Posts Tagged ‘News from the Profession’

Tax Roundup, 11/25/14: Administration complicates extender negotiations. And: Instant Tax Service has to stay dead.

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note: The Tax Update will be on the road for Thanksgiving starting Wednesday. Have a great weekend, see you Monday. 

 

Economic supergenius

Nice Section 179 deduction you have there. Hate to see something bad happen to it.

Extenders as extortion. The administration yesterday complicated the negotiations on the extension of the perpetually-expiring tax provisions by demanding an extension of the refundable child credit and a permanent expansion of the fraud-ridden earned income tax credit, the New York Times reports.

It’s obnoxious to throw a new welfare program provision into the extender negotiations at this late date, but a lame-duck administration has nothing to lose by trying. While I still think the $500,000 Section 179 deduction will be extended retroactively to January 1, this makes me a lot more nervous.

If anything good comes of this extortion attempt, it’s that it highlights the unwisdom of passing tax provisions temporarily if you don’t really want them to be temporary. Every time you need to re-enact them, you open yourself up to just this sort of shakedown.

Other coverage from The Hill: White House skeptical of possible deal on tax breaks and Lew: Avoid ‘wrong approach’ on tax breaks

Related:

TaxGrrrl, 10 Expired Tax Provisions That Might Affect You In 2014 and Kay Bell, Congress fighting over which business and individual tax extenders to make permanent

 

"Fez" Ogbasion, Instant Tax Service CEO.

“Fez” Ogbazion, Instant Tax Service CEO.

Appeals court says Instant Tax Service has to stay deadThe Sixth Circuit has upheld the 2013 ruling that put Instant Tax Service out of business. ITS, which had 150 franchise operations in a number of states, primarily in low-income inner-city locations, had shown up frequently in stories alleging shady tax prep practices (like this).

ITS was found to have encouraged its franchisees to prepare “stub returns.” These are returns preparered off of year-end pay stubs, rather than W-2 forms. The injunction also found that the franchisor used deceptive pricing and marketing practices.

ITS and its owner, Fez Ogbazion, argued the injunction was improper and overbroad. The appeals court considered the ITS appeal on the stub return issue:

Defendant Ogbazion agreed during his testimony that “[i]f you prepare a tax return using a pay stub, it’s not always accurate and does not always have all of the information on there,” and “[w]hen using a pay stub to prepare a tax return, the income information can be off for a variety of reasons.” …  And ITS employee Boynton, who had been a tax return preparer before she became a manager, agreed during her testimony that she was “aware that tax returns prepared using pay stubs are inaccurate more often than not,” that “the last paycheck stub varies from a W-2 more often than not,” and that “the income reflected on a return prepared on a pay stub can vary from income reflected on a return prepared based on a W-2.”

The court found that the District Court correctly evaluated the stub return issue:

It is clear from this evidence that pay-stub filing often results in understatement of tax liability, and ITS knew it. It is also clear from this and other evidence that pay-stub filing was common at ITS franchises. The district court’s conclusion that understatement of tax liability “inevitably results” may have gone further than we would go, but it is a plausible account of the evidence in the record as a whole.

The Moral? Wait for your W-2 before filing. Don’t try to file off of your pay stub. And if your preparer offers to prepare a return without waiting for your W-2, find another preparer.

Cite:  United States v. ITS Financial LLC et al (CA-6, Case No. 13-4341)

 

Tax Analysts has published a story covering the film tax credit panel I was on last week: NCSL Task Force Needs More Persuading on Merits of Film Incentives

 

20141125-2We’ve done a little blogroll updating. We’ve cut some blogs that haven’t been updated in months, and added Tax Litigation Survey and Forbes tax blogger Robert W. Wood.

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) of 2014: #5-Is The Sale Of A Right To Buy Land Ordinary Income Or Capital Gain?

William Perez, Excluding Foreign Wages from US Taxes

Robert Wood, Jersey Shore’s Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino Tax Evasion Trial Delayed

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for 11/07/14 & 11/14/14 (Procedurally Taxing). A roundup of tax procedure issues, including a report on IRS hiring of a private law firm to help it audit Microsoft.

Peter Reilly, AAA Does Not Revive With New S Election – Explained By Jelly Beans. Another reason not to terminate an S corporation election carelessly.

Jack Townsend, Credit Suisse is Sentenced: Is It just a Wrist Slapping (Harder than UBS But Is It Enough)?

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Win a Home On TV, Find a Tax Collector in the Attic

 

Andrew Lundeen, Kyle Pomerleau, Pass-through Businesses Earn More Income than Corporations (Tax Policy Blog) “Pass-throughs now earn over 60 percent of all net business income.”  It includes this great chart:

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This means higner income taxes on “the rich” are really higher taxes on business and employment.

 

Eric Toder, Reforming Corporate Taxation (TaxVox) “The U.S. corporate tax system is broken.”
Annette Nellen, EU’s New VAT “MOSS” – Relevance for MFA? “MFA” is the Marketplace Fairness Act, the effort by states to collect taxes on internet commerce.

 

Jeremy Scott, New GOP W&M Members Send a Mixed Signal (Tax Analysts Blog):

The House Ways and Means Committee is undergoing a major transition. Committee Chair Dave Camp is leaving Congress at the end of the year and will be replaced by Rep. Paul Ryan. That means the end of an era and a possible major reshuffling of committee priorities. But Ways and Means is also getting four new Republican faces. The backgrounds of the new members don’t really send a clear signal on what to expect from the House on tax policy next year.

I hope they figure things out fast.

 

The Wall Street Journal has posted an Expat Finance & Tax Guide. It collects in one place WSJ pieces on expat-related topics, including FATCA nighmares and renouncing citizenship.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 565.

 

News from the Profession. Why Public Accounting Is Really Just One Long Kegger (Leona May, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/6/14: You pretend to complete the form, we’ll pretend to care. And: election mania!

Thursday, November 6th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitorsthe godawful link you seek is here.

 

20120905-1Don’t worry about getting it right, just make it look good. IRS personnel trying to appease angry practitioners at an AICPA Tax Division gathering had some strange and annoying things to say yesterday.

Practitioners are upset at the IRS insistence on Form 3115 accounting method change applications with 2014 returns from everyone moving into compliance with the new rules on repair and capitalization costs.  Tax Analysts reports ($link):

Participants in the tax methods and periods panel at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants fall Tax Division meeting in Washington said that some taxpayers don’t want to pay the high costs associated with going through years’ worth of records to calculate a precise section 481(a) adjustment required under the final regulations (T.D. 9636). The cost of that level of compliance could be more than the entire cost of preparing their returns, practitioners said, adding that the taxpayers are considering filing their method changes with corresponding section 481(a) adjustments of zero.

The piece cites Scott Dinwiddie, special counsel, IRS Office of Associate Chief Counsel (Income Tax and Accounting):

Taxpayers were taking aggressive positions, so the government didn’t want to provide an across-the-board cutoff in the final regulations, he said. Instead, it required 481(a) adjustments as a way to allow field agents to examine taxpayers’ aggressive positions, he said.

So because some taxpayers were taking positions you didn’t like, you want to require everyone to do a bunch of wasteful and meaningless busy work during our busiest time of the year. Got it.

Dinwiddie said that, barring a situation in which the taxpayer has taken aggressive positions in the past or has in no way applied a proper capitalization method, the IRS is unlikely to have much interest in examining a taxpayer’s section 481(a) adjustment now.

So we pretend to file an accurate Form 3115, and they pretend to care. Well, you have to admit that considering the budget and enforcement restraints on the IRS, this approach is… absolutely insane. Taxpayers have to pay for a bunch of nonsense compliance, and the IRS doesn’t care whether it’s right. The IRS still has to incur processing costs. I’d love to see the IRS cost-benefit worksheets on this one.

 

20120810-1The TaxProf has a roundup of observations on the whether tax reform can happen in the new Congress, including this from William Gale:

It is a good bet that the new Republican Congress will continue to talk about tax reform. That is safe ground for Republicans generally. And, of course, seemingly impossible things do sometimes happen. But I wouldn’t bet on tax reform. 

A wise non-bet.

 

TaxGrrrl, What Matters Most When It Comes To Tax Reform? Hint: It’s Not Control Of Congress:

What is interesting, however, is that most of the significant tax policy changes in the modern era are more closely tied to the length of presidential terms. Every president has a budget – and an agenda – but real shifts in rates and policies tend to happen during a second term (or en route to a second term) no matter which party is in control. 

I don’t expect it to happen this time.

 

Scott Drenkard, What Do the 2014 Midterm Election Results Mean for State Tax Policy? “My prediction is that this means that taxes will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest issue in state policy next legislative session, and that tax reform will become even more of a bipartisan issue.”  I’m afraid that’s not true here in Iowa.

Russ Fox, Nevada Goes Deep Red. “Do you remember 1928? Well, that was the last time Nevada had a Republican governor, a Republican State Assembly, a Republican State Senate, and Republicans holding all major statewide offices.”

Paul Neiffer, A Christmas Present?! “They will meet over the next six weeks or so and around Christmas time we will get the final tax package.”

 

 

20120702-2Arnold Kling’s characteristically wise observation on the election results:

Conventional wisdom is that, relatively speaking, Democrats have a structural advantage in Presidential elections, because those elections attract more turnout. In other words, they do much better among disengaged voters. One could spin this positively for the Democrats, saying that they get support from the weaker segments of society. One could spin this negatively and say that they rely on a segment of the electorate that is poorly informed and easily bamboozled, which I believe is the case. The counter to that would be that Republicans also rely on a segment of the electorate that is poorly informed and easily bamboozled, which I also believe is the case.

While I don’t agree with all of what he says, the whole post is brief and well worth reading. So is this from Don Boudreaux:

I advise freedom-loving and free-market-appreciating Americans (of which I am unashamedly one) to be good Tullockians about the results of yesterday’s landslide wins for the G.O.P.  The Republicans who won those elections are, after all, politicians – and it is the rare politician, of whatever party, who reliably puts principle above personal interest.  As a rule, politicians are untrustworthy, duplicitous, and cowardly; they are people who have an unusually powerful craving for power and fame; and the successful among them typically posses an unusual talent for camouflaging their craving for power and fame as a saintly calling to ‘serve the people.’

Pretty much. But some are less bad than others, enough so that I do bother to vote.

Renu Zaretsky, Don’t Call It a Comeback… Yet.  The TaxVox headline roundup is full of post-election links, including news of Berkeley, California, passing an idiotic soda tax. When they start taxing mocha lattes, I’ll believe they’re such taxes are about public health than moral vanity.

 

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And some folks are actually talking about things other than the election:

Jana Luttenegger, Even Startups Need to Have the Conversation (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).

Jason Dinesen tells us A Little Bit About Sole Proprietorships, Part 1

William Perez, Dividends: Taxes and Reporting

Robert D. Flach recounts EXPLAINING MORTGAGE INTEREST AND INVESTMENT INTEREST FOR A CLIENT

Jim Maule discusses how Mortgage Loan Modification Can Imperil Interest Deduction

Stephen Olsen at Procedurally Taxing as a new round of Summary Opinions., with links to news from the world of tax procedure.

Jack Townsend, The Honorable Jed Rakoff on Why Innocent People Plead Guilty. He quotes Judge Rakoff: “…the guidelines, like the mandatory minimums, provide prosecutors with weapons to bludgeon defendants into effectively coerced plea bargains.”

Kay Bell, 5 tax record keeping questions … and answers!

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 546

News from the Profession. McGladrey Reminds Audit Staff to Stay Billable This Busy Season (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/30/14: Maquoketa! And: I was so upset, I only reported the loss items from my K-1.

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

MCSD Cardinal LogoGreetings from Maquoketa, Iowa, home of the Cardinals and the largest cave complex in the state. Today is Day 1 of the second session of the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax School. I’m on the Day 1 panel with Roger McEowen and Kristy Maitre, updating practitioners on 2014 developments and the upcoming ACA reporting nightmares. There is still time to register for the schools in Sheldon, Red Oak, Ottumwa, Mason City, Denison and Ames. Register today!

 

 

Emotional stress can have strange effects. But maybe not that strangeA married couple operated two LLCs as partnerships owned entirely between them. They paid a preparer to put together the 1065s and K-1s. But they apparently figured they could handle things from there, self-preparing the 1040s.

Their son took ill on a foreign trip, and they traveled overseas from October 4, 2011, to November 4. Perhaps as a result, they missed the extended return deadline for 2010 and filed late.  Better late, than never, of course.

