Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) introduced legislation yesterday to repeal the controversial provision in the 1981 tax bill that allowed corporations to buy and sell tax breaks.
"This leasing provision"--the section of the bill allowing the tax sales--"has been in effect for little more than three months, but it is already apparent that it is an unjustified and outrageous raid on the Treasury and on the taxpayers," Pell said.
"Indeed, this 'leasing' provision is really a 'leeching' provision because it permits wealthy, profitable corporations to leech billions of dollars from the taxpayers," according to Pell.
The 1981 tax bill created a new form of paper transaction in which corporations could buy and sell tax credits and deductions through arrangements called leases.
The provision was designed to help marginal companies such as Chrysler Corp. and International Harvester, which, because they have no taxable income, would receive little or no benefit from the accelerated depreciation also provided under the new bill. In addition, the lease provision was designed to prevent stepped up merger activity based entirely on tax considerations, which could develop as companies built up credits they could not use.
In practice, however, the leasing provision also has proved to be a major bonanza for some highly profitable companies which, because they pay no federal taxes, are able to sell their tax breaks to other profitable firms. Occidental Petroleum, for example, has paid no federal taxes because of foreign tax credits, although in 1980 it had net earnings of $710 million. Consequently, it was able to sell credits and depreciation rights on investments it made this year through leasing deals.
Opposition to the leasing provisions has been growing in Congress among both Repbulicans and Democrats. Key members of the Senate Budget Committee are pressing to force closure of number of tax expenditures, called loopholes in some quarters, and among the most commonly cited is leasing.