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January 3, 2013

From NASCAR to rum, the 10 weirdest parts of the 'fiscal cliff' bill

(Continued)

2. A rum tax for Puerto Rico

Another longstanding item-this one dates back to 1917. Congress currently levies an excise tax worth $13.50 per gallon on all rum produced in or imported to the United States. Most of that money is transferred to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, who use the revenue to support their rum industries. In 2009, this tax raised some $547 million. The cliff deal would extend the current arrangement another year. (By the way, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in the House, Pedro Pierluisi, thinks this tax set-up is too favorable to rum distillers.)

3. Cheaper office space for Goldman Sachs

Okay, it's certainly not called this. Section 328 of the bill extends tax-exempt financing for the "Liberty Zone," the area around the former World Trade Center, for another year. As Matt Stoller points out, this tax provision was supposed to help fund reconstruction after 9/11. Yet a recent Bloomberg investigation found the bonds have mostly helped finance new luxury apartments, not to mention the construction of Goldman Sachs' new headquarters. Developers say the bonds were necessary to revitalize downtown Manhattan, but there's a fierce debate over how they've been used.

4. Help NASCAR build racetracks

The so-called NASCAR loophole, in place since 2004, allows anyone who builds a racetrack to receive a small tax benefit through accelerated depreciation. This tax break cost roughly $43 million the past two years and will get extended for another year. Sounds tawdry, right? And yet, supporters claim the break is necessary so that NASCAR can compete on a level playing field with other theme parks. Looks like they got their wish.

5. Treat coal from Indian lands as an alternative energy source

The fiscal cliff deal has a bunch of provisions for clean energy-notably, it extends a key tax credit for wind power for one more year, thus preventing the U.S. wind industry from downsizing. (That credit will cost about $1.2 billion per year for 10 years.)

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