Reagan administration tax analysts are studying an array of controversial tax increases, including higher excise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol and limits on deductions for mortgage payments as ways of controlling the 1982 federal budget deficit, a top Treasury official said yesterday.
Deputy Treasury Secretary R.T. McNamar said in an interview yesterday that he expects the administration to try again to get congressional approval for the federal government to levy higher user fees on owners of yachts, private aircraft and barges, and on other individuals and businesses who benefit from special federal services.
President Reagan's proposal last spring to raise such user fees by $2.1 billion was abandoned in the face of opposition from special interest groups and their congressional allies, and, if anything, the opposition is entrenched even more deeply now. Many other potential tax-raising proposals are just as touchy.
But growing concern in and out of the administration over the size of the deficit in the 1982 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, compels the search for increased taxes just weeks after approval of President Reagan's unprecedented five-year, $749 billion tax cut.
"We haven't been sitting here in August watching the financial markets decline and doing nothing about it," McNamar said.
He added that no decisions on the make-up of a new tax bill have been made, and at this point the only safe prediction is that a new plan for user fees will be proposed early in the fall. "We are identifying our options," McNamar said.
Along with further reductions in federal borrowing, the "menu" of possible revenue-raising measures includes a crackdown on the billions of untaxed cash payments that flow in the illegal "underground economy," he said. One strategy would be to require that all payments that qualify as tax deductions be made by check rather than cash, to provide a clearer trail of these transactions.
Another option is to increase cigarette and alcohol excise taxes. And another would be to limit the amount of interest payments that taxpayers could deduct, by disallowing mortgage interest deductions on second homes or commercial property, for example, or by setting a ceiling on all interest deductions, McNamar said.
The administration also could increase tax revenues by restricting the use of tax-exempt industrial development bonds and raising taxes on fringe benefits.
The administration may propose new tax-raising measures before the end of the year, and wait until next spring to take up the tax-cut items that missed the boat last month, for political as well as economic reasons, McNamar indicated.
By moving early with tax-raising measures, the administration would hope to ease the anxiety in financial centers over the size of the fiscal 1982 budget deficit, McNamar said. The adminstration has promised to hold the deficit to $42 billion next year, but it would have to make hard decisions on military spending and other budget items to approach that target, and private economists generally believe the actual deficit will be much higher.
Skepticism about the success of the budget-cutting campaign has helped to push stock prices down steeply and to keep interest rates high.
The budget squeeze will pinch harder if the president keeps a campaign commitment to support enactment of tuition tax credits for families with children in private schools.