Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Bergin’

Tax Roundup, 7/7/14: IRS stands down on imaginary 750-hour rule for real estate pros. And: the real IRS budget problem.

Monday, July 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

No Walnut STA newly-released memo indicates that the IRS will no longer hold real estate professionals to an illegal standard in determining passive losses.  

ILM 201427016 addresses how the “750-hour test” of Section 469 applies when you have multiple real estate activities.  Under the passive loss rules of Section 469, rental real estate losses are normally passive; that means the losses are normally deductible only to the extent of other passive income, until the activity is sold.

A special rule allows real estate professionals to apply the normal passive loss rules, which are based on time spent in the activity, to rental real estate losses.  To qualify as a real estate pro, you have to meet two tests:

- You have to spend more than 750 hours in the taxable year working in real estate trades or business in which you materially participate, and

- You have to spend more time in your real estate activity than in any other kind of activity (this test means that few people with non-real estate day jobs qualify as real estate pros).

In some cases the IRS has applied the 750 test to each activity — making it almost impossible for many taxpayers to qualify, absent an election to treat all rental real estate activities as a single activity under Reg. Sec. 1.469-9(g).  The Tax Court issues a couple opinions that seemed to agree — opinions that I insisted were wrong.

Now the IRS seems to have come around.  From the new IRS memo (my emphasis):

Therefore, whether a taxpayer is a qualifying taxpayer within the meaning of section 469(c)(7)(B) and Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(b)(6) depends upon the rules for determining a taxpayer’s real property trades or businesses under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(d), and is not affected by an election under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(g). Instead, the election under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(g) is relevant only after the determination of whether the taxpayer is a qualifying taxpayer. However, some court opinions, while reaching the correct result, contain language which may be read to suggest that the election under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(g) affects the determination of whether a taxpayer is a qualifying taxpayer. See, for example, Jafarpour v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2012-165, and Hassanipour v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2013-88. However, other court opinions recognize that the election under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(g) is not relevant to the determination of whether a taxpayer is a qualifying taxpayer. See, for example, Trask v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2010-78. 

One hopes the IRS will no longer raise this false issue on examination.

Related: Did the Tax Court just abandon the ’750 hours for every rental activity’ test?

 

20130426-1Paul Neiffer, IRS Modifies Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP).  “I have personally worked with clients that were involved in the old voluntary disclosure program and I can tell you it is not a pleasant experience.”

Jack Townsend, Rumors on the Workings of Streamlined Programs (Including Transitioning in OVDP).  Reading this, it sounds more like a diabolical bureaucratic torture than a serious attempt to bring the non-compliant into the system.

 

Robert D. Flach, A RANDOM THOUGHT ABOUT THE NEW VOLUNTARY AFSC PROGRAM.  A pithy lesson on the difference between qualifications and credentials.

 

Jason Dinesen, Life After DOMA: A History of Marriage in the Tax Code 

Keith Fogg, When and Where to Make Your Arguments (Procedurally Taxing).  In tax controversies, making the right argument does no good unless you make it at the right time.

 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 424.   The New York Times thinks the real scandal is that GOP appropriators won’t give the IRS more money to use against them.

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.

Scott Hodge, The IRS Needs Tax Reform Not a Bigger Budget:

The relentless growth of credits and deduction in the code over the past 20 years had made the IRS a super-agency, engaged in policies ranging from delivering welfare benefits to subsidizing the manufacture of energy efficient refrigerators.

I would argue that were we starting from scratch, these are not the functions we would want a tax collection agency to perform. Tax reform would return the IRS to its core function—simply collecting revenues to fund the basic operations of government.

Amen.  I’ve said much the same thing: “Every year Congress gives the IRS more to do.  It has become a sprawling superagency administering programs from industrial policy (R&D credits, export subsidies, manufacturing subsidies) to historic preservation, housing policy to healthcare.”

If Congress stopped using the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy, the current IRS budget would be plenty.

 

20120503-1Christopher Bergin, What’s Behind the Brain Drain at the IRS?  (Tax Analsyts Blog):

So what’s going on? Is this an internal war at the tax agency, specifically in LB&I – a power struggle, if you will? Or is it the more predictable result of competent IRS leaders, who could easily make more money in the private sector, deciding to escape an agency that is being treated like a political piñata? Or is this the new IRS commissioner cleaning house? For me, the latter is the least likely.

Yeah, the new Commissioner is more into closing the blinds to the house so we don’t see the mess, rather than cleaning it up.

 

TaxGrrrl, European Commission Broadens Tax Inquiries To Include Amazon: Google, Microsoft & McDonald’s May Follow   

Renu Zaretsky, Congress Is Back with Much To Do and Consider (TaxVox).  Today’s tax headline roundup covers this week’s Congressional agenda, inadequate retirement savings, and the EU’s efforts to crack down on multinationals.

 

Russ Fox, Pop Goes the Tax Fraud  A rapper, a Canadian, and a football player walk into before the bar…

The 70th anniversary of a red letter day for my Dad.  July 5, 1944.

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/27/14: IRS tries preparer regulation through the back door. And: why was Lerner at IRS?

Friday, June 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130121-2IRS tries “voluntary” end run around the law.  The IRS yesterday announced that it doesn’t need no stinking law (IR-2014-75):

The Annual Filing Season Program will allow unenrolled return preparers to obtain a record of completion when they voluntarily complete a required amount of continuing education (CE), including a course in basic tax filing issues and updates, ethics and other federal tax law courses.

“This voluntary program will be a step to help protect taxpayers during the 2015 filing season,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “About 60 percent of tax return preparers operate without any type of oversight or education requirements. Our program will give unenrolled return preparers a way to stay to up-to-date on tax laws and changes, which we believe will improve service to taxpayers.”

Tax return preparers who elect to participate in the program and receive a record of completion from the IRS will be included in a database on IRS.gov that will be available by January 2015 to help taxpayers determine return preparer qualifications.

The database will also contain information about practitioners with recognized credentials and higher levels of qualification and practice rights. These include attorneys, certified public accountants (CPAs), enrolled agents, enrolled retirement plan agents (ERPAs) and enrolled actuaries who are registered with the IRS.

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

So the Commissioner is keeping a little list of his friends.  And if you aren’t on his list of friends, you are on his list of not-friends.  It’s obvious what is going on here.  Through PR and subtle or non-so-subtle IRS preference for those on the Friends List, they will make life unpleasant for the non-friends, encouraging them to submit to “voluntary” CPE, testing, and ultimately, IRS control.  The IRS is trying to achieve its preparer regulation, ruled illegal by the courts, through other means.  This eagerness to take on a new program that nobody wants must mean the IRS is adequately funded, and its cries for more resources can safely be ignored.

Other coverage:

IRS Offers Voluntary Tax Preparer Education Program (Accounting Today)

Adrienne Gonzalez, IRS Goes Ahead With Voluntary Tax Preparer Program Despite AICPA Objection (Going Concern)

Leslie Book, IRS Announces Voluntary Education Program For Return Preparers (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert D. Flach, IT’S JUST STUPID  “This program will do little to ‘encourage education and filing season readiness’. ”

 

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Why did Lois Lerner work at the IRS?

This question came to mind in discussing the Lerner emails with a reader, who noted how a Politico piece about the Grassley email chain revealed this week pointed out this high-level IRS leader’s evident lack of tax skills:

Former ex-IRS tax exempt division chief Marcus Owens said the email chain shows Lerner knew very little about tax law, as there would have been nothing wrong with Grassley and his wife attending such an event, so long as the income was reported.

“It is nothing that rises to the level of referral for examination,” Owens said.

It is a mystery.  Her Wikipedia biography shows that she was a cum laude graduate of Northeastern University and the Western New England College of Law.  She worked as a high-level attorney at the Federal Election Commission, but moved to IRS as “Director Rulings and Agreements” in the exempt organizations branch of the IRS.  She rose to Director of Exempt Organizations in 2006.

Her resume, then, is that of a bureaucrat, rather than a tax practitioner or specialist.  She apparently never practiced tax law before moving into her important policy position — important in the tax world, anyway.

This sort of thing may be common in the federal bureaucracy.  It’s likely that she got a raise for the move, or something.  But it seems that while you could take the girl out of the FEC, you couldn’t take the FEC out of the girl.  She took it upon herself to monitor the electoral process with the tools of the tax law.

Megan McArdle explains why that was a bad idea:

This exchange suggests that Lois Lerner not only didn’t have a good, basic grasp of the tax law she was supposed to be administering, but also viewed her job as an extension of her work at the Federal Election Commission.

That’s not what the IRS is for. The IRS is not given power over nonprofit status in order to root out electoral corruption or the appearance of it. It is given power over nonprofit status in order to make sure that the Treasury gets all the revenue to which it’s entitled

Unfortunately, politicians see the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy, and it’s unsurprising that an IRS bureaucrat would see it the same way.

Moreover, Lerner’s overbroad instincts also seemed to kick into high gear when Republican politicians were involved. Of course, such reports might well be survivor bias — Republicans are complaining about Lerner, while Democrats who also had run-ins with her may be keeping quiet for fear of fueling the fire. At this point, however, the fire is burning merrily on its own. If Democrats who encountered Lerner’s overzealous use of her powers are out there, they’d do well to come forward and tell their stories to reassure Americans that even if her actions were overbroad, they weren’t broadly partisan.

They would have emerged by now.  The stats, as we noted yesterday, demonstrate one-sided enforcement.

It’s unlikely that Ms. Lerner came to the IRS with the idea of using her position to harass the opposition.  She just happened to be in a position to do so when applications from groups she didn’t like — perhaps that she even saw as dangerous and wrong — came across her desk.  It’s possible that she did it entirely on her own.  And that’s the scariest thing — a bureaucracy that moves on its own to squash ungoodthinkers is much more dangerous than a top-down conspiracy.  It may be hard to replace an administration, but it’s almost impossible to replace a bureaucracy.

 

taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, The IRS Has Been Set Up (Tax Analysts Blog):

I don’t know if the IRS has been politicized. Until recently that possibility would have been unthinkable. But the potential of the 501(c)(4) rules to be a setup for the politicization of the IRS is enormous. You simply can’t have the tax collector refereeing the people who provide it with its budget. 

Christopher calls for the repeal of 501(c)(4).

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 414

Johnnie M. Walters, Ex-IRS Chief, Dies at 94 (New York Times):  “Johnnie M. Walters, a commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service under President Richard M. Nixon who left office after refusing to prosecute people on Nixon’s notorious “enemies list,” died on Tuesday at his home in Greenville, S.C. He was 94.”

Funny how nobody is doing that anymore.

 

Jason Dinesen, I Can’t Do Much to Help You Once the Transaction Is Completed.  “The point is: the time to ask for tax advice about something that will generate a massive tax bill is beforehand, not afterwards.”

Russ Fox, FBAR Deadline Is June 30th, but It’s Not a Midnight Deadline.  “My advice is simple: File the FBAR asap–it at all possible by Saturday.”

TaxGrrrl, Kentucky Fried Hoax: What Happens To The Cash?

Peter Reilly, Kuretski – Was Legal Dream Team Really Trying To Help The Taxpayers?

Jack Townsend, False Statements Crime Element of “Knowingly and Willfully” Requires Proving Knowledge that Making False Statement Is Illegal

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

 

This happened in 2008.  It's raining again.

This happened in 2008. It’s raining again.

 

Lyman Stone, Pennsylvania House of Representatives Passes Suspension of Tax Credits (Tax Policy Blog). “Most of these credits amount to narrow carve-outs for favored industries and firms, and thus their elimination would generally be good tax policy as a way to make the tax code more neutral.”

Richard Phillips, Clinton Family Finances Highlight Issues with Taxation of the Wealthy (Tax Justice Blog).

Scott Eastman, Tax Inversions are a Symptom, Corporate Tax Reform is the Cure (Tax Policy Blog).

