The latest threat of a government shutdown eased this week after President Biden signed two continuing resolutions, funding some agencies until Jan. 19 and others until Feb. 2, giving Congress a chance to pass full-year appropriations bills in early 2024, and leaving the Biden administration’s $106 billion supplemental foreign aid request unresolved. (AP, Nov. 17 |Wall Street Journal | Washington Post | NBC News, Nov. 15)
Window Narrowing for Other Policy Priorities
Congress’ focus on the funding measures leave policymakers looking for a potential legislative vehicle that could support a separate, expensive tax package. Conversations among tax policy writers are ongoing, according to Ways and Means Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-MA). (BGov, Nov. 16)
Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) are discussing a package in the $90-100 billion range that would include measures on business interest deductibility and bonus depreciation, as well as an increase in the child tax credit for low-income families. (Roundtable Weekly, June 16)
On the regulatory front, Roundtable Senior Vice President Ryan McCormick was quoted this week in Tax Notes on the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) rules affecting clean energy credits—and the need to ensure incentives extend equitably to “mixed partnerships” that include both taxable and tax-exempt investors.
“Tax-exempt investors in mixed real estate partnerships include pension funds, educational endowments, private foundations, and public charities,” said McCormick, noting that these entities have invested over $900 billion in commercial real estate.
The Tax Notes article also addressed problems posed by IRA prevailing wage and apprenticeship rules that were the focus of an Oct. 30 Roundtable comment letter. The letter quantified the large compliance costs and recommended allowing contractors to self-certify their compliance with the wage and apprenticeship requirements. (Roundtable Weekly, Nov. 3)
The Roundtable’s Tax and Sustainability Policy Advisory Committees will remain engaged with policymakers as the IRA rules affecting CRE are finalized and implemented. These issues will be discussed during The Roundtable’s State of the Industry Meeting on January 23-24, 2024 in Washington.
The Real Estate Roundtable submitted comments this week encouraging the Treasury Department to provide a compliance “safe harbor” to streamline labor-related requirements necessary to seek “bonus” tax incentives for clean energy building projects under the Inflation Reduction Act(IRA). (Roundtable comment letter, Oct. 30)
Prevailing Wage and Apprenticeship Compliance Burdens
The Roundtable letter notes that the IRA’s objective to support retrofits and slash carbon emissions in the built environment will be undermined if the costs of labor compliance far exceed the incentives offered by Congress.
The comments explain that wage and apprenticeship compliance burdens would dis-incentivize businesses and taxpayers’ to pursue the IRA’s clean energy bonuses, thereby rendering the bonus credits program illusory in many cases.
The letter also emphasizes that a regulatory solution to ease the IRA’s paperwork burdens would spur more clean energy projects in buildings—and encourages Treasury/IRS to conduct its own thorough cost-benefit accounting of Prevailing Wage/Registered Apprenticeship (PW/RA) Requirements before issuing a final rule.
Contractor Compliance Certifications Sought
The “safe harbor” recommendation by The Roundtable would allow building owners/developers to rely on written certifications provided by their General Contractors (GCs), or any other subcontractors (subs), would confirm and fulfill all PW/RA labor requirements.
This streamlined approach would reduce the compliance burden and retain the fervor that IRA tax incentives could generate under the IRA. Real estate owners and developers are not the direct employers of electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, solar technicians, EV charging installers, or any others that construct or retrofit buildings. GCs and subs directly employ manual laborers.
The Roundtable also recommends regulators develop “Recordkeeping Requirements” for PW/RA compliance that reflect the reality of how laborers, mechanics, and apprentices are employed on real estate projects, who is hired by whom, and how hours worked are tracked.
Other targeted tax reforms that will help scale real estate’s transformation toward zero emissions are recommended in The Roundtable letter. These include expanding Section 48 of the Code to building electrification technologies; allowing private owner transfers to unrelated third parties under Sections 45L and 179D; and repealing a Section 179D rule that reduces a property’s basis by the amount of the claimed deduction. (Roundtable comment letter, Oct. 30)
This week, the Supreme Court announced it will hear oral arguments on Dec. 5 in a case—Moore v. United States—challenging the federal government’s right to tax unrealized gains. (PoliticoPro, Oct. 12)
The question raised by the petitioners in Moore, and granted certiorari by the Supreme Court in June, is whether the 16th Amendment authorizes Congress to tax unrealized sums without apportionment among the states.
