Project Pages

Tax Abatement Disclosures

Project Description: The objective of this project is to determine whatdisclosure guidance for governments that have granted tax abatements, if any, is essential to financial statement users. For purposes of this project, tax abatements are a reduction of or exemption from taxes, offered under an agreement between a government and a specific taxpayer, typically for the purpose of spurring economic development. The project will not consider guidance for programs that reduce the tax liabilities of broad classes of taxpayers or are not the product of individual agreements with each taxpayer. The project also will not consider issues related to recognition.

Status:
Added to Current Agenda: December 2013
Exposure Draft approved in October 2014

Tax Abatement Disclosures—Project Plan

Background: Tax abatement programs are highly prevalent in the U.S. The results of external research conducted under a Gil Crain Memorial Research Grant from the GASB suggest that tax abatements are an issue of concern among citizen groups, county board members, and municipal bond analysts, and that each group desires to receive information about the level of abatement activity and the results of the abatement programs. However, the researchers found relatively few states (six) with statutes requiring any level of external reporting after tax abatements are granted. These findings indicate that there is an important information need that is largely unmet.

These academics found that 44 states have statutes regarding programs in line with the definition of a stand-alone property tax abatement program. (This is consistent with a 2007 study that concluded governments in 42 states are allowed by their states to offer tax abatements.1) Fourteen states addressed accountability for abatement programs in their statutes by including provisions for benefit recovery (clawbacks) in instances of nonperformance by the recipient of the abatement. It may be possible that more states require reporting or impose consequences for nonperformance in policies and procedures outside their statutes.

Constituents have periodically raised the possibility of a pronouncement requiring governments to disclose additional information about tax abatements. At present, generally accepted accounting principles do not require state and local governments to disclose information related to tax abatements.

In September 2013 the project staff conducted interviews and received feedback from 78 individuals responsible for keeping records on tax abatements within governments that had been identified as authorizing stand-alone tax abatements. This research indicates that governments generally do keep records on the type of information identified by users as being necessary for their decision-making and assessment of a government’s accountability.

User needs. The survey of users was conducted by the academics awarded the Gil Crain grant was administered to staff and members of citizen groups, municipal bond analysts, and county board members.

One portion of the survey offered statements about tax abatement programs drawn from the literature and asked respondents to rate their agreement or disagreement with the statement. The statements specifically relevant to financial reporting were:

  1. Governments should report annually on tax abatement agreements outstanding.
  2. Legislators (for example, county commissioners or county board members) involved in granting tax abatements should receive timely reports comparing expected performance to actual performance.
  3. Citizens and other interested parties should have access to annual reports comparing expected performance to actual performance for all tax abatement agreements outstanding.
  4. Information about taxes recovered through recapture provisions should be reported to legislators who grant tax abatements.
  5. Information about taxes recovered through recapture provisions should be accessible to citizens and other interested parties on an annual basis.
Overall, the level of agreement in each of the three groups of users was very high on all five of these statements. Citizen group members and staff particularly agreed with statements a, b, and c. The highest level of agreement among county board members was with statement b. Municipal bond analysts most strongly agreed with a, c, and d.

Bond analysts were asked to rate how often they consider five issues related to tax abatements when analyzing municipal securities on a five-point scale:
  1. Revenues forgone through property tax abatements
  2. Expected and actual outcomes related to existing property tax abatements
  3. Taxes recovered through recapture provisions when abatements recipients fail to meet conditions in the tax abatement agreements
  4. The degree to which a government uses property tax abatements to attract new businesses or to retain and expand existing businesses
  5. The degree to which a government uses tax incentives to encourage economic development.
Four of the five factors–1, 2, 4, and 5– linked to tax abatements were identified by bond analyst respondents as being considered somewhat regularly.

