday, the administration had not disclosed any estimates of how many households would be affected, though it did provide data on the fiscal costs of SALT deductions. The Joint Committee on Taxation and the Tax Policy Center have estimated that removing the cap would cost the federal government as much as $670 billion over the next decade.
The audit was requested by Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. It was conducted by the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.
To assess the tax law’s effects, the inspector general looked at data from 2017. Auditors determined there were 10.9 million filers who claimed over $10,000 in SALT deductions who would continue to itemize their deductions even with the expanded standard deduction.
Many Democrats, and some Republicans, from high-tax states denounced the limit as unfair. Shortly after the law’s passage, state and local lawmakers in New York, New Jersey and similar states proposed various novel efforts to allow their residents to work around the caps — for example, by allowing local property tax payments to be classified as charitable contributions, which are deductible but not subject to the SALT cap.
The audit also said that high-ranking administration departments and officials — including the White House Office of Management and Budget, the National Economic Council and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — all collaborated to neutralize those state efforts.
In May, a brief Internal Revenue Service notice warned taxpayers that those workarounds would most likely not fly with the federal government: “Despite these state efforts to circumvent the new statutory limitation on state and local tax deductions, taxpayers should be mindful that federal law controls the proper characterization of payments for federal income tax purposes.” The I.R.S. completed regulations to that effect in August.
Most of the publicly available audit is redacted, even though it contains no sensitive taxpayer information. The omitted pages include a timeline of the administration’s actions related to SALT, according to a complete version of the audit obtained by The New York Times.
Treasury and I.R.S. officials insisted on the redactions, after initially pushing to shield the report from public view entirely, a spokesman for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said on Tuesday.
The full report shows that I.R.S. officials, as they strategized how to prepare for the new tax structure, originally had planned to wait until last August to address the SALT regulations. But the I.R.S. chief counsel pushed to “prioritize” SALT issues after states began developing their workaround plans, in order to clarify the issue for taxpayers before the 2019 tax filing season.
So I.R.S. officials began to tackle the SALT issue in January 2018. By March, they were circulating what the audit calls a press release to top officials in the Treasury and the White House, including Mr. Mnuchin, and discussing the issue with members of Congress. They changed its format before releasing it in late May.
“I.R.S. and Treasury officials,” the audit finds, “determined that a notice was a better form of guidance because it is more authoritative than a press release.”
All of those details were redacted in the publicly released audit. The public version does include the inspector’s conclusion that the review process for the SALT notice was “reasonable.”
Mr. Neal, who requested the audit before Democrats won control of the House last November and he ascended to his committee’s chairmanship, said the redactions were “clearly in an effort to conceal the process” involved in drafting the SALT notice, and “those involved in that process.”
“The American people have the right to know how decisions regarding a policy of this magnitude are made and who was involved at each step along the way,” he said. “Any attempt to hide or conceal that information is deeply disappointing.”
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