Specifically, the case involves a Washington state couple with an interest in an India-based corporation who are challenging a 2017 mandatory repatriation tax on foreign earnings as an unconstitutional levy on unrealized gains.
Outside legal and tax commentary and analysis have suggested the case could have far-reaching consequences for both the existing tax code and pending legislative proposals, depending on how the decision is drafted.
A recent report from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center report estimates that a ruling in favor of the petitioners could result in tax revenue losses exceeding $100 billion annually. Estimates of revenue losses from the Tax Foundation range as low as $3.5 billion and as high as $5.7 trillion in the unlikely event the Supreme Court were to strike down taxes on all undistributed business earnings, whether earned domestically or from foreign sources.
A Supreme Court decision in favor of the petitioners could also undercut President Biden’s proposal to tax the unrealized real estate and other gains of wealthy taxpayers. The President and influential lawmakers such as Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) have proposed new mark-to-market taxes on assets based on annual changes in asset values rather than specific realization events. (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 19, 2019)
The Real Estate Roundtable has consistently opposed the proposals to tax unrealized gains since they first emerged in 2019 (Sen. Wyden, Treat Wealth Like Wages, 2019).
On Oct. 3, in a letter to House Ways and Means Ranking Democrat Richie Neal (D-MA), the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) provided an analysis of how a ruling for the petitioners in Moore could impact the tax code.
JCT informed Rep. Neal that partnership taxes, taxation of shareholders of S corporations, and taxes on mark-to-market valuations also could be implicated in the outcome. The income of real estate mortgage investment conduits, or REMICs, also may be affected, according to JCT’s memo.
Alternatively, notes JCT, the Court could rule that the mandatory repatriation tax is a tax on realized income, in which case it could “leave unanswered the question of whether the Constitution imposes a realization requirement.” (JCT memo, p. 2)
The possibility of an end-of-year tax package faces an uncertain path and timeline as House GOP policymakers consider new leadership in the wake of this week’s historic vote to remove Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Speaker. Another layer of unpredictability is government funding, which is scheduled to expire Nov. 17 following last week’s passage of a continuing resolution to avert a partial government shutdown.
In June, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a proposed tax legislative package along party lines that includes measures on business interest deductibility and bonus depreciation. The bill stalled due to differences in the GOP caucus over a boost in the $10,000 deduction cap on state and local taxes (SALT). (Roundtable Weekly, June 16)
Prospects for the Ways and Means tax package, other expired provisions such as the expanded child tax credit, and pending real estate-related tax proposals may depend on whether Congressional leaders are able and willing to expand the scope of negotiations over a bill to fund the government. (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 29)
On Oct. 17, The Roundtable’s Fall Roundtable Meeting will feature a discussion on Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) incentives impacting CRE. (See Roundtable Clean Energy Tax Incentives Fact Sheet, July 31)
Also last week, Treasury provided new information on the process for taxpayers to apply for bonus tax credits for solar and other renewable investments made in low-income communities or in low-income housing developments. (See The Roundtable’s chart, “Base” and “Bonus Rate” Amounts Relevant to Commercial and Multifamily Buildings, May 25).
Bipartisan legislation introduced this week by a group of House policymakers would update and amend the Opportunity Zones (OZs) program. The Roundtable-supported bill (H.R. 5761), if enacted, would extend the tax deferral date for OZ investments from the end of 2026 to the end of 2028, expand transparency and reporting requirements, and authorize investment structures that permit an Opportunity Fund to own and operate multiple real estate assets. (House OZ bill text)
Reps. Mike Kelly (R-PA), above, —chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tax—along with Dan Kildee (D-MI), Carol Miller (R-WV), and Terri Sewell (D-AL) introduced the bill on Sept. 27. The bill is similar to legislation (H.R. 7467 and S. 4065) introduced in the last Congress. (Rep. Kelly news release, Sept. 29)
Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer welcomed the Opportunity Zones Improvement, Transparency, and Extension Act. “Opportunity Zones have delivered on their promise to create new economic opportunities in low-income communities. Real estate developments spurred by the Opportunity Zone tax incentives are expanding the supply of affordable housing and creating vibrant commercial centers where small businesses can reside, jobs can grow, and the local tax base can expand.”
“Unfortunately, certain OZ incentives have already expired. The new legislation would strengthen the program’s integrity and ensure Opportunity Zone investment continues into the future. Congress should act quickly to enact these measures,” said DeBoer.
