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December 3, 2001
A $10 Million Dollar Tax Provision To Pay Citrus Farmers Twice For The Same Loss -- Is This Good Tax Policy?
It is not their finest hour. Democrats on the United States Senate committee that writes tax legislation had an opportunity to step up and do the right thing when they drafted an economic stimulus package in November. But they didn't do it. They even had the example of what not to do that had been written by the Republicans who write tax legislation for the House of Representatives -- it was full of tax breaks for favored constituents and contributors. But, still, the Democrats didn't do the right thing. They could, and should, have displayed leadership and selflessness. "Instead," according to Tax Notes economic correspondent Marty Sullivan, "the usual backroom constituent politicking has prevailed."

Sullivan picks one of the tax provisions from the Senate Democrats' economic stimulus package as a case study to illustrate to readers how legislation that initially looks like a good idea actually might be bad law. This particular tax provision was sponsored by Florida Senator Bob Graham and it would help citrus growers who lose part of their crop to citrus canker disease. Sounds fair, doesn't it? But Sullivan shows instead how Graham's citrus canker provision is "diseased to the core with all the usual symptoms of bad tax policy. It is complex. It is arbitrary. It is ill suited to providing relief to low-income farmers most in need. And it provides redundant benefits to benefits already provided under government spending programs."

Sullivan says the Graham proposal is "a nice thing to do" but questions whether it is the right thing to do. This provision will cost the government $10 million in 2002 and decline to a $3 million loss in 2011. First, he argues that it is bad economics: farming may be a risky business, but the risk can be insured against and, if the risk can't be insured, then the farmers earn an above average rate of return to compensate for their investment. Second, if Congress decides to compensate farmers even if it is bad economics, "why," asks Sullivan, "drag the tax code into it?" Do citrus farmers who suffer a loss deserve more breaks than other farmers with similar or larger losses?

Sullivan concludes that the Graham provision "should not have any place in the stimulus package. The tax code is loaded," says Sullivan, "with wolves in sheep's clothing. This provision would just add to the pack."

Please contact Tax Analysts for the full text of Sullivan's article.

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Media Release 2001-11