Taxing Times in Congress

Tax reform has long been a goal of many sessions of Congress. The difficulty of tax reform can be seen in the fact that we just marked the 30th anniversary of the last time Congress completed a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code.

However, the chances of seeing comprehensive tax reform increased dramatically after the election of President Donald Trump and the Republicans gaining control of both the White House and Capitol Hill.

There are several ways the fire and emergency service may be able to capitalize on this moment and achieve several longstanding goals.

Protecting Volunteer and Combination Fire Departments

Ever since 2010, the IAFC and other fire service and local government associations have been working hard to reauthorize the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA). VRIPA was an important provision in the tax code that allowed volunteer and combination fire departments to provide nominal recruit and retention incentives to their volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel.

Representatives Dave Reicher (R-Wash.) and John Larson (D-Conn.) introduced VRIPA in February, which would allow volunteers to receive property-tax-based incentives and up to $600 in other incentives without being considered taxable income. The IAFC anticipates an identical Senate version of VRIPA to be introduced soon.

Though much of the tax-reform conversations in Congress have centered on corporate tax rates, the IAFC has secured considerable bipartisan support for this measure, with nearly 70 cosponsors in the House and Senate last year. This bill is a great opportunity for IAFC members from volunteer and combination departments to contact their members of Congress and explain why it’s so important to have strong volunteer recruitment and retention programs.

The IAFC would love your help in reaching all 535 members of Congress and educating them on this important issues.

Incentivizing Fire-Sprinkler Installation

Following the devastating 2003 Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island, incentivizing the installation of fire sprinklers became an important issue for the fire and emergency service nationwide. The IAFC is continuing to call upon Congress to utilize the tax code to make fire-sprinkler retrofits more affordable for business owners.

Representative Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and James Langevin (D-R.I.) have reintroduced their Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act (FSIA). This important legislation will classify fire-sprinkler systems as Section 179 expenses, thus allowing owners of small- and medium-sized buildings to deduct the cost of a sprinkler system much like they would for any other business expense, such as a computer or phone. With a current annual cap of $500,000 in 2017, Section 179 could be a fantastic way for small business owners to invest in a sprinkler system to protect their employees, customers and businesses.

In addition to low- and medium-rise buildings, FSIA also would help owners of high-rise properties by accelerating the depreciation schedule for fire-sprinkler systems from the current 28 years to just 15 years. With the average commercial property being held for far less than 28 years, a depreciation schedule of just 15 years is much more likely to incentivize a building owner to install a sprinkler system.

The IAFC is hopeful that both these pieces of fire-sprinkler legislation will be included in whatever comprehensive tax reform proposal Congress creates. However, it’s crucial that IAFC members meet with their members of Congress and help make this issue come alive.

Advocating for the Fire and Emergency Service

Taxes can be a very complicated topic. Most members of Congress or their staff have deep experience with the tax code. While these members of Congress and staffers are often very knowledgeable about the impact of tax policies on businesses and consumers, the impact on local fire departments can be more obscure.

As the local fire chief, you can teach your elected officials and their staffs about how tax reform can be a tool to ensure fire trucks are fully staffed and buildings are fully protected. The IAFC’s government relations webpages have some great material, ranging from talking points to draft letters of support. Consider taking a few moments to email, call or meet with your member of Congress.

Making these issues come alive can be all it takes to turn your member of Congress into a burning advocate for the fire and emergency service.

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