Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader

Editorial: Congress has its priorities all wrong

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6E

President Barack Obama repeatedly has called for an end to those nasty nooks and crooked crannies in tax codes that grant favored interests breaks not available to most of the rest of us. Democrats and Republicans love to decry them, too.

Naturally, as they approved the legislation last week to avert the fiscal crisis they created, the House, Senate and president happily granted about $280 billion in tax breaks to all manner of favored businesses and constituencies.

Congress calls them "tax extenders," and they are a regular part of how government operates. Many are specific. Others benefit large numbers of people. Taxpayers who live in states such as California can write off state income taxes. College tuition also can be deducted.

Still others benefit favored groups or are intended to encourage certain activities, such as adoption. There's money set aside to extend tax breaks for alternative fuels, no doubt intended to reduce reliance on greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels. There also is an extension of a tax break for coal facilities on Indian land.

The men and women of Washington gave NASCAR a cherry of a tax break, estimated to cost Uncle Sam and save racetracks $46 million this year.

"This tax provision is a job creator," Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, told the Los Angeles Times. Thompson's district includes the Sonoma Raceway, presumably a beneficiary. "Without it, folks would see job losses."

No to be outdone by the break given so people can watch super-fast race cars, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., won a $7 million tax subsidy to encourage the purchase of electric scooters, the Washington Post reported.

Not surprisingly, Oregon is home to two scooter manufacturers.

Then there is the $200 million toast to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for their rum industries. Rum producers are grateful. The Bacardi family of rum fame gave no less than $260,000 to federal campaigns in 2011-12, mostly to Republicans.

Diageo, another rum producer, spread its campaign money equally among Democrats and Republicans, and spent $1.6 million on lobbying in Washington last year.

No tax deal would be complete without a bauble for Hollywood. The bill will allow film and television companies that produce in the U.S. to write down the first $15 million of expenses from their corporate tax bill, at a cost of $430 million this year.

Altogether, business tax extenders will cost the feds and save businesses $63.2 billion in 2013, undoubtedly a reason why hundreds of companies paid lobbyists big bucks to work on the bill.

There were plenty of good reasons to vote for HR 8. The legislation averted an economic crisis, albeit one that was manufactured by Congress and the president. It appropriately raises taxes on high earners who can afford the increase.

But the next time you hear a politician denouncing outrageous tax loopholes, remember that we all are paying to help subsidize NASCAR, electric scooters, rum production and a coal facility on some Indian reservation.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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