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Tax extenders are ruining the GOP tax plan

Tax extenders are ruining the GOP tax plan
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The Senate GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is being sold as a permanent fix to our tax code, but because of the gamesmanship and contortionist gimmicks the bill includes, it is setting us up for yet another era of tax extenders. These are sometimes narrow, sometimes broad tax preferences that get passed as “temporary” but then almost always get renewed year after year.

Tax extenders were always the little caboose that could. The package that extended a passel of special interest tax breaks for a couple of years would often catch a ride on bigger legislation to get enacted.

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The 2008 Bailout – check. The 2013 Fiscal Cliff deal – check. The 2014 CROmnibus – check.

 

Then hidden in the clamor for comprehensive tax reform, lawmakers let them expire at the end of 2016. And each of these times the extenders caboose hitched a ride, they did so largely without pay-fors or offsets.

A look at both the current House and Senate tax bills reveals that extenders are set for a comeback. To restart this special interest tax gimmick — particularly under the guise of simplifying the code — is irresponsible and wasteful.

The tax extender package was a hodge-podge of different breaks that had tax provisions dealing with NASCAR track owners, film and television productions, rum sales from U.S. Virgin Island and Puerto Rico, even electric motorcycles.

Even if some provision could be justified on its own merits, it was still a gimmick. If it was meritorious enough, the provision would be made permanent in the code rather than masking the true cost by extending it every couple years. 

Right or wrong, a couple of provisions were made permanent a few years ago. A few others — like accelerated depreciation for NASCAR track owners — will be taken care of by the immediate expensing provisions in the bills. But, there are some provisions in both bills that will almost certainly become the nucleus of another wasteful tax extender package.

Several small provisions that were included expire well before the end the of the 10-year budget window. The Senate bill has a provision to benefit the “craft” beer market that expires at the end of 2019. There’s also a tax credit for employers that provide family and medical leave that goes away at the end of 2019 as well. The reborn movie and television production provision (now with live theater!) hangs around until 2022. So too with temporary bonus 100 percent depreciation.

The House bill includes previous extenders that benefit canneries in American Samoa, and returns rum taxes to Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands that also benefits large liquor conglomerates like the British-based Diageo.

The short-term extension of these provisions helps buy votes. It helps reduce the perceived cost of the legislation. And it creates a renewed line of business for lobbyists as these same provisions become the center of the next tax extenders package. Craft beer brewers and movie producers aren’t just going to go away when their new tax benefits expire. They will keep their contracts with K Street lobbyists active and push to have them extended. And other lawmakers are going to have suggestions and the package will grow. Pretty soon we’ll be right back where we were before these tax packages were considered.

As a country, we do need comprehensive tax reform that includes a corporate rate reduction. But we need it to be fiscally responsible. We need tax reform that ends the practices of rent seeking and favoritism. This is not the comprehensive tax reform we were promised and certainly not what the country needs.

Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.