Friday, August 26, 2016
So it was no surprise when I noticed that a new study has reached the same conclusion that I, and others, have reached. The core of the abstract is worth noting:
This study evaluates the impact of motion picture incentive programs, an array of tax incentives employed by over 40 states to entice film and television productions out of California and New York, on labor and economic conditions from 1998 through 2013. Results suggest that sales and lodging tax waivers had no effect on any of four different economic indicators. Transferable tax credits had a small, sustained effect on motion picture employment levels but no effect on wages. Refundable tax credits had no employment effect and only a temporary wage effect. Neither credit affected gross state product or motion picture industry concentration. Incentive spending also had no influence.So why do state legislators continue in their mad rush to throw taxpayer dollars at an industry that is far from impoverished and in no need of financial assistance? Anyone who stays current on current news knows the answer. As the author pointed out, “If it’s such a successful industry and a profitable industry, you shouldn’t need a subsidy.”
The only good news is that a few states have downsized, eliminated, or failed to renew these giveaways. Yet during the past several decades some states that have scaled back or eliminated these ineffective credits have reinstated them. It would be interesting to map this pattern against election cycles.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
It does not appear that rewards are offered for reporting motor vehicles that lack Virginia plates. The incentive, I suppose, is that the tax increases caused by failure of owners to register their vehicles in Virginia are avoided if those owners are reported and compelled to pay the tax. According to the web site, “within the last fiscal year, more than 1,800 previously unregistered vehicles were added to car tax records . . . which will yield more than $2 million in tax revenue to support the county budget.”
So, would you report your neighbor’s unregistered vehicle if a similar tax and reporting program existed in your locality? Will this question become obsolete as tracking technology permits revenue officials to determine where vehicles are garaged?
Monday, August 22, 2016
Why is the fund almost out of money? The state legislature has been unable to agree on a funding plan. Legislators agree that the state gasoline tax needs to be increased by 23 cents per gallon. But they disagree on how to “cushion” this change. Christie and some legislators want to reduce the sales tax from 7 to 6 percent and to increase the retirement income exclusion. The Senate president wants to repeal the estate tax, increase the retirement income exclusion, increase the earned income credit, and create tax breaks for commuters and veterans. The head of the Assembly supports both proposals. It has been suggested that the impasse could last for months.
Common sense tells us that taking money from other services means that to fund transportation infrastructure emergencies, the state will need to reduce state police protection, or debt payments, or some other service. Does that not also impair the “health, safety, and welfare” of New Jersey residents? And what highway repairs can be tossed aside as not endangering “health, safety, and welfare”? Try to think of a problem that can be ignored. Broken traffic lights? Potholes? Missing stop signs? Sinkholes? Bridge collapses?
Common sense also tells us that one must pay the price for what one wants. Residents of New Jersey, not unlike those of every other state, want safe highways and transportation infrastructure. If that requires a liquid fuels tax increase, and the legislature agrees that it does, then the answer is clear. But the idea of cutting back other taxes to “cushion” the cost simply means that services funded by those other taxes will be cut. Time and again, people seem to want a lot and want to pay little. Eventually, one gets what one pays for.
It’s not as though the situation is a surprise. Sympathy for legislators facing an unexpected problem is understandable. But the highway funding crisis was predicted, it was avoidable, and it could have been handled months ago, if not years ago. The process of legislating requires making tough decisions. Those who cannot make tough decisions ought to stay away from jobs and offices that require tough decisions.
So how can the legislature be pushed into getting this problem solved? I think of a story I read when I was in my teens. In 1271, the College of Cardinals could not come to agreement on the election of a new pope. The debate dragged on for almost three years. At the time, the College met in Viterbo. Eventually, the people decided to lock the cardinals in the palace, and to limit them to bread and water until they selected a new pope. Supposedly, they also removed the roof from the palace. A new pope was quickly elected. Though I do not remember the name of the book in which I read the story, accounts are readily available, including this one. So is the solution to getting legislatures to do what needs to be done a dose of bread, water, and roof removal? It’s a tempting proposition.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Proposition Number 1: "The issuance of $89,495,000 general obligation bonds for street improvements and the levy of a tax in payment thereof."My response reflected my first thought, “It depends.” Surely if there were dozens or hundreds of propositions on the ballot, it would be burdensome for a voter to go through each one, though some might review the propositions ahead of time and walk in with a list of the propositions with a Y or N written next to each one. But seven? That’s not particularly burdensome. I also suggested in my response that it makes more sense to break each proposal into a separate proposition rather than bundling them into one. When bundled into one, objections to one of the proposal could doom the others, and in some instances strong support for an essential proposal would bring along one that does not otherwise deserve approval.
