TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, October 9, 2017

ABA Tax Section Chair Explains Reduced Travel Support For Academics

ABA Tax Section (2017)Following up on my previous posts:

To:      ABA Taxation Section Teaching Taxation Committee members
From: Karen L. Hawkins, Chair, Taxation Section
Re:     Reimbursement for Academic leaders and speakers

As all of you are aware by now, during the business meeting of the Taxation Section Council, difficult financial decisions were made. These types of difficult belt-tightening decisions have had to be made over the past two years, and will continue to be required to reach, and maintain, a revenue neutral budget. If the Section is to maintain its stated commitments to provide services to its membership; tax assistance to vulnerable taxpayers; and leadership in support of a workable tax system, it is imperative that we continue to cut expenses while also seeking additional ways to increase income.

The Section has run a substantial deficit for the past several years, an unacceptable situation for the future. In FY '16- '17, under the leadership of immediate past Chair, William Caudill, the Section Council began the difficult process of scrutinizing every budget line-item for potential cost cutting. Significant progress has been made but the work is not complete. Your Council representatives have been involved every step of the way and have had every opportunity to express their positions on multiple occasions on every budget cutting decision.

Beginning in July 2016 a list of potential budget reduction items was discussed. One of those items was the Section's existing travel reimbursement policy. The Section currently spends more than $150,000 providing travel reimbursement to government speakers; academic speakers; other academics who are vice-chairs or chairs of committees, council directors, chairs or vice-chairs of council, and members of section administrative committees; Nolan and Public Service Fellows; LITC scholarship recipients; and the ABA Young Lawyers Division liaison. Council Directors, Officers and members of administrative committees who are not full-time academics receive NO travel reimbursement or meeting registration fee reduction (this has been the policy since 2012); nor does any other non-academic speaker. The policy was left as is for fiscal year '16- '17 but starting in July 2017, the policy was revisited, along with other expense items.

The Section's reimbursement policy was discussed at length during meetings in July and August, culminating at the Austin meeting in a nearly unanimous vote to revise the policy. The revisions have some impact on all the previously referenced reimbursement categories, both for consistency and for cost cutting. The decision was neither easy nor made lightly. Any suggestion that the decision was in any way a statement about the value or worth of academics to the Tax Section has no basis.

The Section values all its members equally whether they are in leadership; speakers; contributors to the mission of the Section; or attendees at a meeting. Some of our members are from small firms, or like me, are solo practitioners for whom attendance at a Section meeting is an economic challenge. Some of our younger members, even though employed by large or mid-size firms, are not subsidized for attending Section meetings. Nothing would please me more than to be able to provide some level of reimbursement to anyone contributing to the Section's mission. As many of you can observe from your own work situations, that is not feasible in today's environment. More importantly, it is not the path to fiscal stability for the Section. The decision made by Council in Austin places all academics on the same financial footing as all others in leadership or who are speakers, except our government speakers.

I have heard personally from two academics in Section leadership. They both present eloquent cases for why the decision on academic leadership reimbursement should be deferred until fiscal '18- '19. As a result, and with the concurrence of the immediate past chair, William Caudill, and Chair-elect, Eric Solomon, the Section will defer implementation of the revised travel reimbursement policy as it affects academic leadership until fiscal '18-'19.

However, the change in the travel reimbursement policy as it affects academic speakers is effective for the balance of fiscal '17-'18; that is, for San Diego in February 2018 and Washington DC in May 2018, there will be no airfare reimbursement for academic speakers (there is currently no hotel or per diem reimbursement for academic speakers). Reduced registration fees will continue to be available to all academics. The Nolan Fellows, Public Service Fellows and LITC scholarship attendees to meetings will have their registration fees waived. Government speakers' registration fees will continue to be waived.

In a perfect world, perhaps there is a more perfect solution. The reality for this leadership team is that there is more work to be done to balance the budget, and that requires continued vigilance by the leadership of the Section. I know many of you are unhappy about the travel reimbursement decisions, as am I, but it is necessary to take steps now which can ensure the Section's solvency into the future. I hope you are able to understand, if not appreciate, these efforts.

Cc: Section Council; all Committee Chairs
Karen L. Hawkins, Chair
ABA Section of Taxation

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