Opinion

David Cay Johnston

A gamble down on the boardwalk

David Cay Johnston
Sep 14, 2012 15:34 UTC

ATLANTIC CITY–Americans who think more legalized gambling can ease their state and local tax burdens should take a close look at the travails of this struggling New Jersey seaside resort.

Because betting is now legal in neighboring states, gambling here is way down. The casino hotels have slashed their workforces, cut real wages and, citing falling property values, received huge property tax refunds — with more refunds likely.

The city has sold $103 million of bonds to finance casino property tax refunds, bonds that with interest will cost the average homeowner more than $2,100 over the next two decades, Michael Stinson, the city finance director, said.

The city is about to sell another $35 million in bonds, while the Press of Atlantic City reports that $40 million more may have to be borrowed next year. If all that happens the average homeowner eventually may be out more than $3,600 in added taxes.

That may well understate the added costs to local taxpayers in the next few years as the gambling business is likely to shrink even more, as Mayor Lorenzo Langford told me. Each time another casino opens in nearby states, “the Atlantic City market should expect to see some lost business,” Mayor Langford said, and “one or more of the weaker casinos may close.”

Romney and Ryan’s dangerous tax roadmap

David Cay Johnston
Sep 7, 2012 15:41 UTC

Together Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have put human faces on how the super-rich game the tax system to pay less, pay later and sometimes not pay at all. Both want to expand tax favors for the already rich, like themselves.

Their approach favors dynastic wealth with largely tax-free (Romney) or completely tax-free (Ryan) lifestyles, encouraging future generations of shiftless inheritors. What we need instead is a tax system that encourages strivers in competitive markets, not a perpetual oligarchy.

Romney and Ryan say that lowering tax rates and reducing or eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends, while letting huge fortunes pass untaxed to heirs, will boost economic growth and mean prosperity for all.

Idle corporate cash piles up

David Cay Johnston
Jul 16, 2012 14:45 UTC

IRS data suggests that, globally, U.S. nonfinancial companies hold at least three times more cash and other liquid assets than the Federal Reserve reports, idle money that could be creating jobs, funding dividends or even paying a stiff federal penalty tax for hoarding corporate cash.

The Fed’s latest Flow of Funds report showed that U.S. nonfinancial companies held $1.7 trillion in liquid assets at the end of March. But newly released IRS figures show that in 2009 these companies held $4.8 trillion in liquid assets, which equals $5.1 trillion in today’s dollars, triple the Fed figure.

Why the huge gap?

The Fed gets its data from the IRS, but only measures the flow of funds in the domestic economy. The IRS reports the worldwide holdings of U.S. companies, which I think is the more revealing measure.

America’s long slope down

David Cay Johnston
Jun 20, 2012 19:18 UTC

A broad swath of official economic data shows that America and its people are in much worse shape than when we paid higher taxes, higher interest rates and made more of the manufactured goods we use.

The numbers since the turn of the millennium point to even worse times ahead if we stay the course. Let’s look at the official numbers in today’s dollars and then what can be done to change course.

First, incomes and jobs since 2000 measured per American:

Internal Revenue Service data show that average adjusted gross income fell $2,699 through 2010 or 9 percent, compared to 2000. That’s the equivalent of making it through Thanksgiving weekend and then having no income for the rest of the year.

The fortunate 400

David Cay Johnston
Jun 6, 2012 14:33 UTC

Six American families paid no federal income taxes in 2009 while making something on the order of $200 million each. This is one of many stunning revelations in new IRS data that deserves a thorough airing in this year’s election campaign.

The data, posted on the IRS website last week, brings into sharp focus the debate over whether the rich need more tax cuts (Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans) or should pay higher rates (President Obama and most Democrats).

The annual report, which the IRS typically releases with a two-year delay, covers the 400 tax returns reporting the highest incomes in 2009. These families reported an average income of $202.4 million, down for the second year as the Great Recession slashed their capital gains.

Social Security is not going broke

David Cay Johnston
May 4, 2012 17:14 UTC

Which federal program took in more than it spent last year, added $95 billion to its surplus and lifted 20 million Americans of all ages out of poverty?

Why, Social Security, of course, which ended 2011 with a $2.7 trillion surplus.

That surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits.

So why all the talk about Social Security “going broke?” That theme filled the news after release of the latest annual report of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds, as Social Security is formally called.

Abusing a tax loophole meant to aid the poor

David Cay Johnston
Apr 26, 2012 21:00 UTC

Each year the Internal Revenue Service receives tax returns that show more income than was actually earned, in some cases twice the actual earnings.

That seems bizarre at first blush. After all, why would anyone tell the tax man they made more than they did?

The answer is that Congress has created an incentive for the poorest of the working poor to report more than their actual incomes. Doing so can be worth more than $3,000 to impoverished working parents under a form of negative income tax known as the Earned Income Tax Credit that sends government money to the working poor.

Taxed by the boss

David Cay Johnston
Apr 12, 2012 11:48 UTC

Across the United States more than 2,700 companies are collecting state income taxes from hundreds of thousands of workers – and are keeping the money with the states’ approval, says an eye-opening report published on Thursday.

The report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization funded by Ford, Surdna and other major foundations, identifies 16 states that let companies divert some or all of the state income taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks. None of the states requires notifying the workers, whose withholdings are treated as taxes they paid.

General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and AMC Theatres enjoy deals to keep state taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks, the report shows. Foreign companies also enjoy such arrangements, including Electrolux, Nissan, Toyota and a host of Canadian, Japanese and European banks, Good Jobs First says.

Eliminating 100 million tax returns

David Cay Johnston
Apr 9, 2012 12:19 UTC

On March 28, the U.S. Justice Department sought to close a nationwide chain of income tax preparation shops it accuses of fraud. The action underscores the potential for abusive business practices that taxpayers face because Congress has failed to embrace technology that would eliminate most tax returns.

The Justice Department wants a federal judge to shut down Instant Tax Service, whose sole owner is Fesum Ogbazion of Dayton, Ohio, saying he is responsible for “extensive and pervasive tax fraud.” It also sued four of his 276 franchisees. The company has not responded to the lawsuit.

Congress could easily eliminate fraud by abusive tax preparers, as is alleged in the Ogbazion case, and save taxpayers billions of dollars annually, by simply ending mandatory filing of tax returns for most taxpayers.

Politicians keep placing bets

David Cay Johnston
Mar 30, 2012 21:05 UTC

Politicians in both parties are betting that allowing more gambling will make them winners at the polls by raising revenue without appearing to raise taxes.

Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Steve Beshear of Kentucky, both Democrats, each want seven casinos.

In Kansas, where the state owns casinos, Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, wants more gambling money to pay down state debts.

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