As Republican tax reformers are eliminating many write-offs, the current House version of a new tax bill currently includes the long-controversial deductions for golf course owners promising never to develop their land. While the "loophole" has come close to being closed, it's getting new attention with President Donald Trump's ownership of golf courses using the deduction in ways that contradict the spirit of the law.
Dan Wilchins and Prashant Gopal, reporting for Bloomberg, present a balanced picture, including the important counterpoint to arguments for eliminating the deduction and the relatively small amount of revenue that would be generated by closing the loophole.
In some cases, the tax benefit can make sense. There are communities where golf courses are some of the only open space available. Without the easements, an owner might be tempted to sell out to the highest bidder, which might develop housing on the space, said Sylvia Bates, director of standards and educational services at the Land Trust Alliance, a conservation group.
But in practice, the deductions that land owners take for golf courses are enormous compared with the conservation value, said Ruth Madrigal, a tax lawyer who worked on conservation easements for the U.S. Treasury department during the Obama administration. A developer can build homes and a nearby golf course, get a conservation easement on the links and claim a deduction that can pay for the entire development, she said.