Businessmen are taking a dim view of the tax package passed by the Senate last Friday. They say the measure's restrictions on depreciation and investment-tax credits could have a chilling effect on corporate capital spending over the next few years.
Some companies complained that the changes in the "safe harbor" tax-leasing provision makes that concept virtually useless to financially troubled companies that had been counting on it.
And business leaders warned yesterday that the changes in tax law approved by the Senate, many of which rolled back advantages given to business a year ago, could put a damper on economic recovery."
"It's all negative," said Theodore Eck, chief economist for Standard Oil Co. (Indiana). "The original intent of the 1981 tax code was to provide corporations some incentives with regard to their capital expenditures . . . This is really taking back a fair amount of what corporations were originally provided."
"We're concerned about the extent to which they're cutting back on the incentives to business investment," said Paul Huard, vice president for taxation and fiscal policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.
"It's certainly going to reduce investment," said Richard Rahn, an economist at the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. "Taxes reach such a high point that they become a disincentive. You have to reduce those disincentives."
The provisions in the Senate-approved tax bill causing the deepest concern within the business community are:
* A reduction in the tax break resulting from the 10 percent investment tax credit. At present, firms get the credit, normally 10 percent of the cost of an acquisition, and can depreciate the full value of the cost of the purchase. The Senate measure would reduce the depreciation to 95 percent of the cost of the purchase. This would save $152 million in 1983, rising to $259 million in 1984.
* Accelerations of the depreciation schedule that are supposed to go into effect in 1985 and 1986 would be eliminated. In 1985, this will mean the loss to business of $1.6 billion, rising rapidly to $10.2 billion in 1986 and to $18.8 billion in 1987.
* Corporate tax-leasing--the sale of tax breaks by non-taxpaying firms to taxable firms--would be severely restricted. If enacted, this provision will cost the business community $1.1 billion in 1983, rising progressively to $7.2 billion by 1987.
In addition the legislation has provisions accelerating corporate income tax payments, eliminating tax breaks available to companies involved in mergers and restricting tax deferrals for multi-year contractors, particularly those in the defense and aerospace industries.
Edward G. Jefferson, chairman of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. Inc., which will spend about $3.2 billion this year on new plant and equipment, said the proposed limits to depreciation could force his company to re-evaluate its capital spending plans in coming years. "It certainly is an important consideration (because) it impacts on cash flow," he said.
Jefferson said the more negative effects of the proposed changes in tax law would not become apparent until mid-decade. "When I add (the changes) up in our own case, they're quite substantial, particularly when you get into 1985 and 1986, in their impact," he said.
Other business officials also said that the proposed changes could cause changes in their spending plans. But some pointed out that there were other forces involved in capital expenditure plans than tax considerations. Competitive situations and regulatory requirements are also factors in spending decisions.
"You don't have a chief executive coming into a board meeting trying to sell a capital investment on the basis of taxes," said Jack Albertine, executive director of the American Business Conference, a group representing mid-size corporations. "The tax bill, in itself, in my judgment, is not big enough to have a substantial effect in terms of capital spending.
"Absent of a cut in interest rates, you won't have any capital spending," he added.
But other business executives warned that the proposed changes themselves would have a detrimental effect on the economic recovery. Rahn predicted that the tax proposal would cut gross national product growth by as much as 1 percent a year in the next two years and reduce the number of jobs created by 700,000 a year in 1983 and 1984.
Eck said the reversal of last year's tax cuts appeared to undermine the aim of supply-side economics for the sake of reducing budget deficits. "The whole idea of supply-side was to increase investment for the whole decade," he said. "Unfortunately, this is a little backsliding.