Opinion

David Cay Johnston

Ignoring tax cheats

David Cay Johnston
Sep 27, 2011 14:05 UTC

By David Cay Johnston
The writer is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Each year New York State lets real estate investors evade at least $200 million of taxes. In peak years the figure likely rises to $700 million, if known tax cheating in another state is any indication. Some of the investors who cheat New York State also cheat New York City out of at least $40 million annually.

Back in the 1990s Jerry Curnutt figured out how to finger such cheats when he was the top partnership specialist at the Internal Revenue Service. Curnutt’s computer sifted through tax returns until he learned how to separate thieves from honest taxpayers. The tax-evasion estimates of $200 million and $40 million are his.

Six New York state tax auditors took classes Curnutt taught in June 2000 and gave stellar evaluations. California’s top tax auditor praised Curnutt’s course as “effective, relevant and most importantly, appreciated and understood by our auditors.”

Why has nothing been done for more than 11 years to make the cheats in New York pay what the law requires?

More for the rich

David Cay Johnston
Sep 20, 2011 13:42 UTC

By David Cay Johnston
The views expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama this week started pitching his plan to cut U. S. taxes for everyone in 2012 and then in 2013 raise income tax rates for high earners, primarily those making more than $1 million, many of whom bear a lighter burden than a cop married to a nurse.

Two responses are certain.

There will be claims that economic ruin will follow once taxes go up. Never mind the proposed 2012 tax cuts are for virtually everyone. Never mind that the modest rate hikes would apply only to those who make more than 97 percent of their fellow Americans with most of the burden on those making more than $1 million. Never mind IRS data showing that tens of thousands of those whose increased taxes would increase their income tax rate by just 1.2 percentage points make more in a year than the median family earns in a lifetime.

Obama has also set a clever trap for anti-tax Republicans. Obama’s American Jobs Act would lower Social Security taxes for all workers and for all businesses in 2012. Republicans who vote against the bill would be voting against a tax cut. They would also be voting against a huge business tax break, letting business immediately write off all capital investments made in 2012.

Shrinking corporate officer pay

David Cay Johnston
Sep 16, 2011 17:25 UTC

By David Cay Johnston
The views expressed are his own.

It’s time to prick the popular image of ballooning executive pay with some sharp new facts.

As a group, corporate officers — executives with broad authority to act on the company’s behalf, not just follow orders from the CEO or some other boss — are making less, not more, my analysis of newly available tax data shows.

This is in sharp contrast with the thoroughly documented excesses at the very top revealed through analysis of disclosures to shareholders. The new tax data includes CEOs, but the few score of wildly overpaid ones at the biggest companies become statistically insignificant within the universe of nearly a million corporate officers covered in the new tax data.

Nonsense posing as wisdom

David Cay Johnston
Sep 13, 2011 13:26 UTC

By David Cay Johnston
The views expressed are his own.

Every day we hear politicians and pundits say that government spending cannot lift the economy out of the worst slump since the 1930s, which is as sensible as saying that 2-1=3 or that water and flour make steak.

Those who said after President Barack Obama’s speech last week to Congress that government does not create wealth, does not create jobs and cannot stimulate the economy spoke nonsense. So do those who say that only private business creates wealth, as if any revenue going to taxes destroys wealth.

Adam Smith, who figured out market capitalism in his 1776 book “The Wealth of Nations,” could set them straight. We have plenty of equally competent economists who understand these issues today. They just do not get the attention that the news media lavish on high-profile politicians and pundits who speak with absolute certainty on matters about which their words show they know nothing.

A simple income tax

David Cay Johnston
Sep 6, 2011 13:29 UTC

By David Cay Johnston
The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Since at least July 1, 1943, the day income tax withholding from paychecks began to finance war and tamp down demand for consumer goods, American politicians have promised a simpler tax system.

But while politicians talked on for seven decades, the code grew ever more complex with favors for this group or that, favors that mostly benefited the rich.

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