Project Pages

Tax Abatement Disclosures

Project Description: The objective of this project would be to consider developing disclosure guidance for governments that have granted tax abatements. For purposes of this project, tax abatements are a reduction of or exemption from taxes, offered by a government to a specific taxpayer, typically for the purpose of spurring economic development. The project would not consider guidance for programs that reduce the tax liabilities of broad classes of taxpayers, such as senior citizen or veterans, and which are not the product of individual agreements with each taxpayer. The project also would not consider issues related to recognition.

Status: Added to Current Agenda: December 2013

Tax Abatement Disclosures—Project Plan


Background
: Tax abatement programs are highly prevalent in the U.S.—governmental entities in 44 states currently have them. 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) However, they identified just six states with statutes addressing reporting requirements. 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 of stand-alone tax abatements that have been authorized.

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 on a five-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). 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, 3, 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
Current Developments: At its May 2014 meeting, Board began deliberations regarding the types of information about tax abatements that governments should be required to disclose in the notes to their financial statements. The Board considered four potential disclosures:
  • 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 the duration disclosure would take the form of the remaining years on the agreement(s).

The discussion of potential disclosure requirements continued at the July 2014 meeting. The Board tentatively decided to propose disclosure of other commitments made by governments as part of tax abatement agreements, 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 also 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.

Regarding the number of tax abatement agreements (level of detail), 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 also 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—should adhere to three general disclosure principles tentative agreed to at the July meeting.

The Board tentatively decided to propose that the reporting government should 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 tentatively decided to propose that the tax abatement disclosures should 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.

At its August 2014 meeting, the Board discussed transition, effective date, and overall cost-benefit considerations. The Board also reviewed a first draft of the standards section of an Exposure Draft and illustrations.

Work Plan:

Board Meetings Topics to be Considered
September 2014: Review preballot draft of Exposure Draft.
October 2014 (T/C):  Review ballot draft and issue Exposure Draft.
November 2014-January 2015: Comment period.
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, 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 of Meetings, March 3-5, 2014

The Board received and discussed the results of staff research on the key issues of the Tax Abatement Disclosures project. Preliminary research findings were presented covering the following areas: nature and extent of tax abatements; commitments made in tax abatement agreements; user needs; and the availability of information. No formal deliberations took place at this meeting.

TAX ABATEMENT DISCLOSURES—TENTATIVE BOARD DECISIONS


These tentative decisions have been made since the inclusion of the project as a part of the current technical agenda. The Board tentatively agreed to the following:
  • The Board tentatively agreed on the following definition of a tax abatement for the purposes of this project, subject to futher revision as deliberations continue:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Board tentatively agreed to propose the following disclosures regarding tax abatements
    • The amount of taxes abated in the current year by major program for the reporting government’s own tax abatement agreements and in the aggregate for tax abatement agreements of other governments
    • Other commitments made by the reporting government as part of a tax abatement agreement:
      • Commitments made by recipients
    • Descriptions of provisions that allow for the recapture of abated taxes
    • The following general purpose descriptive information:
      • Name and purpose of the program(s), and the taxes being abated
      • The authority under which tax abatements are granted
      • The manner in which the taxes are abated, including how the amount of abatement is determined and how the taxes are reduced
      • The criteria, if any, that makes a recipient eligible
      • The number of abatements granted during the reporting period
      • The total number of abatements in effect as of the date of the financial statements.
  • The Board tentatively agreed upon the following general principles regarding the level of detail of disclosures:
    • For all tax abatement agreements, a reporting government would disclose tax abatement information disaggregated between its own tax abatement agreements and those of other governments.
    • Governments would be permitted to disclose information about tax abatement agreements individually or in the aggregate.
  • The Board tentatively agreed on the following transition guidance:
    • The disclosure requirements would be applied to the current period and all prior periods presented.
    • If applications for all prior periods presented is not practical, the reason for not applying the standards to prior periods presented would be explained.
  • The Board tentatively agreed that the proposed standards would be effective for periods beginning after December 15, 2015, and would encourage earlier implementation.
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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.