So are the stimulus bills circulating on Capitol Hill good for small business? Well, yeah. Hundreds of billions of dollars in new government spending will reach small firms, either directly in federal contracts or indirectly as this money makes its way through the economy. Moreover, there are specific tax credits and treatments for investment in clean or conserved energy, and broadband deployment. (In this latter case, the Senate proposes tax credits; the House offers grants.)
But there's more for business to like in the Senate bill. As a service to its readers, the Entrepreneurial Agenda compares the business tax and finance offerings from each chamber. Of course, the Senate hasn't actually passed its version yet; so far, only a couple of powerful committee chairmen (and maybe a couple of ranking Republicans) have had their hand in this. But here's what the Senate is considering today.
We'll start with the tax provisions. Both the House and Senate giveth—and, in one instance, taketh away. But the Senate giveth more.
'¢Investment credits: Both houses extend the generous bonus depreciation terms included in the 2008 stimulus through 2010. The Senate further allows firms to accelerate alternative minimum tax or research credits instead of taking bonus depreciation, and includes film or videotape as property that qualifies for the depreciation. (The Agenda wonders: who bought that perk?) Both houses extend the generous 2008 stimulus provisions for Section 179 expensing through 2009.
'¢Loss carryback: Both houses would allow firms to carry back net operating losses incurred in 2008 or 2009 three to five years and offset profits in those years. The House version limits the maneuver to just 90 percent* of the losses in each year; the Senate contains no such limitation. Life insurance companies get special rules, and, thankfully, institutions participating in the bailout are excluded altogether.
'¢Work Opportunity Tax Credit: Both houses extend, through 2010, this tax credit for hiring disadvantaged people to include unemployed veterans and unemployed young people who've dropped out of school and lack basic skills.
Finally, both Houses would effectively repeal the special IRS rule widely regarded as a giveaway to banks to facilitate mergers. Unless the deal was struck or consummated by January 16th, your bank is out of luck.
In addition, the Senate is considering a bunch of additional provisions dreamed up by Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus that small businesses, especially, might find appealing.
'¢S-corp conversions: Normally when a corporation elects "S corporation" status, it has to pay taxes on any gains it earned while still a C corporation ("built-in gains") and realized in its first ten years as an S corporation. Through 2010, S corporations beyond the seventh year of this so-called "built-in gains holding period" get a break: the taxes on realized gains, normally paid at the highest corporate tax rate before being taxed once more on an individual return, are waived entirely.
'¢Exclusion on small business stock gain: Normally, small business owners can exclude half the gain when they sell original stock in the enterprise. For new small business stock issued through 2010, the excluded gain is increased to 75 percent.
'¢Repurchasing debt: Generally when a company repurchases its debt, the savings are treated as taxable gross income. The Senate would permit firms buying back debt in 2009 or 2010 to spread the income charge over eight years, beginning in 2011.
'¢Transportation fringe benefits: Through 2010, the amount of transit benefits that are excluded from the employee's gross income and payroll wages is increased to $230 a month—the same amount as the employee parking benefit.
'¢Industrial development bonds: For the purposes of tax-exempt state and local bonds that finance factories, the Senate helpfully extends, through 2011, the definition of "manufacturing facilities" to embrace offices that produce intangible property such as patents and copyrights7mdash;even "knowhow." Additionally, the Senate treats facilities that support on-site production as "manufacturing" eligible for the bond proceeds.
Tomorrow, we'll look at the financing provisions.
UPDATE, TUESDAY AT 4:41 PM: ONE DOWN. Just now the Senate struck out the film industry's special bonus depreciation provision, by a vote of 52 to 45. Surprisingly, this was hardly a vote along party lines—a lot of Democrats voted in favor of the redaction. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who offered the amendment, said it would shower $246 million on Hollywood.