New tax could 'carry' over hard times in real estate


The proposed increase to carried interest taxation would represent the largest tax increase for real estate in more than 20 years – since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, when property values plunged, pressure increased on savings and loan associations, there were forced government closures and ultimately the taxpayer was stuck paying to reset the system.

Real estate is a significant contributor to jobs and gross domestic product. This tax hike is being proposed at perhaps the worst possible time, as the industry and the economy continue to struggle to recover. Property values are down by at least 40 percent; the weak economy continues to hammer rents and occupancy rates in many markets; net operating incomes have fallen by 25-30 percent; and transaction volume is down by some 90 percent.

Real estate makes up nearly 50 percent of all partnerships in America. While some will claim carried interest is a loophole, the carried interest tax hike now making its way toward the Senate floor is, more than anything, a tax on real estate partnerships large and small. It is not a tax on hedge funds that tangentially affects real estate; it is a real estate tax hike that tangentially affects hedge, venture capital and private equity.

According to the IRS, these real estate partnerships hold over $1.5 trillion of commercial real estate assets throughout America, including: rental housing, office buildings, shopping centers, medical facilities, hotels, senior housing and industrial properties. The carried interest tax proposal would change the taxation of all these partnerships – for past and future investments.

This tax increase means fewer jobs to repair and upgrade buildings, when more than 2 million – or 25 percent – of Americans from the construction and building trades are out of work. It means reduced revenues to local governments for teachers, firefighters, roads and safe communities. It is impossible to understand how more than doubling the tax on the decision maker in a real estate partnership, as this proposal would do, will encourage any new business, put anyone back to work in construction, or shore up property values to help dig local budgets out of their deep holes.

In addition to hurting economic recovery and jobs, raising taxes on real estate hurts community banks. By most estimates, over $1 trillion in new equity capital is required to fill the equity gap. Now is not the time to destroy capital formation.

As Elizabeth Warren warns in the February Congressional Oversight Panel Report, today bank losses on commercial real estate loans could reach $300 billion, potentially wiping out "hundreds more community and midsize banks" and drying up the credit needed to restore the economy to health. Approximately $1.4 trillion in U.S. real estate loans will come due between 2010 and 2014, with nearly half of those loans currently "underwater." As defaults, foreclosures and mortgage losses continue to rise, a “significant wave of commercial mortgage defaults would trigger economic damage that could touch the lives of nearly every American.”

This proposal is a tax on real estate that is not only short sighted but is also coming at the worst possible time for the economy, jobs and the banking system. The Senate should reject this ill-conceived proposal.

Jeffrey D. DeBoer is the President and CEO of The Real Estate Roundtable.