Priorities. Governor Branstad yesterday told a business group that he is leaving Section 179 conformity out of the new Iowa state budget. That means Iowans will be unable to claim the $500,000 maximum Section 179 deduction for 2015 returns, assuming the legislature doesn’t override this.
The Governor dropped this little bomb after touting a new $15 million incentive tax credit for “bio-renewable chemical production” to members of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. He said the new credit will be “revenue neutral,” taking its funding from existing incentive credit programs. (Note: I was there, so this is all firsthand). He said that there just isn’t room for it in the budget.
The Governor has inadvertently highlighted the priorities of a tax policy dedicated to directing economic activity using tax credits. My my count, the Governor budgets $277.3 million in fiscal year 2017 to steer economic activity towards favored activities via tax credits:
Presumably the new bio-renewables credit is buried in here somewhere.
By definition, these credits go to a few lucky taxpayers. The largest one, the refundable research credit, goes overwhelmingly to a few big companies — and mostly as cash grants. The Department of Revenue’s calendar 2014 research credit report showed that $42.1 million of the $56.9 million in credits claimed went to 16 taxpayers. About 2/3 of the 2014 credits were “refunds,” meaning that the credit exceeded the taxpayer’s liability for the year, so the state issued a check for the difference.
The Section 179 deduction, by contrast, is available to any non-rental business that buys fixed assets and has taxable income. It requires no negotiation with the Department of Economic Development. It’s available regardless of whether your business is bio-chemical, renewable fuels, or whatever else is the economic development flavor of the month. It’s simple to administer – you just use the number you claim on your federal return. But it has one dreadful flaw: it provides no opportunities for politicians to issue press releases or attend ribbon cuttings.
While I don’t have exact numbers for the tax revenue cost to the state for FY 2017, the Legislative Service Bureau estimated an $88.5 million revenue loss in fiscal year 2015 from the last Section 179 conformity bill.
Of course, all Section 179 revenue losses are a matter of timing. By denying Section 179 deductions, the state has a revenue gain in the first year of the asset’s life, but gives it all back through depreciation over the rest of the asset life. By contrast, tax credits are forever. They never turn around.
There is so much disheartening about this development. Failure to conform on the $500,000 Section 179 limit — after doing so for a number of years — suddenly increases the Iowa tax for thousands of Iowans who purchased equipment in 2015. Because Congress made the Section 179 deduction permanent, it signals that Iowa will permanently de-couple and use its own computation — an inherently bad policy. It requires Iowans to maintain a separate Iowa fixed asset schedule for assets that would otherwise have been written off. And, if the legislature tries to reverse the Governor’s decision, it leaves Iowans uncertain of their 2015 tax law until well into the filing season.
But perhaps most disheartening is the stark way that it shows how Iowa’s tax system, with its high rates and special favors for the well-connected, mistreats the regular taxpayers who are just going about their business, hiring people, and paying their taxes. Lots of taxes.
Robert D. Flach reports that a certain national tax prep outfit has A NEW GIMMICK.
Paul Neiffer, Planted Vines and Trees Qualify for Bonus Depreciation
TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 980
Cara Griffith, Waiting on the Court to Figure Out How to Tax Remote Sales (Tax Analysts Blog)
Howard Gleckman, Clinton and Sanders Face Off Over Who Should Pay for New Social Programs (TaxVox).
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