Paul L. Caron

Friday, April 8, 2011

CSM: Why 'Taxes' is a Dirty Word

CSM Christian Science Monitor, Budget Stalemate: Why America Won't Raise Taxes:

Budget stalemate has many on Capitol Hill crunching numbers. With any new budget, taxes may be the real third rail of politics. Can the U.S. solve its fiscal woes without more revenue?

For generations, Republicans have resisted tax increases. As far back as the 1920s, conservative Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon was arguing that "high rates of taxation do not necessarily mean large revenue to the government, and … more revenue may actually be obtained by lower rates."

But in recent years, the aversion to taxes has become more deeply ingrained. It is more than a policy preference, more than a tenet in a party platform. For many Republican officeholders, raising taxes is a subject they simply won't broach anymore – period. If there is a third rail of politics today, it might not be Social Security. It might be tax increases.

Raising more revenue is not a part of the negotiations going on over the current budget impasse in Washington that is bumping up against a Friday deadline. Nor are tax increases part of the 10-year budget blueprint released this week by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, which would cut nearly $6 trillion in spending over the next decade and reshape how Washington works. In fact, Mr. Ryan proposes lowering corporate and upper-income tax rates.

The antitax ethos has been shaped by both politics and principle. To tax opponents, the overall tax burden is still needlessly high – the US corporate tax rate, for example, is one of the highest in the industrialized world – suppressing the activity of businesses and individuals who would otherwise use those resources to stimulate the economy and create more jobs. They say higher taxes would just feed an already bloated government that is getting inexorably bigger by the day. As the nation once again grapples with staggering deficits and some $14 trillion in debt, the real problem, they insist, isn't a lack of revenue. It's too much government spending. ...

To critics, however, the refusal to even consider raising taxes is threatening the nation's financial future. Democrats and many independent analysts argue that the debt problem is just too big to be tackled through spending cuts alone, and that any eventual solution must involve higher revenues.

Yet budget negotiations of the sort George H.W. Bush presided over in the early '90s – in which Democrats pushed for higher taxes and Republicans pushed for spending cuts and they met somewhere in between – don't seem to exist anymore. Instead, lawmakers get locked into intractable standoffs in which they can agree on only a smattering of minor spending cuts, while putting off resolving the deeper economic problems. "We've sort of lost the capacity to raise taxes under any circumstances," says Joseph Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, a nonprofit group in Falls Church, Va. "And as long as tax increases are off the table, then spending controls are off the table, too. There's no happy ending to this story."

April 8, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Former TV Anchor Glad She Challenged IRS

Hamper Following up on my earlier post, Tax Court Denies Deduction for TV News Anchor's Clothing Expense: Columbus Dispatch, Former TV Anchor Glad She Challenged IRS:

Even the IRS acknowledged that former television news anchor Anietra Hamper kept meticulous records of the clothes and other items she bought for business use.

But detailed receipts weren’t enough. An IRS audit — and a tax judge — concluded that nearly all the business expenses that Hamper listed as deductions on her 2005-08 federal income-tax returns were invalid, and they slapped her with a bill for nearly $20,000.

“I would hate for anyone else to go through this,” said Hamper, 38, who decided to share her story as a tale of caution during tax season.

For years, Hamper had deducted the cost of the clothing she wore on air and for business functions, as well as other expenses she incurred while working as an anchor for WCMH-TV (Channel 4) and WBNS-TV (Channel 10) in Columbus.

Other TV anchors told her they did it, and professionals who prepared her taxes over the years told her it was fine. ...

Hamper thought her deductions were legitimate, so she took the case to U.S. Tax Court, where she explained the deductions to a judge last fall. The judge ruled against her in late February and ordered her to pay $16,492 in back taxes, plus a penalty of $3,298.

“The general rule is that, where business clothes are suitable for general wear, a deduction for them is not allowable,” the judge wrote. Most professionals, the decision said, “typically do not wear their business clothes for private or personal wear,” yet they cannot deduct the cost of those clothes.

The judge also ruled that most other items Hamper used as deductions were personal, not business, expenses. They included contact lenses that helped her read the teleprompter, makeup, haircuts, manicures, teeth whitening and subscriptions to magazines and newspapers.

The decision doesn’t surprise Donald B. Tobin, associate dean of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Tobin teaches a class on federal income-tax law and uses the case of a saleswoman at a high-end clothing store as an example. In that case, the saleswoman argued that she had to wear clothing from the store while she worked, but that she never would have worn it otherwise, so she deducted the cost as a business expense. The IRS disallowed the deduction. “It only cares about whether you can use it, not if you actually do use it,” Tobin said. ...

She’s not ... happy about a New York Daily News story about the tax-court decision in her case. The story, which traveled around the world, listed thong underwear among the items she deducted.

(Hat Tip: Bob Kamman.)

April 4, 2011 in New Cases, News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (1)

Friday, April 1, 2011

GE Flubs Tax Pushback Against the New York Times

CJR Columbia Journalism Review, GE Flubs a Pushback Against The New York Times: The Company Can’t—or Won’t—Get its Story Straight on Taxes, by Ryan Chittum:

General Electric went into full public-relations pushback mode after The New York Times’s damaging story Friday on how it avoids paying U.S. corporate income taxes. But in doing so, the company, unable to get its own story straight, just compounded the damage.

Its pushback included putting up a fact-check on its own site, commenting on a post I wrote, and getting into an embarrassing back-and-forth on Twitter and on Business Insider with Henry Blodget.

First, its response on its GE Reports website, where it calls the Times piece a “particularly distorted and misleading account,” is chock full of red herrings and straw men. Let’s take these one by one. ...

(Hat Tip: Ed Kleinbard.)

April 1, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kleinbard: The Global Tax Avoidance Dance

Edward D. Kleinbard (USC), The Global Tax Avoidance Dance:

America's most successful multinationals make great products and offer superior services. But they have another, less enviable quality in common -- they have become world leaders in tax avoidance. General Electric's global effective tax rate for 2010 was 7.4%. Pfizer's was 11.9%; Cisco came in at 17.5%. The nominal U.S. corporate tax rate is 35%.

Each company has its own tax story, but all -- like other multinationals -- have for years relied heavily on low-taxed foreign income to drive down their worldwide tax obligations, including those of their U.S. businesses.

American multinationals claim they are taxed on their worldwide income, but in reality the "active" income they earn through foreign subsidiaries is not taxed in this country until the cash is repatriated. In addition, financial accounting practices (the lens through which we view these firms because their tax returns are not public) permit a company not to book any U.S. tax liability on foreign earnings if the firm states that the income is "indefinitely invested" abroad.

General Electric has $94 billion in indefinitely reinvested earnings. The total for corporate America is more than $1 trillion. 

If the story was simply that U.S. firms have successfully expanded into international markets and are paying taxes abroad at lower rates, one could argue that there is no U.S. tax mischief afoot. But these are not the facts.

Tax collectors in the U.S. and in high-tax foreign countries are the direct victims of the tax avoidance, but we all suffer from the resulting budget deficits and distorted investment decisions that firms make as a result of their ability to generate what I call "stateless income" -- income derived from selling goods and services in a high-tax country but that, through internal tax legerdemain, surfaces in a low-taxed affiliate. ...

It's true that the U.S. corporate tax rate, at 35%, is too high relative to its economic peers, about 28% on average. (Click here for data on the 31 member states of the OECD; the 28% figure is an unweighted average of the larger OECD members. Click here for the "BRICs" and other non-OECD countries.) But the solution is not to reward U.S. multinationals for concocting and implementing worldwide tax-minimization schemes.

The only feasible solution is to lower the U.S. rate to a level comparable with global norms and to pay for the reduction in part by introducing worldwide tax consolidation for U.S. firms, just as they today consolidate their worldwide operations for financial accounting purposes.

April 1, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

GE Responds to NY Times Criticism of its Tax Planning

G.E. Logo Following up on last week's post, NY Times: G.E.: Tax Imagination at Work (and commentary by Jon Stewart): Bloomberg, Immelt Says GE’s 2011 Tax Rate to Be ‘Much Higher’ as Losses End:

General Electric Co. (GE)’s tax rate will rise this year and beyond after $32 billion of losses absorbed by the company’s financial-services business pushed down rates in 2008 and 2009, Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt said. “We got socked with losses during that time,” Immelt said yesterday in a speech at Rice University in Houston. “Our tax rate is going to be much higher in 2011 and the future.”

