Monday, January 18, 2021
The most recent television court show that I watched, episode 84 of Judge Judy’s 25th season, introduced tax in a manner not relevant to the issue being litigated. The plaintiff owns a trucking company and contracted with the defendant to drive one of the company’s trucks. The plaintiff gave the defendant driver a debit card to use if and when necessary for truck repairs. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant used the card for personal expenses and provided proof of the unauthorized use. The defendant offered no evidence that could rebut the allegations. The testimony and documentation on this issue consumed most of the episode, but isn’t relevant to how tax entered the picture.
The defendant wiggled around the allegations. He offered no evidence to demonstrate that the use of the card was for authorized expenditures, and though he alleged he used the card for repairs, he had no invoices, no other documentation, and no witnesses to support his position. Instead, his defense was that the plaintiff paid him in cash, did not issue a Form 1099, and does not maintain paperwork for his drivers. The plaintiff interjected that the defendant was an independent contractor. The defendant replied that he could not be an independent contractor because he did not own the truck.
Judge Judy dismissed the defense as irrelevant. She entered judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of withdrawals and payments made with the card that were unrelated to the driving of the truck.
The defendant’s approach to the litigation is an example of whataboutism. Rather than providing evidence to prove that the use of his debit card was for authorized purposes, other than his own self-serving testimony, the defendant tried to sidetrack the proceedings by making claims about alleged improper behavior by the plaintiff that had nothing to do with the use of the debit card. Perhaps the defendant has watched and learned how this whataboutism reaction has been used in the political arena. Or perhaps he watched and learned, and even used it, as a child, following the pattern of response offered by some children who, when confronted by their parents about improper behavior, make claims about something done by a sibling.
Had the defendant alleged that other drivers had been permitted by the plaintiff to use company debit cards for personal purposes, the success of that defense would depend on what was demonstrated by other facts, such as the details of the contracts with those other drivers, but it would have been rational in the sense of focusing on alleged inconsistency in the position taken by the plaintiff. There is a difference between making a comparison to someone else’s behavior in order to focus on inconsistency, and simply making an allegation about unrelated behavior by another person. Of course, the inconsistency might be justified, and thus not an adequate defense, but at least it requires examination. On the other hand, there is no point in examining allegations resting on mere whataboutism, which is why Judge Judy did not inquire into the truth or falsity of the claims made by the defendant about the plaintiff’s tax compliance.
The difference between allegations resting on inconsistency and allegations that are mere whataboutism is narrow and nuanced. Too many people, including politicians and other public figures, as well as some commentators, do not grasp that difference. And thus, attempts to resolve a situations are delayed or sidetracked, often intentionally, by the use of whataboutism as a deflective defense. Judge Judy would have none of it. It would serve the nation well if everyone else followed her approach to claims based on whataboutism.
Friday, January 15, 2021
Now it appears that another tax break, this time at the state level, has gone unused. It’s not because taxpayers refrained from claiming it because of adverse consequences, but it was a tax break for which apparently no individuals qualified, or if they did, they either chose for some reason to ignore it or did not realize it existed. According to Arizona Department of Revenue, “for four consecutive fiscal years that no individual taxpayers have claimed the income tax credit for qualified employment of recipients of temporary assistance for needy families.” The Department explained that under section 43-224 of the Arizona statutes, individual taxpayers will no longer be eligible for that credit starting in 2021. Corporate taxpayers will continue to be eligible for the credit. The termination of the credit becomes fully effective when the legislature enacts the technical corrections legislation submitted by the Department of Revenue.
Curious, I searched for the statute in question. It provides as follows:
43-224. Individual and corporate income tax credits; annual report; termination of unused creditsI wonder, but I am not about to try to research, whether there are any federal credits or deductions, or for that matter credits or deductions in other states, that have gone unclaimed by taxpayers for one or more years. Similarly, I wonder if any other states have provisions similar to Arizona’s section 43-224. What I really would like to see is an automatic repeal provision for tax breaks based on promises that are not fulfilled, coupled with a “give back” requirement for those tax breaks.
A. On or before September 30 of each year, the department shall report to the directors of the joint legislative budget committee and the governor's office of strategic planning and budgeting on the amount of individual income tax credits and corporate income tax credits that were claimed in the previous fiscal year.
B. Except as provided by subsection C of this section, if, in any four consecutive reports under subsection A of this section, an individual or corporate income tax credit was not claimed by or allowed to any individual or corporate taxpayer, the director of the department of revenue shall:
1. Terminate the recognition and servicing of that credit for taxable years beginning from and after December 31 of the year in which the fourth report is issued.
2. Issue a public announcement, including on the department's website, of the termination of the credit under authority of this section.
3. Notify the governor's office of strategic planning and budgeting, the president of the senate, the speaker of the house of representatives, the joint legislative budget committee and the legislative council.
4. Include the repeal of all statutes relating to the terminated credit in technical tax correction legislation for enactment in the next regular session of the legislature. If the legislature fails to enact this legislation, the director shall rescind the termination of the credit.
C. The director may not terminate under subsection B of this section the recognition and servicing of any income tax credit that is subject by law to preapproval by the Arizona commerce authority unless over any period of four consecutive calendar years both of the following conditions occur with respect to the credit:
1. The department has not received notice of preapproval of any applicant or project for the credit from the Arizona commerce authority.
