Last week the Senate Budget Committee passed a fiscal 2011 budget resolution that includes an increase in the top tax rate on dividends to 39.6% from the current 15%—a 164% increase. This blows past the 20% rate that President Obama proposed in his 2011 budget and which his economic advisers promised on these pages in 2008.
(See “The Obama Tax Plan,” August 14, 2008, by Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee: “The tax rate on dividends would also be 20% for families making more than $250,000, rather than returning to the ordinary income rate.”)
And that’s only for starters. The recent health-care bill includes a 3.8% surcharge on all investment income, including dividends, beginning in 2013. This would nearly triple the top dividend rate to 43.4% in Mr. Obama’s four years as President. We suppose the White House would call this another great victory for income equality.
You can expect fewer businesses either to offer or increase dividend payouts, which means less dividend revenue for the government than that $200 billion guesstimate. The punitive tax rate on dividends combined with the deductibility of interest on borrowing also increases the tax code’s bias toward debt over equity. But aren’t we supposed to be living in a new era of healthy deleveraging?