Social Justice and Tax Reform: A Conversation at Temple

On Monday, November 27th a panel of Temple Law professors gave their perspectives on the social and economic shortcomings of the House’s and Senate’s respective versions of the  Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (“Bills”).  The panel consisted of five distinguished Temple Law professors, between them representing both political parties and several fields of study.  The event was intended to be a short overview, rather than a deep dive into any specifics, in order to open a dialogue within the Temple Law community.  Professors Monroe, Mandelbaum, Greenstein, Bartow, and Ting sat on the panel, while Len Reiser, Program Coordinator of the Sheller Center, acted as the moderator.

Tax reform has been a hot button issue amongst Americans across the political spectrum.  The current system is seen as complex, riddled with loopholes, and inequitable.  Many Americans hoped the reform would implement a simplified and more equitable tax system.  The panelists unanimously agreed that the current proposals fell short of these goals, and each panelist highlighted different social and economic consequences of the Bills.

Professors Bartow and Greenstein both believe that the Bills fail to address a range of social issues.  Professor Bartow highlighted the complexity of the tax code.  The interconnectivity of the provisions leads to unclear outcomes for individual taxpayers. This ambiguity makes it hard to see how the average American will be affected, although it is clear that the wealthiest will be better off.  Noting that the Bills were offered solely by Republicans, Professor Greenstein believes that they fail to accurately capture the values of society as a whole and that bipartisan discussions need to take place in order to create a more equitable solution.

Professor Monroe began by stating her unwillingness to support either the House or Senate version of the Bill due to her belief that they are both complex and rushed attempts that fail to meet their own stated objectives.  Echoing her colleagues, Professor Monroe said that the rushed implementation and lack of bipartisan discussion are a major concern.  Valid arguments can arise from both sides of the political table, and what is best for society is likely a mixture of many plans and ideas.

Professor Mandelbaum discussed the issue of a rushed plan by showing some potential consequences in relation to education.  Both the House and Senate Bills propose changes to many of the education-related provisions of the tax code, including, for example, disallowing the student loan interest deduction, eliminating the lifetime learning credit, and taxing certain university endowments.

In addition, graduate students will now be expected to pay more in taxes, while money that is currently used for scholarships will be taxed.  These factors may lead to detrimental effects on the workforce and may also slow the economy, which this plan purports to help.

Professor Ting, who identified himself as the sole Republican on the panel, highlighted how few of the Republican promises made it through to the tax plan.  Furthermore, Professor Ting worries about the estimated $1.4 trillion deficit increase which this plan is expected to create.  President Trump and many other Republicans have run campaigns promising to lower the national debt, and this proposal openly works against that goal.

Not a single member of the panel would endorse the current proposals, and yet each was optimistic about the future.  Tax reform is seemingly inevitable, but hopefully more opinions will be shared and a more fleshed out plan will come to fruition.  Tax reform has the potential to be the social and economic reform this country needs, but those goals will only be achieved when people from all backgrounds engage in a productive discussion about changes.  One version of that conversation began at Temple, but needs to be taken up across the country.