WASHINGTON Bankers were listening last week when Vice President Cheney warned business groups not to fall into the trap of trying to get every pet provision added to the administrations $1.6 trillion tax cut plan.
Though the individual rate cut proposal, formally unveiled Thursday, offers little specifically for banks, industry lobbyists applauded its potential to spur long-term economic growth. And they dont want to push their luck.
If their plan is not to open up the tax bill to corporate issues then well have to work within that plan, said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. Its a funny situation for the tax lobbying community, which includes us.
In bucking tradition by trying to keep the tax bill free of special interest changes, the Bush administration is doing the banking industry a favor, according to Bank of America chief economist Mickey D. Levy. Political efforts to add targeted tax relief should be dismissed, he said. The across-the-board tax cut emphasizing marginal rates on personal income is the right way to go.
The crux of the Bush plan is to reduce the personal taxes, including lowering the top rate to 33%, from 39.6%. The White House estimates the cost of its plan at $1.6 trillion over 10 years.
In addition to anticipating macroeconomic benefits, bankers are particularly interested in President Bushs plan to repeal estate taxes and to incrementally expand the contribution limit to tax-free education savings accounts to $5,000 from $500 by 2006. The elimination of estate taxes, which currently max out at 55%, would particularly benefit community banks.
It would help preserve family-owned banks, plus it would help their primary customers farmers, ranchers, and small-business owners who are often forced to liquidate or sell out of the business to pay the estate tax, said Paul G. Merski, chief economist and director of federal tax policy at the Independent Community Bankers of America.
The ABA is working to block an effort by some lawmakers to replace the estate tax with a capital gains tax on the increase in value of inherited assets. The group has already complained in a letter to key members of Congress that determining the original value is difficult because when owners of such assets die, they often leave behind incomplete records or no records. That would be a problem for bankers who serve as executors would be obligated to certify basis, or value, to heirs.
Banking lobbyists have pledged not to tinker with the package, but they say that a big hole in the Bush plan for bankers is the lack of incentives to broaden retirement savings opportunities. We were disappointed there were no retirement savings in the proposal, said James E. OConnor, a tax and accounting counsel for Americas Community Bankers.
But separate legislation is expected from Reps. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., as early as Thursday that would raise the cap on Individual Retirement Account contributions to $5,000 a year, from $2,000, and the contribution limit on 401(k) plans to $15,000, from $10,500.
The legislation would index the maximum yearly contribution in $500 increments, starting in 2004 for IRAs and in 2005 for 401(k) plans.
Jennifer Gordon contributed to this article.