Financial planners, detail-oriented as they are, thought President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union speech struck an optimistic tone, but were left wanting more specifics on how and who would foot the bill for several initiatives.
The plan to train 2 million Americans in skills that will lead directly to jobs was a major step in the right direction, said Mark Lamkin, CEO of Lamkin Wealth Management, based in Louisville, Ky. It is a refreshing break from the rhetoric that he feels normally characterizes Obama’s speeches, and reassurance that the president cares about job creation.
“Overall, from the jobs perspective, it was not progressive or populist rhetoric,” Lamkin said. “I think most financial planners — and clients — feel like he bashes capitalism.”
Lamkin also approved of the president’s drive to catalyze economic activity by granting tax incentives to companies the manufacturing sector. Yet he had hoped the president would have included the technology industry, and any other sector that has exported jobs, in that plan.
“Why not any company? Is it because manufacturing is the base he’s trying to appeal to?” Lamkin asked.
The open question is how these initiatives, among others, will be paid for and whether any substantial work will get done in an election year, says Diahann Lassus, president of Lassus Wherley, a fee-only financial planning firm in Providence, N.J., with an office in Bonita Springs, Fla.
“Many of the things he talked about that are positive, like education, probably won’t happen soon because of the budget, and because Congressional leaders are more concerned about who will be elected president than what to do for the people,” Lassus said.
Although tax credits and deductions for small businesses and industries are positive, Lassus said, they have their limits.
“Increasing deductions is not an effective way of reducing taxes for business,” she said “We need to look at the overall structure, [rather] than keep doing piecemeal fixes along the way.”
Obama did not spare the hot-button issue of fair tax policies for all socio-economic classes in the U.S.
“Tax reform should follow the ‘Buffett Rule,’” Obama said. “If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30% in taxes. And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires.”
Yet financial planners still question whether those rigid divisions are fair, given the way tax bills actually shake out in the U.S. The top 10% of earners in the U.S. pay about 72% of federal taxes in the U.S., Lamkin noted, citing IRS figures. Part of that revenue funds services for lower-income Americans who pay little or no taxes.
Lassus added that at least Democrats have revised their perceptions on what classifies a household as wealthy, in a way that takes the rhetoric down a notch.
“Democrats in many ways, and Obama specifically, have gone away from classifying wealthy as those who earn a $250,000 annual income to those who earn $1 million,” Lassus said. “I don’t know that anyone agrees that anyone needs to pay 30%. We need a more equitable tax system for everyone, to make sure that middle-income people and everyone else is paying their fair share.”
Donna Mitchell writes for Financial Planning.