As Washington wraps up its August legislative recess, the president and congressional leaders look to build momentum to advance a comprehensive tax reform bill before the end of the calendar year. The so-called Gang of Six—Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady—is meeting regularly in hopes of reaching consensus on the overall approach to tax reform. This group intends to hand off its legislative framework to the tax writing committees in September.
At that point, the tax reform process will enter what commentators describe as a second phase, wherein tax writers will decide which programs to keep and which to reduce or eliminate. While research shows that eliminating the historic tax credit (HTC) would only slightly reduce the corporate tax rate, the program remains at risk as lawmakers seek ways to offset the loss of tax revenue associated with lowering rates.
Without the tax savings from the sidelined effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and lacking revenue that had been anticipated from an abandoned border adjustment tax, tough decisions remain about whether tax reform legislation should add to the deficit, eliminate programs popular with constituents, settle for a less ambitious reduction in tax rates, or some combination of the three.
Balancing these interests in a way that gains support from at least 50 senators will prove challenging, particularly in light of divisive measures that must be addressed before Congress can turn its attention to tax reform: raising the debt ceiling, funding the government after the current fiscal year, and passing a 2018 budget that facilitates comprehensive tax reform.
Nevertheless, after the collapse of health care reform efforts, Republicans are focused on delivering a legislative win ahead of the midterm election season, and tax reform is now the top domestic policy priority. Chairman Hatch recently commented that there is greater momentum to pass comprehensive tax reform now than at any other point since 1986. Whether the scope of tax reform is narrowed or Congress is able to push through a comprehensive reform bill, the preservation community needs to follow the debate closely over the next several months and engage with its congressional delegations to fight for the continuation and enhancement of the HTC.
The preservation community has already demonstrated that it is an attentive and active constituency. The Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act (HTCIA), H.R. 1158/S. 425, has 73 bipartisan cosponsors in the House (38 Republicans and 35 Democrats) and 13 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate (four Republicans and eight Democrats). And more than 1,000 businesses and organizations from all 50 states have added their name to a draft letter to congressional tax writers in support of the HTC. Moving forward, we are encouraging HTC stakeholders to continue actively engaging their representatives.
Showing members of Congress rehabilitated historic buildings is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate the value of the HTC. The House will be in recess September 15–22 and October 16–20, and the Senate will be in recess September 21–22 and October 9–13. Contact your congressional representatives, and ask to speak with the scheduler to request in-district meetings.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Historic Tax Credit Coalition, Preservation Action, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, and Main Street America are circulating an HTC sign-on letter that calls on the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committee chairmen to protect the HTC in tax reform. Add your organization or business to the HTC support letter.
Mark your calendars for a webinar that will be hosted by the National Trust’s Government Relations department on September 21 at 2 p.m. to hear the latest about efforts to protect the HTC.
Urge legislators to cosponsor the HTCIA. Together we are building strong bipartisan support for this important legislation.
Historic Tax Credit Campaign Staff Contacts
Shaw Sprague is the senior director for Government Relations and Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.