Tuesday's Business and Finance section incorrectly reported that the Reagan administration planned to extend the "at-risk" provision in business tax deductions to depreciation rules. The provision will be extended from depreciation to the use of the investment tax credit.
Buried in the Reagan administration's tax proposals are at least two somewhat surprising measures that would seem more at home in a Democratic tax reform package than a Republican tax-cutting program.
One would close a common tax shelter, while another would end a current provision to encourage higher regulated prices for utilities. In addition, the administration's proposals are significantly less generous to business in the flexibility allowed than was the original 10-5-3 bill on which they were based.
Profitable companies cannot choose, under the administration's program, to "bank" their tax deductions and use them when they would most reduce their tax liabilities. The original 10-5-3 bill would have given business a great deal of leeway to use its tax write-offs when they would achieve maximum tax saving.
The tax shelter that would go under the administration plan would be lost through the extension of the so-called "at-risk" provision to depreciation allowances. At present an individual may claim depreciation deductions on the whole, often inflated, value of an investment even if he or she has not put up all the money for it, and is not personally liable for money borrowed to buy it.
A common arrangement is for the seller of some investment to agree to a high price with the buyer to whom he then makes a nonrecourse loan for part of that purchase price. The investor can claim depreciation write-offs against tax for the full amount of the price, while only paying over a portion of the money. The property itself is the only security on the loan.
Current law allows an investor to claim the investment tax credit only against the money which he has put up himself or is personally liable or "at risk" for. The Reagan change would extend this limitation to tax deductions for depreciation.
The other reform provision would liberalize a rule now intended to hold up utility prices. At present utility companies lose their eligibility for the investment tax credit and depreciation allowances if they are forced by state regulatory bodies to pass on the cost reductions in the form of lower prices. This has been supported by the utility companies, who hoped that it would discourage regulatory bodies from enforcing lower prices and enable the companies to hold onto the tax breaks.
Under the Reagan proposals, the price at which the companies would lose their tax breaks would be lowered, presumably encouraging regulators to set lower prices and make the companies pass on more of their tax saving to consumers.