The New York Times reported March 24 that GE had a tax bill of zero in 2010, an assertion that the Fairfield, Connecticut- based company said on its website is misleading, in part because of its characterization of tax rebates, benefits and so-called tax loss-carryforwards. The complexity of the U.S. tax system needs to change, Immelt said.

“Rarely does business speak with one voice, but they do on taxes,” Immelt said. “Our system is old, it’s outdated, it’s complicated -- and all of us are for closing the loopholes. Absolutely, a lower corporate tax rate, and a territorial system, just like our global competitors have.”


March 31, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

60 Minutes: The New Tax Havens

March 30, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Madoff: Federal Legislation Is Needed to Limit Post-Mortem Right of Publicity

New York Time sop-ed, The New Grave Robbers, by Ray D. Madoff (Boston College):

Can a wild wig and a bushy mustache be packaged and called an Albert Einstein costume? According to Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its American marketing agent, the answer is no — at least not without permission. The university says that when it inherited Einstein’s estate, the bequest included ownership of Einstein’s very identity, giving it exclusive legal control over who could use Einstein’s name and image, and at what cost.

Einstein is not the only example. While we might think of people like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Patton, Rosa Parks, Frank Lloyd Wright and Babe Ruth as part of our cultural heritage, available for all to use, the identities of each of them, and thousands more, are claimed as private property, usable only with permission and for a fee.

This phenomenon is fairly recent — and it’s getting out of control. ... Today the right of publicity clearly allows people to control the commercial use of their names and images during their lives. What happens after death is much murkier.

Throughout much of the world, the right of publicity ends at death, after which a person’s identity becomes generally available for public use. In the United States, however, this issue is governed by state laws, which have taken a remarkably varied approach. ...

The economic value of a dead celebrity’s image imposes another cost as well. Namely, rights of publicity, like all other property interests, are subject to estate taxes at their highest market value. This means that even if heirs choose not to market a person’s identity (perhaps to protect their loved one’s dignity), they nonetheless must pay taxes on the right. In some cases, that could compel heirs to market their loved ones’ identity in order to pay the taxes associated with it. Paradoxically, the values would likely be highest for those individuals who most coveted their privacy while alive (think J. D. Salinger). ...

Congress should step in and enact a federal right of publicity. In doing so, it should establish clear First Amendment protections and set forth a relatively short term for the right of publicity to survive death (perhaps 10 years). Most important, the law should provide a mechanism that allows people to opt out of marketing their identities after death. After all, sometimes the dead should be allowed to simply rest in peace.

March 29, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

WSJ: The Price of Taxing the Rich

Wall Street Journal, The Price of Taxing the Rich, by Robert Frank:

Nearly half of California's income taxes before the recession came from the top 1% of earners: households that took in more than $490,000 a year. High earners, it turns out, have especially volatile incomes—their earnings fell by more than twice as much as the rest of the population's during the recession. When they crashed, they took California's finances down with them.

Chart 2 New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois—states that are the most heavily reliant on the taxes of the wealthy—are now among those with the biggest budget holes. A large population of rich residents was a blessing during the boom, showering states with billions in tax revenue. But it became a curse as their incomes collapsed with financial markets. [click on chart to enlarge]...

As they've grown, the incomes of the wealthy have become more unstable. Between 2007 and 2008, the incomes of the top-earning 1% fell 16%, compared to a decline of 4% for U.S. earners as a whole, according to the IRS. Because today's highest salaries are usually linked to financial markets—through stock-based pay or investments—they are more prone to sudden shocks. The income swings have created more extreme booms and busts for state governments. ...

Chart 3 Tax experts say the problems at the state level could spread to Washington, as the highest earners gain a larger share of both national income and the tax burden. The top 1% paid 38% of federal income taxes in 2008, up from 25% in 1991, and they earned 20% of all national income in 2008, up from 13% in 1991, according to the Tax Foundation. "These revenues have a narcotic effect on legislatures," said Greg Torres, president of MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank. "They become numb to the trend and think the revenue picture is improving, but they don't realize the money is ephemeral."

Kicking the addiction has proven difficult, since it's so fraught with partisan politics. Republicans advocate lowering taxes on the wealthy to broaden state tax bases and reduce volatility. Democrats oppose the move, saying a less progressive tax system would only add to growing income inequality. [click on chart to enlarge]

Chart 1 

Wall Street Journal, The Battle Over the Millionaire's Tax, By Robert Frank & Laura Saunders:

In the partisan fight over taxing the rich, state "millionaire's taxes" have emerged as the latest and most hotly contested battleground.

In New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Oregon and California, state governors are at war with legislatures over taxing their state's highest earners to plug revenue gaps. Advocates of the taxes say that with the wealthy riding the recovery of stock markets and global growth, and with less fortunate Americans facing unemployment and a housing slump, the top earners can best afford to foot the government's bills. Opponents say the taxes amount to a redistribution of wealth and encourage runaway government spending.

Polls show that many voters support taxing the top 1% or 2% of earners in each state. ... Yet so far, the calls for hiking taxes on top earners have fallen flat at governor's offices and state legislatures. ...

Though attractive to voters and many Democratic politicians, millionaire's taxes carry risks. Because the incomes of top earners are the most volatile, such taxes are among the most unstable sources of state revenue. ... Some also argue that special taxes on the wealthy can drive the highest-earners to lower tax states.

March 26, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 25, 2011

1.5% Tax on Stock Options May Drive High Tech Firms Out of San Francisco

Following up on my prior posts (links below): New York Times, A Business Tax Charged When Employees Cash in Stock Options Is Scrutinized:

A rare provision in San Francisco’s business tax code that taxes companies when employees cash in their stock options has caused a stir in this hotbed of fledgling tech companies.

Remarkably, few companies even knew about the tax, which has been in effect for seven years. But since city officials offered Twitter a payroll-tax break as an incentive for it to remain in San Francisco (the company is considered likely to go public soon), the stock-option provision has suddenly come under intense scrutiny.

A number of other booming companies, including Zynga, the maker of online games and one of the city’s fastest-growing firms, have threatened to leave the city unless they receive similar payroll-tax exemptions before going public. ...

Because of the dearth of I.P.O.’s inside the city limits in the last decade, the stock-option tax has gone under radar until now. Businesses, city officials and even seasoned tax lawyers are confounded. “Nobody ever talked about this because nobody’s really tested these issues before,” said Thomas H. Steele, a partner in Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office, specializing in state and local tax.

March 25, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Google Questioned by SEC Over Earnings in Low-Tax Countries

Google Bloomberg, Google Questioned by SEC Over Earnings in Low-Tax Countries, by Brian Womack & Jesse Drucker:

Google received questions from the SEC in December about earnings in other countries that may have reduced the company’s tax bill, according to regulatory filings released today. SEC officials asked Google for “disclosures to explain in greater detail the impact on your effective income tax rates and obligations of having proportionally higher earnings in countries where you have lower statutory tax rates,” according to a Dec. 2 letter.

March 22, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tax News Roundup

March 18, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

NPR: How Offshore Tax Havens Save Companies Billions

NPR Logo NPR, How Offshore Tax Havens Save Companies Billions:

On today's Fresh Air, Bloomberg News reporter Jesse Drucker, who has written extensively about corporate tax-dodging, explains how companies like Google, Pfizer, Lilly, Oracle, Facebook and Microsoft have managed to reduce their tax rates by hundreds of millions — and in some cases, billions — of dollars by taking advantage of offshore tax havens.

March 18, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Pastor: 'No Tax Refund, No Communion'

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Abortion and Taxes

March 17, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

EU Proposes Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base

EU Logo The European Commission yesterday proposed a common system for calculating the tax base of businesses operating in the European Union:

The aim of this proposal is to significantly reduce the administrative burden, compliance costs and legal uncertainties that businesses in the EU currently face in having to comply with up to 27 different national systems for determining their taxable profits. The proposed Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), would mean that companies would benefit from a "one-stop-shop" system for filing their tax returns and would be able to consolidate all the profits and losses they incur across the EU. Member States would maintain their full sovereign right to set their own corporate tax rate. The Commission estimates that, every year, the CCCTB will save businesses across the EU €700 million in reduced compliance costs, and €1.3 billion through consolidation. In addition, businesses looking to expand cross-border will benefit from up to €1 billion in savings. The CCCTB will also make the EU a much more attractive market for foreign investors.

