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Senate Finance Passes 17 Tax Bills

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The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday passed 17 “common-sense” tax-related bills that Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said have bipartisan support, including one dealing with investments in real estate investment trusts (REITs).

Included among the 17 bills were a measure to modify the alternative tax for certain small insurance companies as well as another bill allowing the Treasury Department to regulate enrolled agents, who represent taxpayers before the IRS, and to permit enrolled agents meeting the Treasury secretary’s qualifications to use the designation “enrolled agent,” “EA” or “E.A.”

“Today marks the third time in less than a year that the Finance Committee will debate bipartisan legislation improving the U.S. tax code,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member on the committee, in his opening statements at the markup. “That’s been a welcome change of pace. In fact, the committee had gone nearly two full years without a tax markup when it passed the EXPIRE Act last spring to extend a number of expiring tax provisions.”

While not “a comprehensive overhaul,” the bills make “a number of targeted improvements that will benefit our economy, workers and families,” Wyden said, adding that “some people may call this collection of bills low-hanging fruit, but they’re just plain wrong. When it comes to tax legislation, every decision and change has consequences.”

The legislation regarding REITs would increase the ownership stake that a foreign investor can take in a U.S. publicly traded REIT without triggering the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax (FIRPTA) liability and extend the provision to certain foreign collective investment vehicles. 

Specifically, the bill increases the FIRPTA exemption for “portfolio investors” in a U.S. publicly traded REIT from a 5% stake in the trust to a 10% stake for purposes of capital gains dividends and sales of REIT stock.

The proposal, crafted by committee members Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., represents a partial version of FIRPTA reform legislation the two senators introduced last Congress as S. 1181, the “Real Estate Investment and Jobs Act of 2013,” which had been co-sponsored by all of the returning Committee members, according to NAREIT’s FirstBrief newsletter.

The committee action “is an important step toward achieving the reform of FIRPTA that NAREIT, The Real Estate Roundtable and a coalition of other real estate organizations have been advocating for several years,” NAREIT said. Prior to Wednesday’s vote, NAREIT sent a letter to all Committee members encouraging their support for the proposal.

The portfolio investor provision, in addition to boosting the property tax exemption, “would conform the definition of ‘portfolio investor’ for FIRPTA purposes to the standard used in tax treaties and foreign investment in U.S. debt securities,” NAREIT says.


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