Posts Tagged ‘David Brunori’

Tax Roundup, 9/10/14: Another campaign season, another Iowa tax credit proposal. And: a property tax appeal goes very badly.

Wednesday, September 10th, 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.

How Iowa’s tax law gets worse and worse, episode 7,433.  From TheGazette.com (my emphasis):

Gov. Terry Branstad and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, traveled to college campuses Tuesday offering their plan for making higher education affordable and reducing student debt.

The GOP team proposed offering fixed-price degrees or $10,000 bachelors degree for popular major at public universities to cut costs for al limited number of in-state students and tax credits for being volunteers in qualifying community activities during stops at Iowa State University in Ames and Drake University in Des Moines.

Say that again, slowly: “tax credits for being volunteers in qualifying community activities.”  Paid volunteerism.  What a wonderful concept, like non-alcoholic whiskey.

To reduce debt that is among the nation’s highest for college students, Branstad and Reynolds said they would work with the Legislature in 2015 to create a state tax credit that would allow students to reduce debt by participating in volunteer activities within their community through a qualified Student Debt Reduction Organization.

Details and specifics of the tax credit would be worked out so it would encourage community volunteerism while also maintaining the strength of other successful tax credit programs, such as the Student Tuition Organization Tax Credit, [campaign spokesman Tommy] Schultz said.

Bluto20140910It’s something cooked up to sound good in a re-election campaign.  Well, cooked-up may be too strong a term, when it is admittedly only half-baked (details and specifics to be worked out).  You would give the Department of Revenue a new job of supervising “Student Debt Reduction Organizations.” These organizations would be set up by non-profits and government agencies to spend state money.

Can you think of any way this will end well?  Does anyone really think the “volunteer” time will be well used? Or that these local communities will have useful projects for all these “volunteers?”  And does anyone doubt that local politicians will find ways to use these “volunteers” to help them get re-elected?

But it sounds good. “Promote civic involvement.”  And the Iowa tax law gets another barnacle.

Another fallacy of the Governor’s plan: the idea that the reason college isn’t “affordable” because there aren’t enough government programs and tax credits to subsidize it. Yet every few years there is a new subsidy or tax credit, on top of the old ones.   Pell Grants, student loan subsidies, Lifetime Learning Credits, HOPE Credits, American Opportunity Tax Credits, student loan interest deductions…  all touted as making college “more affordable.”  Yet somehow tuition keeps outpacing inflation.  It should be obvious by now that higher education just raises prices to soak up the subsidies.  More subsidies and tax credits are the problem, not the solution.

 

Why you might want to hire somebody to handle your property tax appeal.  From the Des Moines Register:

An Iowa man angry about his property taxes was fatally shot during a public meeting Tuesday after he pulled a gun from a briefcase and pointed it at the county assessor, law enforcement officials said.

Francis Glaser, a former Maquoketa city manager, had become agitated and vocal about his property taxes going up during a weekly meeting of Jackson County’s board of supervisors in Maquoketa, a town about 30 miles south of Dubuque.

It apparently involved a tax incentive.

 

Paul Neiffer, Will Tax Inversion Debate Yield Permanent Section 179

Peter Reilly, Andrew Kay Passes – Helped Accountants Abandon Pencil Pushing:

 I never knew who he was, but the machine that his company made had a profound influence on tax and accounting practice , at least in my neck of the woods.  Mr. Kay was responsible for the Kaypro.

I never used a Kaypro, but I am probably indebted to Mr. Kay. With my penmanship, I could never have survived in accounting without computers.

 

20140910-1Richard Auxier, Nearly All States Play the Lottery, But None Are Big Winners (TaxVox). “Playing the lottery can be fun. But politicians selling lotteries as a panacea for education spending are just as disingenuous as lotto advertisements promising big wins. And states pushing instant and electronic games on their poorest residents are doubling-down on a bad bet.”

Russ Fox, New Jersey Tries Hail Mary on Sports Betting; Will IRS Intercept?

Kay Bell, Will Tax Inversion Debate Yield Permanent Section 179

David Brunori, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — Florida Governor Rick Scott’s Tax Ideas (Tax Analysts Blog)

Matt Gardner, Wisconsin Contemplates Property Tax Shift from Business to Homeowners. (Tax Justice Blog). Business don’t ultimately pay taxes. They merely collect them on behalf of customers, employees and owners.

 

Kyle Pomerleau, New Earnings Stripping Bill is Fundamentally Unserious (Tax Policy Blog).  Of course it is. That doesn’t mean it won’t pass someday.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 489. Today’s roundup includes this from the Washington Post about Commissioner Koskinen’s duplicity in handling the scandal:

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen testified this summer that he played no part in spreading word of the agency’s controversial missing e-mails to the Treasury Department or the White House. But one of his closest advisers apparently did.

And he wonders why Congress doesn’t want to give him all the money he asks for.

 

Career Corner.  How Failing the CPA Exam Might Actually Help You Succeed (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/4/14: IOU? No basis for you! And: IRS may say TANSTAAFL.

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120801-2Partner IOUs fail to increase basis.  Just like S corporation shareholders, partners in a partnership can only deduct their share of the entity’s losses to the extent they have basis.  Like S corporation owners, partner basis starts with the basis of property and the amount of cash contributed to the partnership; it is increased by the owner’s share of taxable and tax-exempt income, and is reduced by expenses and distributions.

In a Tax Court case yesterday, partners”contributed” IOU from themselves to the partnership, VisionMonitor Software LLC.; the partners then used the amounts of the IOUs as basis for deducting losses.

Unfortunately for the partners, that doesn’t work.  Judge Holmes explains (minor editing by me):

VisionMonitor argues that the notes in this case, like the assumption of debt in Gefen, were necessary to persuade a third party to kick in more funding to a cash-strapped partnership. But unlike the partner in Gefen, neither Mantor nor Smith were guaranteeing a preexisting partnership debt to a third party. And they did not directly assume any of VisionMonitor’s outside liabilities — these notes are their liability to VisionMonitor, not an assumption or guaranty of VisionMonitor’s debt to a third party…  And there’s also no evidence that Mantor or Smith were personally obliged under the VisionMonitor partnership agreement to contribute a fixed amount for a specific, preexisting partnership liability.

Unlike S corporation shareholders, partners can get basis for debt owed by a partnership to third parties — for example, by providing a guarantee to a third-party lender (watch out for the “at-risk” rules).  But the court held that writing an IOU, by itself, doesn’t rise to the level of creating debt basis for the partner:

 Here… the partners each have no adjusted basis in the notes, and until they are paid, the notes are only a contractual obligation to their partnership. Mantor made a payment under his notes only in 2010, and the record has no evidence that Smith ever did. We therefore find that Mantor’s and Smith’s bases in their promissory notes during the 2007 and 2008 tax years were zero and, accordingly, that VisionMonitor’s basis in the contributed notes was also zero.

As it always does, the IRS tried to stick the partners with a 20% “accuracy-related” penalty. Judge Holmes wisely declined, holding that they relied reasonably on oral advice from their tax man, a Mr. Sympson:

We have little problem in finding that VisionMonitor actually relied on Sympson’s advice — his conclusion that the notes were additions to VisionMonitor’s capital (and the capital accounts of Smith and Mantor) was set out on the company’s returns. And we have little trouble in finding that this reliance was in good faith. In a case like this one — where VisionMonitor secured Smith and Mantor’s promises to increase their personal risk alongside their promise to extend their personal credit to the firm’s vendors — advice from a longtime tax adviser that this increased Smith’s and Mantor’s bases would seem reasonable to Mantor.

This is the sort of standard that the Tax Court should apply.  Taxes are hard — that’s why people hire out their tax work.  If they are open with their tax advisor, and they don’t have reason to think the tax advisor is incompetent, they shouldn’t get hammered with penalties just because the advisor makes a mistake. After all, the IRS makes mistakes too.

The Moral: If you want to get basis in your partnership without putting in cash, you need to get third party debt allocated to you in a way that makes you at-risk.  And: when things get complicated, if you are open with your preparer and follow the advice given, IRS penalties are not automatic.

Cite: VisionMonitor Software LLC, T.C. Memo 2014-182.

Related: How much K-1 loss can I deduct? Start with your basis.

 

TANSTAAFL. (There Aint) No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: IRS Mulls Tax On Employee Meals. (TaxGrrrl)  Just because you can make a theoretical argument that something is taxable doesn’t mean you should tax it.

 

20130121-2So you think regulation of preparers by IRS will stop fraud?  IRS Employee Accused Of Tax Fraud.  If they can’t keep themselves honest, they aren’t likely to prevent preparer cheating. Of course, preparer regulation isn’t about stopping fraud or improving tax compliance. It’s about grabbing power and helping well-placed friends.  Russ Fox has more.

 

Jana Luttenegger, Tax Court Ruling on Frequent Flyer Miles as Income (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

Kay Bell, Tax differences between home repairs & home improvements.  It can make a big difference when you sell.

Robert D. Flach tells you WHAT TO ASK A TAX PRO

Jack Townsend, Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt – Ramblings

 

David Brunori, Business Pays a Lot of State and Local Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

COST recently released its 12th edition of the report. And it continues to influence the state tax debate as much today as it did in 2002. The new report says that businesses paid $671 billion in state and local taxes in 2013, up about 4 percent over the previous year. But business taxes accounted for 45 percent of all state and local taxes.

I note that the amount of tax paid by “business” is deceptive. Businesses do not pay taxes; people pay taxes. And every dime of the $671 billion was paid by some combination of shareholder, owner, employee, customer, or supplier. Those on the left desperately want the burden to fall on shareholders. But there is growing evidence that in a global economy, the burden falls on employees. 

And if it does fall on shareholders, remember that pension funds are also shareholders.

 

20140801-2Lyman Stone, Governor Rick Scott Offers Mixed Bag of Tax Proposals for Florida (Tax Policy Blog). “Governor Scott’s tax proposals offer meaningful improvements in some areas like cell phone and corporate income taxes. But on other issues like the property tax cap, it’s not clear whether or how the plan will work; on sales tax holidays, the proposed “tax cut” would actually make the tax code more complicated and distortionary, while creating little or no economic growth.”

Yes.  Next Question?  Is It Time to Repeal The Corporate Income Tax? (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox) “This view acknowledges that roughly 10 million businesses already have engaged in self-help tax reform by organizing themselves as pass-through firms (where owners at taxed as individuals but bypass the corporate tax entirely).”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 483

 

News from the Profession.  Ladies Still Need Entire Panels Made Up of Dudes to Talk About Ladies in the Profession (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)  “Don’t worry, ladies, the guys are ON IT.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/27/14: Inversions! Fire! Flee! FIRPTA! Edition. And: state credits and the race for Governor.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140815-2DOOM! PANIC!  Corporate inversions!  DO SOMETHING!  This isn’t the first time politicians have gotten their dresses over their heads in a pseudo-patriotic panic over legal transactions, as Ajay Gupta explains for Tax Analysts ($link):

FIRPTA is a statute conceived in xenophobia and dedicated to the proposition that not all investors are created equal. It is nothing more or less than the embodiment of a congressional desire to limit the grasp of foreign investors on domestic real estate.

“FIRPTA” is the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act, and it requires buyers of U.S. real estate to withhold 10% of the gross purchase price paid to non-U.S. sellers.  In practice, it functions as a trap for unwary U.S. buyers who fail to withhold, leaving them liable for the withholding liability on top of their purchase price.  It arose out of the panic over a wave of Japanese purchases of U.S. real estate — a panic that we can now see clearly as madness.  Yet FIRPTA lives on, long after the Japanese moved on to other things.