The surveys of all three user groups asked them to rank the importance of seven items that could be reported by governments about tax abatements they have granted:
  1. Name of recipient
  2. Date abatement was granted
  3. Amount of tax abatement in the current year
  4. Length of tax abatement and projected abatement amounts in future years
  5. Commitments made by the government (e.g., infrastructure improvements)
  6. Contractual promises made by the recipient (if any)
  7. Recipient's compliance with contractual promises.
All three groups rated the importance of items iii–vii highly. Citizen respondents rated i and ii highly as well, and county board member respondents rated those items nearly as high. Citizen respondents rated items iv–vii particularly highly. Those items also were the most highly rated among county board member respondents. The highest-ranked items among bond analyst respondents were iii and iv.

Accounting and Financial Reporting Issues: The project will consider the following issues:
  1. What information about tax abatements, if any, should be disclosed in the notes?
  2. What tax abatement information do governments currently have available?
  3. What costs, if any, might a government incur to collect information about tax abatements?
Project History:
  • Pre-agenda research approved: April 2012
  • Added to current technical agenda: December 2013
  • Task force established? No
  • Deliberations began: April 2014
  • Exposure Draft approved: October 2014
  • Comment period: October 2014- January 2015
Current Developments: At its October Teleconference meeting, the Board approved the issuance of the Exposure Draft, Tax Abatement Disclosures, with a comment period ending January 30, 2015.

Work Plan:

Board Meetings Topics to be Considered
March-June 2015: Redeliberate issues based on respondent feedback.
July 2015: Review preballot draft of final Statement.
August 2015: (T/C): Review ballot draft and issue final Statement.


Tax Abatement Disclosures—Recent Minutes


Minutes of Meetings, March 10-12, 2015

The Board reviewed stakeholder comments on the Exposure Draft, Tax Abatement Disclosures. The Board’s redeliberations began with consideration of general comments made by respondents to the Exposure Draft in favor of or opposed to the proposed Statement. The Board then discussed issues raised by respondents about the scope and applicability of the proposed standards and the proposed definition of a tax abatement.

The Board tentatively decided that the scope of the standards should not be revised to include disclosure of information about the benefits or results of tax abatement programs. The Board also tentatively decided that the scope of the standard should not be expanded to include subsidies to businesses in general. In addition, the Board tentatively decided that the scope of the standards should not be expanded to include all tax expenditures.

The Board considered respondent comments regarding particular types of tax expenditure programs, including tax increment financing arrangements, tax diversions, payments in lieu of taxes, and as-of-right programs. The Board tentatively decided not to amend the definition of a tax abatement to specifically include or exclude any particular type of tax-reduction arrangement. Instead, the Board tentatively decided to add a sentence after the definition of a tax abatement to emphasize that the substance of a transaction is a key factor in determining if it is a tax abatement for financial reporting purposes, regardless of its title or form.

The Board did, however, tentatively decide to amend the definition of a tax abatement to ensure that tax diversion transactions that meet the definition of a tax abatement would be included in the scope of the standard. Additionally, the Board tentatively decided to retain the requirement that a tax abatement agreement precede recipient performance.

Finally, the Board tentatively agreed to make clarifying edits to the scope and applicability paragraph and the definition of a tax abatement in response to respondent comments.

Minutes of Teleconference, October 20, 2014

The Board reviewed the ballot draft of the Exposure Draft and agreed to changes that enhanced the clarity of the document. The Board then unanimously approved the issuance of the Exposure Draft for comment.

Minutes of Meetings, September 30- October 1, 2014

The Board reviewed a preballot draft of an Exposure Draft, Tax Abatement Disclosures, and provided feedback on revisions to the document. In addition, the Board unanimously agreed that all information that would be required by the proposed Statement qualifies as Group 1 information, as defined in the Financial Accounting Foundation’s GASB Scope of Authority: Consultation Process Policy. At its October teleconference, the Board will review and consider for approval a ballot draft of the Exposure Draft and vote on whether to issue it for public comment.

Minutes of Meetings, August 20-22, 2014

The Board discussed potential transition guidance for the proposed standards. The Board tentatively decided to propose that the proposed disclosure requirements be applied to note disclosures related to the current and all prior periods presented. The guidance also would include an exception for prior periods if disclosure of the required information for those periods is not practical. In such circumstances, a government would explain why it was not practical to apply the proposed Statement to those periods.