Proposition Number 2: "The issuance of $20,080,000 general obligation bonds for public safety improvements and the levy if a tax in payment thereof."
Proposition Number 3: "The issuance of $41,475,000 general obligation bonds for municipal buildings improvements, including a senior citizen center, and the levy of a tax in payment thereof."
Proposition Number 4: "The issuance of $22,250,000 general obligation bonds for neighborhood park and recreation facilities and the levy of a tax in payment thereof."
Proposition Number 5: "The issuance of $83,430,000 general obligation bonds for Civic Center improvements and the levy of a tax in payment thereof."
Proposition Number 6: "The issuance of $16,295,000 general obligation bonds for the fleet services department including equipment and vehicles therefor and the levy of a tax in payment thereof."
Proposition Number 7: "The issuance of $66,625,000 general obligation bonds for athletic facilities, including soccer, softball and baseball fields and gymnasium, basketball and aquatics facilities and the levy of a tax in payment thereof."
After I responded to the reader, two more thoughts popped into my head. I share them here.
First, would it not be ideal if legislatures acted in the same manner, rather than shoving into an essential piece of legislation a provision that would not pass if it stood alone? Granted, legislators need to deal with dozens and even hundreds of proposals, but they’re being paid to do that. If they stayed in the legislative halls for a sufficient period of time, they could work through even thousands over the course of a year, with each proposal standing alone and not hiding behind another provision.
Second, do not those who live in households that budget engage in a similar process? Does a person, or a couple, or a family not consider a series of decisions on spending, and whether to borrow to make an expenditure? Just as the voters in Amarillo need to examine each proposition, so, too, those who are making budget and financial decisions need to examine each proposed expenditure. My guess is that there are more than seven to be considered.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The taxpayer has three children, T, C, and P. T and C were born to the taxpayer and his first wife. P was born to the taxpayer and his second wife, with whom he is in divorce proceedings. During 2011, T, C, and P were 20, 16, and 12, respectively. In 2002, a Florida family court entered a child support order in the divorce
case between petitioner and his first ex-wife. The court ordered that the taxpayer “will receive the child dependency exemption for [T and C] each and every year beginning in 2001” but “only if he remains current from this point forward in his payments of child support.” The taxpayer credibly testified that he has been current in his child support payments at all relevant times, and the IRS did not contend otherwise.
The taxpayer timely filed a federal income tax return for 2011 on which he T, C, and P as dependents. Notwithstanding the Florida court’s 2002 order, the taxpayer’s first former wife also claimed T and C as dependents for 2011. The taxpayer’s second wife, the mother of P, claimed P as a dependent for 2011. Neither T nor C resided with the taxpayer during 2011, and he does not know where either of them resided. P resided with his mother in Pennsylvania for more than half the year during 2011; he did not reside with the taxpayer at any time during 2011. The taxpayer was the noncustodial parent of C and P during 2011. He did not obtain, from C’s mother or from P’s mother, an executed Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent.
The primary question before the court was whether the taxpayer was entitled to claim dependency exemption deductions for the three children. The answer to that question would determine whether he was entitled to head-of-household filing status and child tax credits.
The Tax Court analyzed whether each child was a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. None of the children were qualifying children because none of them satisfied the requirement that they have the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer for more than one-half of the taxable year. Neither C nor P was a qualifying relative because the taxpayer, though paying child support, did not provide evidence that he supplied more than 50% of their support, nor did he provide evidence that he supplied more than 50% of the support of T. Nor was the taxpayer within the exception for noncustodial parents because he did not file a Form 8332.