2023 OZ Reforms
The OZ program, created in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, designated low-income census tracts where qualifying investments are eligible for reduced capital gains taxes, channeling investment into areas prioritized by states and local communities.
This week’s legislation includes a 2-year extension of the initial capital gains deferral period for prior gain that is rolled into an opportunity fund by an investor. (Legislative text for H.R. 5761 | Roundtable comment letters: Dec. 21, 2021 and May 14, 2020)
The 2-year extension from the end of 2026 until the end of 2028 will allow OZ investors to benefit from a partial step-up in basis that reduces their tax liability on their prior gain if their opportunity fund investment is maintained for at least five years.
Additionally, the bill would facilitate fund-of-fund investment structures that allow opportunity funds to own and operate efficiently more than one asset. Similar to traditional real estate funds, the structure would allow an opportunity fund to sell a property and reinvest the proceeds in another qualifying Opportunity Zone investment without triggering a taxable event for the fund’s underlying investors, provided the investors themselves have not disposed of their interest.
Other provisions would establish robust OZ reporting requirements, mandate Treasury to produce certain studies and reports on the OZ program, sunset high-income OZs, and create a new $1 billion fund for states to support business activities in OZs
Prospects for the 2023 bill are uncertain, but the legislation is a likely candidate for consideration if, and when, House and Senate Leaders sit down to negotiate an end-of-year tax package that focuses on expired provisions—such as the expanded child tax credit, the expensing of R&D costs, and bonus depreciation.
Funding for the government will expire Sept. 30 if Congress cannot muster a short-term stopgap patch to keep federal agencies open and avoid a partial government shutdown. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) faces strong opposition from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to strike a deal with the Biden administration, which has submitted an additional $44 billion request for disaster relief, border security, and Ukraine. (CQ, Sept. 5 and AP, Aug. 21)
Flood Response Funding
An uncertain funding landscape dominates the prospects for legislative developments for the remainder of the year. If policymakers manage to pass a short-term “continuing resolution,” it could require a follow-on “omnibus” budget package for 2024 that may serve as the only must-pass vehicle to move other policy changes through Congress.
As the hurricane season picks up momentum, one government program affecting commercial real estate that is subject to the Sept. 30 funding deadline is The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Congress has enacted 25 short-term NFIP reauthorizations since 2017.
A new flood rating methodology (Risk Rating 2.0) in 2021 established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has attracted additional disagreement among policymakers after it was reported that resulting rate hikes could cause the loss of coverage for hundreds of thousands of policyholders. (Associated Press, July 22)
The Roundtable is a long-standing supporter of a long-term reauthorization of the NFIP with appropriate reforms that create long-term stability for policyholders, improved accuracy of flood maps, mitigation reforms, enhanced affordability, and the acceptance of non-NFIP policies for commercial properties. (Roundtable Weekly, June 30)
Tax and Other Policy
House Republican leaders hope to break an impasse in the GOP caucus over a tax relief package passed by the Ways and Means Committee that includes measures affecting commercial real estate. Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO), above, spoke about his efforts to advance the tax measure during The Roundtable’s recent Annual Meeting. (Roundtable Weekly, June 16 and June 9)
The committee bill has not reached the House floor for a vote due to opposition by members from high-tax states who want the package to include relief from the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions (SALT), enacted in the GOP’s 2017 tax law. (Washington Post, July 24 and Roll Call).
The tax package would extend expired business interest deductibility rules and 100% immediate expensing (bonus depreciation) for qualifying capital investments. Bonus depreciation is 80% in 2023 and gradually phasing down.
Two other tax issues with bipartisan support that may be folded into a negotiated end-of-year tax package are the expansion of The Roundtable-supported low-income housing tax credit and technical corrections to SECURE 2.0, a package of retirement provisions. (Tax Notes, Sept. 5)
Hearings & Climate Disclosure Rule
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler will testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Sept. 12, followed by an expected appearance before the House Financial Services Committee on Sept. 27. (PoliticoPro, Aug. 28)
Committee members are likely to question Gensler about a highly anticipated climate disclosure rule and SEC proposals impacting advisory client assets and cybersecurity risk management. (Thomson Reuters, Aug. 22, “SEC Plans to Finalize 30 Proposed Rules in Near Term”)
The Biden administration issued two new rules this week impacting real estate construction and investments in clean energy projects.
