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DeGrassi to NTSA 403(b) Masters: Tax Reform May Trump Fiduciary Rule

Ray Harmon

The 2017 NTSA 403(b) Masters Summit convened just outside Phoenix, AZ in late January, and NTSA Executive Director Chris DeGrassi told the audience made up of the 403(b) plan industry’s top talent that this year’s game-changer won’t be the Department of Labor’s (DOL) fiduciary rule — it’s going to be tax reform.

Other very popular sessions at the Summit included one led by Sheri Fitts, an expert in social media for businesses in the compliance-weary world of retirement plan advice. Her innovative general session segued into two hands-on laboratories: one for beginners who set up their own Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts right there in the room and another for intermediate users looking for practical help to get the most out of their efforts. Another session on the growing discussion among state legislators about incorporating automatic enrollment features in governmental plans also met with an engaged audience. Attendees were encouraged to contact Ray Harmon for more information about starting or joining a NTSA Networking Group in their own region to meet this and other issues head-on while growing their own rosters of business contacts. 

But it was DeGrassi’s government affairs update that kicked off the event and stirred Summit scuttlebutt about the state of the industry through the days that followed. 

First he laid out his predictions for a delay and possible recalibration of the fiduciary rule. The March 1 release of the DOL’s delay proposal, offering at least a 60-day delay and several probing questions for the public about the content of the rule itself, appears to confirm his speculation.

Then he pivoted to tax reform, which he opined could be of far greater concern to the industry. 

With the Republican Party controlling both Congress and the White House, DeGrassi expects the GOP to expend most of its political capital on the twin goals of repealing the Affordable Care Act and reforming the Tax Code for the first time in 30 years. He recounted a comment from House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) earlier that day that makes congressional intentions clear: “Right now the Tax Code is a phonebook and we want to see it become a postcard.” 

DeGrassi then foreshadowed possible provisions that could be used to pay for major tax cuts by pointing to previous reforms like the large reductions to tax-deferred contribution limits that passed in 1986. He repeatedly made sure to emphasize the subtext of Brady’s comment, which is that tax reform may be less about substantive social policy this time around and more about literally simplifying the Code. That could mean widely popular credits and deductions might disappear and entire sections of the Code could be consolidated in the interest of less red tape and less ink.

Getting and staying involved as a member of the NTSA and supporting the advocacy efforts of the American Retirement Association are two big ways to educate policymakers and push reform in the right direction, he emphasized. Masters Summit attendees once again left the annual event with new tools and actionable intelligence to put to use as soon as they returned to their offices.

Ray Harmon, Esq. is government affairs counsel to NTSA.

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