Things like this tell us that the best way to deal with the current panics, like corporate inversions, is to not “do something” that will surely be half-baked and haunt the tax law forever.

 

Megan McArdle, Burger King and the Whopper About Taxes (my emphasis):

As my colleague Matt points out, most Americans — including a lot of journalists who write about this — seem to be under the misimpression that companies that invert, or people who renounce their citizenship, are doing so to get a lower tax rate on income they earn here. And in a few intellectual-property-based businesses, which can make aggressive use of transfer pricing strategies to declare most of their income in low- or no-tax countries, these complaints have some basis. In most cases, however, including Burger King, they’re doing it because the U.S. inexplicably insists on taking a big chunk off the top of all their foreign income, and making their lives miserable in the process.

But, but, deserters!  Traitors!

 

canada flagIf you are wondering why Burger King might be attracted to Canada,  read How Much Lower are Canada’s Business Taxes? (William McBride, Tax Policy Blog):

First, Canada has a much lower corporate tax rate: 15 percent at the federal level plus another 11 percent on average from provincial corporate taxes. Compare that to the U.S. federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent plus an average state corporate tax rate of about 4 percent.

Second, Canada has a territorial tax system, meaning there is no additional repatriation tax on foreign profits. The U.S. has a worldwide tax system, which applies a repatriation tax to foreign profits when those profits are brought back to the U.S. The repatriation tax is basically the difference between the foreign corporate tax rate and the U.S. corporate tax rate, which is typically more than 10 percent. The average foreign corporate tax rate in the developed world is 25 percent.

Third, the U.S. is not particularly competitive in terms of taxing shareholders. Canada integrates its corporate tax with shareholder taxes to avoid double-taxation. In the U.S. it just piles up, so the integrated corporate tax rate on equity financed investment is over 50 percent.

A corporation pays 35% federal tax on its net income, leaving 65% for the shareholders.  If it gets distributed to a top-bracket taxpayer, it gets hit at 20%, plus the 3.8% Obamacare surtax. That is a combined effective rate of 50.47% — and that’s low, as it doesn’t count phase-outs or state taxes. Yet congresscritters profess astonishment that anybody would find that a problem worth solving.

 

Howard Gleckman, Could The U.S. Fix Taxation of Multinational Corporations With A Sales-Based Formula? (TaxVox) “Instead of focusing on the real disease—an increasingly dysfunctional corporate income tax—we are obsessing over a symptom—firms such as Burger King engaging in self-help reform by relocating their legal residences overseas.”

Joseph Thorndike, Warren Buffett Is a Tax Avoider. Good for Him. (Tax Analysts Blog). Now Mr. communitarian billionaire who wants high taxes for other people is a deserter too.  Is nothing sacred?

 

20140729-2Paul Neiffer,  $563 Cost a Taxpayer $6,320:

If the taxpayers had simply paid the $563 of additional tax owed on the original assessment, that is all they would have been out-of-pocket.  However, when they went to court, the IRS determined that they had made a math error in their original calculation of AMT and reassessed the tax owed from $563 to $6,883 or an increase of $6,320.  Since this calculation was now correct, the Tax Court honored the IRS calculation and suddenly the taxpayers suddenly owed another $6,320 just for going to court.

Oops.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 475.  It links to this from George Will: “The IRS is the most intrusive and potentially punitive institution of the federal government and it is a law enforcement institution and it is off the rails and it is now thoroughly corrupted.”

And the IRS Commissioner thinks all his agency needs is more money.

 

Kay Bell, IRS, betting that expired state and local sales tax deduction will be renewed, hires firm to calculate Schedule A tables

TaxGrrrl, IRS Still Struggling With Tax Treatment Of Immigrants, Changes Rules Again   

Jack Townsend, BASR Briefs On Issue of Unlimited Statute of Limitations for NonTaxpayer Fraud

David Brunori, Repealing the Bad Franchise Tax is a Good Idea (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Eighteen states still impose a franchise tax; they shouldn’t.”

 

MP branstadBy all means, lets make state tax credits an issue.  The Branstad re-election campaign is making a big deal about how his campaign opponent, Jack Hatch, bottled up a GOP bill that would have reduced developer fees in tax credit deals — fees that Mr. Hatch makes a good living collecting.

Senator Hatch could truthfully explain that his committee snuffed every GOP tax bill last session, so that bill didn’t receive special treatment.  Still, it doesn’t look good.

Yet this ignores the real scandal with state incentive credits: they are inherently corrupt.

For starters, the credits for low-income housing and historic rehabilitation go disproportionately to well-connected insiders who know people and know how to pull strings — at the expense of real estate owners without the connections — and arguably at the expense of renters who might benefit more from housing aid not run through developers.

But also that’s true of the other credits.  Special deals go to Microsoft, Google and Facebook because they are big and they know how to play the system.  Tax credits go to big fertilizer companies for doing what they would do anyway, while other poor schmucks without lobbyists and fixers pay full-freight on their income and property taxes.  NASCAR and the Field of Dreams played on glamour and celebrities to keep sales taxes they collect, while other sellers of amusements have to collect the same sales taxes and turn them over to the state.  And Governor Branstad has handed out these tax credits generously.

I’m fine with the Governor’s criticism of Senator Hatch for tax credit deals; I don’t care for them either.  Still, the Governor should keep his old MP helmet handy, because he is calling down fire near his own position.

 

Claire Celsi, PR is like pork scraps and pickle juice (IowaBiz.com).  Sounds yummy.

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/21/14: IRS says saving the company still “passive;” Tax Court says otherwise And: the $105.82 c-note!

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note: No Tax Roundup will appear tomorrow, August 22.   I will be up in Ames helping teach the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation class “Affordable Care Act (ACA): What Practitioners Need to Know in the morning.  Webinar registration is closed, but you can still  attend as a walk-in.

 

S imageS imageS-SidewalkYou saved the company.  Big deal.  Apparently pulling the company you started from the brink of failure wasn’t enough to convince the IRS that a taxpayer “materially participated” and could deduct losses on his tax return.

Charles Wade was a founder of Thermoplastic Services, Inc. and Paragon Plastic Sheeting, both S corporations.  After his son Ashley took over daily management of the business, he still owned a significant stake in the company.  He never really retired, though.  From the Tax Court (my emphasis, footnotes omitted in all Tax Court quotes):

With Ashley there to handle day-to-day management, Mr. Wade became more focused on product and customer development. He did not have to live near business operations to perform these duties, so petitioners moved to Navarre, Florida. After the move he continued to make periodic visits to the facilities in Louisiana and regularly spoke on the phone with plant personnel.

In 2008 TSI and Paragon began struggling financially as prices for their products plummeted and revenues declined significantly. Mr. Wade’s involvement in the businesses became crucial during this crisis. To boost employee morale, he made three trips to the companies’ industrial facility in DeQuincy, Louisiana, during which he assured the employees that operations would continue. He also redoubled his research and development efforts to help TSI and Paragon recover from the financial downturn. During this time Mr. Wade invented a new technique for fireproofing polyethylene partitions, and he developed a method for treating plastics that would allow them to destroy common viruses and bacteria on contact. In addition to his research efforts, Mr. Wade ensured the companies’ financial viability by securing a new line of credit. Without Mr. Wade’s involvement in the companies, TSI and Paragon likely would not have survived.

Slacker.  At least according to the IRS, who said that this participation failed to rise to the level of “material participation” and disallowed over $3 million in pass-through losses on Mr. Wade’s return.

The Tax Court took a different view.  Judge Goeke explains :

A taxpayer materially participates in an activity for a given year if, “[b]ased on all of the facts and circumstances * * * the individual participates in the activity on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis during such year.” A taxpayer who participates in the activity for 100 hours or less during the year cannot satisfy this test, and more stringent requirements apply to those who participate in a management or investment capacity.  The record reflects that Mr. Wade spent over 100 hours participating in TSI and Paragon during 2008, and his participation consisted primarily of nonmanagement and noninvestment activities. Ashley managed the day-to-day operations of the companies; Mr. Wade focused more on product development and customer retention.

Although Mr. Wade took a step back when Ashley became involved in the companies’ management, he still played a major role in their 2008 activities. He researched and developed new technology that allowed TSI and Paragon to improve their products. He also secured financing for the companies that allowed them to continue operations, and he visited the industrial facilities throughout the year to meet with employees about their futures. These efforts were continuous,  regular, and substantial during 2008, and we accordingly hold that Mr. Wade materially participated in TSI and Paragon. 

20120801-2It’s notable that the judge did not require Mr. Wade to produce a daily log.  Apparently there was enough testimony and evidence to show that his participation crossed the 100 hour threshold.

The 100 hours might not have been considered enough under some circumstances.  Usually the IRS holds taxpayers to the default 500-hour test for material participation.  This case is unusual in its use of the fall-back 100-hour “facts and circumstances” test. It’s good to see the Tax Court use it, as the IRS seems to think this test never applies.

It’s also interesting that the efforts at “customer retention” were counted.  This could be useful in planning for the 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax.  The NIIT taxes “passive” income, defined the same way as the passive loss rules.  A semi-retired S corporation owner who still calls on some of old accounts after turning daily operations over to successors might be able to avoid the NIIT under the logic of this case.  If so, though, it would be wise to keep a calendar to prove it.

Cite: Wade, T.C. Memo. 2014-169

Related:

Russ Fox, A Passive Activity Case Goes to the Taxpayers.  “Hopefully the IRS can get more of these cases right at audit and appeals–they’ll be dealing with many more of these over the coming years.”

Paul Neiffer, More than 100 but Less than 500.  “It is nice to see that a subjective test went in the taxpayer’s favor.”

Material participation basics.

 

How far does $100 go in your city?  Last week the Tax Foundation issued a map showing how far $100 goes in different states.  Now they have issued a new map in The Real Value of $100 in Metropolitan Areas (Tax Policy Bl0g).  It is wonderful — just scroll your cursor over your town.

In Des Moines, $100 is good for $105.82.  In New York, it gets you $81.83.

 

TaxGrrrl, Anna Nicole Smith’s Estate Loses Yet Another Run At The Marshall Fortune

Tony Nitti, Could The IRS Disallow Ice Bucket Challenge Charitable Contributions?  Go ahead, IRS, just try it.  You’re just too popular.

William McBride, Earnings Stripping, Competitiveness, and the Drive to Further Complicate the Corporate Tax (Tax Policy Blog)

Roberton Williams, One Downside Of Inversions: Higher Tax Bills For Stockholders (TaxVox)

Kay Bell, How does the U.S. corporate tax rate compare to other countries?  Poorly.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 469

 

David Brunori, Using Local Cigarette Taxes for Schools Is Silly (Tax Analysts Blog).  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.  For the children!

Cara Griffith, Was Oregon’s Tax Incentive Deal With Intel Unnecessary? (Tax Analysts Blog).  No, it was absolutely necessary to enable the Governor of Oregon to issue this press release and YouTube announcement.  That’s the point, after all.

 

Quotable:

The United States gets little tax from Americans overseas today. Most of them live in high-tax countries and have no U.S. income tax in any event because of FTCs and the section 911 foreign earned income exclusion. But as we all know, Congress couldn’t care less about this subject, and this is all a non-starter. Better to place your money on a genetically modified flying pig.