The court noted that the taxpayer “has acted honorably in paying child support for many years, but his ex-wife has apparently claimed two of their children as dependents in violation of a Florida court order. But while the result may seem harsh in these circumstances, the law is unfortunately clear. On the record before us, we have no alternative but to sustain [the IRS].”
So what’s the solution? The answer, I think, is for the taxpayer to sue his first former wife for breach of contract. Damages should reflect the increased taxes, interest, and penalties paid by the taxpayer on account of her failure to comply with the contract and the resulting court order. Going forward, it makes sense for divorcing couples to include in their divorce agreements a provision that concedes damages if either party breaches the agreement or violates the accompanying court order. That, too, might seem harsh when proposed, but in the long run, it’s best to insist on its inclusion.
Monday, August 15, 2016
Now comes news that the governor of Massachusetts has vetoed legislation that would have authorized a federally-funded pilot study of the mileage-based road fee in Massachusetts. The study would have used the experiences of volunteers, and no one who did not want to participate in the study would be compelled to do so. The governor stated, “It feels to me like it falls into a category of something people really ought to know a lot more about before they head down this road.” Exactly, governor, that’s what pilot programs are designed to do. It is federally funded, so it’s not costing Massachusetts very much, if anything. The governor’s response? Massachusetts can rely on the results of pilot programs in other states. And what if other states took the same position? That’s one element of twenty-first-century American political and cultural dysfunction. Let someone else do the work, let someone else do the testing, and let someone else take on the responsibility. Massachusetts residents deserve to have the opinion of Massachusetts volunteers testing out the pilot program, rather than restricting themselves to what people in other states experience. Though some things can be learned from the experience of volunteer testers in other states, those volunteers cannot replicate what the Massachusetts experience would be.
To me, it comes down to the governor of Massachusetts being afraid of trying something new or different. Staying with what works makes sense, but funding highways with liquid fuels taxes doesn’t work very well, and is heading down the road to failure.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Only a small percentage of taxpayers file payroll taxes. Most taxpayers are not employers. But imagine if the IRS made a similar error if the ReadyReturn program were in effect. As readers of this blog know, I’m not a fan of ReadyReturn. In October 2005, I addressed the ReadyReturn concept, in Hi, I'm from the Government and I'm Here to Help You ..... Do Your Tax Return. I revisited the issue in March of 2006, in ReadyReturn Not a Ready Answer. A year later, in Ready It Was Not: The Demise of California’s Government-Prepared Tax Return Experiment, I shared the news that California’s experience with the program persuaded it to end the program. Yet I had to return to the topic in As Halloween Looms, Making Sure Dead Tax Ideas Stay Dead, where I noted the refusal of the ReadyReturn advocates to admit the failure of the program. And in December 2006, I reacted to the attempt to resurrect the failed program, in Oh, No! This Tax Idea Isn’t Ready for Its Coffin. Yet the advocates of the proposal, despite all of the many problems and its failure in California persisted. In October 2009, in Getting Ready for More Tax Errors of the Ominous Kind, I again pointed out why people should not fall for something described as simple, bringing relief, and carrying a catchy title. I looked at it again in January 2010, in Federal Ready Return: Theoretically Attractive, Pragmatically Unworkable. Later that year, in April 2010, I was interviewed by National Public Radio on the advantages and disadvantages of ReadyReturn; a summary of the discussion and the reaction to it, along with links to previous discussions is in First Ready Return, Next Ready Vote?. In 2012, as pressure from its advocates resurfaced, I extensively analyzed the ReadyReturn proposal, in a 14-part series. That, however, was not enough to diminish the insistence of ReadyReturn advocates that the only thing blocking success for the program was Intuit’s lobbying, a concern I addressed in Simplifying theTax Return Process.
A little more than a year ago, in Surely This Does Not Boost Confidence In The ReadyReturn Proposal, I shared my concern that an error made by the IRS that caused serious problems for one taxpayer could easily become an error that affected all taxpayers. The recent mistake with the Failure to Deposit Notices brings the tax world a step closer to the nightmare of an error making life miserable for all taxpayers.
