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Good tax policy means achieving certainty

Certainty.

It’s one of those words that comes up whenever business leaders contemplate tax policy.

Sure, everybody would love to pay less — and receive more services. But once talk moves on from that pipe dream, the word that comes up is certainty.

Elected officials in Washington and Carson City hear the word whenever they talk with the business community. Yet they just don’t seem to understand it.

Certainty is at the heart of the broad disdain that greeted Congress’ recent decision to extend 54 tax breaks that had expired at the end of 2013. By passing the extension in December, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, Congress gave business the worst of both worlds.

Take the Section 179 change that gave small and midsized businesses a tax break on the purchase of equipment up to $500,000. That would have been great, if the decision had come in time to get the equipment installed in time to actually qualify for the tax break. The only way to have realized the tax advantage would have been to gamble that Congress would approve the change before the end of the year.

Gambling and certainty are at opposite ends of the spectrum for most business planners, even here in Sin City.

As if to add insult to injury, Congress let those same 54 tax breaks expire again Dec. 31, 2014, leaving business planners to wonder anew what rules might apply in 2015. That’s again the opposite of certainty.

Closer to home, the discussion of long overdue tax reform in the Silver State will involve the word certainty. Businesses will gladly eschew the annual lobbying adventures, defending themselves against this or that threat to their pet tax break, if everybody agrees to step back from trying to paint themselves as the industry most deserving favor.

One possible solution — accepting the certainty of a modified business tax instead of the uncertainty of various levies that are continually up for review — seems to have gained some traction.

Naturally, the devil is in the detail. All it will take is one industry trying to cut itself an advantage and the fragile coalition could shatter.

We’re rooting for Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Metro Chamber and the other adult voices in the room to get tax reform right this time. It’s important to the future of all of us — from the next generation of leaders being shaped in our schools to the next major employer weighing whether to move to Nevada.

We appreciate the hurdles will be many and the negotiations likely will last until the closing hours of the session.

That’s just the way these things work. It’s a certainty.

Norman Bell

Editor

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