(Hat Tip: Omri Marian.)

March 17, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ohio Promises Woman $200m Tax Refund (Albeit via Check, Not Direct-Deposit)

The Sandusky Register reports that a taxpayer received a latter from the Ohio Department of Taxation explaining that her $200 million refund could not be paid by direct deposit but that she would be sent a check:


9,700 other Ohio taxpayers also received letters promising inflated tax refunds The Department of Taxation blames a "software error."

March 15, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

How Much Money Do the Rich Have?

National Review, How Much Money Do the Rich Have?, by Robert VerBruggen:

My colleague Kevin D. Williamson has a piece today about how hard it would be to close the $1.1 trillion budget gap by taxing “the rich.” I spent some time this weekend going through more detailed IRS data, and they support his conclusion.

Liberals believe, more or less, that once someone’s income reaches the “rich” threshold, they have little right to keep any additional dollars they make. Starting with that assumption, I set out to find how much “extra” money people really have. You can see my results here.

The best numbers I could find came from IRS returns in 2008. ... [T]he cutoff the IRS uses is $200,000. ... The first question is: How much do these folks make in total? The answer is about $2.5 trillion. If we wanted, we could stop here: You’d need to grab almost half that to finance the deficits Obama’s talking about.

March 15, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tax Lawyer's Conviction in Tax Shelter Case Results in Automatic Disbarment

The New York Appellate Division last week held that a tax lawyer's criminal conviction in a tax shelter case results in automatic disbarment from the New York bar. Matter of Nissenbaum, 2011 N.Y. Slip Op 01847 (N.Y. App, Div. Mar. 8, 2011):

According to the petitioner, the respondent "was convicted of conspiring with others to create and implement illegal tax shelters for clients of Ernst & Young as well as for his own personal tax benefit. This scheme included making false statements and providing false documents to the IRS as well as understating his personal income." Further, the respondent "was convicted of filing a fraudulent U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040, which substantially understated his taxable income." The respondent does not object to this description of the offense, but points out that he "was not convicted of filing a false tax return which substantially understated his taxable income. Rather, the tax evasion counts of [the] conviction[s] related to the tax returns of clients of . . . Ernst & Young." Further, the respondent consents to his name being stricken from the roll of attorneys.

See Legal Profession Blog, Disbarred For Tax Shelter Advice.

March 14, 2011 in New Cases, News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

IRS Tries to Bogart Medical Marijuana Club's Deductions

Marijuana Marin Independent Journal, IRS Tells Fairfax Medical Marijuana Dispensary It Owes Millions in Unpaid Taxes:

The IRS has notified the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax that it owes millions of dollars in unpaid back taxes, according to the alliance's founder and director, Lynnette Shaw.

Shaw said the IRS audited the alliance's tax returns for 2008 and 2009 and disallowed all of its business deductions. She said that although dispensaries throughout the state are being audited by the IRS, the alliance is the first to be told it can't deduct business expenses. "Every dispensary in the nation, past, present and future is dead if this is upheld," Shaw said. ...

Shaw said the IRS disallowed her deductions — for buying marijuana, hiring employees, securing office space and more — based on § 280E of the federal tax code, which states that no deduction shall be allowed for any business trafficking in controlled substances.

Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a schedule I controlled substance, a category of drugs not considered legitimate for medical use — despite voters' 1996 approval of Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in California.

(Hat Tip: Bob Kamman.) The title is courtesy of Country Joe and the Fish:

Don't bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me.
Don't bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me.

March 13, 2011 in Celebrity Tax Lore, New Cases, News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (1)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dems, GOP Reject Economists' Call for a VAT

VAT The Hill, Calls for New VAT Tax Prove Unpopular With Both Dems, GOP:

A range of economists have come to Capitol Hill to sing the praises of a value-added tax (VAT), but their song is falling on deaf ears. 

While some elected officials have pledged to keep an open mind about the VAT, many lawmakers from both parties remain far from convinced, with concerns ranging from how regressive VATs can be to the prevalence of consumption taxes elsewhere in the world. ...

At a string of congressional hearings and think-tank events over the last month or so, economists with experience at the highest levels of government — including in Republican White Houses — have showered kind words on the VAT. The tax’s efficiency, they have said, comes because it does not particularly penalize savings and makes what is subject to taxation less of an opinion, among other reasons. ...

Economists who favor introducing the VAT as part of a reform of the tax code realize it would have an uphill climb in Congress, though they continue to stress that consumption taxes are a much more resourceful way to collect revenue than taxing areas like income. 

March 7, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)

Five Sneaky Tax Deductions

MSN Money, 5 Sneaky Tax Deductions:

You've probably never heard of these write-offs, but they could save you a lot of money and make your April easier. Why send the IRS any more than you need to?

  1. 'Depreciate' land
  2. Make money on charitable contributions
  3. Expense it all, or depreciate 100%
  4. Take a remodeling credit
  5. Make your estate-tax credit portable
(Hat Tip: Bryan Weng.)

March 7, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

WSJ: Obama's Budget Targets 'Dynasty Trusts'

Dynasty Wall Street Journal, Dynasty Trusts Under Attack, by Laura Saunders:

It's official: A type of trust used by the wealthy to shelter assets from estate taxes for hundreds of years, or even forever, is under fire.

The proposal, which first appeared a few weeks ago on a hit list of estate provisions in President Obama's 2012 budget, would limit tax-free "dynasty trusts" to 90 years.

The chances of passage are practically zero this year, say experts. But taxpayers should know that the idea is in play—and act accordingly. As proposed, the change would apply to new trusts or additions of money to existing ones, but not to those already funded.

Bottom line: If you are considering setting up a dynasty trust, move swiftly. ...

Dynasty trusts have gathered steam since the 1986 tax overhaul installed the current version of the "generation-skipping tax." This levy imposes taxes that would be avoided if taxpayers left assets to heirs who are more than one generation below. ... Dynasty trusts push [the] generation-skipping tax exemption to the max, putting the exempted amount beyond the reach of estate taxes for the life of the trust. That, in turn, means the heirs don't have to "spend" their own exemptions on those assets. These trusts are now allowed in 23 states and the District of Columbia (see table), to the delight of companies that charge fees to manage them. Taxpayers don't have to live in a state to put a trust there.

To enable these trusts, most of the states allowing them had to get rid of an old common-law principle called the "rule against perpetuities," which allowed trusts to exist only for about 90 years. The Obama administration proposal would reinstate this old principle in a way by removing the federal tax exemption after 90 years. So the trust can go on indefinitely, but the exemption can't....

Opponents of dynasty trusts often object to them on policy grounds. Prof. Ray Madoff of Boston College Law School fears they will help create a new aristocracy with access to tax-free, creditor-proof wealth. She also worries they benefit bankers as much as families: "Bankers are using these trusts as a decoy to line their own pockets."

States That Allow Dynasty Trusts:  Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

March 6, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 4, 2011

WSJ: Whirlpool Parlays Green Credits Into Zero Tax Liability

Whirlpool Wall Street Journal editorial, Tax Reform Exhibit A:  How Whirlpool Parlays Green Credits Into Zero Tax Liability:

Whirlpool Corporation recorded $18 billion in global sales and $619 million of earnings in 2010 but won't pay anywhere near the U.S. statutory tax rate of 35% on those profits. Its effective tax rate will be 0%.

As Bloomberg first reported last week, Whirlpool has stockpiled more than $500 million in tax credits for making energy-saving "energy star" appliances—washers, dryers, refrigerators and so on. The firm gets a production tax credit of up to $200 per refrigerator, $75 per dishwasher, and $225 per washer and dryer. General Electric has also collected about $200 million of these credits.

Think of these energy efficiency tax carve-outs as a version of the earned income tax credit for corporate America. Except Whirlpool and GE aren't poor.

The deal gets sweeter. Those credits can be carried over from one year to the next for up to 20 years. Whirlpool is collecting so many credits that it may not have to pay a dime of corporate income tax for years. The lost revenue from GE and Whirlpool alone far exceeds the $78 million revenue "cost" over 10 years that Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation predicted for the credits. ...