Robert L. Williams in Tax Analysts ($link)

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/13/14: Tax Fairies in the graveyard? And: another payroll service goes bad.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Funeral home signOf course cemetery lots are shooting up in value.  People are dying to get in!  Taxpayers seek the Tax Fairy in the strangest places.  The Tax Fairy is the mythical spirit who can make taxes go away magically, for a reasonable price to a tax wizard who claims to be able to summon her.  A Tax Court case yesterday found taxpayers looking for her in cemeteries (Emphasis mine; slightly edited for readability).

Judge Nega’s overview:

Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-2, Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-3 , and Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-4 (collectively, partnerships) are Maryland general partnerships. The partnerships were established to acquire cemetery sites, to hold the sites for over one year, and then to contribute the sites to qualified charitable organizations, with the aim to provide individuals who invested in the partnerships with charitable contribution deductions equal to the appraised values of the sites as of the times of the contributions. Glenn R. Johnston and his colleagues promoted the partnerships to wealthy individuals as a way for them to receive a return of tax benefits in the form of passthrough deductions or losses worth significantly more than the amounts invested. 

What sort of deductions?

…(petitioner) invested $37,500 in each partnership. He made these investments to increase the amounts of his charitable contributions for the subject years and, more particularly, to receive promoted tax benefits worth significantly more than his investments. He expected that his investments would return him tax benefits worth $50,000 for each subject year. 

HMPA 1995-2 claimed the $1,864,850 charitable contribution deduction on that return. Petitioner was allocated $135,127 of that deduction, and petitioners deducted the $135,127 on their 1996 individual return as a charitable contribution. HMPA 1995-2 reported on its 1996 Form 1065 that HMPA 1995-2 had no income or expenses for 1996 (but for the charitable contribution deduction).

So: invest $35,000, deduct $135,000, save (conservatively) 1/3 of $135,000, or $45,000.  What could go wrong?

On September 29, 2005, Mr. Johnston was indicted on (1) one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by selling, claiming, and causing others to sell and claim millions of dollars in false and fraudulent tax deductions for charitable contributions and concealing from the IRS income from the sales of the fraudulent deductions and (2) multiple counts of aiding and assisting in the filing of false returns by investors in the partnerships so that the investors claimed charitable contribution deductions in amounts substantially greater than allowable. These charges involved the partnerships, among one or more other entities. Mr. Johnston pleaded guilty to the first count on April 12, 2007.

Sure, it’s a criminal enterprise, but the deductions are still good, right?  And didn’t the statute run?  Nope.  The court ruled that the IRS met the procedural requirements to keep the statute of limitations open by properly initiating partnership-level proceedings.  The court also ruled that the taxpayer couldn’t claim a business loss for the partnership investments:

tax fairyPetitioners argue secondarily that they may deduct a $37,500 loss for each year as to petitioner’s investments in the partnerships. To that end, petitioners assert, petitioner’s ownership interests in the partnerships were worthless as of the end of the corresponding years in which the partnerships operated, and he knew that the interests were worthless as of those times and abandoned his interests as of those times. Petitioners add that petitioner invested in the partnerships to make a profit and in furtherance of a legislative intent to encourage charitable contributions.

But the court ruled that seeking charitable deductions isn’t a “trade or business,” and that no business loss was available.  $35,000 spent to net a tax savings of nothing.

The Moral?  This thing should never have passed the “too good to be true” test.  The deductions depended on incredible post-contribution appreciation in graves.  Anybody thinking this sort of thing might actually work really needs to get out more.  And there is no tax fairy.

Cite: McElroy, T.C. Memo 2014-163.

Related:  Three Years is the Normal Statute of Limitations, But Not Always (Paul Neiffer).

 

EFTPSAnother payroll service makes off with employers’ payroll tax payments.  From emissourian.com:

 

A Washington man pleaded guilty this week to federal mail fraud and money laundering charges.

Bradley Ferguson, 48, owner of Paymaster Business Solutions in Fenton, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 6 in U.S. District Court. 

He pleaded guilty to one felony count of mail fraud and one felony count of money laundering before U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber.

Ferguson is accused of withdrawing money from the bank accounts of business clients to pay federal, state and local taxes but did not make the payments, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

While it makes sense for many taxpayers to outsource payroll functions, the tax law still holds the employers responsible for getting withholdings to the IRS.  If you outsource your payroll taxes, you should use Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) online access to make sure your payroll tax remittances are actually hitting your account.  If you use a service that doesn’t allow you to do this — like many “professional employer organizations” who “co-employ” their clients’ workers — you need to make other arrangements, like bonding, to protect yourself.

 

Peter Reilly, Alimony Deduction Requires Good Substantiation.  “It turns out that taxpayers are routinely whipsawing the IRS.”

William Perez, How to Get a Federal Tax Credit for the Cost of Child Care.

Kay Bell, James-Love NBA combo is tax boon to two Cleveland towns.

TaxGrrrl, Think Before You Post: The Dangers Of Seeking Tax Advice On The Internet:

I was pretty shocked at how much information folks were willing to share on the internet about their tax evasion questions, strategies and justifications. Sometimes, these folks are regular forum posters who happily share their location and other identifying information while others clearly try to remain somewhat anonymous.

In case you were wondering, the IRS has internet access.

 

Jason Dinesen, Rare Home Office Deduction Win in Tax Court

Carl Smith, In Some Cases IRS Seeks to Conflict Out Lawyers Who Represented Taxpayers in CDP Hearings (Procedurally Taxing).  CDP stands for “collections due process.”  The IRS is bigger than you, peasant.

 

Tony Nitti, Final IRS Rules On Partnership Technical Terminations Will Surprise Some Tax Pros

 

20140813-1David Brunori: Congress Shouldn’t Make State Tax Systems Worse (Tax Analysts Blog)

As my colleague Maria Koklanaris reported, 29 Democratic members of Congress asked leaders of the California State Legislature to reauthorize and expand the state’s film tax credit. Led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the federal lawmakers asked California to extend a very bad tax policy, saying that if it doesn’t, film jobs will be lost forever to other states. 

Why film credits? Why not some other industry? Politicians are the worst at determining what’s best for the marketplace. Despite the studies funded by the Motion Picture Association of America that say otherwise, film tax credits don’t work. In virtually every state that has them, there’s no discernible economic effect — that is, the tax giveaway did not result in more economic activity than would have occurred without it.

Iowa has some lessons to teach here.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 461

 

There’s only one left? Owner of the Pickle pleads guilty to federal tax fraud.

Because you invited clients?   PwC’s Bob Moritz on Why You Shouldn’t Miss Your Kid’s Birthday Party for Work (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/11/14: Don’t you dare agree with me edition.

Monday, August 11th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

microsoft-appleDavid Brunori notes ($link) some odd behavior by Good Jobs First, a left-side outfit that has been on the side of the angels by highlighting the baneful effects of corporate welfare tax incentives.  The American Legislative Exchange Council came out with a report blasting cronyist tax incentives, and rather than embracing the report, Good Jobs First ripped it — because the Koch Brothers are the Devil:

Yet, Good Jobs First slams ALEC because many recipients of tax incentives have close ties to ALEC. But so what? The fact that corporations, including those run by the Koch brothers, provide support to ALEC doesn’t diminish the argument that incentives are terrible.

Weirdly, Good Jobs First primarily blames the recipients of corporate welfare for taking the money, rather than the politicians who give it away:

Moreover, Good Jobs First inexplicably says that ALEC is wrong to blame policymakers rather than the companies that receive incentives. But the blame for those horrible policies rests squarely on the shoulders of lawmakers and governors who perpetuate them. In a world where the government is handing out benefits to anyone who asks, it’s hard to fault the people who line up for the handout. No one has been more critical of tax incentives than I, but I’ve never blamed the corporations. Nor do I blame the army of consultants and lawyers who grease the wheels to make incentives happen. There’s no blame for anyone other than the cowardly politicians from both parties who can’t seem to resist using those nefarious policies.

Precisely correct.  When somebody is handing out free money, it’s hard to turn it down when your competitors are taking all they can.

I have seen smart people I respect do everything short of donning tin-foil hats when talking about the Koch Brothers and their dreadful agenda of influencing the government to leave you alone.  Maybe everyone needs an Emmanuel Goldstein.

Adam Michel, Scott Drenkard, New Report Quantifies “Tax Cronyism” (Tax Policy Blog)

Annette Nellen, What about accountability? California solar energy property.  Green corporate welfare is still corporate welfare.

 

20130121-2Russ Fox, Where Karen Hawkins Disagrees With Me…  The Director of the IRS Office of Preparer Responsibility commented on Russ’ post “The IRS Apparently Thinks They Won the Loving Case.”  Russ replies to the comment:

Ms. Hawkins is technically correct that Judge Boasberg’s order says nothing about the use of an RTRP designation. However, the Order specifically states that the IRS has no authority to create such a regulatory scheme. If there isn’t such a regulation, what’s the use of the designation?

The courts closed the front door to preparer regulation, so the IRS is trying to find an unlocked window.

 

TaxGrrrl, IRS Imposes New Limits On Tax Refunds By Direct Deposit.  “Effective for the 2015 tax season, the IRS will limit the number of refunds electronically deposited into a single financial account (such as a savings or checking account) or prepaid debit card to three.”

This seems like a measure that should have been put in place years ago.  The Worst Commissioner Ever apparently had other priorities.

 

Kay Bell, Actor Robert Redford sues NY tax office over $1.6 million bill.  The actor gets dragged into New York via a pass-through entity in which he had an interest — a topic we mentioned last week.

Renu Zaretsky, August Avoidance: Corporate Taxes and Budget Realities.  The TaxVox headline roundup covers inversions, gridlock, and Kansas.

Peter Reilly, Org Tries Exempt Status Multiple Choice – IRS Answers None Of The Above

 

 

20140811-1Ajay Gupta, The Libertarian Case for BEPS (Tax Analysts Blog)  BEPS stands for “Base Erosion and Profit Shifting.”

Matt Gardiner, Inversions Aside, Don’t Lose Sight of Other Ways Corps. Are Dodging Taxes (Tax Justice Blog).  Don’t worry, Matt.  If I did, my clients would take their business elsewhere.

Robert D. Flach, HEY MR PRESIDENT – DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER!  “If there is something wrong with the Tax Code do not blame the accountant or tax professional.  We have a moral and ethical responsibility to bring to our clients’ attention all the legal deductions, credits, loopholes, techniques, and strategies that are available to reduce their federal and state tax liabilities to the least possible amounts.”

 

Roger McEowen, Federal Court, Contrary To U.S. Supreme Court, Says ACA Individual Mandate Not a Tax.

Jack Townsend, U.S. Forfeits Over $480 Million Stolen by Former Nigerian Dictator.  The headline is misleading — the U.S. received the cash in a forfeiture — they seized it, rather than forfeiting it.

 

2140731-3TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 459

Instapundit, GANGSTER GOVERNMENT: Inspectors general say Obama aides obstruct investigations.  The majority of the 78 federal inspectors general took the extraordinary step of writing an open letter saying the Administration is blocking their work as a matter of course.  The IRS stonewalling on the Tea Party scandal is part of the pattern.