2. In the report issued under subsection A of this section, the credit was not claimed by or allowed to any taxpayer.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
But if for some reason, a person did not receive a stimulus payment that they should have received, the person can claim the recovery rebate credit on their 2020 federal income tax return when they file in 2021. The IRS explains the credit in this statement. However, in the same statement the IRS explains, “The Recovery Rebate Credit is figured like the 2020 Economic Impact Payment, except that the credit eligibility and the credit amount are based on the tax year 2020 information shown on the 2020 tax returns filed in 2021.” That means that a person filing as single in 2019 who had adjusted gross income of $73,000 but who has adjusted gross income in 2020 of $110,000 will not get the credit even though they would have received the stimulus payment had the IRS managed to send it last month or this month.
Yet if the taxpayer did receive a stimulus check because 2019 adjusted income was low enough, but 2020 adjusted gross income was high enough to entitle the taxpayer to a lower, or no, stimulus payment, the taxpayer is not required to return the difference. Guaranteed, many taxpayers are going to be confused, and I daresay some tax return preparers will be challenged when trying to explain to their clients what is happening.
For a preview, take a look at the recovery rebate credit worksheet on page 59 of the DRAFT of Form 1040 instructions from the IRS. This is an example of why some people dread filing tax returns and others, albeit few, find it to be fun.
Monday, January 11, 2021
The hostel, operated by the Friends of Chamounix Mansion, is owned by the city of Philadelphia, to which the hostel pays an annual $1 rent. The hostel argues that it is not a hotel because it is a hostel, but the city poited out that other hostels in the city pay the tax, and notes that section 19-2401(5) of the ordinance enacted by Philadelphia to add to the hotel occupancy tax includes in the list of establishments treated as hotels “any place recognized as a hostelry.” After the city sent an invoice for more than $500,000 in back taxes and the hostel refused to pay, the city went to its Tax Review Board, which decided it had no jurisdiction. And that is how the dispute ended up in the Court of Common Pleas.
In that previous post, I wrote, “So this should be an easy case. . . . The tax applies to hostels and the organization admits it is a hostel.” The statutory language is clear, even though it leads to a questionable result. I suggested that the Friends of the Chamounix Mansion should ask City Council to enact an exception, though noting that such a move would open the door to a parade of exception seekers.
Now comes news that a Philadelphia Common Pleas judge has ruled that Philadelphia’s attempt to collect the taxes is invalid. The judge wrote that the tax applies to payments for “the use or occupancy by a transient of a room or rooms.” Thus, according to the judge, because the hostel charges visitors by the bed, not by the room, and provides the beds in dormitory-like group settings, the tax does not apply. The judge also held that after the hostel alleged it had not been notified by the city that it planned to assess the tax retroactively, the city failed to prove that it had provided the proper notice.
Dismissing the attempt to collect the tax because of a failure to provide proper notice makes sense. However, it only applies to the years in question and has no effect when and if the city attempts to collect the tax for other years. But the conclusion that charging by the bed and not by the room somehow causes the hostel not to fall within the statutory definition of hotel does not make sense. The hostel is a building. It is open to the public. It charges money for sleeping accommodations. The statute applies to establishments such as summer camps. Summer camps often house attendees in dormitory-type rooms, and charge by the bed. If the hostel is not within the statute, neither is a summer camp. Yet the statute clearly applies to summer camps, nor is it limited to the listed types of establishments because it uses the phrase “such as.” As of the time I am writing this, the judge’s opinion has not been published, and it remains to be seen whether it will be, because very few Philadelphia Common Pleas Court opinions are published. It would be helpful to learn if the judge found some other statute that limited the definition of hotel to establishments that charge by the room and not by the bed, or some other statute that provides an organization that admits it is a hostel is not subject to a tax that applies to hostels.
In my previous commentary, I noted, “My guess is that when the ordinance was enacted, no one was paying attention to what was happening in a mansion owned by the city and rehabilitated by the Friends of Chamounix Mansion.” Thus, the entire situation is another instance of legislative failure. We’ve seen quite a bit of that lately, at multiple government levels. We’ve seen too much of it.
Friday, January 08, 2021
Now comes a report of more bad news for tax return preparers who are thinking that fraudulent return preparation is an easy way to make quick money. According to this news release from the Department of Justice, a tax return preparer in Newport News, Virginia, has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for preparing false tax returns. The preparer owned a tax return preparation business that she ran not only in her home but also in hotel rooms. Over a five-year stretch ending in 2018, she put fraudulent credits and deductions on returns in order to increase her clients’ refunds. On top of that, she did not sign the returns as preparer, so that the returns appeared to be self-prepared by the taxpayers. And if that wasn’t enough, she did not go over the completed returns with her clients before they signed. And, as the bonus cherry on top, she did not give her clients copies of the returns even when they asked for them. She filed more than 400 false returns, creating at least $700,000 in refunds to which the taxpayers were not entitled.
A list of what tax return preparers should do includes, among other things, filling out returns accurately, review the return with the client, sign as preparer, and provide a copy to the client. It's almost as though the preparer in question looked at such a list and intentionally ignored each item. That’s a recipe for the outcome experienced by this tax return preparer and that looms on the horizon for others who imitate what she did.