Special favors like these also create a business constituency against tax reform that would benefit the overall economy. Whirlpool carries its $500 million of unused tax credits as an asset on its balance sheet, so cutting tax rates shrinks the book value of that asset. "This is why so many companies actually oppose lowering tax rates," says Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation.

The White House claims to want to reduce corporate tax rates in a "revenue neutral way" by closing loopholes. Yet it's hard to take that commitment seriously when its new budget proposes to extend the green-credit windfall for another year. Whirlpool is one more case study in the case for corporate tax reform.

March 4, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

NY Times: Through the Tax Looking Glass With Ambac

New York Times DealBook, Through the Looking Glass With Ambac, by Stephen J. Lubben (Seton Hall):

If the claims by the IRS are true, Ambac has managed to pull off something that Lehman Brothers could not: force the government to provide a bailout. Ambac got its bailout by receiving more than $700 million in tax refunds that the IRS now argues were unwarranted.

Ambac slide

March 3, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Build a Progressive Tea Party

US Uncut The Nation, How to Build a Progressive Tea Party, by Johann Hari:

Imagine a parallel universe where the Great Crash of 2008 was followed by a Tea Party of a very different kind. Enraged citizens gather in every city, week after week—to demand the government finally regulate the behavior of corporations and the superrich, and force them to start paying taxes. ... As people see their fellow citizens acting in self-defense, these tax-the-rich protests spread to even the most conservative parts of the country. ...

Instead of the fake populism of the Tea Party, there is a movement based on real populism. It shows that there is an alternative to making the poor and the middle class pay for a crisis caused by the rich. It shifts the national conversation. Instead of letting the government cut our services and increase our taxes, the people demand that it cut the endless and lavish aid for the rich and make them pay the massive sums they dodge in taxes.

This may sound like a fantasy—but it has all happened. The name of this parallel universe is Britain. ...

American citizens should ask themselves: I work hard and pay my taxes, so why don’t the richest people and the corporations? Why should I pick up the entire tab for keeping the nation running? Why should the people who can afford the most pay the least? If you’re happy with that situation, you can stay at home and leave the protesting to the Tea Party. For the rest, there’s an alternative. For too long, progressive Americans have been lulled into inactivity by Obama’s soaring promises, which come to little. As writer Rebecca Solnit says, “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky…. Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.” UK Uncut has just shown Americans how to express real hope—and build a left-wing Tea Party.

US Uncut:

Enjoying record profits and taxpayer-funded bailouts as the economy slowly recovers from a financial crisis, nearly two-thirds of US corporations don't pay any income taxes, instead opting to abuse tax loopholes and offshore tax havens. According to this study from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, 83 of the top 100 publicly traded corporations that operate in the US exploit corporate tax havens. Since 2009, America’s most profitable companies such as ExxonMobil, General Electric, Bank of America and Citigroup all paid a grand total of $0 in federal income taxes to Uncle Sam. Tax havens alone account for up to $1 trillion in tax revenue lost every decade, money that could be invested in K-12 education, colleges, public health, job creation and hundreds of other worthy public programs.

If we pay our taxes, why don’t they? If corporations profit here, shouldn't they pay here?

It’s time for ordinary Americans to fight back and demand an end to the corporate tax avoidance. Join US Uncut and together let's make corporate tax avoiders pay.

(Hat Tip: Jeremy Bearer-Friend.)

March 2, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Geithner: End Pass-Through Treatment of LLCs, Partnerships & S Corps

Bloomberg News, Geithner Seeks to Broaden U.S. Corporate Tax Overhaul Debate:

The Obama administration is seeking to widen the scope of its proposal to overhaul the corporate tax code, urging Congress to also change rules that allow some businesses to take advantage of tax laws governing individuals.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the Senate Finance Committee Feb. 15 that Congress should “revisit” long- standing rules that give businesses a choice of paying taxes as a corporation or through a structure such as a partnership through which they can report business income on individual tax returns.

The recommendation, which Geithner repeated in a meeting with reporters this week at Bloomberg News in Washington, would affect income earned by the nation’s largest law firms, investment partnerships and so-called S corporations. It would more than double, to about $3 trillion, the amount of business income potentially affected by tax-law changes.

February 25, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Tax Court Denies Deduction for TV News Anchor's Clothing Expenses

Hamper The Tax Court yesterday denied business expense deductions claimed by a TV news anchor for her wardrobe and other personal expenses and sustained accuracy-related penalties. Hamper v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2011-17 (Feb. 25, 2011) (citations omitted):

On Schedules A of her Federal income tax returns for the years at issue, petitioner claimed deductions for unreimbursed employee business expenses of $20,713, $18,604, $22,602, and $21,759, for 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, respectively. ....

During the years at issue petitioner was employed as a morning and noon television news anchor. As a television news anchor petitioner is required to maintain a specified professional appearance as described in the Women's Wardrobe Guidelines (guidelines). The guidelines provide that the "ideal in selecting an outfit for on-air use should be the selection of 'standard business wear', typical of that which one might wear on any business day in a normal office setting anywhere in the USA." ... The general guideline is that petitioner maintain a professional and conservative appearance. ...

Although a business wardrobe is a necessary condition of employment, the cost of the wardrobe has generally been considered a nondeductible personal expense pursuant to § 262.  The general rule is that where business clothes are suitable for general wear, a deduction for them is not allowable. Such costs are not deductible even when it has been shown that the particular clothes would not have been purchased but for the employment. .

There are recognized exceptions to the general rule where, for example, the clothing was useful only in the business environment in which the taxpayer worked. The rules for determining whether the cost of clothing is deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense are: (1) The clothing is required or essential in the taxpayer's employment; (2) the clothing is not suitable for general or personal wear; and (3) the clothing is not so worn.

During the years at issue petitioner purchased clothing for her position as a news anchor. She wears her business clothing only at work and maintains her business clothing separately from her personal clothing. She explained that the requirement to wear conservative clothing makes her business clothing unsuitable for everyday wear.

Petitioner purchased most of her business clothing and accessories from typical clothing stores such as Nordstrom's, Kohl's, Victoria's Secret, Macy's, Old Navy, JCPenney, Sportmart, Casual Corner, DSW, Ann Taylor Loft, Dick's Sporting Goods, Marshall's, Charlotte Russe, and other local clothing stores.

Petitioner's clothing purchases for work consisted of such items as traditional business suits, lounge wear, a robe, sportswear, active wear, lingerie, cotton bikini and cotton thong underwear, and evening wear. She also deducted expenses for an Ohio State jersey, jewelry, bedding, running and walking shoes, and dry cleaning costs.

Petitioner used a self-described criterion for determining whether a clothing expense was deductible. She would ask herself "would I be buying this if I didn't have to wear this" to work, "and if the answer is no, then I know that I am buying it specifically" for work, and therefore, it is a deductible business expense.

Hynes v. Commissioner [74 T.C. 1266 (1980)], involved a taxpayer in circumstances very similar to petitioner's. The taxpayer in Hynes worked as a television news anchor and deducted business expenses for wardrobe, laundry and dry cleaning, haircuts and makeup, hotels and meals, and car expenses and depreciation. The taxpayer purchased a particular wardrobe that was restricted in terms of color and pattern that he was able to wear on the air. The Court reasoned that the restriction on the taxpayer's selection of business attire, however, was not significantly different from that applicable to other business professionals who must also limit their selection of clothing to conservative styles and fashions. The Court further reasoned that the fact that the taxpayer chose not to wear the business clothing while away from the station did not signal that the clothing was not suitable for private and personal wear. ...

Similarly, petitioner does not satisfy the requirement that her clothing not be suitable for everyday personal wear. Although she is required to purchase conservative business attire, it is not of a fashion that is outrageous or otherwise unsuitable for everyday personal wear. Given the nature of her expenditures, it is evident that petitioner's clothing is in fact suitable for everyday wear, even if it is not so worn. Consequently, the Court upholds respondent's determination that petitioner is not entitled to deduct expenses related to clothing, shoes, and accessory costs, as these are inherently personal expenses. Additionally, because the costs associated with the purchase of clothing are a nondeductible personal expense, costs for the maintenance of the clothing such as dry cleaning costs are also nondeductible personal expenses.

