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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tax Cuts for Short-Run Economic Stimulus: Recent Experiences with Rebates and Bonus Depreciation

Jane G. Gravelle
Senior Specialist in Economic Policy

Although the economy is recovering from the 2007-2009 recession, unemployment continues to be high and further stimulus may be considered in the 113th Congress. Recent legislation in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-240) averted part of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a set of tax increases and spending cuts that were scheduled to occur at the beginning of 2012. Shortly a decision must be made about continuing with sequestration, a set of automatic spending cuts that were delayed by two months by P.L. 112-240. In addition, while most changes were permanent, bonus depreciation was extended for only a year.

Stimulus (or avoiding contraction) could include individual tax cuts and business tax provisions. In recent years, several different types of short run fiscal stimulus measures have been enacted: an individual income tax rebate in 2001, a temporary investment incentive (bonus depreciation) in 2002, and dividend relief in 2003. The February 2008 stimulus included a rebate, bonus depreciation, and small business expensing. A stimulus adopted in February 2009 included a large component of spending, but also extended bonus depreciation and small business expensing. It also enacted an income tax credit that was spread over two years. In December of 2010, in addition to temporarily extending the expiring Bush tax cuts and unemployment compensation, a temporary one-year payroll tax credit was adopted. This payroll credit was extended through 2012, but was not extended by P.L. 112-240.

Two types of stimulus provisions have been subject to specific empirical study. They suggest that the 2001 and 2008 rebates were an effective stimulus but bonus depreciation had a limited effect. They also suggest that tax cuts directed to lower-income households are more likely to be effective in stimulating spending. Bonus depreciation was extended for another year by P.L. 112- 240, and a large share of other provisions affected high income taxpayers. Thus many of the tax increases averted by the legislation probably had small effects on the economy.

Date of Report: January 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RS22790
Price: $19.95

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