Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan sent a little note over to Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) the other day that proves the point of a new study on how the Windfall Profit Tax Act of 1980 has not been that much of a windfall to those with lower incomes. Regan's letter said that, since Congress had failed to appropriate revenues from the windfall tax to three special accounts (providing aid to low-income households, income tax reductions and funds for energy and transportation programs), the $13.8 billion in net revenues had been used to reduce the deficit.
The new study, entitled "The Broken Promise," comes from the National Consumer Law Center. It notes that the windfall profits tax was promoted as a way of helping the poor meet their fuel bills, but that subsequent actions (or inactions) are reducing the amount of money actually applied to that effort. For example, in fiscal 1981, only $1.85 billion was appropriated for low-income energy assistance. "If Congress had appropriated an amount equal to the allocation for the first year in the act, the program would have received a total of $3.48 billion," the report said.
One of the key elements in President Reagan's "New Federalism" (a concept that seems to be in big trouble at the moment) was the creation of a trust fund to provide the states with sufficient money to cover the transition period when 43 programs (including low-income energy assistance) would be transferred from federal to state responsibility. More than half of the money for that trust fund would come from the windfall profits tax, further diluting revenue available for low-income energy aid, the report notes.