Tax Roundup, 6/11/14: IRS Bill of Rights: just words? And: when your state got its income tax.

June 11th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

billofrightsTalk is cheap.  The North Korean constitution has a whole bunch of rights,  per Wikisource.  For example:

Article 70. Citizens have the right to work. All able-bodied citizens choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills and are provided with stable jobs and working conditions. Citizens work according to their abilities and are paid in accordance with the quantity and quality of their work.

Article 75. Citizens have freedom of residence and travel.

Article 78. Marriage and the family shall be protected by the State. The State pays great attention to consolidating the family, the basic unit of social life.

 

So written declaration of rights are just empty words when there is nothing behind them. That’s why I can’t get too excited about the big Taxpayer Bill of Rights announced by IRS Commissioner Koskinen and Taxpayer Advocate Olson yesterday.

Nothing to disagree with on the list, but what will the IRS do to make it more than empty words?  Going down the list:

The Right to Be Informed.  The IRS is infamously secretive.  Will they no longer require Tax Analysts to sue them to make public their positions and procedures?  Will the required compensation for S corproation employee- shareholders be only known to the whim of the examining agent?

The Right to Quality Service.  The IRS continues to get worse at answering taxpayer questions.  It seems like they are worse than ever at dealing with correspondence.  It has become nearly impossible to reach IRS personnel in D.C. by phone to ask technical questions. Is the Commissioner going to change any of this?

The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax.  The nearly-automatic assertion of penalties for every asserted deficiency will have to end for this to mean anything.

The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard.  The consolidation of appeals offices and their seeming loss of independence will have to be reversed for this to mean something.

The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum.  See you in Tax Court…

The Right to Finality.  Does this mean IRS will enable offshore FBAR foot-faulters to come into compliance without facing financial ruin?

The Right to Privacy and The Right to Confidentiality. These are a big ones, and the IRS hasn’t been doing so well at them lately.

The Right to Retain Representation.  Yet the IRS wants to choose who gets to do this for you. When the IRS can shut down your representative, he may not be a really zealous advocate.

The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System.  This is something that the IRS can’t ultimately reach on its own — Congress designs the system — but it could sure do a lot better.  When the IRS routinely assesses $10,000 penalties for filing Form 5271 one day late, when they effectively loot foreign pension accounts of expats for inconsequential paperwork violations, it’s hard to see the fairness and justice.

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Other coverage:

TaxProf has a roundup.

Kay Bell, Would the newly adopted Taxpayer Bill of Rights have prevented the IRS Tea Party scandal?

Robert W. Wood, IRS Reveals Taxpayer Bill Of Rights

Joseph Henchman, IRS Approves List of Taxpayer Rights (Tax Policy Blog).  “My own addition is that much as requiring police to know and inform arrestees of “Miranda” warnings has increased awareness of those rights, so too will this.”

TaxGrrrl,  IRS Releases Much Anticipated ‘Taxpayer Bill Of Rights’  “With the wrap up of filing season, the IRS is now in its peak correspondence mailing season. This was, according to Koskinen and Olson, the perfect time to introduce the rights since they will be mailed out together with those correspondences.”

Russ Fox, IRS Adopts “Taxpayer Bill of Rights;” Will Anything Change?  “Until the IRS comes clean on the IRS scandal, what was released today makes a great sound bite but is otherwise nothing new. The IRS appears to have violated six of the ten rights, and is still stonewalling Congress on the scandal. The IRS’s budget won’t be increased because of today’s press release.”

 

Scott Drenkard, Richard Borean, When Did Your State Adopt Its Income Tax? (Tax Policy Blog):

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No, they haven’t been around forever, it just feels that way.  Wisconsin was first.

 

Jason Dinesen, Same-Sex Marriage and Amending Prior-Year Returns.  “A broader way of asking the question is: if someone who’s in a same-sex marriage amends a prior-year return that they had previously filed as a single person due to the Defense of Marriage Act, must that amended return show a filing status of married?”

Tony Nitti, District Court: Lone Sale Of Undeveloped Land Generates Ordinary Income, Jeopardizing Land Banking Transactions   

William Perez, Home Office Deduction

Keith Fogg, Government Drops Appeal in Rand Case (Procedurally Taxing).  This is the case where the Tax Court ruled that a recovery of refundable credits in excess of income tax was not a “deficiency” for computing penalties.

Jack Townsend, Reminder: Category 2 Banks Will Serve Up Their U.S. Depositors .  Consider banking secrecy dead.

Brian Strahle provides a list of state and local tax blog resources. 

 

20140611-2Alan Cole, Japan’s Tax Reforms and its Blockbuster GDP Growth (Tax Policy Blog):

Paired together, theory would predict that these two tax changes create a structural shift in the Japanese economy; the more favorable corporate tax climate would encourage investment, and some income would be spent on that new investment instead of immediate consumption. Over the long term, this will boost Japanese wealth and productivity, and eventually allow for a higher standard of living than before.

The data fit this theory so far; private nonresidential investment grew at a “blockbuster” rate of 7.6% in the first quarter of 2014. 

 

David Brunori, A Coke and a Smile and a Tax (Tax Analysts Blog). ” It would tax a can of Coke, but if you went to Starbucks and dumped five teaspoons of sugar into your latte, there would be no additional tax.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 398

Going Concern, Ex-BDO Vice Chairman Given 16 Months to Think About His Choices. He will retire to a Bureau of Prisons meditation facility.

He was ashen after the sentence was announced.  Gray man sentenced to 18 months for tax evasion

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/10/14: When doing a like-kind exchange, keep the kids away. And: Iowa biofuel credit claw-backs?

June 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Keep your friends close, and your relatives far away.  The tax law often assumes that any financial transaction between relatives is untrustworthy.  Many transactions that work just fine with a stranger become tax disasters when family is involved.  A New York man got a hard education in this yesterday in Tax Court.

The man was selling property at a $1.5 million gain, and he wanted to use the Section 1031 “like-kind exchange” rules to defer the gain by using the proceeds to acquire new property.  The tax regulations let you do so under the right facts as long as you follow rules on escrowing funds or using a “qualified intermediary,” and you meet deadlines for identifying and closing on the new “replacement property.”

For example (a very simplified example), if you sell an investment property and the proceeds are held by a “qualified intermediary,” and you identify the property within 30 days and close on it within 180 days, using the funds held by the intermediary in the purchase, the gain on the original property is transferred to the new property, to be only recognized if and when that property is sold.  But the IRS insists you go by the book.

These deals only work if you use a “qualified” intermediary.  The taxpayer in this case used his son.  Game over, said the Tax Court:

Petitioner acknowledges that there was no direct exchange of like-kind property; property A was sold and property B was purchased with proceeds from the sale of property A. Petitioner also acknowledges that the intermediary used in the transaction was his son. However, petitioner asserts that he meets the requirements of the regulation’s safe harbor because (1) his son is an attorney; (2) the funds from property A were held in an attorney trust account; and (3) the real estate documents refer to the transaction as a section 1031 exchange. We do not accept petitioner’s argument. The regulation is explicit: A lineal descendant is a disqualified person, and the regulation makes no exception based on his/her profession. Consequently, petitioner’s disposition of property A and subsequent acquisition of property B is not a deferred exchange within the purview of section 1031, and he must recognize income on the gain from the sale of property A.

There are a number of reputable firms that specialize in serving as intermediaries and escrow agents in like-kind exchanges.   They can make a potentially complicated deal go much more smoothly.  And they are probably not your son. Yes, they charge for their services, but when a $1,512,000 taxable gain is at stake, as it was here, it can be a real bargain.

Cite: Blangiardo, T.C. Memo 2014-110.

 

In other legal news, the Supreme Court declined to hear Wells-Fargo’s appeal of a 2013 decision striking down a lease tax shelter designed to generate a $423 million capital loss.

 

20120906-1Iowa wants some tax credits back.  Agweek reports:

 The Iowa Department of Revenue has warned at least one investor who owns shares in Energae LP of Clear Lake, Iowa, that tax credits for the company’s green energy production couldn’t be verified for 2012, and the credits must be paid back.

In a letter dated May 20, 2014, David Keenan, a revenue examiner for the compliance division of the Iowa Department of Revenue, told an unidentified taxpayer from Iowa to pay back $1,131.73. Victoria Daniels, public information officer for the agency, declined to comment on what might have disqualified the credits, or whether the denial affects only 2012. She also declined to comment on whether the department’s decision was focused on just one audited person or whether it will be extended to others who used the credits.

The Department has clawed back credits in cases where ethanol producers have failed or otherwise not met the requirements for the credits.

The article shows that the state subsidies encourage careless investing.  An attorney in a lawsuit on the matter is quoted:

“They offered a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, so people thought, ‘How can you lose?’ They may find out. I hope things come to a head soon because it seems to me there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation in the investing public. I think there needs to be some clarity.”

While this is only one side of the story, it’s easy to see where an investor might overlook due diligence when a “dollar-for-dollar tax credit” makes the deal seem like a free play.

 

The Onion is a satirical publication, but it’s hard to tell sometimes:   States Now Offering Millions In Tax Breaks To Any Person Who Says ‘High-Tech Jobs’

ST. PAUL, MN—In an effort to spur their local economies, many state governments are now offering tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks to any person who simply says the words “high-tech jobs,” according to a survey by the Pew Research Center published Monday. “We must do what it takes to draw potential innovators to the great state of Minnesota, which means granting lucrative tax credits and loan guarantees to any individual—whoever they may be—who utters the phrase ‘high-tech jobs’ in any context whatsoever,” said Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, whose office has reportedly joined numerous other states in doling out tax exclusions, low-interest municipal loans, full income tax exemption for 10 years or more, and other valuable incentives to thousands of people who have spoken such phrases as “biotech,” “innovation center,” “high-skilled workers,” and “tomorrow’s economy.”

If the story were written about Iowa, the magic words would include “renewables,” “wind-energy,” and “fertilizer.”

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 397.  The stories today mostly cover a huge illegal transfer of confidential 501(c)(4) taxpayer data to the FBI.  The House committee investigating the Tea Party scandal revealed  communications between Lois Lerner and FBI representatives arranging the illegal transfer.  This is a big deal, making it clear that the activities involving Ms. Lerner weren’t accidental, and were far more sinister than the “phony scandal” crowd would have you believe.

Russ Fox, Perhaps This Is Why Lois Lerner Is Taking the Fifth.  “Based on what I just read, if anyone is expecting the IRS’s budget to increase this year, well, that has as much chance as it snowing here in Las Vegas tomorrow. (The high is expected to reach just 105 F.)”