There was a small problem with the self-prepared return. The K-1s showed about $129,000 in ordinary losses and $553,000 in long-term capital gains. The losses made it on to the self-prepared 1040s, but the capital gains somehow did not.

The IRS notices that sort of thing, and they assessed the additional tax on the gain, as well as a 20% “accuracy-related penalty” on the underpayment. The case ended up in Tax Court, where the taxpayer pleaded — well, I’m not sure how to describe this. From the Tax Court decision:

Petitioners reported in their 2010 return all of the information reflected in [Husband]‘s K-1 and [Wife]‘s K-1 except for the information relating to “[n]et long-term capital gain (loss)”. At trial, the Court attempted to focus [Husband] on petitioners’ inconsistent reporting in their 2010 return of the information that MMIT reflected in [Husband]‘s K-1 and [Wife]‘s K-1 by asking him about [the preparer’s} September 15, 2011 letters. The following exchange between the Court and [Husband] took place:
THE COURT: Now, what does it mean to you when a letter to you and to your wife says, this information reflects the amounts you need to complete your income tax return?

THE WITNESS: To be truthful, I never read it.

THE COURT: You never read it?

THE WITNESS: Yes.

THE WITNESS: Yes.

That sort of blew the “reliance on the preparer” defense. The taxpayer fell back on emotional trauma:

We consider now petitioners’ contention that [Husband] was so emotionally distraught about his son’s health at the time that he prepared petitioners’ 2010 return that he was unable to prepare that return properly. We are sympathetic that petitioners’ son was experiencing certain medical problems around the time petitioners’ 2010 return was due and that petitioners were seriously concerned about their son’s health. Nonetheless, on the record before us, we find that petitioners have failed to carry their burden…

 Indeed, petitioners reported in their 2010 return, which [Husband] prepared, all of the information reflected in [Husband]‘s K-1 and [Wife]‘s K-1 except for the information relating to “[n]et long-term capital gain (loss)”.

Adding the income lines to the 1040 after having to deal with a seriously ill son overseas would seem like emotional piling-on, but that means nothing to the tax law.

The Moral? As traumatic  as reporting a K-1 capital gain may be, you have to report what’s there. And maybe if your tax situation is complex enough to require hired help to prepare your pass-through returns, you might want to spring to have the preparer handle the 1040 too. The fee surely would have been less than the $12,000 penalty.

Cite: Singhal, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-102

 

Kyle Pomerleau, Most of the Private Sector Workforce is Employed by Pass-through Businesses (Tax Policy Blog):

In the past three decades, the importance of “pass-through” businesses has grown substantially. The combined net income of sole proprietors, LLCs, Partnerships, and S corporations has increased fivefold and now accounts for more than 50 percent of all business income. C corporations now earn less than half of all business income.

Pass Through Employment by state

It you jack up taxes on “the rich,” you jack up taxes on employers. If you tax something more, you get less of it.

 

Friday is Thursday this week at Robert D. Flach’s place – with an early Buzz covering the AICPA’s loss on its suit against the “voluntary” IRS preparer program and on IRS cash seizures.

Kay Bell, Voters get their say Nov. 4 on myriad ballot initiatives

Peter Reilly, Government Coming Down Harder On Kent Hovind. Bad science isn’t a tax crime.

Joseph Thorndike, Can Jeb Bush Save Conservatism by Compromising It? (Tax Analysts Blog). If recent polls are any indication, having their opponents in power seems to be “saving” conservatism already.

Steve Warnhoff, Senator Rob Portman: Case Study in Radical, Rightwing Arguments for Slashing Corporate Taxes (Tax Justice Blog). Remember, TJB is part of Citizens for Tax Justice, a “non-partisan” exempt organization.

 

taxanalystslogoCara Griffith, Benefit Corporations: The Corporate Entity of the Future? (Tax Analysts Blog):

Those who shop at Patagonia or Etsy are likely aware of a new type of business entity that is growing in popularity. These companies and a thousand more have chosen to organize as either B corporations or benefit corporations…

 Still, the number of benefit corporations is relatively small. The reason for this is – ironically – a lack of benefits. Benefit corporations are not given tax, incentive, or procurement preferences by state or federal lawmakers. While nonprofits receive substantial benefits for their chosen entity type, benefit corporations receive no such benefits. They are taxed like c corporations – at least for now. 

This is new to me. A business structure built around moral vanity seems implausible to me, but I’ve never shopped Etsy.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 539.

 

News from the Profession. Let’s Talk About Creative Accounting Themed Halloween Costumes (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/27/14: IRS visits Arnolds Park restaurant, tips itself.

Monday, October 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120703-2IRS Commissioner Koskinen likes to say there is nothing wrong with the IRS that a bigger budget can’t cure. A story out of Arnolds Park, Iowa might cause one to question that. The New York Times reports:

For almost 40 years, Carole Hinders has dished out Mexican specialties at her modest cash-only restaurant. For just as long, she deposited the earnings at a small bank branch a block away — until last year, when two tax agents knocked on her door and informed her that they had seized her checking account, almost $33,000.

The Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Ms. Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes — in fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report.

Banks are required to report “suspicious” deposits under $10,000 because they might be done to evade a required IRS filing. As they get in trouble for non-reporting, they are likely to overreport. And in these cases, that’s all the IRS required before stealing the cash. The victims have legal recourse, but it requires them to sue the federal government, owner of the largest law firm in the world; legal bills routinely run into tens of thousands of dollars.

So, without any evidence, or even suspicion, of a crime, the IRS uses some of its allegedly precious and constrained enforcement resources to steal money from a little Iowa restaurant. The story cites other cash seizure nightmares. One involved an Army sergeant saving for his daughters’ education. Others involved legitimate but cash-intensive businesses.

If this is what the IRS accomplishes with insufficient resources, imagine how much they could steal with full funding.

(via Instapundit)

Related:

Tax Justice Blog,  New Movie Aims to Scare Public by Depicting IRS as Jack-Booted Thugs. Where would anybody get that idea?

Dan Mitchell, Another Example of Government Thuggery – and another Reason Why Decent and Moral People Are Libertarians

Russ Fox, SARs Leading to Forfeiture: The IRS Oversteps

 

20141027-2Jason Dinesen, How Non-Residents or Part-Year Residents Report Federal Refunds on Iowa Tax Returns. One more complication from Iowa’s deduction for federal taxes.

Robert D. Flach, DON’T TRY TO BUY A HOUSE OR CONDO WITH ONLY 5% DOWN!. And don’t try to subsidize that either.

William Perez, Self-Employed Retirement Plans, “If you have self-employment income, then you can take a tax deduction for contributions you make to a SEP, SIMPLE, or a solo 401(k) retirement plan.”

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2014: #9-Tax Court Further Muddies The ‘Dealer Versus Investor’ Issue

 

TaxGrrrl, Fundraising Campaign Ends For ‘Ebola Free’ Nurse, Donors Encouraged To Contribute To Charity

Jana Luttenegger, 2015 Retirement Plan Limits Announced (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

Paul Neiffer, 2015 Social Security Wage Base Increases to $118,500

Kay Bell, 6 year-end tax tips for small businesses

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions (Procedurally Taxing). Recent cases on whistleblowers, interest abatement, and art valuation.

 

 

Andrew Mitchel, 2014 Third Quarter Published Expatriates – Third Highest Ever. FATCA and the IRS holy war on Americans abroad takes its toll.

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 536

 

David Brunori on the inherently corrupt nature of corporate welfare tax incentives, like those so popular with Iowa politicians ($link):

I have no doubt there are more instances of companies contributing to politicians and getting economic development payouts. I’m not naïve. Corporations donate money to governors and lawmakers and expect a return on their investment. While the governors cited above were Republican, corporations and business interests don’t discriminate. Indeed, Lockheed Martin donated lots of money to Democratic governors.

We likely won’t find a smoking gun e-mail reading, “Dear Governor, your check is in the mail, please process my multimillion-dollar handout. Your friend, CEO.” Politicians and business leaders are too smart for that. But growing evidence of tax incentives being granted by politicians who receive money should give everyone pause. It’s unlikely to be a coincidence.

But, jobs! For the middlemen, fixers and lobbyists, anyway.

 

Joseph Henchman, Michigan Senate Advances Film Tax Credit Extension Bill (Tax Policy Blog). Because Detroit has no greater need than to give money to Hollywood.

 

News from the Profession. Meet the Guy Who Prefers Falafel Over PwC (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/21/14: Gander gets sauced! And: IRS Commissioner’s prophecy of tax season doom.

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Flickr image by Sage under Creative Commons license

Flickr image by Sage under Creative Commons license

Gander, Meet Sauce. An alert reader points out something wonderful I had missed — a ruling awarding attorney fees and costs of $257,885 to the return preparers who successfully challenged the IRS preparer regulations. It’s a rare and welcome example of the IRS being held accountable for being unreasonable with taxpayers. And the court said the IRS was being unreasonable (all emphasis mine; some citations omitted):

In the present case, the reasonableness of the government’s position can be measured by the familiar guideposts of statutory interpretation: text, legislative history, statutory context, and congressional intent. In each of those dimensions, the interpretation of § 331(a)(1) advocated by the government was deficient. Indeed, on several key points, such as the proper meaning of the word “representatives,” the IRS offered no support whatever for its interpretation. The Court therefore finds that the government’s position was not substantially justified.

Losing the battle over whether its position was justified, the IRS dipped into its seemingly bottomless supply of chutzpah to challenge the amount:

As an initial salvo, the IRS argues that it was unreasonable and excessive for Plaintiffs to request compensation for over 1,700 hours spent advocating an interpretation of the statute that Plaintiffs themselves contend is obvious.

Our position was reasonable! OK, it was so unreasonable that even a cave man could litigate against it!

The Court declines the IRS’s request for across-the-board cuts to Plaintiffs’ award. The choice of a hatchet is particularly inappropriate here for several reasons. First and foremost, Plaintiffs prevailed at every stage of this litigation and achieved the entirety of their requested relief. Degree of success is “the most critical factor” in evaluating the reasonableness of a fee award.  Second, the IRS understates the complexity of this case. To be sure, this Court and the D.C. Circuit both concluded that Plaintiffs’ was the only reasonable interpretation of 31 U.S.C. § 330(a)(1). That conclusion, however, was apparent largely as a result of Plaintiffs’ thorough research and well-reasoned briefs.

Hah.

The only thing that would make it better would be if the IRS were assessed a penalty for taking a frivolous or negligent position. Maybe someday. But congratulations to the plaintiffs and the Institute for Justice for pulling off a legal end-zone dance.

 


Cite: Loving, Civil Action No. 12-385 (DC-District of Columbia)

And if you think that preparers can now do whatever they please, read Tax preparation business owner sentenced for tax fraud:

Charles Lee Harrison has been ordered to federal prison following his conviction of willfully aiding and assisting in the preparation and presentation of a false tax return, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson along with Lucy Cruz, special agent in charge of Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). Harrison, the owner of a tax preparation business in Houston and Navasota, pleaded guilty June 16, 2014.

Today, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, who accepted the guilty plea, handed Harrison a 36-month sentence to be immediately followed by one year of supervised release. He was further ordered to pay $396,057 in restitution.

I’m confident Mr. Harrison feels quite regulated at the moment.

 

Oh, Goody. “So we have right now probably the most complicated filing season before us that we’ve had in a long time, if ever. ”

-IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in an interview with Tax Analysts October 17 ($link)

The Commissioner also had an interesting idea for large partnerships ($link):

Our position is the most significant thing we can do to break that bottleneck — and I think it’s supported by a lot of people in the private sector — would be to say we need to amend [the 1982 Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act] and say we can audit a partnership,” Koskinen said. “And when we make an adjustment to the tax quantities, the partnership will absorb that that year,” he said, adding that the reporting would take place on the partnership’s Schedule K-1 for that year and the adjustment would automatically flow through to the partners.

Koskinen added that even though that statutory change would effectively shift the tax liability from those who were partners in the year under audit (and who benefited from the improper tax position) to the current partners, “that happens with mutual funds all the time. . . . People are used to buying and selling investments, recognizing whatever the tax and investment situation is.

Maybe that makes some sense for large partnerships, but it would be horrible for small ones, as anybody buying a partnership interest would also be buying three open years of audit exposure.

 

buzz20140923It’s Tuesday. That means Robert D. Flach is Buzzing with links from around the tax world!

