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Leonard Burman

Daniel Patrick Moynihan Professor of Public Affairs, Syracuse University
Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research
Areas of Expertise:

About Leonard

Burman is an expert in tax policy. Prior to coming to Syracuse, he co-founded and directed the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution widely respected in Washington policy circles for the quality, objectivity, and clarity of its analysis of complex subjects. Burman previously held high-level posts at the Treasury Department and the Congressional Budget Office. He recently served as the president of the National Tax Association (NTA), the leading American organization of experts in the theory and practice of taxation. He served on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, where he and Joe Minarik led the effort to draft a tax reform plan. He serves on the board of the Pew SubsidyScope project. He has written about how the political process favors channeling spending programs through the tax code and why that might be unfair and economically inefficient; the economic effects of continued growth in the public debt; how tax policy distorts the health insurance market; and assorted other tax topics, such as the individual alternative minimum tax, the taxation of capital gains, and subsidies for retirement savings.


Could Reducing Tax Expenditures Tame the Federal Debt?

  • Marvin M. Phaup

In the News

Leonard Burman quoted on Trump's tax plan by Brian Faler, "Trump Not Walking the Walk on His Tax Claims" Politico, October 4, 2016.
Leonard Burman quoted on Republicans' tax plans by Matt O'Brien, "Why the Republican Establishment is Actually Winning" The Washington Post, March 10, 2016.
Leonard Burman's research on tax cuts discussed by Brian Faler, "Rubio Tax Plan Projected to Add at Least $6.8 Trillion to Deficit," Politico, February 11, 2016.
"Why Closing Tax Loopholes isn't Enough," Leonard Burman (with Joel B. Slemrod), New York Times, December 27, 2012.
Leonard Burman quoted on capital gains, "Tax Talks Raise Bar for Richest Americans" New York Times, November 19, 2012.
"The Buffett Rule: Right Goal, Wrong Tool," Leonard Burman, New York Times, April 16, 2012.
"Tax Day May Get Less Taxing, if Debt-Cutters Have Their Way," Leonard Burman, Syracuse Post-Standard, April 17, 2011.
"Let's Freeze more than Chump Change," Leonard Burman, Washington Post, February 2, 2010.
"We Need to Ban the Evil Santas," Leonard Burman, Washington Times, January 18, 2010.
"Personal Savings Need a Boost," Leonard Burman, Washington Times, November 10, 2009.
"Pyrrhic victory on health reform?," Leonard Burman, Washington Times, September 1, 2009.
"Catastrophic Budget Failure," Leonard Burman, Washington Times, July 14, 2009.
"Give up a Benefit, Gain Jobs," Leonard Burman, Washington Post, July 10, 2009.
"Different Way to Pay for Health Reform," Leonard Burman, Washington Times, May 28, 2009.
"Make the Tax Cuts Work," Leonard Burman, New York Times, January 23, 2008.
"End the Break on Capital Gains," Leonard Burman, Washington Post, July 30, 2007.


Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Joel Slemrod) (Oxford University Press, November 2012).
Presents a definitive guide, in plain language, to the American tax system and its intricacies. Dutifully addresses common questions, the political process, the genesis of some ill-advised tax ideas, and options for reform.
"Tax Expenditures, the Size and Efficiency of Government, and Implications for Budget Reform" (with Marvin Phaup), in Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 26, edited by Jeffrey Brown (University of Chicago Press, 2012), 93-124.
Explores the implications of tax expenditures’ privileged status and illustrates how it can lead to higher taxes, larger government, and an inefficient mix of spending. Concludes by analyzing ways to control tax expenditures (and other spending) and the special challenges presented by tax expenditures.
"The Perverse Public and Private Finances of Long-Term Care" in Universal Coverage of Long Term Care in the U.S.: Can We Get There from Here?, edited by Nancy Folbre and Douglas Wolf (Sage Press, 2012), 179-200.
Addresses the shortcomings of Medicaid funding - mainly, how the availability of free long-term care for low-income seniors provided through Medicaid crowds out private saving at the same time that government financing looks increasingly unsustainable, and proposes options to provide and adequately fund high-quality long-term care services
"Catastrophic Budget Failure" (with Jeffrey Rohaly, Joseph Rosenberg, and Katherine C. Lim). National Tax Journal 63, no. 3 (2010): 561–584.
Considers the causes, mechanisms, and macroeconomic fallout of a potential catastrophic budget failure in which markets’ perception of the credit worthiness of the U.S. government rapidly deteriorates, leaving it unable to access credit markets at any reasonable rate of interest. Argues that the consequence could be very high taxes, an eviscerated public sector, and an economy in ruins.
"A Blueprint for Tax Reform and Health Reform" Virginia Tax Review 28 (2009): 287-323.
Argues that tying tax reform to health care reform could increase the odds of success for both. Outlines the nature of a reform plan that dedicates a Value Added Tax (VAT) to finance federal health care obligations and significantly simplifies the income tax.
"The Alternative Minimum Tax: Assault on the Middle Class" Milken Review 12 (2007): 12-23.
Explicates the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and its historical purpose, and ultimately condemns the tax on grounds that it punishes upper-middle-income families in high-tax states rather than levies a fair burden on those who exploit tax loopholes and shelters. Also discusses the political barriers blocking the code’s needed reform.
"Measuring Permanent Responses to Capital Gains Tax Changes in Panel Data" (with William C. Randolph). American Economic Review 84, no. 4 (1994): 794-809.
Reconciles a long-standing puzzle about why time series evidence shows modest responses to capital gains taxes while cross-section data show large responses by positing a difference between permanent and transitory effects. Develops a statistical model that allows using differences in state tax rates as an instrument to distinguish the two effects.