Leslie Book, Exploding Packages and IRS Disclosure of Confidential Tax Return Information (Procedurally Taxing)

 

Robert D. Flach brings your fresh Tuesday Buzz!

Kay Bell, Lowest U.S. property tax bill? Probably $2 in coastal Georgia

 

Jack Townsend, Court Holds Online Poker Accounts are FBAR Reportable:

The two issues were:  (1) whether the accounts with the three entities were “bank, securities or other financial account[s]” that must be reported on an FBAR; and (2) whether each of the three accounts was in a foreign country  The Court answered both questions yes.

A potentially expensive result for a lot of folks, if it holds up.

 

Gerald Prante, Deductions for Executive Pay Is Not a Subsidy. (Tax Policy Blog)  “Essentially, IPS and ATF are starting from a baseline that assumes all executive pay should be capped at $1 million and any deviation from this is a subsidy.”

 

taxanalystslogoJeremy Scott, Whistleblower Highlights Undue Influence at the IRS (Tax Analysts Blog)  “He claimed that granting credits for the use of black liquor was opposed by most of chief counsel, but that a few senior managers changed the policy, allowing paper manufacturers to take advantage of a true tax loophole.”

But we are supposed to trust them to regulate preparers without fear or favor.

 

Tax Justice Blog, State News Quick Hits: Keeping Score? Real Tax Reform 0. Tax Cuts 2

Martin A. Sullivan, How Not to Tax the Rich (Tax Analysts Blog).  “The liberal case for corporate taxation has been severely weakened by capital mobility.”

Renu Zaretsky, Repatriation, Havens, and Tax Reform Abroad.  The TaxVox daily headline roundup talks about extenders, tax havens and the costs of repatriation tax holidays.

 

Peter Reilly, Confidence Games – How The Most Prestigious Accounting Firms Raided The Treasury: 

 Now thanks to Tanina Rostain and Milton C. Regan, Jr. you can read all about it in “Confidence Games – Lawyers, Accountants, and the Tax Shelter Industry”. It is a sad story with no heroes and only one villain, who is colorful enough to be engaging – Paul Dauugerdas, who is still awaiting sentencing on his second conviction (He got a do-over on his trial due to juror misconduct).  The book is a must read for all tax professionals and others may enjoy it too.  

Sounds like a buy to me.

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/9/14: The great Illinois privatized tax shakedown. And lots more!

June 9th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The wedding was beautiful, and great fun.  Introducing the new married couple.

 

Illinois sealGreat moments in state taxation.  Tax Analysts has a disturbing story ($link) about how an Illinois law firm is using the “qui tam” recovery procedures of the state’s False Claims Act against out-of-state taxpayers.  In a “qui tam” proceeding, an outside party, known as a “relator,” can file a lawsuit alleging fraud against the state and then share in the recovery — up to 25%, according to the story.

And they actually may be hurting state tax collection efforts, according to the story:

“The cases have clearly interfered with the administration and enforcement of tax law and may have even ultimately cost the state money, though it’s impossible to quantify how much,” said Mark Dyckman, the Illinois Department of Revenue’s deputy general counsel for sales tax litigation.

The story says the firm involved “is responsible for 99 percent of the qui tam tax litigation in Illinois.”

The story says Illinois may encouraged the suits initially, apparently thinking it could get some easy money out of the deal.  In other states where the firm tried the same thing, state Attorneys General won dismissals of the initial suits, discouraging further efforts.  The firm is also incentivized by the ability of a relator to share in outsized false claim penalties:

Second, while the treble damages for back taxes under false claims acts naturally attract the most attention, [taxpayer attorney Jordan] Goodman said the civil penalty — generally $5,000 to $10,000 per false claim under the federal law and $5,500 to $11,000 per false claim under the Illinois statute — can be just as oppressive, depending on what counts as a false claim. If each monthly sales tax return is a false claim carrying a $10,000 penalty, and 12 returns are filed in one year, that’s a $120,000 penalty. If every failure to collect taxes on shipping and handling is a false claim, and the business averages 10 sales into the state per month for 120 false claims, that’s a $1.2 million penalty for the year, which can turn into $12 million for the 10-year period covered by the false claims act.

Wikipedia image of Tams

Wikipedia image of Tams

The story says that one tactic used by the Illinois law firm is to make out-of-state purchases over the internet, and then to file suits if no sales tax is collected.  As the law covering remote sales remains unclear, it’s difficult to consider these items “false claims.”  That’s especially true in suits in which the taxpayer either was following published guidance or an audit settlement with Illinois.

These cases have apparently been going on since 2002, and the legislature and the state have yet to stop what would appear to be a purely abusive and parasitic practice.  If there ever was a case for universal application of a “sauce for the gander” rule, in which a losing plaintiff had to pay the same amount of penalties asserted against the winning defendant, this would be it.

 

Alligator bait.  The New Orleans Advocate reports on a Film tax credit promoter sentenced to 70 months.  It’s remarkable what high quality entrepreneurs these state tax giveaways attract.

 

20130114-1The ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Education is setting up a “Tax Place” feature on its website.  They seek your input.

Paul Neiffer reminds us that FBAR Filing Deadline is Near

Peter Reilly, CPA Faces Prison For Letting Client Deduct Personal Expenses.  It makes you want to carefully consider the work you want to take on.

Russ Fox, Back to the Past: Poker Sites and FBARs. Poker Sites Are Again Reportable Foreign Financial Accounts.  More incomprehensible foreign tax enforcement.

 

Cara Griffith, Protecting Confidentiality When Information Is Exchanged Between Tax Authorities  (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxGrrrl, As NBA Finals Continue, Tax Incentives Lure 76ers Into New Jersey   

 

 

20140321-3TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 396

Kyle Pomerleau, CTJ and U.S. PIRG Mislead with New Report on Corporate Taxes (Tax Policy Blog):  “USPIRG also doesn’t mention that their ideal corporate tax code has been tried in other countries with negative results. New Zealand attempted ending deferral as USPIRG suggested. The results were devastating to their economy.

Tax Justice Blog, Tax Foundation’s Dubious Attempt to Debunk Widely Known Truths about Corporate Tax Avoidance Is Smoke and Mirrors.  Never let the facts get in the way of what is “widely known.”

 

Howard Gleckman, Are Domestic Partnerships A Way For Heterosexual Couples To Avoid The Marriage Tax Penalty?   (TaxVox) This sort of thing makes makes me question the usefulness of “nudge” strategies to use the tax code to encourage behavior.  There are always perverse unintended consequences.

 

News from the Profession.  Public Accounting Firms, Ranked by CEO Hotness (Going Concern).  A tallest midget competition.

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The new married couple.

June 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The elder son went and got married to his high school sweetheart.

20140608_2

In case you were wondering why it’s been quiet around here.

A beautiful couple, a beautiful wedding.  Good luck, Dan and Heather!

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Tax Roundup, 6/4/14: IRS to ease up on FBAR foot-faulters? And: nanny-state taxes!

June 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note: The Tax Update will take Thursday and Friday off this week to tend to a family wedding.  We’ll be back as usual Monday.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how much he cares for innocent victims of his FBAR war.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how much he cares for innocent victims of his FBAR war.

Maybe we shouldn’t be shooting jaywalkers?  The IRS may be declaring a cease-fire in its long war on inadvertent foreign account violators.  Tax Analysts reports ($link) that IRS Commissioner Koskinen told a tax conference that it will be modifying its Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative:

“We are well aware that there are many U.S. citizens who have resided abroad for many years, perhaps even the vast majority of their lives,” Koskinen told a luncheon audience at the 2014 OECD International Tax Conference in Washington. “We have been considering whether these individuals should have an opportunity to come into compliance that doesn’t involve the type of penalties that are appropriate for U.S.-resident taxpayers who were willfully hiding their investments overseas.”

Gee, you think so?  You really think 25%-300% penalties might not be appropriate for the crime of committing personal finance while living abroad?  What could possibly have given him that idea?

     Koskinen also pointed to taxpayers residing in the United States with offshore accounts “whose prior noncompliance clearly did not constitute willful tax evasion but who, to date, have not had a clear way of coming into compliance that doesn’t involve the threat of substantial penalties.”

“We believe that re-striking this balance between enforcement and voluntary compliance is particularly important at this point in time, given that we are nearing July 1, the effective date of FATCA,” Koskinen said. 

One of the things that made Doug Shulman the Worst Commissioner Ever was his brutal treatment of trivial inadvertent offshore paperwork filing violators.  Hopefully his successor will make coming into compliance voluntarily a transparent, predictable process designed primarily to ensure future compliance.  Something like state programs for non-resident non-filers, where taxpayers pay back taxes, if any, and interest for a limited number of open years would make sense  People are understandably reluctant to come into compliance when it can mean financial ruin.

The IRS has not released any details of this kinder, gentler approach, so curb your enthusiasm for now.

Related: IRS Commissioner Koskinen Announces that Changes — Liberalizations — Are In the Offing for OVDP 2012  (Jack Townsend)  “All in all, this is good news, at least from a hope perspective.”

 

20140409-1Robert D Flach offers YET ANOTHER POST CALLING FOR A VOLUNTARY TAX PREPARER DESIGNATION.  Robert makes his case for a “voluntary” designation for preparers who meet some standard.

Robert says something I agree with:

  Having the IRS oversee the designation is not the best idea.  I have suggested that the voluntary RTRP-like designation be administered by an independent industry-based organization like an American Institute of Registered Tax Return Preparers (see “It’s Time for Independent Certification for Tax Preparers“).

If the IRS has nothing to do with it, fine.  If it does, it will inevitably do special favors for its “voluntary” friends and make like difficult for others.

Robert is a little like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, looking for a brain.  The movie quickly makes clear that the Scarecrow already has a perfectly good brain; all he lacks is a diploma.  Robert, a perfectly good (if old-fashioned) preparer, doesn’t need a diploma to save his clients from the Wicked Witch.

 

TaxGrrrl, After TIGTA Report, Expect More Tax Refund Delays,  The IRS is encouraged to expand its refund offset programs.

Paul Neiffer, Portability Revisited. “With the “permanent” changes in the estate tax laws from about 2 years ago, we now have a permanent provision called portability.  This allows for the unused portion of someone’s estate to be “ported” over to the surviving spouse to be used on their final estate tax return.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 391

 

 

The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy. Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

Joseph Thorndike, Democrats Just Love Their Nanny-State Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

The Tax Foundation recently spotlighted a Democratic tax proposal that gives substance to the name-calling: the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act, introduced last month by Sens. Tom Harkin, and Richard Blumenthal.

According to its champions, the act would protect children from the predations of junk food purveyors. In particular, it would deny manufacturers any sort of tax deduction “for advertising and marketing directed at children to promote the consumption of food of poor nutritional quality.” It would use the resulting revenue to help fund the Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

That all sounds great. Except for the fact that it’s arbitrary, capricious, and an egregious misuse of tax policy.

