Proposal for business tax would fund road repairs

WASHINGTON — Senators unveiled a bipartisan framework Wednesday aimed at making business taxes more competitive while generating much-needed funding to repair the nation’s roads and bridges.

Many of the details need to be worked out, and huge hurdles remain. But if successful, it would be the kind of bipartisan compromise on taxes that has long eluded Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

The plan focuses on taxes US firms pay on foreign profits. It was written by Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat of New York, and Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican.

The framework would require US-based corporations to pay a one-time tax on up to $2 trillion in foreign profits that US firms have overseas. The tax rate has not been determined, but it would be considerably less than the 35 percent corporate income tax rate currently in effect, according to the plan.


The tax would generate money for infrastructure improvements — how much would depend on the tax rate. Funding for highways is scheduled to run out at the end of the month.

Going forward, the plan would allow American corporations to exempt more of their foreign profits from US taxes.

‘‘So far no one has suggested any decent alternative as a way to fund highways in a robust way,’’ Schumer said in an interview. ‘‘Tax reform is a difficult issue, but this may intensify the focus on it and jump-start it a little bit.’’

The plan would also create a special tax rate for business profits from intellectual property, such as patents, which many US firms assign to subsidiaries in low-tax countries as a way to lower their US taxes. The goal is to encourage these companies to assign patents to US entities, making the profits they generate subject to US taxes.

Important details have yet to be worked out, such as the special tax rate and the legal definition of which profits would qualify. If the plan moves forward, these details would be the subject of intense lobbying and debate in Washington.