Taxing Tax Expenditures

29 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2010

See all articles by Martin J. McMahon, Jr.

Martin J. McMahon, Jr.

University of Florida - Levin College of Law


This essay, "Taxing Tax Expenditures?" is a chapter from a forthcoming book, The Proper Tax Base; Structural Fairness From and International and Comparative Perspective: Essays in Honor of Paul McDaniel, Yariv Brauner & Martin J. McMahon, Jr., Eds., (Kluwer Law International). After briefly recounting the historical development of tax expenditure analysis and its enshrinement in the budget process by The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, the essay explains the core values of tax expenditure analysis as articulated by Stanley Surrey and Paul McDaniel, in their classic 1985 book, Tax Expenditures. The essay explains the journey of tax expenditure analysis from "tax reform" to "spending reform," and in the course of doing so notes that other academicians have fully refuted all proffered criticisms of tax expenditure analysis. The core of the essay examines a proposition that flows naturally form the heart of tax expenditure analysis - if tax expenditures are the functional equivalent of direct spending subsidies, they should be taxed in the same manner that direct subsidies would be taxed under a Schantz-Haing-Simons normative income tax. After reaching the conclusion that taxing tax expenditures in this manner is administratively feasible, if at all, only with respect to credits, and possibly exclusions, but likely not with respect to deferral-based tax expenditure subsidies, the essay concludes by examining recent calls by leading academicians for extensive repeal of tax expenditures in the name of either tax reform or spending reform in order to bring under control both the budget deficit and the congressional procedures that have contributed to the enormous growth of the budget deficit in recent years. In the end, all of the income base broadening proposals build on the shoulders of the pioneers of tax expenditure analysis, Paul McDaniel and Stanley Surrey, and most, if not all of the failures of the income tax system as it exists today, derive from the failure of the political process to appreciate and apply the wisdom in their book, Tax Expenditures.

Keywords: tax policy, tax expenditures, federal budget reform, tax reform

JEL Classification: H20

Suggested Citation

McMahon, Jr., Martin James, Taxing Tax Expenditures. University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 2011-03, Available at SSRN: or

Martin James McMahon, Jr. (Contact Author)

University of Florida - Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0931 (Phone)
352-392-7647 (Fax)

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