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Leonard E. Burman

Tax Policy Center

Leonard Burman is the Director of the Tax Policy Center, a Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, and senior research associate at Syracuse University?s Center for Policy Research. He co-founded the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, in 2002. He has held high-level positions in both the executive and legislative branches, serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Analysis at the Treasury from 1998 to 2000, and as Senior Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is past-president of the National Tax Association. Burman is the author of Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know, with Joel Slemrod, and The Labyrinth of Capital Gains Tax Policy: A Guide for the Perplexed, co-editor of Taxing Capital Income and Using Taxes to Reform Health Insurance, and author of numerous articles, studies, and reports. Burman?s recent research has examined US federal budget dynamics, tax expenditures, financing long-term care, the individual alternative minimum tax, the changing role of taxation in social policy, and tax incentives for savings, retirement, and health insurance. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and a B.A. from Wesleyan University.


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Distributional Effects of the President's New Tax Proposals (Research Report)
Leonard E. Burman, Ngan Phung

The White House announced a package of tax proposals as part of what President Obama called “Middle Class Economics” in the State of the Union Address. This paper summarizes and discusses TPC’s distributional estimates, focusing on the distribution of all income tax cuts, the major tax cut provisions, and the largest tax increase provisions including the new fee on financial institutions. The tax cuts primarily benefit low-income single workers and working age households with children. The income tax increases primarily affect those with very high incomes and those with a substantial amount of capital assets.

Posted to Web: January 30, 2015Publication Date: January 30, 2015

The Effects of the Taxation of Social Security Benefits on Older Workers' Income and Claiming Decisions (Research Report)
Leonard E. Burman, Norma B. Coe, Kevin Pierce, Liu Tian

Social Security benefits are taxed under a complex regime that raises marginal effective tax rates by up to 85 percent, which could discourage the labor supply of older workers and affect the decision to claim benefits. Using a nonparametric graphical methodology, this paper investigates whether older taxpayers reduce income to avoid the tax. While previous research found that the labor supply of older workers is significantly affected by the Social Security earnings test, we fin little evidence of a response to benefit taxation in a large panel of data compiled from individual income tax and information returns. Similarly, while taxation of benefits provides and incentive for many to delay claiming, we find no evidence of such an effect. Overall, the findings suggest that older taxpayers have little understanding of the rules governing Social Security benefit taxation.

Posted to Web: December 01, 2014Publication Date: June 30, 2014

Better Tax Policy Requires Better Data (Presentation)
Leonard E. Burman

In his 2011 NTA presidential address, Len Burman argued that tax policy in the US is stymied by lack of high quality data. He argues that the states should be encouraged to experiment and collect the data necessary to evaluate the effects of policies such as tax subsidies for saving. He also argues for much wider access to available administrative tax and information return data, which are currently available only within the IRS and a few government agencies, with suitable safeguards in place to protect taxpayer privacy.

Posted to Web: December 01, 2014Publication Date: November 30, 2011

The Tax Reform That Just Won't Die and Shouldn't (Article)
Leonard E. Burman

This paper provides an historical overview of tax reform with an eye toward identifying conditions that would make successful reform plausible in the near future. Burman begins by analyzing the environment that led to tax reform in 1986 and posits that successful reform would require strong leadership from the White House, bipartisan support, and a new source that would make possible substantial income tax rate cuts—all of this while addressing the concerns of Republicans that new revenues would fuel a growth in government and of Democrats about progressivity. He argues that the new revenue source should be a value-added tax with proceeds earmarked to pay for government health care. This could slow healthcare spending because the tax would stimulate efforts to find cost savings, would result in a more efficient revenue system, and would go a long way towards addressing our long term budget imbalances.

Posted to Web: April 24, 2014Publication Date: April 24, 2014

Taxes and Inequality (Research Report)
Leonard E. Burman

This paper reviews historical trends in economic inequality and tax policy’s role in reducing it. It documents the various reasons why income inequality continues to rise, paying particular attention to the interplay between regressive and progressive federal and state taxes. The report also considers the trade-off between the social welfare gains that a more equal distribution of incomes would provide, and the economic costs of using the tax system to reduce inequality, highlighting the fact that income inequality reflects an amalgam of factors. The optimal policy response reflects that complexity.

Posted to Web: March 20, 2014Publication Date: March 20, 2014

Policies to Support the Middle Class: Testimony before the Senate Committee on Finance (Testimony)
Leonard E. Burman

In this testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, Len Burman outlines some of the challenges facing the middle class in 2014 and explores policy options that might help better equip them to meet those challenges, including improving access to higher education and job training and consolidating and targeting education tax subsidies; slowing the growth of spending on health care; eliminating the carried interest loophole; encouraging saving by offering automatic contributions to 401(k)-like accounts for low- and moderate-income households; and replacing automatic price indexing with annual indexation adjustments designed to partially counterbalance changes in the distribution of income on a revenue-neutral basis.

Posted to Web: March 13, 2014Publication Date: March 13, 2014

Preliminary Analysis of The Family Fairness and Opportunity Tax Reform Act (Research Report)
Leonard E. Burman, Elaine Maag, Georgia Ivsin, Jeff Rohaly

Senator Mike Lee's Family Fairness and Opportunity Tax Reform Act (S.1616) would significantly expand tax benefits for children, repeal the alternative minimum tax, and repeal the Affordable Care Act surtaxes on earnings and net investment income. To partially offset the cost of these provisions, the plan would consolidate filing statuses and tax brackets and repeal itemized deductions other than those for charitable contributions and home mortgage interest. TPC estimates that the plan would reduce tax revenues by $2.4 trillion over the ten-year budget period, 2014-2023, and remove roughly 12 million tax units from the federal income tax rolls in 2014.

Posted to Web: March 04, 2014Publication Date: March 04, 2014

The War on Poverty Moves to the Tax Code (Article/Tax Facts)
Leonard E. Burman, Elaine Maag

In 1975, the federal income tax code joined the "War on Poverty" with the enactment of the earned income tax credit (EITC). Today, tax credits form some of the largest and most effective anti-poverty programs in the US. In 2012, the Census Bureau estimated that tax credits cut poverty (under a broad measure that includes the effect of programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and the EITC) by 3 percentage points – more than SNAP (1.6 points) and TANF (0.2 points). The tax credits cut child poverty by a whopping 6.7 percentage points.

Posted to Web: January 07, 2014Publication Date: January 06, 2014

Pathways to Tax Reform Revisited (Research Report)
Leonard E. Burman

There is widespread agreement that the income tax needs reform, although little agreement about how to do it. A common thread in most reform proposals is to slash most tax expenditures. A 1973 book by Stanley Surrey made the case that cuts in tax expenditures was the "pathway to tax reform." This paper revisits Surrey's pathway, examining various proposals to eliminate, reduce, or reformulate tax expenditures as part of tax reform, including limitations on tax expenditures, converting most tax expenditures to credits, and more radical reforms that would vastly reduce the number of return filers.

Posted to Web: July 11, 2013Publication Date: July 11, 2013

Tax Reform and the Tax Treatment of Capital Gains (Testimony)
Leonard E. Burman

Leonard Burman's testimony before the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee on tax reform and the tax treatment of capital gains.

Posted to Web: September 20, 2012Publication Date: September 20, 2012

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