Thursday, August 4, 2005
— Albert Einstein
So marvelous are the benefits that it almost makes a human being giddy. Congress passed an energy bill before its members hurried home to their well-earned rest. (By September 3, when they return, they will have vacationed for 90 days and worked for 153 days. And when a piece of legislation becomes law that provides each of us as many benefits as the Energy Bill does, all those days of vacation can be forgiven.)
Although the energy bill does lots of wonderful things for human beings, corporations were not overlooked. The difference between how humans are treated and how corporations are treated is that corporations get bigger and longer lasting benefits than do individuals. The final cost of the bill will be between $12.3 billion and $15 billion. Eight hundred million will go to those of us who are homeowners and another $874 million to those who buy alternate fuel vehicles over the next decade.
It is impossible to describe all the benefits corporations get in a space as short as this. Here are a few: A 30% business tax credit for the purchase of fuel cell power plants and a 10% credit for the purchase of stationary microturbine power plants; a 15 year write off for natural gas distribution lines (down from the former 20); ability to expense 50% of the cost of refinery equipment through 2012; significant financial aid for companies building nuclear power plants; (Taxpayers will, therefore, not only help pay for the new plants but pay again when they get their electric bills from those plants. ) The list of benefits for large corporations goes on and on and the reader would grow weary in a column such as this were I to continue the description. The important thing is that many of the benefits are not limited in size or duration. And that is what distinguishes them from the benefits conferred upon those of us not lucky enough to be corporations.
The best news for non-corporations is that we get things called “life time credits.” The worst thing is they are tiny and assume we’ll all be dead before 2008. The most significant benefit for the human being who is also a homeowner is a 30% tax credit for installing qualifying residential solar water heating, photovoltaic equipment and fuel cell property. Not believing in frivolity congress did not make the credit available for systems used to heat swimming pools and hot tubs. The maximum credit is $2000, which will probably not buy the best system on the market. The property must be placed in service after 2005 and before 2008. Otherwise the credit is lost. Other benefits for homeowners are less generous.
A taxpayer who makes qualifying energy saving improvements to an existing home may claim a lifetime credit of up to $500 for those improvements. Only $200 of that credit, however, may be applied to the cost of replacing windows. That means that Congress is willing to help pay for most of the cost of replacing all the windows in a house that only has one window. Since it’s a lifetime credit, after replacing the window, the taxpayer still has a $300 lifetime credit that can be applied to other useful energy savings programs around the house such as the installation of an advanced main air-circulating fan. That would generate a credit of $50. Qualified natural gas, propane, or oil furnaces or hot water boilers are entitled to a $150 credit.
The size of the benefits bestowed on human beings is not the only feature that distinguishes what human beings get from what corporations get. Whereas many of the benefits bestowed upon large corporations have no identifiable ending period, most of human beings’ lifetime credits must be used after 2005 and before 2008. Assuming congress does not intend for us to all die before 2008, the use of the word “lifetime” joins other words in the Washington vernacular that make no sense. Because of the time constraints imposed by the law, a taxpayer who plans on replacing a window at other taxpayers’ expense should wait until January 1 of next year to accomplish that and should make sure the window is placed in service by New Year’s Eve, 2007.
There is one area in which congress has deigned to give generous benefits to individuals. It has continued benefits bestowed on those buying alternate fuel vehicles including hybrids, electric cars and cars using alternative fuels. Those all last beyond 2007 but have varying cut off dates and amounts.
After reading this, some may wonder why most of the goodies flow to corporations. Here’s the answer. Corporations contribute more money to members of Congress than do individuals. It is only fair that they get greater rewards from the objects of their bounty. Life is fair. They do.