 

 

News from the Profession. It’s Completely Understandable Someone Might Sign Over 200 Audit Reports By Mistake (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

You mean they didn’t shift to organic carrot juice?  “From Coke to Coors: A Field Study of a Fat Tax and its Unintended Consequences” (Via Maria Koklanaris at Tax Analysts):

Could taxation of calorie-dense foods such as soft drinks be used to reduce obesity? To address this question, a six-month field experiment was conducted in an American city of 62,000 where half of the 113 households recruited into the study faced a 10% tax on calorie-dense foods and beverages and half did not. The tax resulted in a short-term (1-month) decrease in soft drink purchases, but no decrease over a 3-month or 6-month period. Moreover, in beer-purchasing households, this tax led to increased purchases of beer.

I’m sure the politicians who want to run everyone’s diet will angrily demand higher beer taxes in response.

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/6/14: Telemarketing isn’t an airplane. And: inversion hysteria, always in style.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120529-2Is your airplane any of your business?  The Tax Court yesterday dealt with a problem that will arise a lot as taxpayers struggle with the new 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax: what “activities” can be considered to be part of a single business?

The issue comes up because “passive” activities are subject to the tax, while non-passive activities are exempt.  It is especially important when S corporations are involved because their K-1 income is also exempt from the 2,9 Medicare tax and the .9% Obamacare Medicare surtax.  The status of activities as “non-passive” usually depends on the amount of time spent working in the activity; if you can combine activities they are less likely to be passive.

Tax Court Judge Buch outlines yesterday’s case:

 Mr. Williams is an aviation buff who owns a business that is unrelated to aviation. He purchased an airplane that he made available for rent, used for personal purposes, and used in his other business. On the Williams’ joint tax returns, they offset losses related to the ownership of the airplane against their income from the other business. Respondent disallowed those offsets… 

Passive losses cannot offset non-passive income under the 1986 passive loss rules; they carry forward to offset future income until the activity is sold.  Mr. Williams reported the airplane expenses as part of his business of training telemarketers.  The court reviews the rules on combining activities (footnotes omitted; my emphasis):

Section 1.469-4(c), Income Tax Regs., sets rules for determining what constitutes a single “activity”. That regulation provides: “One or more trade or business activities or rental activities may be treated as a single activity if the activities constitute an appropriate economic unit for the measurement of gain or loss for purposes of section 469.” Whether activities constitute an “appropriate economic unit” depends on the facts and circumstances, giving the following five factors the greatest weight:

(i) Similarities and differences in types of trades or businesses;

(ii) The extent of common control;

(iii) The extent of common ownership;

(iv) Geographic location; and

(v) Interdependencies between or among the activities (for example, the extent to which the activities purchase or sell goods between or among themselves, involve products or services that are normally provided together, have the same customers, have the same employees, or are accounted for with a single set of books and records.)

The judge said the airplane wasn’t part of the same “economic unit” as Mr. Williams’ other business, called WPP:

The fact that there was no meaningful interdependence between the ownership of the airplane and the business of WPP is evidenced in part by the fact that Mr. Williams would rent another airplane for travel because he could earn more from renting WPP’s airplane to other pilots or pilot trainees than he would pay if he or WPP rented another airplane for a trip. Further, most of the airplane’s use and income came from renting the airplane outside WPP, which had no effect on the business of WPP. Likewise, there is no indication that the airplane activity depended on WPP; it was only an occasional user of the airplane. There is no evidence that WPP and the airplane activity had any of the same customers or that the two activities were integrated in any meaningful way.

When the airplane activity was separated his other business, Mr. Williams was unable to muster enough hours to reach “material participation,” making the airplane losses passive and non-deductible.

What does this mean in planning for the NIIT?  Taxpayers get to revisit their activity groupings for 2013 and 2014 returns.  Taxpayers with multiple businesses will want to ponder what things they can realistically combine.  Just because you own both businesses doesn’t mean the tax law will consider them an “appropriate economic unit.”

Cite: Williams, T.C. Memo 2014-158

 

20140805-3Paul Neiffer, IRS Provides Two Optional Methods for SE Health Insurance Deduction.

Jack Townsend, Whistleblower Award for FBAR Penalties?

Jason Dinesen, Kudos to NAEA for Promoting EAs.  Not to sound dumb, but isn’t that what the National Association of Enrolled Agents is supposed to do?

Russ Fox, The IRS Apparently Thinks They Won the Loving Case.  “In Loving v. IRS, the IRS was permanently enjoined from the Registered Tax Return Preparer designation. One would think that the IRS would realize this and remove the designation from forms.”

Keith Fogg, How Bankruptcy Can Create a Pyrrhic Victory out of a Tax Court Win (Procedurally Taxing)

 

Peter Reilly, FAIR Tax Abolishes IRS – Then What?  I have long thought the fair tax was half-baked gimmick, deceptively marketed.  If you want to move to a consumption tax, move to a real consumption tax.

Adam Michel, What is the Consumed Income Tax?  (Tax Policy Blog)

 

 

Allison Christians, Regulating Return Preparers: A Global Problem for the IRS:

The problem of regulating all foreigners in service of U.S. citizenship taxation plagues FATCA in the details, and it will plague the project of tax return preparer regulation as well. It won’t be easily solved unless Congress can accept that the universally practiced norm of residency-based taxation is really the only viable option in a globalized world. If not, as the world adjusts to the ongoing expansion of U.S. regulatory power through more — and more complex — financial regulation, everyone will have to accept that virtually every tax move Congress makes has global implications.

Via the TaxProf.

Just what the world needs: more IRS.

 

nra-blue-eagleDavid Brunori, Keep the Inversion Hysteria Out of the States (Tax Analysts Blog).  “A company’s decision to invert is no different from an individual’s decision to live in a state without an income tax or to buy a house rather than rent to take advantage of a tax break.”  But, but, what about your loyalty oath?  You must hate America!  Or, worse, Iowa!

Scott Hodge, More Perspective on Inversions: Not a Threat to the Tax Base but the Face of U.S. Uncompetiveness (Tax Policy Blog)

Bob McIntyre, Statement: Despite Walgreens’ Decision, Emergency Action Is Still Needed to Stop Corporate Inversions (Tax Justice Blog, where inversion hysteria is always in style).

Eric Toder, How Political Gridlock Encourages Tax Avoidance (TaxVox)

 

Joseph Thorndike, The Origination Clause? Let It Go (Tax Analysts Blog).  Since the courts allow the Senate to strip any house bill of its text and replace it with revenue provisions, it’s pretty much dead already.  And that’s a shame.

 

Your legislators at work: 

Chicago lawmaker pleads to misdemeanor; faced 17 felonies. ““I’m sorry I underestimated my taxes.”

Fattah Jr. released on bail following U.S. indictment on theft, fraud and tax-evasion charges.  The son of a Congresscritter has tax issues? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 454

Career Corner.  Career Limiting Moves: A Beginner’s Guide (Leona May, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/4/14: Will 401(k) deferred annuities catch on? And: about those oil industry “subsidies…”

Monday, August 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

I survived the firm golf day and the Iowa sales tax holiday.  Now back to work.

 

20131206-1Howard Gleckman, A New Way to Invest for Old Age, But How Many Will Buy? (TaxVox).

A few weeks ago, with absolutely no fanfare, the Treasury Department announced what could be a major change in the way we save for retirement. It will now permit people to shift a portion of their 401(k)s or IRAs into a deferred annuity that provides a guaranteed stream of income once you reach old age.

The idea has the potential to fix several flaws in today’s defined contribution retirement plans and it could make it easier for many older Americans to pay for long-term care. But it raises two huge questions: Will consumers understand these complex products, and will insurance companies bother to sell them to a mass market?

It’s an interesting experiment.  There seems to be a belief that taxpayers are dying for a return to the 1950s style defined benefit pension plan, and this provides a way to sort of get there.  Insurance companies can certainly find a way to profit from such products, as deferred annuities are a big business.

But the same arguments that financial advisors often make against commercial deferred annuities likely apply here — you get more security, but only at the cost of cutting your insurance company in on your retirement income.  It remains to be seen whether many people will accept that trade-off.

 

Wind turbineWilliam McBride, Oil and Gas Subsidies or Sensible Cost Recovery? (Tax Policy Blog). Supporters of the mandates and massive subsidies or mandates for ethanol, wind and solar power sometimes say they would give up their subsidies happily if the oil industry gives up its own subsidies.  They rarely identify any actual subsidies.  Mr. McBride exposes the weakness of the renewable fans’ arguments (my emphasis):

However, a new report from Taxpayers for Common Sense seems to suggest it’s all the result of “tax subsidies” that allow oil and gas companies to immediately deduct their investment costs. Titled “Effective Tax Rates of Oil and Gas Companies: Cashing in on Special Treatment”, the report finds that the effective federal corporate tax rate for oil and gas companies is 24 percent on average, “considerably less than the statutory rate of 35 percent, thanks to the convoluted system of tax provisions allowing them to avoid and defer federal income taxes.”

First, there is nothing special about a 24 percent effective tax rate. The average for all corporations is about 22 percent, according to the IRS, so if anything oil and gas companies pay an above average tax rate.

Second, the particular “tax subsidy” the report refers to is intangible drilling costs, which as they explain merely allows companies to immediately deduct, i.e. expense, the costs of drilling. That is not a subsidy, it is the proper treatment of a real and legitimate business cost. The corporate tax is a profit tax, and profit equals revenue minus costs. Labor costs are fully and immediately deductible, so why not other costs?

Taxpayers for Common Sense would prefer these companies delay drilling cost deductions for years and years, because otherwise “these companies are financing significant parts of their business with interest-free loans from U.S. taxpayers.” No, in fact it is the government that is getting interest-free loans from businesses by requiring them to delay deductions for legitimate business costs. 

This “subsidy” — a deduction for a business expense, like every other business gets (and rightly so) — pales compared to the requirement that oil companies sell ethanol,  regardless of whether their customers demand it.  It sure doesn’t compare to the actual government checks that are issued to producers of biofuels and wind power.  The renewables industry would be much smaller if it had to play on the “level playing field” it claims to want.

 

Jason Dinesen, Taxpayer Advocate Says IRS Issues Too Many FAQs.  “But the overall point is, things like FAQs and news releases are  no substitute for coherent, authoritative guidance.”

Kay Bell, States see electronic cigarettes as a new tax source.  Surprise, surprise.

Peter Reilly, State Fails To Force Electronic Payments On Taxpayer With Hacking Concerns  “Taxpayer refused to pay electronically because if the Pentagon can be hacked, so can Revenue Department. Court voided penalty.”

Keith Fogg, IRS Treatment of Penalties Following a Substitute for Return (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert D. Flach has some QUESTIONS ABOUT TAX REFORM

 

taxanalystslogoDavid Brunori, Tax Analysts ($link)

Companies invert because the stupid tax laws provide an incentive to do so. A company’s decision to invert is no different from an individual’s decision to live in a state without an income tax or to buy a house rather than rent to take advantage of a tax break. Yet there are people who actually make the moral and patriotic arguments against inversions. The “it may be legal but that doesn’t make it right” argument is laughable. The patriotic argument — usually made by people who had better things to do than serve their country — is even more laughable. People and companies engage in tax planning because they want to keep more of their money. Invoking the Good Book or channeling Nathan Hale won’t change that.

When they play the “patriotism” card first, they don’t have a good hand.