[The court also denied her claimed deductions for business gifts, cable television, car expenses, cell phone, contact lenses, cosmetics, gym memberships, haircuts, Internet access, makeup, manicures, meals, self-defense classes, satellite radio, subscriptions to newspapers and magazines (Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Newsweek, and Nickelodeon), and teeth whitening.]


February 25, 2011 in Celebrity Tax Lore, News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (2)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

CNN: GM's Sweetheart Tax Deal

GM Following up on my prior post, Rasmusen Presents The Lawlessness of the GM NOL Ruling (Feb. 14, 2011):  CNN, GM's Sweetheart Tax Deal:

The U.S. Treasury is giving up $14 billion in tax revenue because of a sweetheart deal it's giving General Motors.

The automaker is expected to post its first profitable year since 2004 when it reports fourth-quarter results on Thursday. But GM won't have to worry about being hit with a big tax bill because billions in previous losses will provide shelter for years to come.

That break will reduce GM's U.S. tax bill by an estimated $14 billion in the coming years, and its global taxes by close to $19 billion, according to a company filing. ...

While it's unclear why GM was allowed to carry over its losses, some experts insist that GM got preferential treatment.

"A lot of things were done differently here," said Heidi Sorvino, head of the bankruptcy practice at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith. She said that the tax break was just another example of how GM's bankruptcy process was unlike any previous bankruptcies.

Officials with the Treasury Department and GM insist that the tax break was not special treatment, and that any company going through bankruptcy could have gotten the same breaks.

Treasury spokesman Mark Paustenbach said GM's ability to hang onto the tax breaks it had before bankruptcy "depends on the application of long-standing tax rules to GM's particular facts. The Treasury Department did not publish any guidance during the economic downturn that changed these rules either in general or for corporations that received government assistance."

(Hat Tip: David Herzig.)

February 24, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Do Sales Taxes Apply to a Groupon?

Groupon Forbes, Social Confusion: How Do Sales Taxes Apply to a Groupon?, by Janet Novack:

Have you used a Groupon or a Living Social coupon recently?

When you handed over your coupon, did the merchant collect tax from you? Did he calculate the tax based on the full face value of your purchase, or the discounted amount you paid for it? Did he force you to ante up any tax in cash, or did he allow you to apply your coupon towards the full bill,  including tax?

These aren’t academic questions–the answers could affect the attractiveness of Internet-based social coupon programs to consumers, merchants, and state tax collectors.  Ultimately, the question of how social coupons should be taxed is likely to end up in court. ...

In case you’ve missed this latest craze, in a typical deal you might pay $50 with your credit card to Living Social or Groupon over the Internet, and get via email a link to a coupon worth $100 at a  local shop. (The social part comes in because in some cases the deal only goes through if a certain number of folks buy it. Plus, there are often incentives for referring your friends.) Neither coupon site collects taxes when you make your purchase and they warn their vouchers can’t be used for sales taxes or tips—unless the merchant allows otherwise. Groupon states in its Merchant Self-Service Agreement that the merchant “shall be responsible for paying all sales and use taxes related to the goods and services described in the offer.”

But just what are those?  Spokesmen for tax administrators in three of the nation’s five most populous states—California, Florida and Illinois– told Forbes they expect merchants to collect sales tax on the face value of what you buy. In other words, they want their cut on $100 even though you only paid $50 and the local merchant collected maybe $25.  By contrast, if a store printed up its own half-off coupon and allowed you to buy an $100 item for $50, the tax men would only tax the $50 you forked over. ...

There’s a nice irony here: If the states can legally charge sales tax on the full face value of the Groupon, this could be a rare  case in which they get a windfall (as opposed to losing gobs of tax revenue) from e-commerce. They lose out from Internet shopping because web powerhouse, among others, doesn’t’ collect sales taxes from the residents of most states.

February 21, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)

WSJ: Tax Code Keeps Microsoft, Other U.S. Companies From Spending $1 Trillion in Foreign Profits

Microsoft Wall Street Journal, Why Investors Can't Get More Cash Out of U.S. Companies, by Jason Zweig:

Earlier this month, Microsoft borrowed $2.25 billion in unsecured debt. What in the world possesses a company with $40 billion in cash and short-term securities to go out and borrow money?

Rock-bottom interest rates are one reason. But the bizarre, byzantine U.S. tax code seems to be another. ... [L]ike many purportedly cash-rich companies, Microsoft can't bring home much of its cash without writing a fat check to the IRS.

Politicians have been carping about the more than $2 trillion in cash sitting idle in corporate coffers even as unemployment remains high. But much of that cash isn't in the U.S.; it is abroad. And it isn't likely to come back home unless U.S. tax laws change.

David Zion, a tax and accounting analyst at Credit Suisse, estimates that the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index have "north of $1 trillion" in undistributed foreign earnings, or profits that have been parked overseas to avoid U.S. tax. ...

U.S. companies are taxed at up to 35% when they bring home the earnings generated through the operations of their overseas subsidiaries. They get a credit for any taxes paid to foreign governments—but, since the corporate-tax rate in the U.S. is one of the world's highest, most companies are in no rush to bring the money back onshore. By keeping those earnings abroad, U.S. companies can indefinitely defer their day of reckoning with the IRS.

That can put firms in the peculiar position of having tons of cash offshore that they might need but can't use at home without taking a tax hit.

The U.S. is the only major country that taxes foreign earnings of its own companies this way.

[I]n this case, it isn't just management that is making companies sit on too much cash. It is tax policy, too. Congress and the White House are discussing whether the U.S. should follow the rest of the world and stop taxing repatriated offshore earnings from companies that already have paid taxes to foreign governments. Some gnarly technical details will have to be worked out if the repatriation tax is to be reduced or eliminated.

February 21, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

WSJ: Same-Sex Couples in CA, NV & WA Reap Big Federal Tax Bonuses

Wall Street Journal, Same-Sex Couples And The Marriage Penalty, by Laura Saunders:

Thanks to a 1996 federal law aimed at preserving traditional marriage, thousands of same-sex couples in California, Nevada, and Washington state could get big tax bonuses on their federal returns starting this year. The bonuses are off-limits to heterosexual married couples—a sharp reminder of the "marriage penalty" that often dings two-earner couples. ...

All three states recognize domestic partnerships and also have what is known as community-property law. Community property refers to a system of ownership in nine states that usually attributes income and property acquired during marriage equally to both partners, regardless of who earned it. (The nine states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.)

The three states also now apply community-property laws to registered domestic partners. So the IRS—which must follow state property laws—has ruled that these couples should figure their total community income and split it down the middle, starting in 2010.

That is where the benefit comes in. Although domestic partners must divide their income equally, the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents the IRS from treating these couples as married joint filers. So for 2010 and after, each partner will claim half the community income but still file as single or head of household.

The result, in many cases, is a federal tax savings because a couple will avoid the marriage penalty that often raises taxes for two-earner heterosexual married couples.

February 20, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feldstein: Boost the Economy by Lowering Corporate Tax Rates

Wall Street Journal op-ed, Want to Boost the Economy? Lower Corporate Tax Rates, by Martin Feldstein (Harvard University, Department of Economics):

President Obama has reached out to the business community with talk of lowering the corporate tax rate and improving the tax treatment of profits earned abroad by American companies. That would certainly be an important improvement in our tax system. Unfortunately, his desire to use the elimination of "loopholes" to avoid any loss of corporate tax revenue means that he cannot possibly go far enough in reducing corporate tax rates.

February 15, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

WSJ: Death Tax Ambush

Wall Street Journal editorial, Death Tax Ambush: Many States Now Have Crushing Burdens:

WSJ Chart The new law applies a top federal death tax rate of 35% with a $5 million exemption for 2011 and 2012. But it also changed a federal credit for state death tax rates into a federal deduction. The credit allowed a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal taxes for state levies as high as 16%. This meant that every dime from state tax collections came from Uncle Sam. It was essentially a free tax for states.

By contrast, the deduction merely reduces the amount of federal taxable income and thus sharply reduces the amount of state tax that can be written off federal taxes. Many states have estate taxes at the old 16% threshold which now means an effective 10 percentage point or more surcharge above the 35% federal rate. This surcharge is even higher in states that also have an inheritance tax, which is levied on the value of specific property bequeathed to heirs, in addition to the estate tax (which is levied on the value of the entire estate).

