The Senate Finance Committee yesterday approved the bulk of its business-depreciation tax package, a compendium of changes that would bring in $14.3 billion less than the current tax system over five years.
The depreciation provisions of the House tax bill, by comparison, would raise $26.4 billion in revenue over the same period, a $40.7 billion difference. Both tax bills, however, would increase other business taxes, so that the corporate sector as a whole would pay at least $134 billion more by 1991 under either proposal.
The package approved by the committee retained most of the principal changes worked out earlier by Sen William V. Roth (R-Del.) and others to the initial tax proposal by Finance Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.).
Passage of the depreciation compromise means the entire Senate tax-revision bill would bring in $10 billion less than the current tax code, a relatively small amount of money compared with the enormous transfers of tax burdens in the plan. More changes are expected to be made by Finance Committee members in the next few weeks, however. Most of the changes are expected to cost additional tax revenue.
Approval of the depreciation package (a few minor amendments are expected when the committee meets again Monday) also means one of the trickier hurdles in getting tax revision through a skittish committee has been surmounted.
"I consider it a victory," said Packwood. "Are we roughly on the pace as we approach the first quarter-turn? I think we are."
An element of the plan considered crucial to the Reagan administration, however, was dropped by the committee. The panel voted 13-to-7 to delete a provision linking the value of depreciable assets to inflation, a move that would raise $7 billion in revenue over five years. Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), sponsor of the amendment, said retaining "indexing" would increase the deficit in the long run.
Like the current system, the plan approved yesterday would permit the cost of vehicles, equipment and real estate to be deducted over periods of years, with some bunching of deductions at the beginning of those periods. The depreciation periods in the Senate plan range from three years to 30 years, depending on the type of asset; they are three years to 19 years under the current system.
A special category of "productive" assets would get even larger deductions in the first years of their write-off periods. The items on the list were principally related to manufacturing, although the inclusion of some assets, such as jewelry-manufacturing equipment, raised charges of political favoritism from critics on the committee.
Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) successfully proposed writing off all autos and light trucks over three years, a softening from both the Packwood plan and the Roth compromise. His amendment cost $2 billion in revenue.
Dole said his proposal would not increase the deficit because it was more than offset by the revenue raised by repealing the proposal to tie the value of assets to inflation. Because the depreciation compromise as a whole lost revenue, however, the committee was still looking for money at the end of the day.
When Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) suggested reducing the depreciation period for residential real estate, such as apartment buildings, from 30 years to 25 years and paying for it with the same indexing provision, Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) admonished him.
"We're going to get a lot of rides out of that horse," he said. "But I think it's already back in the stable."
Packwood also expressed worry that the eventual bill would not be "revenue-neutral. I don't want to start down the road [of losing money] now," he said. "It will only make it tougher in the end."
Later in the day, members of the panel agreed to reduce taxes on inventories and inventory-related expenses for small wholesalers and retailers. The committee will not meet today, but Packwood said he hopes to finish work on tax changes in the depreciation, accounting and employe-benefit areas.