Wednesday, January 06, 2021
An important aspect of life is learning from one’s mistakes. An equally important aspect is learning from the mistakes of others. But apparently the Republican governor and legislators of Mississippi either haven’t been paying attention or are simply so beholden to the handful of wealthy individuals who benefit from tax cuts that they are pursuing an unwise dream, the repeal of the state income tax.
According to this story, the governor plans to ask the legislature to phase out the personal income tax. Four years ago, the state enacted legislation that phases out the 3 percent bracket by 2022. The current governor was lieutenant governor when that law was passed.
The governor claims that the state “could be more competitive” if it also eliminates the 4 percent and 5 percent brackets. In effect, that would eliminate the state income tax. The governor calls the income tax “one huge speed bump to long-term economic growth and recovery.”
The lieutenant governor, also a Republican, cautions that no one should rush into the repeal because of the economic uncertainty arising from the pandemic. He noted that the state needs resources to increase teacher pay and to strengthen state services. He pointed out that eliminating the income tax would reduce revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue that the state would need to “make up” somehow. That means either reducing state services significantly or increasing or enacting a different type of tax. And here is where the nonsense begins. Supporters of the income tax repeal claim that repeal would create more economic activity, creating revenue growth, presumably in other taxes. That fantasy has never played out in any jurisdiction in which the trickle-down theory and supply-side economics have driven tax policy. The lieutenant governor noted that Mississippi would need a “tremendously profitable” year to make up the lost revenue, pointing out that the state hasn’t had that sort of growth. Though tax repeal advocates would claim that the slow growth is due to taxes, careful analysis would demonstrate that high growth requires things that cost money, such as quality education, reliable and adequate infrastructure, and affordable health care.
After looking at Mississippi’s tax rate schedule, the problem is obvious. The 4 percent rate kicks in at $4,000 in 2021 and $5,000 in 2022, and the 5 percent rate kicks in at $10,000. That lumps working class taxpayers in the same category as multi-millionaires and billionaires. One of the organizations supporting the repeal, a group dedicated to limited government, claims that repealing the income tax would give Mississippi workers more money to spend, arguing that “increased consumption in the economy drives new jobs and higher wages.” That argument supports the idea of eliminating the income tax for the poor and increasing it for the wealthy. Why? The wealthy plow relatively little of their money into consumer goods and services. On the other hand, to apply the top rate to someone with relatively little income makes no sense.
Opponents of the proposal are pointing the the Kansas experience, about which I’ve also written numerous commentaries. Simply put, when Kansas reduced its income tax rates substantially, it ended up in economic agony. And that was without completely repealing its income tax. As one opponent noted, investing in education would make Mississippi “more livable.” Indeed. Long-term investment in education, infrastructure, and health care is a much more solid foundation for growth than is the superficially appealing tax cut approach.
Monday, January 04, 2021
For decades, sports franchise owners who pretend to be poor have sought tax breaks that ultimately burden those who aren’t wealthy. Casino owners have jumped into the tax break buffet. And now comes news from the Philadelphia Inquirer of a tax break pumped out to the developer of a water park in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The tax break consists of an annual rebate of as much as $2.5 million in sales tax revenue generated by the water park for 20 years, along with tax breaks on materials used to build the park. Who approved the tax break? The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
According to the mayor of Atlantic City, the tax break is a “true game-changer.” I’m not sure what qualifies as a false game changer. Perhaps realizing that the tax break simply shifts the tax burden to the residents of Atlantic City, most of whom are far from wealthy, or to the residents of New Jersey? The mayor is excited because Atlantic City is dominated by gambling and wants to focus on family attractions. He claims, “If you build it, they will come.” Then, fine, build it, people pay to use the water park, and the owner of the water park makes money. So why is the tax break needed? There are two possible reasons. The first is that not enough people will show up to make the water park profitable, so the owner of the water park, working with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, decides that taxpayers, including those who don’t use water parks, should provide the financial resources not provided by the water park customers. Why not raise admission fees? The answer is that increased admission fees would reduce the number of customers. In other words, the project is financially unfeasible. The second is that the water park would be profitable, but a tax break would make it even more profitable, just another manifestation of the disjointed world in which we live, a world in which profits are never sufficient.
What would happen if someone wanted to start a necessary business in Atlantic City? Would the person get tax breaks for twenty years? Would the person get tax breaks on the equipment or services that are purchased to start the business? I doubt it.
The history of the project is interesting. In 2014, the Showboat Casino closed. It was purchased by the water park developer in 2016 and reopened as a non-gambling hotel. Three years later he proposed resuming gambling activities in the hotel, and obtained preliminary approval to seek a casino license. If approved, it would be Atlantic City’s tenth casino. It is unclear whether the casino license will be pursued. The water park is proposed for vacant land next to the Showboat. A previous attempt to build a water park, sought by a different developer, fell apart when financing could not be obtained. The same developer also tried unsuccessfully to build a water park in the environs of Atlantic City. Eight years ago, a third group proposed a water park in the city but it, too, failed.
