Some ideas in Washington never seem to die, no matter the lack of merits. One of these ideas is to eliminate (or, more commonly, to limit) the deduction for advertising expenses for businesses.
In our tax system, we tax profits. A profit is the difference between revenue generated and costs incurred. This is common sense. Companies can’t pay taxes on what they don’t have. A “cash flow” profits tax system is the ideal model, and one which tax policy should be moving toward (most notably by moving from depreciation to full expensing on business fixed investment).
Advertising is just one of many costs of doing business that firms are properly allowed to deduct. Other costs might include wages and other forms of compensation, travel, rent, etc. None of this is particularly exotic.
Yet there is a continued push to see advertising deductions curtailed in some strange and arbitrary way. The latest and most concerning iteration we’ve seen of this is from H.R. 1, the “Tax Reform Act of 2014.” It proposed “amortizing” (deducting over several years) advertising costs. This raised a whopping $169 billion in taxes over a decade.
This is simply bad tax policy. Why would a cost not be deducted the year it is incurred? Why not have similar treatments for wages paid, rents paid, or the costs of staples and paperclips? The reason is simple–those are current costs, and current costs are deducted against current revenues to arrive at taxable profits.
Neither the Office and Management and Budget (OMB) nor the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) consider the advertising deduction a loophole, or in their parlance a “tax expenditure.” Nor should they–it would be absurd to do so.
Congressional tax policy makers would be well advised to steer clear of such gimmicky tax policy as they struggle to construct pro-growth and pro-family tax reform.