President Trump has been bullish on the many different ways tax reform will supercharge the economy, make U.S. companies more competitive, and continue the stock market’s record rise. He’s also said, multiple times, that the legislation, currently in reconciliation between House and Senate leaders, won’t offer any advantages to himself.
During a speech in St. Charles, Missouri, in late November, the President said both his wealthy friends and his accountants were “going crazy” due to tax reform, and that they’d lose out due to changes in rates and deductions. “The rich people actually don’t like me,” he said.
Now that bills have passed both houses, offering a better sense of how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will ultimately impact tax breaks, rate reductions, and deductions, it’s clear President Trump may not have as much to worry about as he previously suggested.
While details vary between the House and Senate bills, the overall contours suggest President Trump and other wealthy real estate developers (as well as their accountants) will likely be quite happy. Here are the different ways tax reform benefits real estate moguls and big developers.
Lowering taxes on pass-through businesses
Pass-through businesses—partnerships, S-corporations, and limited liability companies (LLCs)—are corporate entities that allow business income to “pass-through” to the owner, thereby paying a personal income rate, as opposed to a business rate.
The Trump Organization, which owns more than 500 such entities, would see their annual tax bills drop, due to a rate cut from near 40 percent to 25 percent. Many of the most lucrative parts of the Trump Organization’s real estate empire—rental income, royalty payments, and licensing fees—are organized as pass-through businesses.
Property development deductions and commercial real estate breaks
Both bills also contain a number of deductions and breaks that would particularly help real estate developers. According to a Washington Post analysis, both bills would allow developers to deduct interest expenses for a variety of real estate activities, including construction, management, and property development.
A House provision would repeal “like-kind exchange,” an exemption that lets a business avoid taxes if it reinvests profits in another business, except in the case of commercial real estate development. A New York Times analysis suggested this switch would allow owners of commercial real estate to “keep flipping the properties until they die without ever paying any capital gains tax.”
Finally, the bill would also allow golf course owners to claim a deduction if they promise to never build on land that they own, a big benefit for a company that owns a dozen courses in the United States. Known as the conservation easement, this break is already part of federal tax law, but has been derided by lawmakers, and some observers thought it might get eliminated in the current reform push.
Eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
This mechanism put a minimum on how much wealthy individuals would pay, in effect limiting the number of deductions that could be claimed by taxpayers. According to an analysis by Time of the leaked 2005 Trump tax return, the AMT increased his final tax bill by $31.2 million that year. Due to a mistake in drafting the proposed bill, the AMT would negate additional corporate deductions if is was to become law; Congressional observers believe it will be corrected before final passage.
In addition, plans to eliminate or sharply curtail the estate tax will give wealthy families the ability to pass along assets and wealth to children, a huge tax savings for someone with extensive wealth who may want to pass the family business to his or her heirs. Bloomberg estimated this changed could save Trump more than half a billion dollars, based on an estimated net worth of $3 billion.
Not every one of the proposed changes would benefit developers like Trump. Some, such as the elimination of the Historic Tax Credit, would add substantial costs to his company. The Trump Organization is currently seeking those credits to offset $40 million in costs for the transformation of Washington, D.C.’s post office into a Trump Hotel.
The final shape of the bill is yet to be determined, so nothing has been finalized. But if, as many expect, these broad contours do become law, it’s clear wealthy real estate developers will find plenty of benefits to get excited about.