As I wrote in It’s Not Just Sports Franchise Owners Grasping at Tax Breaks: “Here is how truly free capitalism, which doesn’t exist in this country, works. A developer proposes a project. If it’s a home run, investors flood the developer’s inbox and voicemail. If it’s a pretty good idea, enough investors show up. If an insufficient number of investors or investment dollars show up, then it’s a project not worth pursuing.” [Water parks] are not essential functions of society and do not deserve tax breaks, especially when taxpayers are lining up at food banks, facing eviction, and losing jobs. Public dollars, that is, money paid by taxpayers, should be put into facilities and projects over which the public, not oligarchs, have control. The price for public money, whether tax breaks or kickbacks of fees, should be public control.” So, It seems to me that someone who wants to build a water park should run the numbers. If the numbers pan out, financing should be available. If financing is not available, it’s a good indication that the project doesn’t have a promising future. If the only way to make the project work is to ask taxpayers to pay more in order to give tax breaks to the proponent, then the taxpayers should be given the opportunity to answer a referendum question, “Are you in favor of tax breaks in the amount of [whatever], to be granted for a period of [so many years], to be provided to [name of proponent or developer]?” I am confident the tax break seekers would recoil at the thought of making the tax break dependent on a taxpayer referendum.
Friday, January 01, 2021
The reader asked if the parent has rental income, pointing out that the parent owns the property and has the legal right to rent the property. The reader suggested that under Lucas v. Earl, 281 US 111 (1930), the parent should not be able to assign the rental income to the child. Yet the child is doing all of the work to generate the rental income, and the parent is not giving up anything or being inconvenienced. The reader wondered if the transaction should be treated as a loan of the property by the parent to the child.
My response is that the child is acting as the agent of the parent. The parent owns the property. The parent can end the arrangement whenever the parent chooses to do so. The leeway granted to the child in terms of handling the specific details of renting out the property doesn’t shift ownership of the property or the income it generates from the parent to the child any more than leaving the details of a brokerage account investments to the broker causes the account income to shift from its owner to the broker. The rental income is the parent’s, the rental expenses are the parent’s, and whatever net income the parent permits the child to retain is a combination of compensation to the child for his rental agent activities, which is a fact question, and to the extent the net income exceeds reasonable compensation for the child’s services, a gift by the parent to the child. So the parent’s adjusted gross income would reflect an amount equal to the amount of the gift, reflecting gross income equal to the rental income, deductions equal to the rental expenses and the compensation to the child. Presumably, the child acts as an independent contractor, so the parent would not have any employer withholding obligations.
The reasoning behind my response reflects what would happen if the parent entered into the same arrangement with an unrelated third party. The twist would be that to the extent the third party kept all of the net income, the facts would indicate that the entire net income kept by the third party was compensation to the third party. Of course, to the extent that amount exceeded a fair market value compensation amount, the parent would not enter into the same arrangement, which is further support for concluding that when the arrangement is with the child, the excess kept by the child is a gift by the parent to the child.
I pointed out that the numbers could be tricky. Suppose that the depreciation on the property exceeds the net cash income. Because of the parent’s use of the property (presumably the days of use in July and August exceed the greater of 14 or 10 percent of the rental days) section 280A would block any loss (except to the extent somehow interest and taxes alone exceeded the net rental income). But that would not change the tax treatment of the amounts kept by the child, nor would it diminish the parent’s rental income.
Treating the arrangement as a loan of the property simply complicates matters, because it would require a determination of deemed rent paid by the child to the parent, and would not prevent the parent from having some sort of rental income. There probably are better ways to handle the arrangement. For example, the parent and the child could enter into a partnership, with the parent contributing the property and the child contributing services. That would permit some of the net income to be reported by the child rather than by the parent. The arrangement as described does not have sufficient indicia of an intent to create a partnership. Another example would be transfer of the property to the child, with a reserved right of occupancy. Whether the transfer should be a gift, a sale, or a part-gift-part-sale, and the other details of the transfer, depend on the particular facts and circumstances of the parent’s financial and tax situation, whether the child is an only child, and similar concerns.
My guess is that when these arrangements occur, neither the parent nor the child thinks about the tax and other consequences. There is a conversation, the idea makes sense to the parent, the parent agrees, and off goes the child to list the property for rent. And if something goes awry, tax or otherwise, disputes will arise. For example, who gets sued and is ultimately responsible if a hazard on the property causes physical injury to a tenant? Who is listed as owner on the property insurance policy? Ultimately, it’s not just a tax issue, and the assistance of legal counsel is highly recommended.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
On November 15, 2018, the IRS issued a Letter 916C, indicating that it could not consider the taxpayers' 2015 refund because "[their] supporting information was not complete." On that same day, Mr. Castro faxed to the IRS the required power of attorney form, intending to give three individuals -- himself, Tiffany Michelle Hunt, and Kasondra Kay Humphreys -- the authority to represent taxpayer George Brown before the IRS for 2014 through 2018. The power of attorney form was not signed by George Brown but by Tiffany Michelle Hunt.
On January 14, 2019, the IRS received the taxpayers’ second amended tax return for 2015, claiming the same $7,636 refund as claimed on the first amended return. Again, this amended return was signed by Mr. Castro but not by the taxpayers, and it was not accompanied by a power of attorney form. On April 26, 2019, the IRS issued a Letter 569 (DO), proposing to disallow the 2015 and 2017 refunds. On May 28, 2019, Mr. Castro submitted a Request for Appeals Review for 2017 on behalf of the taxpayers.