 

Ajay Gupta, Closed Mind on Open Borders (Tax Analysts Blog):

There is, however, one unquestionable benefit that is properly attributable to an inversion—liberation of cash trapped offshore in controlled foreign corporations. Post-inversion, that money can be moved from a CFC to the new foreign parent, which can then put it to virtually any use, including buying back stock or making other investments in the U.S., without U.S. tax consequences. But for the inversion, any such onshore expenditures would have constituted taxable repatriations.

If you think it’s somehow unpatriotic to use legal means to reduce taxes, I hope you don’t take a $500 charitable deduction for all those clothes you thew away, I mean gave to Goodwill.

 

20140506-1 TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 452

Jack Townsend, Article on British Deal with Swiss to Flush Out Evades and Lost Revenue — Not So Good 

 

You say that like it’s a bad thing.  On Highway Bill, Congress Moves to the Right of Grover Norquist  (Steve Warnhoff, Tax Justice Blog)

Government spending has been cut to the bone.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/30/14: Iowa Illustrated! And: an unhappy take on IRS offshore account enforcement.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

iowa-illustrated_Page_01Iowa’s tax system in pictures.  The Tax Foundation yesterday posted “Iowa Illustrated: A Visual Guide to Taxes & the Economy.”  It is a valuable and sobering introduction into Iowa tax policy.  Anybody interested in Iowa’s tax policy mess should start here.

The Tax Foundation summary:

Here are just a few examples of the more than 30 key findings:

  • Iowa relies on federal funding for one-third of its budget
  • Iowa’s sales tax rate has tripled since its creation
  • Iowa’s business taxes rank poorly nationally, and are uncompetitive regionally
  • Iowa has had a net loss of 63,287 people over the last 20 years
  • Effective tax rates in Iowa vary widely across different industries.

By offering a broader perspective of Iowa’s taxes and illustrating some of the lesser-known aspects of Iowa’s business environment, this guide provides the necessary facts for having an honest debate about how to improve the structure of The Hawkeye State’s tax system. 

There’s too much good stuff to summarize, but I will highlight a few items.

This might explain why property tax reform is such a big deal here:

iowa-illustrated_Page_38

 

Raising individual tax rates on “the rich” means taxing employment:

iowa-illustrated_Page_39

 

Despite its highest-in-the-nation corporation tax rate, Iowa’s corporate tax is a sub-par revenue generator:

iowa-illustrated_Page_41

While agriculture is important in Iowa, financial services are a bigger industry:

iowa-illustrated_Page_13

Iowa has a diverse economy, but our tax system still parties like it’s 1983:

iowa-illustrated_Page_40

A lot of the tax receipts go out the back door to the well-connected via tax credits:

iowa-illustrated_Page_42

It’s hard to make a case for the current Iowa tax system.  Maybe the legislature will finally be ready to do something about it next session.  The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would be a great place to start.

 

Now to our regular programming:

 

20130419-1Jack TownsendTime for an IRS Ass Kicking? Herein of Lack of Honor and a Dumb Decision in OVDI/P and Streamlined:

So, one could ask, why wouldn’t it be an easy decision for the IRS to let taxpayers in OVDI/P who had not yet signed a Form 906 to proceed fully under Streamlined.  Well, it appears, that the IRS wanted to keep all of the income tax, penalties and interest for closed income tax years and penalties for open years that it was not entitled to, while giving a partial benefit of the Streamlined program (the 5% penalty applied to innocents, many of whom should owe no penalty).  Basically, the IRS wanted something that it was not entitled to. 

Bad faith seems to be a part of the IRS culture in dealing with offshore issues.

 

Peter Reilly, Retailer Can Only Deduct Perks When Redeemed  “I suspect that the accrual is probably not what makes or breaks these programs.”

Jim Maule continued his “Tax Myths” series while I was away.   I like his “The Internal Revenue Code Fills 70,000 Pages” post.

 

David Brunori, Lawyers Whining About Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

For the record, I don’t like taxes. But if you’re going to have a government, you should pay for it the right way. Sales tax should be paid by consumers on all their purchases. Business inputs should never be subject to sales tax. Everyone who has ever studied or even thought about consumption taxes knows that. So it makes sense that legal services should be taxed. Lawyers don’t like that because, well, people might use less of their services. That would be a tragedy beyond comprehension.

Not that I’m in a hurry to charge sales taxes to my individual clients, but David is right on the policy.

 

20140730-1Howard Gleckman, Are Tax Inversions Really Unpatriotic? (TaxVox)  “Selling war material to an enemy or financing a terrorist organization is unpatriotic—and illegal. Using legal avoidance strategies to reduce taxes may be distasteful or unseemly, but it is not unpatriotic.”

Kay Bell, Defense Department workers, some with top security clearance, owed $730 million in back federal taxes.  So tell me again about corporate tax “deserters.”

 

Annette Nellen, IRS Voluntary Preparer Regulation System – Worthwhile? Legal?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 447

 

Because Hollywood needs more taxpayer money!  29 Members of Congress Ask California to Boost Film Tax Credits (Joseph Henchman, Tax Policy Blog).  In a just world, this would automatically cost all 29 of these critters their seats.

 

Rebecca Wilkins, Stop the Bleeding from Inversions before the Corporate Tax Dies (Tax Justice Blog).  Darn, I’ll have to stroll into town for a Band-aid.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/29/14: Whither Halbig and the ACA. And lots more!

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20121120-2The Big Tax News while I was on vacation was the Halbig decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  The decision holds invalid the IRS decision allowing tax credit subsidies for policies purchased on federal insurance exchanges.  The impact of the decision was offset by a Fourth Circuit decision the same day coming to the opposite conclusion, but it is still a big deal, especially in light of some subsequent events.

The D.C. circuit has national implications because every taxpayer can come under its jurisdiction by litigating through the Court of Federal Claims.  An alert reader corrects me:

Your post today contains an error.  The  D.C. circuit is not the same as the federal circuit.  The court of federal claims is appealable to the federal circuit. The district court for the D.C. circuit is appealable to the D.C. circuit.  Halbig is a big deal in any event because the dc circuit instructed the district court to vacate the rule.  Vacated means that there is no rule anywhere.  In any event, SCOTUS will make the final call here.

As long as that decision stands — and the IRS will certainly ask the 15-member court to reconsider Halbig, decided by a three-member panel — it threatens not only the tax credits for the 37 states without their own exchanges, but it also invalidates the employer mandate tax in those states and takes much of the bite out of the individual mandate.  The South Carolina Policy Council explains why (my emphasis):

The subsidies are also important for their function as triggers of both the individual and employer mandate portions of the ACA. The ACA imposes a $2,000 per employee penalty for companies with more than 50 employees who do not offer “adequate health insurance” to their workers. This penalty is triggered when an employee accepts an IRS subsidy on a plan purchased through an exchange. If individuals in the 36 states without a state-run exchange are ineligible for subsidies, there will be no trigger to set off the employer mandate.

An absence of subsidies would also allow many people to avoid the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires citizens to maintain health insurance covering certain minimum benefits or pay a fine. This is because the ACA exempts citizens from the individual mandate whose out-of-pocket costs for health insurance exceed 8 percent of their household income. If IRS subsidies are removed, insurance plans offered on exchanges would exceed this cost threshold for many people – thereby providing them an exemption from the mandate.

Flickr image courtesy Tim under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy Tim under Creative Commons license

This would devastate the already shaky economics of Obamacare.

The key ruling in Halbig is its finding that statutory language allowing tax credits through exchanges “established by a State” doesn’t cover the federal exchanges that are used in the 36 states without exchanges.   Critics of Halbig say that Congress couldn’t have been that stupid.  For example, Jonathan Gruber, an architect of the ACA, says“Literally every single person involved in the crafting of this law has said that it`s a typo, that they had no intention of excluding the federal states.”

That assertion has been challenged by a number of observers, notes Megan McArdle.  She cites a January 2012 speech by one Jonathan Gruber, an architect of the ACA:

Only about 10 states have really moved forward aggressively on setting up their exchanges. A number of states have even turned down millions of dollars in federal government grants as a statement of some sort — they don’t support health care reform.

Now, I guess I’m enough of a believer in democracy to think that when the voters in states see that by not setting up an exchange the politicians of a state are costing state residents hundreds and millions and billions of dollars, that they’ll eventually throw the guys out. But I don’t know that for sure. And that is really the ultimate threat, is, will people understand that, gee, if your governor doesn’t set up an exchange, you’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens. [emphasis added] 

The 2012 Jonathan Gruber repeated the story that only state-established exchanges qualify for credits in other forums.   It’s remarkable that two ACA architects named Jonathan Gruber have such divergent views of what the bill does.  It’s even more remarkable that they are the same guy.  This seems like strong support for the D.C. Circuit’s approach.

supreme courtIf the ACA were just another tax bill, it would be pretty easy to predict that the Supreme Court would go with the D.C. Circuit’s approach, based on prior rulings involving statutes that reached results the IRS didn’t care for.  In the Gitlitz case, which arguably provided an unintended windfall for S corporation shareholders when the S corporation incurred non-taxable debt forgiveness income, the Supreme Court said in an 8-1 decision (footnotes and citations omitted, emphasis added):

Second, courts have discussed the policy concern that, if shareholders were permitted to pass through the discharge of indebtedness before reducing any tax attributes, the shareholders would wrongly experience a “double windfall”: They would be exempted from paying taxes on the full amount of the discharge of indebtedness, and they would be able to increase basis and deduct their previously suspended losses.  Because the Code’s plain text permits the taxpayers here to receive these benefits, we need not address this policy concern.

In other words, if Congress doesn’t like what it has done, it’s up to Congress to fix it, not the IRS.  Congress did just that with the Gitlitz result within a year of the decision.

Of course, the ACA isn’t typical tax legislation.  Chief Justice Roberts tied himself in knots to find a way to uphold Obamacare in 2012.  Politics makes it unlikely that the Gitlitz approach will be followed by the left side of the Supreme Court, and who knows how Justice Roberts will rule.  But it does appear at least possible that Halbig will be upheld.

What should taxpayers do?  My thought is to assume the mandates remain in effect and pay tax (or reduce your withholding) accordingly.  Then be prepared to file a refund claim if Halbig is upheld by the Supreme Court.  Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

At least one thoughtful commentator says that ultimately if Halbig is upheld, holdout states will fall into line and establish exchanges.  For the reasons laid out here, I don’t think that will happen, and Congress will be forced to clean up its mess.

 

Paul Neiffer, ACA Subsidies: One Court Strikes Down, Another Upholds

Kristy Maitre, IRS Releases Additional ACA Revenue Procedures and Draft Forms  (ISU-CALT)

 

20140729-2Jason Dinesen, Don’t Be “That” Business Owner.  “I see too many with preconceived notions of what they can “get by with.” I’ve seen and read about too many people whose life got turned upside-down when they ended up NOT “getting by with it” after all.”

Russ Fox,  2:42.  “That’s how long I spent on hold on the IRS Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) yesterday–two hours, forty-two minutes.”   It’s a good thing Practitioners are a “Priority,” or who knows how long he’d have been on hold.

Phil Hodgen, Green card holders, treaty elections, and exit tax

Stephen Olsen, Ct. of Fed. Claims Holds Merger Results in “Same Taxpayer” for Net Zero Interest Rate (Procedurally Taxing)

Peter Reilly wonders if it is Time To Let Kent Hovind Go Home?  Peter thinks the former owner of a theme park based on the idea that hominids and dinosaurs co-existed may have suffered enough for his tax misdeeds.