Davis-Bacon: The U.S. Labor Department on Tuesday issued a final rule to overhaul Davis-Bacon standards that determine prevailing wages for workers on construction projects covered by a federal contract or financially assisted by federal grants, loans, guarantees or insurance.
Construction association AGC issued a statement expressing “preliminary” concerns that “this rulemaking critically missed an opportunity” to inject “more accurate data” in processes to establish prevailing wage rates in local markets across the nation.
Laborers and mechanics constructing transportation, energy, water, toxic site clean-ups, and other infrastructure financially supported by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) must meet the new Davis-Bacon requirements. (IIJA project map)
Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)projects receiving clean energy tax incentives are not required to meet Davis-Bacon rules, but they can qualify for increased credits and deductions if workers are paid prevailing wages. (RER’s IRA fact sheets)
“Bonus” Tax Credits: The Treasury Department and IRS on Thursday released final rules explaining how IRA “bonus credits” can be awarded to solar, wind, and associated storage projects in low-income communities. (The Hill, August 10)
Qualifying projects in census tracts eligible for new market tax credits (NMTCs) can receive a 10% solar credit boost, while those supported by low-income housing tax credits or Section 8 rental assistance can receive a 20% solar credit increase. (RER’s IRA “bonus rate” chart)
The “bonus” incentives – over “base” rate tax credit amounts – are competitive. Bonuses will be awarded through an application process run by the U.S. Department of Energy scheduled to open this fall.
The Roundtable submitted comments in June when the IRS proposed the “bonus credit” program. (Roundtable Weekly, June 30). It will update its summary of IRA-related agency guidance following analysis of the newly issued rule.
House Ways and Means Committee Members Darin LaHood (R-IL) and Carol Miller (R-WV) recently called on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to withdraw a proposed IRS rule that would expand the reach of the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) of 1980. The policymakers’ request followed a letter by The Real Estate Roundtable and 14 other real estate trade organizations that urged congressional tax-writing committees to oppose the FIRPTA proposal. (Letter to Yellen, July 28 and Industry coalition letter, March 1)
Retroactive Rewrite for REITs
Under current law, shareholders of domestically controlled REITs are not subject to FIRPTA, a statutory regime that subjects foreign investors to capital gains tax on their U.S. property investments.
The proposed IRS Look-Through Rule would no longer treat a taxpaying U.S. C corporation that has ownership shares in a REIT as a U.S. person—if more than 25% of the owners of the C corporation are foreign. If enacted, the new rule would trigger FIRPTA capital gains, retroactively, on REITS and investment structures used for decades when planning real estate and infrastructure investments.
Congressional CRE Concerns
Reps. LaHood and Miller asked Treasury and the IRS to reverse course and withdraw the proposed regulation, stating in their letter, “The proposed regulation’s retroactivity is severely burdensome and is already having a chilling effect on foreign investment, which has been a vital contributor to the economic health of the U.S. commercial real esate market. If Treasury decides to move forward with this proposal, it is imperative that the retroactivity provisions are removed.”
The letter also noted the proposed change would limit access to capital at a time when the CRE market is showing signs of destablization. The House taxwriters added, “We fear this proposal could worsen the commercial real estate outlook and harm the many Americans who rely on these crucial investments in their communities.”
Additionally, The Roundtable, Nareit, American Investment Council, Managed Funds Association, and ICSC submitted comments to Treasury in February in opposition to the proposed look-through rule. The organizations wrote that the regulation would “reverse decades of well-settled tax law, severely misconstrue the statute, and contradict Congressional intent.” (Letter to Treasury, Feb. 27)
The Real Estate Roundtable submitted comments today on proposed and temporary tax regulations regarding the transferability and direct payment of clean energy credits under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022. (Roundtable comments, July 28)
Congress passed the IRA last August. The law significantly increases the size of existing tax incentives for energy-saving improvements to commercial real estate. Perhaps even more importantly, the legislation contained key reforms related to the transferability and direct payment of energy tax credits.
The reforms have made the incentives relevant to a large and previously untapped segment of real estate owners, including REITs, pension funds, and private foundations. The incentives include:
Tax-exempt real estate owners that invest in solar panels and other improvements can elect to receive direct payments from the Treasury in lieu of the expanded investment tax credit.
Taxable real estate owners, including REITs, can sell the credits to third parties for cash.