Our friends at the American Family Business Foundation have done the math on the interaction between the new federal rates and these state taxes, and you can consult the nearby chart to see your state's fee for the privilege of dying. No wonder the battle over death taxes has suddenly moved to state capitals, with Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania and even Rhode Island looking to repeal their state levies this year. ...

Proponents argue that the death tax has minimal incentive effects because people can't change their behavior after they die. But every day people make decisions to minimize their tax bills before they die. In other words, estate taxes don't redistribute income among taxpayers. They redistribute income among states.

The federal death tax will revert with a vengeance to 55% in 2013 unless Congress acts in the next two years. But in the meantime, states like Indiana and Ohio, and especially New Jersey, can help their economic recovery by eliminating their death taxes and inviting lost wealth to return.

February 8, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Fact-Checking President Obama's Claim: 'I Didn't Raise Taxes Once'

From Bill O'Reilly's interview with President Obama:
O'REILLY: Do you deny that you are a man who wants to redistribute wealth.
OBAMA: Absolutely.
O'REILLY: You deny that?
OBAMA: Absolutely. I didn't raise taxes once. I lowered taxes over the last two years.I lowered taxes for the last two years.”

February 8, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)

Krugman & Freakonomics on Bias Against Conservatives in the Academy

Following up on this morning's post, NY Times Finds Bias Against Conservatives in the Academy:

NY Times (The Conscience of a Liberal), Ideas Are Not The Same As Race, by Paul Krugman:

Every once in a while you get stories like this one, about the underrepresentation of conservatives in academics, that treat ideological divides as being somehow equivalent to racial differences. This is a really, really bad analogy.

And it’s not just the fact that you can choose your ideology, but not your race. Ideologies have a real effect on overall life outlook, which has a direct impact on job choices. ...

It’s particularly troubling to apply some test of equal representation when you’re looking at academics who do research on the very subjects that define the political divide. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?

Now, I don’t mean to say that political bias in the academy is absent, although it’s not consistent: I can well imagine that it’s hard to be a conservative in some social sciences, but in economics, the obvious bias in things like acceptance of papers at major journals is towards, not against, a doctrinaire free-market view. But the point is that doing head counts is a terrible way to assess that bias.

NY Times (Freakonomics), Should We Be Surprised at Political Bias in Academia?, by Stephen J. Dubner:

The lack of diversity isn’t actually “statistically impossible” in a self-selecting group. But that of course is the point. How can it be that an academic field is so politically homogeneous? What kind of biases does such homogeneity produce? What sort of ideas get crowded out? And how homogeneous are other disciplines?

I have to say that I was surprised at the overt political (leftward) bias exhibited by several prominent economists at the recent American Economics Association meetings, although my sample set was quite small.

It is interesting — and sobering — that two fields, psychology and economics, that we rely upon to describe and amend bias in the world are themselves so susceptible to bias within the ranks of their practitioners.

February 8, 2011 in Legal Education, News | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

AP: Taxes (as a Percentage of the Economy) Are Lowest in 60 Years

Associated Press, Taxes (as a Percentage of Economy) Drop to Lowest Level in 60 Years:

Taxes too high? Actually, as a share of the nation's economy, Uncle Sam's take this year will be the lowest since 1950, when the Korean War was just getting under way. And for the third straight year, American families and businesses will pay less in federal taxes than they did under former President George W. Bush, thanks to a weak economy and a growing number of tax breaks for the wealthy and poor alike.

Income tax payments this year will be nearly 13% lower than they were in 2008, the last full year of the Bush presidency. Corporate taxes will be lower by a third, according to projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. ...

"The current state of the tax code is simply indefensible," says Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "It is hemorrhaging revenue." ...

[I]n the third year of Obama's presidency, federal taxes are at historic lows. Tax receipts dropped sharply in 2009 as the economy sank into recession. They have since stabilized and are expected to grow by 3% this year. But federal tax revenues won't rebound to pre-recession levels until next year, according to CBO projections.

In the current budget year, federal tax receipts will be equal to 14.8% of the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, the lowest level since Harry Truman was president. In Bush's last year in office, tax receipts were 17.5% of GDP, just below their 40-year average.

The lack of revenue, combined with big increases in spending, means the federal government will have to borrow 40 cents for every dollar it spends this year. The annual federal budget deficit is projected to reach a record $1.5 trillion.

(Hat Tip: Francine Lipman.)  The article, however, omits the CBO's projection that, as the economy recovers, taxes (as a percentage of the economy) will surge to post-World War II highs (principally due to record individual income tax collections):

CBO Chart 1 
CBO Chart 2 

February 8, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

WSJ: Is 1099 Repeal a Controlled Burn of ObamaCare or Uncontrollable Wildfire?

Weekend Wall Street Journal editorial, The 1099 Repudiation: A Revealing Debate Over One of Washington's Dumbest Ideas:

Democrats now claim that the infamous 1099 business reporting mandate that the Senate repealed this week was an accident, as if they were as surprised as everyone else to learn that this destructive provision had crept by itself into law. The truth is that the 1099 rule emerged from the same core ideology as ObamaCare, and its overwhelming repudiation by Democrats may be an important inflection point in the health-care debate.

The 1099 rule is the first of the ballast to go over the side, and Democrats hope that such "improvements" will be enough to ride out the public storm. Then again, they also claimed that voters would learn to love ObamaCare once it had been stuffed through Congress, among many other misjudgments. The political history is revealing and instructive.

Less than a year ago, liberals couldn't see how anyone could possibly object to a rule requiring businesses to file 1099 tax forms with the IRS every time they spent more than $600 with a single vendor. Yes, this would result in a vast new paperwork and accounting burden for 30 million businesses and hit start-ups hardest, not to mention farms, charities and churches. But Democrats saw IRS surveillance of nearly all business-to-business transactions as merely an exercise in good government.

The point was to close the "tax gap," the largely mythological difference between the estimated taxes due under the business tax code and what the IRS actually collects. During the Bush years, Democrats and more than a few Republicans convinced themselves that businesses were cheating the government out of revenues through deliberate under-reporting and various tax shelters. ...

The 1099 ObamaCare footnote thus received no scrutiny at first because it was so mundane. Everyone in Washington agreed that corporations were stealing billions of dollars every year that rightfully belonged to Congress to spend. (The issue only blew up when the IRS's National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, followed by the GOP and the business lobby, made it a priority last summer.) ...

[T]otal repeal sailed through the Senate on Wednesday, 81 to 17. The mystery is the 17 Democrats who continue to think this is a good idea ,,,

The larger political question is whether voters will be satisfied by this or that "improvement" to ObamaCare. The White House is trying to outflank public opposition with a controlled burn, but wildfires often move in surprising and unmanageable directions.

For a contrary view, see Linda Beale (Wayne State), More on Tax Information Reporting by Third Parties:

I’m more and more convinced that it is not the deficit that the Republicans hollering for “entitlement reform” care about–it is that they just simply want to destroy all of the things that the New Deal did to provide a safety net for ordinary people, while making sure that they reinstate brute-force capitalism like existed in the 1920s, back when Teddy Roosevelt made his famous statement about the corporate titans and malefactors of great wealth.

For rejoinders, see:

February 5, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Double the Charitable Deduction to Create Jobs, Reduce Poverty

Huffington Post, A New Big Idea: Create Jobs and Reduce Poverty by Doubling the Charitable Deduction, by Dan Froomkin:

Even as the United States suffers from a staggering unemployment crisis and vast income inequality, the nation's wealthiest families are sitting on huge piles of unproductive cash.

So with nothing remotely like a second stimulus bill in the cards, the best hope for goosing the economy, creating jobs and providing relief for the needy could lie in a Washington economist's ingenious scheme to get a chunk of that money put into circulation right now, in helpful ways.

Isabel Sawhill, a budget expert at the Brookings Institution, is pushing to temporarily double the tax deduction for charitable giving, a move that would serve as a powerful incentive for the rich to significantly increase -- or at least accelerate -- their contributions to nonprofit organizations.

(Hat Tip: Francine Lipman.)

February 1, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Push to Repeal ObamaCare's 1099 Requirement Ignores Tax-Gap Problem

Bloomberg, Push to ‘Correct’ IRS Small Business Rule Ignores Tax-Gap Data, by Ryan J. Donmoyer:

A year ago, Congress had instructed the Internal Revenue Service to improve small businesses’ compliance with tax laws and created rules to make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to hide their income.