The Board tentatively decided that the proposed standards would be effective for periods beginning after December 15, 2015, and would encourage earlier implementation. Additionally, the Board tentatively decided that the comment period for the Exposure Draft of the proposed standards will be 90 days.

The Board then reviewed a draft of the standards section of an Exposure Draft and provided edits and comments.

The Board concluded by reviewing the expected costs and benefits of the proposed standards. The Board tentatively agreed that the benefits of the proposed disclosures would outweigh their perceived costs.

Minutes of Teleconference, July 28, 2014

The Board continued deliberations from its July meeting on what level of detail should apply to each tentatively proposed disclosure. The Board tentatively decided to propose that the following tax abatement disclosures—other commitments made by the reporting government, commitments made by recipients, information about provisions for recapturing abated taxes, and general descriptive information—adhere to three general disclosure principles:
  • The reporting government should disclose tax abatement information disaggregated between its own agreements and those of other governments.
  • Governments should be permitted to disclose information individually or in the aggregate.
  • The reporting government should present agreements by major program for its own abatements and in the aggregate for the abatements of other governments.
The Board tentatively decided to propose that the reporting government disclose the types of commitments it has made—other than to reduce taxes—as part of tax abatement agreements and describe the most significant individual commitments.

The Board tentatively decided to propose that governments disclose the types of commitments made by tax abatement recipients, by major program for a government’s own abatements. The Board tentatively decided not to propose this disclosure for the tax abatement agreements of other governments.

The Board next deliberated whether tax abatement disclosures should be recurring or nonrecurring. The Board tentatively decided to propose that the tax abatement disclosures be included as recurring notes to the financial statements as long as the agreements remain in effect, with one exception: The disclosure of other commitments made by a government would cease after the government has fulfilled its commitment.

Minutes of Meetings, July 9-10, 2014

The Board continued deliberations on what information to propose be disclosed about tax abatement agreements.

The Board discussed the following potential disclosures:
  • Other commitments made by governments as part of tax abatement agreements
  • Commitments made by recipients
  • Recipient compliance with their commitments
  • Provisions for recapturing abated taxes
  • General descriptive information.
The Board tentatively decided to propose disclosure of other commitments made by governments, commitments made by recipients, provisions that allow for recapture, and general descriptive information. The general descriptive information tentatively would include:
  • Name and purpose of the program(s), and the taxes being abated
  • The authority under which tax abatements are granted
  • The criteria, if any, that make a recipient eligible to receive a tax abatement
  • The manner in which the taxes are abated, including how the amount of abatement is determined and how the taxes are reduced
  • The number of abatements granted during the reporting period and the total number of abatements in effect as of the date of the financial statements.
The Board tentatively decided not to propose disclosure of recipient compliance with their commitments.

The Board next deliberated the level of detail at which governments should disclose information about their tax abatements. The Board tentatively decided that the reporting government should disclose tax abatement information disaggregated between its own agreements and those of other governments. The Board tentatively decided to propose that governments be given the option to disclose information individually or in the aggregate. Further, the Board tentatively decided that a reporting government should present agreements by major program for its own abatements and in the aggregate for the abatements of other governments.

The Board began discussion on how the number of tax abatement agreements (level of detail) would affect the Board’s tentative decisions to date. In considering this perspective, the Board tentatively decided to propose that the amount of taxes abated in the current year be disclosed by major program for the reporting government’s own tax abatement agreements and in the aggregate for tax abatement agreements of other governments.. The Board also tentatively decided a disclosure of the years remaining on a tax abatement would no longer be proposed due to concerns about the practicality of disclosing the information and its usefulness when aggregated.

The Board will continue its discussion of how the level of detail should apply to each tentatively proposed disclosure at its July teleconference.

Minutes of Meetings, May 28-29, 2014

The Board continued deliberations on the Tax Abatement Disclosures project, concentrating on what information will tentatively be disclosed about tax abatement agreements. These tentative decisions on disclosures were made based solely on their essentiality to financial statement users and consistency with the objectives of financial reporting but without consideration of level of detail or aggregation. General disclosure principles on level of detail and aggregation, and specific provisions for tentatively agreed-upon disclosure proposals, will be discussed at a later meeting.