The credit amount can range from 6% to 60% of the qualifying investment, depending on factors such as the size, location, domestic content, and wages paid to equipment contractors.
Roundtable comments submitted last year included recommendations on the IRA’s transferability provisions. On June 14, the Treasury Department and IRS issued proposed regulations to implement the provisions, as well as temporary regulations establishing a pre-filing registration process.
The IRS rules adopted certainRoundtable recommendations, such as the ability to divide and sell the credits from a single project to multiple transferees. Other recommendations, which would have maximized the value of the credits in mixed real estate partnerships involving taxable and tax-exempt partners, were rejected as contrary to the statute and difficult to administer.
Energy Credits Monetization
Today’s letter from Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer commends Treasury for providing greater clarity on its credit monetization mechanism and for laying out a rational process and timeline for property owners to claim and transfer credits or receive payments.
The Roundtable’s July 28 letter—developed by a joint working group of the Roundtable’s Tax and Sustainability Policy Advisory Committees (TPAC and SPAC)—also encourages Treasury to revisit the issue of mixed partnerships and asks for clarification that the credits are not “bad assets” for purposes of the 75% REIT asset test.
The credit monetization tools enacted in the IRA offer valuable new opportunities to access and raise capital for energy-saving improvements to commercial real estate. The deadline for comments to Treasury and the IRS is August 14, and final Treasury regulations are expected this year.
The Roundtable’s Energy Credit Transferability Working Group will remain engaged with policymakers as the rules are finalized and implementation continues.
Legislation introduced this week by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, above, would repeal tax rules applicable to foreign governments and their investment arms (“sovereign wealth funds”) if that government has more than $100 billion invested globally and does not qualify for an exception. (Wyden’s news release and one-page summary, July 26)
Citing specific concerns related to the recent merger between the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund, Chairman Wyden’s expansive bill—the Ending Tax Breaks for Massive Sovereign Wealth Funds Act—would deny application of the tax code’s long-standing section 892, which exempts certain passive income earned by foreign governments from U.S. income taxation.
Countries that have a free trade agreement or tax treaty with the United States could continue to qualify for section 892, provided they are not listed as a “foreign country of concern”by the U.S. State Department. According to Chairman Wyden, the legislation would apply to China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Russia. (PoliticoPro, July 26)
Foreign Investment & CRE
Some of the listed countries are large investors in U.S. commercial real estate and represent a key source of capital for job-creating U.S. real estate investment.
“Section 892 is nearly as old as the tax code itself, and the tax principle it represents—sovereign immunity for foreign governments—is older than the tax code. Disrupting and rewriting these rules on a whim because of a single transaction is risky and unwarranted. The consequences for U.S. real estate, jobs, and the economy could be severe,” said Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer, above.
“The United States is able to attract foreign capital for jobs and productive real estate investment because foreign investors have confidence in our rule of law. They believe the USA is a safe place to invest,” continued DeBoer. “When leading lawmakers threaten to overturn 100-year-old tax policies because of a single, unpopular transaction, it raises legitimate concerns. Congress should tread carefully in this area and fully understand the potential implications of its action.”
CBRE’s Global Head of Capital Markets Christopher Ludeman stated, “Sovereign wealth funds are among the largest and most important investors in global real estate, especially in the U.S. where, by conservative estimates, they have invested over $25 billion since 2021. At a time when capital flows into real estate are scarce, transaction volume is down by 53% in the first half of 2023 compared to the first half of 2022. In this environment, SWFs are an important source of capital, investing close to $9.7 billion this year alone. This is the wrong time to put any new restrictions on capital flows into real estate, which this bill would do.”
The section 892 tax exemption for foreign governmentsdoes not extend to commercial activities or active ownership of U.S. real estate. Income from an interest in a U.S. real property-holding corporation that a foreign sovereign does not control is generally exempt from U.S. tax as income from an investment in a U.S. security—consistent with the general rule that section 892 is limited to passive investments.
Over the years, Treasury guidance and IRS rulings have further defined the scope of the provision and its interaction with other tax provisions, such as section 897 and the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA).
The Wyden bill includes grandfathering rules that would apply to certain investments through 2025. The rules would cover capital deployed or committed prior to enactment and investments in publicly traded companies, provided the investment is less than 10 percent. Any grandfathering benefits would expire beginning in 2026. (Wyden’s one-page summary of the bill, July 26)