On June 10, 2019, the taxpayers filed their original complaint with the Court of Federal Claims, asserting refund claim for 2015. On June 25, 2019, they filed their first amended complaint, also for 2015. On September 5, 2019, they filed their second amended complaint, expanding their lawsuit to 2016 and 2017. On May 15, 2020, the United States filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction over the complaint because the taxpayers had failed to "verify, under the penalties of perjury, the 2015 and 2017 administrative claims for refund on which they base this suit" and failed to properly authorize a representative to sign on their behalf. On June 12, 2020, the taxpayers filed a response to the motion to dismiss, asserting that the IRS waived the taxpayer signature requirement by fully investigating the merits of plaintiffs' claims. On June 29, 2020, the United States filed a reply, contending that the doctrine of waiver is inapplicable to the taxpayer signature requirement and that, even if it were, the taxpayers had not satisfied its required elements. The court held oral argument on October 20, 2020.
The court explained that in order for it to have jurisdiction over the refund claim, the taxpayer must first duly file a claim for refund or credit with the IRS. To be duly filed, the claim must be “verified by a written declaration that it is made under the penalties of perjury.” This requirement can be satisfied “when a legal representative certifies the claim and attaches evidence of a valid power of attorney.” The court noted that the taxpayers had failed to sign the amended returns on which they based their claims for refund, and that those returns were not accompanied by a power of attorney demonstrating that Mr. Castro had the authority to sign on the taxpayers' behalf. The power of attorney form subsequently filed by Mr. Castro failed to include the taxpayers’ signatures.
The taxpayers conceded that they had not complied with the requirement of a written declaration, but argued that the IRS waived that requirement when it investigated the merits of their refund claim. The United States replied that the doctrine of waiver does not apply to the taxpayer signature requirement, and if it did, the elements of waiver had not been satisfied. The court explained that the Supreme Court has held that the waiver doctrine applies to regulatory but not statutory requirements. The signature requirement, though set forth in regulations, also is required by sections 6061 and 6065 of the Internal Revenue Code. The taxpayers argued, in effect, that because the regulations repeat the statutory signature requirement, the requirement became a regulatory requirement and no longer is a statutory requirement. They also argued that the statute does not create a signature requirement. The court concluded that the requirement is statutory and cannot be waived. Thus, the court did not address whether the requirements of a waiver had been met. It also noted that reaching the opposite conclusion “would be inconsistent with the tax code's purpose as the ‘IRS's requirement that taxpayers sign under penalties of perjury enables the IRS `to enforce directly against a rogue taxpayer.’” The court granted the motion to dismiss.
Though taxpayers need to review returns prepared by a third party before signing them, to make certain that the returns do not contain false information and do not omit relevant information, to what extent are taxpayers required to demand or request that a tax return preparer give them the opportunity to sign amended returns? If the tax return preparer replies that the preparer can sign under a power of attorney, how much responsibility does the taxpayer have to make certain that the power of attorney is properly completed and signed? How much tax procedure must taxpayers know and understand when a tax return preparer is doing the work? To what extent must taxpayers become the supervisors of tax returns preparers? Interestingly, the court noted that it had addressed the signature requirement in two earlier cases, both involving taxpayers for whom Mr. Castro had been the tax return preparer.
It is easy to propose that taxpayers should know that they must sign every original and amended return or that they must sign a power of attorney permitting someone else to sign the returns. But as a practical matter, how can taxpayers be educated with respect to these requirements? Are they taught these things in the K-12 educational system? Do they enroll in post-secondary-education courses that teach these things? I daresay most taxpayers do not understand or understand only to a limited degree not only the signature requirements but the need for the power of attorney to be properly completed. The answer is that the tax return preparer or other advisor has the responsibility to make certain that the returns and other documents comply with all requirements, particularly those likely to be beyond the understanding of the taxpayer client. These issues add to the long list of reasons taxpayers need to select their tax return preparers carefully, especially when it is tempting to make the choice based on cost, promises of increased refunds, or similar reasons. One thing that taxpayers can do is to check for a preparer’s professional credentials, starting with this explanation from the IRS, and making use of this Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications, though further exploration of online reviews and advice from other professionals is advisable.
