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Influential Tax Reformer Ernest S. Christian, Jr., Leaves Legacy—and Blueprint

4 min readBy: Stephen J. Entin

Ernest S. Christian, Jr., (1937-2022) was one of the taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. policy community’s most distinguished and influential experts, showing us how effective sound tax policy can be. He passed away on September 13th, leaving behind a legacy of tax reform.

Ernie gave up a lucrative career in law and government to devote the last nearly three decades of his life to educating and promoting economic growth through tax reform. He urged the business community to unite behind policies that improved the economy across the board, and not to focus only on issues affecting individual industries.

When tax policy moved in the right direction, he was quick to praise the enactors, not himself. When backsliding occurred, he was never discouraged. Instead, he urged us all to do a better job communicating better policies to Congress, the press, and especially the public at large.

He was a skilled translator of complex economic relationships into easily understandable terms and would always ask, “What does it mean for workers, savers, families? We must make that clear if we are to succeed.”

His work on bipartisan tax reform plans was a perfect illustration of his willingness to teach, help, and communicate with people on both sides of the aisle, involving considerable personal effort and time without thought of financial gain. Those of us at the Tax Foundation who worked with Ernie on numerous projects admired him as a role model and valued him as a good friend. We shall miss him.

Ernie’s career and influence on tax policy spanned six decades. He began practicing tax law in 1961 and joined the Treasury Department Office of Tax Legislative Counsel in 1970. He was promoted to Tax Legislative Counsel in 1973 at age 36, later serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy.

During the Ford administration, he formulated and implemented the asset depreciationDepreciation is a measurement of the “useful life” of a business asset, such as machinery or a factory, to determine the multiyear period over which the cost of that asset can be deducted from taxable income. Instead of allowing businesses to deduct the cost of investments immediately (i.e., full expensing), depreciation requires deductions to be taken over time, reducing their value and discouraging investment. range (ADR) regime for the more rapid deduction of expenses for capital equipment, helping to blunt the adverse effect of mid-1970s inflationInflation is when the general price of goods and services increases across the economy, reducing the purchasing power of a currency and the value of certain assets. The same paycheck covers less goods, services, and bills. It is sometimes referred to as a “hidden tax,” as it leaves taxpayers less well-off due to higher costs and “bracket creep,” while increasing the government’s spending power. on investment. He continued to pioneer better treatment of capital formation as a member of President Reagan’s transition team, advising on the creation of the accelerated cost recoveryCost recovery is the ability of businesses to recover (deduct) the costs of their investments. It plays an important role in defining a business’ tax base and can impact investment decisions. When businesses cannot fully deduct capital expenditures, they spend less on capital, which reduces worker’s productivity and wages. system (ACRS) and other provisions in the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981.

Following his time at Treasury, Ernie became a senior partner at a major Washington law firm. In 1994, he left to establish the Center for Strategic Tax Reform, of which he was the executive director until his death. For 28 years, the Center has brought together business, think tank, and academic tax policy experts to produce analytical papers and monthly seminars on tax policy, capital formation, and economic growth.

Under Ernie’s direction, the Center has been a leader in the effort to encourage investment with neutral, across-the-board improvements in the cost recovery allowances of capital assets (depreciation write-offs), up to and including immediate expensing for equipment, and shortened asset lives and inflation protection for the cost recovery of structures. He has written extensively on the role of tax policy in improving the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and labor in the global economy.

Ernie’s most comprehensive work on tax reform was as the lead draftsman of the “USA Tax” sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) in 1995. The USA Tax proposal was a complete overhaul of the individual and business income taxes. It sought to eliminate the severe tax biases against saving and investment inherent in the ordinary income tax system, with an eye toward simplification, an expanded capital stock, higher labor productivity, and increased wages and employment. He prepared a somewhat simpler version of the tax for Congressman Phil English (R-PA) in 2003.

Ernie produced many columns for Investor’s Business Daily and his work has been cited frequently in financial journals and the popular press. He graduated cum laude from the University of Texas School of Law and was a member of the American Tax Policy Institute and the American Law Institute He was also a Fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel.

In addition to an influential career, Ernie leaves behind a successful blueprint for achieving sound tax reform.

Like Ernie, the Tax Foundation is committed to promoting pro-growth policies that encourage investment, expand the economy, and improve people’s lives. And we too ask, “What does it mean for workers, savers, families?”