WASHINGTON (AP) — The massive new tax bill signed into law by President Barack Obama is filled with all kinds of holiday stocking stuffers for businesses: tax breaks for producing TV shows, grants for putting up windmills, rum subsidies for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
There is even a tax break for people who buy race horses.
Millions of homeowners, however, might feel like they got a lump of coal. Homeowners who don’t itemize their deductions will lose a tax break for paying local property taxes.
The business tax breaks are part of sweeping legislation that extends Bush era tax cuts for families at every income level through 2012. Obama signed the $858 billion measure a week ago. It also provides a new payroll tax cut for wage earners and extends jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed.
Most of the business tax breaks — about 50 in all — are part of a package that expires each year, creating uncertainty for tax planners but lots of business for lobbyists. Many of these tax breaks have been around for years but expired at the end of 2009 because lawmakers couldn’t agree how to pay for them.
The new law extends most of them through 2011, some through 2012. They will be paid for with borrowed money.
Nearly 1,300 businesses and trade groups formed a coalition urging Congress to extend the business tax breaks. Others lobbied for specific provisions, including a generous tax credit for research and development and subsidies to produce alternative energy.
There is a generous tax break for banks and insurance companies that invest overseas, a tax credit for railroad track maintenance, more generous write-offs for upgrading motorsport race tracks, and increased deductions for businesses that donate books and computers to public schools and libraries.
Many of the tax breaks are designed to encourage economic activity. But passing them each year at the last minute, or skipping a year and passing them retroactively, isn’t terribly efficient, said Clint Stretch, a tax expert at Deloitte Tax LLP.
"It gives it a lot of dignity to call it a ‘system,’ " Stretch said.
Every year, taxpayers risk losing their favorite tax breaks, if they are not renewed. That’s what happened to millions of homeowners. For 2008 and 2009, homeowners who didn’t itemize their deductions were able to get an extra deduction — on top of the standard deduction — for paying local property taxes. Individuals could reduce their taxable income by as much as $500, couples could cut theirs by $1,000.