What caused the recent error? Does anyone know? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Perhaps the IRS is still trying to figure out what went wrong. With its antiquated technology, funding shortages, and employee turnover, the list of possibilities is long. Though the IRS promises to fix the consequences of the error, the employer taxpayers will have additional work to do and information to process, as well as follow-ups to pursue to make certain money isn’t taken out of their accounts to pay an erroneous penalty. Worse, what guarantee exists that the error won’t happen again? Fixing the consequences of a problem isn’t the same as preventing the problem from happening again. Because an erroneous Failure to Deposit Notice is only one of tens of millions of possible errors, any sort of arrangement that accelerates the spread or widens the scope of an error ought not be implemented until and unless it is ironclad secure. The IRS, the nation, and its taxpayers are not ready for a federal ReadyReturn or any sort of equivalent.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
The floor-stocks tax is flawed. In effect, it is a retroactive application of the tax. Rather than applying only to future wholesale acquisitions, which a retailer can adjust to reflect the cash flow changes, it applies to purchases already made by the retailer, which cannot be undone. Some retailers are trying to dispose of inventory but doing so is a financially disadvantageous path.
At the very least, the tax should be phased in. Apparently, retailers lobbied the legislature but were unsuccessful in making their case. Some argue that the tax should be repealed. It’s not necessary to repeal the tax to fix the cash flow hit that it creates. It simply needs to be adjusted in some manner.
Proponents of the tax surely will point to the revenue that it generates. Though a very small portion of the state’s total tax revenue, it has a huge impact on retailers. The revenue can easily be made up by fixing another flaw in the tax. As I explained in When Does a Tobacco Tax Not Apply to Tobacco, and Why?, the taxes that apply to cigarettes, tobacco, electronic cigarettes, and e-liquids should apply to cigars. It is possible that doing so would not only permit a timing adjustment to the excise tax to prevent the cash flow hit on retailers, but also a reduction in the tax rates applicable to those products not fortunate enough to be a favorite among the legislature as are cigars.
Monday, August 08, 2016
Analysts suggest that the impetus for this first step in house-cleaning the state’s politics was voter frustration with the reduction in government services and especially the damage done to the state’s education system. It also appears that voters are increasingly recognizing the siren song of trickle-down tax policy theory. Some voters cited bad roads and declining school quality, and many expressed dismay at the failure of trickle-down economics to generate the promised jobs.
What is surprising about this story is that it comes as a surprise to some people, especially Brownback and his political allies who scrambled to portray the outcome as something other than failure of trickle-down tax theory. There is nothing surprising these days about the outcome of a failed tax policy experiment from a decade and a half ago. Maintaining allegiance to a failed policy and its advocates has terrible consequences, first for those afflicted by the failure and then, thankfully, for those responsible for insisting that the failure did not exist.
Friday, August 05, 2016
In A Tax Policy Turn-Around?, I explained how the Kansas income tax cuts for the wealthy backfired, causing the rich to get richer, the economy to stagnate, public services to falter, and the majority of Kansans to end up worse than they had been. In A New Play in the Make-the-Rich-Richer Game Plan, I described how Kansas politicians have been struggling to find a way to undo the damage caused by those ill-advised tax cuts for the wealthy. In When a Tax Theory Fails: Own Up or Make Excuses?, I pointed out that the Kansas experienced removed all doubt that the theory is shameful. In Do Tax Cuts for the Wealthy Create Jobs?, I described recent data showing that the rate of job creation in Kansas was one-fifth the rate in Missouri, a state that did not subscribe to the outlandish tax cuts for the wealthy that Kansas legislators had embraced.
Now comes more evidence that what Kansas did was harmful and not, as the tax cut advocates had promised, beneficial. Kansas officials revealed that tax receipts were more than $14 million less than anticipated. Why? Sluggish retail sales combined with the reduction in corporate income triggered by reduced sales pushed down sales tax and corporate income tax liabilities. This shortfall comes after the state had reduced its prediction of tax receipts. So, in effect, the state collected even less in taxes than it had predicted trickle-down economics would have generated.
