Obama Budget to Spark Tax Debates

President Obama's proposed 2011 budget is replete with tax proposals, many that are "hostile" to business. Here's a breakdown of the potential changes.

President Obama’s budget submission contains numerous tax proposals, many of them quite “hostile” towards business in general and “high-income” taxpayers in particular. Many of the proposals are aimed at eliminating, or at least curtailing, tax preferences enjoyed by the oil and gas industry. In fact, those changes are designed to add some $39 billion to the government’s coffers over the 10-year projection period.

What follows is a breakdown of proposed tax-rule changes found in the President’s plan.

Domestic Tax Issues

• An extension to the rules for qualifying property placed in service in a taxable year beginning in 2010. A qualifying property is defined as depreciable tangible personal property and certain depreciable real property that is purchased for use in the active conduct of a trade or business. Currently, the rules, which are found in Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code, are in effect for years beginning in 2008 and 2009. Under the extension, the maximum amount of qualifying property a taxpayer may deduct, rather than capitalize and depreciate, would be $250,000, and the “phase-out” would begin at $800,000. In other words, the deduction is reduced by the amount by which the cost of qualifying property exceeds $800,000.
• An additional first-year depreciation deduction for one year with respect to property both acquired and placed in service during 2010. The first-year deduction equals 50% of the cost of qualifying property, which is tangible property with a “recovery period” of 20 years or less.
• The “Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee” that the President proposed last month has been “memorialized.” The fee would apply to banks, thrifts, bank and thrift holding companies, brokers, and securities dealers. Firms with consolidated assets of less than $50 billion would not be subject to the fee. The assessable base of the fee would include the worldwide consolidated liabilities of financial firms. For this purpose, liabilities would exclude FDIC-assessed deposits and, in the case of insurance companies, certain policy-related liabilities. The fee would be levied at the rate of 15 basis points of the assessable base.

WillensFinal“The one thing that is certain is these proposals will be changed, eliminated, embellished, etc., as they wend their way through Congress.” — Robert Willens

• A ban on the use of the LIFO (last-in, first-out) accounting method. The LIFO method can provide a tax benefit for a taxpayer facing rising inventory costs since, in those cases, the cost of goods sold amount is based on more recent, higher inventory values, resulting in lower taxable income. To be eligible for the LIFO method, a taxpayer must use this method for financial-accounting purposes. Under the proposal, taxpayers that employ the LIFO method would be constrained to “write up” their beginning LIFO inventory to its FIFO (first-in, first-out) value in the first taxable year beginning after December 31, 2011. The onetime increase in gross income, resulting from this write up, would be taken into account, ratably, over 10 years.
• Repeal of the “boot within gain” limitation that is part of current law (see Section 356(a)(1)). The limitation relates to any reorganization in which both stock and “boot” is received by an exchanging target shareholder, but only if the exchange “has the effect of the distribution of a dividend” within the meaning of the tax code (specifically, Section 356(a)(2)). The boot refers to nonqualifying consideration received by the shareholder, such as cash in exchange for stock. Under current law, an exchanging shareholder, in a case in which both stock and boot are received, will recognize the lesser of (1) the realized gain or (2) the boot. Under the proposal, such a shareholder will record the boot as dividend income, even if the boot is in excess of the realized gain. Fortunately, this proposal should have very little impact because it is exceedingly rare that an exchange will have the effect of the distribution of a dividend (see Revenue Ruling 93-61, 1993-2 C.B. 118).

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