The tax law – is there anything it can’t do?

Joseph adds, wisely:

Reasonable people can disagree about what qualifies as a loophole. But by almost any definition, the deduction for advertising junk food is not one.

Once you decide the tax law is a public policy Swiss Army Knife, there’s no logical place to stop.

 

20140411-1Kay Bell, Calories or volume: Which is the better tax on sugary drinks?  Neither.  Some problems just aren’t tax problems.

David Brunori’s righteous anger at taxes on e-cigarettes is now freely available at Tax Analysts Blog: Taxing E-Cigarettes Seems Crazy.  “Yet politicians routinely say that e-cigarettes will lead people to start smoking, or worse — use drugs! Are they daft?”  No, just greedy.

 

Renu Zaretsky, In the Midwest, Across the Pacific, and Down Under.  Tax Custs in Ohio and a rejected tax boost in Missouri are part of the TaxVox headline roundup today.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Will Anti-Tax Yogis Sink Tax-Reform in D.C.?.  If that’s what it takes to get the pic-i-nic basket.

 

This will make the homecoming in 2042 a little less awkward.  WMUR.com reports:

The woman who, along with her husband, held police at bay during a nine-month standoff in 2007 over tax evasion has apologized to the community.

Elaine Brown’s apology appeared in Plain Facts, a monthly publication written by Plainfield residents.

She said she and her husband Ed were trying to advance the “cause of justice.” She went on to say they “failed to take into account the impact we were having on others in the town. We failed to realize the fear, anxiety and impact we were causing these good people.

She was unable to apologize in person because she has been detained — until November 2042, according to the Bureau of Prisons inmate locator.  She should be home in time to invite her neighbors to her 102nd birthday party.

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/3/14: The joys of cronyism. And why Warren’s math is off.

June 3rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

20120906-1When states “target” tax breaks, the little guy gets caught in the crossfire.  That’s the conclusion of a terrific new study on why special tax favors to special friends of the government hurt state economies and corrode good government.  The paper, by the free-market think-tank Mercatus Institute, is the best distillation of the case against luring businesses with special tax favors.

The study describes how big companies skillfully play state politicians for subsidies.  It shows how Wal-Mart has received at least 260 special tax breaks worth over $1 billion.  It describes the $370 million in North Carolina subsidies to Apple to create a whopping 50 jobs — $7.4 million each.  These come at the expense of small companies who pay full-ride on their tax bill as they lack the lobbyists and clout to play the system.

It discusses how the only way states can make a case for their special breaks is to ignore opportunity costs.  States assume that money spent to lure a well-connected company would otherwise be buried or something, generating no economic activity.  As the study says, “Labor and capital are scarce resources and they are rarely left idle.”  It’s a point Tax Update readers may be familiar with.

The study notes how the subsidies hurt the companies who don’t get the benefits, even if they are not direct competitors of the corporate welfare recipients: “When new companies receive extra money to invest, they raise the price of capital and drive up wages, which imposes an additional cost on unsubsidized companies in the state.”  This refutes the fallacy that “Smith’s tax credit doesn’t cost Jones a cent.”

microsoft-apple

They also point out how targeted tax breaks create a crony culture in statehouses.  The study cites the example of Texas (citations omitted, emphasis added):

As companies direct more of their resources to securing special benefits, they need more people who can lobby or who have other rent-seeking skills.  There is already a whole industry of “location consultants,” some of whom demand a commission of up to 30 percent on the subsidies that they can negotiate with local governments.  Consultant G. Brint Ryan in Texas is a good representative of this industry.  Texas allocates corporate benefits exceeding $19 billion per year, more than any other state.  Ryan realized the profit opportunity in serving as a consultant to companies seeking to obtain these benefits.  He has since secured benefits for ExxonMobil, Samsung, and Wal-Mart, among others.  Ryan also illustrates the importance of having political networks for securing targeted benefits.  In 2012, the Texas legislature set up a commission to evaluate the impact of state investments in development projects.  Ryan, who donated more than $150,000 to the campaign of the state’s lieutenant governor, was appointed to the commission by the lieutenant governor.

The same dynamic is playing out in Iowa, as the economic development bureaucracy has spawned a cottage industry of attorneys and consultants to tap into taxpayer funds.

What should states do?  The report says:

Four policy implications for state governments follow from our analysis:

- Allow for current targeted benefits to expire, and abolish state programs that grant them on a regular basis.

- Make sure that targeted benefits cannot be granted by individual policymakers on an ad hoc or informal basis

- Broadly lower tax rates to encourage company investments and obtain a more efficient allocation of resources.

- Cooperate with other states to form an agreement about dismantling targeted benefits.

Sounds a lot like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.

Other coverage:

Joe Carter, How Enterprise Zones Lead to Cronyism

Kenric Ward, Study: Cronyism Increasingly Lucrative for Politicians and Businesses

Related:  Governor’s press conference praises construction of newest great pyramids.

 

20140603-1Tax Justice Blog, State News Quick Hits: Gas Taxes, NJ Budget Woes, Madison Square Gardens’ Sizable Tax Break

 

Jason Dinesen has Yet Another Post About Regulation of Tax Preparers.  “Preparer regulation is a bad idea. ”

Kay Bell, Tax moves to make in June 2014

Robert D. Flach has your fresh Tuesday Buzz!

 

Andrew Lundeen, The Common Misconception about the Lower Rate on Capital Gains and Dividends (Tax Policy Blog):

What is not easily seen is that the $100 that Mr. Buffett earns in dividends has already been taxed at the corporate level. In fact, Mr. Buffett’s $100 didn’t start at $100, it started as $153.85.

To receive his $100 dividend payment, Mr. Buffett must own shares in a corporation, which we will call Company A. Company A earned $153.85 in profits on Mr. Buffett’s behalf. This $153.85 is then subject to the federal corporate tax of 35 percent, or $53.85.

The corporation pays the $53.85 to the federal government on behalf of Mr. Buffett and then passes the remaining $100 to him in the form of a dividend. This is the $100 we discussed earlier, on which, Mr. Buffett pays $23.80 in dividend taxes.

Warren Buffett knows this.  But raising individual rates helps keep down those small guys whose businesses report their taxes on the owner 1040s — and, incidentally, makes it easier for Warren’s insurance business to sell tax-advantaged products.

 

Jeremy Scott, Camp Waves the White Flag (Tax Analysts Blog). “Camp tried to reform the tax system — and failed.”

Martin Sullivan, Corporate Expatriations: More Deals Are Likely (Tax Analysts Blog).  ” It is unlikely that any known or yet-to-be-made-public deals will be slowed by Democrats’ efforts.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 390

 

TaxGrrrl, John Daly Relied On Tax Records To Figure $90 Million Gambling Losses.  “Despite tens of millions of dollars in gambling losses, Daly doesn’t seem to regret his behavior, saying, ‘I had a lot of fun doing it.’”

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/2/14: Tax moralism and moral panics. And: IRS, abetter of theives, scourge of victims!

June 2nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

taxanalystslogoTax Analysts’ Tax Notes and State Tax Notes are part of my healthy breakfast, and today they are especially delicious.  The only bad part, for me, is that they are subscription publications, making them hard to share in full.  I can give you morsels, though.

Joseph Thorndike has an excellent discussion of the hollow moralism of tax debates, though he ends up defending it.  In the course of discussing an article by Allison Christians on the role of moralism in tax debates, he comes up with gem after gem.  He quotes Learned Hand’s discussion of the issue, which I find conclusive:

Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.

That never stops politicians, as Joseph points out:

     More recently, President Obama’s proposal for a “Buffett rule” clearly falls within that tradition of tax moralism (although in this version of the morality play, the billionaire plays the hero rather than the villain). Like the AMT, the Buffett rule is a rear-guard action to defend the fisc against the predations of aggressive avoiders.

But those sorts of Rube Goldberg tax contraptions are an admission of failure. They take for granted that the existing tax base and its statutory rate structure cannot be defended. But the efficacy of those second-best tax systems — at least when measured in terms of fairness — is anything but self-evident. And their costs in terms of complexity and opacity are substantial. 

If you move away from the law, to a system of “morality” in paying taxes, you lose your way.  Who decides what is moral?  Politicians?  Don’t make me laugh.  It’s hard enough to follow the law, given its ridiculous complexity.  If you then require taxpayers to meet subjective standards of whatever pressure group feels like calling a press conference that day, you make taxes pretty much impossible.

One point not mentioned is the conflicting moral obligations of taxpayers.  A rich individual has moral responsibilities to his children, his business and his own community.  The IRS can’t be the supreme moral agent.  And a corporation has moral and legal obligations to its shareholders, customers and employees that conflict with any “moral” obligation to the fisc.  Given that pensions are mostly invested in corporation stock and bonds, their “moral” obligation to give politicians more money for buying votes is hard to take seriously.

 

e-cigFor dessert, David Brunori chimes in on e-cigarettes and politicians

 I get the rationale for tobacco taxes. You smoke, you get sick, society has to pay for your medical care. That’s consistent with the classic rationale for excise taxes. Those taxes are legitimate only if used to pay for externalities — that is, the societal costs that aren’t borne by the market.

Of course, cigarette taxes in particular have never really been about externalities. If they were, every penny of revenue would go to smoking-related healthcare. Instead, dozens of states earmark some cigarette tax revenue for education (I still can’t believe teachers who rely on cigarette tax revenue for their raises aren’t leaving cartons of Lucky Strikes on their kids’ desks). 

Ah, but giving away cartons of cigarettes on a teacher’s salary?  Of course, my mom was a teacher, and I remember as a kid buying her cigarettes at the store.  But she never shared them, and I never picked up the habit.

David adds:

Taxing e-cigarettes is a money grab. If people use e-cigarettes instead of real cigarettes, the state loses money. The vested interests like the public employee unions and the myriad government contractors can’t have that. But proponents won’t admit the money-grabbing motive.

Iowa, like many other states, is a partner in the tobacco industry as a result of a shakedown settlement agreement with the big tobacco companies.  The industry continues to operate, with the politicians getting a cut of the revenue (nice vice racket you got there, hate to see something bad happen to it).  The moral panic over e-cigarettes is really about protecting this franchise.

 

20130419-1We’ll let them steal your money, and then we’ll punish you for it.  IRS freezes tax ID theft victims’ return – then hits them with late penalties. (Cleveland.com)

Pat Pekarek and her husband, Roger, discovered someone filed taxes using Roger’s Social Security number last year, after the IRS rejected their e-filed joint return.