Jason Dinesen, Iowa Tax Filing Deadline is October 31: Claim Your $54 Credit Before Then

Paul Neiffer, Will ACA Require You To Include Health Insurance as Wages. Spoiler: no.

Matt McKinney, Can I force my Iowa corporation to buy my stock? (IowaBiz.com). A common question from minority owners of closely-held corporations.

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2014: #10 – IRA and Qualified Plan Rollovers Are More Treacherous Than You Realize.

TaxGrrrl, Suspected Nazi War Criminals Collected Millions In Social Security Benefits After Fleeing The U.S.

William Perez, Payroll Taxes: A Primer for Employers

Peter Reilly, Taxpayer Barred From Communicating With CPA Still Hit With Late File Penalty. Weird and unjust.

Kay Bell, Jury doesn’t buy ‘vow of poverty’ as excuse for not filing taxes. Well, this tax evasion conviction will help the defendant fulfill the vow.

 

 

20141021-1Martin Sullivan, A Double Bias Against Infrastructure (Tax Analysts Blog)  He doesn’t mention the biggest problem: When most of government spending is just transfers from some taxpayers to others, it squeezes out everything else.

Donald Marron, A “Normal” Budget Isn’t Really Normal (TaxVox): “From 1975 to today, the federal debt swelled from less than 25 percent of GDP to more than 70 percent. I don’t think many people would view that as normal. Or maybe it is normal, but not in a good way.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 530

 

News from the Profession. AICPA Seeks to Better Weed Out Losers, Misfits with Evolved CPA Exam (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern). Good thing I passed the exam before this development.

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/20/14: Extension season is over. Now what? And: do your part for Boeing!

Monday, October 20th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

We are now in the sweet spot of the tax year. We are done with extended 1040s, and it’s too early to get most people to do year-end tax planning. That’s why this is the continuing education season for most of us.

The Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools begin next week. I will be speaking on the Day 1 program for all schools, starting October 28 in Waterloo, Iowa. Tour stops also include Maquoketa, Sheldon, Red Oak, Ottumwa, Mason City, Denison and Ames. Who said public accounting lacks glamour?

Now to get those slides prepared…

 

Government is just a word for things we do together. Like subsidizing big corporations. Using information from Good Jobs First, Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Institute provides a chart of the biggest known recipients of state subsidies:

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Meanwhile, everyone else pays a little higher tax rate to grease Boeing’s landing gear. I believe that the damage caused to the taxpayers who don’t get these subsidies makes losers out of the states that win tax incentive bidding wars.

 

20140805-3Kay Bell, 2014 tax planning starts with your tax bracket

Annette Nellen, Premium Tax Credit Problems, “This is a big deal because the PTC serves to help make health insurance affordable to individuals with income between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty line.”

TaxGrrrl, Apple Seeds Perk Wars, Adds Egg Freezing As Employee Benefit.  Is that a tax-free benefit? It makes me wonder about their work-life balance.

Peter Reilly, UnFair: Exposing The IRS – Does Not Make Strong Case Or Decent Documentary. Peter watched the movie so you don’t have to.

Tax Trials, Tax Court Preserves Taxpayer Protections against Arbitrary and Capricious Appeals Rulings

Russ Fox, Copying Steven Martinez’s Idea Is Not a Good Choice. If you think you need to murder nine witnesses to stay out of jail, you probably won’t stay out of jail.

 

 

The Tax Prof reports that Linda Beale will resume tax blogging after going off the air as a result of the death of her husband. My condolences to Linda and her family.

Jim Maule, Putting the Brakes on Tax Breaks. “Never do indirectly through taxes what can and should be done directly.”

 

Andrew Lundeen, Most Common Jobs by Income Bracket (Tax Policy Blog). The professions do well.

Richard Auxier, Ahead of the Midterms, State Economic Trends Present Mixed Signals (TaxVox). “A September Pew Research poll found that while Americans’ assessment of job opportunities had improved, 56 percent reported their family’s income was falling behind the cost of living.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 529

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Quotable. Tax Analysts David Brunori  on a proposed film credit for the music industry in New York ($link):

Like their film equivalents, tax breaks for musicians are bad tax policy. Even if music producers were swayed by taxes, those breaks would be bad policy. Why musicians? Why not cab drivers? Orthodontists? Flamenco dancers? New York lawmakers, many of whom wanted to be Billy Joel growing up, will probably say yes to this terrible idea.

While I have a rooting interest in the music industry, the tax credit idea is awful.

 

News from the Profession. Let’s Watch This Audit Senior Quit His Job in the Most Fabulous Way (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/16/14: Tax-free public pensions proposed. And: Goodbye, 2010!

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

And the statute of limitations now closes for extended 2010 1040s. That’s all water under the bridge now.

 

Accounting Today visitors, the corporate tax rate piece you seek from the newsletter is here.

 

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.

Brutal Assault on Reason Watch.* As the political campaigns plunge into their dreary final frenzy, we can look forward to silly tax proposals intended to buy a few votes from the gullible. Proposals like this from an Iowa candidate for Governor: Hatch proposes tax exemption for public pensions:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch on Tuesday proposed to exempt public pensions from state income taxation.

In a speech to the Iowa State Police Association in Ames, Hatch said his Tax-Exempt Public Service Pensions Act would cover Iowa Public Employees Retirement System benefits, police and fire retirement benefits, judicial pensions and other smaller state, county and city pension system recipients.

Why just public pensions?

“I understand the nature of public employee bargaining,” Hatch said. “I know the contracts you negotiate include retirement as part of the bargain. You have foregone wage increases and other benefits to guarantee a strong pension, and I will honor that bargain.

“I know most of you are like a lot of public servants in that you could make a lot more money doing something else,” he added. “I want to make sure we place the proper value on your decision to serve and that we honor the contracts you have made for the long term.”

So somebody who gets a six-figure income as a local school district superintendent would get a tax-free pension, while somebody who took a much smaller salary to run a local private school would have a taxable pension. Because public service.

20130110-2There are many bad assumptions underlying this proposal. While there are many hard-working public employees, a government job implies no special moral credit. Public employees have defined benefit plans, which are nearly extinct in the private sector, and they already artificially increase public sector compensation. In general, public sector workers make more than their private sector counterparts. And the idea that people who work for the government are doing it for the public good, instead of for selfish motives, is difficult to credit.

For tax policy purposes, such carve-outs are awful. They necessarily increase the taxes on those not eligible for the benefit. That increases their motivation to carve out their own special deals, causing higher rates, causing more special deals. You end up with a completely dysfunctional system — one that looks a lot like what Iowa has now, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, Jack Hatch’s opponent, Governor Branstad, also seems quite comfortable with the system we have.

*Click here for explanation of the “brutal assault on reason” theme.

 

Donnie Johnson, Liz Malm, Same-Sex Couples Gain More Clarity Regarding Their State Taxes (Tax Policy Blog).

William Perez, State Tax Amnesties in 2014

Tim Todd, Affiliated Group Can Use Graduated Tax Rates Even If Personal Service Corp. Is a Member. Mr. Todd is a law professor who runs the Tax Litigation Survey, which he has recently brought to my attention. I look forward to following it for its regular coverage of Tax Court cases and other tax litigation.

Diana Leyden, Not Being in Filing Compliance Can Trip Your Client Up at the CDP Level (Procedurally Taxing). Just one of many problems that arise when you get into the non-filing habit.

 

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Jack Townsend, An Example of the Difference Between Pleading and Not Pleading:

Over 95% of federal criminal cases are resolved by plea agreement.  One of the reasons is that, in the Sentencing Guidelines calculations, defendants who plead will usually qualify by the plea for the acceptance of responsibility two or three level decrease in the Guidelines calculation.  Moreover, by pleading, the defendant may make himself or herself more attractive for a Booker downward variance from the reduced Guidelines range already reduced for acceptance of responsibility.  Conversely, by going to trial, a defendant generally forgoes any realistic hope of an acceptance of responsibility adjustment or any favorable Booker downward adjustment and may behave at trial in a way that will not endear the sentencing judge to the defendant.

He covers a case where a defendant ended up with a 405-month sentence, where a co-defendant was limited to 180 months (15 years) by plea deal. So plea deals are good if you are really guilty, while pressuring the innocent to confess on the threat of spending life in prison.

 

Annette Nellen, States without an income tax – good idea?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 525

 

News from the Profession. PwC’s Bob Moritz Thinks Millennials Ask Way Too Many Questions (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/14/14: Iowa tax credits expected to pay out $361 million this year. And: Fix FBAR!

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Extended 1040s are due tomorrow!

 

20120906-1$521 million for the well-connected and well lobbied. The Des Moines Register reports on a new set of estimates from the Iowa Department of Revenue:

Iowa would have to pay about a half-billion dollars for tax credits during a 12-month period should every recipient come to the table asking for their awards.

The state has a tax credit liability of $462 million for the 2015 fiscal year, which started July 1 and runs until June 30, 2015, according to an Iowa Department of Revenue report.

For the 2016 fiscal year, the state’s tax credit liability is expected to hit $521.2 million.

But it’s not so bad as all that:

The Revenue Department said it only expects $361.4 million worth of tax credits to be claimed in fiscal 2015 and $402.8 million to be claimed in fiscal 2016.

Compare the $361 million in expected tax credit giveaways to expected receipts, net of refunds, from the entire Iowa corporation income tax in fiscal 2015 of $413.5 million. A good chunk of this is actually in the form of cash grants via the Iowa research credit. Iowa persists in giving these away even though a commission tasked with finding out whether they do any good was unable to say they were worth anything.

Iowa couples its regime of special favors for special political friends with high individual rates, and the highest corporation tax rate in the U.S., for those of us lacking lobbyists or state house connections.  Far better to slash individual rates, get rid of the near-worthless corporation income tax, strip out loopholes and deductions, and make everybody’s tax life easier.  It’s time for The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.

 

passportAllison ChristiansPaperwork and Punishment: It’s Time to Fix FBAR (Tax Analysts, Via the TaxProf). A righteous takedown of one of the worst features of an awful tax law:

The FBAR penalty structure is harsh at best and tremendouosly unfair at worst. An FBAR failure or mistake attracts a one-size-fits-all punishment, which rapidly escalates according to a formula that is known only to the IRS. The instructions claim that a taxpayer can avoid penalties by showing a “reasonable cause,” but they also state that a “non-willful” mistake or failure carries a $10,000 penalty, regardless of the amount of money actually at stake…

It cannot be noted without irony that for a regime created to catch hard-core financial criminals, FBAR now criminalizes something we would hardly consider a serious crime — namely a paperwork mistake.

It’s IRS policy to shoot the jaywalkers so they can slap the real international financial criminals on the wrists.  Read the whole thing.

 

Paul Neiffer reminds us that you have Less Than Two Full Days to Get Your Return Filed

It’s a quiet Buzz day at Robert D. Flach’s place. 

Kay Bell, Federal holiday effects on federal taxes,

Stephen Olson has the Summary Opinions for 10/03/14, rounding up developments in tax procedure at Procedurally Taxing.

 

20121022-1TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 523

Me, The C corporation dilemma and how not to solve it. My latest at IowaBiz.com, the Des Moines Business Record’s Business Professionals’ Blog. I discuss the C corporation double-tax, and a failed effort to solve the problem with a “midco transaction” in advance of a sale of the business.

 

How is that even possible? District Court Sets The Bar Lower For Accountants Than Attorneys (Peter Reilly)

News from the Profession. Center for Audit Quality Managed to Find Some People Confident in Audits (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/13/14: Appeals Court holds CRP payments not Self-employment income to non-farmers. And: Extended due date looms!

Monday, October 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

binNot farming isn’t farming. That is one way to look at Friday’s decision by the Eighth Circuit in Morehouse that Conservation Reserve Program payments to non-farmers are not self-employment income. Overturning a Tax Court decision, a split three-judge panel rejected the IRS assessment of self-employment tax on landowners who enrolled in the CRP when they were not engaged in the trade or business of farming. The appeals panel said the CRP payments to hold erodable land out of production are instead rental payments with respect to non-farmers; real estate rental income is not subject to self-employment tax.

Roger McEowen, who worked on the case from the taxpayer’s side, has a detailed analysis of the case and its history. He summarizes the state of CRP law:

 Now, the Eighth Circuit’s reversal of the Tax Court means that non-farmers do not have to pay self-employment tax on CRP payments. That’s the case at least within the Eighth Circuit.  Active Farmers still have to pay on CRP payments unless the 2008 Farm Bill provision applies to them. But, non-farmers and non-materially participating farm landlords are given relief within the Eighth Circuit. For CRP rents paid after 2007, the question is whether the recipient is a materially-participating farmer.