Howard Gleckman, CRFB’s New Online Budget Simulator (TaxVox).  “Neither Congress nor the White House seem to care much about the budget deficit these days, but if you do, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has created an updated online budget simulator that lets you try to get a handle on fiscal policy.”

 

The new Cavalcade of Risk is up at Worker’s Comp Insider.  Good stuff always at the blog world’s roundup of insurance and risk management — including Hank Stern on a potential diabetes breakthrough.

Oops. U.K. tax system errors mean 3.5 million unexpectedly owe (Kay Bell)

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/23/14: Making no friends edition.

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Rose Mary Woods checks her e-mail in the Nixon administration.

Rose Mary Woods checks her e-mail in the Nixon administration.

New IRS Commissioner Koskinen isn’t exactly making new friends for the agency in Congress.  His testimony Friday on the implausible rash of hard-drive failures that hit the IRS just as Congress began looking at Tea Party harassment amounted to an insistence that Congress take the IRS at its word, and give it more money.  From Tax Analysts ($link):

     “I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen answered. “Not a single e-mail has been lost since the start of this investigation.”

Regarding the six other IRS employees who have experienced computer failures since the investigation began, Koskinen said technology experts told him that 3 to 5 percent of hard drives can be expected to fail during their warrantied lifetimes. 

It just happened to all the hard drives of the people most involved in beating up on the Tea Party.

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Commissioner Koskinen (correctly) points out that the IRS is underfunded for all of the chores (unwisely) given it by Congress.  With Congressional Republicans understandably reluctant to fund an agency it percieves, with justification, as its opposition, Mr. Koskinen ought to be going out of his way to assure them that he is making sure to eliminate political bias in the agency and to fully cooperate with the investigation.  He is doing nothing of the sort, and he may have already irretreivably lost his opportunity to convince GOP appropriators that he can be trusted.

IRS stonewalling isn’t a new thing.  As the many lawsuits filed by Tax Analysts to get the IRS to release its internal documents show, covering up is a way of life in the agency.  Christopher Bergin, in The Coverup Is Usually Worse Than the Crime (Tax Analysts Blog), gives some background:

Maybe it’s just sloppy record-keeping, which would be bad enough. Most of the government’s business is now conducted digitally, and those records need to be properly handled. Or is it worse? Is the IRS deliberately keeping things from the public? Excuse my cynicism, but the IRS’s penchant for secrecy is what led Tax Analysts, using the new Freedom of Information Act, to sue the agency in the 1970s to force it to release private letter rulings. There have been several subsequent lawsuits to pry records that should have been public out of the agency’s hands.

The idea that IRS emails are public records requiring preservation is nothing new, and was well-established at the time Ms. Lerner was busy.  It’s either negligent and outrageous incompetence or criminal destruction of public records, and to say that the IRS owes no apologies is to say that at least one of these unpleasant choices is just fine with him.

 

 

20140623-1TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 410

Megan McArdle, An IRS Conspiracy? Not Likely … Yet.  “To be clear, of course six tragic hard drive failures in a relatively short period of time would make it very hard to believe in a benign explanation.”

Brian Gongol, Backing up your email isn’t hard to do.  “Someone should tell the IRS, which is making excuses for losing administrative emails — excuses that wouldn’t pass muster in an IRS audit

Russ Fox, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Backups

 

TaxGrrrl, Raking It In At Summer Yard Sales: Does Uncle Sam Get A Cut?   

Roger McEowen, U.S. Supreme Court Says Inherited IRA’s Not Exempt in Bankruptcy

Jason Dinesen, Bedside Manner is Important for Tax Pros, Too

Peter Reilly, Does Sixth Circuit ABC Decision Give Tenants Incentive To Buy?  “ABC Beverage Corporation is entitled to deduct the premium portion of the price it paid for the real estate as a cost of terminating the lease.”

 

Keith Fogg, D.C. Circuit Upholds the Constitutionality of Presidential Removal Powers of Tax Court Judges (Procedurally Taxing)

I think it’s only half-baked.  Stick a Fork in It: Is the Corporate Income Tax Done? (Joseph Thorndike, Tax Analysts Blog)

It’s not just a problem in Florida.  Seven indicted in Minnesota identity theft ring (TwinCities.com).

 

Wind turbineQuad City Times, Tax credits boost solar power in Iowa

David Henderson, Low-Carbon Alternatives: Solar and Wind Suck (Econlog).  “[A]ssuming reductions in carbon emissions are valued at $50 per metric ton and the price of natural gas is $16 per million Btu or less–nuclear, hydro, and natural gas combined cycle have far more net benefits than either wind or solar.”

 

Roberton Williams, U.S. Taxes Have Changed A Lot Since 1929 (TaxVox)

Steve Wamhoff,  Good and Bad Proposals to Address the Highway Trust Fund Shortfall (Tax Justice Blog).  The TJB has started putting individual author names on their posts, so I’ll do so too.

David Brunori, Tax Policy Is Not the Way to Deal With an Ass (Tax Analsyts Blog).  Not every problem is a tax problem.

Going Concern, IRS Can’t Afford to Upgrade to Windows 7 But Can Afford to Pay Microsoft to Use XP

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/13/14: Extenders advance, estimates loom.

Friday, June 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Remember, second-quarter estimates are due Monday.  If you are a business paying through EFTPS with a payment due Monday, you need to set your payment up today to have it go through on time.

Kay Bell, Second estimated tax payment of 2014 is due June 16

 

S imageS imageS-SidewalkExtenders for Sec. 179, S corporations advance in House.  

The House of Representatives voted yesterday to make permanent $500,000 Section 179 expensing, a five-year built-in gain tax recognition period for S corporations, and the basis adjustment for S corporation contributions of appreciated property.

The President has said he will veto these permanent items, so this is more symbolic.  The Democrats want to keep pretending these are temporary measures to avoid counting their cost in long-term budget computations.   It is interesting, though, that it appears that these items are expected to be extended indefinitely, whether a year at a time or honestly.  They were initially passed in an anti-recession “temporary” measure.  It just shows that there are few things as permanent as a temporary tax break.

Still, until the Senate and the House agree on a bill, none of these provisions are in effect this year, so don’t spend your savings from these provisions just yet.

 

Jason Dinesen, HRAs and the Affordable Care Act:

An insurance agent recently asked me the following question: can a small business that currently offers insurance to its employees drop the insurance and instead form a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA, sometimes called a “Section 105 plan”) to reimburse employees for medical expenses?

The short answer to the question is: NO.

This is an issue that came up a lot in our Farm and Urban Tax Schools last fall.

 

Jordan Yahiro, The Obamacare Cadillac Tax and its Mixed Bag of Consequences (Tax Policy Blog):

Roberton Williams, Good And Bad News About The ACA Penalty Tax (TaxVox). “So what’s the bad news? Of the 7 million people who will owe tax, CBO says more than 40 percent won’t pay.”  And of those who do pay, about 60 percent won’t qualify for subsidies.

billofrightsChristopher Bergin, Taxpayer Bill of Rights or Mission Statement? (Tax Analysts Blog):

Is the taxpayer bill of rights a “Bill of Rights”? I don’t think so. If it were, Congress would need to provide remedies. The best thing I can say is that the IRS’s statement this week may be a good start at articulating principles the IRS should plan to follow.

Exactly.  My clients have already received notices since it was issued that violate this “bill of rights” by assessing penalties without offering explanation or appeal — and which are erroneous.  If we could turn around and make IRS pay us penalties when they erroneously assess us, or otherwise violate our supposed rights, it might mean something.

Keith Fogg, The Taxpayer Rights the IRS Says We Have (Procedurally Taxing).  “I am ready to be pleasantly surprised by the results of IRS TBOR and see little downside in this administrative effort to set out its view of the rights and expectations citizens should have of their tax administrators.”

 

Joseph Thorndike, Congress Should Abolish All Tax Breaks for Higher Education (Tax Analysts Blog):

There are at least 12 tax preferences targeting higher education, Guzman notes. Many are complex in their own right. When combined, however, they became a hopeless nightmare of complexity.

And it’s probable that the colleges just hoover up the subsidies with higher tuitions.

 

Cara Griffith, Tax Analysts Files Suit to Demand Transparency in California (Tax Analysts Blog).  Sometimes the bureaucracy likes the dark best.

 

TaxGrrrl,  Seattle Area Biz Tacks ‘Living Wage Surcharge’ Onto Receipts In Response To $15/Hour Minimum Wage.  Price controls always fail, and minimum wages are price controls.

Anthony Kim, Curtis Dubay, FATCA Hurts Law-Abiding Americans Living Abroad.  Sometimes you have to sow chaos and despair on the innocent break a few eggs to score some cheap political points make an omelet.

Tax Justice Blog, Senate Democrats, Joined by Three Republicans, Come Up Short on Buffett Rule, Student Loan Bill.  Too bad, so sad.

 

20140613-1

Looking north on 6th Street.

The new Cavalcade of Risk is up!  This edition of the venerable roundup of insurance and risk-management posts comes from France, but is assembled from U.S.-made parts — like Hank Stern’s post on a Ballsy Insurance Carrier Trick.  Global warming is involved.

Peter Reilly, Will National Grid Try Dumping Its Electrons Into Boston Harbor? 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 400

Robert D. Flach starts your weekend early with a Friday Buzz!

 

Going Concern, Listen to a Fake IRS Agent Try Telling Ex-Crazy Eddie CFO He’s About to Be Arrested.  It’s hard to scam a scammer.

 

 

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

Friday, 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!

 

20140523-2

 

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

Friday, 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!

 

20140516-1

 

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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Tax Roundup, 4/25/14: Why the move to tax return selfies? And: Iowa’s unhappy high ranking.

Friday, April 25th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


Supply and demand curves

Supply and demand curves

IRS stats show more people are preparing their own returns, reports Tax Analysts ($link):

The IRS’s latest data, released April 11, show electronic filing from paid tax professionals fell 0.3 percent from the same time last year. That follows a 1.8 percent drop in April 2013, and a 1.7 percent drop in April 2012. By contrast, the IRS said, self-prepared e-filing of returns rose 4.5 percent through April 11 compared with last year, 3.1 percent in April 2013, and 5 percent in April 2012.

It seems like an odd trend.  It’s not like the tax law is getting any easier.  One possibility raised in the story is that it’s those wacky youngsters:

 Self-preparation may be a response to a younger generation’s ease with computers and software, said [retired Enrolled Agent Sandra] Martin. “That’s more of a permanent reason why people aren’t using preparers,” she said.

She also raises a much less logical possibility:

Martin said the IRS’s inability to regulate return preparers makes matters worse. Taxpayers are not only uncertain about the qualifications of their preparers, she said; some are afraid, haunted by stories of fraudulent preparers ripping off return filers and deciding the do-it-yourself path may be safest.

I think the failed IRS preparer regulation power grab is a big part of the cause, but not for the reasons cited by Ms. Martin.  As Dan Alban, slayer of the preparer regulations, testified before the U.S. Senate taxwriting committee:

In fact, IRS data released last summer shows a dramatic drop in the number of tax preparers in recent years — a sudden loss of more than 200,000 preparers from 2010 to 2012 — following the recent imposition of a series of burdensome IRS regulations on preparers (the e – file mandate and the Return Preparer Initiative, which included both the PTIN registration requirement and RTRP licensing)

If your preparer gets out of the business, maybe you will stop using a preparer.  With fewer preparers, the law of supply and demand predicts that costs will rise.  As costs rise, consumers seek substitutes.  It’s what I predicted back in 2010:

Rather than pay the increased costs, some taxpayers will stop getting help on their returns altogether and either self-prepare or drop out of the system. These dropouts certainly won’t see improved service, though the regulators will never admit responsibility for that.

Supply and demand: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!

