Tax extenders, goals beyond revenue collection PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 14:05

Statement of Sen. Chuck Grassley

Senate Committee on Finance Hearing

Extenders and Tax Reform: Seeking Long-Term Solutions

Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012

There are almost 60 provisions that expired at the end of 2011, and there are even more that expire at the end of 2012. There is general agreement that all of these extenders need to be reviewed in the context of comprehensive tax reform. As we begin to consider what such reform would look like, it is important to discuss what, if any, goals and objectives, other than revenue collection, the tax code should accomplish.

The provisions that expired at the end of last year have various objectives. The non-revenue policy objectives vary from energy independence to job creation, from encouraging donations to charity to incentivizing capital investments and research.

This Committee has held numerous tax reform hearings the past two years.  Yet, we have not discussed what we should do about the numerous non-revenue policy objectives included in the current tax code.  This has also been ignored by the various witnesses who have come before the committee, including those here today.

In his written testimony, Mr. Johnson whimsically picks winners and losers by focusing on the revenue impact but fails to address the non-revenue reasons for many of the expired provisions.  He says they should remain dead. However, he does appear to support a movement to alternative fuels “because we import oil from trouble spots in the world and because fossil fuels pollute and lead to global warming”.

However, he believes the existing regime of tax incentives should be eliminated because movement to alternative fuels is better accomplished through a carbon tax.  He also states that the oil industry is undertaxed.  While I appreciate his support for alternative energy, his statements ignore the need to consider whether tax provisions should be part of a domestic energy policy that includes oil drilling.

Ms. Sherlock, a witness at the December 14, 2011, hearing on energy tax extenders, noted in her written testimony, “the income tax code has long been used as a policy tool for promoting U.S. energy priorities”.

The oil and gas industries have received massive, permanent tax breaks for over a hundred years.

In contrast, tax incentives for alternative energy have existed only for a few decades and have always been temporary. These incentives first appeared in the 1970s, in direct response to the oil crisis and they help to incentivize renewable resources.

Yet, discussions on incentives for the oil industry and for alternative energy often fail to consider that a key reason to support renewable energy sources should be energy independence.

The United States sends more than $400 billion each year overseas to buy foreign oil.  Now more than ever, the United States needs to ramp up domestic production of traditional energy -- including oil, natural gas, and coal -- and expand alternative fuels and renewable energy -- including wind, solar, hydropower, biomass and geothermal.

The U.S. Treasury pays out an average $84 billion a year to defend the shipping lanes by which foreign oil reaches the United States.  I do not see these costs in discussions of cost effectiveness of energy tax incentives.

Aside from energy independence, it is also important to consider the number of domestic jobs supported by the energy sector.

Clearly, in the short-term, Congress should extend tax incentives for alternative energy sources.  With the economy still sputtering, we cannot afford the job losses that occur from pulling the rug out from under industries like biodiesel and wind that are still developing.

In the long-term, however, we need to consider whether a permanent and comprehensive energy tax policy is appropriate and, such a policy should be developed in the context of comprehensive tax reform.

For sure, we need a tax system that is less complicated, fairer, and will make us more competitive in the global economy.  However, we need to consider whether and how to balance these principles against non-revenue policy objectives of priorities.  Energy independence is only one such objective.

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