One of the biggest divides between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is over taxes. It's not limited to Trump's refusal -- in defiance of 40 years of bipartisan practice -- to release any of his own tax returns while she's released her tax returns since 1977.
There are $7.5 trillion worth of sharp policy distinctions between them as well. Clinton's tax plan would raise an additional $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years from the wealthy and big corporations, money that would be used to make new investments to create an economy that works for all. Trump's tax plan would lose nearly $6 trillion; most of the tax breaks he proposes would benefit the wealthy and big corporations.
Here are five key tax questions that should be asked of the two presidential candidates in Monday's debate.
1. "Does your tax plan raise the revenue needed to create an economy that works for all of us?"
Clinton's plan would raise $1.7 trillion over 10 years through higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations in order to pay for new public investments such as education, child care and infrastructure. In stark contrast, Trump's plan would actually lose nearly $6 trillion. It would give a tax break of $88,000 a year on average to the top 1%, while increasing taxes on nearly 8 million mostly low-and middle-income families with children, including more than half of single parents. The budget cuts necessary to pay for Trump's tax breaks--which are heavily slanted towards corporations and the wealthy--would slash non-defense spending by 30% over the next 10 years.
2. "At a time of tight public budgets, record corporate profits, and widespread corporate tax avoidance, will you ensure that corporations start paying their fair share?"
Corporate taxes used to generate one of every three dollars of federal revenue--now it's just one in nine. Yet Trump wants to lower that share even more by cutting the corporate tax rate by more than half. This is a massive giveaway costing $2.4 trillion over 10 years. Clinton has not announced any changes in corporate tax rates. She has proposed closing a loophole that benefits the oil and gas industry and imposing a fee on big banks, which together would raise $200 billion over the next decade.
3. "What would you do to collect the $700 billion in U.S. taxes American corporations owe on their $2.4 trillion in profits stashed offshore?
Among Clinton's proposed public investments is $275 billion to fix failing roads, bridges, ports and other transportation systems. It's widely expected that she will pay for it by collecting a portion of that $700 billion overdue bill (though she has not explicitly said that). Trump in contrast has announced his intention to collect a much smaller share of the total--about $150 billion--forgiving the rest and thereby handing huge, tax-dodging corporations a half-trillion-dollar tax cut. Candidates should be asked: shouldn't big corporations be required to pay everything they owe in taxes, just like the rest of us?
4. "Do you support giving hedge funds, big law firms, real estate partnerships and other so-called pass-through entities a trillion-dollar tax cut, as Donald Trump has apparently proposed? If so, would you benefit personally from such a proposal?"
Participants in certain businesses bypass the corporate tax system and pay at individual rates, which under current law can be as high as 40%. But Trump would apparently cut the top rate for these entities to just 15%, losing $1 trillion over 10 years. Trump is the sole or principal owner of around 500 such businesses. He would benefit handsomely from this tax cut of more than 60% that's been appropriately dubbed the "Trump Loophole." (BTW: It is not clear whether this tax break is in the plan or not, since Trump has offered contradictory and self-serving answers depending on the audience.
5. "Would you strengthen or abolish the estate tax? How would your proposal effect your own family?"
The estate tax only touches the wealthiest one of every 500 families, placing a small curb on the accumulation of dynastic wealth while raising billions for important public services. A strong estate tax is a vital part of any effort to narrow the nation's destabilizing income and wealth gaps.
Clinton would raise $385 billion more over 10 years from very wealthy families like hers by strengthening the estate tax and by requiring that capital gains taxes be paid on inherited assets, just like they are paid on normal assets, and that those gains be taxed at death. Trump would abolish the tax altogether, losing $270 billion over 10 years (though the loss would be less because under his newest plan he would tax capital gains at death with a $10 million exemption). Assuming Trump is as wealthy as he claims, his family alone could avoid at least $4 billion in taxes.
For a comparison of the Clinton and Trump tax plans go here.
Frank Clemente is executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness Action Fund.