So what is Kansas going to do? The governor, the state’s chief champion of this obsolete tax policy, delayed payment of state aid to public schools. It is unfortunate that the best pathway to solving the economic mess created by trickle-down economics, educating the citizenry, is what gets short-changed. But that ought not be a surprise, considering that an educated citizenry is an impediment to the enactment of unsound tax policies. Other politicians are calling for reform, for the election of legislators who will dig the state out of the “financial hole [that] keeps getting deeper.” In the meantime, the state’s bond rating has dropped, increasing the interest rates that the state must pay to borrow money to cover the deficits.
In A Tax Policy Turn-Around?, I argued that tax cuts for consumers are more valuable than tax cuts for money stashers. The recent news out of Kansas proves that point. Improving the economic posture of the middle class and the poor generates more sales, which drives up sales tax revenue, and increases corporate profits, which increases corporate income tax receipts as well as shareholder return. During the past few years, increasing numbers of the wealthy are beginning to accept the proposition that the best path for their own long-term economic well-being is enrichment of the middle class and the poor.
As I’ve explained many times, for example, in Job Creation and Tax Reductions, people don’t create jobs unless they need workers. They don’t need workers unless they have customers who want to purchase the goods and services that they would provide. If the American middle class and those living in poverty or near-poverty don’t have money, they don’t make purchases. In fact, they cut back on purchases. And that, understandably, causes the owners of capital and the entrepreneurs of the business world to cut, not create, jobs.
Those who think that more tax cuts for the wealthy will solve the problems created by tax cuts for the wealthy are suggesting, in effect, that the solution to flash floods is more rain, that the solution to car theft is more car theft, and that the solution to food poisoning is eating more spoiled food. Seriously, that sort of thinking is not what made the nation’s economy great, nor is it a pathway to future prosperity.
Wednesday, August 03, 2016
If the choices are limited to gross income, adjusted gross income, and taxable income, and I were compelled to make a selection, I would choose adjusted gross income. The other two choices are worse.
Gross income does not properly measure a person’s change in economic position. For example, compare two sole proprietors. One provides services, receives $300,000 in gross income, and incurs $70,000 in business expenses. The other also provides services and receives $300,000 in gross income, but incurs business expenses of $140,000. To subject both sole proprietors to the same tax would be the equivalent of subjecting the second sole proprietor to a higher tax rate.
Taxable income also does not properly measure a person’s change in economic position. Taxable income reflects the effect of a variety of deductions. Some expenses are deductible, others are not, and whether a particular expense is deductible or not does not reflect an attempt to measure taxpayers’ changes in economic position in a comparable manner. In many instances, items that are deductible are deductible because of lobbying by particular groups, arbitrary decision, well-intentioned or not-so-well-intentioned efforts to promote particular policies, encourage specific behavior, or discourage unwanted behavior. For example, compare two taxpayers with identical gross income. One owns a home, the other rents. In all other respects their economic activities are identical. The use of taxable income in this instance is disadvantageous to the renter.
Adjusted gross income, though not without its flaws, comes closer to measuring a person’s change in economic position than do the other two choices. One flaw is that the gross income on which it is based, even after allowing deductions to remove the sort of discrepancies noted above, is also flawed because all sorts of economic income is excluded from gross income in much the same haphazard, arbitrary, and lobbied manner as deductions are created. For example, an employee with the opportunity to take less cash in exchange for receiving tax-favored benefits is better off than an employee who receives only cash and must use after-tax dollars to purchase the same benefits. This flaw, of course, afflicts all three choices. The other flaw with adjusted gross income is that the list of items deductible in computing it has grown to include not only items that need to be subtracted to avoid double taxation or to obtain a more accurate measure of change in economic position but also deductions accorded this special status because of lobbying efforts.
As often is the case when forced to choose from two or more less-than-perfect choices, I find a way to point out the unavailable but better choices. In this instance, my preferred solution is what I would call “genuine economic adjusted income,” namely, all income reduced by amounts necessary to reflect the cost of producing that income and to avoid double taxation. Of course, selecting the rate or rates to be applied is a different issue, as is the removal of all credits other than those reflecting payments already made.
