Five Special-Interest Bills That Could Complicate The Tax Code

These tax bills give breaks to NASCAR, songwriters and the makers of fire sprinklers.

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Close up of a hand on a calculator.
Close up of a hand on a calculator.

Filing taxes is never a straightforward enterprise, largely because of numerous tweaks made to the U.S. tax code over the years. In 1913, the federal tax law was just 400 pages long; today, it spans more than 72,000 pages.

[READ: Hate Your Income Tax Rate? Join the Club]

On Tax Day 2013, Whispers has rounded up five of the stranger bills proposed in Congress that would change the tax code, and likely complicate it, too. Michael J. Graetz, a professor of tax law at Columbia University, walks us through what's inside the bills and who's behind them.

The Motorsports Fairness and Permanency Act

What it would do: Give race car facility owners a permanent tax break. "It would make permanent the tax break that NASCAR received several years back. There's a provision in the code that gives NASCAR a special fast rate of depreciation on its race tracks, and race facilities," says Graetz. "NASCAR owners obviously asked for this."

Art and Collectibles Capital Gains Tax Treatment Parity Act

What it would do: Reduce the capital gains tax on collectibles, and allow a "creator of a literary, musical, artistic, or scholarly property" to get the same deductions that purchasers of art currently do. "This would include coins, stamp collections, art collections and the like... it would basically reduce capital gains tax for collectibles to same capital gains applicable to investments," says Graetz. He is skeptical of the term "scholarly property" in the second provision. "This may refer to donations of scholarly papers," he says. "And there have been some big abuses in scholarly papers over the years, going back to Richard Nixon, who tried to get a law changed to get a deduction for the fair market value of his papers."

Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act of 2011

What it would do: Give a tax break for fire sprinklers. "This is a good example of the [misguided] idea that the tax code can solve every problem the country has ever faced," says Graetz. "If there are too few sprinklers, the way to get more is not to give a tax break to the builders who put in the sprinkler or the owners of the sprinklers."

Songwriters Tax Simplification Reauthorization Act

What it would do: Make a tax break for songwriters permanent. "It's a break for songwriters that the country music industry had pushed for... It is a tax break in the form of acceleration of deductions," he says. "But they couldn't limit it to just country songs, so it's for all songwriters."

Complete America's Great Trails Act

What it would do: Give landowners a credit against their income tax for conservation contributions. "If you've got land and you give an easement of the land, then you can deduct the fair market value of the easement," says Graetz. "But the whole idea of giving deductions for people for conservation easement has been a huge abuse. The direction to go would be to shut it all down, in my view."

The bottom line? Graetz says many of these bills are a "good example of why the tax code is as complicated as it is." "Congress finds it a lot easier to give tax breaks" than find other solutions, he says.

Via (the Sunlight Foundation)

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