UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE TAX REFORM BILL sliding down the congressional home stretch has been affecting U. S. investment patterns for more than a year, experts and politicians say.
Tax shelter partnerships and commercial real estate spending started to dry up as soon as the direction of the legislation became evident. Administration figures blamed the uncertainty factor for bottling up capital investment throughout 1987.As the legislation lurched back and forth between several different versions and returned from the dead more than once, people rolled over their existing investments and took a wait and see approach to anything more major.
Now, with congressional staffers committing the final version to paper, there's been a little more activity in the private sector as people buy cars, computers and other big ticket items while the sales tax remains deductible. Unfortunately, the current confidence might be as firm as it ever gets. It may be true that the only sure things are death and taxes. But that doesn't specify which taxes. And all signs point to yet another redefinition of tax law in the not-too-distant future.
The newly overhauled tax system is a sitting duck for deficit reduction raiding, and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, already has urged that the bill's lower rates never go into effect. On the other side, business advocates suggest the capital
gains tax exclusion and the investment tax credit will be revived in less than three years' time, if the tax bill has as bad an effect on corporate investment in 1987 as some analysts believe.
Some people are talking about a shift toward consumption taxes and away
from income taxes.
A flat prediction - something that doesn't appear often in this column - is that there will be another major tax bill by 1988 at the latest. Wise investors should do what they have to in the near term but wait until they catch the legislative mood next year before jumping into any sort of long-term commitments.
Business people have long claimed that they would rather have stability in tax law than specific tax preferences. It looks as though they'll have
neither, at least for a while.