The “2008 Farm Bill provision” holds that CRP payments are not self-employment income for recipients receiving Social Security payments.

In Iowa, taxpayers might want to think twice before taking their CRP payments out of self-employment income. Iowa has a special exclusion of capital gain income for taxpayers who have held land for ten years and who have also “materially participated” in a business with the land for ten years. The Iowa Department or Revenue in a recently-released decision said that it would consider a taxpayer to be “materially participating” in CRP ground if self-employment tax were paid. Given how much appreciation there has been on farm ground in recent years, paying a little self-employment tax might be worth it to avoid Iowa tax on a big farm sale gain.

Cite: Morehouse, CA-8, No. 13-3110.

Paul Neiffer has more: Morehouse Appeal is Released – Taxpayer Victory

 

20140513-1Making crashes more likely, for your safety The Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago shortened yellow light times to increase red-light camera revenues.  As Brian Gongol notes, this demolishes the argument that the cameras are for safety, rather than revenue: “It’s quite simple: If you want to cut down on red-light running and consequent crashes, you lengthen yellow lights and increase the gap between the red in one direction and the onset of green in the other.

Our local politicians never seemed very concerned about dangerous intersections until they found a way to make money off of them. Nor did they experiment with non-revenue safety options, like longer yellow cycles and a delay between the red one way and the green light the other, before turning on the revenue cameras.

 

Russ Fox, You Filed That Extension, And Only Now Are Realizing the Deadline is Wednesday… “First, in most cases tax professionals say it’s better to extend than amend. But extending is now out [1], so it’s better to get a reasonable return in.”

Peter Reilly, Paper Filing 1040 On October 15th? Go To The Post Office! Use Certified Mail:

 It is almost October 15th.  October 15 is the extended due date of your federal individual tax return.  If, like me, you still have not filed it and you are planning, unlike me, to paper file, use certified mail and save the return card when it comes back – especially if you owe money.

I e-file, myself, but if you are filing to claim a refund on a 2010 extended return, paper filing may be your only option — and then you absolutely should go certified mail, return receipt requested.

If you are an American abroad, Phil Hodgen explains how to obtain an Income Tax Return Extension Until December 15, 2014

TaxGrrrl, Trying To Reach IRS? Hold On Until Tuesday. Columbus Day, plus they shut down their computers for the weekend.

Tony Nitti, A Tale Of Two Activities: How To Beat The Hobby Loss Rules 

Jack Townsend, Bitcoins Update

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Filing Status

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 522

William McBride, EPI Perpetuates Myth of Low Corporate Taxes. (Tax Policy Blog). A lesson on the dangers of ignoring the ascendance of pass-through entities.

Daniel Shaviro, Frontiers of quasi-tax fraud. “Because (a) partnership tax rules are so complex that only a handful of people really understand them – perhaps a thousand across the entire country? – and (b) people at the IRS generally don’t understand them, and (c) the audit rate for partnership tax returns is below 1%, compliance with partnership tax rules that are meant to block abusive tax planning that contradicts the actual tenor of the rules has pretty much completely collapsed.”

Renu Zaretsky, Cheap Talk, Scoring, and Promises, No, it’s not another night at the singles bar; today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers developments in the medical device tax repeal effort, loophole closers, and talk (just talk) of tax reform.

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 10/10: Lottery Bust, Music Credits on the Table (Tax Justice Blog). New York considers expanding corporate welfare to record companies, of all things.

 

Unlike the politicians, they at least give you what you pay for. A summary of tax cases involving prostitutes in the wake of the Cartagena Hooker scandal from Robert Wood.

News from the Profession. Which Accounting Firm Fired an Employee for His Dispute with Comcast? A: PwC (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). And they fired me when I didn’t even have cable.

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/10/14: Tax Court: consolidated return, consolidated determination of professional corporation status. And more!

Friday, October 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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Accounting Today visitors, click here for the pile of clothes.

Professional Services Corporation in consolidated return not subjected to flat rate tax. When a professional business – law, medicine, consulting, engineering, architecture, actuarial science, performing arts, or accounting – is operated as a C corporation, the “professional service corporation” rules tax its income at a flat 35%. It is denied the use of the 15, 25 and 34% brackets otherwise available.

A corporation is a Qualified Personal Service Corporation (QPSC) subject to the flat 35% rate if it passes (or fails, depending on how you look at it) two tests:

– Substantially all of its activities involve the performance of personal services, and

– 95% of the shares are held by employees who performed such services.

An engineer and his wife operated an engineering practice in a C corporation. This C corporation owned 100% of the stock of a ranching business. The tax law allows C corporation parent corporations to file consolidated returns with their subsidiaries, reporting all of the income on one return. On a consolidated bases, the ranch activity caused the company to not have “substantially all” of its activities involve performing personal services.  As a result, it filed its return using the lower brackets.

The IRS came in with a novel argument. It said the QPSC tests had to be applied separately to each group member — not to the consolidated return as a whole. On that basis, the engineering business would have to pay up its taxes at a flat 35% rate. Tax Court Judge Jacobs explains:

Respondent asserts that where one member of an affiliated group is a qualified personal service corporation and another is not, the consolidated taxable income of the affiliated group must be broken up into two separate baskets. Respondent argues that section 448 requires that the determination as to whether a corporation is a qualified personal service corporation is to be made at the entity level, not at the level of the affiliated group. Further, respondent posits that the Code provides for treating qualified personal service corporate members of an affiliated group differently from other members.

The Tax Court decided that the tax law fails to support the IRS here:

Although section 448(d)(4) provides special rules by which members of an affiliated group may determine their status as a qualified personal service corporation in electing whether to use the cash method of accounting, it provides no illumination as to the rate of tax to be applied to the consolidated taxable income of the entire group. Nor does section 448(d)(4) provide support for the proposition that the consolidated taxable income of an affiliated group is to be broken up into separate baskets.

The court also found that the consolidated return regulations don’t provide for a breakout of QPSC income from other income:

In computing the proper tax liability of an affiliated group, we begin with section 1.1502-2, Income Tax Regs. Section 1.1502-2(a), Income Tax Regs., does not distinguish between taxable income under section 11(b)(1) and (2), and we find no authority to permit the breakup of an affiliated group’s consolidated taxable income into separate baskets. We look to the affiliated group as a whole, i.e., the entity which generated the consolidated taxable income, to determine the characterization of the consolidated taxable income. And in this regard, the parties agree that, when viewed as a whole, Applied Research’s affiliated group is not a qualified personal service corporation.

To conclude, we hold that in the situation involved herein, graduated rates set forth in section 11(b)(1) should be applied to the affiliated group’s consolidated taxable income. I

I’m surprised the IRS even made this argument. To me, it doesn’t even seem like a close issue. It’s the sort of assertion the IRS can make without risk, because it isn’t subject to the same penalties for taking unsupported positions that apply to taxpayers. A sauce for the gander rule, allowing taxpayers to collect the same penalties for bad positions asserted by IRS that they can assert against taxpayers, is overdue.

Cite: Applied Research Associates, Inc., 143 T.C. No. 17.

 

 

20120906-1Yes, Smith’s tax break does take money out of Jones’s pocketFans of corporate welfare tax credits sometimes argue that nobody gets hurt when a favored business gets a sweetheart deal. But their competitors who don’t get the sweet deal may not agree. An Iowa City grocer sure doesn’t:

New Pioneer Food Co-op is crying foul over the idea of the city of Iowa City providing $1.75 million in tax-increment financing assistance to attract a national grocery chain.

New Pioneer’s board of directors sent a letter to the Iowa City Council’s Economic Development Committee this week saying that using TIF money to bring an out-of-state company to Iowa City would hurt local grocers.

These tax breaks — like the state income tax credits the Governor likes to hand out — take money from existing taxpayers to lure and subsidize their competitors — a point not lost New Pioneer:

New Pioneer’s board said if the city were to approve the TIF assistance, it would be at the expense of existing local businesses that would lose customers and be essentially subsidizing a competitor with their tax dollars.

“The market for groceries in the Johnson County area is fixed, and already very competitive,” the board said in its letter. “Bringing in an additional competitor in this category will not drive economic development in the city. It will not increase the size of the market, nor will it increase employment in Johnson County since one or more other stores likely will be forced to eliminate jobs to match their reduced market shares.”

But that’s no concern of the politicians handing out the breaks:

[Iowa City Economic Development Administrator] Davidson said although he respects New Pioneer’s perspective, it’s appropriate for the city to get involved because the project would have a significant impact on the taxable value of the Iowa City Marketplace and properties in the surrounding commercial district.

In other words, screw you guys who are already here paying taxes. We want to give away your money because we think it will enable us to collect more somewhere else in town.

 

buzz20140905Fresh Friday Buzzfrom Robert D. Flach, including word on the upcoming extender train wreck.

Paul Neiffer, Time Running Out on Late Portability Elections. If a taxpayer wants to carry over a deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exclusion, they have to file an election by December 31 for deaths in 2012 or 2013.  This filing requirement is, of course, stupid.

Kay Bell, Tax extenders delay could delay 2015 filing season

Jason Dinesen, Move Up the W-2 Filing Deadline to Combat ID Theft? “Moving up the W-2 deadline should be done and it might be a partial fix to the problem of identity theft … but it’s one piece of a solution, not a cure-all.”

Peter Reilly, Teresa Giudice’s Surprise Sentence And Possible Better Ways To Motivate Compliance. “What I found interesting in this piece by Kelly Phillips Erb was that Ms. Giudice was surprised when she was sentenced to some prison time.”  Me too.

TaxGrrrl has more guest posts: “Tisha,” Giving Up Citizenship Because Of Taxes; and Matthew Litz, The Inverted Talk About Tax Inversions — They’ve Got it All Upside-Down.

Keith Fogg, Unrecorded Conveyances and the Attachment of the Federal Tax Lien or Innocent Spouse Once Removed (Procedurally Taxing)

 

A map of per-return Iowa Earned Income Credit by Iowa School District, courtesy  Iowa Taxpayers Association and the Legislative Services Agency:

Iowa EITC map

Click image for full-size map.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 519

Andrew Lundeen, The Tax Code Isn’t Good at Fighting Inequality (Tax Policy Blog):

A recent article on Vox, How Sweden Fights Inequality—Without Soaking the Rich, notes that countries with the most success in fighting inequality do not have highly progressive tax systems, such as the United States’ tax code.

Inequality is just something our politicians use as a distraction from their own failure to improve the lot of the poor.

 

News from the Profession. Deloitte So Desperate to Populate Its LinkedIn Group They’ve Resorted to Bribery (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern). So where’s my bribe?

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/9/14: Tax-exempt now, tax-exempt forever! And: Real Housewife, real plea deal.

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

Accounting Today visitors, click here for the pile of clothes.

 

20120511-2Maybe somebody has tried this before, but as far as I know, this is a new bad idea.  Mr. Lundy, a Florida man, received a non-taxable disability settlement. The IRS didn’t dispute that the settlement was exempt. But then things went to another level.  Tax Court Judge Armen explains (my emphasis):

Rather, petitioners contend that they invested Mr. Lundy’s disability retirement income (which respondent does not challenge as nontaxable) in Mrs. Lundy’s sole proprietorship and that, as a consequence, income generated by that proprietorship is nontaxable. Or, in petitioners’ words: “[A]ny thing we funded with those funds were completely tax free also.”

interesting argument. Once you get a tax-free dollar, anything that grows from that dollar is tax-free forever. That would be awesome. You could invest in municipal bonds, and then anything you buy with the exempt interest would be tax-free too!  If only it worked that way…

Alas, it doesn’t.  Judge Armen elaborates:

In arguing as they do, petitioners fail to distinguish between an item that is excludable from income and the income that such an item may produce once it is invested. Many items are statutorily excluded from gross income. For example, gross income does not include the value of property acquired by gift or inheritance. Sec. 102(a). In contrast, income generated from property acquired by gift or inheritance does not come within such statutory exclusion.

Dang.

Cite: Lundby, T.C. Memo 2014-209.

 

Russ Fox, It’s Not As If Anything Is Happening Right After This…:

And there is. For reasons that only the bureaucrats at the IRS can fathom, every year over Columbus Day weekend the IRS shuts down their computer systems. This includes processing of returns and IRS e-services.

