Budget Estimates the Costs of Tax Preferences

February 07, 2006

Buried inside the President’s budget released Monday was a section estimating the projected tax expenditures through 2011. What are tax expenditures? From the budget:

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-344) requires that a list of “tax expenditures” be included in the budget. Tax expenditures are defined in the law as “revenue losses attributable to provisions of the Federal tax laws which allow a special exclusion, exemption, or deduction from gross income or which provide a special credit, a preferential rate of tax, or a deferral of liability.” (Official Budget Website)

Below is a list of the top tax expenditures on the individual income tax side over the next five years (2007-2011). Notice the preferential treatment that medical services and housing receive in the tax code, each totaling around $1 trillion over the next five years.

Exclusion of employer contributions for medical insurance premiums and medical care: $889 billion

Deductibility of mortgage interest on owner-occupied housing (home mortgage interest deduction): $471 billion

Capital Gains Exclusion on home sales: $318 billion

Deductibility of charitable contributions (total): $243 billion

Exclusion of net imputed rent: $205 billion

Child Credit: $200 billion

Exclusion of interest on public purpose state and local bonds: $168 billion

Deductibility of state and local income taxes, not including property (non-business): $162 billion

Exclusion of Social Security benefits (total): $149 billion

Deductibility of property taxes on owner-occupied homes: $74 billion

Another interesting aspect of these tax deductions is to look at how the expiring of the Bush tax cuts will dramatically alter many of them when moving from 2010 to 2011. The Bush tax cuts targeted regular tax liability and did little to AMT, meaning many more taxpayers are having their liability determined by AMT. And recall that AMT takes away many deductions – most specifically the deduction for state and local taxes. Therefore when 2011 hits and people’s regular tax liabilities will supersede their AMT liability, fewer people in AMT will mean that the deduction for state and local taxes will be claimed by many more taxpayers, as one can see in the numbers:

Tax expenditure for state and local taxes paid including property taxes in 2010 = $41.7 billion

Tax expenditure for state and local taxes paid including property taxes in 2011 = $72.4 billion

On the other hand, the Bush tax cuts expiring would also mean that the child tax credit would be scaled down. Therefore, the projected tax expenditure of the child tax credit would fall from $41.8 billion in 2010 to $31.7 billion the following year.

For more on the need to rid the tax code of these costly preferences and replace it with a neutral tax system that is simple and promotes economic efficiency, read Tax Foundation Chief Economist Patrick Fleenor's piece entitled America's Shrinking Income Tax Base Requires Higher Rates for Everyone.

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