Tech Execs Push for Tax Holiday, Spectrum Auction

Posted October 27, 2011 at 11:27am

In letter sent to lawmakers today, a group of 54 technology executives and trade organization leaders urged members of the super committee to include spectrum auctions and a repatriation tax holiday in a deal to reduce the deficit.

The plea, signed by executives from eBay, Cisco, T-Mobile USA, the Information Technology Industry Council and others, solidified the industry’s spot as the chief advocate for the two policies.

“The tech industry is America’s most important card to play,” said Rey Ramsey, the chief executive and president of TechNet, in a conference call with reporters. “We think that the super committee should seize an opportunity to not only cut dollars, but look at how we can spur growth in our economy and we believe the tech sector to be that engine.”

The trade organization has spent $120,000 to lobby Congress and the White House on both issues since July 1, according to federal records. The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction was tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in federal savings by Nov. 23 as part of the debt deal signed into law Aug. 2.

The 12-member panel has said almost nothing about what it is considering, but it seems increasingly likely that it will include voluntary spectrum auctions in its plan, which the Federal Communications Commission says could raise as much as $25 billion for the Treasury Department.

A bipartisan group of four super committee members told the Obama administration earlier this month that it wants to repurpose cable spectrum for use by the growing wireless industry, but said that auctions alone would not meet the country’s growing demand for spectrum.

“If anything gets out of the bipartisan committee and to the floor of the Congress, spectrum will be part of it,” said Gary Shapiro president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association. The group has spent $920,000 on lobbying activities since July 1, including payments to six outside firms such as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Dutko Grayling.

Shapiro criticized the broadcast industry for what he described as “passive aggressive” attempts to muddle the issue.

The National Association of Broadcasters, worried that auctions could drive television stations out of business, has argued that the spectrum shortage is a myth conjured by speculative wireless companies.

“NAB has consistently stated that we do not oppose incentive auctions permitting TV stations to be compensated to voluntarily go out of business,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “We are hopeful that these auctions remain truly voluntary, and that non-volunteer TV stations — and the millions of viewers that they serve with free and local programming — are held harmless.”

A repatriation tax holiday is also very much in the mix of super committee discussions.

Supporters, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that suspending the current 35 percent tax on repatriated profits could encourage multinational corporations to bring $1.4 trillion back to the American market allow them to create as many as 3 million jobs. The idea has attracted an unlikely set of cheerleaders including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). Other tea party leaders, liberal democrats and the White House, however, are wary of endorsing a policy that seems like another government handout to big business.

Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp — a member of the super committee — yesterday offered a proposal to drop the rate on overseas profits to 5 percent.