Well, it’s not like there’s a deadline coming up or anything. Oh, wait…

 

The “Real Housewives” casting department apparently didn’t test reading comprehension. TaxGrrrl reports: Real Housewives’ Teresa Giudice Claims She Didn’t Know That Jail Was A Possibility:

The sentence came as a shock to Teresa who claimed, in the interview, that her lawyer did not tell her jail time was a possibility under the plea. She said about the plea, “I didn’t fully understand it. I thought my lawyer was going to fight for me. I mean, that’s what lawyers do. I don’t know. That’s why you hire an attorney. You put it in their hands.”

This shows the importance of reading legal documents before you sign them. She signed a plea agreement with the language excerpted here:

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I’m not sure how you can sign something that says “the sentencing judge may impose any reasonable sentence up to and including the statutory maximum term” and feel safe. But then again, I’m not a real housewife.

 

harvestPaul Neiffer, Taxable is Taxable -Whether a 1099 or not! “The bottom line is any income received on the farm is taxable income whether there is a form 1099 or not.”

Jack Townsend, IRS Grants Automatic Treaty Relief for Canadian RRSPs and RRIFs

Kay Bell, Don’t overlook tax breaks in your rush to file by Oct. 15

 

Liz Malm, How Does Your State Score on Property Tax Administration? Probably Not Very Well (Tax Policy Blog). Iowa gets a C.

 

Cara Griffith, Is the Maryland Tax Court Hiding Its Opinions? (Tax Analysts Blog)

Here’s the problem: The Maryland Tax Court publishes a small fraction of its decisions online. It published a single decision in 2013 and has yet to publish a decision in 2014. The court has, of course, issued far more decisions; it simply chooses not to make them publicly available. One would presume, then, that the court retains all decisions and that if a taxpayer or practitioner wanted to review those decisions, a copy could be requested. But it is not that simple in Maryland. 
According to the court’s most recent retention schedule, decisions are to be permanently retained and periodically transferred to the Maryland State Archives. In reality, however, the tax court retains them for three years, but then the decisions are “shredded.” They are not sent to the archives.

Strange. If decisions aren’t public, they are of no use for taxpayers and practitioners trying to follow an often uncertain tax law. The shredding can also provide cover for favoritism or incompetence on the bench. Outrageous.

 

Howard Gleckman, Ryan and Lew Both Object to JCT Scoring of Future Tax Reform (TaxVox). “Like a couple of baseball managers working the umpires before a big World Series game, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), who wants to be the next chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, are looking to change the way Congress scores tax reform even before Congress begins a rewrite.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 519.

News from the Profession. Comcast: Let It Be Known That We Did Not Ask PwC to Fire That Guy (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/8/14: Koskinen warns of another hellish filing season. And: FATCA “tormenting” offshore taxpayers.

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
The Younkers Building ruins, morning, March 29, 2014.

The Younkers Building ruins, morning, March 29, 2014.

Here we go again. We know from bitter experience that Congress might cause tax season delays by passing an election-year “extenders” bill at the last minute. IRS Commissioner Koskinen gave official warning yesterday in a letter to the head of the Senate Finance Committee:

This uncertainty, if it persists into December or later, could force the IRS to postpone the opening of the 2015 filing season and delay the processing of tax refunds for millions of taxpayers. Moreover, if Congress enacts any policy changes to the existing extenders or adds new provisions, the IRS would have to reprogram systems and make processing changes, which would result in longer delays. If Congress waits until 2015 and then enacts retroactive tax law changes affecting 2014, the operational and compliance challenges would be even more severe — likely resulting in service disruptions, millions of taxpayers needing to file amended returns, and substantially delayed refunds.

It was just such retroactive changes that made the 2013 filing season so awful. Add the first go round for Obamacare penalty computations on tax returns, and we can look forward to an even more wonderful tax season in 2015.

I predict that we will get a last-minute passage of the Lazarus provisions that keep dying and being resurrected, sometime in December. Of course, it could drag into January again. I expect pretty much all of the expiring provisions, including bonus depreciation, to be included. But I never rule out Congress dropping the ball entirely.

Other coverage: Richard Rubin, IRS Warns of Tax-Filing Season Delays If Congress Stalls 

Joint Committee on Taxation, list of expiring provisions 2013-2024 (pdf).

 

20140815-2Taxpayer Advocate: FATCA “Tormenting” TaxpayersTaxpayer Advocate Nina Olson doesn’t seem to be a fan of FATCA. She spoke to the Financial Markets Association yesterday, and it sounds like she foresees bad things ($link, my emphasis.):

“This is a piece of legislation that is so big and so far-reaching, and [has] so many different moving pieces, and is rolling out in an incremental fashion . . . that you really won’t be able to know what its consequences are, intended or otherwise,” Olson said. “I don’t think we’ll know that for years. And by that point we’ll actually be a little too late to go, ‘Oops, my bad, we shouldn’t have done this,’ and then try to unwind it.”

Wait, this was passed by our duly elected representatives. What could possibly go wrong?

Olson also questioned the penalty regime underlying FATCA. The law provides for a $10,000 penalty for failing to disclose a foreign bank account, and up to $50,000 for failing to disclose after IRS notification, she said. For someone with a $51,000 unreported foreign bank account, that could be a $60,000 penalty.

IRS policy states that penalties should be objectively proportioned to the offense, Olson said. “Putting a $60,000 penalty on someone for failing to report a $51,000 account does not seem to me like a penalty that is proportioned objectively to the offense,” she said.

Olson observed that a similar disproportionality emerged in recent IRS offshore voluntary disclosure initiatives, when the highest proportionate fines fell on the smallest accounts. In 2009 the median unreported balance for the smallest accounts was $44,000, she said. The lowest-balance account holders paid an FBAR penalty almost six times the actual tax due, she said. Yet the top 10 percent, with a median unreported balance of $7 million, paid a penalty roughly half the amount of tax owed, she said.

This is actually in keeping with the longstanding IRS policy of shooting jaywalkers while slapping the real international tax evaders on the wrist.

How could our legislative supergeniuses have come up with such an insane and unfair system? Look at the name of the legislation — “FATCA.” For fat cats, get it? They passed it claiming to be going after fat cats, but drafted it in a way that beats up on everybody working or living abroad attempting to commit personal finance. But because they “intended” to go after fat cats, they absolve themselves of guilt for the collateral damage, the financial devastation of the innocent and unwary, the retirements ruined. And they smear the rare politician who points out the insanity of FATCA with accusations of being soft on tax evasion.

 

canada flagThere was some rare good news on the offshore tax compliance front yesterday when the IRS made it easier to get favored tax treatment on Canadian retirement accounts:  IRS Simplifies Procedures for Favorable Tax Treatment on Canadian Retirement Plans and Annual Reporting Requirements:

The change relates to a longstanding provision in the U.S.-Canada tax treaty that enables U.S. citizens and resident aliens to defer tax on income accruing in their RRSP or RRIF until it is distributed. Otherwise, U.S. tax is due each year on this income, even if it is not distributed.

In the past, however, taxpayers generally would get tax deferral by attaching Form 8891 to their return and choosing this tax treaty benefit, something many eligible taxpayers failed to do. Before today’s change, a primary way to correct this omission and retroactively obtain the treaty benefit was to request a private letter ruling from the IRS, a costly and often time-consuming process.

Many taxpayers also failed to comply with another requirement; namely that they file Form 8891 each year reporting details about each RRSP and RRIF, including contributions made, income earned and distributions made. This requirement applied regardless of whether they chose the special tax treatment. The IRS is eliminating Form 8891, and taxpayers are no longer required to file this form for any year, past or present.

But in case you think the risk of fiscal catastrophe related to Canadian accounts is past, the IRS warns:

The revenue procedure does not modify any other U.S. reporting requirements that may apply under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and section 6038D. See FinCEN Form 114 due by June 30 of each year, and Form 8938 attached to a U.S. income tax return for more information about the reporting requirements under the BSA and section 6038D.

In other words, you can still be assessed a penalty of 50% of the account balance for not filing an FBAR report on the accounts, or a $10,000 penalty for not disclosing a balance on Form 8938 foreign financial asset form. But if you get ruined by these penalties, consider it a sacrifice on the altar of “an improved set of global rules,” you fat cat.

Russ Fox has more: IRS Simplifies Reporting for RRSPs and RRIFs.

 

20141008-1William Perez, Missed the Tax Deadline? Here’s what penalties might apply

Donnie Johnson, Liz Malm, What Does Yesterday’s Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Appeal Denial Mean for Same-Sex Couple Tax Filers? (Tax Policy Blog). Maybe taxpayers in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin could learn from Jason Dinesen’s work here in Iowa.

Kay Bell, Gambling pays out a $38 billion bonus to tax collectors.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: IRA

KCCI, Pharmacist’s trial has been moved to next year. The owner of Bauder’s Pharmacy, facing tax and other charges arising out of alleged illegal sales of painkillers, is now set to go on trial in February.

 

Howard Gleckman, How Asset Building Tax Subsidies Miss Their Targets (TaxVox):

Nearly one-third of all federal tax expenditures–$384 billion in 2013 alone– is aimed at various forms of asset building, such as retirement savings, higher education, and home ownership. Yet, according to research by several of my Tax Policy Center and Urban Institute colleagues, these tax breaks do little to help low-and middle-income households build wealth.

Gee, you might conclude that maybe not every problem is a tax problem.

 

Two more TaxGrrrl Guest Posts: The IRS’s Uncharitable Treatment Of Charitable Contributions (Andrew VanSingel) and Roadways And Taxes (Charles Horn III).

David Brunori, Last Stand for Soda Taxes — Hopefully (Tax Analysts Blog). “If they can’t get folks in uber-liberal San Francisco and Berkeley to vote for soda taxes, they should just hang up their hats.”

Sebastian Johnson rounds up some more Tax Proposals on the Ballot this Election Season at Tax Justice Blog.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 517

Jeremy Scott, Will the EU Commission Crack Down on Irish Tax Deals? (Tax Analysts Blog).

 

News from the Profession. Some Big 4 Alumni Just Can’t Quit Their Old Firms. (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). No problem for me.

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/1/14: Another court says Obamacare tax credits limited to state exchanges. Also: the Iowa Tollway.

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

oklahoma logoState means state. A U.S. District Court in Oklahoma has joined the D.C. District in holding that the tax credit subsidies for health insurance are limited to the 14 states that have established a health insurance exchange under the ACA. Other states let the feds set up exchanges.  Michael Cannon reports:

Noting that Obama administration wants to issue Exchange subsidies in states with federal Exchanges even though the PPACA (quoting Halbig) “unambiguously restricts the [Exchange] subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges ‘established by the State,’” Judge White argues that the government’s interpretation (quoting the Tenth Circuit in Sundance Assocs., Inc., v. Reno) “leads us down a path toward Alice’s Wonderland, where up is down and down is up, and words mean anything.” As evidence, White quotes the concurring opinion in King: “‘[E]stablished by the State’ indeed means established by the state – except when it does not[.]”

The D.C. District decision was upheld by a D.C. Circuit appeals panel, but has been vacated pending a rehearing by the full panel of judges.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with the government, holding that the subsidies apply to all exchanges.  The issue is almost certainly going to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Both the ACA employer mandate and individual mandate penalties depend on how the decision comes out.  The employer mandate only applies if an employee gets a tax credit subsidy, so the Oklahoma rule would exempt employers in 36 states from the mandate. The tax credits are also key for determining whether insurance is “affordable” in computing individual penalties for not buying insurance; if the credits are unavailable, penalties would go away for millions of taxpayers in the 36 states using federal exchanges.

Related:

Whither Halbig and the ACA.

Obamacare tax credits get a reprieve.

Cite: Pruitt v Burwell. DC-OK, No. CIV-11-30-RAW

Peter Reilly, Court Rules Oklahoma ObamaCare Not OK

 

 

20120703-2Many economists say highway tolls are a sound way to finance road improvements. While Iowa has no official tollways, our state troopers are taking matters into their own hands, according to a report in today’s Des Moines Register:

 Two California poker players are refusing to fold in a legal battle against the state, claiming Iowa State Patrol troopers unlawfully seized their $100,020 gambling bankroll.

Troopers with the State Patrol’s criminal interdiction team — which works to catch drug traffickers and other criminals along interstates — used unfair procedures that target out-of-state drivers and cast suspicion on nonthreatening motorists, according to a lawsuit filed this week in federal district court on behalf of professional gamblers William “Bart” Davis and John Newmer­zhycky.

