Former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Arthur F. Burns said yesterday that "at the present time, any tax (cut) legislation is premature" -- by implication, though not directly, criticizing Ronald Reagan's recent proposal for a one-year antirecession tax cut.
In a conference with a group of reporters, Burns said that to cut taxes now "would be attacking a short-term economic problem and not the longer-run problem which is far more serious . . . In an election season, tax legislation ought not to be written. We can wait."
Burns also called attention to a "difference in priorities" between Reagan's tax proposal and one offered by a recently organized Committee to Fight Inflation, which Burns heads.
The Reagan proposal, including a 10 percent personal income tax cut across the board, would give about 90 percent of a $21 billion reduction in fiscal 1981 to individuals and only 10 percent to business.
The Burns committee gives greater emphasis to reducing business taxes, gradually in the next two years and at an accelerated pace in the three following years. It does not include any personal income tax cut at the moment for fear of regenerating inflationary forces.
Although Burns refused to make or to agree with the comparison, his position on taxes seemed closer to President Carter's than to that of Reagan, whom he supports. Although Carter's tax proposals have not been spelled out officially, his aides have warned of the pitfalls of considering tax legislation in an election-year atmosphere.
As The Washington Post reported yesterday, Carter is putting the finishing touches on a tax-cut plan which would speed up depreciation allowances for business.
Burns said flatly that he opposes the so-called Kemp-Roth proposal, which calls for three successive 10 percent annual tax reductions. Reagan's proposal includes essentially the first stage of Kemp-Roth -- named for its congressional sponsors, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and Sen. William Roth (R-Del.) -- along with the "10-5-3" systems of large, early depreciation allowances for business capital investments.
That system allows a business to deduct the full cost of new buildings over 10 years, the cost of equipment over five years and the cost of cars and trucks in three years. The Treasury Department estimates the tax revenue loss of 10-5-3 would be $57 billion by 1985, or more than four times the revenue loss in the business tax relief plan being worked on by Carter.
Burns said he personally does not favor Reagan's depreciation proposals. For business, he would prefer "a sharp reduction" in the corporate income tax rate, because he said that would work impartially for both labor-intensive and non-labor-intensive industries.
On the basis of his own, if limited, contacts with Reagan, Burns said, "he is a highly intelligent man" and there is no reason to doubt his ability to manage the presidential office "to the extent that anyone can."
The only qualms he confessed to related to some speech drafts he had seen "that raised various questions in my mind." He refused details, except to say his questions related to economic issues.
Some Reagan advisers are known to have urged the presidential candidate to line himself up more directly with the large tax reduction implied in the Kemp-Roth bill.
Burns noted in passing that Reagan's tax proposal was "very wise in moving away from the three-year commitment" of the Kemp-Roth bill. "That's a promising shift," he said.