WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell said yesterday he wants Congress to extend the low-income housing tax credit beyond its Dec. 31 expiration date and will work to make sure that happens.
In a separate development on Capitol Hill yesterday, a top Treasury official told Congress his agency opposes a provision in the pending tax simplification bill that could cause financial problems for state and local governments because it would shift a due date for income tax payments. But he said the Treasury supports another provision troubling to the municipal market, which would require large investment partnerships to treat as taxable the tax-exempt interest they earn.
Sen. Mitchell, D-Maine, who was speaking to reporters, did not comment on whether he expects Congress to extend about a dozen other expiring tax provisions. Those provisions, which also expire Dec. 31, include tax exemptions for mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds.
But bond proponents said any push by Sen. Mitchell to keep the low-income credit alive would bode well for the other expiring provisions. If lawmakers extend one expiring provision, they more than likely will continue the entire group, rather than pick and choose among them, they said.
"I hope we will be able to extend" the housing credit, Sen. Mitchell said as the Senate began its first day back after a five-week recess. The House is scheduled to return today.
Though he did not say whether he wanted the other tax breaks to be continued, Sen. Mitchell did say he has "heard much concern" from other senators about the fact that the provisions are about to expire.
Sen. Mitchell's remarks "confirm what we have always felt, that there is a strong feeling in his mind and in the minds of other senators that the credit and other expiring provisions like mortgage bonds are must-do legislation," said John C. Murphy, the executive director of the Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies.
So far this year, tax lawmakers have given no sign that they plan to draft a tax bill, which usually is the vehicle for extending the expiring provisions. In fact, though he told reporters he wants to see the housing credit extended, Sen. Mitchell did not mention tax legislation in a speech to the Senate later that day outlining the items he expects that body to take up this fall before Congress adjourns for the year.
Also yesterday, Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Kenneth W. Gideon told a Senate subcommittee his agency does not support a tax proposal that has raised concerns among state and local officials. The proposal, included in tax simplication legislation, would shift to July 15 from June 15 one of the due dates for individuals to make estimated income tax payments. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-III., and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Tex.
State and local officials have said the provision could create financial problems in 1992 for any state or locality that has a July-June fiscal year and that conforms its tax system to the federal government's. Shifting the date would move that payment into fiscal 1993 for those jurisdictions, causing them to lose revenues they had been counting on in 1992.
The Treasury also has concerns about the provision, though for different reasons, Mr. Gideon told the Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on Taxation. The provision would result in a revenue loss for the federal government in 1992, because the Treasury would be receiving the second estimated tax payment a month later than normal. That would cause it to forego interest income and possibly force it to borrow more than it had planned.
At the same time, Mr. Gideon said the Treasury supports another simplification provision that has worried some municipal market participants.
The provision would simplify tax reporting for large partnerships by eliminating many of the tax-related items those partnerships must calculate and provide to partners for tax-preparation purposes. The items marked for elimination include tax-exempt interest, which would be treated as taxable.
Some in the municipal market have said they are concerned the provision could cause financial hardship for some investment banking firms because they are set up as partnerships and hold large amounts of tax-exempt bonds.
Mr. Gideon, however, said the provision "reflects the judgment that, apart from large partnerships organized for the purpose of holding state and local bonds, most large partnerships hold relatively small or no investments in those bonds."
But another witness at the sub-committee hearing disagreed with that assessment. "A number of partnerships, for a variety of reasons connected with their business purpose, hold some portion of their assets in tax-exempt obligations," said William Morris, general counsel to the Investment Program Association. "There is no reason to deny pass-through treatment for such income."