 

Supply and Demand

Lyman Stone, Joseph Henchman, Richard BoreanTop State Income Tax Rates in 2014 (Tax Policy Blog):

20140425-1

The colors on the map get darker as the rates get higher.  You’ll notice that Iowa’s 8.98% top rate gives it quite the purple tan.  It’s misleading, in that the effective rate is closer to 6% taking deductiblility of federal taxes into account; that would give Iowa a more lovely lavender tint, like Missouri and Louisiana.  Yet Iowa refuses to build the federal deductibility into lower rates.  The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would address that.

 

Christopher BerginThe IRS and the Tax System: Integrity and Fairness for Whom? (Tax Analysts Blog):

The IRS’s mission statement couldn’t be clearer:

    Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.

If some of the tax cops aren’t playing by the rules – and getting bonuses for it – how does that provide us taxpayers “top quality service” and help us understand and meet our tax responsibilities? The two most important words in this mission statement are “integrity” and “fairness.” The one thing largely missing from our tax code is fairness. And the one thing now beginning to disappear from the agency charged with administering that tax code is integrity.   

Nah.  Compliance is for the peons, not the overlords.

 

Howard GleckmanLen Burman’s Brief for a Health Care VAT:

Len, the director of Tax Policy Center (and, thus, my boss), argues that a dedicated—and fully transparent–health care VAT would increase public support for efforts to slow the growth of medical costs. That’s because the VAT would rise, for all to see, with increases in government health spending.

I have another idea: let’s sever the link between employment and healthcare, authorize interstate sales of high-deductible health insurance, and have people pay for routine care out-of-pocket.  We don’t have to resort to a VAT to keep prices down for, say, beer and groceries — or for non-covered health costs, like LASIX procedures.  Removing the layers between consumer and payment just might work for other health costs too.  Seeing increase in your spending from your own pocketbook is a lot better motivator to reduce costs than watching government budget numbers.

 

Gene Steurle, Dave Camp’s Tax Reform Could Kill Community Foundations:

The proposal would effectively eliminate most donor advised funds (DAFs), the major source of revenues to community foundations, so they could no longer provide long-term support for local and regional charitable activities. Instead, those funds would need to pay out all their assets over a period of five years.

Iowa has a special tax credit for gifts to community foundations, which is often oversubscribed.

 

 

20140411-1Kay Bell, Doctors are target of an income tax fraud scheme; the rest of us need to watch out for a new e-file phishing attempt

TaxGrrrl, Payback Is Forever: Tax Refund Offset Law Remains On The Books 

Or anybody else.  Piketty’s Tax Hikes Won’t Help the Middle Class (Megan McArdle)

Tax Justice Blog, Trend Toward Higher Gas Taxes Continues in the States

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 351

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

 

Going Concern, Now We’re Creatively Interpreting Sarbanes-Oxley to Include Fish.  Well, the whole thing has always been fishy.

Keith Fogg, Collection of Restitution Payments by the IRS (Procedurally Taxing)

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/21/14: Clearing the wreckage edition. And: Tax Court penalty abuse.

Monday, April 21st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140330-2So I took a five-day weekend.  I needed the sleep, and to see something besides the office, my bed, and my commuting route.  So now to clear the debris of the last few weeks from my desk, and my email inbox.

And I come back to see perhaps the dumbest thing ever to come out of the Tax Court.  Janet Novack reports:

“Taxpayers rely on IRS guidance at their own peril,” Judge Joseph W. Nega wrote in an order entered  on April 15th —an order denying a motion that he reconsider his earlier decision to penalize tax lawyer Alvan L. Bobrow for making an IRA rollover move that IRS Publication 590,  Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), says is allowed.

Which is more astounding: he IRS decision to seek penalties against a taxpayer for following IRS guidance, or the Tax Court going along?  A great deal of what we do as professionals, and what taxpayers do, is in reliance on IRS guidance, because often that’s all there is to go on.  If you can get hit with a penalty for following IRS guidance if the IRS changes its mind, we’re all avoiding disaster only as long as the IRS is in a good mood.

This unwittingly goes to the heart of the IRS non-enforcement of the Obamacare employer mandate. The statute provides that the penalty tax on those with 50 or more employees starts this year if they fail to provide specified health insurance.  Nothing in the statute provides otherwise.  The only thing standing between all these employers and massive penalties is IRS guidance — y0u know, the guidance that Judge Nega just said taxpayers rely on “at their own peril.”

The whole Tax Court should reconsider this order.  If they decide that something that stupid really is the law, Congress should reverse with legislation providing that taxpayers relying on written IRS guidance should never be penalized for it.

 

20130419-1Megan McArdle kindly linked to me last week in You Can’t Fight the IRS – specifically, to Tax season tip: when you owe and can’t pay.  She added some thoughtful commentary, including:

 There are basically three types of tax trouble. There is “I was underwithheld at work because my salary changed over the course of the year but didn’t realize it” or “I’m a freelancer or small-business owner, and I forgot to put away enough money for taxes, or I incorrectly estimated what my tax bill would be.” Then there is “I am a small-business owner or otherwise self-employed, and I am on the brink of financial collapse; the money with which I hoped to pay the taxes had to go to keep my creditors (barely) at bay.” And, of course, though I hope this is not you, there is “I have been cheating on my taxes.”

She notes that different troubles require different solutions.

Thanks to her link, and to one from Instapundit to the same post, last week was the busiest around here all year.  My thanks to them, and to everyone who takes the time to link here.  You rock my little world.  If you ever want to link to just a piece of a Tax Roundup, you can do so if it starts in blue bold letters, like the words “Megan McArdle” at the beginning of this segment.

 

While I was too busy to do Tax Roundups at the end of tax season, I missed some excellent Bozo Tax Tips from Russ Fox, including Bozo Tax Tip #1: The Eternal Hobby Loss

 

Greg Mankiw,Transitory Income and the One Percent:

It turns out that 12 percent of the population will find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution for at least one year. What’s more, 39 percent of Americans will spend a year in the top 5 percent of the income distribution, 56 percent will find themselves in the top 10 percent, and a whopping 73 percent will spend a year in the top 20 percent of the income distribution….  

-Quoting a NY Times article by Mark Rank

Occupy… yourselves!

 

Jason Dinesen, Another Tax Season Down — 2014 Tax Season Recap 

Paul Neiffer, Another Tax Season Bites the Dust.  “This year was actually much easier on myself and I think most of my compatriots since we did not have Congress passing a tax bill on the last day of the year to mess up the IRS computers (although the computers have other issues to deal with).”

TaxGrrrl, IRS Reports Tax Filing Numbers As Expected, Issues Statement On Refund Delays 

Robert D. Flach, THAT WAS THE TAX SEASON THAT WAS.  “43 down – 7 to go!”  I hope to stop before 43, myself.  Robert is tougher than I am.

In case you missed it, you can see my April 15 interview with local TV station KCCI here.

 

 

Locust Street, Des Moines

Locust Street, Des Moines

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Tax Planning For Mergers And Acquisitions, Part I.  “…if we spend the time necessary to uncover and understand our clients’ non-tax and tax goals, we will typically find that choosing an ideal transaction structure is largely a process of elimination, and when the dust settles, there will often be only one option that works.”

Peter Reilly, Sawyer Taxi Heirs Midcoast Fortrend Deal – Could Have Been Worse.  It involves a C corporation attempting to have its cake while eating it too, by paying stock-deal tax on an asset sale.

Christopher Bergin, Tax Day – It Just Isn’t Fair (Tax Analysts Blog)  “I suppose the only good news is that in the last several days, there have been dozens of items in the news reporting that the IRS is doing fewer audits.”

Tax Justice Blog, Partners in Crime? New GAO Report Shows that Large Corporate Partnerships Can Operate Without Fear of Audits

Kyle Pomerleau, Why Many People are Wrong about Executive Pay and the Corporate Tax Code.  “A neutral tax code that properly defines business income would place no restriction on how much a business can deduct in compensation.”

Howard Gleckman, If Congress Lets Firms Expense Investments, It Should Take Away Their Interest Deduction.  Fine, if you let them deduct dividends.

 

Going Concern, Utah Man Discovers Liberty Tax Not as Effective as Maury Povich in Determining Paternity.

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/27/14: NASCAR subsidy heads to Governor. And lots more!

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1Don’t worry, our subsidies are carefully crafted to only help Iowans, and only for a limited time.  Until it’s slightly inconvenient.

When they built the big new racetrack in Newton, they had a unique deal: the track got to keep the sales tax it collected.  The deal was crafted to require the track be partly owned by Iowans, and that it would expire at the end of 2015.

Then NASCAR bought the track.  NASCAR is controlled by a wealthy North Carolina family , with nary an Iowan.  No problem!  The Iowa House sent a bill to the Governor yesterday (SF 2341) repealing the Iowa ownership rule and extending the subsidy through 2025.

The stories in Radio Iowa and the Des Moines Register only quoted the giveaway’s supporters.  For example:

Representative Tom Sands, a Republican from Wapello, said it’s a “performance based” tax break because NASCAR won’t get the rebate unless there are on-site sales.

“One of the questions might be: ‘What kind of return do we, taxpayers, get in the state of Iowa?’ And I drive on Interstate 80 twice every week like many of you do coming to Des Moines and have seen the construction that has happened around that Speedway just since it’s been there,” Sands said, “and we’ve got probably lots more of that we can expect into the future.”

The answer to that is: what makes this private business more worthy to keep its sales taxes than anyone else?  It’s a special deal that every other Iowa business competing for leisure dollars doesn’t get.  It’s the government allocating capital, and if anybody thinks the state is good at that, I’d like my Mercedes, please.

While this corporate welfare passed, at least some legislators are starting to wonder about this sort of thing.  14 representatives joined 9 state senators in opposing the bill.  When the Iowa Film Tax Credit passed, there were only three lonely opponents.  The 14 representatives who stood up for the rest of us: Baudler (R, Adair), Fisher (R, Tama), Heddens (D, Story), Highfill (R, Polk), Hunter (D, Polk), Jorgensen (R, Woodbury), Klein (R, Washington), Olson (D, Polk), Pettengill (R, Benton), Rayhons (R, Hancock), Salmon (R, Black Hawk), Schultz (R, Crawford), Shaw (R, Pocahontas) and Wessel-Kroeschell (D, Story).  Maybe we have the makings of a bi-partisan anti-giveaway coalition.

 

20120702-2Jason Dinesen, Iowa Tax Treatment of an Installment Sale of Farmland By a Non-Resident.  “The capital gain is recognized in the year of the sale and is taxable in Iowa. But what about the yearly interest income the taxpayer receives on the contract going forward?”

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): N Is For Name Change   

Paul Neiffer, Painful Form 8879 Process is on its Way.  The IRS, which has forced us to go to e-filing, now plans to make it a time-consuming nightmare for practitioners and clients because of the IRS failure to prevent identity theft.

Tax Trials, U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Sixth Circuit on FICA Withholding for Severance Payments

Margaret Van Houten, Digital Assets Development: IRS Characterizes Bitcoin as Property, Not Currency

William Perez, Tax Reform Act of 2014, Part 2, Income

 

Illinois sealLiz MalmHow much business income would be impacted by Illinois House Speaker Madigan’s Millionaire Tax?

These data indicate that:

  • 54 percent of total partnership and S corporation taxable income in Illinois would be impacted by Speaker’s Madigan’s millionaire surcharge. That’s almost $10 billion of business income.

  • 6 percent of sole proprietorships AGI would be impacted. Important to note here is that not all sole proprietorships earn small amounts of income. Over three thousand would be hit by the millionaire tax, impacting $674 million of income.

  • Taken together, this indicates that 36 percent of pass-through business income is earned at firms with AGI with $1 million or more.

I don’t think this will end well for Illinois.  When you soak “the rich,” you soak employers.  When states do this, it’s easy to escape.