The Pekareks, who live in Parma Heights, dutifully followed the IRS’ instructions to send their return by mail with documentation proving they were the real Pekareks. The IRS immediately froze their account, along with a credit that Pat Pekarek expected to use toward this year’s taxes.

A year later, the account remains in the IRS deep freeze – along with the credit. And now, even though it was the IRS freeze that kept the credit on ice, the agency is demanding the Pekareks cough up back taxes and pay late penalties.

The IRS has let identity theft get completely out of control, while spending its time and energy trying to regulate law-abiding preparers and harassing uncongenial political groups.  And they’ve managed to neglect and abuse the victims while doing so.  Good thing they are responsible for our health insurance system too.

 

William Perez, Foreign Bank Accounts due June 30th.  New form, and now you have to e-file.

TaxGrrrl, Las Vegas Man Cheated IRS, Taxpayers Using False Home Buyer Credits:  “Refundable credits are traditionally a magnet for fraudulent claims and this one was no different: initial reports indicated that nearly 100,000 refunds were perhaps inappropriately distributed, with $600 million of taxpayer credits labelled “suspicious” in 2009 (despite those numbers, Congress kept extending the credit).”

Jack Townsend, Accountant Sentenced For Tax Crimes; Conduct Included FBAR violations .  “The gravamen of Duban’s conduct is that he assisted the persons related to the automobile dealership in running nondeductible personal expenses through the corporation.”

Scott Schumacher, Winning the He-Said-She-Said Case (Procedurally Taxing)

Tony Nitti, S Corporation Shareholder Must Reduce Basis For Non-Deductible Corporate Loss 

 

20140401-1Lyman Stone, Response to Politico: Taxes and the Texas Miracle (Tax Policy Blog):

But long-term tax policies do matter. Stable, neutral, non-distortionary tax policies, offering low tax rates on broad tax bases, can support economic growth. Firm site selection is one channel, through which taxes affect economic decisions on the margin. There is robust evidence that taxes (while certainly not the only or even the largest factor) do matter for site selection. And, as one of the few site selection variables policymakers can directly control, it makes sense for them to be concerned about the role of taxes.

But not in the form of paying people to be your friends via tax credits.

 

Annette Nellen, Is tax reform on or off? Odd activities in the House last week

Kay Bell, Debate continues about tax havens and punishment fairness

 

Renu Zaretsky, Holes, Holidays, Hurricanes, and Tax Bills (TaxVox).  “The Illinois legislature passed a budget with revenue holes and no spending cuts.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 388

Me, 2 million served.  An arbitrary milestone, achieved!

 

Russ Fox, No, Fido & Lulu Can’t Own Your Business:

All corporations have to have a Board of Directors. That board handles various business items of the corporation. Now, in a tightly controlled corporation you might just have one board member–yourself. But Mr. Zuckerman elected a strategy that I haven’t seen before (and I doubt I’ll see again): He named his pets as board members.

They were probably as independent as any number of human board members.

 

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2 million served.

June 1st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

According to Sitemeter, visitor #2,000,000 stopped by early yesterday afternoon.

2000000

I wish I could say that visitor won fabulous prizes, but maybe our Google visitor found some insight into Sec. 199 instead.

Lacking fabulous prizes, I’ll just say thanks to all of you for stopping by.  I hope you are finding it worth your internet time.

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Tax Roundup, 5/30/15: Antidumping edition. And: permanent bonus depreciation advances.

May 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20121120-2Iowa Public Radio, Can Employers Dump Workers On Health Exchanges? Yes, For A Price:

The latest tweak from the Internal Revenue Service essentially prohibits employers from giving workers tax-free subsidies to buy policies in the online public marketplaces created by the health law. The New York Times first reported the rule.

But the headline on the story, “I.R.S. Bars Employers From Dumping Workers Into Health Exchanges,” overstates the case. Nothing stops employers from canceling company plans and leaving workers to buy individual policies sold through the exchanges — as long as the companies pay the relevant taxes and penalties, said Christopher Condeluci, a Venable lawyer specializing in benefits and taxes. Those would vary according to a company’s size and circumstances.

The ACA requires employers with more than 50 “full-time equivalent” employees to provide “adequate” coverage.  The IRS says that subsidizing employees to use the ACA exchanges doesn’t work.  This, of course, is the same IRS that arbitrarily and unlawfully just waived the requirement in the first place through 2014, and for those with under 100 employees through 2015.  Some laws are more equal than others.

It’s fascinating that the Administration refers to the practice of sending employees to buy policies on the exchanges as “dumping.”  The exchanges are a centerpiece of Obamacare, touted as an important step in making affordable coverage available for everyone.  Suddenly they are a “dump.”  Obamacare fines individuals for not patronizing that very dump.

 

20130422-2Permanent bonus depreciation advances in House.  Tax Analysts reports  ($link, my emphasis)):

Camp said the extenders the committee considered had been renewed enough times that most of them have been or soon will have been extended for at least 10 years, the budget window period. “If we’ve extended something for 10 years, let’s call it what it is, [and] that’s permanent policy,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to raise taxes other places in the economy to keep current tax law.”

The costliest bill the committee approved was H.R. 4718, introduced by Ways and Means Committee member Patrick J. Tiberi, R-Ohio. That bill would permanently extend bonus depreciation, allowing businesses to immediately deduct 50 percent of qualified purchased property. The bill, passed on a 23-11 vote, would expand the definition of qualified property to include owner-occupied retail stores. It would lift restrictions to allow for more unused corporate alternative minimum tax credits, which businesses can claim in lieu of bonus depreciation, to be used for capital investment.

Expiring provisions are a lie.  Any extension of an “expiring” provision should be counted as permenent under budget rules, as they pretty much are.

Related: Dave Camp’s Great Bonus Depreciation Flip-Flop (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox);  Negative GDP Growth Illustrates the Need for Bonus Depreciation (Alan Cole, Tax Policy Blog)

 

Wind turbineOne of these is not like the other.  The Des Moines Register coverage of last night’s Iowa GOP Senate Primary debate has something I never expected to see in a story about a candidate for statewide office:

Whitaker stands out because he doesn’t support the Renewable Fuel Standard, or any tax breaks for any energy source. “If we don’t believe in mandates for health care, we shouldn’t believe in mandates as it relates to energy,” he said.

All other candidates in both parties genuflect to the Renewables Subsidy idol.  In Iowa, ethanol apostasy is rare; more typical is the GOP governor who is all about picking winners and losers, when the winners are an influential local constituency.

Related: Governor’s press conference praises construction of newest great pyramids.

 

The IRS needs to regulate these people to stamp out fraud.  “Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that six former employees of the Internal Revenue Service have pleaded guilty to receiving unemployment benefits while they worked at the agency.” (Department of Justice press release)

Robert D. Flach serves up your Friday Buzz.  “Who would have guessed that I would agree with a group of CPAs?”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 386

 

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And now they’ve proved it.  A Minneapolis husband and wife who ran a website called imarriedanidiot.com were convicted last week on federal tax charges.” (TwinCities.com)

Across the road, of course.  Where are all the Chickens?  (Paul Neiffer)

News from the Profession.  This Big 4 Firm Just Ruined Selfies for Everyone (Going Concern)

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Tax Roundup, 5/29/14: Supreme Court ponders crediting city income taxes on state returns. And: more jeers for “voluntary” preparer regulation.

May 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case on whether states must allow a credit for taxes paid to municipalities.  The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear an appeal of Maryland v. Wynne, where a Maryland court ruled that the state must allow a credit against Maryland taxes for taxes paid in non-Maryland cities by Maryland residents.

State generally allow their residents credits for taxes paid to other states, to the extent the taxes don’t exceed resident-state tax on the same income.  Iowans compute this credit on Form 130.  This keeps residents with out-of-state income from doubling-up their state taxes.  Municipal taxes don’t necessarily get the same treatment.  An Iowa Department of Revenue representative outlined the state’s position:

Iowa Code section 422.8(1), which provides for the out-of-state tax credit, only refers to tax paid to another state or foreign country.  “State” is defined in Iowa Code section 4.1(32) as including the District of Columbia and its territories.  Therefore, based on the Iowa statute, Iowa would take the position that the out-of-state tax credit is not allowed for municipal taxes.

I have no idea how the court will rule on this.  Both Maryland and the Obama administration urged the court to take the case, which might indicate the court is sympathetic to them.  Or it might not.  For its own reasons, the Court may be looking for a vehicle to clarify the law of multistate income tax.

A brief from an organization of municipality attorneys describes the Maryland holding being appealed:

1. First, in order to avoid substantial interference in interstate commerce, the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution requires every state and subdivision thereof to give its residents a full tax credit for all income taxes paid in another state or subdivision; and

2. Second, the receipt of Subchapter S pass-through income in Maryland is “interstate commerce” which is being substantially affected by Maryland’s tax structure, in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.

Both of those points seem perfectly reasonable to me.  If the court rules against the taxpayer, states may try to raise money be limiting their credit for taxes paid to other states.

In any case, it would be prudent for Iowans who have paid taxes to non-Iowa municipalities to file protective refund claims for open years.  For taxpayers who extended 2010 returns, that year is still open; otherwise, 2011 is the earliest open year.  The court will hear the case in its term beginning in October.

The TaxProf has a coverage roundup.  TaxGrrrl reports in Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Landmark Case On Whether States May Tax Income Earned In Other States, with a good discussion of the history of the case.

 

20130121-2Another supporter of preparer regulation comes out against “voluntary” certification.  The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants came out against the IRS “voluntary” preparer certification system this week.  Now the National Association of Enrolled Agents, which like the AICPA was a fan of the now-defunct IRS mandatory preparer regulation scheme, has also come out against the “voluntary” program proposed by Commissioner Koskinen.  Robert D. Flach reports:

It appears that the main objection of NAEA to the current IRS proposal is the replacement of the original initial competency test used in the pre-Loving mandatory RTRP program with a “50-question ‘knowledge based comprehension test’ to be created by individual CE providers”.

It goes on to say -

“CE by itself, even in combination with a ‘knowledge based comprehension test’, fails to provide a taxpayer with any assurance that the person preparing his or her return is even minimally competent to do so.”

I think this is just another way for the IRS to help its friends at the national tax prep franchises to get something to put on their windows without helping taxpayers.  Considering its limited financial resources, it is absurd for the IRS to be taking on a new program.  Taxpayers can already choose CPAs or Enrolled Agents if they want “certified” preparers, and nothing stops unenrolled preparers from setting up their own system.  You have to have a lot of unwarranted faith in IRS goodwill to believe that the “voluntary” program won’t really be mandatory, as the IRS gives little perks to the “volunteers” and little hassles to everyone else.

