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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Addresses FIRPTA Reform at House Ways and Means Hearing

  • March 6, 2020

 

Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee on the President’s FY 2021 budget, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was questioned this week on the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) and addressed potential steps he could take to encourage greater real estate investment from abroad.  (Watch 2:35 video of March 3 exchange with Mnuchin)

  • During the hearing’s Q&A with Secretary Mnuchin, committee member Kenny Marchant (R-TX) noted a recent letter that he and other GOP taxwriters sent to the Treasury Department urging a reevaluation of FIRPTA and related IRS guidance (Notice 2007-55).  
  • The congressional letter, led by Ways and Means Republican Devin Nunes (R-CA), encourages Treasury to withdraw section two of the IRS Notice, which effectively imposes U.S. capital gains tax on the liquidating distributions of domestically controlled real estate investment trusts (REITs).   Often, when a foreign investor is a minority partner in a U.S. real estate or infrastructure investment, the joint venture employs a domestically controlled REIT structure.
  • The 16 signatories of the February 20 letter wrote, “repealing the IRS Notice will restore the intent of Congress with respect to the tax law governing liquidations, provide parity to investors, and increase direct foreign investment in U.S. commercial real estate and infrastructure in every corner of the nation.”
  • During the hearing, Rep. Marchant called attention to the letter – and noted the IRS guidance applies FIRPTA to previously untaxed transactions involving domestically controlled REITs.  
  • Mnuchin responded that the Feb. 20 letter prompted a briefing at Treasury this week – and that he shares the concerns the letter  raises about FIRPTA.  "[I]t makes no sense that we discriminate against foreign investors," Mnuchin said.  “But in my mind, anything we can do legally to encourage those investments we will do.  So thank you for the letter.  We are reviewing it.  It is at the top of my list,” he added. (Watch 2:35 video of Marchant and Mnuchin)
  • During another Ways and Means tax hearing last month, Rep. Marchant said, “FIRPTA is an outdated, discriminatory law.  It applies to no asset class other than real estate and infrastructure ... Economic studies indicate repealing FIRPTA could drive $65 to $125 billion in new investment.”  (Watch video of Feb. 11 FIRPTA exchange).  Rep. Marchant is lead sponsor of the bipartisan Invest in America Act (H.R. 2210), a bill that would repeal the entire FIRPTA law. 
  • A similar letter was sent on December 18, 2019 to Secretary Mnuchin by a bipartisan group of 11 Senate Finance Committee Members led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) – a longtime lead sponsor of FIRPTA repeal bills.  Another bipartisan letter to Secretary Mnuchin urging repeal of the IRS Notice was signed by 32 Representatives of the House Ways and Means shortly before introduction of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). (Roundtable Weekly, Dec. 20, 2019)

Members of the Roundtable’s Tax Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) have met with Treasury officials on multiple occasions to discuss the harm caused by IRS Notice 2007-55.  Leading industry experts also convened on Oct. 30 at the National Press Club in Washington for an in-depth discussion the economic damage incurred by the IRS Notice.  An industry coalition is scheduled to meet with officials in Treasury's Office of Tax Policy next week to discuss the issue.

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