 

Christopher Bergin, Good Grief! Tax Analysts v. Internal Revenue Service (Tax Analysts Blogs)

I have been involved in two Tax Analysts FOIA lawsuits against the IRS. Neither one of them should have gone to federal judges. But the IRS’s secrecy, paranoia, and belief that it has the absolute right to hide information drives it in this area. This lawsuit was a waste of time and money – against an agency that argues that it doesn’t have enough of either — over documents that should have been public from the beginning.

I’m left to quote Charlie Brown: Good grief! What an agency.

Commissioner Koskinen’s pokey response to Congressional document requests needs to be considered in this context.  The IRS has not earned the benefit of the doubt.

Kay Bell, IRS chief Koskinen spars with House Oversight panel

 

Greg Mankiw, Not Class Warfare, Optimal Taxation:

Today’s column by Paul Krugman is classic Paul: It takes a policy favored by the right, attributes the most vile motives to those who advance the policy, and ignores all the reasonable arguments in favor of it.

In this case, the issue is the reduction in capital taxes during the George W. Bush administration. Paul says that the goal here was “defending the oligarchy’s interests.”

Note that when Barack Obama ran for President in 2008, he campaigned on only a small increase in the tax rate on dividends and capital gains. He did not suggest raising the rate on this income to the rate on ordinary income. Is this because Barack Obama also favors the oligarchy, or is it because his advisers also understood the case against high capital taxation?

Oligarchists everywhere.

 

20140327-1Leigh Osofsky, When Can Concentrating Enforcement Resources Increase Compliance? (Procedurally Taxing)

Cara Griffith, Taxing Streaming Video (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 322

Renu Zaretsky, Friendly or Penalty? Taxes on Married Couples, Businesses, and the Uninsured (TaxV0x).  Rounding up the tax headlines.

Jack Townsend, Scope and Limitations of this Blog: It Is a Tax Crimes Blog, not a Tax Crimes Policy Blog.  “I conceive my blog as a forum to discuss the law as it is, including how it develops.  It is not a tax policy blog addressing issues of what the law ought to be.”

 

Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #9: 300 Million Witnesses Can’t be Right.  Richard Hatch is not widely considered a tax role model.

News from the Profession.  Frustrated EY Employee Vandalizes Office Breakroom in Protest Over March Madness Blocking (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/14/14: Unhappy with your state revenue exam? Iowans can appeal to the examiner’s boss! And: stealing the wrong identity.

Friday, March 14th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

How would you feel about going to court and finding out that if you win, the appeal will be heard by your opponent?  That’s pretty much how the Iowa internal tax appeals process works.  And while a reform bill is getting attention in the legislature, that feature isn’t going to change just yet, reports Maria Koklanaris in a State Tax Analysts article

In a letter to legislators, DOR Director Courtney Kay-Decker said the department was able to successfully draft legislation for some of the priorities outlined in the report, including implementing a small claims process and eliminating the State Board of Tax Review for all matters except property tax protests. But she said it could not come up with language this year for what she called her highest priority, which is also the top priority of taxpayers in the eyes of many.
“Most importantly, we were unable to cohesively and comprehensively incorporate the recommendation to remove the Director from the appeals process,” Kay-Decker said in her letter. “This is disappointing as it was perhaps my highest priority.”

The Council on State Taxation gives the current Iowa system failing marks.  From Tax Analysts:

Ferdinand Hogroian, tax and legislative counsel at the Council On State Taxation, said Iowa’s tax appeals process is the only area in which the state earns poor marks in COST’s most recent report on tax administration.  The report specifies the director’s involvement in tax appeals as a major problem.
“Although an Administrative Law Judge of the Department of Inspections and Appeals conducts evidentiary hearings, IA DOR can retain jurisdiction and override,” the report says.

Attorney Bruce Baker, who frequently does battle against the Department of Revenue, points out the obvious problem with the current system: “I’ve often joked that my clients would like to be able to appeal to the chairman of the board.”  But the Department of Revenue will retain that option, at least for now.

While the legislation they are working on (SSB 3203) is an improvement, I still think Iowa needs an independent tax court — perhaps three judges from around the state who will agree to serve as tax judges as part of their caseloads to develop expertise.  It could be modeled on the specialty business litigation court that Iowa is experimenting with.  Now if you leave the current internal Department of Revenue Process — appealable by the Department to the Director of the Department — you litigate before generalists judges who may have never heard a tax case before.  They tend to defer to the Department, even when it seems clear the department is wrong.

 

Paul Neiffer, A Bad Day in Court.  A bookie who tried to hide funds overseas does poorly.

Tony Nitti, Professional Gambler Bets Wrong In Tax Court – Takeout Expenses Are Gambling Losses, Not Business Expenses   

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): G Is For Garnished Wages .  I hope not yours or mine!

Kay Bell, Sorry tax pros, more taxpayers filing on their own.  Taxpayers always have that option, and preparer regulation would drive more taxpayers to do so by increasing the cost of preparers.  Whether that will improve compliance is left as an exercise for the reader.

 

taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, It’s Not Just About Lois Lerner (Tax Analysts Blog):

But we need to remind ourselves that there is a lot more potential abuse going on at the IRS than what’s been associated with Lois Lerner. Here are a few examples. I talk to many practitioners who (a) don’t want to be identified, probably for fear of retaliation, and (b) question the independence of the IRS Appeals Office. That is a big problem.

In 2012 a high-ranking IRS executive said in a speech that she believes the government has a higher duty than that of a private litigant. “The government,” the executive said, “represented by the tax administrator, should not pursue a particular outcome and then look for interpretations in the law that support it. The tax administrator should do nothing more or less than find the law and follow it, regardless of outcome. The separation of powers, a bedrock principle of our Constitution, demands it.”

I have a few questions. How many private tax litigators believe that’s actually how the IRS operates? If this noble statement is taken seriously by others in the IRS, why did Tax Analysts have to go to court to get training materials? And why is the IRS being questioned so strongly by Congress on its belief – or, more accurately, the lack thereof – in the bedrock principle of the separation of powers?

The results-driven IRS approach to non-political issues doesn’t lead you to think Lois Lerner was acting with Olympian detachment in the Tea Party scandal.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 309

Len Burman, How the Tax System Could Help the Middle Class (TaxVox)

My most “innovative”—some would say “radical”—policy option would replace across-the-board price indexing, which exists under current law, with indexation that reflects changes in economic inequality.

An awful idea.  The tax code will never “solve” the problem of inequality.  This is a clever-sounding idea that will do nothing but create complexity.

 

Sauce for the gander, indeed.  Identity Thief Sentenced for Filing Tax Returns in the Names of the Attorney General and Others:

A federal judge sentenced Yafait Tadesse to one year and one day in prison for using the identities of over ten individuals, including the Attorney General of the United States, to file false and fraudulent tax returns.

I don’t wish identity theft on anybody, not even a politician.  It can lead to all kinds of expensive and time-consuming inconveniences and embarrassments.  But if it had to happen to someone, why couldn’t it have been Doug Shulman, who let identity theft spin out of control while he pursued his futile and misguided preparer regulation crusade?

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/7/14: Expanded Iowa 10-and-10 capital gain break advances. And: more rave reviews for Camp plan!

Friday, March 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130117-1Expansion of Iowa 10-and-10 gain exclusion advances.  The bill to expand the availability of Iowa’s super-long-term capital gain break cleared its first legislative hurdle this week, as a House Ways and Means subcommittee approved H.F. 2129.

Iowa allows an exclusion from state taxable income of certain capital gains when the taxpayer meets both a 10-year material participation test and a ten-year holding period test.  This exclusion is available for liquidating asset sales and the individual tax on corporate liquidations, but is not available if the taxpayer is selling partnership assets or corporation stock to a third party, or for sales of less than “substantially all” of a business.

H.F. 2129 expands the exclusion “to include the sale of all or substantially all of a stock or equity interest in the business, whether the business is held as  a sole proprietorship, corporation, partnership, joint venture, trust, limited liability company, or other business entity.”

This would be a big change for Iowa entrepreneurs.  Consider how the current law affects a business started by two partners, with one older than the other.  The older partner retires more than ten years and pays full Iowa capital gain tax when he is redeemed out.  A few years later, the younger partner sells the business and retires himself.  The younger guy gets out with no Iowa capital gain tax under current law.  Under H.F. 2129, in contrast the 10-and-10 exemption would be available in both cases.

A “Fiscal Note” prepared by the Legislative Services Agency on the bill provides some statewide numbers:

Using State and federal tax returns of Iowa taxpayers, the Department of Revenue identified 369 tax returns reporting a capital gain for tax year 2012 where the taxpayer had participated in the business for a minimum of 10 years.

The total capital gain identified on those 369 returns that would be eligible under the capital gains exclusion expansion proposed in HF 2129 is $28.0 million.

Is this a good thing?  I think all capital gains should be tax-free, because they represent either a double-tax on the capital invested in them or, worse, a tax on inflation.  Anything that relieves this is arguably a good thing.  Still, it’s a complex carve-out for a limited class of taxpayers, one that creates a lot of errors by taxpayers who take the deduction erroneously or fail to use it when they are eligible; that sort of thing is almost a definition of bad tax policy. The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would provide a much better approach.

 

O. Kay Henderson, Two tax cuts passed in 2013 showing up in February’s state tax report (Radio Iowa).  The increase in the Iowa Earned Income Tax Credit is properly understood as an increase in a welfare program and a poverty trap,  not a tax cut.

 

20140307-1Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Passive Activity/Passive Activity Losses   

William Perez, Need to File a 2010 Tax Return? Deadlines and Resources.  Why 2010?  The statute of limitations for 2010 refunds expires April 15, 2014.

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): C Is For Clothing And Costumes.  Good stuff.    Related: Dress for success, but don’t look to the IRS for any fashion help.

Russ Fox, Your Check Might Not be in the Mail:

I used to live in Orange County, California. Earlier this week a US Postal Service caught fire as it was heading toward an airport after leaving the Santa Ana mail sorting center. So if you mailed something on Monday, March 3rd from ZIP Codes starting with 926, 927, 928, 906, 917 and 918, it might have been burnt to a crisp. All the mail the truck was carrying was destroyed (an estimated 120,000 pieces).

Another argument for electronic filing and payment.

Kay Bell, IRS criminal investigators are putting more tax crooks in jail.  If you are cheating on taxes big-time, you are a lot more likely to get caught than you might think.

 

taxanalystslogoThat means it must be a weekday.  More Arrogance and Secrecy From the IRS  (Christopher Bergin, Tax Analysts Blog):

I don’t know if these apparent political decisions were made by Lerner or others either inside or outside the IRS, because trying to get information out of that agency is like trying to get sweat out of a rock. Over the years, it has fought the silliest things. I’m only half kidding when I say that if you asked the IRS to see the kind of staplers it’s using, it would tell you it doesn’t have staplers.

The IRS will go to great lengths not to be scrutinized. And that breeds an atmosphere of no accountability — which leads to arrogance. We have seen that arrogance consistently throughout the congressional investigations of several IRS officials. And where will it lead us? Not to a good place, especially for those of us getting ready to file our yearly income tax returns. A tax collector that treats its “customers” as guilty until proven innocent is a tax collector out of control. That is precisely what the national taxpayer advocate has been warning about. If IRS officials don’t believe they are accountable to Congress, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

This is part of an excellent and thoughtful post, written more in sorrow than anger by a long-time observer of the agency; you really should read the whole thing.  I’ll add that all of these seemingly endemic problems in IRS should warn us off the Taxpayer Advocate’s awful idea of giving IRS more control over the tax preparers who help taxpayers deal with the out-of-control agency.

 

Jack Townsend, Fifth Amendment and Immunity in Congressional Hearings.  Good discussion of the law, in spite of his calling the Issa investigations a “witch hunt.”  It’s the job of Congress to oversee federal agencies, especially an agency that has already admitted gross misbehavior here.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 302

 

20130113-3More rave reviews for the Camp “Tax Reform” plan:

William McBride, Camp and Obama Gang up on Savers

Kyle Pomerleau, Are Capital Gains and Dividend Income Tax Rates Really Lower Under the Camp Tax Reform Plan?  “If you take into account all the phase-outs of deductions and benefits in the Camp plan, marginal tax rates on capital gains and dividends are higher than current law at certain income levels.”

