WASHINGTON - The massive new tax bill signed into law by President Obama is filled with holiday stocking-stuffers for businesses: tax breaks for producing TV shows, grants for putting up windmills, rum subsidies for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
There's even a tax break for people who buy racehorses.
Millions of homeowners, however, might feel as if they got a lump of coal. Those who don't itemize their deductions will lose a tax break for paying their local property taxes.
The business tax breaks are part of sweeping legislation that extends Bush-era tax cuts for families at every income level through 2012. Obama signed the $858 billion measure a week ago. It also provides a new payroll tax cut for wage earners and extends jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed.
Most of the business tax breaks - about 50 in all - are part of a package that expires each year, creating uncertainty for tax planners but lots of business for lobbyists. Many of these tax breaks have been around for years but expired at the end of 2009 because lawmakers couldn't agree on how to pay for them.
The new law extends most of them through 2011, and some through 2012. They will be paid for with borrowed money.
Included are a generous tax break for banks and insurance companies that invest overseas, a tax credit for railroad track maintenance, and increased deductions for businesses that donate books and computers to public schools and libraries.
Many of the breaks are designed to encourage economic activity. But passing them each year at the last minute, or skipping a year and passing them retroactively, isn't terribly efficient, said Clint Stretch, a tax expert at Deloitte Tax L.L.P.
"It gives it a lot of dignity to call it a 'system,' " Stretch said.
Among the provisions in the new law is one that allows profitable companies to write off large capital expenditures immediately rather than over time, giving some companies huge tax shelters.
The break, known as bonus depreciation, benefits automakers, utilities, heavy-equipment makers, air-freight companies, and wireless companies, said Anne Mathias, director of research for the Washington Research Group, which provides research to institutional and corporate investors. It will save companies nearly $21 billion over the next decade.
The tax break is also available to people who buy racehorses and farmers who buy cattle for breeding or dairy, according to a depreciation list produced by the IRS.
Other provisions include:
An exemption that allows banks, insurance companies, and other financial firms to shield foreign profits from being taxed by the U.S. through 2011. Cost: $9.2 billion.
A tax credit for research and development, benefiting a wide range of industries including pharmaceutical and high-tech companies. The law extends the credit through 2011, at a cost of $13.3 billion.
Increased tax rebates to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands from a tax on rum imported into the United States. The U.S. imposes a $13.50 per proof-gallon tax on imported rum, and sends most of the proceeds to the two territories. Previously, the rebate was $10.50 a gallon; the new law extends a more generous one of $13.25 a gallon through 2011. Cost: $262 million.