By Steve Usdin
Contributing Editor

WASHINGTON - The search for revenue-conserving measures to balance planned tax cuts has prompted some members of Congress to seek more money from corporate taxpayers by mandating changes in the accounting for stock options.

Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) tout their legislation as a way to clip the wings of the high-flying corporate elite. But other members with less populist pretension are eyeing a $1 billion to $3 billion savings for the U.S. Treasury over five to 10 years, according to high tech, venture capital and stock exchange trade associations that are battling the proposal.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization has joined an informal coalition of trade associations of the electronics, software and venture capital industries to fight the legislation. The Levin-McCain bill, S. 576, would force companies to take a charge to earnings reported to shareholders when options were granted, or else lose the opportunity to deduct the value of the options from tax returns when the options finally are exercised.

Making a choice

In a nutshell, S. 576 requires companies to choose between reducing earnings per share figures in the near-term, or foregoing potentially large tax deductions in the future.