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The push to use federal money for benevolent purposes occasionally produces more cost than benefit, particularly when the outlay comes in the form of taxes forgiven. The Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008 added a supplement to the basic standard deduction. A nonitemizing taxpayer may claim a deduction for real property taxes paid, up to $500, $1,000 in the case of a joint return. Initially, the change applied only to 2008, but subsequent legislation extended its life through 2009, and pending legislation would make it a permanent part of the Code. Although well intentioned, the real property tax provision makes little sense as a matter of tax policy and Congress should allow it to expire as scheduled. Whether analyzed from the perspective of the standard deduction and its function within the Code or from that of the deduction for state and local taxes, the provision adds little utility but does contribute to complexity and incoherence.

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