ax-bill writers in the Senate are trying to curtail a notorious "business" write-off of tens of thousands of dollars on the cost of an oversized sports utility vehicle, a gilded loophole the affluent have been driving behemoth Hummers and Cadillacs and Lincolns through at taxpayers' expense.
It would probably astonish humbler motorists to know that the gas-guzzling roadrunners of excess that just blew past them on the Interstate are eased along the way by a law that was intended to help working farmers and other small-business owners afford light trucks. Under the tax law, this category was defined as vehicles weighing 6,000 pounds or more, and people who need such trucks for their work could write off all or part of the cost as a business expense. That provision worked well enough to distinguish such vehicles from luxury models until automakers began outdoing one another in evolving S.U.V. models upward and outward like football linemen. When S.U.V.'s reached that weight, the tax code started feeding the desire of some buyers to flaunt chrome-plated affluence.
S.U.V. dealers lost no time in seizing on this selling point, even including the tax write-off possibilities in ads as that ultraluxury extra. Buyers are lured by deductions of up to $100,000 of the cost if they are bold enough to claim full-time business use of an S.U.V.; a 50 percent business claim can net a $50,000 write-off. The maximum used to be $25,000 for small-business equipment, but it was raised to $100,000 as part of the Bush package of outsized tax-cut sweeteners for the well-off. Under a move afoot in the Senate Finance Committee, the maximum would be cut back to $25,000, which would cover a farm truck or construction-site vehicle. Proponents figure that this would reclaim $130 million a year in revenues that are now lost through subsidizing an outlet for highway hubris.