House's bonus depreciation rules: What they mean for fruits

The Ways and Means Committee sent the House a bill that has a 'job-killing exclusion' that would hurt growers of blueberries, raspberries, and other fruits from bushes, writes Howard Gleckman. How did this happen?

Terry Dickson/Florida Times-Union/AP/File
Blueberries hang clustered for hand pickers at Blu-Witt Farm, a pick-your-own business north of Brunswick, Georgia. The Ways and Means Committee sent the House a bill could hurt growers of blueberries and other fruits from bushes.

When the Ways and Means Committee sent the House a measure to make permanent extra-generous tax subsidies for firms that purchase capital equipment, I noted in passing that the bill included a provision extending “bonus depreciation” rules to fruit and nut trees.

If I had read the bill more carefully, I would have noticed that while it applied to fruit that grows on trees and vines, it inexplicably excluded fruit that grows on bushes. As a blueberry lover, I am shocked and outraged.

This job-killing exclusion also extends to raspberries—both black and red. Cranberries are more complicated. They usually grow on a bush, but sometimes a vine. So eligibility for the special tax break may depend on the variety of cranberry we are talking about.

I suspect the bill has tax lawyers scrambling to find the broadest possible definition of tree. After all, there must be some bright-eyed legal associate out there who can make the case that a bush is nothing more than a short tree. Or a fat vine.

Kudos to Bloomberg BNA’s Marc Heller for describing this foolishness. Marc reports that the fruit and nut amendment was added by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), whose district includes growers of apricots, grapes, and almonds. But not, apparently, blueberries. Marc also noted that Michigan, the home state of Ways and Means chair Dave Camp, is a major producer of those blown-off blueberries.

This may prove that Camp, whose tax reform plan would scrap bonus depreciation entirely in return for lower tax rates, is no hypocrite. Alternatively, after announcing his retirement, he may simply have lost interest in adding home-state goodies to the tax law.

Nunes’ own views about depreciation may be a bit more nuanced than his berry-busting bill implies. When not helping his district’s growers harvest tax breaks, he backs his own broad-based reform plan–a business cash-flow tax that would allow all firms to fully expense all investment costs in the year property is acquired.

In such a system, of course, there would be no special rules for fruit trees. And no reason why a farmer would need to consult a tax lawyer before deciding whether to grow blueberries or apples.

This, of course, is the problem with the current code. It is filled with examples of government picking winners and losers, even to the point of providing economic advantage to one fruit over another.

In this case, at least, critics are literally correct to say that tax breaks grow on trees. And vines. But not bushes.

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