David Cay Johnston explores some creative ways that companies could game the tax system after President Obama’s proposed reforms, in his column, “Obama’s Hamburger Problem:”
If President Barack Obama can persuade Congress to reduce the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent, he will move tax rates closer to what other modern countries charge.
But his plan to treat “manufacturing” as a special category, with a 25 percent tax rate, brings us to what I call Obama’s hamburger problem.
The problem is how to define manufacturing. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart on obscenity, I know manufacturing when I see it; I just don’t know how to define it in tax law.
Assembling automobiles is considered manufacturing. So what about assembling two hot protein discs with special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions — all on a sesame seed bun?
The notion of hamburger-making as manufacturing may seem silly, a bit like the 1981 U.S. Agriculture Department proposal to classify ketchup as a vegetable for school lunches. But classifying activities as manufacturing or not becomes crucial if manufacturers pay taxes at a reduced rate.
Imagine all the high-paying jobs Obama’s plan would create. Companies of all kinds will want to hire more tax accountants and lawyers making the case their client’s business activity is manufacturing. These are not the sort of additional jobs America needs.