Tax Justice Blog, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp Proposes Tax Overhaul that Fails to Raise Revenue, Enhance Fairness, or End Offshore Tax Shelters

 

Roberton Williams, A Web Tool to Calculate ACA Tax Penalties  (TaxVox).  “It is often said the tax is $95, but for many people it will be much more.”

News from the Profession.  Some CPA Exam Candidates Skeptical the Illinois Board of Examiners Can Tell Time (Going Concern)

 

Peter Reilly, Could You Make Tax Protester Theories Work For You?:

If you are willing to entirely discount the quite remote chance of criminal prosecution, it may well be a decent percentage play particularly if you are just about maximizing your current lifestyle rather than accumulating net worth and entirely amoral when it comes to meeting tax obligations…

I still think it is a really terrible idea to enact Hendrickson’s strategy, but that’s just me.

No, it’s not just you, Peter.  And unless your income is generally not subject to third-party reporting like W-2s or 1099s, you will be caught, and then clobbered by back taxes, penalties and interest.

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/4/14: Des Moines votes on refunding illegal tax. And: life after football!

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20121002-2Des Moines voters decide today whether to approve a legal tax to refund a similar tax imposed illegally.  The Des Moines Register reports:

A special election Tuesday will determine how the city pays back a portion of a franchise fee it illegally collected from 2004 to 2009.

The Iowa Legislature gave Des Moines the authority to temporarily increase its franchise fee — a tax assessed on anyone who connects to electric and natural gas utilities — to pay off the judgment.

However, if voters reject the proposal, city officials will be forced to raise property taxes for at least 20 years in order to issue and pay municipal bonds to cover the court judgment.

When the tax was ruled illegal, the city appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before finally conceding that it would have to issue refunds — incurring enormous legal bills in the process, including a $7 million bill to the winning lawyers on the other side.  From the District Court opinion awarding the fee:

This case has been in our courts since 2004.  To say it was highly contested would be a gross understatement.  The history of this case shows that the City, while it was entitled to do so, erected one barrier after another in an attempt to prevent the class from being successful in obtaining a refund.  Almost without exception, class counsel was successful in dismantling each of those barriers.

It just goes to show that the city will do the right thing, once it has exhausted all appeals.  Maybe next time they won’t be so quick to enact an illegal tax.

The state legislature voted to allow Des Moines to impose the tax legally to repay the illegal tax.  Somehow I doubt the legislature would do a similar favor for taxpayers by letting them, say, legally not pay income tax for a few years to help them repay the taxes they had illegally avoided in prior years.  

 

William Perez, Deducting Work-Related Expenses

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): A is for Affordable Care Act

Leslie Book, EITC Snapshot: Overclaims and Commercial Preparer Usage (Procedurally Taxing).  “In fact, there is a steady decline in the use of paid preparers among EITC claimants, while the rate of paid preparer usage overall has remained fairly steady.”

Another reason why preparer regulation to cut fraud is like pushing on a string.

Jack Townsend, The Scariest Tax Form? Scary Is in the Eye of the Beholder.  I think the article he cites, which chooses Form 5471, makes a good case, considering the almost-automatic $10,000 fine for filing it late.

Kay Bell,  Tax moves to make in March 2014

 

TaxProf, Tax Court Issues 63-Page Opinion Debunking Cracking the Code Book

 

taxanalystslogoTax Analysts Blog is having a tax reform party:

Clint Stretch, 10 Reasons Republicans Should Embrace the Camp Tax Bill.  This is pretty faint praise:  “2. If they want a credible claim that Obama and Democrats are responsible for the failure of tax reform, they must pass a bill in the House.”

Jeremy Scott, Comparing the Camp and Obama Bank Taxes:

Including the bank tax in his plan is one of Camp’s most intriguing decisions, if only because the gain for him isn’t obvious, even after a closer look. The tax doesn’t raise much money. It is very similar to an Obama proposal that congressional Democrats didn’t really like, meaning it doesn’t buy the chair any bipartisan support. And it comes about four years too late to take advantage of widespread public anger at financial institutions. All Camp seems to have accomplished is legitimizing a revenue raiser for future use by the progressive caucus and undermining his own party’s opposition to this kind of tax increase.

Just… brilliant.  I prefer ending the “too big to fail” subsidy directly, if necessary by denying deposit insurance to such institutions.

Martin Sullivan, 25 Interesting Features of Camp’s New Tax Reform Plan.  “Biggest disappointment. Camp and fellow House Republicans all but promised to reduce the top rate to 25 percent. They failed.”

Christopher Bergin, Tax Reform Only a Mother Could Love:

Many political observers think the GOP has a good chance of not only increasing its majority in the House, but also taking the majority in the Senate. I’m among those who believe that the Republicans will shoot themselves in the foot before that happens. I’ll bet there are more than a few Republicans this week who fear that Camp just put a bullet in the chamber.

I think the Camp plan will be quietly forgotten long before November, but there is still plenty of time for the GOP to demonstrate its skills with a Glock 40.

Norton Francis, Camp Tax Reform Would Create New Challenges for States (TaxVox).  The repeal of the deduction for state and local taxes and limits on muni bonds won’t win friends in the state capitals.

 

National Review, via InstapunditThe IRS Is the Problem:

Representative Camp’s thou-shalt-not list is fine so far as it goes, and, unlike the IRS bureaucracy, Congress does have the authority to rewrite the law. But his proposal falls short in that it assumes that the IRS is a proper and desirable regulator of political speech. It is not. It is not even particularly admirable in its execution of its legitimate mission, the collection of revenue: Its employees have committed felonies in releasing the confidential tax information of such political enemies as the National Organization for Marriage and Mitt Romney, and the agency itself has perversely interpreted federal privacy rules as protecting the criminal leakers at the IRS rather than the victims of their crimes. 

Instapundit comments: “Abolish governmental immunity and make them personally liable for damages for misconduct.”  Hard to argue with that; it would be a good addition to my “Sauce For the Gander” reforms.  I still don’t understand why a nonprofit should lose its exempt status for being primarily political.  Isn’t freewheeling debate a good thing?  The IRS certainly hasn’t shown itself a neutral observer here.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 299

 

Scott Drenkard, Johannes Schmidt, Guess Which State Has the Highest Liquor Taxes in the Nation? (Tax Policy Blog).  Think coffee.

 

Preparing for life after football.  Two former members of a Sioux Falls indoor football league team may have to change their post-athletic career plans.  From the Sioux Falls Argus:

A federal grand jury has indicted six people for conspiracy to defraud the United States and aggravated identity theft.

Two of those indicted – Undra Stewart Franks, 27, and Donta Moore, 28 – are former Sioux Falls Storm players.

The new federal indictment says Moore, Franks and the others conspired to defraud victims by using names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth stolen from others to file fraudulent income tax returns that claimed false income tax refunds.

Identity theft isn’t just a Florida thing.  If you deal with Social Security numbers at work, treat them as valuable confidential data — because that’s what they are.  Guard your own identity by never giving out your social security numbers, protecting your bank account info, and being sure never to transmit those things in unencrypted e-mails.  If you need to send documents with that info electronically, use a secure file transfer site, like our rothcpa.filetransfers.net.

 

News from the Profession.  10 People Not Cut Out to Be Partner (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/21/14: Last-day out edition. And: another Iowa top-ten finish!

Friday, February 21st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Today’s the last day of this season’s only extended road trip, so here are a few items to travel with.

Another top-ten finish for Iowa.  In “How High are Capital Gains Tax Rates in Your State?” Kyle Pomerleau and Richard Borean at Tax Policy Blog rank state burdens on capital gains.  Iowa’s 29.6% combined federal and state capital gain rate is ninth (California’s 33% is the worst).

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Like so many things about Iowa taxes, it’s complicated.  Some taxpayers — those who meet both a ten-year holding period and ten-year material participation test — can sell some assets (but not stock or partnership interests) and have a zero Iowa capital gain rate.  Those who aren’t so blessed by the legislature get socked.

 

TaxGrrrl is back after the Forbes hack attack with IRS Reveals Dirty Dozen Scams For 2014.  Identity theft tops the list.  Take common-sense steps to protect yourself.  Never send your Social Security Number or similar tax information in an unencrypted email, for example.  If you need to get documents with confidential information to your preparer electronically, use a secure file transfer site.

Cara Griffith ponders What Triggers a Sales and Use Tax Audit? at Tax Analysts Blog.

Christopher Bergin says Progressivity Does Not Equal Equality (Tax Analysts Blog).  “I still support a progressive tax system, just not as a method of addressing income inequality.”

There’s no evidence that an income tax system with rates short of ridiculous can affect “equality,” however you want to measure it.  In fact, the fretted-over rise in inequality has coincided with a shift in taxes to “the rich.”

Top 1 pays more than bottom 90

If you seriously tried to use the tax system to level income differences, the best you would get would be achievement of inequality by means of mass poverty.

 

Howard Gleckman, How 19 Million Uninsured Tax Filers Could Get ACA Coverage.  (TaxVox).  He pushes the awful idea of dumping responsibility for enrolling people in the misbegotten Obamacare system on tax preparers.  It’s as bad an idea as giving responsibility for administering the healthcare  system to the IRS.  Preparers have more than enough complexity and difficulty to deal with as it is.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 288

Tony Nitti, Kevin Durant Calls Foul On Tax Preparer Over Improper Deductions.  Funny, he didn’t seem to mind them when he signed the returns.  It never pays for preparers to curry favor with clients by using bogus deductions.  The same client who happily cashes the big refund check will throw you to the wolves in a heartbeat.

Kay Bell, Offshore account owners more likely to confess Swiss holdings

 

20140221-2Tax Justice Blog, Bipartisan Rush to Win Gold Medal in Tax Gimmickry: “A lot of gimmicky bills are proposed each Congressional session, but few are quite as ridiculous as the proposal by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate to create a new federal income tax break for the cash bonuses received by U.S. Olympic medalists.”

I have to disagree.  Many proposals are every bit as ridiculous, unfortunately, including a lot that have been enacted.

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/17/14: Big tax subsidy edition. And: the $70 million doggie treat!

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1Do you think the legislature would approve an $12 million annual subsidy to support the operations of a publicly-traded corporation?  Trick question!  They already have.

The Department of Revenue last week released its listing of claims for the Iowa research credit over $500,000 for 2013.  Unlike the federal credit, the Iowa credit is “refundable” — if the company claiming the credit has less tax due than its credit, the state writes the company a check for the difference.  Of the $58.2 million in credits claimed, about 65% of them exceeded taxes due and were granted as refunds, according to the report.

Two John Deere entities combined to claim over $18 million in credits in 2013; assuming the 65% figure applies to them, that means the got a net $12 million subsidy from Iowa taxpayers.

The Des Moines Register reports:

Twelve of Iowa’s major employers accounted for more than 86 percent of tax credit money awarded for research and development last year, according to a new Revenue Department report.

Companies claimed a total of $53.3 million in credits for research and development in 2013, with 12 companies claiming $46.2 million of that amount. Including individuals who claimed credits, the total rises to $58.2 million.

While recipients of the credits will always argue passionately for their virtues, it’s impossible to justify cash operating subsidies from the state for a dozen well-connected corporations.  The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would benefit all taxpayers, not just those who hire tax credit harvest consultants to get cash for what they would do anyway.

 

Liz Malm, Richard Borean, Lyman Stone, Map, Spirits Excise Tax Rates by State, 2014 (Tax Policy Blog)

20140217-1

It looks like Iowa hits the sauce pretty hard.