Some would say that the premise underlying the reader’s question, namely, what is the best income tax base, is flawed because they consider the income tax less than ideal. I disagree with the proposition that income taxes are less than ideal, though I agree that the current income tax is far from ideal and is, in many ways, a disgrace. The income tax was enacted to mitigate the horrific consequences of the income and wealth inequality that arose during the 1890s and to prevent its recurrence, driven home by the fact that, in its early years, it applied only to the wealthy. The income tax, unfortunately, has become so twisted and corrupted by special interest groups that it is having the opposite effect and is making income and wealth inequality even worse. Using a “genuine economic adjusted income” as the base would undo the damage, and perhaps, in order to avoid yet another sabotaging of the income tax by the Robber Barons and their devotees, an amendment to the Constitution would be in order. One wonders how bad the economy will need to be before pressure for such a change reaches the level of the pressure that generated the Sixteenth Amendment, and in what form that pressure will appear.
Monday, August 01, 2016
What prompted the reader to ask the question was a statement made by the judge who sentenced Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi to prison, along with the imposition of a fine, after he was found guilty of tax fraud. Messi, or more accurately, Messi’s lawyers had argued that he was innocent because Messi’s father was responsible for setting up the tax-haven-based shell companies used to evade taxes on income derived from Messi’s right to use his image. Messi admitted he signed the contracts that were part of the scheme but claimed he had no knowledge that the arrangements were wrong. The judge stated, “(His) avoidable ignorance, which was derived from indifference, is not an error, and it does not remove responsibility. The information that the accused avoided having was, in reality, within his reach via trustworthy and accessible sources.”
When the reader asked, “Is all tax ignorance avoidable,” I replied, “Yes. It might take a lot of work, or a little bit of work, a lot of time, or a little bit of time, but tax ignorance is avoidable.” Admittedly, that response is a bit overbroad, because a person in a coma, a person held hostage, and others in similar difficulties might not have an opportunity to do whatever is necessary to become educated. The avenue for avoiding tax ignorance are many. Some people can educate themselves by doing research and reading official sources and helpful commentaries. Most people need to, and should, seek independent advice, and if enough is at stake, should seek a second opinion. When the advice is too good to be true, even if a small amount is involved, a second opinion is valuable. The advice needs to come from someone with sufficient education and experience. The friend at the neighborhood bar or the anonymous internet commentator with no or false credentials are not good sources of information, whether with respect to tax or any other topic.
It’s easy to grab at the first twitter post or facebook meme that pops up, but intellectual progress requires more diligence, more thinking, and more focus than many people are, at present, willing to apply. The price for intellectual laziness, especially in the tax world, can end up being a prison term, a fine, or worse. There is no reason to fear intellectual effort.
Friday, July 29, 2016
The taxpayer lived and worked in Puerto Rico during 2010. He was self-employed. For 2010, he filed Form 482.0, Individual Income Tax Return, with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. With the return he included a Schedule M, Professions and Commissions Income, which is the equivalent of the Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business, on the federal Form 1040. He reported a profit on that Schedule. He did not file a Form 1040-SS, U.S. Self-Employment Tax Return with the IRS for 2010. On April 28, 2014, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency, asserting that the taxpayer owed self-employment tax on the profit from the business generating the profit on the Schedule M.
The Tax Court explained that although citizens and residents of the United States are subject to federal income taxation on taxable income no matter its geographical source, under section 933(1) a taxpayer who is a resident of Puerto Rico for the entire taxable year is not taxed on items of income from sources within Puerto Rico, other than compensation for services provided as an employee of the federal government. However, though that exemption applies to the income tax, under section 1401 and Regulations section 1.1402(a)-9, it does not apply to the self-employment tax. In other words, residents of Puerto Rico must compute net earnings from self-employment in the same manner as do residents of the United States.
