The term subsidy was heard repeatedly during recent confirmation hearings for President Trump’s Energy secretary pick, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. It wasn’t Perry, of course, who bandied the word about, but Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Finance: Meet Trump’s new Labor pick | Consumer bureau gets new day in court | Senate confirms Trump budget chief Sanders introduces bill to boost Social Security Ellison needles Perez for ‘unverifiable’ claim of DNC support MORE (I-Vt.) and Al FrankenAl FrankenTax fairness critical to sustaining growth of energy sector Senate Dems move to nix Trump’s deportation order Democrats declare victory after Puzder bows out MORE (D-Minn.). According to that pair of lawmakers, Perry should do everything in his power in his future capacity as secretary of Energy to remove tax provisions taken advantage of by the energy sector.
Perry, as any nominee might, pledged to review all of DOE’s programs, to be a responsible steward of public dollars and ensure a level playing field for energy producers. It was a polite answer, given in the spirit of deference to the nomination process. Perry could have explained to Sanders and Franken that their assertions about so-called special breaks for the energy sector are dead wrong. Because they are.The truth is that what the senators, along with other interest groups, often refer to as subsidies for the energy sector are really nothing more than customary tax deductions taken by virtually all U.S. manufacturers. The same kinds of tax deductions for legitimate business expenses are taken by both mom-and-pop businesses nationwide and Fortune 500 companies. After all, the Internal Revenue Code allows deductions so that indiividuals and companies are taxed only on income earned net of the cost of generating that income. Such provisions are consistent with generally accepted accounting practices and commonplace worldwide.
Sure, a soundbite that refers to “billions of dollars in tax subsidies” for Big Energy might move the needle in an us-versus-them political atmosphere rampant with ideological hyperbole, but it does little to move the dialogue about America energy forward in an honest way. Franken even had the temerity to conflate wind and solar power incentives, tantamount to cash giveaways, with the deduction of legitimate business expenses by small, family-owned energy production companies. Certainly the senator knows better.
For his part, President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPentagon Papers whistleblower: Leaks ‘can make a difference’ Cummings: Not clear if Trump ‘knew what the CBC was’ Ana Navarro hits Kushner for complaining about CNN: ‘Oh, baby boy, I’m so sorry’ MORE has made clear that spurring American energy production and pursuing comprehensive tax reform will be major goals of his administration. House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: ‘We are exactly on track’ Overnight Finance: Meet Trump’s new Labor pick | Consumer bureau gets new day in court | Senate confirms Trump budget chief Koch-backed group stepping up advocacy against border tax MORE (R-Wis.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyTax fairness critical to sustaining growth of energy sector GOP leaders provide new details about ObamaCare repeal Planned Parenthood targets GOP lawmakers amid ObamaCare protests MORE (R-Texas), too, have announced a tax reform plan that lowers the corporate tax rate and allows businesses to take full and immediate deductions for capital investments. Like most sensible Americans, those two men know that our nation grows when it encourages investment and eliminates what Adam SmithAdam SmithTax fairness critical to sustaining growth of energy sector Dems press White House counsel on Flynn firing Dems ask Ryan to invite Australian leader to address Congress MORE called “all systems of preference or restraint.”
The U.S. economy grows, too, when we fully unleash the power of abundant, inexpensive, and domestically available energy. The oil and gas sectors are engines of job growth, but also harbingers of broader economic health. That’s why the president signed executive orders supporting the advancement of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines during his first week in office. He has no appetite, as his predecessor did, for trying to stifle one category of energy producers so others can thrive. Instead, he is moving quickly toward projects that generate jobs and catalyze investment.
Unfortunately, some members of Congress continue to call for the repeal of tax deductions for the energy sector, encouraging measures that would suppress capital investment and throw cold water on the energy boom. They apparently believe that by punishing traditional sources of energy, such as oil and gas, they bring their vision of a solar- and wind-powered America one step closer to reality. And they know that at least some portion of the listening public has been conditioned by years of rhetoric to believe that sources of energy that come out of the ground should be treated differently than others, preferably with disdain and suspicion.
As President Trump works alongside Congress to make our nation’s tax code fairer and more predictable, it’s important that all industry sectors are treated equally. That means allowing energy companies, both large and small, to take the same standard deductions that all other businesses do. Whether a commercial enterprise operates wind turbines in Iowa or extracts oil in North Dakota, access to the same tax provisions means a chance to compete on a level playing field. As the likely leader of our nation’s chief energy agency, Mr. Perry has an important opportunity to help ensure that that principle remains the law. He ought to seize it.
William F. Shughart II, research director of the Independent Institute (Oakland, CA), is J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.