 

 

Kay Bell, Actual auto expenses or standard mileage rate? Which business deduction method will cut your taxes more?

William Perez, IRS.gov’s Direct Pay.  “Unlike the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), people using Direct Pay do not need to register to use the service.”

 

20140328-1Russ Fox, Punt Blocked; National Audit Defense Network Heading to ClubFed.

Cara Griffith, How Much Knowledge Is in an Audit Manual? (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Yet while the IRS and several states make their audit manuals available online, other states, including Louisiana, do not. Taxpayers should not have to make a public records request to obtain manuals that will provide guidance on how a state conducts an audit. ”

Leslie Book, TEFRA Outside Basis and Tax Court Jurisdiction (Procedurally Taxing). “Periodically, like a kid forced to eat spinach, I will tackle TEFRA developments.”

Peter Reilly, Z Street Suit On IRS Israel Targeting Can Move Forward. “This lawsuit much like Teapartygate confirms me in my view, that the evaluation of whether an organizations purposes should allow it exempt status is not something that the IRS should be doing.”

Jack Townsend, Zwerner Jury Verdict — FBAR Willfulness for 3 Years

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 385

 

guillotineAndrew Lundeen, France’s 75 Percent Tax Rate Offers a Lesson in Revenue Estimating (Tax Policy Blog):

Since elected, French President Francois Hollande has raised the income tax, corporate tax and VAT. The government forecasted that these tax increases would lead to an increase in revenue of 30 billion euros.

As reported by the BBC, those estimates were off by about half:

“The French government faces a 14bn-euro black hole in its public finances after overestimating tax income for the last financial year.”

You can’t expect people just to stand still for something like that.

 

Adele Morris, Three Options for Better Climate Policy (TaxVox) Carbon Taxes, State carbon taxes, or no carbon tax.

 

Going Concern, IRS Throws Hissy Fit About Not Being Able to Regulate Preparers, Gives Up On Everything.

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/28/14: Tax Fairy isn’t handicap-accessible. And: Why you should let your tax guy do the talking.

May 28th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


tax fairy
Audit defenders can’t defend themselves.  
There is something deep in our DNA that enables us to believe in the supernatural, at least when it comes to taxes. Otherwise sensible people act as if they believe in a Tax Fairy who can wave a magic wand to make taxes go away.  Operators offer themselves as intermediaries to the tax spirit world, taking real money to generate pretend tax breaks.

It had to take a real leap of faith to pay good money to the National Audit Defense Network.  Members of this Nevada group were convicted in Las Vegas yesterday of tax charges that included an implausible tax credit scheme.  They set up a “shopping” web site called Tax Break 2000 that was inaccessible to handicapped users.  They would then sell Tax Fairy adherents a “modification kit” to make the web site handicap-accessible for $10,475 — 20% down, and the rest payable on a promissory note “when they had no expectation that the customers would make payments on the promissory notes.”  They then told their clients that this generated a $5,000 tax credit.

How many Taxafarieans paid the $10,475 tithe?  According to the indictment, they sold 21,610 kits.  Assuming they collected 20% of the sales price, that grossed them $45,272,950.

Any attempt to commune with the Tax Fairy runs into snags.  The first big snag here was a letter from their own internal “dream team” of tax advisors telling them this wouldn’t work.  The indictment says the NADNers went opinion shopping and found accommodating attorneys who said it might work.  Good enough!

They had more difficulty clearing the next obstacle: a permanent injunction against selling Tax Fairy access.  But that’s the least of their problems now.

This case has attracted a little extra attention because of the involvement of a former NFL punter, who apparently decided to ignore his professional training and go for it.  When trick plays fail, they fail badly, and the participants now may face long prison terms.

And there is no tax fairy.

 

Wind turbineTony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Hot Assets And The Sale Of Partnership Interests

Kay Bell, Federal workers, including members of Congress and Treasury employees, owe Uncle Sam $3.3 billion in back taxes

No.  Does Warren Buffett Practice What He Preaches? (Paul Neiffer)  “The cost to Warren individually of raising his individual income tax bracket by 10% annually may cost him personally a couple of million or less, while his company saves over $400 million in tax by using energy tax credits.  I would make the trade-off any time.”

 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 384

Joseph Thorndike, Bad Ideas Are Like Bad Pennies (Tax Analysts Blog).  He’s talking about private collection of IRS debts.  Considering that the IRS isn’t exactly blemish-free in its debt collection practices, I don’t share the objections to private collection of undisputed tax debts.

Joseph also raises this point: “But it’s also expensive to pander, since every dollar invested in IRS collection can return up to $20 in new revenue.”  I think that’s hugely unlikely as a marginal return, based on what I see in the field and the way the IRS misdeploys resources (preparer regulation, anyone?).

 

Not Senator Wyden

If there is something wrong with our tax exemption, then there is something wrong with America.  I won’t stand here while you badmouth our country!

David Brunori, Taxing Togas and Keggers (Tax Analysts Blog).  “States should consider ending the absurd practice of granting property tax exemptions to charitable organizations.”

Andrew Lundeen, The Economic Effects of Bonus Depreciation (Tax Policy Blog). “Permanently extending bonus depreciation would spur investment, lift wages, grow the economy, and increase federal revenue.”

Howard Gleckman, Turning Carbon Tax Theory Into Reality (TaxVox).  Don’t hold your breath for this to be enacted, even if it would keep that carbon in your lungs.

 

Do you ever wonder why practitioners like to do the talking when the IRS gets involved? Yes, by all means stand up for your rights when dealing with the IRS.  But there’s a line where you should stop.  Going Concern tells us of a Mr. Calcione who went way over the line:

Three days after the agent left the voicemail, Calcione left a couple voicemails of his own. One of the messages contained a threat made by Andrew Calcione that if the agent called him again he would show up at the agent’s home and torture the agent, then rape and kill his wife and injure his daughter while the agent watched, before killing the agent. A second message left by Calcione requested that Calcione disregard the first message, which Calcione said was left in error.

Oh, you didn’ t mean my wife and daughter?  Well, OK, then!

Mr. Calcione was convicted of threatening an IRS agent.  Whatever tax problems he had before, that voice mail made things much, much worse.

Related: Man Convicted Of Threatening To Assault & Kill IRS Agent, Family Over Audit Proceedings  (TaxGrrrl)

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/27/14: IRS not so severe on e-file identification? And driving the extra mile to save on taxes.

May 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

e-file logoThe IRS may end up less ridiculous than they appear to be in writing.  We mentioned last week the new IRS Publication 1345 rules for e-file tax firms that by their terms appear to require practitioners to card their in-office clients and run credit checks on clients who mail or upload their tax information.  Our local “stakeholder liaison (the IRS representative who works with practitioners) called me and said she has been told by higher-ups that the requirements will be less severe than they look.  She also called Jason Dinesen, who reports:

This IRS this afternoon confirmed to me and other practitioners who had been making the IRS’s lives miserable the last few days that: the new e-file rules apply only to electronically signed e-file authorizations. And “electronically signed” means signed by some means other than pen-to-paper.

I hope this is true, but I will feel better when the IRS puts it in writing.  After all, you aren’t protected form penalties by oral advice.  But even if it is true, it seems even sillier than the original rule.  The whole idea is to prevent identity theft, but it’s a rare ID thief who hires a practitioner to steal identities.  It would be rarer still for one to go through the trouble of using an e-signature return.  That’s why I’m not fully convinced by the liaison; it just would create a requirement so onerous for a narrow set of returns that few people will file that way.

Related: Tax Roundup, 5/21/14: Practitioner Pitchforks and Torches edition. And: math remains hard!

 

20140527-1TaxGrrrl, On Memorial Day, A Look At Surviving Family Military Benefits   

If you’re a serious poker player, you might want to check out Staking and the 2014 WSOP: Nothing Has Changed.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 383

Lyman Stone, New State-Level Price Data Shows Smaller State Real Income Differences (Tax POlicy Blog):

Federal tax progressivity has strange consequences. People who are “poor” in one state could be “rich” in another without changing the dollar amount of their income. So the progressive nature of the federal income tax can lead to poor- or middle-class people in high-price states paying taxes equivalent to what significantly richer (in real, standard-of-living terms) people would pay in low-price states.

It costs more to be rich in New York than Des Moines.

 

Renu Zaretsky, The ACA, Extenders, and More Swiss Banks.  The TaxVox headline roundup includes a link to a NY Times piece on a recent IRS ruling to prevent “dumping” of employees on state exchanges through tax-free reimbursement plans. Just one more hasty patch on a leaky system.

Robert D. Flach comes back from a long weekend with your Tuesday Buzz!

News from the Profession. California Board of Accountancy Says the Early Bird Gets the CPA Exam Worm (Going Concern)

 

20140527-2Going the extra mile to save on taxes.  An Alaska doctor should get points for endurance, anyway, even if it turns out that he is a tax cheat.  The Justice Department accuses Michael Brandner, an Anchorage doctor, of evading taxes through offshore accounts.  According to the Department press release, the physician literally was operating under-the-radar (my emphasis):

According to court documents, Brandner engaged in a scheme to hide and conceal millions of dollars of assets from the Alaska courts and from his wife of 28 years who was divorcing him.  Shortly after the divorce was filed, Brandner left Alaska and drove to Central America after converting assets into five cashier’s checks worth over $3,000,000.

Driving from Alaska to Panama isn’t for the faint-hearted.  Driving their with $3 million in cashiers checks — that’s impressive, in a crazy sort of way.  If he is convicted, his sentence should include time served on the road.

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/23/14: We’re sorry. Can we have our funding now?

May 23rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

The IRS wants its budget back.  The agency has withdrawn the proposed regs that would institutionalize its mistreatment of Tea Party groups.  Accounting Today reports:

The announcement Thursday came in response to the unprecedented number of comments—over 150,000—the IRS received on the proposed rules, which were supposed to govern the types of political activity that would be permissible for groups to maintain tax-exempt status as “social welfare” organizations under Section 501(c)4 of the Tax Code (see Treasury and IRS Issue Guidance for 501(c)4 Tax-Exempt Social Welfare Organizations). The issue has roiled the IRS since last year, when the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations unit, Lois Lerner, admitted that the IRS had used terms such as “Tea Party” and “Patriot” to screen applications from conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Those revelations led to the departures of Lerner and a number of other high-ranking officials at the IRS, along with a series of contentious hearings, subpoenas and contempt of Congress charges against Lerner.

The new commissioner, John Koskinen, indicated back in February that the proposed regulations are not likely to be finalized anytime soon and would be subject to heavy revision in response to the thousands of comments the agency received (see IRS Commissioner Koskinen Says Proposed Tax-Exempt Rules Won’t Be Finalized Soon). Republican lawmakers in Congress introduced legislation in February to block the proposed regulations (see Congress Considers Legislation to Block IRS’s Proposed 501(c)4 Regulations).

