Modeling Martin O’Malley’s Idea for Tax Increases

December 23, 2015

During Saturday’s CNN Democratic debate, Governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD) suggested creating a new tax bracket that would apply to income over $1,000,000, and taxing capital gains at ordinary marginal income tax rates. He claimed that these changes would provide sufficient revenue for the public investments he supports. Here is the relevant quote:

“If we were to raise the marginal rate to 45% for people earning more than a $1,000,000, and if we taxed capital gains essentially the same we do earnings from hard work, sweat, and toil, you could generate $800 billion over the next 10 years, and that would do so much good for affordable college, debt-free college, cutting youth unemployment, investing in our cities again…”

Governor O’Malley did not provide any additional details, but I think it would helpful to examine how a similar set of changes would impact government revenues. Using the Tax Foundation Taxes and Growth Model, I modeled the effects of adding a new bracket of 45% on income over $1,000,000 and taxing capital gains and dividends at ordinary income rates. I found that these changes would raise a considerable amount of revenue on a static basis, but substantially less on a dynamic basis.

On a static basis, these changes would raise roughly $2 trillion over the next decade. However, these tax hikes sharply raise the cost of capital, leading to a decline in GDP of 4.2%. Accounting for this reduction in economic growth, they would generate $865 billion over the next decade.

Table 1: Ten-Year Revenue Impact of Tax Changes

(Billions of Dollars)


Static Revenue Impact


Dynamic Revenue Impact (2015-2024)

Individual Income Taxes



Payroll Taxes



Corporate Income Taxes



Excise Taxes



Estate and Gift Taxes









Source: Tax Foundation Taxes and Growth Model, October 2015.

Note: Individual items may not sum to total due to rounding.

Distributionally, on a static basis these changes would reduce the after-tax incomes of the top 10% and top 1% of earners by 3.84% and 8.52% respectively. Other deciles would also see small reductions in their after-tax income, due to higher rates on investment income. On a dynamic basis, all income deciles would see reductions in their after-tax income as a consequence of the decline in GDP.

Governor O’Malley is not the only Democratic candidate who has called for increasing taxes on wealthy individuals to pay for additional government spending. I find that eliminating the preferential treatment for capital income and imposing a higher tax rate on millionaires would raise a significant amount of revenue, but impose substantial burdens on economic growth and reduce after-tax incomes for most taxpayers.

Table 2: Distributional Analysis for Tax Changes

Effect of Tax Reform on After Tax Income Compared to Current Law

All Returns by Decile

Static Distributional Analysis

Dynamic Distributional Analysis

0% to 10%



10% to 20%



20% to 30%



30% to 40%



40% to 50%



50% to 60%



60% to 70%



70% to 80%



80% to 90%



90% to 100%



99% to 100%






Source: Tax Foundation Taxes and Growth Model, October 2015

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A 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.

A gift tax is a tax on the transfer of property by a living individual, without payment or a valuable exchange in return. The donor, not the recipient of the gift, is typically liable for the tax.

A payroll tax is a tax paid on the wages and salaries of employees to finance social insurance programs like Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. Payroll taxes are social insurance taxes that comprise 24.8 percent of combined federal, state, and local government revenue, the second largest source of that combined tax revenue.

An excise tax is a tax imposed on a specific good or activity. Excise taxes are commonly levied on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, soda, gasoline, insurance premiums, amusement activities, and betting, and typically make up a relatively small and volatile portion of state and local and, to a lesser extent, federal tax collections.

An individual income tax (or personal income tax) is levied on the wages, salaries, investments, or other forms of income an individual or household earns. The U.S. imposes a progressive income tax where rates increase with income. The Federal Income Tax was established in 1913 with the ratification of the 16th Amendment. Though barely 100 years old, individual income taxes are the largest source of tax revenue in the U.S.

A corporate income tax (CIT) is levied by federal and state governments on business profits. Many companies are not subject to the CIT because they are taxed as pass-through businesses, with income reportable under the individual income tax.

After-tax income is the net amount of income available to invest, save, or consume after federal, state, and withholding taxes have been applied—your disposable income. Companies and, to a lesser extent, individuals, make economic decisions in light of how they can best maximize after-tax income.