Congress considers tax breaks for NASCAR and horse racing

Filed under SPORTS

BY MARIA RECIO
MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU / MCT

WASHINGTON – Horse racing may be thought of as the sport of kings, but the National Thoroughbred Racing Association says breeders and stable owners need a tax break just like everybody else.

Cars sprint past the starting line during the 2014 Daytona 500.(STEPHEN M. DOWELL/ORLANDO SENTINEL/MCT)

Cars sprint past the starting line during the 2014 Daytona 500.
(STEPHEN M. DOWELL/ORLANDO SENTINEL/MCT)

Stock car racing has a regal status among its followers, but NASCAR has its hand out, too, as do taxpayers in seven states with no income tax who pay state sales taxes and are able to deduct them from Uncle Sam’s tax bill.

The three are among the strange bedfellows who benefit from targeted tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013 and that the Senate and House of Representatives are now looking to restore.

List of ‘extenders’
The Senate legislation, which is expected to be voted on on the floor this week, combines more than 50 of the so-called tax extenders Congress awarded at different times for different constituencies, everything from helping families to pay for college, homeowners to deduct mortgage expenses, business to benefit by giving away food inventory, and to hire veterans. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., included that provision with a bill called “Hire a Hero.”

The tax extenders bill would reinstate them for two years at a cost to the treasury of $85 billion. Supporters are facing some stiff opposition from the right and the left, who say they create favorites in the tax code.

“Congress is able to hide the true cost of these tax breaks by renewing them every two years,” Steve Wamhoff, the legislative director for Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal research center, said in a newspaper opinion piece. “But the truth is, if allowed to continue indefinitely, these corporate tax breaks will balloon the deficit by $700 billion over the next decade.”

The diverse interests that see their tax breaks as a matter of fairness make for a colorful coalition. They also have powerful patrons, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

NASCAR provision
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who represents automotive interests, got the so-called NASCAR provision, which allows the depreciation of motor sport facilities over seven years instead of 15 or more, reinserted in the Senate Finance Committee bill last month. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had initially removed it from consideration.

Like virtually all the tax extenders, Stabenow’s provision was popular. International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks – including Daytona Beach, Kansas City, Kan., and Homestead, Fla., and Darlington, S.C. – is an enthusiastic supporter.

“We spend $120 million to $150 million a year on capital improvements,” International Speedway Corp. spokesman Lenny Santiago said.

Daytona International Speedway has just begun a $400 million stadium renovation. “These capital projects create a significant amount of economic opportunity,” Santiago said.

Not so fast
But an increasingly loud chorus of naysayers is objecting to the tax breaks.

“In general, we view extenders as handouts to particular groups,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club for Growth, a conservative fiscal policy organization. “All tax treatment should be fair and equal.”

The group plans to “score” the Senate vote, meaning it will look favorably on members who vote against the bill.

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