I suspect it will be a loooong time before they come out with a new set of proposed regulations — comparable to the wait for the final regulations on self-employment taxation of LLC members, which have been “proposed” now since 1997.  This is probably a necessary first step for the IRS to get its full funding restored, given how much it has done lately to demonstrate that it is institutionally opposed to the GOP.  Maybe it would help also to demonstrate some fiscal discipline by dropping its costly pursuit of preparer regulation by “voluntary” means.

 

Related: TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 379

 

Jim Maule, No Deduction If Entitled to Reimbursement.  “It is a long-established principle of federal income tax law that a taxpayer is not permitted to deduct an otherwise deductible expense to the extent that the taxpayer is entitled to reimbursement from the taxpayer’s employer.”

Kay Bell, Summer travel time is prime tax time

Peter Reilly, American Atheists Denied Standing To Challenge Church Tax Breaks.

Robert D. Flach come’s through with the week’s third Buzz!

 

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Christopher Bergin, The Punishment of Credit Suisse Is Not Enough (Tax Analysts Blog). “People need to start going to jail for these types of abuses.”  No, our tax authorities prefer to shoot jaywalkers so we can gently chastise the international money-launderers.

Jack Townsend, Credit Suisse Update – The Aftermath for Credit Suisse #1.  The Federal Tax Crimes blog rounds up coverage of the Credit Suisse plea.

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for 5/16/14 (Procedurally Taxing). The most interesting item to me in this roundup of tax procedure posts is “IRS is doing limited audits on Section 409A plans, and Winston and Straw has some coverage here.”  The horrible Section 409A rules haven’t triggered many audits.  That may be ending, and 20% penalties, plus income taxes, on funds never received will then be on the way as a result of foot-fault violations of the insanely-complex rules governing non-qualified deferred compensation plan distributions.

 

Joseph Henchman, IRS Considering Change in Tax Treatment of Travel Loyalty Points (Tax Policy Blog). What could go wrong?

Len Burman, Why Not Ditch the Medical Device Excise Tax and Boost Cigarette Taxes? You know, if we really wanted to promote public health, we should consider promoting e-cigarettes to get people off the real thing.  Instead, the government wants to tax and restrict them just like real coffin nails.

 

Adam Weinstein, Why Our Political System’s Screwed, in One Very Basic Chart:

20140523-1

 

Via Nick Gillespie.

 

News from the Profession: Ex-KPMG Partner Who Gave Insider Tips to His Former Golf Buddy Is Going to Talk About Ethics Before He Goes to Prison (Going Concern)

 

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/22/14: IRS teams up with Bernie Madoff. And: more on the new e-file ID rules.

May 22nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff

The IRS wants in on Bernie Madoff’s action.  The Tax Court is going to think about it.

Bernard Kessell died in July 2006.  He might have died content believing he was leaving a healthy investment portfolio for his heirs.  After all, just one part of the portfolio had issued its most recent month-end statement showing a value of $3,221,057.  That statement was issued by Bernie Madoff.

Of course Mr. Madoff was arrested in 2008 and is now residing in federal prison on charges arising from the Ponzi scheme that victimized Mr. Kessell and so many others.  The real value of the securities in Mr. Kessell’s Madoff portfolio was zero.

But the IRS isn’t letting that get in the way.  The agency says Mr. Kessell’s estate should pay estate tax on the value that Mr. Kessell died thinking he owned, rather than the zero actual value.  It wants to piggyback on Mr. Madoff’s fraud to tax an estate value that wasn’t there.

The IRS asked the Tax Court for summary judgment that the asset to be taxed was the account itself, not the vaporous underlying assets, and that because Mr. Madoff hadn’t been unmasked, a willing buyer would pay full sticker for the lying value on the Madoff statements.  The Tax Court court wasn’t willing to go along on summary judgement:

We cannot say on the record before us, however, whether that agreement constituted a property interest includible in Decedent’s gross estate separate from, or exclusive of, any interest Decedent had in what purported to be the assets held in the Madoff account. This question is best answered after the parties have had the opportunity to develop the relevant facts at trial. We will therefore deny respondent’s motion on this point.

As to the issue of the value, Judge Kroupa had this to say (citations omitted).:

     Respondent argues that a Ponzi scheme, by its very nature, is not reasonably knowable or foreseeable until it is discovered or it collapses. Respondent notes Mr. Madoff’s particular skill and that his Ponzi scheme was not disclosed until it collapsed in December 2008. Respondent then reasons that Mr. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was knowable or foreseeable only at the point when it collapsed — when the amount of money flowing out of Madoff Investments was greater than the amount flowing in. For purposes of this motion, at least, we disagree.

Some people had suspected years before Mr. Madoff’s arrest that Madoff Investments’ record of consistently high returns was simply too good to be true. Whether a hypothetical willing buyer and willing seller would have access to this information and to what degree this information would affect the fair market value of the Madoff account or the assets purportedly held in the Madoff account on the date Decedent died are disputed material facts.  Thus, we will deny respondent’s motion on this point as well.

The rule on how assets are valued is in Reg. Sec. 20.2031-1(b):

 The fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.

Most folks would consider the fact that the account was invested in a Ponzi scheme to be one of those relevant facts.  I guess that’s why most of us don’t work at IRS.

Cite: Estate of Bernard Kessel, T.C. Memo. 2014-97.

 

20130121-2The AICPA doesn’t care for the “voluntary” IRS preparer regulation proposal.  The Hill.com reports:

That system, the AICPA argues, would create implied government backing for those preparers who comply with the standards, while punishing those who do not.

“The proposed voluntary system would undoubtedly leave the impression among most taxpayers that certain tax return preparers are endorsed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS),” according letter.

Further, nonbinding standards would fail to root out bad actors, according to the group.

“As a practical matter, any voluntary regime constructed would still not address the problems with unethical and fraudulent tax return preparers,” the group contends.

All excellent points.  The AICPA has figured out that the “voluntary” program would eventually be voluntary like United Way contributions were “voluntary” when I was a green staff accountant at a national accounting firm.  They were voluntary, but amazingly, participation in the drive was always 100%.  Maybe the AICPA leaders still remember their staff accountant days.

I would add one more point.  Commissioner Koskinen and Taxpayer Advocate Olson never tire of telling us how underfunded the IRS is.  If so, why are the diverting some of their already inadequate resources to start a new nonessential program?  The obvious answer is they are trying a back door power grab now that the courts have barred the front door.

Going Concern: The AICPA Voiced “Deep Concerns” About the IRS’ Voluntary Tax Preparer Proposal.  “This means war…”

Larry Gibbs, Recent Developments in the IRS Regulation of Return Preparers (Procedurally Taxing).  A long guest post by a former IRS Commissioner about the power grab he never tried.

 

Russ Fox, New Identification Rules Go Over Like a Lead Balloon:

In this morning’s post, Joe Kristan told his readers to call the IRS. I agree; I urge all tax professionals to speak to or email their IRS Stakeholder Liaison.  

Russ quotes a new post by Jason Dinesen, I Was Wrong: We SHOULD Be Outraged About the New IRS E-File Requirements, which Jason followd up with Questions to Ponder About New IRS E-file Requirements.  I love Question 8: “How many ID thieves use a tax pro?”

Robert D. Flach has a special Thursday Buzz!, which includes Robert’s take on “voluntary” preparer regulation and the new IRS e-file requirements.

 

20140321-3TaxGrrrl, Still Looking For Your Tax Refund? Errors, 4464C Letters And Other Explanations

Peter Reilly,  Tax Court Threatens To Sanction Courtroom Commando Mac MacPherson.

Kay Bell, NYC arena Madison Square Garden pays no property taxes

Me, IRS Releases Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for June 2014

 

William McBride, High U.S. Corporate Tax Rate Chases Away Companies, Jobs and Tax Revenue (Tax  Policy Blog).  If it didn’t, it would be a fascinating case of economic actors failing to respond to incentives.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 378

Renu Zaretsky, Relief, Credits, Cuts, and Roads.  The TaxVox daily headline roundup talks about new tax relief for Minnesotans and the continuing worthlessness of film tax credit programs for everyone but filmmakers.

Cara Griffith, Should Taxpayers Challenge States if They Fail to Enact Rules? (Tax Analysts Blog):

State regulations are often vague or ambiguous, and authorities can use that to their advantage. But states should not be permitted to simply take the position that is in their best interest. They should be required to provide guidance and clarification on the positions they intend to take and, even better, clear-cut examples of how that position will be applied. And if a position will be applied to an entire industry, the state should issue a rule.

States prefer Calvinball rules.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Junk Economics: New Report Spotlights Numerous Problems with Anti-Tax Economic Model.  I suspect the biggest problem is that TJB doesn’t care for any model that doesn’t justify infinitely-high tax rates.

 

Des Moines, sometimes you are just adorable:

adorable des moines

Des Moines has started posting commute travel times, just like a big city.  On a bad day, it could be as much as 2 minutes to downtown from here.

 

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IRS Releases Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for June 2014

May 22nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The IRS has issued (Rev. Rul. 2014-16) the minimum required interest rates for loans made in June 2014:

Short Term (demand loans and loans with terms of up to 3 years): 0.32%

-Mid-Term (loans from 3-9 years): 1.91%

-Long-Term (over 9 years): 3.14%

The Long-term tax-exempt rate for Section 382 ownership changes in June 2014 is 3.32%.

Historical AFRs may be found here or from prior Tax Update posts.

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Tax Roundup, 5/21/14: Practitioner Pitchforks and Torches edition. And: math remains hard!

May 21st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140521-1The new identification rules for remote signatures aren’t going over well.   (See update below.)  At a CPE event yesterday former IRS Stakeholder Liaison Kristy Maitre outlined the new e-filing identity match requirement we are supposed to meet (now!  for extended 2013 returns!).  These include “third-party verification” of identities of our long-time clients if they don’t visit the office.  The ones that visit, we only need to see their papers.

The 250 or so practitioners present didn’t appreciate the joke at all.  They asked the obvious question: how do we even comply with this?  It’s not at all clear how we get “third-party verification.”  I can pretty much guarantee that nobody is complying with that requirement now, because few are aware of it, and the ones that are don’t know where to start.

While the requirements are supposed to be part of the IRS war against identity theft, this effort is like responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor by bombing Montreal.  Identity thieves don’t waltz into tax prep offices and pay us to prepare fraudulent refund claims.  They prefer TurboTax.

