Saving Wall Street: Bailout bill gives tax break to NASCAR

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 2, 2008 

WASHINGTON — A tax break for NASCAR racetracks and other motor-sports facilities is among the "sweeteners" tucked inside a 450-page financial-services bailout bill to make the package more palatable to lawmakers.

The Senate-passed bill includes an array of so-called "tax extenders." One extends for two years a tax policy that had been allowed to expire in December that lets motor-sports facilities be treated the same as amusement parks and other entertainment complexes for tax purposes.

That allowed them to write off their capital investments over a seven-year period. The motor sports industry feared that without a specific legal clarification, motor sports facilities would be required to depreciate their capital over 15 years or longer because of a recent Internal Revenue Service inquiry into the matter. That would make repaved tracks and new concession stands more expensive in the short term.

It isn't a new tax break, rather the way tax law historically has been interpreted, said Lauri Wilks, the vice president of communications for Speedway Motorsports, which owns the NASCAR tracks in Fort Worth, Texas; Sonoma, Calif.; Concord, N.C.; and elsewhere.

"It gives us incentive to go ahead and invest in our facilities," she said.

Wilks said she couldn't put a price tag on the measure because track owners would pay the same amount, just over a longer period.

"Whether you pay all up front or depreciate them over time, the cash outlay is the same," she said.

A bill to extend the tax treatment had been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and co-sponsored by a number of North Carolina members including Reps. Robin Hayes, a Republican, and Melvin Watt, a Democrat.

Thompson and Hayes voted against the original bank bailout bill Monday, which didn't include the tax extenders added by the Senate and passed Wednesday. Neither has said how he'll vote when the House takes up the new bill.

In the Senate, the motor sports provision was sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Some watchdog groups oppose loading up the bill with unrelated items.

"Unfortunately, it took a legitimately historic piece of legislation that lawmakers on principle could vote for or against it, and they just loaded it up with business as usual, a huge tax package not related at all to the bailout, and crammed it over to the House," said Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group. "And it's going to be interesting to see whether this turns any votes or not."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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