 

Annette Nellen, State income tax filing post-Windsor.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Enrolled Agent   

Kay Bell, IRS’ first batch of 2014 tax refund checks averages $3,317

 

Russ Fox, Tax on the Run Owners Run to ClubFed:

Here’s a scheme for you: The government has set up this new tax credit worth thousands of dollars. What if we find some impoverished individuals, have them fill out tax returns claiming this credit, and we pocket all that cash? We’ll just phony up some other parts of the return to make it look real. They’ll never catch us!

As an aside, this sort of thing happens with all refundable tax credits. It’s one of the reasons why they attract fraudsters like moths are drawn to bright lights.

Yes, this really happened…except for the part about never being caught.

But even if you catch them, that money is gone.

 

taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, To Fix the IRS, You Have to Fund It (Tax Analysts Blog)

This agency is so mismanaged that there may very well be corruption. But I have no proof of that. I do, however, agree with those who are calling for a special prosecutor. Because the way House Democrats are behaving – ignoring that there is any problem at all – is almost scandalous, and what the Obama administration is doing is useless.

And that brings me to the House Republicans. They think it’s a good idea to punish the IRS by cutting its budget. That won’t fix the problem, and it’s the classic cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face move.

We tax practitioners deal with the degrading IRS service levels every day, and it’s clear the IRS should be better funded.  It won’t happen, though, unless the IRS finds a way convince Republican appropriators that it isn’t a political arm of the other party.  Dropping the proposed 501(c)(4) regulations is probably a necessary, though not sufficient, first step.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 284

Tax Justice Blog, Congress Is About to Shower More Tax Breaks on Corporations After Telling the Unemployed to Drop Dead.  Apparently the “extenders” bill is showing some life.

Jack Townsend, Government Files Protective Appeal in Ty Warner Sentencing 

 

Via Wikipedia.

Via Wikipedia.

The $70 million doggie treat.  The greyhound industry is a legacy of the early days of gambling in Iowa, but as opportunities to lose money recreationally have expanded, gamblers have lost interest in the doggies.   Yet state law still requires two casinos to retain their dog tracks.  Now the Des Moines Register reports that the casinos are willing to buy out the dogs for $70 million:

Combined betting on greyhound races in Dubuque and Council Bluffs has dropped from $186 million in 1986 to $5.9 million in 2012, a 97 percent decline. Both dog tracks typically have only a scattering of fans in grandstands that once held thousands of patrons.

The proposed legislation envisions a payment of $10 million annually for seven years for Iowa’s greyhound industry. This would include a total of about $55 million from Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs and about $15 million from the smaller Mystique Casino in Dubuque.

The casinos say they are losing $14 million annually on the dogs.   I would guess that horse racing in Iowa has a similarly hopeless economic model.

Somewhat related: Tyler Cowen, Triply stupid policies.

 

News from the Profession: Just What Every Accountant Wants for Valentine’s, Another Calculator (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/7/14: Love it or leave it edition! And: Coralville tax scam.

Friday, February 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


20140207-1
Making America a better place to leave.  
2013 Expatriations Increase by 221% (Andrew Mitchel):

We do not believe that the primary reason for the increase in expatriations is for political purposes or for individuals to reduce taxes.  Instead, we believe that there are likely three principal reasons for the recent increases in the number of expatriations:

  1. Increased awareness of the obligation to file U.S. tax returns by U.S. citizens and U.S. tax residents living outside the U.S.;
  2. The ever-increasing burden of complying with U.S. tax laws; and
  3. The fear generated by the potentially bankrupting penalties for failure to file U.S. tax returns when an individual holds substantial non-U.S. assets.

The increase in expatriations may also be partly due to a 2008 change in the expatriation rules.

When a foot-fault can break you, you might not want to play the game anymore.  When they start shooting you for jaywalking, you might not want to be on that street at all.

 

20140106-1It’s never too cold for a tax scam.  From CBS2Iowa.com:

Coralville police say they’re receiving more reports of a telephone tax scam. CBS 2 News first told you about the scam last month. The IRS says the scam targets taxpayers, especially recent immigrants. A caller claims to be an IRS agent and says the victim owes money. The victim is told to repay the money using a preloaded debit card or a wire transfer. If the victim refuses, the caller threatens to arrest or deport them or suspend his or her drivers license. The scammer uses a fake name and fake IRS badge number. The caller has found a way to make caller IDs show the number as the IRS toll-free line. To appear more legitimate, the scammer may also send a fake email or recite part of the victim’s social security number. After threatening the victim, the caller may hang up. A second scammer may later call the victim, pretending to be from the local police department or DMV.

It sounds like the scam described in this IRS web page.  If they haven’t sent you a letter first, the IRS isn’t going to call you.  Nor will they contact you via e-mail.  The IRS gives this advice:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov.  Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Paying taxes you actually owe is enough fun without sending extra to scammers.

 

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Fiduciary Income Tax Blog, 65-Day Rule — 2014:

Fiduciaries of estates and complex trusts have the option to treat certain distributions as having occurred last year. An election can be made with respect to distributions made within 65 days after the end of a tax year. The 65th day of 2014 is Thursday, March 6.

Think of it as a trust mulligan.  With the 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax applying at around $12,000 of trust income, many trusts will want to use the 65-day rule to get the income to beneficiaries whose income is under the thresholds.

 

William Perez, Understanding Personal Exemptions

Jason Dinesen, Financing a Small Business: 4 Items to Remember.  “Don’t spend money just to get tax deductions.”

Kay Bell, Federal itemized deduction claims state-by-state

TaxGrrrl, Looking For Your Tax Refund? What You Need To Know So Far For 2014 

 

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Christopher Bergin, New IRS Commissioner Wants to Move Forward – We Should Let Him (Tax Analysts Blog):

Koskinen needs the time and space to do what everybody agrees must be done: Fix the IRS. The investigations must continue. But the new commissioner needs to move forward as well. That means not avoiding the problems, but going at them in a positive, not in a negative way. That’s what good leaders do. We should give the man a chance to show us he is one.

He could hardly be worse than the last one.

Howard Gleckman, Individual Income Taxes May Soon Generate Half of All Federal Tax Revenue (TaxVox)

CBO explains much of the rise in individual income taxes by expected increases in real incomes produced by a recovering economy, including higher wages, salaries, capital gains, and income to owners of pass-through firms, who report their taxes on their individual returns. CBO also expects a significant increase in distributions from retirement accounts for at least the next few years, driven in part by higher asset values.

Two other reasons: Higher tax rates for upper-income households (including the surtax in the Affordable Care Act) and the phenomenon known as real bracket creep. Tax brackets are adjusted for inflation but not economic growth. For at least the next few years, CBO figures incomes will grow faster than those inflation-adjusted brackets.

Oddly, these projections assume the expiring provisions actually expire.  Not likely.

Joseph Henchman, Response to Jesse Myerson’s Land Tax Idea (Tax Policy Blog).  Nice effort, but I’m not sure you need to respond to somebody who says Communism gets a bad rap.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 274

Jack Townsend, Another Swiss Bank Enabler Indicted in SDNY

J. Richard Harvey, Jr., Surprising Statistics on Corporate Disclosures of Uncertain Tax Positions (UTP) (Procedurally Taxing):

 

The Critical Question: Does the NFL Need a Billion Dollar Subsidy Annually from Taxpayers? (Tax Justice Blog)

Career Corner.  Protip to Government Accountants: If You’re Into Kiddie Porn, You Probably Shouldn’t Watch It At Work (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/3/14: The Fable of the Wife’s Purse and your legislature. And: start with the right name!

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1Why do state legislators enact such dumb laws?  After speaking to a group of State Senate Presidents, David Brunori has some thoughts ($link, unfortunately) on why they persist in enacting special incentive breaks for their special friends:

I said that tax incentives are largely unnecessary because business location decisions are mainly determined by labor costs and access to markets (Boeing proved that to some extent). But several senators quickly asked about industries such as filmmaking or high-tech, in which labor costs and market access aren’t nearly as important: Taxes would matter more, yes? I had to fall back on the “government still shouldn’t be picking winners and losers” argument, which I think is a powerful one. But it doesn’t resonate well with those who pick winners and losers all the time — in all aspects of public policy.

My response would be giving tax breaks to one business or industry means screwing all of your other constituents to pay for it.  It’s like taking your wife’s purse to the bar to buy drinks for the girls — yes, there are winners, but somebody loses too, and even the winners don’t respect you.

I like this “destroy the village to save it” argument:

 One senator asked whether widespread use of tax incentives would eventually make the corporate tax so irrelevant that its repeal would be easy. Again, indignantly, I explained all that is wrong with incentives. The senator said he agreed and was merely pointing out that the widespread use of incentives was a sure way to eliminate the corporate tax.

If that were true, I think we’d have seen at least one corporate tax collapse under the weight of its loopholes.  If any state corporation tax were ripe for collapse, it would be Iowa’s.  It has the highest rate in the nation, but its loopholes and credits make it pretty much useless, raising less than 5% of Iowa’s tax revenue.  Yet it still is going strong.

The best explanation for our bad tax policies are found in the “Public Choice” analysis of public policy pioneered by Gordon Tullock and James Buchanan.  They say that public officials, like everyone else, respond to incentives.  The incentives for legislators and their executive-branch enablers are to give money to well-connected constituents who will reward them with campaign cash.  They understand and appreciate the largesse, and the taxpayers whose pockets are being picked don’t notice the little larcenies that make the largesse possible.

Or, in my Fable of the Wife’s Purse, the girls at the bar know who’s buying, but the wife doesn’t, so the incentives are all in favor of the bar girls.

 

taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, The State of Our Union: My, My, My (Tax Analysts Blog):

The only thing new about the myRA is that it’s being done by executive fiat, which makes it lamer still. That leads me to a question: Shouldn’t we have the Treasury Department working on reforming our tax code instead of running around placing fig leaves over tough truths, such as the fact that many of us don’t save enough for retirement? A suggested starting point: Treasury should study why the myriad provisions already in the tax code that are designed to provide incentives to save for retirement aren’t working.

Oh, I’m sure the next tax code change will work so much better than all of them so far.

 

20111040logoWilliam Perez, Getting Your Name Right on the Tax Return:

If a person changed their name last year, now is a good time to check their Social Security card. The name shown on a person’s Social Security card is the name the IRS expects to see on the tax return. If a person’s name has changed, the person will first need to update their name with Social Security before using their new name on their tax return.

This problem comes up every year.  If you get married, or divorced, and you change your name, you need to file under the name that Social Security has if you e-file.  Even if you paper-file, using the “wrong” name can delay your refund.

 

Jason Dinesen,Life After DOMA: Gift Tax

Russ Fox, Tax “Professionals” Behaving Badly.  Russ recaps tax pros gone off the rails.

Annette Nellen passes on Tax mistakes to avoid – WSJ article.  I wonder if the WSJ will follow up with “Tax mistakes to seek.”

Kay Bell, Married couples filing joint returns share all tax liability, too.

 

Scott Drenkard, Indiana House and Senate Pass Business Personal Property Tax Reform.  “Taxes on business personal property are more distortive than other means of collecting revenue.”

Ben Harris, Variation in EITC Take-up, County by County:

The regional variation in the EITC is stark. The counties with the highest share of taxpayers taking up the EITC are overwhelming located in the Southeast. As can be seen in the accompanying map, a large share of counties in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi have over half of their taxpayers claiming the EITC. With few exceptions, almost all counties with high rates of EITC take-up are located in the South.

Half?  Wow.

 

nfl logo

TaxGrrrl, Ads Score Big At Super Bowl And At Tax Time, Too   

Peter Reilly, Flap About NFL Tax Exemption Seems Silly.  Not as silly as Denver’s first play from scrimmage yesterday.

Tony Nitti, Super Bowl Tax Tale Of The Tape: Who Ya’ Got?  “When the party winds down late Sunday night, we’re greeted with the reality that we’re mere hours away from starting another hellacious ‘busy season’ work week, this one with a bit of a hangover.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 270

Jack Townsend, Administration Insists that FATCA Will Not Be Further Delayed.  We must make personal finance a huge hassle for Americans abroad as quickly as possible.