Yet, there may be a method to the madness, suggested by one practitioner.  What if some outfit is gearing up to provide third-party verification services — say, one of the national tax prep franchises?  And the IRS has quietly created their revenue stream with this absurd rule?  You might say this preparer is cynical; I say he’s been paying attention.

So let’s fight.  Kristy is collecting comments and questions to send to her erstwhile IRS colleagues to try to stop this nonsense.  Send your comments to ksmaitre@iastate.edu.  I believe the IRS will back off if we brandish the electronic torches and pitchforks.

Update, 11:30 a.m.  I received a call from an IRS representative this morning saying that they have been getting phone calls as a result of this post (well-done, readers!).  She tried to reassure me by telling me that the third-party verification doesn’t apply to in-person visits.  I knew that.  I told her that as I read the rules, there are either “in-person” or “remote” transactions, with no third category of, say, “I’ve worked with this client for many years and they’re fine.” She didn’t disagree, though she still thinks I’m overreacting.  She did say IRS field personnel are  “elevating” the issue and seeking “clarification” from the authors of these new rules, including what “authentication” means for in-person visits and what a “remote transaction” is that would require third-party verification.  Keep it up, folks!

Related:

Russ Fox, Yes, Mom, I Need to See Your ID

Jana Luttenegger, Updated E-Filing Requirements for Tax Preparers

Jason Dinesen, Hold the Phone on the IRS E-file Outrage Machine 

Me, Welcome back, loyal client. IRS says I have to verify that you aren’t a shape-shifting alien.

 


20140521-2TaxProf, 
The IRS Scandal, Day 377.

News from the Profession.  Crocodile Injured By Falling Circus Accountant in Freak Bus Accident (Going Concern)

Kay Bell, National Taxpayer Advocate joins fight to stop private debt collection of delinquent tax bills.  I’d rather she fight to keep the IRS from implementing its ridiculous e-file verification rules.

TaxGrrrl, Congress, Ignoring History, Considers Turning Over Tax Debts To Private Collection Agencies

Jim Maule, It Seems So Simple, But It’s Tax.  “People are increasingly aware that the chances of getting away with tax fraud are getting better each day.”

Missouri Tax Guy,  NO! The IRS did not call you first.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Legislation Introduced to Stop American Corporations from Pretending to Be Foreign Companies.  How about we just stop taxing them?

Kyle Pomerleau, Tom VanAntwerp, Interactive Map: Where do U.S. Multinational Corporations Report Foreign Taxable Income and Foreign Income Taxes Paid? (TaxPolicy Blog).  Holland does well, as does Canada.

Howard Gleckman, Tax Chauvinism: Who Cares Where a Firm is Incorporated?

So we are left with a sort of financial chauvinism. It is important to some politicians to be able to say that a company is a red-blooded American company. But when it comes to multinational firms in a global economy, why does that matter? 

Because, ‘Merica!

 

Andrew Mitchel now has some online tax quizzes for your amusement.  If they are too tough, the next item might restore your self-esteem.

 

20120905-1If you can’t answer these questions, taxes are the least of your problems.  Tackle these quizzlers (via Alex Taborrok):

1. Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2% per year. After 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow.

More than $102. Exactly $102,. Less than $102? Do not know. Refuse to answer.

2. Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account was 1% per year and inflation was 2% per year. After 1 year, would you be able to buy.

More than, exactly the same as, or less than today with the money in this account? Do not know. Refuse to answer.

3. Do you think that the following statement is true or false? ‘Buying a single company stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.’

T. F. Do not know. Refuse to answer.

I won’t give away the answers, but I shouldn’t have to.  Sadly, most people find these questions hard.  From Alex Taborrok:

Only about a third of Americans answer all three questions correctly (and that figure is inflated somewhat due to guessing). The Germans and Swiss do significantly better (~50% all 3 correct) on very similar questions but many other countries do much worse. In New Zealand only 24% answer all 3 questions correctly and in Russia it’s less than 5%.

At least that helps explain Vladimir Putin’s popularity.

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/20/14: Credit Suisse, felon. And: yes, tax credits are subsidies.

May 20th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

credit suisse logoThe big news in the tax world today is the Credit Suisse guilty plea.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Credit Suisse Group became the first financial institution in more than a decade to plead guilty to a crime Monday when the Swiss bank admitted it conspired to aid tax evasion and agreed to pay $2.6 billion to settle a long-running probe by the U.S. Justice Department. The criminal charge filed Monday in federal court outlined a decades-long, concerted attempt by Credit Suisse to “knowingly and willfully” help thousands of U.S. clients open accounts and conceal their “assets and income from the IRS.”

This has to make some folks nervous:

While Credit Suisse isn’t turning over names of account holders as part of the agreement, they are handing over information that Deputy Attorney General James Cole said would lead to specific account holders.

Swiss bank secrecy is dead, and bank secrecy anywhere is pining for the fjords.  Proceed accordingly.

The TaxProf rounds up coverage.

Jack Townsend, Credit Suisse Pleads to One Count of Conspiracy to Aiding and Assisting 

 

Wind turbineI hate it when I have to disagree with somebody I respectbut I have to disagree with this from A. Barton Hinkle, writing about wind energy credits:

A tax credit is just that: a credit against the amount a taxpayer owes. As the IRS explains, a tax credit “reduces the amount of tax for which you are liable.” That is vastly different from a direct grant, in which the government takes money from Jones and gives it to Smith. In the case of a tax credit, none of Jones’ money goes into Smith’s pocket. Rather, Smith gets to keep more of his own money. Smith’s tax credit doesn’t cost Jones a cent.

Let’s assume that Jones and Smith are competitors.  Because of the tax credit, Smith can charge less than he otherwise would and still makes more than Jones.  Jones finds his margins are squeezed.  This tax credit absolutely costs Jones money.  A big enough credit to Smith can put Jones out of business.  And in a free market, there’s a Jones for every Smith.

Yes, some tax credits are more egregious than others.  Refundable credits, like the Iowa research credit, and transferable credits, like the defunct Iowa film credit, are the worst.  They are little more than government scrip generated by filing tax returns.

Non-refundable credits are slightly less bad, because they are only available to people who actually pay taxes.  Still, they are economically equivalent to special-purpose vouchers issued by governments that can be applied to pay taxes — limited purpose subsidies.  If the government issued vouchers that could only be used to, say, buy housing or cell phones, nobody would dispute they are subsidies.

Special purpose deductions are less distortive still.  But all special tax favors have a common flaw — they all involve the government allocating investment capital.  The 20th Century proved that to be a poor idea.  And running the subsidies through a tax return doesn’t make them any less subsidies; they only become easier to hide.

Related: Governor’s press conference praises construction of newest great pyramids

 

20140520-2Jason Dinesen, If You’re a Sole Proprietor, There’s No Such Thing as a “Salary” for Tax Purposes:

When a sole proprietorship accounts for its net income, it does so by taking gross income minus expenses. Those expenses DO NOT include draws. So, the proprietor is taxed on the net income of the business and gets no deduction for the draws.

You may think that’s obvious, but I’ve had to explain this to clients.

 

Russ Fox, One Good Crime Deserves Another.  “Oft evil will shall evil mar.”

Kay Bell, I’ll take tax code section 179 for $500, Alex

Peter Reilly, TIGTA Alimony Report May Cause Crisis Of Conscience Among Tax Professionals .  “I have to tell Terry that the IRS will notice the discrepancy, but the odds are 25 to 1 that they won’t do anything about it.”

Robert D. Flach is right on time with his Tuesday Buzz.  He notes the AICPA oppostion to the proposed “voluntary” preparer regulation system:

Clearly the AICPA is afraid, and rightfully so, that a voluntary RTRP certification would take 1040 business away from its members – because the designation would identify individuals who have proven competence specifically in 1040 preparation.  Currently the taxpayer public erroneously thinks that the initials CPA are an indication of a person’s competence in 1040 preparation, which is simply not true. 

I can’t speak for the AICPA, but I think they are right to oppose it.  In addition to destroying whatever is left of the Enrolled Agent brand, I think the “voluntary” program will be voluntary in the same way that donations to United Way were voluntary at a prior employer.  “It’s voluntary, and we always have 100% participation.”  And considering how bad the IRS is at what it is supposed to be doing, it really doesn’t need to take on new tasks.

 

Keith Fogg, Private Debt Collection – An Idea Whose Time Will Never Come (Procedurally Taxing).  “My concerns about the proposal fall into four broad categories mentioned above: training, accountability, system impact and proper incentives.”

I would permit private collection in limited circumstances —  for undisputed debts that the IRS isn’t bothering to collect.  With proper controls, I think it could work.  There is nothing magical about having official government employees do it.   But the Treasury Employees Union will make sure it never happens.

 

taxanalystslogoJeremy Scott, The Medical Device Excise Tax Derails Extenders (Tax Analysts Bl0g).  “Political games involving the medical device excise tax threaten to completely derail the passing of an extenders package in the near future.” Come on, the extenders are just a political game to begin with, using Calvinball rules.

Renu Zaretsky, A Pleading Bank, a Rejected Offer, and Taxing Gas and Pot.  The TaxVox headline roundup covers Uruguay’s nurturing a surprising local industry.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 376

Alan Cole, When Broad Bases Are Actually Narrow Bases (Tax Policy Blog):

If I rent out my property to you, I pay taxes income used to buy the property, and I pay taxes on the rental income derived from it. In contrast, if I lived in the property myself, I would not have to pay the additional layer of taxes. It’s the same house either way, but because people are eager to “broaden” the base, they end up taxing it twice in some circumstances, and only once in others. A true “broad” base is a tax on personal expenditures – one that ultimately falls on the people who actually consume.

That’s precisely why “preferential” capital gain rates are really just piling on, and why the proper rate for them is probably zero.

Going Concern, The AICPA Has Nuked The CPA2Biz Brand in Favor of CPA.com.  Now if they can just do something about that disturbing mascot.

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/19/14: The Roth dilemma. And: risks in enlisting the bookkeeper in your tax crimes.

May 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

IRAIs it better to get a tax benefit now and pay taxes later on retirement income, or vice-versa?  Bloomberg econobogger Megan McArdle ponders the question in To Roth, or Not to Roth:

In theory, the calculation is easy: Figure out whether your tax rate is likely to be higher now or in the future. If you’re young, the answer is likely to be “future”; if you’re in your peak earnings years, you’re probably looking at a lower tax rate when you’re retired.

But while the theory is simple, in practice, things are considerably more complicated. Personal finance is less about math than psychology . . . and tax policy, in this case. What will the tax rate on your income be when you retire — higher or lower than your current tax rate?

