S. 842. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 986 to provide tax relief for small businesses, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today I am introducing a package of targeted, affordable tax relief provisions designed to help the Nation's small businesses during this time of economic stagnation. After the Easter recess, I know that the Finance Committee will be marking up a wide-ranging tax bill whose ultimate size is yet to be determined. I also know, however, that few of the proposals offered by the President will truly stimulate the economy or help the millions of struggling small businesses. Instead, the Bush tax proposal will reward the richest among us and pass the bill to our children. We can and must do better.
As the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I have drafted legislation that will truly help small businesses and the Nation. It is a tax proposal with meaningful, affordable reforms that will make a difference without sticking our kids with a huge bill. I hope that all of part of this legislation can be incorporated into a Senate economic stimulus package. I have titled the bill that I am introducing today 'The Affordable Small Business Stimulus and Simplification Act of 2003,' and it builds upon a bill that I introduced in the 107th Congress.
I call my bill an 'affordable' stimulus package for small business because it targets the policies that can make the biggest difference and uses our limited resources as wisely and efficiently as possible. It does not include everything that I would like to do for small business, but it includes enough to help stimulate this essential component of our economy. Moreover, the bill will help address the tax complexity concerns of small businesses because it includes the Single Point Tax Filing Act that has passed the Senate on two previous occasions and a new standard deduction that will benefit millions of small businesses.
Let me briefly explain the contents of my bill.
First, my bill increases the expensing limitation for small businesses. It raises it to $35,000, rising to $40,000 in 2008, and it increases the phase-out level, above which expensing is not allowed, to $350,000, rising to $400,000 in 2008. I know that others have proposed raising this limit as high as $75,000, but such an increase is simply unaffordable while we face huge budget deficits. Raising it to $35,000 now, rising to $40,000 in 2008, is a more responsible approach and will provide an immediate investment incentive to many small businesses.
Second, my bill creates a new standard deduction of $500 for sole proprietorships. This provision provides tax relief and real tax simplification to the smallest of small businesses because it would relieve these businesses of the paperwork burden of having to itemize the myriad of small expenses on IRS forms. Of course, businesses with expenses greater than $500 would retain the option of full itemization. But for the very smallest businesses, many of them home-based or part-time, this new provision will be a significant step towards tax simplification.
Third, the bill modifies and expands a provision that was signed into law in 1993 regarding new equity investments in small businesses' stock. Under my bill, new investments in companies with capitalization of up to $100 million at the time of investment will have a 75 percent capital gains exclusion if the investments are held at least four years. The exclusion for such investments will be 100 percent if they are made in a business involved in such critical technologies as transportation or homeland security, defense-related technologies, anti-terrorism, pollution control, energy efficiency, or waste management.
The 100-percent exclusion would also be allowed for investments in specialized small business investment companies, or SSBICs, whose investments are made solely in disadvantaged small businesses. Both the 75 and 100 percent exclusion levels would be available for investments made by both individuals and corporations. In addition, the rollover period for such investments would be increased from 60 days to 180 days. The provision passed in 1993 was crafted too narrowly to stimulate substantial new investment. I hope that this new, expanded capital gains treatment will prompt new investments in small and entrepreneurial businesses.
Fourth, my bill recognizes that the current depreciation schedules for high-tech equipment and software are out of date, given how quickly such items become obsolete in our fast-changing economy. My bill would reduce the recovery period for computers or peripheral equipment from five years to three, and for software from three years to two. This change would be permanent.
Fifth, my bill would fix a problem with the tax deductibility of health insurance expenses for the self-employed. Under current law, these expenses are fully deductible in 2003 for the first timebut the Internal Revenue Code denies the deduction to taxpayers who are eligible to participate in another plan, such as their spouse's employer's plan. My bill would clarify that the deduction is denied only if the taxpayer actually participates in the other plan.
Sixth, to simplify tax filing, my bill would include the Single Point Tax Filing Act. This section would simplify the tax filing process for employers that choose to participate by allowing the Internal Revenue Service and State agencies to combine, on one form, both State and Federal employment tax returns. This provision has been passed by the Senate twice before, but has not yet become law. There is currently a demonstration project along these lines in Montana, which is working very well. I believe such authority should extend to all States.
Seventh, my bill clarifies that married couples who co-own a business can elect to be sole proprietors for purposes of filing their Federal income taxes. This provision aligns the law with the way many married couples actually do business. Under present law, married couples who co-own a business technically own that business as a partnership for Federal income tax purposes. This treatment carries with it all the complications of the partnership provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, including having to file partnership returns. But in reality, many married couples in this situation consider themselves sole proprietors and are incorrectly filing tax returns as such.
While the IRS may not be strictly enforcing the law against these taxpayers, this technical non-compliance can cause trouble down the road. Upon divorce, for example, it may not be clear that the business had been jointly owned. This same ambiguity might complicate a spouse's ability to get the full Social Security and Medicare benefits to which they are entitled. My bill makes clear that for Federal income tax purposes, married couples who co-own a business can be treated as sole proprietors.
Eighth, my bill would extend the existing income averaging provisions to cover fishing as well as farming. In other words, the choice to average income from a farming trade or business under present law would be extended to cover income from the trade or business of fishing as well. Under my bill, a farmer or fisherman electing to average his or her income would owe the alternative minimum tax, AMT, only to the extent he or she would have owed AMT had averaging not been elected. This is an important change that will benefit not only people in my state, but also throughout New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico region, Alaska, and in other areas of the country where fishing is an important industry.
Finally, my bill would modify the tax treatment of investments in debenture small business investment companies, or SBICs, so they are less likely to create unrelated business taxable income, UBTI, liability. The current tax treatment of money borrowed from the government by a debenture SBIC creates taxable income for an otherwise tax-exempt investor, which makes it almost impossible to raise capital from these investors. Free to choose, tax-exempt investors opt to invest in venture capital funds that do not create any UBTI liability.
Therefore, my bill would assure that money borrowed from the government by an SBIC does not subject tax-exempt investors to UBTI. In so doing, the bill would encourage greater investment in SBICs, which provide critically needed venture capital to emerging small businesses. These venture capital funds are sorely needed in today's stalled economy.
I believe that 'The Affordable Small Business Stimulus and Stimulus Act of 2003' will provide a much-needed stimulus to small business in a way that we can afford, particularly if we can find offsets to pay for the bill. I look forward to working with the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Finance Committee to have some or all of its provisions enacted into law.