 

On Friday Going Concern wished you a Happy First Day of the Tax Filing Season!

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/10/2014: Taxpayer advocate rips IRS penalties and foreign account enforcement. Also: the Code still stinks!

Friday, January 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

The Taxpayer Advocate’s Annual Report directs some well-deserved fire on two of the worst IRS practices: the penalty-happy approach to examinations and the shoot-the-jaywalkers approach to offshore enforcement.

The report says this about penalties:

The IRS’s decision not to abate inapplicable penalties illustrates its resource-driven approach to them. As we have described in prior reports, the IRS too often proposes accuracy-related penalties automatically when they might potentially apply — before performing a careful analysis of the relevant facts and circumstances — and then burdens taxpayers by requiring them to prove the penalties do not apply.

The IRS should identify and abate all of the accuracy-related penalties that should not apply. It should minimize taxpayer burden when administering the IRC § 6676 penalty (e.g., by not proposing it automatically) and work with the Treasury Department to support a reasonable cause exception.

Amen.  The tax law is hard, and when a taxpayer does what a reasonable person — not a reasonable tax lawyer — should do to pay the right amount, there shouldn’t be an automatic 20% mistake penalty.  Too bad the advocate doesn’t seem to have embraced my “sauce for the gander” penalty, which would make the IRS pay taxpayers the same 20% penalty when the IRS makes an unjustified assessment.

Regarding foreign account enforcement, the report faults the IRS shoot-the-jaywalker approach (my emphasis):

In the 2009 OVD program, the median offshore penalty paid by those with the smallest accounts ($87,145 or less) was nearly six times the tax on their unreported income. Among unrepresented taxpayers with small accounts it was nearly eight times the unpaid tax. The penalty was also disproportionately greater than the amount paid by those with the largest accounts (more than $4.2 million) who paid a median of about three times their unreported tax. When the IRS audited taxpayers who opted out (or were removed), on average, it assessed smaller, but still severe, penalties of nearly 70 percent of the unpaid tax and interest. Given the harsh treatment the IRS applied to benign actors, others have made quiet disclosures by correcting old returns or by complying in future years without subjecting themselves to the lengthy and seemingly-unfair OVD process. Still others have not addressed FBAR compliance problems, and the IRS has not done enough to help them comply.

20121129-1Shooting the jaywalkers so you can slap the bad actors on the wrist.

The IRS should expand the self-correction and settlement options available to benign actors so that they are not pressured to opt out or pay more than they should; do more to educate persons with foreign accounts (e.g., recent immigrants) about the reporting requirements; consolidate and simplify guidance; and reduce duplicative reporting requirements.

The IRS should follow the lead of the states that allow non-resident taxpayers who voluntarily disclose past non-compliance to file and pay five years of prior taxes, with only interest and no penalties — reserving the penalties for those who wait until they are caught.  Tax Analysts quotes one lawyer as saying this would be unfair to the already-wounded jaywalkers:

“It’s very hard to make the program more lenient now without going back and adjusting thousands of [prior] taxpayers’ resolutions since 2009,” he said. That is something the IRS is likely unwilling to do, he added.

Too bad.  That’s exactly what they should do.

 There’s a lot more to the report, including a call for a new taxpayers bill of rights (good) and a renewed call for IRS preparer regulation (a waste of IRS and preparer time).

Related: 

Lynnley  Browning, IRS top cop says the agency is too hard on offshore tax dodgers.  I can’t imagine she wrote that headline.  Any lazy headline writers who call an inadvertent FBAR violator a “tax dodger” should have half their bank account balances seized if they ever forget to report a 1099.

TaxGrrrl, Report To Congress: IRS Is Increasingly Unable To Meet Taxpayer Needs

Jack Townsend,New Taxpayer Advocate Report to Congress Addressing, Inter Alia, OVDI/P Concerns

 

TaxProf, IRS Releases FY2013 2006 Enforcement Stats:

The IRS has released Fiscal Year 2013 Enforcement and Service Results, showing among other things:

  • Individual audit rate:  0.96% (lowest since 2005)

  • Large corporation audit rate: 15.8% (lowest since 2009)

  • Revenue from audits:  $9.8 billion (lowest since 2003)

  • Number of IRS agents:  19,531 (lowest since pre-2000)

  • Conviction rate:  93.1% (highest since pre-2000)

It’s hard to see where the IRS has the resources for making compliant preparers waste their time on preparer regulation busywork.

 

William Perez, Fourth Estimated Tax Payment for 2013 Due on January 15

Paul Neiffer, How Low is Too Low For A Rental Arrangement?  “We had a reader ask the following question: ‘Does leasing cropland to a family member for substantially less than fair market value become “gifting” subject to taxes for value above gifting limit?’”

Jason Dinesen,  Review Your Small Business Operations as Part of Year-End/Year-Beginning Planning

Leslie Book, NTA Annual Report Released (Procedurally Taxing)

 

 

Christopher Bergin, The Tax Code in 2014 – It Still Stinks (Tax Analysts Blog):

I’ve always believed in progressive income taxation. This isn’t it. The conservatives have sold us on the notion that tax is a dirty word, and the liberals have sold us on the notion that class envy is a healthy state of mind.

And that, folks, is why the tax code stinks. And it won’t get any better in the new year.   

There’s more to the stink than that, but it’s a good start.

 

Scott Hodge, Millionaire Taxpayers Tend to be Older.  Well, that’s one good thing about aging, I guess.

20140110-1

Howard Gleckman, Pay to Extend Unemployment Benefits? Why Not Pay to Extend Temporary Tax Breaks Too?  (TaxVox)

Tax Justice Blog,  Reasons Why Congress Should Allow the Deduction for Tuition to Remain Expired

Kay Bell, Marijuana sales, tax collections good for Colorado coffers.

 

The Newest Cavalcade of Risk is up!  Hank Stern participates with an Overseas ObamaTax Conundrum

 

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

Career Corner: This Year, Resolve to Finally Decide What You Want To Be When You Grow Up in Public Accounting (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/19/2013: Government finally to stop promoting identity theft. And more year-end tips!

Thursday, December 19th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

DMFGovernment shuts down identity theft enabling operation: its own.  The budget compromise headed to the President’s death places new restrictions on the Social Security Death Master File.  While prized by genealogists for their work, it’s prized even more by thieves, who use the information on it to snap up fraudulent tax refunds in the names of the dead.  It’s been a multi-billion dollar problem for years.

The person who stole the identity of the late husband of Jason Dinesen’s client almost certainly did so using DMF information, stealing unknown amounts from the government and disrupting the client’s tax life for years.

Bloomberg Business explains the new restrictions:

The legislation would exempt the records from the federal Freedom of Information Act and give the Commerce Department 90 days to set up a process to certify legitimate users. The public would have access to the data three years after an individual’s death.

The language in the bill was taken from a Senate Finance Committee draft from which lawmakers had asked for comment by mid-January, said Alane Dent, vice president for taxes and retirement security at the American Council of Life Insurers.

While the restrictions seem long overdue, not everyone is happy about them, aside from identity thieves.  Newsweek reports:

“Closing the Death Master File is ludicrous,” said Melinde Lutz Byrne, one of the nation’s top genealogists and part of a small group of forensic researchers at Boston University. They have banded together and for two years have fought similar proposals in Texas and Florida to block public access to the Death Master File.

“It is my opinion that the science of it all has bypassed our elected representatives and even the courts,” she said.

It’s a trade-off, but I think preventing fraud deserves priority here.  Still, the objectors are right about this:

“The IRS is handing out money like candy – and nobody wants to acknowledge it,” said Sharon Sergeant, a forensic researcher, technologist and tax-software programmer who strongly supports the Boston University group. “Why isn’t it checking to make sure dead people aren’t getting tax returns? Somebody who reads the obituaries and makes up a social security number the right way, according to the algorithm, can file a tax return and get a payment. It’s got nothing to do with the Death Master File. It has everything to do with the IRS not doing its job.”

But The Worst Commissioner Ever felt it was more important to expand power over preparers than to stop the thieves.

 

2013 year-end tip: Donate your appreciated stock now!  The tax law allows you to claim a full-value charitable deduction for donating appreciated long-term capital gain securities that are publicly-traded.  It’s a tax-efficient way to donate, as you get the full deduction without ever paying tax on the appreciation.

But there is a hitch: you have to get the stock to your favorite charity’s brokerage account by December 31 to get the deduction.  That can take time, especially when dealing with less-sophisticated smaller charities.  If you want a 2013 deduction, start by contacting the charity and learning how they want you to get the securities to them by year-end. Remind the charity that they need to provide you a written acknowledgement of the gift.  And make sure your own broker knows the transfer has to be completed this year.

Come back tomorrow for another 2013 year-end tax tip!

 

20120906-1Just bluffing.  “Archer Daniels Midland Co. decided Wednesday to set up its new international headquarters in Chicago even after it failed in its bid for millions of dollars in state tax breaks.”  Next time our politicians claim to have “created jobs” by giving away your money, remember that they are giving their friends money to do things they would be doing anyway.

 

 

Cara Griffith, The Tax Reform Debate…for a Limited Few in Wisconsin (Tax Analysts Blog):

What was advertised as an “outstanding opportunity for the hardworking taxpayers” to engage in discussions about tax reform are also closed to the public…

Making tax proposals available to the public and opening up a dialogue with affected taxpayers can be eye-opening for people who will eventually have to develop and administer the proposal. If tax legislation is enacted, those who wrote the legislation, those who will enforce it, and those who will be affected by it should all understand what the legislation was designed to do. 

Politicians and their friends don’t like company.

 

Christopher Bergin, Transparency Is in Our DNA (Tax Analysts Blog):

Tax Analysts is involved in litigation in the commonwealth of Kentucky to get its Department of Revenue to begin releasing redacted copies of final letter rulings. The agency is resisting that, which is why we are in court.

Bureaucrats and their friends don’t like company either.

 

Chris Stephens, Pressure Mounts Against “Jock Tax” in Tennessee (Tax Policy Blog):

For example, a player at the NBA league minimum of $500,000 who is paid per game would make about $6,097 per game. If the player plays only one game in Tennessee he would pay a tax of $2,500 for that game, which is a tax rate of 41 percent. It is also worth noting that the player would also pay approximately 40 percent in federal income taxes, potentially leaving almost nothing in take home pay.

The states that want to pick the stars’ pockets forget that not everybody is paid like LeBron.  Unfortunately, the federal proposal to prevent state income taxation of employees only in-state for a few days doesn’t cover athletes or entertainers, treating the couch-surfing musician the same as Peyton Manning.

 

20111040logoTaxGrrrl, IRS Finally Announces Start Date To 2014 Tax Filing Season  Filing season starts January 31.

Paul Neiffer,  Tax Filing Begins January 31, 2014

Jason Dinesen, Six Things I’m Talking to My Small Business Clients About at Year-End (Part 1)   

Tony Nitti, With Tax Break Set To Expire, Partnerships Should Consider Converting To C Corporations Before Year End.  This is a 100% exemption on gains for C corporation stock received on original issue held for at least five years.

Kay Bell,  Homeownership tax breaks to take in December

Robert D. Flach, WHAT’S NEW FOR NEW YORK INCOME TAXES FOR 2013

Margaret Van Houten, How to Maintain Records for your Digital Assets  (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

 

Janet Novack, Minus Taxes And Hype, $636 Million Jackpot Shrinks To $206 Million — Or Less 

Jim Maule, Let’s Not Extend The Practice of Tax Extenders.  Agreed.

Stephen Olsen, The “IRS Investigations” Scam.  A client he helped through the OVDI “amnesty” program gets targeting by a scammer.  Troubling.

Jack Townsend, Judge Rakoff Speaks on the Dearth of Prosecutions from the Financial Crisis   He quotes the judge: “But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud, the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.”