The men were traveling in a rented car from a poker event in Illinois with their bankroll.  They were pulled over on a pretext of not signalling a lane change — a pretext seemingly debunked by the patrol car dash cam recording — and ended up having their $100,000 seized.  They were also charged with having “drug paraphernalia.”

The state has returned $90,000, but the state has kept $7 million in seized funds from other out-of-state motorists, often without bothering to file charges.  A state spokesman defends the indefensible practice, which hits hardest people who are least likely to be able to afford to take the state to court, by saying it hurts criminals. You could probably catch some criminals and raise some cash by stopping and frisking everyone leaving the Harkin Steak Fry too, but that would hardly justify doing so.

Dallas County Sheriff took the practice a little too far; he was convicted of stashing seized funds in his garage (in a case where no charges were filed against the motorists whose cash was confiscated). Even when the troopers don’t help themselves to the cash, civil forfeiture without conviction of a crime is a corrupt and lawless practice that is overdue for reform.

Related: Steven Dunn, Nothing Civil About Asset Forfeiture

Update: From Jacob Sullum (Reason.com), Iowa Troopers Steal $100,000 in Poker Winnings From Two Players Driving Through the State

 

20121022-1William Perez, What You Need to Know About the Penalty for Not Having Health Insurance

TaxGrrrl continues her excellent “back to school” series with Back To School 2014: Educational Assistance Benefits

Kay Bell, Tax evasion charges are never fashionable. But tax cheating never seems to go out of style.

Jason Dinesen, Letting My Hair Grow Back: DIY is Not Always Better. Doing your own hair can be a bad idea; this also often applies to tax returns.

Or expatriations: There is no DIY green card abandonment (Phil Hodgen). 

 

Howard Gleckman, The Public Wants Clear Rules About Campaign Giving Through Tax-Exempts. Is It Possible? Yes, just the other day waiting in line at Hy-Vee, I heard a lady flipping through the People magazine say “Yes, they really need to do something about 501(c)(4) abuse.” She then apparated without even replacing the magazine.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 510

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 9/30: The Gas Tax Cometh? (Tax Justice Blog). Better than taking cash from random travelers, anyway.

Joseph Henchman, State Inflation-Indexing of Gasoline Taxes

News from the Profession. Prospective Intern Wants to Know if Firm Will Let Him Go on Vacation During Internship (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/26/14: Fact-check Fail Edition. And: it’s Buzz day!

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


20121006-1During the continuing brutal assault on reason perpetrated by campaign ads in election season, it would be nice if the press would do competent work to identify misleading and stupid claims by candidates.

Alas.

Erin Jordan at Cedar Rapids’ TheGazette.com took a stab at it in her “fact check” of an ad by Pat Murphy, running in Iowa’s 1st congressional district:

“Blum cheated his workers out of overtime.”

“He moved his business to dodge Iowa taxes.”

“He laid off over 70 workers”

Source of Claim: Iowa Sen. Pat Murphy, a Dubuque Democrat running for U.S. House of Representatives

“Blum” is Rod Blum, a former executive at Eagle Point Software, and Mr. Murphy’s opponent.  This being a tax blog, let’s look at the tax claim discussion (my emphasis):

Claim 2: “Moved his business to dodge Iowa taxes”

Originally incorporated in Iowa in 1983, Eagle Point, under Blum’s leadership, reincorporated in Delaware in 1995, according to SEC filings. The company’s physical location and all employees remained in Dubuque.

Many U.S. companies — including more than half of those in the Fortune 500 — have their legal home in Delaware for beneficial tax laws and courts.

University of Iowa College of Law professor Andy Grewal, who specializes in tax law, said a company’s Delaware presence — even if it’s just a P.O. Box — may charge royalties on income gained in other states. Companies deduct those royalties from the income taxes they are required to pay in, say, Iowa, while Delaware doesn’t tax the royalties.

From the “conclusion”:

Under Blum, Eagle Point reincorporated in Delaware, generally viewed as having more business-friendly tax laws and courts. In these types of cases, the home state can lose out on corporate income taxes…

The claims in Murphy’s ad are mostly true.

20131029-3The “fact checker” has no basis for that statement, at least with the tax information in her story. The idea that companies incorporate in Delaware primarily for tax reasons is flat wrong. Delaware is preferred largely for its well-developed business-friendly corporate law.

While Delaware is tax-friendly, the royalty maneuver casually referred to in the story only works if an intellectual property corporation has been set up in Delaware to own the IP; the IP company collects the royalties in Delaware, and the operating company deducts the payments to lower its income in high-tax states.  There appears to have been no such entity. 

The 1999 10-K filing with financial statements for Eagle Point Software would detail related parties and subsidiaries included in the financial statements. Any Delaware IP subsidiary would be included in the consolidated financial information, because while investors like it when their companies reduce state taxes, they don’t like it if it means real cash leaves the company covered by the financial statements.

Eagle Point’s only subsidiary included in the financials is a Wisconsin Corporation, ECOM Associates. As Wisconsin is a high-tax state, nobody would set up an IP holding company there.

The only “related party transaction” shown in the statements is its lease for its facilities. There is no mention of any intellectual property lease.

And there almost certainly would have been no need for Eagle Point Software to go through the trouble.  Corporations apportion their income to Iowa based on the destination of the sale.  As a public company, we can assume over 90% of their sales were to non-Iowa customers.  That means almost all of its income would not be taxed in Iowa to begin with.  And that would have been just as true if the company were incorporated in Iowa, rather than Delaware.

So, apparently without looking at publicly available information on Eagle Point, and with only a general statement by a law-school prof claiming no direct knowledge of the transaction, the Gazette’s “fact checker” called the assertion that the company incorporated in Delaware to dodge Iowa taxes “mostly true.” In fact, there appears to be no royalty agreement to funnel income out of Iowa. And, as most of Eagle Point Software’s sales would have been to non-Iowa customers, there would be little state tax to reduce in the first place.

Conclusion: with respect to the tax claims evaluated by Thegazette.com, I rate their fact-checking effort worthless. I rate the claim by Pat Murphy that Eagle Point incorporated in Delaware to “dodge Iowa taxes” false.

 

buzz20140905It’s Friday, so it’s Buzz Day! Go see Robert D. Flach for the fresh Buzz, including (of course) his pungent thoughts on the Jersey Shore celebrity who is facing tax charges.

TaxGrrrl brings word of ‘Staggering’ Sanctions Slapped On Wyly Brothers In Offshore Case. $190 million, plus interest, will get anyone’s attention.

 

 

Christopher Bergin, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds (Tax Analysts Blog):

This week the Treasury Department got into the act, putting corporate America on notice that it will soon issue regulations that will take “targeted action to reduce the tax benefits of – and when possible, stop – corporate tax inversions.” Treasury said it “will continue to review a broad range of authorities for further anti-inversion measures as part of our continued work to close loopholes that allow some taxpayers to avoid paying their fair share.”

I think Treasury will end up regretting this announcement. First, two minor points: So-called loopholes are created by elected officials and include such things as the ability to deduct the interest you pay on the mortgage you got to buy that house you live in. And it’s up to Congress to decide on “fair shares.” The Treasury Department doesn’t get to make law, which is why when it comes to corporate inversions it will ultimately do little more than make a lot of noise and create an initial annoyance.

The point is to score some election season points; if it causes problems down the road, well, they’ll be somebody else’s.

 

Joshua McCaherty, California Triples Film Tax Credit. (Tax Policy Blog)  Because Hollywood needs taxpayer funding.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 505

 

Now he’s probably taken a big step towards fulfilling that vow. Mississippi surgeon found guilty of tax evasion after claiming “vow of poverty”

 

News from the Profession. Revealed: The tax accountant who runs brothel from Belfast terrace (Belfast Telegraph).  Think of the cross-selling opportunities! No word on whether that’s where he gets his extra help for busy season.

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/24/14: The $3,000+ price tag of Iowa’s special tax breaks. And: Tea Parties in the strangest places.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1Do special favors for special friends in the Iowa income tax cost Iowa families $3,000? A Buena Vista University professor seems to think so.  Paul Brennan reports that Jeremy Horpedahl, an economist at BV, has determined that removing all “tax privileges” in Nebraska would save the average Nebraska family that much, and that it might be more in Iowa:

Although he hasn’t yet done a thorough analysis Iowa’s tax codes, Horpedahl said eliminating tax privileges would result in at least as great as savings.

“Actually, it would probably be a little higher, because Iowa has more privileges built into its tax code,” Horpedahl said.

Sadly, Mr. Horpedahl said he studied Nebraska’s system because they are actually considering serious tax reform, unlike Iowa.  What does he mean by “privileges?”

“I define a tax privilege as a tax break or exemption that benefits a specific type of industry or an individual taking a certain type of action,” Horpedahl explained.

“The standard deduction on income tax isn’t a privilege, because that’s available to everyone. But a tax break that benefits just the construction industry is. For an individual, that certain goods or services they buy are exempt from sales tax is a privilege,” he said.

Mr. Horpedahl sounds a theme familiar to Tax Update readers:

Horpedahl pointed out that Iowa’s businesses would  also benefit from the elimination of tax privileges.

“Iowa has a very high corporate tax rate — 12 percent — so to be attractive to businesses, the state has to offer them a way of avoiding it,” Horpedahl said.

“But not every business can avoid it. So what we end up doing is rewarding lobbying. Those who are successful in lobbying for privileges get lower taxes. And that implicitly punishes those who don’t lobby, because they end up paying higher rates.”

Also:

“Politicians love to hand out these privileges,” Horpedahl said. “It allows them to say, ‘‘I’m doing something, I’m bringing businesses to the state, I’m creating jobs.’”

“They never mention that the tax rate has to be kept high to pay for all these privileges. And most people don’t realize that research has shown that these sweetheart deals very rarely pass the cost-benefit analysis test, so there’s very little push back.”

Precisely. They take your money to lure and subsidize your competitors, and then they tell you that it is good for you. There is a solution out there, waiting for a bold politician to run with it: The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.

Related:

IF TRUTH IN ADVERTISING APPLIED TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCIES

Taking your wife’s purse to buy drinks for the girls

 

 

20140521-1More dangerous and inflammatory anti-tax rhetoric. A political group of Americans abroad surveyed its members and discovered that they think the FATCA crackdown on offshore financial activity is making life tough for innocent non-billionaire expats, reports Laura Saunders of the Wall Street Journal:

The survey… found that nearly one in six respondents had had a financial account closed by a bank or brokerage house. More than two-thirds of the checking accounts that were closed had a balance of less than $10,000. Nearly 60% of the closed investment accounts had a value of less than $50,000. Other people were unable to open accounts.

Respondents also reported Fatca-related difficulties with non-U.S. spouses and partners. More than one-fifth said they have separated or are considering separating financial accounts held jointly with their partner.

Added one person, “Fatca has caused enormous friction in my marriage. My non-U.S.spouse is refusing to let the U.S. government know about his salary/earnings/savings… and moving to separate bank accounts would leave me very vulnerable as I’m an unemployed, stay-at-home mother.”

Well, of course you’d expect this sort of anti-tax rhetoric from some Tea Party outfit. I wonder if Democrats Abroad, who ran the survey, will have its tax exemption questioned now. But if they expect Democrats in Congress to ease their plight, good luck.

 

William Perez, How Do You Report Alimony on Your Tax Return?

Peter Reilly, For Joint Filing Status You Have To File.  “You’re not supposed to do that if you are actually married though.”

TaxGrrrl, Back To School 2014: Internships. ” If there’s no income to report, that makes the income piece easy.”

Robert D. Flach, IRS ANNOUNCES NEW PER DIEM RATES FOR BUSINESS TRAVEL

Keith Fogg, Extracting Yourself from a Tax Court Case (Procedurally Taxing)

 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 503,  The day 503 of the so-called “so-called scandal” includes a link to this from Jason Keisling and Emily Elkins: Lois Lerner Claims the IRS Did Nothing Wrong. The Data Say Otherwise, with this fine chart:

targetingstatschart

 


Alan Cole, Reducing Compliance Costs for Small Businesses (Tax Policy Blog):

A good principle in tax policy – as well as policy in general – is to let the little things go. This principle has taken form in a legal maxim, de minimis non curat lex, Latin for “the law does not concern itself with trifles.” Currently, any business expected to owe at least $1,000 in tax for the year must file quarterly. $1,000 is a trifling amount to the IRS, one that need not be split into installment payments.