The taxpayer argued that he was not subject to any federal tax for 2010 because he was a resident of Puerto Rico. That argument, unfortunately for the taxpayer, had to be rejected because it was in total conflict with the law. Yet it is understandable how someone, seeing the exemption in section 933(1), or, as is more likely, reading something along the lines of “Residents of Puerto Rico are not subject to U.S. taxation,” could conclude that they had no obligation to file either an income tax or self-employment tax return with the IRS. In fact, the taxpayer claimed he had reached this conclusion after consulting a Puerto Rico tax adviser. But because the adviser did not testify at the trial and because the taxpayer did not establish that the adviser was a competent professional with sufficient expertise to justify reliance, that the adviser was given necessary information from the taxpayer, and that the taxpayer actually relied on the adviser, the Tax Court concluded that there was no reasonable cause to avoid the penalties under section 6651(a)(1) and (2) for failure to file the return and failure to pay the tax.
The self-employment tax applies to residents of Puerto Rico because they are included in the social security system. The income tax does not, because the tax is remitted to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico rather than to the Treasury Department. The distinction is logical. But it is confusing for those who are not focused on the subtle and precise nuances of tax law. If, in fact, the taxpayer had consulted a tax adviser, it is even more unfortunate that the taxpayer was led astray. A confused tax adviser is of little help for a confused taxpayer.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
For 2001 and 2002, A&G filed federal partnership income tax returns, which the taxpayer signed as tax matters partner. The returns were prepared by a CPA. A schedule K-1 was issued to the taxpayer for each of those years. The 2001 schedule K-1 reported $81,322 as his distributive share of ordinary income, $135,000 in guaranteed payments, $125,000 in cash distributions, and nondeductible expenses of $1,067. The 2002 s K-1 reported $234,067 as his distributive share of ordinary income, $145,000 in guaranteed payments, $25,000 in cash distributions, and nondeductible expenses of $2,055. The taxpayer received his Schedules K-1 before filing his individual federal income tax returns for 2001 and 2002.
The taxpayer filed delinquent federal income tax returns for 2001 and 2002 on April 10, 2004. The returns were prepared by a CPA. The taxpayer did not provide the CPA with copies of his 2001 and 2002 schedules K-1. Instead, the taxpayer provided the CPA with summary sheets of his travel, meals and entertainment, printing, and consulting expenses derived from his handwritten records. A schedule C was attached to the taxpayer’s 2001 return. It listed the principal business of the proprietorship as “Investments”. The entry for the business name was left blank, and the address reported for the business was the same address reported for one of A&G’s other partners his schedules K-1 for 2001 and 2002. The 2001 schedule C reported gross receipts of $231,000 and total expenses of $201,400 for a net profit of $29,600. A similar Schedule C, with an identical principal business and address and with no entry for the business name, was attached to the taxpayer’s 2002 return. The 2002 schedule C reported gross receipts of $201,900 and total expenses of $194,000 for a net profit of $7,900. No schedule E was included in the 2001 or 2002 return, and no partnership income was reported on those returns. The IRS issued a notice of deficiency, including, among other items, increases in the taxpayer’s income for those two years on account of the distributive shares and guaranteed payments from the A&G Partnership.
The IRS took the position that the income reported on the schedules C for 2001 and 2002 were from a business of the taxpayer separate from the partnership. The taxpayer explained that the amounts reported on the schedules C were the amounts from the partnership, except that he “mistakenly believed that he was required to report only the cash he received from A&G each year.” According to the taxpayer, this consisted of the guaranteed payment plus the cash distribution. The taxpayer also contended that he had no income from any other business in those years.
The Tax Court compared the sum of the taxpayer’s guaranteed payment and cash distribution for 2001 with the amount reported on the schedule C for that year, and noted that the latter was $29,000 less than the former. The taxpayer’s explanation was that $30,000 of the cash distribution was a disbursement from the partnership to buy used equipment for it, and when that failed to materialize, in 2002 it was agreed he could keep the $30,000 because cash distributions were low that year. Thus, the partnership’s CPA treated it as part of the 2002 guaranteed payment, and it was reported in 2002. The other $1,000 was described as “most likely small sums received from A&G for miscellaneous items.” The partnership’s president and operations manager corroborated the taxpayer’s testimony concerning the $30,000.