Robert D. Flach brings the fresh Tuesday Buzz!

Well, these things are never tidi.  Spanish Court Moving Forward With Messi Tax Evasion Case  (TaxGrrrl)

 

taxanalystslogoDavid Brunori, Who Wants to Tax a Millionaire? Lots of People (Tax Analysts Blog).  This is full fo good observations about the unwisdom of states soaking the “rich.”  Highlights include:

States do not (and should not) do a lot of redistributing to the very poor.

When states jack up taxes on the “rich,” the money doesn’t exactly go to people sleeping under bridges, as David explains (my emphasis):

I have written about this before.  I noted that “the real beneficiaries of most government spending, certainly at the state level, never come up. No one ever says that we need higher taxes because my friends in the construction business want new contracts. No one ever says that they want new taxes to expand bloated public employee union bureaucracies. Yes, crony capitalism and union bosses drive most calls for higher taxes.” My right-wing friends often criticize liberals calling for higher marginal taxes as delusional. But they know exactly what they’re doing. Often they want higher taxes just so they can give money to their friends.

The money taken from “the rich” goes to the well-connected.  Iowa’s highest-in-the-nation system fleeces those without pull to pay rich subsidies to well-connected politicians and corporations.  Better to throw out the crony subsidies and lower rates for the rest of us — like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Tax Reform Plan would do.

 

Elaine Maag, The “Helping Working Families Afford Child Care Act” Would Help, but Doesn’t Solve the Timing Mismatch (TaxVox).  “Making the CDCTC refundable and increasing allowable expenses is a huge step in improving child care assistance for low-income families.”

 

20140729-1Joseph Thorndike, The Corporate Income Tax Will Never Be ‘Fixed.’ And That’s OK. (Tax Analysts Blog):

Again, I think the corporate income tax is on the way out. But that’s a long-term problem. It doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel right away. The corporate tax may, as McArdle suggests, be an “insane, unwinnable chess game” pitting lawyers against tax collectors. But for the time being, the game is still worth the candle.

I think Megan McArdle has the better case, that the corporation income tax needs to go away, one way or the other.   I like the idea of doing so via a corporation dividends-paid deduction, combined with an excise tax on dividends for otherwise-exempt stockholders, as a way to get there.

Scott Hodge, More on Inversions and the Effective Tax Rates of Foreign-Owned Firms.   “The administration may want to think twice about taking unilateral action without considering the consequences.”

Clint Stretch, Dreams of Tax Reform (Tax Analysts Blog).  Patsy Cline is invoked.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 446

 

Greg Kyte, Clarifying Sex and Auditor Independence After the EY and Ventas Affair (Going Concern).  Can an auditor be “independent” while sleeping with a CFO?  Well, auditors are supposed to have hearts of stone…

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/2/14: How to make the least of that office manager job. And: IRS gets around to the obvious!

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan


20140508-2No office manager is paid enough for this.  
The tax law doesn’t like it at all when an employer withholds payroll taxes from paychecks and fails to pass it on to the IRS.  One tool the IRS uses to encourage compliance is the “responsible person” penalty.  If a person with responsibility for remitting payroll taxes knowingly fails to do so, the IRS can assess that person with a 100% penalty — even if that person didn’t get any of the money.

A Virginia federal district court recently drove that lesson home to a Ms. Horne, an office manager for a medical practice:

A. Responsible Person

Horne was a responsible person for the Company for each quarter of 2006 through 2010. First, Horne was the Company’s Officer Manager throughout that time period. Second, Horne had substantial authority over payroll because she prepared and signed the Company’s payroll checks. Third, because Horne was charged with preparing checks to creditors, she necessarily determined which creditors to pay. Fourth, Horne participated in day-to-day management of the Company, including making decisions about employee compensation, maintaining the Company’s books and records, and preparing financial information to be presented at shareholder meetings. Fifth, at all relevant times, Horne had authority to, and did, sign checks drawn on the Company’s bank account. Sixth, Horne participated in decisions regarding the hiring and firing of employees.

B. Willful Action

From 2006 to 2010, Horne was aware of the Company’s unpaid employment tax liabilities as they accrued. However, she continued to prepare and sign checks to pay other creditors in preference over the United States. Accordingly, the Court finds that Horne acted willfully in failing to pay over to the Service the taxes withheld from the wages of the Company’s employees.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the aforementioned reasons, the Court will GRANT the Motion. Horne is, thus, liable to the United States in the amount of $2,926,809.51, plus statutory interest accruing from December 23, 2013. 

 

It’s hard to save $2.9 million even on the best office manager salary.

Update:  An excellent point made in the comments:  “I feel for anyone placed in the tough position of losing a job to avoid liability for an employer’s inability to pay its tax liability to the IRS, but the 100% penalty imposed by Section 6672 on responsible persons makes it clear that the job is not worth the tax problem arising from a company’s failure to pay its trust fund taxes.”

 

Cite: Miller v. United States et al.; No. 3:13-cv-00728

 

 

20130723-3IRS takes obvious measures to fight refund fraud five years late.  From Tax Analysts ($link)

     Starting in January 2015, the IRS will no longer make direct deposits of more than three tax refunds into one financial account, Commissioner John Koskinen told tax return preparers at the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum in Chicago July 1.

The move is meant to enhance the IRS’s efforts to combat stolen identity refund fraud, Koskinen explained in prepared remarks for his address to the forum.

Any refund after the third will automatically be converted to a paper check and mailed to the address on the tax return, Koskinen told preparers. “We will send out notices to those taxpayers that their refunds are being mailed and they should expect to receive them in about four weeks from the time of mailing,” he said.

That’s a good start.  Perhaps next the IRS can flag multiple refunds being sent to the same address – like the 655 refunds to a single apartment in Lithuania.  Baby steps.  Like this:

The IRS also plans to end the practice of a small number of preparers who serve as banker to their clients or who take fees from the refunds, Koskinen said. “We’ve identified about 4,400 personal accounts held by tax preparers where multiple refunds were deposited,” the commissioner said. “We’re putting a stop to that, too.”

No doubt some of these are full service firms that do your taxes, collect your refund — and spend it for you.

 

William Perez, Divorce and Taxes.  “We take a look at tax planning principles for property settlements, alimony and child support.”

Howard Gleckman, A Payroll Tax Math Error Adds $5 Billion To The Deficit (TaxVox).  “But the current law for the self-employed allows the full deduction of 7.65 percent—not only for earnings below the Social Security cap but, remarkably, even for earnings subject only to the 1.45 percent Medicare tax.”

Kay Bell, State tax law changes — from gas to sales to businesses and even soccer — take effect July 1

 

taxanalystslogoDavid Brunori, A Revenue Department Behaving Badly (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Documents (except for taxpayer information of course) produced by the “government” belong to the citizens.”

Kelly Davis, Kansas: Repercussions of a Failing Experiment (Tax Justice Blog).  “But the Governor’s experiment now appears to be in meltdown mode: revenues for the last two months have come in way under projections and may leave the state short of the cash needed to pay its bills.”

Lyman Stone, Scott Eastman, Liz Emanuel, Tyler Dennis, Courtney Michaluk, Independence Day Brings Fireworks Taxes to Light (Tax Policy Bl0g).  Hey, Iowa, if they aren’t legal, it’s harder to tax them.

Janet Novack, U.S. Taxpayers With Secret Offshore Money Face New Risks And Options 

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Iowa Deduction Finder — Insurance Premium Tax Deduction

Peter Reilly, Military Housing Allowance Much More Limited Than Clergy’s

TaxGrrrl, IRS Announces Shorter, Faster Application For Some Tax Exempt Organizations

Robert D. Flach, MORE INFO ON THE NEW IRS ANNUAL FILING SEASON PROGRAM.  “I still think in its current form it is stupid, and that very few tax preparers will actually ‘volunteer’.”

Robert is right.

 

Megan McArdle ponders the version of the email erasure story from Lois Lerner’s attorney:

This weekend, William Taylor III, Lerner’s lawyer, went on television and described Lerner’s experience. Lerner came in one morning in 2011, he said, turned on her computer and got a blue screen.

That interested me, because the description is quite specific. What he seems to be describing is the famed Microsoft Windows “blue screen of death.”

Well, because as I mentioned above, the Blue Screen of Death is an operating system error. The operating system lives on the hard drive. Which raises a question: If Lerner’s hard drive was so thoroughly malfunctioning that no one could even get the data off of it, how was it booting up far enough for the operating system to malfunction?

She comes up with some potential explanations — which mostly assume it didn’t quite happen the way the lawyer describes.

 

20140516-1John Hinderaker,  More on the IRS’s Illegal Destruction of Evidence

True the Vote’s brief points out that the first lawsuit alleging discriminatory targeting of conservative groups was filed by a pro-Israel group called Z Street, Inc., on August 25, 2010. On that date, at the very latest, the IRS had a legal duty to take measures to ensure that no emails, correspondence, memoranda, notes, or other evidence of any sort that could be relevant to the case was lost or destroyed…

But, according to IRS representatives who have testified before Congressional committees, the IRS ignored the law. Instead of making sure that relevant information was preserved, the IRS blithely continued erasing back-up email tapes every 90 days. Further, the IRS continued its policy of assigning each employee a ridiculously small space on an email server, and then authorizing employees (like Lois Lerner) to delete at will to keep space open. And, finally, when Lerner’s hard drive crashed ten months after the Z Street case was commenced, the IRS made no effort to preserve it, but rather, by its own account, recycled the hard drive in a business-as-usual manner.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 419

 

You should never be to busy to file correct tax returns.  Appeals court upholds Beavers’ tax conviction.

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/25/14: Check your mailbox edition. And: the Commissioner’s real goal.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Ignore them and they will come anyway.  A Chicagoan tried to avoid IRS pursuit by the simple expedient of not picking up his mail.  The Tax Court told him yesterday that doesn’t work:

 On several occasions the U.S. Postal Service (Postal Service) attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to deliver the 2006-2007 notice of deficiency to petitioner at the address of his Columbus Drive apartment. On at least two occasions the Postal Service left notices of attempted delivery of certified mail at that address. In those notices, the Postal Service informed petitioner that it had certified mail to deliver to him and that he had to sign a receipt for that mail before the Postal Service would deliver it to him.

The taxpayer never got around to doing so. Yet he still wanted to fight the deficiencies in Tax Court:

It is petitioner’s position that he is entitled under section 6330(c)(2)(B) to contest the underlying tax liability for his taxable year 2006. In support of that position, petitioner contends that although respondent mailed to him by certified mail, return receipt requested, the 2006-2007 notice of deficiency that was addressed to his Columbus Drive apartment, he did not receive that notice within the 90-day period during which he could have filed a petition with the Court with respect to that notice. In support of that contention, petitioner relies on his testimony at the partial trial in these cases. 

There’s a 90-day deadline to file with the Tax Court, starting with the receipt of the Notice of Deficiency.  The Tax Court enforces the deadline pretty strictly.  And you can’t extend the deadline just by ignoring your mail:

On the record before us, we hold that petitioner may not decline to retrieve his Postal Service mail, when he was reasonably able and had multiple opportunities to do so, and thereafter successfully contend that he did not receive for purposes of section 6330(c)(2)(B) the 2006-2007 notice of deficiency. On that record, we reject petitioner’s contention that he is entitled under that section to dispute the underlying tax liability for his taxable year 2006.

