Friday, March 30, 2007
Executive pay is currently a topic of significant interest for policymakers, academics, and the popular press. Just weeks ago, in reaction to widespread press reports and academic criticism of extravagant executive perquisites, the SEC proposed new regulations designed to change fundamentally the manner in which executive compensation is reported to share-holders. Despite all of this attention, one significant aspect of executive deferred compensation has gone virtually unnoticed - the federal tax rules governing this form of compensation are fundamentally flawed and must be extensively over-hauled. These rules are flawed because they often create a significant incentive for companies and their executives to structure deferred, rather than current, compensation, thereby producing highly inefficient and inequitable results. This Article addresses potential legislative reforms that would remedy this problem by neutralizing the tax treatment of current and deferred compensation. While this neutrality goal, which was part of the recent proposals made by President Bush's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform, is easy to describe in general and conclusory terms, the devil is in the details. There has been little serious academic analysis of how to implement a set of tax rules that would create neutrality while avoiding undue complexity. This Article attempts to fill that void.