President Carter is considering a seven-part business tax program designed to cut corporate taxes by a little more than $5 billion to serve as a "sweetener" for his tax-revision package.
The proposal, which has been sent to the White House by administration tax-drafters, would provide modest tax relief in three key areas of concern to corporations in exchange for elimination or tightening of several existing breaks for industries.
According to tax sources, the proposal includes these reductions:
A modest cut in the corporate tax rate - most likely trimming it from 48 to 46 per cent.
A substantial liberalization of the present investment tax credit for business by allowing corporations ot use the credit to offset as much as 75 or 80 per cent of their total tax bills, rather than only 50 per cent, as permitted under existing law.
The investment credit also could be broadened to allow companies to claim the present 10 per cent credit for spending on structures, as well as on equipment, which now is the only such outlay eligible.
A small step toward elimination of the so-called "double taxation" of corporate income (first as profits and later as dividend income of stockholders) by allowing stockholders to deduct from their tax bills the estimated tax the company paid on that income.
Under one device proposed, the company would "withhold" taxes on the dividends it pays out, much as it does on wages. It then would issue a withholding statement to the stockholder, who would file it with his or her individual income tax return.
In the proposal Carter is said to be considering, these cuts would be offset by four steps to tighten some existing tax breaks for specific industries, which some critics have contended are unnecessary:
Elimination of the tax subsidy for domestic international sales corporations, which the administration has criticized as unjustified.
A gradual phaseout of the depletion allowance now granted mineral companies such as copper and bauxite firms.
Likely elimination of the present law allowing corporations to defer indefinitely payment of taxes on income earned from foreign sources.
Tightening of a spate of other, much smaller tax breaks for specific industries.
Allowing companies to see the investment tax credit to offset as much as 75 or 80 per cent of the taxes they owe would be a major broadening of that provision. Under present law, firms may offset only 50 per cent of their taxes owed - except for airlines and railroads, which temporarily have no restrictions.
Tax sources stressed that, although the broad outlines of these proposals have been agreed on by tax writers, those drafting the recommendation have split on some details.
Depending upon which version ultimately is adopted, the cost of the major tax cuts could total between $5 billion and $8 billion - approximately $2 billion for the cut in corporate rates. $1 to $2 billion on the investment credit and $2 to $4 billion for the dividend credit.
Using easily available standard revenue estimates, experts say the provisions tightening existing tax breaks would offset this cost by about $3 billion - $1 billion each for the DISC and depletion allowance phaseout and $500 million each for the elimination of the foreign source income deferral and other measures.
If approved by the President, the business package almost certainly would come under criticism both from liberals and conservatives. Many tax experts contend the move to reduce double taxation would not have much impact.
The President was supposed to have met with tax officials Saturday to discuss details of the tax-revision package, but the session was canceled abruptly and no new meeting date has been set.
The business-tax proposal is only portion of the total package the President is considering. Carter officials also are proposing a sizable reduciton in taxes for individual offset by elimination of many preferences such as special treatment for capital gains.