The Peters bill would allow very new businesses, or businesses with less than $1 million in total revenues, to file their taxes only once yearly – an arrangement that seems more reasonable.

Good thinking.

 

Howard Gleckman, Treasury’s New Rules May Slow, But Won’t Stop Corporate Tax Inversions (TaxVox). “Now the dealmakers have the roadmap they need to keep their inversions Kosher. And with that guidance, it is likely that lawyers will attempt to restructure many transactions to satisfy the new rules.”

 

News from the Profession. Why Your Firm Needs a Bring Your Dog to Work Policy (Leona May, Going Concern).  Sounds like animal cruelty to me.

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/19/14: Brutal Assault on Reason Season Edition. Arrggh!

Friday, September 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20121006-1Brutal Assault on Reason Season is underway. Elections depress me. Arnold Kling sums up my feelings:

To me, political campaigns are not sacred events, to be eagerly anticipated and avidly followed. They are brutal assaults on reason. I look forward to election season about as much as a gulf coast resident looks forward to hurricane season.

Very few of us are in a position to have more than intuitions on the great issues of the day. Rarely are voters health-care economists, trade experts, military or foreign policy specialists, etc., and most of us have little basis to tell when the politicians are lying about these issues (though that is a good default assumption). Doing taxes for a living, though, I feel competent to identify bogus tax claims by politicians. William McBride does so in a Tax Policy Blog Post,  U.S. Corporate Tax Revenue is Low Because High Taxes Have Shrunk the Corporate Sector.

He quotes the U.S. Senate’s only unabashed socialist, Bernie Sanders:

“Want to better understand why we have a federal deficit? In 1952, the corporate income tax accounted for 33 percent of all federal tax revenue. Today, despite record-breaking profits, corporate taxes bring in less than 9 percent. It’s time for real tax reform.”

There is a truly brutal assault on reason, and Mr. McBride fights back:

The share of U.S. business profits attributable to pass-through businesses has grown dramatically as well, as they now represent more than 60 percent of all U.S. business profits. The second chart below shows that C corporation profits, while extremely volatile, have generally trended downward in recent decades, while the profits of S corporations and partnerships have trended upwards. In the 1960s and 1970s, C corporation profits were about 8 percent of GDP, while partnership profits were about 1 percent and S corporation profits were virtually nil. Now C corporation profits hover around 4 percent of GDP (4.7 percent in 2011), while partnership profits are almost at the same level (3.7 percent in 2011) and S corporation profits are not far behind (2.4 percent in 2011). Partnership and S corporation profits are growing such that they will each exceed C corporation profits in the near future if not already. When commentators claim that “corporate profits are at an all-time high”, they are referring to Bureau of Economic Analysis data that combines C corporations and pass-through businesses, whether they know it or not.

In sum, the Senator’s statement is flat out false. It is completely misleading to claim that corporate profits are up while corporate tax revenues are down, essentially implying there is some mischief going on via “loopholes”, etc. The truth is corporate tax revenue has been falling for decades because the corporate sector has been shrinking, and not just by corporate inversions. The most likely culprit is our extremely uncompetitive corporate tax regime.

In other words, high rates are driving businesses out of the corporate form and to pass-throughs of one sort or another.

20140919-1

As we head into election season, expect the brutal assaults to continue. Here are a few phrases commonly seen in assaults on reason when taxes are involved, enabling you to spot them even if you don’t know a 1040 from a hole in the ground:

“Politician X voted for tax breaks to ship jobs overseas.”

“This tax cut will pay for itself.”

“I believe in free markets, but tax credit X is needed to level the playing field.”

“I don’t want to punish success; I want X to pay his fair share.”

“This tax credit created X jobs”

I know I’m missing many. If you point out more in the comments, I’ll be happy to talk about them.

 

It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, so Kay Bell comes through with Avast, me hearties! The IRS wants its cut of your illegal income, be it pirated or otherwise criminally obtained.

 

Peter Reilly, Professional C Corp Denied Deduction For Uncashed Salary Check To Owner.  He covers a story I covered earlier this week where a professional corporation deducted a year-end bonus “paid” through an NSF check that was “loaned” back to the corporation.  His take: “I’m not sure that the Tax Court was right to deny any of  deduction, but I really question whether the whole deduction should be denied.”

 

TaxGrrrl, Back To School 2014: Deducting Student Loan Interest (Even If You Don’t Pay It)

20140826-1Robert D. Flach has fresh Friday Buzz, including links on the cost of tax compliance and “7 deadly tax sins.”

William Perez, When are State Refunds Taxed on Your Federal Return?

Jason Dinesen, IRS Says Online Sorority Is Not Tax Exempt. Social media apparently isn’t social enough for them.

Jim Maule, An Epidemic of Tax Ignorance. He covers one of my pet peeves — people who use the term “the IRS code” for the Internal Revenue Code. It’s Congress that came up with that thing, not the IRS.

Russ Fox, Hyatt Decision a Win for FTB as Far as Damages, but Decision Upheld that FTB Committed Fraud. FTB is the California Franchise Tax Board. Tax authorities should get in trouble for fraud to the same extent they hold taxpayers responsible for fraud.

 

A. Levar Taylor, What Constitutes An Attempt To Evade Or Defeat Taxes For Purposes Of Section 523(a)(1)(C) Of The Bankruptcy Code: The Ninth Circuit Parts Company With Other Circuits (Part 1) and (Part 2).

 

20140801-2Joseph Thorndike, Should We Tax Away Huge Fortunes? (Tax Analysts Blog). “In other words, if you like the estate tax, talk more about revenue and less about dynasties.”

Richard Philips, House GOP Bill Combines Worst Tax Break Ideas of 2014 for Half-a-Trillion Dollar Giveaway. (Tax Justice Blog). When they know that the Senate will ignore whatever they do, it’s easy to accommodate anyone lobbying for a tax break.

Renu Zaretsky, Will Tax Reform See Light at the End of the Next Tunnel? This TaxVox headline roundup covers Tax Reform, Treasury’s plans on inversions, and the continuing resolution passed before the congresscritters left D.C. to assault reason some more.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 498

Me, IRS issues Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for October 2014

News from the Profession. Grant Thornton Has a Fight Song and It’s As Awful As You Might Expect (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/16/14: U.S. taxes are worse than the Cubs. And: the last month of extension season has begun!

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Now to finish off the extended 1040s.  The extension season for business returns ended yesterday. Now it’s time to mop up the remaining extended individual returns — the “GDEs,” as Robert D. Flach calls them.

 

CubsIf the U.S. tax system were a baseball team, it would be worse than the Cubs. That’s the conclusion I draw from the Tax Foundation’s first International Tax Competitiveness Index released yesterday. The U.S. ranked 32nd out of the 34 rated countries, ahead of only Portugal and France. At 66-84 this morning, the Cubs are ahead of four other teams out of the 30 in the major leagues. Small but mighty Estonia is number 1 (in the Index, not in baseball).

Some “key findings” of the study:

The ITCI finds that Estonia has the most competitive tax system in the OECD. Estonia has a relatively low corporate tax rate at 21 percent, no double taxation on dividend income, a nearly flat 21 percent income tax rate, and a property tax that taxes only land (not buildings and structures).

France has the least competitive tax system in the OECD. It has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the OECD at 34.4 percent, high property taxes that include an annual wealth tax, and high, progressive individual taxes that also apply to capital gains and dividend income.

The ITCI finds that the United States has the 32nd most competitive tax system out of the 34 OECD member countries.

The largest factors behind the United States’ score are that the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world and that it is one of the six remaining countries in the OECD with a worldwide system of taxation.

The United States also scores poorly on property taxes due to its estate tax and poorly structured state and local property taxes

Other pitfalls for the United States are its individual taxes with a high top marginal tax rate and the double taxation of capital gains and dividend income.

20140916-1Unlike the Cubs, the U.S. tax system shows little hope for improvement. What changes we’ve seen recently, or are likely to see in the coming year, only make things worse. The implementation of FATCA doubles down on the committment to worldwide taxation, while putting U.S. taxpayers at a disadvantage abroad.  The inversion frenzy is likely to promote legislation to place even more burdens on U.S.-based businesses.  This legislation responds to the failures of worldwide taxation by doing it harder. In baseball terms, it’s the opposite of Moneyball.

 

TaxGrrrl has more with U.S. Ranks Near The Bottom For Tax Competitiveness: We’re #32! “The United States is one of just six OECD countries that imposes a global tax on corporations meaning that its reach extends beyond its own border.”

Martin Sullivan, REIT Conversions: Good for Wall Street. Not Good for America. (Tax Analysts Blog). REITs are a corporate form that allows some real estate income to be taxed only once. They are a do-it-yourself response to a dysfunctional corporation income tax. It would be good for America if all corporations could move to something more like the REIT model, with a deduction for dividends paid to eliminate the multiplication of tax on corporate income.

 

 

20120511-2Leslie Book, Tax Court Finds Reliance On Advisor In Messy Small Business Setting (Procedurally Taxing), addressing a case we discussed here.  “VisionMonitor is a useful case for practitioners seeking a reliance defense even when advice does not come in the way of a formal opinion, and the advice and corporate formalities reflect less than perfect attention to detail. In other words, this case is representative of the way many small businesses operate.”

Peter Reilly, Grandfather Beats IRS In Tax Court Without Lawyer. “They mystery to me is why when the IRS decided to drop the penalty, they did not drop the case entirely, since, by dropping the penalty, they were indicating that they did not think Mr. Roberts was lying and, given that, it’s pretty clear that he wins.”

Jack Townsend, More on the Warner Sentencing Appeal. Did the Beanie Baby Billionaire get off easy?

 

Jim Maule discusses The Persistence and Danger of Tax and Other Ignorance. It’s fascinating how a man who accurately notes the prevalence of ignorance among voters still thinks policy concocted by politicians elected by these same ignorant voters is better than private solutions .

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 495. I like this point: Why Focus on Ray Rice Instead of Lois Lerner? The relative attention to Rice and Lerner is roughly inverse to their relative importance.

 

np2102904Norton Francis, How Michigan Blocked a $1 Billion Tax Windfall for Corporations (TaxVox). “The case involved the way multistate corporations calculated their state income tax liability from 2008 to 2010. The trouble for Michigan is that, during this time, they had two ways to apportion state income on the books: one, which they thought no longer applied, based on a three-factor formula—the shares of a firm’s property, payroll, and sales present in the state—and the other based only on sales in the state.”

Matt Gardner, New S&P Report Helps Make the Case for Progressive State Taxes (Tax Justice Blog). I link, but I sure don’t endorse.  Using high individual tax rates at the federal level to redistribute income is futile and unwise, but at least it’s plausible. Using state income taxes for that purpose is just absurd.

 

News from the Profession. We Can’t Help But Wonder if This EY Conference Room Cactus Is Trying to Say Something (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

He lost the job after he told his client to get a haircut.  Former Sampson consultant guilty of fraud, conspiracy*

*For those of you who will point out that the guy in the Bible is named “Samson,” just you be quiet.

 

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Tax roundup, 8/26/14: Oh, that backup file. You can’t have that one. And lots more!

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

perryheadOh, that email backup?  From Today’s TaxProf IRA scandal roundup, The IRS Scandal, Day 474, comes this dazer:

Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told Judicial Watch on Friday that Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe.  The Obama administration attorneys said that this back-up system would be too onerous to search. 

Tremendous.  After telling the court that there just was no way on earth those emails survived, now they say there is a backup, but it’s just too much of a hassle for them to use it to comply with the court’s orders.  I find it hard to imagine the brashest private-sector lawyer saying something like that, at least more than once.

But wait, there’s more:

The IRS filing in federal Judge Emmet Sullivan’s court reveals shocking new information. The IRS destroyed Lerner’s Blackberry AFTER it knew her computer had crashed and after a Congressional inquiry was well underway. As an IRS official declared under the penalty of perjury, the destroyed Blackberry would have contained the same emails (both sent and received) as Lois Lerner’s hard drive. 

Yet Commissioner Koskinen says we should just stop bugging him about this silly abuse of power stuff and give him money instead.  Because we can trust the IRS.

Related: TaxGrrrl, Judicial Watch Claims IRS Attorneys Admit Lois Lerner’s ‘Missing’ Emails Exist;  Russ Fox, Remember Those Missing IRS Emails? They Appear to Exist….

 

Peter Reilly, Home Sweet RV Does Not Always Produce Best Tax Result.  Peter discusses the recreational vehicle tax Catch-22 we noted recently.

harvestPaul Neiffer, How to Sell Your Land and Pay No Tax – MAYBE.  It involves stretching out the payments and keeping your other income down.