Now, rules requiring businesses to report to the IRS transactions with vendors may become collateral damage in a political fight over the health-care law. President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address on Jan. 25, backed an effort to “correct” the “unnecessary bookkeeping burden” before the rules take effect in 2012, forgoing an estimated $1.9 billion annually to pay for the overhaul of the health-care system.

The about-face is designed to appease congressional Republicans and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that have criticized the rules along with the broader health-care law. It also shows how difficult it is to take steps to close the tax gap among small businesses, which data show have lower tax payment rates than corporations and salaried workers. ...

The IRS estimates that about $345 billion in taxes owed are unpaid every year. Auditors recover about $55 billion of that, leaving $290 billion that goes uncollected, a figure known as the tax gap. The agency attributes $109 billion of the gap to underreported business income earned by individuals. The IRS estimates that this group also fails to pay about $39 billion in self-employment taxes. The figures are drawn from a study of 2001 tax returns and are likely higher today, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The IRS says small businesses are able to underreport their taxes because many business-to-business transactions aren’t reported independently to the government as wages and investment income are. By contrast, about 98% of salaried workers pay what they owe because their employers report their wages to the IRS. The Bush administration, in response to demands from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, in 2008 proposed requiring businesses to report to the IRS when they pay vendors more than $600 for goods. Similar requirements exist for purchases of services.

February 1, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)

Forbes: Should Married Couples Forego Trusts?

Forbes, Married, With Assets, by Deborah L. Jacobs:

The new estate law allows couples to do without trusts--if they trust each other.

Under the new law, just as under the old one, you can leave a citizen spouse or a charity an unlimited amount, without worrying about tax. But the new law makes two key changes. First, it raises each individual's lifetime exemption from federal estate and gift tax for transfers to nonspouse heirs to a hefty $5 million, from $3.5 million in 2009 and only $2 million in 2008. Second, it makes the exemption "portable" between spouses--meaning a surviving spouse can add any unused exemption of her just-deceased spouse to her own $5 million exemption. So a widow or widower can pass on as much as $10 million, untaxed, through either lifetime gifts or bequests.

Portability isn't automatic. To get it, the executor of the estate of the first spouse to die must file an estate tax return, even if no tax is due. Surviving spouses should get this return filed even if they have nowhere near $5 million of their own, because someday, who knows? Portability also isn't retroactive, so it's no help to those who lost spouses before 2011. Finally, it doesn't apply to the $5 million per person exemption from "generation-skipping" tax--the extra tax imposed on gifts to grandkids whose parents are still alive. That means the truly rich will want to use up their own $5 million exemptions, likely through gifts in the next two years.

The new estate law expires at the end of 2012. If Congress doesn't act before then, not only will portability lapse but the exemption amount will revert to $1 million and the estate tax rate will increase to 55% from the current 35%. Rapidan, Va. estate expert Howard M. Zaritsky insists this makes it risky to rely on portability when redoing estate plans. Others strongly disagree. "Portability is here to stay,'' Columbia Law professor Michael J. Graetz told estate-planning pros in January. Graetz, who wrote a book on the history of the estate tax, also predicts the $5 million tax-free amount won't be reduced. ...

Lawyers are now touting an idea they used to belittle: disclaimer trusts. You leave everything to your spouse outright, but give her the right to disclaim (turn down) all or part of the inheritance and have it go into a bypass trust, allowing her to make an informed decision based on her finances and the latest federal and state estate tax laws. ...

So what have attorneys had against disclaimer trusts? Disclaimers can be tricky; you can't, for example, disclaim assets you've already touched. But mostly, some lawyers haven't trusted surviving spouses to disclaim assets when they should. Now the new game in estate planning is an old-fashioned form of trust--between spouses.

February 1, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dilbert Creator Scott Adams: How to Tax the Rich

Dilbert Weekend Wall Street Journal, How to Tax the Rich:

Try giving them perks and privileges (an extra vote?) in return, says 'Dilbert' creator Scott Adams.

The president was too polite to mention it during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, but here's a quick summary of the problem: The U.S. is broke. The hole is too big to plug with cost cutting or economic growth alone. Rich people have money. No one else does. Rich people have enough clout to block higher taxes on themselves, and they will.

Likely outcome: Your next home will be the box that your laser printer came in. I hope that you kept it. ...

If we accept that the rich can be taxed at a different rate than everyone else, we can also imagine that there could be other differences in how the rich are taxed. ... I can think of five benefits that the country could offer to the rich in return for higher taxes: time, gratitude, incentives, shared pain and power.

January 30, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Thorndike: The American Tax Tradition of 'Soaking the Rich'

Weekend Wall Street Journal, Soaking the Wealthy: An American Tradition, by Joseph J. Thorndike (Tax Analysts):

Americans like to tax the rich. As a nation, we rely more on progressive taxes—and less on regressive ones—than any other developed country. We impose no broad-based consumption tax, standing firm against the global popularity of value-added levies. But we make ample use of corporate and individual income taxes—touchstones of progressive politics for more than a century. Our national penchant for progressive taxation has deep roots in American history. ...

It's one thing to say that American politicians have been taxing the rich for more than 200 years, but what were they trying to achieve? Were they seeking to redistribute wealth, to recast society along more egalitarian lines? Or were they simply trying to ensure that rich people paid their "fair share"? The answer, predictably, is both.


American political leaders have defended progressive taxation on narrower grounds, using it to remake the tax system, not society. No one made the case more succinctly than Rep. Cordell Hull, legislative father of the 1913 income tax. "I have no disposition to tax wealth unnecessarily or unjustly," he explained in his memoirs. "But I do believe that the wealth of the country should bear its just share of the burden of taxation and that it should not be permitted to shirk that duty."

January 30, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bartlett: Obama Walked Into Tax Reform Neutrality Trap

Bruce Bartlett (The Fiscal Times), Tax Reform: Obama is Walking into the Neutrality Trap:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to enact tax reform.  Republicans all applauded because to them tax reform is just another excuse to cut taxes. However, their response was muted when he said that any tax reform legislation must be paid for by getting rid of loopholes and cutting spending through the tax code.

No one denies that there are many aspects of the tax code desperately in need of reform. The problem is that Republicans refuse to talk about anything except further cutting tax rates. But the idea of tax reform has always meant much more than that. It also means getting rid of tax preferences that bias individual and business behavior in ways that may not be optimal for them or the economy. In other cases, tax preferences simply waste money subsidizing people and businesses for no reason except that they belong to some politically favored group.

A key goal of tax reform must be to rid the tax code of unjustified tax preferences. The goal, which Republicans used to believe in, should be to achieve tax neutrality. This basically means that people and businesses should make economic decisions based solely on the economics and not because the tax system in effect subsidizes them to do one thing rather than another. ...

Republicans claim they are for it, but they steadfastly refuse to name a single existing tax provision that is worth getting rid of; they are only for tax rate cuts and that is the sum total of their contribution to the tax reform debate. Their rationale, apparently, is that eliminating any tax loophole, no matter how egregious or unjustified, would constitute a tax increase; and they are against all tax increases, period.

The other factor in Republicans’ thinking is just cynical politics – they are for the sugar of rate cuts, but it is the sole responsibility of Democrats to come up with the medicine of actually reforming the tax code by proposing revenue offsets to pay for the rate cuts. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and the man who, more than anyone else, lays down the Republican line on all tax issues, told me this when I asked him about coming up with offsets to pay for tax reform: “I recommend taking the corporate rate to 25%. The Dems can suggest tax hikes if they believe they need to ‘make up’ revenue. That is a bipartisan division of labor.”

The political trap is obvious. Any actual reform that would increase revenue will be relentlessly attacked by Republicans as a tax increase and they will quickly send out fundraising letters to whatever group or industry is affected, requesting campaign donations to prevent the Democrats from raising their taxes. No mention will be made by Republicans of the idea that the reforms would be coupled with tax rate reductions in a revenue-neutral manner that neither raises nor lowers net tax revenue in the aggregate. Unfortunately, this strategy will doom any hope of tax reform. No Democrat is going to put forward any revenue-raisers under these circumstances. ...