It’s at least as much political fraud as financial fraud, but political fraud is never prosecuted.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Murray-Ryan Budget Deal Avoids Government Shut down but Does Not Close a Single Tax Loophole, Leaves Many Problems in Place

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 224

 

News from the Profession: Future CPA Seeking the Best CPA Review Course Someone Else’s Money Can Buy (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/13/13: Government by Connections edition. And how not to butter up your tax evasion judge.

Friday, December 13th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20121220-120120906-1A Des Moines Register report on the introduction of the new ownership of the Iowa Speedway in Newton tells us how things work in Iowa:

No one needed super sleuth Sherlock Holmes to figure out one of the first priorities of NASCAR as the new owners of Iowa Speedway introduced themselves Thursday during a press conference.

Three Iowa legislators were parked front and center in a reserved seating area. Multiple times during the news conference, officials thanked Sen. Bill Dotzler and Representatives Dan Kelley and Rob Taylor.

When the event sprinted toward its own finish line, only the trio with desks at the statehouse were publicly asked to jump on stage for a photo with new track president Jimmy Small.

So why do our humble public servants get to hang with big NASCAR celebrities?   Because the ownership group that bought the speedway doesn’t qualify for the special corporate welfare that the legislature enacted just for the speedway a few years ago, and they want it re-enacted:

The law, as it stands, requires Iowa-based ownership. So the spigot that delivers that sales tax benefit, which Dotzler estimates at about $4 million to date, is being shut off as NASCAR grabs the steering wheel.

Dotzler promised to reintroduce the measure when the legislative session roars to life on Jan. 13, adding that he would support extending it beyond the original end date of 2016.

Government by special favor.  And who benefits?  NASCAR is a private company owned by a very wealthy family — one that evidently knows how to play the connections game.    Meanwhile the guy running the pizza joint, the real estate office, the implement dealership, he gets a horribly complicated Iowa tax system with high rates to pay for lots of loopholes for other people.  He gets automatic penalties for every honest mistake made in attempting to comply with this byzantine system.  But hey, NASCAR!

The legislature is just too darn busy to find a way to enact a simple tax system with low rates and low compliance costs for everybody.  But they have plenty of time to go to a press conference to sell a special tax break for a single wealthy out-of-state family.  Priorities.

 

William Perez has been cranking out lots of good stuff lately, including today’s Donating an IRA as a Year-End Tax Strategy.

Margaret Van Houten,  Do your Digital Assets have Value? Are they Important? (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).  Don’t leave the heirs without the password to your Bitcoin vault.

 

20130419-1Christopher Bergin, Walk the Talk: The IRS Needs a Chief Who Supports Transparency (Tax Analysts Bl0g).  And by that, he means for the IRS, not just for us.

Tax Justice Blog,  New CTJ Report: Congress Should Offset the Cost of the “Tax Extenders,” or Not Enact Them At All.  I like the second alternative best.

Janet Novack,  Congressional Work Undone: Lapse Of Tax Credits Will Hit Job Creators 

Roberton Williams, Where Are Tax Rates Headed? (TaxVox)

 

If you like your kludge, you can keep it.  Obamacare’s Never-Ending Fix-a-Thon (Megan McArdle)

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 218.  “IRS Targeting: Round Two; The First Time Around, Targeting Conservatives Was a Secret. Now, Not So Much

Jack Townsend, Judge Rakoff, the Wegelin judge, Is Interviewed on the U.S. Initiative Against Swiss Banks

Phil HodgenRenunciation trends in Auckland “I received an email yesterday from a contact in New Zealand. Renunciations in the Auckland Consulate are apparently way, way up compared to last year.”

Stephen Olsen, Preparer Knappe(s) on the job: Delinquency Penalties, Advisors, and Reasonable Cause (Part 2 — I Finally Get to my point on Thouron). (Procedurally Taxing)

Get your friday Buzz! from Robert D. Flach!

 

ShockerGAO: IRS Lacks Adequate Internal Controls (TaxProf).  Maybe the $5 billion in annual refund fraud tipped them off.

Woo-hoo!  Tax and other fun at deductible office holiday parties (Kay Bell)

News from the Profession.  Aren’t You GLAD For This McGLADrey Holiday Card? (Going Concern)


OtterThe Otter legal strategy.  A tax protester in Texas decided that his already slim chances in federal court would be helped by a really stupid and futile gesture.  It went as you might expect, reports Courthouse News Service:

It took a federal jury just one hour of deliberation to convict a Texas man of hiring a hit man to try to murder the federal judge presiding over his tax-evasion case.

Phillip Monroe Ballard, 72, of Fort Worth, was convicted Wednesday of attempted murder-for-hire, after a two-day trial. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

It’s not the first time a tax protester has tried to improve his case by going after the judge.  If it worked, though, that would have been a first.

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/5/2013: Branstad floats optional income tax without federal tax deduction. And: is IRS hiding something?

Thursday, December 5th, 2013 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.

Iowa Alternative Maximum Tax proposal revived?  Governor Branstad may push an optional income tax with lower rates and no deduction for federal taxes.  This plan looks like an attempt to improve Iowa’s byzantine income tax without provoking the wrath of Iowans for Tax Relief, the Muscatine-based advocacy group that strongly opposes efforts to do away with the deduction.  KJAN.com reports:

Iowa’s income tax rates higher when compared to most other states because Iowa offers a deduction that’s offered in only five other states. That deduction allows Iowans to subtract their federal income tax liability from their income before calculating their state income taxes.  “We don’t want to erode federal deductability,” Branstad says, “and that’s why we’re saying: ‘Give ‘em the option.’” By giving taxpayers the option to file their income taxes under the current system with that major deduction or under a new system with lower and flatter rates, Branstad might avoid the firestorm he faced from his fellow Republicans in the late 1980s when he proposed doing away with that deduction.

The Governor appears to plan to add a new twist to the plan, reports Kathie Obradovich:

Branstad indicated that he wouldn’t allow Iowans to “game the system” by changing their form every year. That means taxpayers who give up the federal deduction would have to stick with the choice even if the other option would result in lower taxes in a given year.

That means the new system would be a one-way street.  It no longer would be an “alternative maximum tax,” where taxpayers would always compute their tax both with and without the federal deduction and choose the lower amount.  That makes it even worse than the version passed by the Iowa House of Representatives last year, which would have allowed taxpayers to make the choice annually.  Unless the new system provides significantly better results in the great majority of circumstances, most taxpayers would want to retain the option to use the federal deduction.  That would stall the (presumably) desired transition to a simpler system.  Both the Branstad plan and the House plan significantly add to the complexity of the tax law.

While Iowa’s high stated tax rates — individual and corporate — don’t help, the ridiculous complexity of Iowa tax law is the real problem.  Iowa has a bunch of penny-ante credits and deductions that don’t apply for federal purposes.  These are too small to make a significant difference to taxpayers but also too small for the Department of Revenue to police.  There are also dozens of special-interest tax credits and deductions that take dollars from the rest of us on behalf of people with connections at the Statehouse.

It’s not in his nature, but the Governor ought to go bold and embrace the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.  It strips the Iowa tax law to a very few deductions and repeals Iowa’s highest-in-the-nation corporation income tax while drastically lowering personal rates.  The Iowa Senate is unlikely to pass the Governor’s half-baked half-measure anyway; why not change the terms of the debate with a plan that actually makes sense?

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

 

taxanalystslogoChristopher BerginTax Analysts v. IRS: What Are They Hiding? (Tax Analysts Blog):

Back in August, I wrote about the lawsuit Tax Analysts had filed against the IRS seeking documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents being sought were training materials used to instruct and guide IRS personnel in the IRS exempt organization determinations office in Cincinnati. The big story then, and now, was generated by former EO director in the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division Lois Lerner’s admission that the agency had used inappropriate means to determine which organizations qualified for tax-exempt status as social welfare organizations. The organizations singled out for extra scrutiny were mostly, if not entirely, conservative. Tax Analysts felt compelled to seek relief from the courts because we were getting nowhere with the IRS – other than the big stall – even though it had promised expedited treatment on our original request.

Several months later, the big stall continues — to the point that I have to ask myself whether the IRS just made a stupid mistake in targeting those organizations or whether something much worse is going on. 

They are using the “taxpayer confidentiality” excuse for their standard big stall.  Christopher isn’t buying it:

But I’ll say it again: Training materials, really? Why on earth would the IRS try to keep those secret? You’d think the training manuals would all be in a file cabinet somewhere, which hardly would require a search party of 100 lawyers and a scouring for tax return information.

Could it be that this time something is different? Could there be a smoking gun here? I’m not saying there is. I’m just saying it may be time to start asking that question. Because even for the IRS, this is darned peculiar behavior.

Congress should amend the taxpayer confidentiality rules to keep the IRS from using them as an excuse to hide its own dirty laundry.  It shouldn’t require a federal lawsuit to get the IRS to publicize internal non-taxpayer documents.

 

 

20130121-2Whither the Registered Tax Return Preparer Program?  Robert D. Flach argues that the RTRP designation that was part of the nearly-dead IRS preparer regulation power grab should be administered by the IRS on a voluntary basis.  I disagree.

Robert would like a way to distinguish the better class of “unenrolled” preparers from less-professional seasonal preparers.  I can understand that, but I don’t think that the IRS is the agency that should do this.  It would divert already strained IRS resources to do something the preparer industry could do on its own.  I agree with Jason Dinesen that if preparers want a government designation, they should take the Enrolled Agents exam, which is much more difficult than the RTRP literacy test.  The EA designation is sadly underappreciated in the market, and adding a new IRS-run designation would only make that worse.

 

The IRS reminds us that the “savers credit” can help lower-income taxpayers who contribute to a retirement plan.  This is a non-refundable credit of up to 50% of the amount contributed to IRAs or deferred to a 401(k) plan.  For parents, funding a young adult offspring’s retirement plan contribution is a tax-efficient way to help build a nest egg.

 

Don’t try this with your tax deadlines.   TIGTA: IRS Is Seven Years Past Statutory Deadline for Providing Online Account Access to Taxpayers (TaxProf).  From the TIGTA report:

The RRA 98 required the IRS to develop procedures to allow taxpayers filing returns electronically to review their account online by December 31, 2006. The IRS did not meet this requirement, and we determined that the IRS has not made adequate progress in allowing taxpayers to access tax accounts. Currently, taxpayers cannot review account information electronically.

In fact, the IRS is getting worse, having cut back electronic access for tax professionals.  That makes resolving even a simple IRS notice a tedious multi-week snail-mail slog.

 

Tony Nitti, The Definitive Questions And Answers On The New Net Investment Income Tax [Updated For Final Regulations] 

amazonCara Griffith It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s Amazon Prime Air? (Tax Analysts Blog).  Sales tax by drone.

Alan Cole, Report: Obamacare Premium Subsidies Will Need Fraud Protection (Tax Policy Blog).  No kidding.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 210

 

Kay Bell, Tax e-filing continues to grow, hitting 122 million in 2013

TaxGrrrl, Will Congress Drive Up Gas Taxes In 2014?   

 

Um, because most commuters drive?  Why Does the Tax Code Favor Commuters that Drive? (Tax Justice Blog)

Going Concern, IRS’ Improved e-File System Is a Total Success Except For Two Jerks Who Foiled It

 

Don’t trust tax collectors, if you’re a tax collector:

The former tax collector of Plainville, who is also former treasurer of the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association, was arrested Monday morning and charged with first degree larceny, after being under investigation for possible embezzlement since June.

Debra Guerrette, of Bristol, was placed on administrative leave from Plainville’s Revenue office in June after Bristol police informed the town Guerrette was involved in a criminal investigation.

After an analysis of the financial records for the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association, and also Guerrette’s financial records, police said she had “misappropriated funds in excess of $50,000” between 2008 and 2013, into her personal account.

Will there be a special assessment of the collectors to make up the difference?

 

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