The Tax Court compared the sum of the taxpayer’s guaranteed payment and cash distribution for 2002 with the amount reported on the schedule C for that year, and noted that the latter was $31,900 more than the former. Of that difference, $30,000 reflected the 2001 disbursement treated as 2002 guaranteed payment, and the other $1,900 was described as “little checks” received from the partnership for miscellaneous items.
The Tax Court concluded that “the near match of the Schedule K-1 items that represent A&G’s cash disbursements to [the taxpayer] and the gross receipts he
reported on Schedules C for 2001 and 2002 is too close to be mere coincidence.” Further, though the taxpayer’s understanding of partnership taxation was incorrect, “his belief that he needed to report only cash distributions he received from the partnership and not undistributed partnership income was plausible.” It also concluded that there was no evidence of income arising from other business operations, and no evidence of bank deposits or spending in excess of reported income, to justify treating the amounts reported on schedule C as anything other than the partnership items.
After dealing with burden of proof issues, the Tax Court held that because the taxpayer conceded he failed to report properly his income from the partnership, a redetermination was necessary. It concluded that the taxpayer overstated income in 2001, and understated income in 2002. The Tax Court also resolved other issues not involving how the taxpayer reported income from the partnership.
Though the taxpayer was not a tax return preparer nor a CPA, the taxpayer did have a business education and experience with financial statements, investments, and business operations. The sensible and prudent thing to do is to turn over to the CPA all tax-related information, including schedules K-1. Either the CPA did not ask if there were any schedules K-1, or, having asked, was told, incorrectly, that there were none. The taxpayer and his partners acquired A&G in 1998, so presumably the taxpayer’s returns for 1998 through 2000 contained schedules K-1. If the same CPA prepared those returns, the CPA should have asked why there were no schedules K-1 for 2001 and 2002. If the CPA was a newly retained preparer, the question should have been a request for prior year returns.
Though it is not possible to determine where the breakdown occurred, and perhaps the CPA could have helped the taxpayer avoid at least some of his audit and litigation troubles, the most likely reason for the problem was the taxpayer’s lack of care in dealing with tax and business documents. That conclusion is supported by the fact that the taxpayer also failed to report dividend and interest income. Conversations with tax return preparers often include stories about clients and how they make the preparer’s job more difficult. This case is an instance in which the taxpayer didn’t necessarily make the preparer’s job more difficult, but made the taxpayer’s own life far more aggravating than it needed to be.
Monday, July 25, 2016
According to this story, when Georgia legalizes the sale of fireworks, it enacted an excise tax. Instead of specifying where the revenue from the tax would be used, the legislature authorized a vote on a constitutional amendment allocating 55 percent of the revenue to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, 40 percent to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council, and 5 percent to local 911 systems. It is unclear what happens if the referendum fails. Presumably, another vote would be authorized, either with different percentage allocations or revised recipients of the tax revenues.
One problem I have with this approach is the commitment to enacting the tax before the use of the revenues are decided is that those voting on whether to enact the tax are being asked to make a decision without having all of the facts. The purposes for which the tax revenues are used are factors relevant to deciding whether to support enactment of the tax.
Another problem I have with this approach is that it shuts down voter opportunity to make choices other than those in the proposed referendum. What if voters want a different percentage allocation? What if they want other organizations or programs to receive some or all of the tax revenues? Under this approach, they vote down the proposal, a replacement is designed, another vote takes place, and time is wasted. Would it not have made more sense to offer a referendum to the voters before the tax is enacted, with a multiple-choice list that includes write-in suggestions? Modern technology makes this path as easy as an online survey.
A related problem is that the proposed recipients listed in the referendum are worthy causes. Voting against the referendum seems callous. Yet there are other worthy causes that perhaps should be included. Voting for the referendum suggests that those causes are not as worthy.
What would I do with the tax revenue? At least some of it would be funneled into a program that isn’t on the ballot, that is no less connected to fireworks sales and use, and that is no less worthy than the three programs on the ballot. I base my suggestion on the many news stories that have appeared in recent years. Why not use at least some of the revenue from an excise tax on fireworks sales to fund programs in the K-12 education system, and programs aimed at adults, that teach the safe and proper use of fireworks?