$70 Million For NASCAR Tracks And Other Surprising Pork In The Fiscal Cliff Bill

Unless you've been nursing a hangover so intense that it has kept you away from the news in recent days, you probably know that the U.S. House voted late yesterday to approve legislation that would avert the so-called "fiscal cliff." The bill was sent to President Obama today for his signature.

But did you know that the bill also has provisions on tax credits for electric motorcycles, incentives for diesel fuel, and a gift to race tracks and other "motorsports entertainment complexes?"

How you feel about the bill probably depends on your personal politics. It averts a wide range of tax hikes on most Americans, but increases tax rates for people making more than $450,000 per year — and it lacks the deep cuts in government spending that many GOP lawmakers wanted.

The 153-page American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 is also loaded with pork. Pork for breakfast, pork for lunch, and pork for dinner — and a surprising amount of it has to do with cars and transportation. But not all of these "riders," as they are called, are bad — as far as we gearheads are concerned, anyway — even if they do represent substantial losses in government income.

Here's how ABC News puts it: "Under the plan, the federal government would eat nearly $100 billion in forgone tax revenue over the next two years by extending special tax credits for select businesses that had been set to expire."

Here are some of the more interesting items I found:

  • Extension of a "seven-year cost recovery period for certain motorsports racing track facilities," tax write-offs which will reportedly benefit NASCAR tracks and other large circuits to the tune of $70 million;
  • Expansion of a green-energy tax credit for people who buy plug-in electric motorcycles and three-wheel vehicles for up to $2,500;
  • Extension of tax credits for the diesel and biodiesel industry. Naturally, they're stoked about it;
  • A tax credit extension for owners of an electric vehicle refueling station;
  • An extension of alternative fuels excise tax credits
  • As I said earlier, while no one is a fan of outrageous pork, I'm actually not opposed to some of these. Tax credits for electric vehicles are often a big reason people buy them, since they use new technology and the cost of entry is typically higher. When more people get onboard, that helps to jump-start a burgeoining industry.

    There's also a litany of non-automotive related riders, including benefits for asparagus farmers, rum producers, and Hollywood.

    Why did this happen? Because that's what always happens. This story from Reuters sums it up well: "Congressional lawmakers often insert pet projects and other unrelated provisions into major 'must do' bills in the last days of a legislative session, when it is more likely that quick passage will occur." If you want to get something passed, why not tack it on to something else that has to get passed?

    For these reasons and others, the bill drew the ire of many House Republicans, particularly those who were swept in during the anti-taxes, anti-spending Tea Party wave in 2010. Here's what the Washington Post reported:

    To a tea-party-influenced crop of House Republicans, the bill to resolve the "fiscal cliff" crisis was everything they had wanted to change about the way Washington worked. Too rushed. Too bloated. Too secretive. Too expensive.

    "There's lots and lots of pork in this bill," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of its most outspoken opponents.

    But at least one really good thing came out of this massive bill: it averted the "dairy cliff" by extending farm subsidy programs, which would have caused the retail price of milk to effectively double had they expired. It's not like we can put diesel fuel in our cereal, after all.

    What do you think of these provisions? And can you find some other examples of unusual pork in the bill?