The Board discussed the following potential disclosures for tax abatements:
  • The name of the recipient
  • The amount of abatements in the current year
  • The amount of abatements remaining in future years
  • The duration of abatements.
The Board tentatively decided not to propose disclosure of the name of the recipient or the amount of abatements remaining in future years. The Board tentatively decided to propose requiring disclosure of the amount of taxes abated in the current year and the duration of abatements. The Board tentatively agreed that duration disclosure would take the form of the remaining years on the agreement(s).

Minutes of Meetings, April 8-10, 2014

The Board began deliberations on the Tax Abatement Disclosures project, focusing on defining the scope of transactions that will be covered by this project and creating a tentative definition of the term tax abatement.

The Board discussed whether to include the following components in the definition of a tax abatement: (a) the mechanism for reducing taxes, (b) the purpose of the tax abatement, (c) the breadth and applicability of abatement programs, (d) the existence of an agreement, and (e) the type of revenue being abated.

The Board tentatively agreed to include the purpose of the tax abatement, the existence of an agreement, and the type of revenue being abated in the tentative definition of a tax abatement. The mechanism for reducing taxes and the breadth and applicability of abatement programs were tentatively excluded from the definition.

Based on these tentative decisions, the Board tentatively agreed to propose the following definition for a tax abatement, for the purposes of this project, subject to further revision after subsequent deliberations:

For financial reporting purposes, a tax abatement is a reduction in taxes that results from an agreement between one or more governmental entities and an individual taxpayer in which (a) one or more governmental entities forgo tax revenues that the taxpayer otherwise would have been obligated to pay and (b) the taxpayer promises to take a specific action that contributes to economic development or otherwise benefits the government(s) or its citizens.

Further, the Board tentatively agreed that the scope of possible standards that it will consider for tax abatement disclosures should be limited to transactions that meet the proposed definition of a tax abatement.

Minutes Archive


TAX ABATEMENT DISCLOSURES—TENTATIVE BOARD DECISIONS


These tentative decisions have been made since the issuance of the Exposure Draft, Tax Abatement Disclosures, and in anticipation of a final Statement. The Board tentatively agreed on the following:
  • The definition of a tax abatement for financial reporting purposes, subject to further revisions : “For financial reporting purposes, a tax abatement is a reduction in taxes that results from an agreement between one or more governmental entities and an individual or entity in which (a) one or more governmental entities promise to forgo tax revenues to which they otherwise are entitled and (b) the individual or entity promises to take a specific action after the agreement has been entered into that contributes to economic development or otherwise benefits the governments or the citizens of those governments.”
  • A transaction's substance, but not its form or title, is a key factor in determining whether the transaction meets the definition of a tax abatement for the purposes of this Statement.
  • The scope of the tax abatement disclosures standard should be limited to transactions that meet the proposed definition of a tax abatement.




1Sands, Gary and Laura A. Reese. Public Act 198 Industrial Facilities Tax Abatements: Current Practices and Policy Recommendations. (East Lansing, MI: Land Policy Institute, Michigan State University, October 2007).
22007 Census of Governments, State and Local Government Finances, U.S. Bureau of the Census. Available at: http://www.census.gov/govs/www/estimate07.html.
3Wassmer, Robert W. “The Increasing Use of Property Tax Abatement as a Means of Promoting Sub-National Economic Activity in the United States” (December 12, 2007). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1088482.



1Wassmer, Robert W. “The Increasing Use of Property Tax Abatement as a Means of Promoting Sub-National Economic Activity in the United States” (December 12, 2007). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1088482.

2Sands, Gary and Laura A. Reese. Public Act 198 Industrial Facilities Tax Abatements: Current Practices and Policy Recommendations. (East Lansing, MI: Land Policy Institute, Michigan State University, October 2007).

32002 Census of Governments, State and Local Government Finances, U.S. Bureau of the Census. Available at: http://www.census.gov/govs/www/estimate02.html.

4Dalehite, Esteban G., John Mikesell, and Kurt C. Zorn. “Variation in Property Tax Abatement Programs Among States.” Economic Development Quarterly, 2005, pp. 157–173.