President Obama has plenty of big taxes in his budget proposal.
To achieve $1.8 trillion in new revenue, the president suggested a few of the policies he's raised while battling Republicans over the past four years: taxing higher incomes by capping itemized tax deductions, rolling back domestic-production credits for oil companies, instituting the "Buffett Rule" of a 30 percent minimum tax rate for people making over $1 million in a year, and taxing investment managers' "carried interest" profits as regular income top the list.
But the tax code is a jungle of odd rules, and the penny-pinching side of Obama's budget raises some new taxes (or closes some "loopholes") that might not readily occur to most taxpayers filling out run-of-the-mill 1040s this weekend.
As laid out this week by the Treasury Department in its "green book," a massive spiral-bound document that explains tax changes in the White House budget proposal - it is pale green, and 246 pages - here are some quirky maneuvers the president suggests to offset spending and keep the deficit just a bit lower:
1. A Tax on Flavored Vodka
President Obama wants to tax your Stoli Razberi.
Distilled spirits currently get a tax break if they include flavors, but the president's budget proposal does away with that. Spirits are taxed at $13.50 per proof-gallon (a gallon of 100-proof liquor), but if distillers add flavorings, they can roll back some of that tax: Up to 2.5 percent of the alcohol in those flavoring mixtures is exempt from the spirits tax.
It doesn't sound like much, but the Treasury claims this tax break gives an unfair advantage to flavored liquors, particularly foreign producers whose flavor quotients aren't restricted, as they are for U.S. producers. Heavily-flavored, foreign-made spirits can be sold cheaper, and consumers might be more likely to buy them than they otherwise would, Treasury argues.
The new rule would be good for Jack Daniel's, bad for Absolut Citron.
2. Golf Courses Are No Longer Tax Havens
In a creative tax maneuver, an Alabama land developer was able to deduct part of his golf course.
E.A. Drummond bought real estate on a Gulf Coast peninsula in the 1990s, created a business to build a golf course on it, and developed the land around the golf course. In 2002, he had the business place a conservation easement - a partial restriction of what can be done with a piece of land, for the purpose of conserving it or preserving "recreational amenities," golf among them as the tax code is written - donated that easement to a conservation land trust, and claimed the value of the easement as a charitable-giving tax deduction.
Under Obama's budget proposal, that couldn't be done.
In explaining the proposed change, Treasury protests that such moves have "raised concerns" that the deductions, often claimed by the developers of homes around golf courses, "are excessive," and that they mainly advance "the private interests of donors" not "bona fide conservation activities."
3. A Higher Tax on Cigarettes
President Obama smokes from time to time, but he proposes hiking the tax on cigarettes to pay for early-childhood education.
Cigarettes have been taxed at just under $1.01 per pack, to help pay for the 2009 expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). In his budget proposal, Obama suggests raising that to $1.95 per pack.
The administration's rationale is, essentially, that cigarettes are harmful.