Monday, December 28, 2020
On more than a few occasions I have explained why demand-side economics makes much more sense, and why supply-side economics makes no sense. In The Expensing Deduction is an Expensive and Broken Idea, I reacted to a proposal “to deduct all expenditures related to the operation of their business in the United States” with this explanation:
However, it nonetheless amounts to nothing more than a windfall tax break for those businesses, chiefly large enterprises that are buying equipment. Giving a tax deduction for an expenditure that already is being made surely is not an incentive to make that expenditure. The solution to job creation is not supply-side, but demand-side. Some members of Congress understand this. Others don’t, continuing to drop raw eggs on the concrete floor from three stories up, in the belief that the eggs won’t break.In Does Repealing the Corporate Income Tax Equal More Jobs?, I explained why repealing the corporate income tax does not create jobs. I explained:
There currently are corporations drowning in cash, and they aren’t hiring. Why? A business does not hire unless it needs employees. Acquisition of cash is not a reason to hire. A business hires if it needs employees. It needs employees if it has more work to do than its current employees can handle. Those situations arise when the gross receipts of the business increase. That happens when customers spend more. Customers do not spend more unless they have both resources and either a need or desire for the goods or services being sold by the business. That happens when money is infused into the hands of consumers. In other words, what works is demand-side economics. Eliminating the corporate income tax does not increase demand.In Tax Perspectives of the Wealthy: Observing the Writing on the Wall, I reacted to a letter written by almost four dozen New York millionaires supporting an increase in New York state income taxes applicable to millionaire income. I wrote:
What motivates these millionaires is the realization that, in the long run, insufficient tax revenue erodes the infrastructure on which the economy rests, an economy that generate the income and wealth held by the millionaire and billionaires. Similarly, as the number of “New Yorkers who are struggling economically” increases, there is a decrease in the amount of purchased goods and services, in turn harming the overall economy. Put simply, though these millionaires did not articulate it in this manner, a healthy state economy, just like the national and global economies, depends on demand-side activity. The death of supply-side, trickle-down economic theory is a slow one, but its final breath draws nearer.In Kansas Demonstrates Again Why Supply-Side Economics Fails, I reviewed my earlier commentaries on the supply-side disaster in Kansas, and noted. “Apparently belief in failed supply-side economics dies hard.”
Of course, from time to time, advocates of supply-side economics and trickle-down nonsense write to me, claiming that I am wrong, that I don’t understand reality, that I have no clue about economics, and that I would be best served by supporting the desire of the wealthy for even more money. Why these acolytes of foolish theories persist in clinging to their beliefs when it is clear that the theories don’t work puzzles me. Is it simply a belief that this approach to national tax policy increases the chances of each of these acolytes to join the ranks of the wealthy? Is it fear of change? Is it fear of losing clients?
And in this atmosphere of diehard adherents of supply-side theory clinging desperately to their dreams, along comes a study from the London School of Economics that puts the final nail in the coffin of trickle-down nonsense. According to the study, tax breaks for the wealthy increase income inequality by sizeable amounts but have no significant effect on economic growth or employment. Though my focus has almost always been on United States taxation, the researchers at the London School of Economics looked at data from 18 countries, including the United States. They examined economies from 1970 through 2020.
Consistent with what I have argued, the study demonstrates that cutting taxes on the wealthy does not cause the wealthy to create jobs, just as a separate study showed that “income tax holidays and windfall gains do not lead individuals to significantly alter the amount they work.” One of the researchers explained, “Our research shows that the economic case for keeping taxes on the rich low is weak. Major tax cuts for the rich since the 1980s have increased income inequality, with all the problems that brings, without any offsetting gains in economic performance.” Another added, “Our results might be welcome news for governments as they seek to repair the public finances after the COVID-19 crisis, as they imply that they should not be unduly concerned about the economic consequences of higher taxes on the rich.”
As I have previously noted, it's tough watching people go back for seconds and thirds at the buffet table when other people aren’t even getting a decent meal. Claiming that heaping more food onto the buffet table will solve the problem is clever by too much. In Tax Perspectives of the Wealthy: Observing the Writing on the Wall, I also wrote, “The concern is not that the writing is on the wall for outdated trickle-down economic theory. The concern is that some people are unable to read that writing or to understand what it means or why it is there.”
To me, the study is yet more proof that what we need is a repayment tax, which I explained in Learning About Wealth Taxes By Watching What Happens in Argentina, and A Better Alternative to a Wealth Tax? It is time for the folks who broke the promises they made to get tax breaks pay back what they grabbed. It is time for the advocates of supply-side economics and trickle-down theories to admit they have been wrong and to redeem themselves. It is time for those addicted to money, for the billionaires and multi-millionaires whose thirst for even more wealth can never be sated, to get into economic rehabilitation. It is time for intervention.
Friday, December 25, 2020
Though Christmas tree legislation can pop up at any time during the year, it seems fitting that this year’s version was enacted shortly before Christmas. It is the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The bill consists of 5,593 pages. As often is the case with Christmas tree legislation, members of Congress were asked to vote on the bill before they had an opportunity to read it. The excuse for this nonsense is that Congress was up against a deadline, but the reason Congress was up against a deadline was its failure to give itself enough time because playing partisan politics is a priority for most of the members.
