Congress has returned to work after its August recess under a tight deadline to reduce the federal budget deficit and also, possibly, extend some expiring tax incentives. Between now and the end of the year, Congress could enact significant tax reform in a deficit reduction package; or it may take a piecemeal approach. All this Congressional activity contributes to uncertainty in tax planning.

Joint committee’s task
On August 2, 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25). Along with cutting approximately $1 trillion in federal spending and raising the federal debt ceiling, the Budget Control Act creates a special a bipartisan joint select committee of Congress to propose more deficit reduction measures. The Budget Control Act charges the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction with reducing the federal government budget deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over fiscal years 2012 to 2021. If the joint committee cannot agree on deficit reduction measures, or if Congress rejects the committee’s proposals, the Budget Control Act provides for automatic cuts over the coming decade.

The12-member joint committee is composed of an equal number of members from both parties: six Democrats and six Republicans. The joint committee must make its proposals, in legislative language, not later than November 23, 2011 (if a majority of the committee agrees on the proposals). Congress must vote on the proposals not later than December 23, 2011.

Flood of proposals expected
The joint committee is expected to be flooded with proposals to reduce the federal deficit. President Obama has urged the joint committee to take a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. The president has called for reducing the federal deficit through a combination of spending cuts and revenue raisers. Some of the tax provisions mentioned by President Obama for repeal or reform include tax incentives for oil and gas producers and the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method of accounting. President Obama also wants Congress to extend the two percent payroll tax cut, which is scheduled to expire after 2011.

One of the most contentious proposals the joint committee may address is the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act (2010 Tax Relief Act) extended the Bush-era tax cuts through the end of 2012. President Obama wants to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for lower and middle income taxpayers but not for higher income taxpayers (which the White House defines as individuals with incomes over $200,000 and families with incomes over $250,000). It is unclear at this time if the joint committee will take up the Bush-era tax cuts.

The joint committee may look to some recent tax reform proposals for guidance. In 2010, the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform developed a six-part plan to reduce the federal deficit. The commission recommended reducing or eliminating many tax incentives for individuals in exchange for lower individual income tax rates. The commission also endorsed lowering the corporate tax rate to 26 percent. In July 2011, a bipartisan group of senators, known as the “gang of six,” introduced a plan for deficit reduction. The senators’ plan would, among other provisions, replace the current individual income tax rate schedule with three new tax brackets along with abolishing the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Expiring tax provisions
A number of popular but temporary tax incentives (known as “tax extenders) are scheduled to expire after 2011. In past years, Congress has routinely extended many of them. This year may be different. The joint committee could include the tax extenders in its work, extending some but allowing others to expire. Alternatively, the joint committee could decide not to touch the tax extenders. In that case, some or all of them could be extended in separate legislation.

Some of the extenders scheduled to expire after 2011 are (not an exhaustive list):

  • Research tax credit
  • 15-year recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, restaurant property and retail improvements
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Employer wage credit for activity military reservists
  • Indian employment credit and accelerated depreciation for business property on Indian reservations
  • Special expensing rules for film and production costs
  • Basis adjustment to stock of an S corporation making charitable contributions
  • Enhanced deduction for charitable contributions of food inventory, corporate charitable contributions of book inventory and corporate charitable contributions of computers
  • Expensing of environmental remediation costs
  • Grants for investment in certain energy property in lieu of tax credits
  • Income tax credit for alcohol fuels
  • Refined coal production facilities credit
  • Tax treatment of payments to controlling exempt organizations
  • Subpart F exceptions for active financing income

 
Additionally, one hundred percent bonus depreciation is scheduled to expire after 2011 (except for property with a longer production period). Enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing ($500,000 maximum amount/$2 million investment ceiling) also is scheduled to expire after 2011.

At this time, it is not too early to contemplate how tax reform could impact your planning. Please contact our office and we can schedule a time to review your tax strategy.