Written by: Keith O. Frame, CPA

It seems I continually still see newspaper articles, editorials and letters to the editor in various publications referring to the Michigan tax overhaul as a “$1.8 billion dollar give-a-way to business”. Let’s investigate this claim.

If you work in Michigan as an employee of a business in Michigan, you pay State of Michigan income tax on your wages. It doesn’t matter if you make minimum wage or $1,000,000 per year, you pay tax at the statutory rate on the Michigan Form MI-1040 (currently 4.35%).

However, if you start your own business, grow it into a success, hire others and otherwise prosper, you have had the privilege of paying extra tax to the State of Michigan. The Michigan Business Tax (MBT) is (was) calculated in two different ways, generally applying a more favorable calculation to smaller businesses, but having an absolute cliff for larger or more profitable businesses where the tax liability, depending on several factors, could increase exponentially for a small increase in income. The more favorable calculation is a 1.8% tax on the taxable income of the business plus all wages and benefits paid on behalf of the owner and his family members.

Here is where businesses have been getting double taxed for years: most small businesses are organized as pass-through entities (S corporations, partnerships, LLC’s). These entities pay no tax at the federal level – their income is passed through and taxed on the tax returns of their owners. This treatment at the federal level has effectively been ignored in Michigan. These businesses still had to prepare an MBT return and pay any applicable tax.  

These pass-through entities prepare their federal tax return, passing the income through to their owners who include it on their federal tax returns. These same owners prepare their Michigan MI-1040 by starting with Adjusted Gross Income on their federal return which, of course, includes the income from the pass-through entity.

So, the unsuspecting business owner, perhaps in the same economic circumstances of someone in a similar field working as an employee for someone else, has had the privilege of paying a significantly higher tax rate. Two taxes on the same income – seems like that should be unconstitutional!

The tax overhaul eliminates the filing requirement for most pass-through entities and no longer results in double taxation in the State of Michigan. Only C corporations are subject to the new corporate income tax – all pass-through entities and individuals will pay tax at the Michigan individual income tax rate only. This creates basic fairness in the tax system that has not existed for 35 years.

Michigan has recently vaulted from near the bottom to near the top of best places to do business in the U.S. as a result of these changes according to the Tax Foundation. This is obviously great news for the State and will ultimately result in more revenue flowing into the State Treasury.

Basic economics still rule – if you want more of something – tax it less.