Tax Shelters, Tax Fights, and One Way to Reform a Zombie

Ways & Means gets to work on tax “extenders.” On Tuesday, the panel is expected to begin marking up a measure to restore dozens of tax breaks that expired last December. On the plate for the first session: the research and experimentation credit and a provision allowing firms to take full first year depreciation for certain equipment under Sec. 179.

Charitable donations are good, when the charities receive them. Taxpayers can take a deduction and enjoy special capital gains tax treatment for assets they deposit in donor advised funds—worth a total of $45 billion in 2012. While these funds are often simple ways for upper middle-income people to create endowments for future gifts to charities, they sometimes reap the tax benefits without making the distributions. House Ways & Means Chair Dave Camp would  require donor advised funds to be distributed within five years or face a 20 percent tax. Will his plan curb abuses or make it harder for people to give to charities? TPC’s Howard Gleckman weighs in, and Gene Steuerle warns the move could mean the end of community foundations.

Not all property tax fights are created equal. Since 1998, if a property owner in Texas wants to challenge the appraised (or taxable) value of a commercial property, he or she only needs a list of comparable buildings with different taxable values. A high appraised value is lowered to the list’s median in order to assure “equal and uniform” taxation. Residential property owners, however, must challenge appraised values with estimates of market value—largely an uphill battle. “In 2013, commercial property owners in Dallas County shaved more than $4.8 billion off preliminary tax appraisals, more than seven times the reduction secured by residential property owners,” reports The Dallas Morning News. 

States’ tax fights continue. Delaware is falling short on revenue to the tune of about $75 million, leaving Democratic Governor Jack Markell and legislature to grapple with proposed tax increases and spending cuts. Missouri’s GOP is preparing to defend tax cuts which Democratic Governor Jay Nixon plans to veto. Illinois’ legislature will vote tomorrow on whether to ask voters to amend the state constitution and change the state’s flat income tax rate to a progressive tax rate.

If tax reform were a zombie apocalypse, you could run, but you shouldn’t hide. In his paper published in the Milken Institute Review, TPC’s Len Burman argues that with strong White House leadership and bipartisan support, Congress could enact a value-added tax to pay for federal health care programs.  It could turn tax reform into a living, breathing, transparent, and cost-containing friend of policymakers… Not a political and policy foe that just won’t die.

 

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