Nice try.

Cite: Onyango, 142 T.C. No. 24.

 

Paul Neiffer, Is Low Section 179 Causing Low Equipment Sales?

 

Mixed message.   From Tax Analysts ($link): “Taxpayers considering the IRS’s new streamlined filing compliance program need to think carefully about whether their actions were truly non-willful, because a certification that proves untrue could expose them to more charges from the Justice Department, Kathryn Keneally, former assistant attorney general for the DOJ Tax Division, said June 24.”

The Treasury just can’t quite get the hang of this.  What taxpayers need is bright-line guidance that lets them come into compliance, at least below a relatively-generous dollar threshold.  Instead they have to come in with their hands up, while the IRS reserves the right to open fire — to second guess their state of mind.  That’s not necessarily very comforting.

 

 

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

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

Howard GleckmanThe Real IRS Flap Is About Dark Money, Not Emails (TaxVox):

But get past the shouting and two very important issues remain on the table: The first is the IRS has been terribly managed for years and needs to be fixed. It’s easy to forget, but that’s why Koskinen is there.

The second is that the commissioner appears undeterred in his efforts to rewrite the rules for 501(c)(4) non-profits that are engaged in political activities. That seemingly obscure effort will have an enormous impact on future U.S. elections and the balance of political power in the U.S.

This is chilling.  And Mr. Gleckman seems to think it’s just an effort by a disintersted public servant to impose order on chaos:

Koskinen is under great pressure from liberal and conservative groups and from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to abandon the effort. Don’t for a minute think that the House’s proposed $300 million cut in the IRS budget, its endless requests for IRS documents on multiple subjects, and even the email hearings themselves are not in part an effort to sink—or at least slow–these regulations.

Yet, Koskinen has refused to blink.

If you think Koskinen isn’t a partisan operative at the IRS, you haven’t been paying attention.   All of the pressure to “reform” the (c)(4)s has come from the left.  And it’s clear from the Tea Party targeting that the IRS can’t be trusted to regulate political actors evenhandedly.  If Mr. Gleckman is right, Koskinen’s mission is not to help the IRS to recover from its scandalous practices, but to institutionalize them.

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 412.  About 40 links today, primarily on Commissioner Koskinen’s appearance before Congressional investigators and related missing e-mail developments.  It’s hard to imagine how this Commissioner could do a worse job at coming clean and improving IRS relationships with GOP congressional appropriators.

Jonathan Adler, IRS agrees to pay non-profit group $50,000 for unauthorized release of tax return.  But nobody will lose their job, and the $50,000 won’t come out of any individual perpetrator’s pocket.  In fact, the leaker gets to maintain his/her anonymity, and presumably employment too.  And even though it was an illegal, and presumably partisan, disclosure of taxpayer information, the Justice Department isn’t going to investigate.

TaxGrrrl, Lois Lerner And The Case Of The Missing Emails.  “Yes, that’s right: the IRS used the same backup strategy for its important data that I used to record my soap operas in college.”

Russ FoxKoskinen Channels His Inner Nixon. “The IRS continues to look hyper-partisan, and that’s not a good thing for anyone.”

The Hill, Archives official: IRS didn’t follow law on missing emails.   But Commissioner Koskinen says no apologies are in order, so stop bothering him.

 

No Walnut STAccounting Today, AICPA Says IRS Voluntary Tax Preparer Certification Program Is Unlawful:

The AICPA’s letter emphasizes the following points:

• First, no statute authorizes the proposed program;

• Second, the program will inevitably be viewed as an end-run around Loving v. IRS, (a federal court ruling rejecting an earlier IRS attempt to regulate tax return preparers);

• Third, the IRS has evidently concluded, in developing the proposed program, that it need not comply with the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. This is incorrect; and

• Finally, the current proposal is arbitrary and capricious because it fails to address the problems presented by unethical tax return preparers, runs counter to evidence presented to the IRS, and will create market confusion.

Not that being illegal will bother them; see above.

 

Arnold Kling, In Our Hands.  Mr. Kling discusses his idea for replacing all means tested welfare programs like the Earned Income Credit with a universal voucher: “Keep in mind that under current policy, many low-income households face effective marginal tax rates of 100 percent or higher. That is, they are better off with something less than full-time, year-round work.”

 

David Brunori, A Bad Law Addressing a Bad Business Tax (Tax Analysts Blog)

Local option business taxes, whether imposed on income, gross receipts, or personal property, are terrible ways to raise revenue. Only 14 states authorize their use, and they raise a paltry sum compared with the property tax or even local option sales and income taxes. Virtually all the public finance experts who have studied the issue denounce their use.

Of course, Iowa has lots of these.

 

20120606-1Sydni Pierce, Congress, Take Note: More States Are Reforming Antiquated Fuel Taxes This Summer (Tax Justice Blog)

Andrew Lundeen, Obamacare Increases Marginal Tax Rate on Labor by Six Percentage Points (Tax Analysts Blog).   “In the case of the Affordable Care act, Mulligan is talking about implicit marginal tax rates, or ‘the extra taxes paid, and subsidies forgone, as the result of working.'”

 

Adrienne Gonzalez, Bernie Madoff’s Former Accountant Pleads Guilty But Clueless (Going Concern).  “Prosecutors say that Konigsberg didn’t intend to help defraud Madoff investors, but knowingly used fraudulently backdated trades provided by Mr. Madoff’s firm as he prepared tax returns for some clients’ investment account.”

 

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

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

Article 75. Citizens have freedom of residence and travel.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Other coverage:

TaxProf has a roundup.

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

Robert W. Wood, IRS Reveals Taxpayer Bill Of Rights

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

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

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

 

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

20140611-1

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

 

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

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

William Perez, Home Office Deduction

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 398

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

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

 

 

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

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Robert says something I agree with:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 391

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph adds, wisely:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

That never stops politicians, as Joseph points out:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

David adds:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Kay Bell, Debate continues about tax havens and punishment fairness

 

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

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 388

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


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

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

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

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

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

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

And there is no tax fairy.

 

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

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

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

 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 384

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

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

 

Not Senator Wyden

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/14/14: Earned income credits, still busted. And: extenders advance.

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

Nope.  Still busted.  From WashingtonExaminer.com comes an update on what some call America’s most successful anti-poverty program:

The Treasury Department has released its latest report  on the fight against widespread fraud in the Earned Income Tax Credit program. The problem is, fraud is still winning. And there’s not even much of a fight.

“The Internal Revenue Service continues to make little progress in reducing improper payments of Earned Income Tax Credits,” a press release from Treasury’s inspector general for Tax Administration says. “The IRS estimates that 22 to 26 percent of EITC payments were issued improperly in Fiscal Year 2013. The dollar value of these improper payments was estimated to be between $13.3 billion and $15.6 billion.”

Wait.  Didn’t the President sign a bill in 2010 to fix all this?

The new report found that the IRS is simply ignoring the requirements of a law called the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act, signed by President Obama in 2010, which requires the IRS to set fraud-control targets and keep improper payments below ten percent of all Earned Income Tax Credit payouts.

Whatever the EITC does to help the working poor, it is a boon to the Grifter-American community.  Fraudulent EITC claims are a staple of ID theft fraud and low-tech tax cheating in general.

It’s worth noting that the high rate of improper EITC payouts has not gone down in spite of the ever-increasing IRS requirements for preparers who issue returns claiming the credits.  This should give pause to folks who think IRS preparer regulations will stop fraud, though it won’t.

It’s also notable that Iowa recently increased its piggyback EITC to 15% of the federal credit — increasing the annual cost of the credit by an estimated $35 million.  Assuming Iowans are just as honest as other Americans, that means about $8 million of additional stimulus to the Iowa grifter economy.

Finally, the phase-out of the EITC functions as a hidden high marginal tax rate on the program’s intended beneficiaries, the working poor.  The effective marginal rate in Iowa exceeds 50% at some income levels.  Combined with other income-based phase-outs, the EITC becomes a poverty trap.

 

Related: Arnold Kling,  SNEP and the EITC. “My priors, which I think are supported by the research cited by Salam, is that trying to use a program like the EITC for social engineering is a mug’s game.”

 

 

Extenders advance in Senate.  Tax Analysts reports ($link)

Legislation that would extend for two years nearly all the tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013 cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate May 13.

Senators voted 96 to 3 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 3474, a bill to exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate employees with healthcare coverage through the Veterans Benefits Administration or through the military healthcare program TRICARE.

The bill is the legislative vehicle for the tax extenders. It will be amended to include the text of the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency (EXPIRE) Act of 2014 (S. 2260) and likely that of the Tax Technical Corrections Act of 2014 (S. 2261), both of which the Senate Finance Committee passed April 3 via voice vote.

The bill that passes will probably look much like the Senate bill.  The House has advanced bills to make some of the perpetually-expiring provisions permanent, but the President, pretending that they won’t get passed every year anyway, says permanent extension is fiscally irresponsible.

Among the provisions to be extended yet again, mostly through 2015, are the research credit, new markets credits, wind and biofuel credits, bonus depreciation, and increased Sec. 179 deductions.  The five-year built-in gain tax recognition period is also extended through 2015.

Related: TaxGrrrl, Senate Moves Forward To Extend Tax Breaks For 2014

 

20120906-1O. Kay HendersonKnoxville Raceway ceremony for state tax break of up to $2 million:

Governor Terry Branstad went to Knoxville today to sign a bill into law that gives the Knoxville Raceway a state tax break to help finance improvements at the track.

“This is a great facility,” Branstad told Radio Iowa during a telephone interview right after the event. “Last year, in 2013, they attracted 211,000 visitors, so it’s a big tourism attraction and it’s a good investment and it’s great for the state to partner with the community for a project of this magnitude.”

Here’s how that partnership works: the racetrack will charge sales tax to its customers, and keep the money.  Only two other businesses are special enough to get this sweet deal.  Tough luck for the rest of us who don’t have the good connections and lobbyists.

 

Walnut st flowersJana Luttenegger, Updated E-Filing Requirements for Tax Preparers (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).  “The handbook is not exactly clear.

Jason Dinesen, Things Tax Preparers Say: S-Corporation Compensation.  “But too many business owners — and their accountants — treat S-corps like a magic wand that can just make taxes disappear completely.”

Kay Bell, IRS fight to regulate tax preparers officially over…for now

Peter Reilly, Can Somebody Explain Tax Shelters To Thomas Piketty?  In the unlikely event that the Piketty recommendations are ever enacted, Peter notes that “there will be a renaissance of shelter activity.”  Peter provides a “Cliff Notes” summary of this year’s big forgettable book I’ll never read, which I appreciate.  Also: Peter uses the tax-law-as-Swiss Army Knife analogy that I am so fond of.

Robert D. Flach, STILL MORE CLIENTS SCREWED BY THE TAX CODE.  “The list of taxpayers screwed by our current Tax Code is not a short one.  Today I add taxpayers with gambling winnings.”

 

20130110-2Howard Gleckman, How “Dead Men” Fiscal Policy Is Paralyzing Government (TaxVox).  He reviews a new book, Dead Men Ruling, by Gene Steurle:

“We are left with a budget for a declining nation,” Gene writes, “that invests ever-less in our future…and a broken government that presides over archaic, inefficient, and inequitable spending and tax programs.”

All this has happened due to a confluence of two unhappy trends: The first is what the late conservative writer Jude Wanniski memorably described almost four decades ago as the “Two-Santa Theory.”