So let’s explore what sort of surprise gifts were left by Santa for the special interest groups. I’m not referring to the provisions in the legislation that were expected and that are relevant to the purpose of the legislation, provisions dealing with stimulus checks, unemployment compensation supplements, small business loans, grants to closed venues, school funding, rental assistance and money for vaccine acquisition and distribution. I’m referring to things such as
- Restoration of a full deduction for corporate business meals, ostensibly to help restaurants but which is unlikely to increase the amount of food and drinks consumed during corporate business meals though cutting taxes for taxpayers in a position to benefit from corporate business meals
- Creating two new museums at the Smithsonian
- Establishing safety standards for portable fuel containers
- Expansion of the Saguaro National Park and creation of a new national park in West Virginia
- Money for the Space Force
- The naming of a mountain as Miracle Mountain because a wildfire burned itself out on the mountain before reaching Elk Ridge City
- Repeal of criminal penalties for transporting water hyacinths, alligator grass, and water chestnut plants across state lines
- Repeal of criminal penalties for unauthorized use of the Swiss coat of arms, the 4-H Club emblem, the Smokey Bear character, the Woodsy Owl character, and the Golden Eagle insignia
- New horse racetrack safety standards and creation of a horse racing anti-doping program
- Prohibiting the use of the United States Postal Service for delivering electronic vaping products
- Requiring carbon monoxide detectors in public housing
- Statements of policy with respect to Tibet, including the succession or reincarnation of the Dalai Lama
- Statements of policy with respect to Belarus
- Increased penalties for illegal streaming
It is important to understand that I am not suggesting these are bad provisions. For example, it makes good sense to require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing. It doesn’t hurt to have a new national park. Nor am I suggesting that all of these provisions belong in federal legislation, and readers surely can identify several that ought not be distracting Congress when it has more important business to handle. My point is that these provisions that are unrelated to each other should be the subject of separate bills so that they can be evaluated independently. Instead, fearful that a provision will not get enacted when standing alone, sponsors, acting on behalf of special interest groups, threaten to withhold support for important legislation unless their gift to the special interest group is included. It’s the equivalent of saying, “I will vote for this important legislation only if you give me, in that bill, an additional provision that deals with a subject unrelated to the purpose of the legislation and that probably could not get enacted on its own.” There’s a name for that, when someone gets a “gift” to do something. It’s an awful way to do business, and it contributes to the legislative logjams that disadvantage most Americans. When allegiance to party and allegiance to pet projects take priority over responsibility to the entire nation, only the grinches celebrate.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Here is an example. Back in 2017, as reported in various news outlets, including this story, Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, “cut a deal with Senate leadership” to become the deciding 50th vote for that ill-advised 2107 tax legislation. Johnson, who had been a staunch opponent of increasing the deficit, tossed aside concerns about the impact of the legislation on the deficit because, he claimed, the legislation would generate enough growth to offset the deficit increase. Aside from that claim defying mathematical possibility, it didn’t happen, and it would not have happened with or without the pandemic, because it is just more nonsense from the supply side economic policy and trickle down theory crowd. The deal that Johnson cut expanded tax breaks for certain pass-through entities, including those in which Johnson, a multimillionaire, owns interests. In other words, the deal cut by Johnson provided a tax break for Johnson and his wife.
So that happens all the time in the Congress. What’s the big deal? Last Friday, in a bipartisan effort to break the COVID relief logjam, Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who usually lines up with Democrats, and Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, offered a compromise for which they requested unanimous consent. Unanimous consent moves legislation through the Senate more quickly than the usual process. But they didn’t get the unanimous consent. Why? Because Johnson, the guy who back in 2017 tossed off deficit increases as nothing to worry about, blocked the unanimous consent request, twice. According to this report, Johnson explained that he did not support assistance to individuals, though he still advocates assistance to businesses, because he is “concerned about our children's future. ... We do not have an unlimited checking account.” Oh, really? And that wasn’t an issue in 2017?
Back in 2014, I wrote, in Why Do Those Who Dislike Government Spending Continue to Support Government Spenders?:
There’s something not quite right in the collective psyche of the anti-government-spending crowd. Enraged by high taxes, they manage to put into office, and keep in office, people who dish out tax revenues as though there were no limits on taxation. Of course, the tax breaks go to those who are in least need of economic assistance. Their excuse, that they will use the tax breaks to help those in need, is hilarious, because the best way to help those in need is to direct assistance directly to them so that they can infuse those dollars into the economy. That makes the economy grow. Handing tax dollars to those who don’t need financial assistance is nothing more than helping some people grow their Swiss bank stash.I followed that quote with this reaction, in When Those Who Hate Takers Take Tax Revenue:
At what point will enough voters see through the con game and send packing the takers who took over political control by demonizing takers? When will political hypocrisy disappear? At what point will people realize that economic growth consists of creating something of economic value and not simply moving jobs from one place to another?The answer to my bolded, and perhaps bold, question is, “Unfortunately not yet.”
Johnson and his ilk definitely prove the observation that Republicans don’t like deficit spending unless it arises from handing out tax breaks to the wealthy. When it comes to assisting the vast non-wealthy segment of the nation’s population, these politicians cringe at the thought of letting the deficit grow. And here is news for Johnson: If you had not enacted that foolish 2017 tax legislation, the nation would be in better financial shape to meet the economic needs of those who are suffering. What is sad is that so many people deeply in need of help continue to vote for Johnson and politicians like him. They remind me of the abused spouse who complains and seeks sympathy but goes back to the abuser, repeating this behavioral pattern until tragedy strikes. How many more times will the help-the-wealth-the-poor-be-damned politicians get votes and support? How many more times until the tragedy that strikes is irremediable?
Monday, December 21, 2020
But now comes a case in which the preparer not only prepared and filed false returns for clients, but also failed to report as income the fees collected from the clients. According to this this Department of Justice report, a tax return preparer in Portland, Oregon, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of preparing and filing false and fraudulent tax returns for clients and four counts of filing false income tax returns for herself, after having been indicted on 25 total counts. The counts were based on preparation activities from 2015 through 2018, and involved 1,196 fraudulent returns prepared for about 629 clients. These returns generated about $3 million in false tax refunds. In the meantime, the preparer failed to report any business income from preparing returns for the years 2014 through 2017.
