Pork in the Details

Craziest Tax Breaks in Fiscal-Cliff Bill: Asparagus Growers, NASCAR Owners, and More

A look at some of the oddest tax breaks in the American Taxpayer Relief Act, from rum subsidies to electric scooters.

Congress and the White House fought and stalled and fought some more over whether and how they would prevent the U.S. economy from tumbling over the so-called fiscal cliff, with several tax breaks set to expire and sweeping budget cuts scheduled to go into effect at the start of 2013. Unwilling to concede to one another’s demands, Senate Democrats and House Republicans waited until the absolutely last minute to finally compromise—striking a deal as the rest of the world rang in the new year. It was a real nail biter.

Still, although Congress hastily drafted and passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012—better known as the Bipartisan Tax Agreement—the bill itself is anything but short and sweet. At 157 pages long, the legislation is lighter than most. But it is still heavy—and wouldn’t be a product of Congress without containing some pork.

While all the provisions of the bipartisan deal are tax-related, there are a few unusual breaks, benefits, and cuts mixed in with the 2 percent tax hike for all working Americans and increased tax rate on dividends and capital gains taxes from 15 to 20 percent for married couples who earn more than $450,000 a year and individuals who make more than $400,000.

Let’s take a look at some of the most eye-catching, unusual, questionable, or just weird additions to the bill and just how much they’ll cost.

• $331 million over the next two years for a 50 percent tax credit on railroad track maintenance.

• $100 million over the next seven years in tax benefits for NASCAR racetrack owners.

• $430 million worth of tax write-offs for film and television production over the next two years. Movie studios will be able to take up to $15 million off their costs if more than three-quarters of production is done within the U.S., and up to $20 million if the movie is made in a low-income community.

• $7 million in tax breaks over the next three years for people who purchase two- or three-wheel electric scooters.

• $222 million to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—in particular to their rum distilleries—as the result of a temporary increase on a long-standing rum subsidy that dates back to 1917.

• $59 million in tax credits for algae-grown for fuel—just one of several benefits meant to promote the use of green energy and biodiesel.

• $15 million for asparagus growers, to help them compete with South American farmers importing the vegetable at a lower cost.