The latest monthly Treasury report on taxes and spending shows that gross tax receipts in February were $1.4 billion higher than the year before. Weren’t the Republican tax cuts supposed to explode the deficit?
According to the report, the government took in $238.2 billion in taxes in February. The year before, tax revenues were $236.8 billion.
For fiscal year 2018, which started last October, taxes are up $50.5 billion compared with the same months last year, and are at a record high level for this five-month span.
The report does show that net receipts were lower in February compared with last year, but the main reason is that individual income tax refunds jumped $13.3 billion, while corporate tax refunds went up $4 billion, neither of which is the result of the tax cuts that took effect in January.
Even so, net receipts are up by $29.6 billion for the current fiscal year — a 2.4% increase — compared with the same period last year. That’s also a record high. (See nearby chart.)
Does this mean tax cuts are “paying for themselves”?
Not exactly. Income taxes collected in February were down $2.5 billion from last year — reflecting the new withholding tables. Corporate income tax collections, however, were essentially flat.
But remember, income taxes are hardly the only source of revenue for the federal government. And a faster-growing economy means more money pouring in from these other sources.
Payroll taxes, for example, are dependent on the number of people working and their wages. In February, the economy added 313,000 jobs, unemployment levels are now at or near record lows, and wages are climbing.
As a result, payroll taxes brought in $1.5 billion more in February than they did last year, and are up $11.4 billion this fiscal year. Federal excise taxes and customs duties are up $3.8 billion and $1 billion, respectively, this fiscal year.
What these numbers do show is that all the hand-wringing about the impact of the tax cuts on federal deficits was based on wildly exaggerated estimates of revenue losses, which failed to take into account the fact that a faster growing economy would offset at least of the lost revenue. That’s a point we’ve made repeatedly in this space.
In contrast, tax hikes almost always bring in less revenue than expected, because they dampen economic growth.
Democrats once understood this truism. It was JFK, after all, who said in 1962 “it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low — and the soundest way to raise revenues in the long run is to cut rates now.”
Today’s Democrats, in contrast, uniformly opposed the Trump tax plan, and are now pushing to repeal most of it so they can spend an additional $1 trillion on government make-work infrastructure projects.
Their plan has no chance of being enacted, but at least voters will have a clear choice this November.