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How not to close a tax loophole

Since its enactment last year as part of the Reagan administration's tax-cut program, tax leasing has come under increasing - and justified - criticism. Under leasing, a firm can sell its unused tax credits and deductions to other firms. The firms buying the tax breaks are then able to reduce their own tax liability. In short, businesses thus get a rather cozy way of obtaining tax breaks that are not available to the general public. The Joint Tax Committee concluded that property worth more than $22 billion has been leased under the system. One firm, General Electric, picked up so many tax credits along the way that it did not have to pay any corporate taxes on its profits of $2.6 billion in 1981.

Tax leasing had become so pronounced, in fact, that only Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert Dole brought such activity to a halt when he said that he would attempt to curtail the leasing program retroactive to Feb. 19.

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Well, the Senate Finance Committee finally got around to the tax leasing issue last week and, lo and behold - voted to retain tax leasing. True, leasing benefits have been substantially reduced, in large part because of the efforts of Senator Dole. But what was a dubious provision to begin with not only survived a key Senate vote but would remain in place through late 1985.

''Lobbying in favor of tax leasing has been very intense the past few weeks, '' is how one Senate staff member wryly puts it. The Finance Committee package must still go before the full Senate. And the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to come down against leasing in a vote to be held later this year. There is still time for the American public to register its disapproval of a tax measure that Senator Dole has rightly referred to as an unnecessary corporate food stamp program.

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