“Roth” IRAs and 401(k)s offer no current tax reduction, but if the account is left untapped long enough, there is never an income tax on the earnings.  It’s not always a tough choice.  Many young people face a marginal income tax rate of zero.  To the extent a low-earning young taxpayer benefits from a 401(k) plan or saves in an IRA, you might as well go with a Roth version, as there is little or no current benefit anyway.

As you climb the income ladder, it quickly becomes a more difficult decision.  When my company first had a Roth option, I opted in for a year.  Then it occurred to me that I was making a bet on much higher tax rates in the future at much lower income levels.  That seemed like a losing bet (but see this) and I switched back to the traditional 401(k) with current tax savings.

Megan also notes a real, if hard to quantify, problem with betting on future benefits (my emphasis):

We’re running some substantial deficits, and we’ve made some big promises to retirees. Those obligations will have to be paid for somehow, and by “somehow,” I mean “With higher taxes on someone.” What are the chances that you’ll be that someone? Pretty high, if you save a lot for retirement.

That makes a Roth sound like a pretty good bet. But unfortunately, the same logic that suggests higher income taxes in the future also suggests that a hungry-eyed Congress might settle on all those fat tax-free retirement accounts as a way to balance the books. What Congress giveth, Congress can taketh away. Can you really count on that income being tax-free when it’s finally time to collect it?

If you think no politician would be so brazen, just remember:  “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.

 

20121120-2Good thing the ACA solved the problem of the uninsured.  Report: 230,000 Iowans still lack health care coverage (Des Moines Register).  Good thing we destroyed the health insurance industry and imposed a whole series of punitive and complicated taxes.

 

Russ Fox, Deadlines for Us, But Not for Them (Part 2), “Later this week it will be seven months since my reply was received. Another nine-week hold has been put on collection activities as the IRS admits that there is correspondence waiting to be reviewed. If we go nine more weeks it will be over nine months since I responded.”

Another reason for a sauce-for-the-gander rule, applying the same rules to the IRS that they apply to us.

Robert D. Flach has a similar state-level example from New Jersey in THE DFBs!

We are told (highlight is mine) -
“New Jersey wrongly notified about 2,000 taxpayers that they underpaid their 2013 taxes, but the state won’t notify them about the error unless the taxpayer asks, possibly causing taxpayers to send the state money that wasn’t owed.”

Tar and feathers.

 

20140507-1Peter Reilly, Real Estate Dealer Or Investor – Can’t Switch At Drop Of Hat.  ” One of the more challenging questions in income taxation of real estate transactions is whether a taxpayer is a dealer or an investor.”  Investors get capital gains, dealers don’t.

TaxGrrrl, Tax Extenders Bill Stalled In Senate.  The latest move in the dance to the inevitable last-minute re-extension of the perpetually-expiring tax breaks.

 

Jack Townsend, Booker Variances are More Common in Tax Crimes. Why? And Do They Disproportionately Benefit the Rich?   He discusses variations from federal sentencing guidelines, including the shockingly-light sentence given Beanie Babies tycoon Ty Warner.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 375

William McBride, Top 10 things to Know about Investment and Tax Policy.  (Tax Policy Blog).

Number 2: “Investment in the U.S. has yet to fully recover from the recession and remains near a record low.”

Number 10: “Of the ways to change tax policy to improve investment, expensing generally provides the greatest “bang-for-the-buck” because it applies strictly to new investment.”

 

Renu Zaretsky, Tax Mistakes, Collections, and Breaks.  Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers a proposal to revive the use of private collectors in federal tax collection and “Affordable Care Act subsidy mistakes now could mean huge tax confusion later.”

Annette Nellen asks What’s missing from Camp’s tax reform proposal?  She has suggestions.

 

20120517-1The new Cavalcade of Risk is up at Waterwayfinancialgroup.com.  The venerable roundup of insurance and risk-management posts includes Hank Stern on the possible perils of ride share. There is risk in letting other people use your car, as anyone who has seen Animal House knows, and those risks may not be covered under your car policy.

 

 

News from the Profession.  Another EY Associate Taking a Stab at Reality TV (Going Concern)

Honor among fraudsters.  Owners of a nostalgia-themed restaurant chain in Pennsylvania and New Jersey went up the river on tax charges last year.  Now comes word that the inside accountant who (allegedly) helped them cheat on taxes also (allegedly) helped himself.  From Philly.com:

An indictment unsealed today charges 58-year-old William J. Frio, of Springfield Township, with conspiracy, filing false returns, loan fraud, and aggravated structuring of financial transactions.

Prosecutors say Frio, who has been providing accounting services to Nifty Fifty’s since 1986, conspired with the popular chain’s owners in a scheme that used skimmed cash to help themselves and associates avoid paying taxes.

He also allegedly used his role as Nifty Fifty’s accountant to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization.

Aside from the obvious risk of going to jail, there are other complications that arise when businesses cheat on their taxes.  Unless your business is tiny, you need some help from your accounting staff.  When your bookkeeper is willing to defraud the government, don’t be shocked if he isn’t perfectly honest with you.

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/16/14: Iowa Alt Max Tax resurfaces. And: Alimony madness.

May 16th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

If Iowa’s income tax were a car, it would look like this.

The Iowa Alternative Maximum Tax Trial Balloon rises again.  From O. Kay Henderson, ‘Flat tax’ likely on GOP legislators’ agenda in 2015:

The top Republican in the Iowa House says if Republicans win statehouse majorities in the House and the Senate this November, one item on his wish list for 2015 is a “flat” state income tax. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, spoke early this morning at a breakfast meeting of central Iowa Republicans.

Paulsen and his fellow House Republicans endorsed a “flat” tax proposal last year, but it was not considered in the Democratically-led Iowa Senate. The proposal would have allowed Iowans to continue filing their income taxes under the current system or choose the alternative of a 4.5 percent flat tax on their income, with no deductions.

I call this an “alternative maximum tax” because taxpayers will compute the tax both ways and pay the smaller number.  That contrasts with the alternative minimum tax, where you compute taxes two ways and pay the higher amount.  It has the obvious drawback of adding a new layer of complexity to the current baroque Iowa income tax.

20120906-1The proposal is likely an attempt to enact a lower rate system in a way that doesn’t upset fans of Iowa’s deduction for federal income taxes — particularly the influential Iowans for Tax Relief.  Because the deduction would rarely provide a better result than the alt max tax, support for the old system would wither away, maybe.

I’m probably too much of a tax geek to read the politics correctly, but I’m not convinced adding a new computation to the Iowa 1040 will fire up the electorate.  I think something like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would be easier to run on.  Eliminate all the crony tax credits and well-intended but futile tax breaks.  Get rid of the job-killing, worst-in-the-nation Iowa corporation income tax.   Drastically lower rates, increase the standard deduction, and limit the role of the income tax to funding the government.   This would get my vote anyway, and it would at least be awkward to argue instead for the current system that sends millions to some of Iowa’s biggest corporations as subsidies on the backs of you, me and small businesses.

Related: The Iowa flat tax proposal: a good deal for middle class and up, but not for lower incomes.

 

I always thought enforcing the tax rules for alimony would be about the easiest job the IRS could have.  When you pay alimony, you get an above-the-line deduction, but only if you list the name and social security number of the recipient ex-spouse.  Just match the deduction with the income and generate notices when they don’t match.

This information systems problem is apparently too much for the IRS.  Peter Reilly reports:

According to the TIGTA report there were 567,887 Forms 1040 for 2010 that had alimony deductions.  The total claimed was $10 Billion.  When they compared the corresponding returns that should have recorded the income, there were discrepancies on 266,190 returns including 122,870 returns that had no alimony income at all reported.  There were nearly 25,000 returns where the income recognized was greater than the deduction claimed which produced a bit of an offset ($75 million).  On net, deductions exceeded income by $2.3 billion.  In her piece “Alimony Tax Gap is $1.7 BillionAshlea Ebeling goes into more details on the report, so I’m going to get a little more into what I see as the big picture here.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of the IRS, over my career I had developed a grudging respect for the organization’s competence and professionalism.  That’s been mostly drawn down over the last few years.

 

taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, A Warning About the IRS That We Should Heed (Tax Analysts Blog):

As I wrote almost a year ago, the IRS is in trouble. Punishing it will do no more good than ignoring what has happened over the last year. The former seems to be the plan of House Republicans; the latter appears to be the White House plan. We need to fix it, and that is harder than either of the above two approaches.

This is correct.  Unfortunately, the IRS became a partisan organization in the Tea Party scandal, and it’s proposed 501(c)(4) regulations only make that official.  The impasse won’t be broken until the IRS does something to reassure Republican congresscritters.  Withdrawing the proposed rules is probably a necessary start.

 

Kay Bell, Johnny Football’s Texas residency can cut his NFL income tax.

Lyman Stone, The Facts on Interstate Migration: Part Five (Tax Policy Blog):

On the whole, these high-inward migration states tend to have lower tax burdens. North Carolina and Idaho have periodically had higher than average tax burdens, but most, like Tennessee and Nevada, have consistently low tax burdens. Again, this doesn’t conclusively prove that taxes drive migration, as no doubt other living costs are lower in these states too: but it does suggest that taxes cannot be discounted out of hand.

 

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Asset

TaxGrrrl, Tesla Continues To Roll Out Tax Strategies For Consumers .  An auto company with a marketing pitch built around tax credits seems like a bad thing to me.

Stop by Robert D. Flach’s Place for a solid Friday morning Buzz!

 

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Howard Gleckman, Are Multinationals Getting Tired of Waiting for Corporate Tax Reform? (TaxVox).  They seem to be taking a do-it-yourself approach more and more.

Tax Justice Blog, States Can Make Tax Systems Fairer By Expanding or Enacting EITC.  I think this is wrong, at least the way the earned income tax credit works now.  Arnold Kling has a much-more promising proposal that would replace the EITC and other means-tested welfare programs.

Kyle Pomerleau, Flawed Buffett Rule Reintroduced in Senate (Tax Justice Blog).  Of course, that’s the only kind.

 

Cara Griffith, In Search of a Little Guidance (Tax Analysts Blog). “If informal guidance is the only guidance available to practitioners and taxpayers, can they rely on it?”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 372.  Guess what?  It wasn’t just a few rogues in Cincinnati.

 

News from the Profession.  Alleged “Touch It For a Buck” Creeper CPA Got His License Revoked For Felony Creepiness (Going Concern).

 

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May 15: no roundup today. File those 990s!

May 15th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The Tax Update is en route today, so no roundup.  Remember, calendar-year exempt organization returns are due today.  If you have a little organization, you probably can file the “postcard” form online.  If you fail to file your 990 for three years, tax-exempt status is lost.

990 and 990-PF forms can be extended with Form 8868.  There is no extension for the “postcard” form.  The IRS has more details on 990 filings.

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