Jason Dinesen, More Commentary About Year-Round Proactive Services to Clients.  “Those of us who are good professionals rarely demand the respect we have earned. And then we wonder why clients seemingly don’t respect us, don’t value us, don’t listen to our advice, or jump ship the moment you breathe about a rate increase.”

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Computing Earnings and Profits.  “The primary purpose for computing E&P is to determine whether a distribution represents a taxable dividend, a nontaxable return of shareholder capital, or capital gain to the recipient shareholders.”

 

Leslie Book, A Stolen Check, Mistaken Identity and Prisoners (Procedurally Taxing):

This post considers Hill v US, a case from the Court of Federal Claims involving a prisoner named Mark Hill whose $1182 tax refund was stolen and cashed by another prisoner with the same name after the prison system mistakenly delivered an IRS letter relating to the missing refund check to the wrong Mark Hill. With time on his hands, but no check, the right Mark Hill sought justice in the form of a new check. After getting the runaround from the IRS, the right Mark Hill sued the US to force it to issue a new refund check. For good measure, he also wanted interest and punitive damages.

Turns out the IRS doesn’t get any more helpful if you are behind bars.

 

20140826-1Robert D. Flach serves your fresh Tuesday Buzz, with links about smart giving, educational savings options, and what you can earn working tax season at a national return prep franchise.

That’s a long time.  Cobb County man sentenced to 20 years for ID theft, tax fraud (ajc.com).  The guy is also supposed to pay back $5 million he stole.  Good luck on that.  Sure, the guy should go away for a long time, but the real crime is that the IRS let him steal that much from the taxpayers.

Jeremy Scott, Fracking Taxes Help States Now, but What About the Future?  (Tax Analysts Blog)  “North Dakota has been transformed by its rapidly growing energy sector, but it should be cautious about staking too much of its fiscal future on continually increasing severance taxes.”

 

Andrew Lundeen, Solutions on Inversions and Corporate Tax Reform (Tax Policy Blog).

Steve Warnhoff, Will Congress Let Burger King’s Shareholders Have It Their Way?  (Tax Justice Blog).  If it means we get Tim Horton’s donuts, I’m all for the proposed merger.

 

Renu Zaretsky,  Tax Rates: Growth, Competition, and Debt.  The TaxVox headline roundup ponders the effects of individual rate cuts, the badness of corporate rates in the U.S., and film credits in North Carolina, among other things.

lizard20140826Have a nice day.  1.2 Billion Reasons to Worry: Security firm reports Russian crime ring compromised 1.2 billion usernames and passwords (John Lande, Iowa Banking Law Blog)

News from the Profession.  Extra-Marital Affairs Site Claims Accountants are Kings of Romance Because Their Jobs are Boring (Adrienne GonzalezGoing Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/20/14: Keeping time reports isn’t just for CPAs anymore.

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Track your hours now, not when you get audited.  Doing time reports is no fun.  If I had a nickel for every CPA who left public accounting and told me how fun it is to not do time reports, I’d have multiple nickels.

Unfortunately, the tax law might make time sheets necessary for people who don’t charge by the hour.  The passive loss rules disallow losses if you don’t spend enough time on a loss activity to “materially participate.”  Obamacare uses the same rules to impose a 3.8% “Net Investment Income Tax” on “passive” income.

It’s up to the taxpayer to prove they spent enough time to “materially participate,” as a Mr. Graham from Arkansas learned yesterday in Tax Court.

The taxpayer wanted to convince Judge Nega that he met the tax law’s stiff tests to be a “real estate professional,” enabling him to deduct real estate rental losses.  If you are not a “professional,” these losses are automatically passive, and therefore deferred until there is passive income.  To be a real estate professional, the taxpayer has to both:

– Work at least 750 hours in real estate trades or businesses, and

– performs more than one-half of all personal services during the year in real property trades or businesses in which the taxpayer materially participates.

That’s a high bar to clear for a taxpayer with a day job.  Mr. Graham gave it a good try, providing a judge with spreadsheets to show that he did that work.  The judge remained unconvinced:

Mr. Graham did not keep a contemporaneous log or appointment calendar tracking his real estate services. His spreadsheets were created later, apparently in connection with the IRS audit. 

There were other problems:

Furthermore, the entries on the spreadsheets were improbable in that they were excessive, unusually duplicative, and counterfactual in some instances. As all petitioners’ rental properties were single-family homes, reporting 7 hours to install locks or 30 hours to place mulch on a single property (amongst other suspect entries) are overstatements at best. Performing maintenance for a tenant that did not pay rent for an entire year with no record of “past due rent” or any attempt to collect rent (as Mr. Graham would note on entries for other rental properties) seems dubious.

The judge ruled that the taxpayer failed to meet the tests.  Worse, the court upheld a 20% penalty: “We conclude that the exaggerated entries in petitioners’ spreadsheets negate their good faith in claiming deductions for rental real estate losses against their earned income.”

The Moral?  Maintain your time records now.  When the IRS comes calling, it’s too late.  And play it straight; the Tax Court didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

Cite: Graham, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-79. 

 

20130426-1Russ Fox, FBAR Filing Follies:

Joe Kristan reported last week that you cannot use Adobe Acrobat to file the FBAR; you must use Adobe Reader. In fact, if you have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer and use Adobe Reader it won’t work either. Well, I have some mild good news about this.

Mild is right.

 

Peter Reilly, Robert Redford’s New York Tax Trouble Provides Lessons For Planners.  “You dodge non-resident state taxes, either on purpose or by accident, at the peril of missing out on a credit against the tax of your home state.”

Jason Dinesen, S-Corporation Compensation Revisited.  “But what should the salary be? And what if the year has ended and the W-2 deadlines have passed, but the corporate tax return still needs filed?”

Keith Fogg, Postponing Assessment and Collection of the IRC 6672 Liability (Procedurally Taxing).  Issues on the “trust fund” penalty imposed for not remitting withholding.

TaxGrrrl, Flipping Through History: Online Retailers Owe Popularity And Tax Treatment To Mail Order Catalogs:

Online shopping is again changing the way that we look at nexus but for now, more or less the same kinds of principles that ruled in the day of mail order catalogs are still good law. The law remains settled that in states that impose a sales tax, retailers that have established nexus must charge sales tax to customers in that state.

And just like in the old days, states want to extend their reach no matter how flimsy the nexus.

20140729-1Lyman Stone, New Upshot Tool Provides Historical Look at Migration (Tax Policy Blog):

Prominent changes in the data suggest that taxes may have a role in affecting migration, though certainly taxes are just one of many important variables, and probably not even the biggest factor. As always, talking about migration isn’t simple: migration data is challenging to measure and represent, and even more difficult to interpret.

I will be seeing Mr. Stone speak at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry Tax Committee this morning.  I’m geeking out already.

 

Jim Maule, “Give Us a Tax Break and We’ll Do Nice Things.” Not.  It seems the subsidized Yankees parking garages don’t stop with picking taxpayer pockets.

Kay Bell, Is it time for territorial taxation of businesses and individuals?  “Territorial taxation advocates hope that long local journey has at least now started.”

 

Howard Gleckman, Is Treasury About to Curb Tax Inversions on Its Own? (TaxVox).  If the law is whatever the current administration says it is, I look forward to the $20 million estate tax exclusion next time the GOP takes power.

Daniel Shaviro, The Obama Administration’s move towards greater unilateral executive action.  “And the conclusion might either be that one should tread a bit lightly after all, or that we are in big trouble whether one side unilaterally does so or not, given the accelerating breakdown of norms that, as Chait notes, are no less crucial than our express constitutional and legal structure to ‘secur[ing] our republic.'”

20130422-2The best and the brightest in action.  TIGTA: ObamaCare Medical Device Tax Is Raising 25% Less Revenue Than Expected, IRS Administration of Tax Is Rife With Errors (TaxProf)

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 468

 

News from the Profession.  AICPA Celebrates 400,000th Member Just Because (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

I can verify that a Kindle absorbs less coffee than paper.  Do readers absorb less from a Kindle than from paper? (Tyler Cowen)

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/19/14: Will people just quit paying taxes? And how far does your $100 go in Iowa?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
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.

Some folks are worried that we’ll all suddenly stop paying taxes, according to a Tax Analysts story today (subscriber link only):

Richard Lavoie of the University of Akron School of Law, who studies tax ethics, says voluntary compliance rates have remained relatively high because paying taxes is an accepted social norm. Withholding plays a large role in compliance, but it does not explain everything, according to Lavoie.

Lavoie said the recent controversies surrounding the IRS, such as accusations that the agency targeted conservative groups for political reasons, and other factors such as worsening income inequality have all eroded the public’s trust in a fair tax system. If those pressures continue, it could cause taxpayer attitudes to change virtually overnight, he said. “At some point that all adds up, and what was a stable norm that we collect 83 or so percent of taxes voluntarily could flip,” he said.

I think Mr. Lavoie is identifying things he doesn’t like, such as “income inequality” and the Tea Parties, and dreaming up dreadful consequences.  For example, “Lavoie argued in his 2012 paper that antitax rhetoric such as that espoused by the Tea Party also has the potential to unbalance the tax system.”

Mr Lavoie talks about “accusations” of IRS malfeasance and “anti-tax rhetoric” as the dangers — not the well-documented abuses themselves, or the IRS stonewalling of investigations into the abuses, or the former Commissioner’s dishonest response to the scandal, or the current Commissioner’s intransigence, or the President’s “joke” about auditing his opponents.  These damage faith in the IRS much more than anything the Tea Party could come up with.

The article finds some people who get closer to identifying the real problem:

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson in recent remarks also warned that the habit of voluntary compliance may be at risk. Like Koskinen, she cited the IRS’s budget situation, saying that if Congress continues to restrict the agency’s budget, it may lead to a downward spiral in voluntary compliance rates.

While the poor customer service and declining enforcement are related to funding, funding still isn’t the real problem.  The IRS budget would be just fine if the IRS were treated as just a revenue agency.  Instead Congress has made the tax system into the Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  The IRS has a portfolio that ranges from industrial policy to education to retirement security to, famously, health care.  The IRS policy roles can dwarf those of agencies with nominal responsibility for policy areas.  Giving so many jobs to the IRS necessarily makes it less capable of doing its real job, tax collection.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign that anybody is going to take away the agency’s many non-revenue tasks.  And a GOP Congress isn’t about to increase funding for the IRS as long as it seems unapologetic about going after groups opposed to the administration.  To the extent IRS intransigence causes a compliance crash, the agency has only itself to blame.

 

Alan Cole, Lyman Stone, Richard Borean, The Real Value of $100 in Each State (Tax Policy Blog):

 

20140819-1

 

This map makes Iowa look pretty good.  When you consider average incomes compared to the cost of living, Iowa looks even better.

 

Robert D. Flach’s Tuesday Buzz covers inheritance taxes, tax robots, and the large number of people who seem to rely on lottery winnings for retirement funding.

 

20140728-1TaxGrrrl, Investment Opportunity: Possibly Booby-Trapped Property Remains Unsold.  Ed and Elaine Brown forfeited their property after their armed stand-off with the IRS, but the agency can’t find anybody willing to buy it.  There is some fear of booby traps, but I suspect potential buyers would also be a bit concerned about the reaction of Brown supporters.

Peter Reilly, The OID Fraud And Criminal Gullibility:

I have to say that I have some sympathy with the perspective that a reasonable person seeing the refund checks might want to take another look at the scheme.  If they were incapable of understanding the reasoning behind the scheme and what OID actually is, it could be hard to resist.

The OID scheme is absurd.  I realize some people really are gullible enough to believe in it — but only with a leap of faith that is, literally, criminally stupid.

 

Kay Bell, Pot tourism’s potential tax payoff for states with legal weed.  Iowa’s Governor just says no.

Richard Auxler, Do Sales Tax Holidays Ever Make Sense? (TaxVox).  “In some situations, sales tax holidays can make sense. But generally, they’re bad tax policy unless the alternative is large tax cuts with dubious growth assumptions, and not just for a weekend but for the whole year.”

Erica Brady, Final Whistleblower Regulations Create Administrative Review of Rejected and Denied Claims (Procedurally Taxing)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 467

 

News from the Profession: TIL: Ancient Greeks Used Slaves as Auditors So They Could Be Beaten When They Screwed Up (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern).

 

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