The preparer ran the business from her home, and advertised that she would obtain the “Biggest Refund Guaranteed.” The refunds were computed by using false filing statuses, false credits, and false tax schedules.
It’s no secret that there are tax return preparers who do not comply with the tax laws. It’s no secret that they get caught. It’s no secret that they are indicted and either plead guilty or are convicted. Yet there are tax return preparers who continue to prepare and file false returns. Given the eventual outcome, why do they do this? Yes, there are people who think they can “get away” with a crime, but when the activity leaves a paper trail, it makes it too easy for the IRS and Department of Justice to discover the reality.
Friday, December 18, 2020
According to this earlier article, back in March, a former supervisor in the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office was charged with bribery and blackmail. He allegedly received more than $30,000 in bribes to register vehicles that did not qualify for registration. Over a 28-month period, he registered vehicles that had failed emissions tests or that were owned by people lacking valid drivers’ licenses. His “fees” ranged from $100 for vehicles failing the emissions tests, $200 for vehicles owned by people without valid drivers’ licenses, and between $500 and $1,000 for vehicles for which people did not have titles or tag applications.
When he confessed to the FBI that he had accepted the bribes, he was fired by the Commissioner’s Office. Shortly thereafter, the former supervisor met with an individual who did not know he had been fired and who provided the former supervisor with money and paperwork to register non-qualifying vehicles. Several days later, the individual asked for a return of the money and paperwork, but the former supervisor tried to persuade the individual to give him more money in exchange for his not disclosing to the FBI the individual’s involvement in the scheme.
In July, according to this article, he pleaded guilty to the bribery and blackmail charges. He was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of supervised release.
According to the article whose headline caught my eye, earlier this month two women who had bribed the former supervisor were indicted on charges of fraud and bribery. They bribed the supervisors because they lacked valid licenses. According to the indictment, they gave him thousands of dollars in $200 bribes over a 6-month period.
The moral is simple. The price paid in trying to avoid paying taxes, fixing a vehicle’s emissions system, getting a drivers’ license or a valid vehicle title, can be far more than the cost of doing what should have been done. What is the financial cost of serving a prison sentence? As for taking bribes, is a bit more than $30,000 worth two years?
I am guessing that there are some other people in DeKalb or nearby counties who have read or will read the same story I did. I am guessing that at least some of them are now wondering if and when there will be a knock on the door.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
But, of course, it’s not just sports franchise owners who pretend to be poor while they seek tax breaks that ultimately burden those who aren’t wealthy. Sports franchises get attention because they are so often in the public spotlight, and gather interest from a significant portion of the public. An example of the scope of the “we are wealthy but pretend we can’t survive without tax breaks” game has popped up in Biloxi, Mississippi. According to this story, the developers of a resort featuring a hotel, casino, and conference center have come begging to the city council not only for forgiveness of half of the ad valorem tax on the project for five years but also a kickback of 10 percent of the city’s share of casino license fees for five years. A parallel request is being made to Harrison County, in which Biloxi is located. And while this is going on, the developers of another casino wants public financing assistance, though tax increment financing bonds, for infrastructure improvements. Back in June the city council approved a tourism tax rebate for that project.
The developers want these tax breaks “to entice investors to support” the project. Of course, they claim that they will be creating jobs. Isn’t that true of anyone who wants to start or continue a business, construct a building, or initiate any other public activity. So why doesn’t a plumber, for example, who wants to expand the business and hire several employees, thus creating jobs, get a tax break? My guess is that the plumber lacks the resources to “persuade” politicians to dish out tax breaks for the plumbing business. Remember that quip from Leona Helmsley? "We don't pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes."
Perhaps a factor in the tax break request is the increase in the proposed cost of the resort from $400 million a year ago to $700 million now. So how does the cost of a project almost double in a year? Doubling of wages paid to the construction workers? Hardly. Doubling of materials costs? Very unlikely, and even a doubling of materials costs would not double the cost of the project. Adding more features and frills? Perhaps. The solution, of course, would be to scale the project back down to what it was, just as many Americans without jobs are scaling back their expenditures. Or could it be that funds are being funneled into other projects outside of Biloxi? Maybe. Maybe not. But surely if I were sitting on Biloxi Council, I would want to know why a developer who easily doubles the cost of the project can’t afford to pay taxes.
As for the “to entice investors to support” the project excuse, it’s nonsense. Here is how truly free capitalism, which doesn’t exist in this country, works. A developer proposes a project. If it’s a home run, investors flood the developer’s inbox and voicemail. If it’s a pretty good idea, enough investors show up. If an insufficient number of investors or investment dollars show up, then it’s a project not worth pursuing.
As much as I enjoy watching professional sports, and even though I have stopped in several Las Vegas casinos from time to time, those are not essential functions of society and do not deserve tax breaks, especially when taxpayers are lining up at food banks, facing eviction, and losing jobs. Public dollars, that is, money paid by taxpayers, should be put into facilities and projects over which the public, not oligarchs, have control. The price for public money, whether tax breaks or kickbacks of fees, should be public control. I am confident the tax break seekers would recoil at that thought.