Senate budget bill would boost energy credits, trim tax increases

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee’s tax package would generate about $60 billion less revenue to pay for the rest of Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar social safety net and climate bill, according to a preliminary Joint Committee on Taxation estimate.

Among the changes Senate Democrats added were exemptions for employer pension plans and nonprofits from a new minimum tax intended for the largest corporations, and expansions of clean energy credits to benefit hydropower projects, hydrogen fuel production, energy-efficient home electrical upgrades and more.

The panel left out, for now, House-passed changes to state and local tax deductions that would generate nearly $15 billion over a decade. Combined, the edits left the tax cuts and increases in the bill tallying $886 billion in net revenue to offset other spending, shy of the House version’s $946 billion.

With Sen. Joe Manchin III pushing spending lower than the House-passed $2.2 trillion figure, that’s likely still more than enough to pay for the bill and even trim offsets further — if Democrats can agree on a version the West Virginia centrist will back.

Pensions, nonprofits benefit

The biggest new corporate tax in the bill, which would create a 15% minimum levy on corporations based on income reported on financial statements, would generate $297.5 billion over a decade in the Senate version, the JCT found.
That’s $21.3 billion less than the House-passed version of the tax thanks to the defined benefit pension plans exemption that business groups lobbied for and new text that would avoid taxing large nonprofit organizations’ income.

The tax applies to corporations with income of more than $1 billion on average over three years, or $100 million for U.S. corporations with foreign parent companies. Some larger nonprofits have been concerned the tax could hit them, according to sources familiar with the issue.

Some of the biggest charities, health systems, universities and other nonprofits take in hundreds of millions of dollars, or even over $1 billion, in net income annually. The new language from senators would only count income from a trade or business unrelated to a nonprofit’s mission when determining whether they qualify for the tax and how much they might pay, essentially preserving these organizations’ tax-exempt status.

Hydrogen, hydropower credits

Meanwhile, the Senate version would make some additions to clean energy incentives included in the House bill, a major component of the overall package and a priority of Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, who wrote a bill on which the provisions are partly based. The cost of the tax breaks climbed $13.1 billion from the House version to almost $325 billion, according to the JCT.

The cost of tax credits for renewable electricity generation and investment climbed by more than $3 billion in part because of expansions for hydropower projects. The majority of U.S. hydropower generation comes from California and Pacific Northwest states, according to the Energy Information Administration, including Wyden’s home state of Oregon and Finance panel member Maria Cantwell‘s constituents in Washington state.

The Finance Committee version would expand production tax credits for hydroelectric power generation and add pressurized water distribution systems such as pipelines to the list of eligible power sources. It would also make “hydropower environmental improvement property” eligible for investment tax credits, including hydroelectric dams and projects intended to “add or improve safe and effective fish passage,” such as fish ladders that let migrating fish get around dams and other river obstructions.

Senators also proposed a broader bonus tax credit for putting renewable energy facilities and equipment in communities that have lost fossil fuel jobs.

The House-passed bill sweetened the breaks for projects built in areas where coal mines or coal-fired power plants shuttered. The Senate version would also offer the bonus credit for projects built in areas where at least 5% of jobs are in the oil and gas sector or at a brownfield site, where hazardous substances or other pollutants could complicate construction. But it would strip the bonus if construction is in a forested area.

Separately, a $3 billion boost went to incentives for producing hydrogen fuel, a clean power source that emits only water and can be made from various sources including natural gas or coal and counts Manchin as a key supporter. An addition in the Senate version would allow facilities turned into hydrogen production plants from 2022 on to qualify for the tax breaks for new sites.

And the price tag for a break for making homes more energy efficient would go up by $4.4 billion under new language to allow a 30% tax credit for residential energy efficiency projects to be used for upgrading or buying electrical panelboards and circuits that power appliances.

Such upgrades could mean moving to smart systems designed to conserve energy, a growing market that includes companies like circuit breaker manufacturer Eaton Corp., which reported lobbying lawmakers on the bill’s clean energy incentives.

Dublin, Ireland-based Eaton “inverted,” or relocated its headquarters overseas, from Cleveland after acquiring Cooper Industries PLC, an Irish firm, in 2012. It still has substantial domestic operations, however, and maintains its U.S. headquarters in Cleveland.

Offshore wind, solar trackers

Senate Democrats would also sweeten a new tax credit for advanced manufacturing by about $1 billion over the House version. Broadly speaking, credits for firms that manufacture wind or solar power-related components wouldn’t begin to phase out until after 2028, two years later than the House version.

Senators also inserted a specific 10% credit to defray costs associated with buying vessels that service offshore wind facilities, which was part of separate legislation authored by senators from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Georgia and Maryland. They include Finance members Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

And there are credit set-asides for makers of solar components like tracker systems, which orient panels toward the sun, and inverters, which convert direct electricity into power that can be used by the electrical grid.

Chief backers of the separate solar component credits include Georgia Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who each won narrow runoffs in January. Warnock, who won a special election for a partial term, is considered among his party’s most vulnerable incumbents in next year’s midterms. Dalton, Ga., is host to the biggest solar manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere, according to Ossoff’s office.

More edits ahead

Other changes are likely to emerge in the bargaining over the next iteration of the expansive budget bill if Democrats hope to win Manchin’s approval. For example, they may have to trim bonus electric vehicle credits that would benefit carmakers that employ unionized labor, a boon for Detroit-based General Motors Co. but not for firms like Tokyo-based Toyota Motor Corp. that want to expand their EV-related manufacturing in states such as West Virginia.

It’s still unclear what will happen with the House’s “SALT” cap changes, which would net revenue over 10 years but offer a big benefit to wealthier households during the next several years.

Since the current $10,000 cap would otherwise expire after 2025, the House’s move to lift it to $80,000 and then extend that higher limit would end up bringing in $15 billion more than existing law over a decade. But Menendez is still battling with Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other critics over the scope of any SALT break.

Excluding the uncertain SALT cap changes, Senate Democrats are working with $32 billion less in tax increases than in the House-passed bill, but Manchin’s $1.75 trillion spending limit would mean they’d still have more than enough offsets to make the bill fully paid-for.

Manchin’s criticism has recently focused on the bill’s spending, though Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has already nixed several tax increases. Lawmakers might also lose somewhere around $100 billion if they delay tax increases set for tax year 2022 into 2023 to avoid retroactive hikes.

Aside from the corporate minimum tax exemptions, Senate changes that would lose revenue include the Finance panel’s moves to drop an $8.6 billion tax on nicotine and vaping products and a $55 million rule change blocking private prison companies from real estate investment trust status.

A tweak to a provision limiting what multinational companies can deduct in interest expenses would give more flexibility in how businesses can calculate that limit, losing about $4.4 billion in revenue. Partly offsetting that are other moves targeted at multinationals, including a $1.8 billion tax increase aimed at making it harder for companies to do what Eaton and others did in previous years — relocate their headquarters overseas to trim their U.S. tax bills.

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