Several provisions affecting advisors contained in President Obamas budget blueprint drew sharp reactions from many corners of the industry, with groups variously praising measures to increase funding for securities regulators and blasting provisions concerning taxes and retirement planning.
Obama's 2014 budget would channel an additional $350 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission over the current year's appropriation. The SEC, which is vested with the responsibility for reviewing the practices of financial advisors, has acknowledged the limitations of the resources it can direct toward those exams, admitting that its oversight of the sector is inadequate. In 2011, for example, the SEC reported that it only examined 8% of registered advisors, while 40% of the advisors under its purview have never been audited.
For groups like the Financial Planning Coalition, which has been urging Congress to authorize the SEC to collect user fees from registrants to fund a more rigorous examination program, the White House's funding proposal was welcome news.
In a statement, the coalition said that it is "pleased that President Obama addresses the current underfunding of the SEC."
"Congress has repeatedly inadequately funded the SEC, impeding its oversight and examination of investment advisers," the group added. "We urge lawmakers to support greater investor protection by properly funding the SEC."
Last year, competing bills emerged in the House Financial Services Committee that would address the shortfall in advisor oversight. One, backed by then-Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), would have authorized an outside, self-regulatory organization to take on oversight of the sector, while California's Maxine Waters, the ranking Democrat on the panel, backed a measure that have bolstered the SEC's resources.
But participants in that debate have indicated that the question of advisor oversight is likely to be a back-burner priority in the current congress, leaving the SEC in charge of the reviews, at whatever funding level it is granted. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the new chairman of the committee, gave no mention of the issue of advisor oversight in a speech on Wednesday in which he outlined his legislative priorities for the year.
Obama billed his budget as an offer at compromise that would take a "balanced" approach toward deficit reduction, replacing the across-the-board sequester cuts with more targeted reductions, including trimming $400 million from Medicare.
The tax provisions in the White House budget do not call for any explicit rate increases, though Obama is proposing a number of caps and loophole closures that could affect the tax picture for investors, particularly the affluent.
A fact sheet published by the Office of Management and Budget describes some $580 million in deficit reductions achieved in part through the so-called Buffet Rule, which would mandate high-income households pay at least 30% of their income in taxes, after deducting charitable contributions.
The anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform combed through Obama's budget proposal and identified what it described as nearly $1 trillion of new taxes contained in the proposal, taking aim at measures such as an across-the-board cap on itemized deductions such as mortgage interest and charitable contributions at 28%, and a tax increase on capital gains deemed carried interest.
Likewise, the group identified various tax measures affecting the financial services sector that it says are "littered throughout the budget," including levies on brokerage firms and life insurance companies.
"These costs will be passed along in the form of higher fees, bigger commissions and lower returns to shareholders," the group said, pegging the sum of the miscellaneous financial system tax provisions at $94 billion.
Other measures in the president's budget proposal would impact the retirement plans for small business owners, drawing the ire of a trade group representing pension advisors and others. The American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (ASPPA) blasted provisions in the proposed budget that it says would require small business owners (and other individuals) to cap savings in a 401(k) at $3 million, while having to withdraw any savings exceeding that amount, exposing those assets to a hefty tax liability.
"Without any further incentive to keep the plan, many small business owners will now either shut down the plan or reduce contributions for workers," ASPPA Executive Director and CEO Brian Graff said in a statement. "This means that small business employees will now lose out not only on the opportunity to save at work, but also on contributions the owner would have made on the employee's behalf to pass nondiscrimination rules."
Graff further criticized what he described as an imbalance between small business owners and executives at major corporations, who can sock away large sums for retirement through nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements.
"We think it is grossly unfair that a small business owner will be limited to retirement benefits that are nowhere near as valuable as executives at large corporations," he added.