In the trough of the Great Recession in 2009, as companies laid off hundreds of thousands of workers each month, the amount of corporate income taxes collected by the federal government plunged by almost a third. It was the largest quarterly drop since the Commerce Department began compiling the data in the 1940s. No other period came close.
Until this year.
In the first half of 2018, corporate tax collections dropped to historically low levels as a share of the economy, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That is pushing up the federal budget deficit much faster than economists had predicted.
The reason is President Trump’s tax cuts. The new law introduced a standard corporate rate of 21 percent, down from a high of 35 percent, and allowed companies to immediately deduct many new investments. As companies operate with a lower tax burden and a greater ability to offset what they owe, the federal government is receiving far less revenue than it would have under the previous tax system.
The growing deficit has forced the Trump administration to adjust its claim that the tax cuts would pay for themselves by generating increased revenue from faster economic growth. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget said this month that it had revised its forecasts from earlier this year to account for nearly $1 trillion of additional debt over the next decade — almost $100 billion a year in additional deficits, on average.
That is hindering the government’s ability to stabilize its balance sheet before the next recession hits or maintain spending programs that could help blunt the pain of future downturns. Economists equate that process to refilling the city water tower during periods of heavy rain, in order to prepare for the next drought. It’s not happening this time around.
So what’s going on?