The Santas are the two parties, each of whom pick our pockets to fill our stockings.

 

Alan Cole, The Simple Case for Tax Neutrality (Tax Policy Blog).  “When states give preferential rates of sales tax to certain goods, the most visible result is the legal bonanza that follows from trying to re-categorize goods into the preferred groupings. ”

David Brunori, Repealing the Property Tax Is an Asinine Idea (Tax Analysts Blog). “Public finance experts are almost unanimous in their belief that the property tax is the ideal way to fund local government services… Most importantly, the property tax ensures local political control.”

William McBride, What is Investment and How Do We Get More of It? (Tax Policy Blog).  “Full expensing for all investment, according to our analysis, would increase the capital stock by 16 percent and grow GDP by more than 5 percent.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 370

News from the Profession.  AICPA Tackling the Important Issue of Male CPAs Wanting It All (Going Concern). 

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/7/14: How to keep from beating up the poor with high marginal rates? And: priorities!

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

Arnold Kling ponders solutions to the hidden high tax rates on the poor in SNEP Solution: Flexible Benefits and Extreme Catastrophic Health Insurance.  The problem arises because many welfare benefits phase out as income rises.  For example, the phase-out of the Earned Income Tax Credit means Iowans who qualify can face a combined federal and state tax rate of over 50% on additional income.  The problem is finding a way to means-test benefits without turning the inevitable reduction of benefits as income rises into a poverty trap.  Some Kling thoughts:

One approach would be to replace all forms of means-tested assistance, including food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, and the EITC, with a single cash benefit. For this purpose, we might also think of unemployment insurance as a means-tested benefit.

The classic approach is the negative income tax. What I would suggest is a modification of the negative income tax, in which recipients are instead given flexdollars. These would be like vouchers or food stamps, in that they can be used only for “merit goods:” food, health care/insurance, housing, and education/training. One way to think of this is that it takes the food stamp concept and broadens it to include the other merit goods.

Flexdollars would start at a high level for households with no income and then fade out at rate of 20 percent of the recipient’s adjusted gross income. This “fade-out” would act as a marginal tax rate on income, so we should be careful not to set the fade-out rate too high.

This would give recipients some power over their benefits, and the ability to choose which ones are more important to them — like normal people do with their earnings.  Unused  flexdollars would go into a savings account, which “could be used for medical emergencies, down payments when buying a home, or to save for retirement.”  This would reduce the incentive for “use it or lose it” spending binges.

Implicit marginal ratesImplicit marginal ratesThis seems like a much more promising approach than the current system with its overlapping benefits and multiple phase-outs that sometimes result in effective marginal rates over 100% for the working poor.   Modifying the income tax to provide a standard deduction up to the amount at which the phase-outs end would complement this system, keeping the income tax from adding a layer of explicit marginal tax rates to the rate implicit in the phase out.

Mr. Kling is a brilliant and underappreciated thinker.  I’m re-reading his Unchecked and Unbalanced, which among other things ponders ways to move decision-making on government services to the household and neighborhood level.

 

O. Kay Henderson, About 91 percent of Iowans e-filed their state income taxes:

A dwindling number of Iowa taxpayers submit paper income tax returns to the State of Iowa. Victoria Daniels of the Iowa Department of Revenue has preliminary results for all but the last three days of the tax season, which ended April 30 for Iowa income taxpayers.

“E-filing is up about 4.1 percent and approximately 91 percent of Iowans, to date, have filed electronically,” Daniels says.

I’ve been a fan of e-filing, but the IRS is doing its best to change my mind.

 

 

20140507-1Paul Neiffer, Payments to Veterinarians Require 1099 (Even If Incorporated)!

Peter Reilly, IRS Cannot Levy Tribal Payments

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 363.  This Washington Post Op-ed linked in today’s scandal roundup gets it right: “The very idea that the administration would protect someone who is hiding behind the fifth when there is not only smoke, but there is actually a clear glow of flames, is insulting.”

Annette Nellen, Taxes and Deficits in the Highway Trust Fund.  “Certainly, if we have more electric cars on the road, which don’t generate anything for the HTF, but still use the roads, a funding mechanism tied only to gasoline purchases is outdated.”

Kay Bell, Home prices, construction outlook up. So are property tax bills

 

Alan Cole, US International Tax System is Fundamentally Unserious (Tax Policy Blog):

The United States is one of the last six remaining countries in the OECD – along with Chile, Ireland, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico – to use a “worldwide” system of corporate taxation. The other twenty-eight countries in the OECD use the much sounder territorial system.

A territorial tax system ends at its country’s borders. In contrast, the United States tries to levy taxes on profits earned in countries other than the United States. The tax system sees an auto assembly plant in Craiova, Romania, built using international funding, staffed by Romanian workers, building a vehicle – the Ford B-Max – that isn’t even sold in the United States – and says “Aha! This is economic activity the United States should be able to tax!”

While it may seem unserious, worldwide taxation is deadly serious to Americans abroad and to U.S. Green Card holders.  Serious, and sometimes catastrophically costly.

 

taxanalystslogoTax Analysts Blog is on an equality kick:

Martin Sullivan, Piketty, Zuckerberg, and a Plan to Tax Wealth That Conservatives Can Support.  “David Miller, a tax attorney at Cadwalader,Wickersham & Taft in New York, has proposed that the federal government tax stock gains of the wealthy whether or not those stocks are sold.”   So they get to deduct losses, too?

David Brunori, Tax Follies in Pursuit of Equality.  “The fact that rich people are rich bugs the heck out of folks on the left.” David points out the folly of a California tax scheme that would try to control CEO compensation by hitting CEOs with punitive California tax rates.  That would make sure no corporate headquarters stay in California.

Joseph Thorndike, Piketty Is Wrong: Americans Don’t Have a ‘Passion for Equality’.  This strikes me as correct.  Patrick Henry said “give me liberty or give me death,” not “Give me liberty or give me equality.”  That contrasts with the “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” of Picketty’s France.

Renu Zaretsky, Retirement, Driving, Greenhouse Gases and Tax Burdens.  The TaxVox tax headline roundup covers a disturbing increase in retirement plan early withdrawal penalties and the Missouri override of its governor’s tax cut veto.

 

Sadly, this may compare favorably with all adults.  According to This FINRA Foundation Quiz, 76% of Millennials Have Absolutely No Clue (Going Concern)

 

Priorities.  From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

George W. Curtis, 77, of Pickett, who practices law in Oshkosh, was charged with willfullly failing to pay taxes he owed for 2007, 2008 and 2009, a period when his law practice generated profits of more than $1 million. Curtis has been designated a “Super Lawyer” several times and has practiced for more than 50 years.

77?  Some people just love the law.  Except maybe not the tax law:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Jacobs, the prosecutor, said Curtis testified that his income wasn’t steady, that he had to front many expenses, and that he had higher financial priorities at times than paying taxes. In fact, Curtis did file returns that showed his income, but just didn’t pay.

But the government argued Curtis could have paid. During the period he wasn’t, he was paying his wife’s children’s college tuitions and a wedding, a new Lincoln SUV and buying $17,000 on wine.

You need a nice SUV to transport high-class wine.  Have you ever tried to get your wine home in a tax payment?

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/1/14: Iowa remains on top! Oh, that’s bad.

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The Iowa House of Representatives has adjourned for the year.  That makes it official: Iowa will continue to have the highest corporation income tax rate in the U.S. for another year, as shown on this map from The Tax Foundation:

2014 Corporate Income Tax Rates

The U.S has the highest corporation tax rate of all OECD countries, so that means right here in Iowa we have the highest corporation income tax rate in the entire developed world.  That’s true even taking into account Iowa’s 50% deduction for federal corporation tax.  Whoopee.  That must mean that Iowa receives just gushers of corporate cash, right?

Wrong.  The Iowa corporation tax generated $403.6 million net revenue in calendar 2013, amounting to about 5.3% of state tax revenues.  The individual income tax, by contrast, generated $3.45 billion net revenue in the same period. (Figures available here.)

The net is so low because the corporation tax, like the Iowa income tax, is riddled with special credits and deductions for the well-connected and well-lobbied.  Some of the biggest corporations in Iowa pay no tax and, in fact, actually get multi-million dollar checks out of the Department of Revenue.

There’s nothing good about this system.  It’s brutal for small corporations without the lobbyists and pull to land big breaks.  Meanwhile, big corporations use their resources to skip around the tax, or even to profit from it.  The high rates and complexity drives away corporations who don’t want to play the influence game, while luring those who play it like a fiddle.  Far better to wipe out the tax and the accompanying subsidies with something like The Tax Update Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan!

Related: David Brunori, I Will Ask Again, Why Are We Taxing Corporate Income? (Tax Analysts Blog). “There is an increasingly influential school of thought that says the tax is borne by labor in the form of lower wages.”

 

Peter Reilly, Alimony That Does Not Look Like Alimony.  “So if an agreement says that the payments are to be treated as alimony for tax purposes, that really means nothing.  What matters is whether the requirements are met…”

 


20130114-1Roger McEowen, 
Analyzing Hedging under Obamacare’s Net Investment Income Tax Final Regulations.  “… a sole proprietor farmer’s income from hedging activity, or hedging income of a farming entity structured as pass-through entity is not subject to the NIIT, because the farmer or entity is engaged in the trade or business of farming and not the trade or business of trading in commodities.” 

William Perez, Tax Reform Act of 2014, Part 7, IRS Administrative Proposals Impacting Individuals.

Annette Nellen, How sales tax exemptions can waste one’s time.  “Recent litigation in Missouri over whether converting frozen dough into baked goods is “processing,” such that the electricity used is exempt from sales tax, shows the time and money that can be wasted with pointless rules.”

TaxGrrrl, Considering The Death Penalty: Your Tax Dollars At Work.  It should give pause to those who think the government should be the provider of health care when it can’t even kill somebody well.

Um, to save hundreds of millions of shareholder dollars?  Why Does Pfizer Want to Renounce Its Citizenship? (Tax Justice Blog). 

 

20121004-1Renu Zaretsky, Competition and Tax Reform: A Thorn in Everybody’s Side.  The TaxVox headline roundup.

Kay Bell, Amazon begins collecting sales tax from Florida buyers May 1; Will the online retailing giant lose even more customers?

Stephen Olsen, Did Donald Rumsfeld Just Invalidate His Return?  (Procedurally Taxing) “…he just wanted to be able to understand how his tax bill was computed.  Overall, not an unreasonable position, but perhaps a pipedream.”

Jack Townsend, Another Credit Swiss Related Bank Enabler Pleads Guilty

 

taxanalystslogoCara Griffith, The Problem With Outcome-Based Jurisprudence (Tax Analysts Blog).  ” It is not for the court to worry about how the state will fashion a remedy. Its task is to interpret and enforce the state’s laws and strike down those that are unconstitutional.”

 

The newest Cavalcade of Risk is up!  The roundup of insurance and risk management posts is hosted this time by Rebecca Shafer.  Our old friend Hank Stern contributes with bad news on the ACA computer security front: My Bleeding (404Care.gov) Heart

 

TaxProf,  The IRS Scandal, Day 357.  For a “phony scandal,” it’s awfully persistent.

 

The soft bigotry of low expectations.  IRS Commish Reminds Senator That Hill Staffers Have Worse Tax Compliance Than IRS Employees (Going Concern)

 

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