Despite a few eleventh-hour wrinkles, Republicans in the House and Senate hope to vote as early as Monday on their ambitious tax plan that will cut individual and corporate rates — while impacting Americans in different parts of the country in decidedly different ways.
On Friday Republicans said they had lined up the support to pass the plan out of the Senate; a winning margin in the House of Representatives was already all but certain. Assuming those votes play out as planned, it’ll be just a presidential signature away from reality.
So what does this all mean for the Bay Area, a place where taxpayers rely on mortgage-interest and property-tax deductions in a red-hot housing market and companies like Apple are looking for tax breaks that might help them bring back billions stashed overseas? Earlier versions of the GOP tax bills — one each in the House and Senate — had a cornucopia of controversial and differing provisions on issues critical to those of us who live here, including mortgage-interest and state income tax deductions. Now all of those differences have been resolved in a combined bill.
Remember that in addition to rewriting particular provisions of the tax code, the GOP tax reform cuts corporate taxes across the board, and trims income tax rates for many Americans. So it isn’t a simple matter to say how the loss of one tax break or the addition of another will affect any individual tax bill.
But based on what we know about the plan so far, here are some of the ways the GOP’s final tax package might impact the Bay Area and the rest of the Golden State:
The Sizzling Real Estate Market
The GOP tax plan may throw some cold water onto the very hot fire that is our local home market. This news organization recently reported on a warning from a prominent group of Realtors that both the Senate and House proposals would slash home prices and values in California and beyond. The cuts to real estate-focused tax deductions under consideration might trigger a price drop between 8 and 12 percent, leading to a loss in home value of between $37,710 and $56,550 for the typical homeowner, according to the National Association of Realtors. Of course, that’s a blessing or a curse, depending on whether you’re a homebuyer or a homeowner. Which deductions, you ask? Read on.
Mortgage-interest Tax Breaks are Capped
Currently, if you itemize your deductions, you can write off qualifying mortgage interest for loans of up to $1,000,000, along with an additional $100,000 for that home-equity line you’ve enjoyed so much. That million-dollar cap applies to a mortgage on your primary residence plus one other home. Under the House-Senate compromise deal, the mortgage interest deduction would be allowed on new home loans only up to $750,000. That was a compromise between the House bill, where new mortgages would have been capped at $500,000 for deduction purposes, and the Senate bill, where the current $1,000,000 cap would have remained in place. The compromise is better for the Bay Area than it might have been, but it will still sting for many California homebuyers who’ll lose part of a very valuable tax break. In pricey Santa Clara County, for instance, the purchaser of a median-price home who puts 20 percent down is looking at a $900,000 loan, and would lose an estimated $2,755 in tax savings under the GOP plan.
What about SALT?
Initially, both the House and Senate bills cut out the SALT, or “state and local tax” deduction, a wonderful tax break for residents in this (and other) expensive corners of the country. But politicians from high-tax states such as California and New York said they couldn’t live with a total elimination of SALT. So what did we end up with? In the (apparently) final bill, taxpayers can deduct state income taxes or sales taxes in addition to property levies — but only up to a $10,000 cap. That’s better than nothing, but much less than many Bay Area residents currently write off. SALT deductions are currently used by one in three Californians (you must itemize your deductions to get it), and their average deduction was about $18,000 in the most recent tax year, according to IRS figures.
What About that Tesla Tax Write-off?
The House bill called for the elimination of the tax credit for electric vehicles, a potentially big blow for Tesla, which has large manufacturing facilities in California, and the thousands of Californians who drive those and other electric cars. But there’s good news now: The House and Senate scrapped that proposal, leaving the current $7,500 electric-vehicle tax credit in place.
And Apple’s Overseas Cash Horde?
The United States would follow most other industrialized countries in switching to a “territorial” tax system, where overseas profits aren’t taxed at home. Companies will also get a low, one-time tax rate when they bring home profits they’re holding abroad. That’s been eyed as an Apple break; the company has $252 billion parked overseas, more than any other U.S. firm. However, after some last-minute finagling, the break will be smaller than expected (a tax rate for repatriating offshore cash once proposed at 10 percent ended up at 15.5 percent in the final bill), and companies would face complex rules meant to discourage them from moving more money and operations abroad. Stay tuned on this one.
Threats to Higher Education Staved Off — With One Big Exception
GOP tax bill writers initially proposed to eliminate favorable tax treatment for graduate students who receive free or reduced tuition, but backed off the notion at the last minute. However, they did approve a first-ever tax on some private university endowments. The bill places a 1.4% excise tax on endowment earnings, but it affects only private colleges with more than 500 students and endowments worth at least $500,000 per student. That’s fewer than 30 colleges, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education; it seems likely that one would be Stanford, with the third largest endowment of any U.S. university at more than $22 billion.