I am not holding my breath waiting for the first responsible Republican to do what Reagan, Kemp, Kasten and others did in the 1980s and put together a tax package that includes specific revenue raisers to pay for further rate cuts. And pie-in-the-sky reforms that would abolish every tax preference in exchange for a flat rate don’t count because there is not the slightest chance such a radical change will ever be enacted. The best we can hope for is incremental improvement along the lines of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was a truly bipartisan effort. But that’s not going to happen if Republicans insist on playing by Norquist’s rules.

January 29, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tax Portions of President Obama's State of the Union Address

SOTU We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's. ...

Of course, the education race doesn't end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within reach of every American. That's why we've ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit — worth $10,000 for four years of college.

Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.

So tonight, I'm asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years — without adding to our deficit. ...

Now, I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. ...

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code. This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.

January 25, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (1)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Court Gives IRS Rare Win in 'John Edwards Sub S Tax Shelter' Case

Wall Street Journal, The IRS Targets Income Tricks, by Laura Saunders:

[A] recent U.S. district court case [was] won by the IRS against David Watson, a CPA in West Des Moines, Iowa. At issue: a common tax-cutting maneuver available to the owners of millions of closely held businesses.

The case, David E. Watson P.C. v. United States [No. 4:08-cv-442 (S.D. Iowa  Dec. 23, 2010)], revolved around Mr. Watson's low pay as the sole owner and shareholder of a so-called S Corporation. ... According to the decision, the firm made profit distributions of $203,651 and $175,470 to Mr. Watson through his Sub-S for 2002 and 2003, respectively, the years in question.

Mr. Watson, who had a graduate degree in tax and 20 years' experience, received only $24,000 of salary for each of those years, far less than the $40,000 a year earned by recent graduates in accounting with no experience, according to one expert for the IRS.

The agency cried foul, saying his pay was far too low. Why object? Unlike profit distributions, all salary is subject to a 2.9% Medicare tax and some is subject to a 12.4% Social Security, or FICA, tax. ... By reporting low pay Mr. Watson didn't save any income taxes, but he did save nearly $20,000 in payroll taxes for the two years, the IRS said, pegging Mr. Watson's true pay at $91,044 for each year.

Judge Robert W. Pratt agreed, ruling that the CPA owed the extra tax plus interest and penalties.

Mr. Watson plans to appeal the decision. "The IRS can disallow a tax deduction for unreasonably high compensation, but the law doesn't give it the authority to raise pay in order to collect extra payroll taxes," he says. Independent tax expert Robert Willens in New York says this will be a hard argument to win. ...

Recent IRS statistics suggest why the agency might focus on Sub-S pay. Over the past decade and a half, when executive paychecks exploded, the salaries of Sub-S owners declined as a percentage of total income, from 52% in 1995 to 39% in 2007, according to the latest data available. (The remaining income is taxable to the owners as well, but doesn't incur payroll taxes.) During the same 12-year period, Sub-S income doubled, while salaries increased only 26%. The average pay for a Sub-S owner was recently was $38,400, according to Martin Sullivan, an expert with Tax Analysts, a nonprofit publisher near Washington.

What is a fair ratio of profits to pay? There isn't one answer, experts say. A company with substantial capital or assets, such as a manufacturer, often is able to justify lower pay than one selling personal services like a law or accounting firm. Says Mr. Willens: "I would tell a client that for personal services, 70% would be the absolute floor and might not get the job done," he says.

In Mr. Watson's case, his revised compensation came to only about 40% of his total return from the company. The upshot: Pay can vary—but it can't be too low.

January 24, 2011 in New Cases, News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Caplin & Drysdale Shifts Tax-Exempt Guns to NASCAR-Rival

NHRA Logo After filing complaints with the IRS challenging the tax-exempt status of college football bowl games, Marcus S. Owens (Caplin & Drysdale), the former head of the IRS's Exempt Organization Division, has filed this complaint with the IRS challenging the tax-exempt status of the National Hot Rod Association.  NHRA's primary rivals, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA), are both taxable entities.

January 23, 2011 in Celebrity Tax Lore, News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Illinois Tax Hikes Claim First Victim: Jimmy John's to Leave State

Jimy John's Logo Following up on my recent posts (here and here) on the gigantic individual (67%) and business (45%) income tax hikes just approved in Illinois: Jimmy John Liautaud, the founder of Jimmy John's Gourmet Subs, has announced that he is pulling the company out of Champaign because of the tax increases.

(Hat Tip: Andrew Morriss.)

January 21, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

U.S.: The New Swedish Tax Haven

The Local, U.S. Emerges as New Swedish 'Tax Haven':

Swedish taxpayers looking to shield earnings from the country's tax authorities may have an unlikely tax haven at their disposal across the Atlantic: the United States.

While Sweden and the United States have a tax treaty obligating the tax agencies in both countries to exchange information with each other, the Swedish Tax Authority (Skatteverket) hasn't received any information from its US counterpart since 2005.

As a result, Swedish tax authorities have been unable to cross-check information about income earned in the United States for the last five years, leaving the door wide for companies and individuals based in Sweden to cheat on their Swedish taxes.

(Hat Tip: Myreon Hodur.)

January 19, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Swiss Tax Whistleblower Gives Banking Records of Tax Evaders to WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks Former Swiss banker Rudolf Elmer handed over banking records of over 2,000 wealthy individuals and corporations engaged in offshore tax evasion today to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

January 16, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

NY Times: A Pyrrhic Same-Sex Tax Victory

New York Times, For Same-Sex Couples, a Tax Victory That Doesn’t Feel Like One:

A decision in May by the IRS that was hailed as a step toward equality for same-sex couples has instead become a headache for tens of thousands of gay and lesbian families in California. [IRS: California Registered Domestic Partners Can Split Income and Tax Withholding 50/50 Without Adverse Gift Tax Consequences]

Same-sex couples who are registered domestic partners — or who married during the brief legal window — are facing a new, more complicated tax status, one that has raised a litany of expensive concerns. Many of these families will now have to pay for professional help to file by April 15.

The issues involve an IRS decision that affects the three states with both community-property laws and same-sex marriage or registered domestic partnerships: California, Nevada and Washington.

Married heterosexual couples in those states have long had the option of filing their federal taxes separately and splitting their earned incomes (community property) on their tax returns. If one person makes more than the other, splitting can result in paying lower taxes by taking the higher earnings down a tax bracket or more.

After gay rights advocates fought for five years, the IRS decision let the same rules apply to legally partnered same-sex couples — an estimated 60,000 in California. ... But carrying out the change has proved challenging. ... Same-sex couples do not have the option of waiting for these issues to be resolved. The decision on income-splitting appears to be mandatory and immediate. “I do not believe taxpayers can choose whether to follow the income-splitting rule,” Patricia Cain, a law school professor at Santa Clara University and leading expert on same-sex tax law, recently wrote. ...

Confusing and costly tax returns are not the only fallout from the IRS change; the policy has set off a chain reaction of other concerns. In a report to Congress last week, the federal Taxpayer Advocate Service put the situation in its “most serious problems” category, saying the change could have many unintended consequences, like on student loan eligibility and tax credits for same-sex couples.

The more we look at these complications in the details of how to apply the rules, the more obvious it is that it would be much easier for everyone, especially the IRS, if same-sex spouses and RDPs were entitled to the same rules as similarly-situated opposite-sex spouses. Some have argued that these tax complications are likely to play a pivotal role in leading us closer to true equality for same-sex couples.

I made that point myself a couple of nights ago at a community seminar on the new tax law. I was joined by three expert tax-return preparers, Karen Stogdill, Deb Kinney, and Chris Kollaja,  who discussed a number of the complications.  If you're interested, you might take a look at the webcast:

This paper describes the federal tax treatment of California registered domestic partners (RDPs) historically and prospectively. In May 2010 the federal government issued guidance that materially revised the government's prior position of ignoring state law property characterizations and determined that 'the federal tax treatment of community property should apply to California registered domestic partners.' The paper discusses the tax implications of this guidance on registered domestic partners in California and other community property states as well as for the 18,000 same-sex married couples in California. The guidance moves RDPs closer to tax equality with opposite sex married couples in California. Nevertheless, the guidance leaves many questions unanswered.

January 15, 2011 in News, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)