Tax Break

Essential tax and accounting reading: Contrasting tax plans from Obama and Romney, unequal tax payments, dividend tax hike, and more

A Rick Santorum campaign video screens at Mitt Romney's South Carolina primary rally, January 21, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Obama, Romney offer contrasting tax plans. Zachary Goldfarb and Philip Rucker – The Washington Post. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney offered competing proposals for how the government should tax citizens and companies, previewing the ideological clash over taxes that is likely to be at the forefront of the general-election campaign. Obama released a long-awaited plan to overhaul the country’s corporate tax code that plays directly to his base, following his call this month for significant tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans. A short time later Romney unveiled a series of deep cuts in personal and corporate income tax rates, the kind of reductions that have become a tenet of Republican economic thinking. The former Massachusetts governor proposed reducing the rates for individual taxpayers by a fifth, meaning that the highest earners would pay a top rate of 28 percent, compared with 35 percent today. He also suggested taxing corporate profits at a rate of 25 percent. Link

* Obama urges corporate tax cut, closing loopholes. Kim Dixon and Rachelle Younglai – Reuters. President Obama made an opening offer in what could be a long negotiation with corporate America on Wednesday, putting forward his first detailed plan to cut the corporate tax rate. Though it has little chance of becoming law in an election year with Congress paralyzed over fiscal issues, the plan shows Obama’s intent to favor domestic over offshore manufacturing and to broaden the tax base by closing corporate tax loopholes. Of the 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones industrial average, 19 told shareholders that their effective tax rate for their 2011 fiscal years (mostly ending Dec. 31) was lower than Obama’s proposed new tax rate. Link

* Romney proposes 28 percent top U.S. income tax rate. Steve Holland and Patrick Temple-West – Reuters. Republican Mitt Romney revised his proposal for overhauling the U.S. tax code, calling for all individual tax rates to be cut by 20 percent while declining to offer specifics on how to make up the lost revenue from lower rates. Romney’s new tax plan would put the top individual tax rate at 28 percent, down from the top statutory 35 percent rate and matching rival Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s proposed top rate. Romney is seeking to regain momentum in his campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination to face Obama, a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 election. The Romney campaign said on Wednesday that the candidate’s overall budget plan would be revenue neutral. But it provided no details on which politically contentious tax breaks would be cut to avoid ballooning the budget deficit if his tax cuts were implemented. Link

* Winners and losers from a tax proposal. Binyamin Applebaum – The New York Times. The Obama administration, seeking to promote domestic manufacturing without increasing the federal deficit, proposed Wednesday to offset new tax breaks for manufacturers by raising taxes on a wide range of other companies. Some of the prospective losers are familiar targets, including oil and gas companies, private equity firms and companies that move jobs overseas. The proposal would also roll back provisions that benefit a range of other companies, including Menards, the Midwestern home improvement chain; Brown-Forman, which distills Jack Daniel’s; and Duke Energy, of North Carolina. Some manufacturing firms could face higher taxes, too, because they are major beneficiaries of those same provisions. Over all, the plan seeks to reduce the share of profits manufacturers pay in federal taxes from an average of 26 percent in 2007 and 2008 to a maximum of 25 percent. Link

Romney’s 2010 IRS return flags complex tax strategies

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. REUTERS/Laura Segall

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s release of his 2010 tax return offers a rare glimpse at two sophisticated tax transactions which the U.S. Internal Revenue Service requires that taxpayers disclose for investments driven by tax considerations.

Like thousands of other Americans’ returns, Romney’s included special attachments flagging “reportable transactions” to the IRS. Known as Form 8886s, the attachments showed that these foreign currency and contingent swap transactions were undertaken by one Bain Capital fund and three Goldman Sachs funds in which blind trusts for the assets of Romney and his wife Ann have invested several million dollars.

Under disclosure rules strengthened in 2002 to grapple with rising tax evasion by Americans, the IRS requires taxpayers to disclose transactions that it has banned or warned it may challenge as improper.

Essential tax and accounting reading: Obama and rival offer tax plans, UK considers a mansion tax, and more

 

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

 * Obama to propose corporate tax rate of 28 percent. Kim Dixon – Reuters. The Obama administration will propose cutting the top tax rate for corporations to 28 percent, and pay for it by eliminating dozens of tax loopholes companies now use to lower their rates, a senior administration official said. Most analysts doubt that the convoluted tax system could be revamped by a deeply divided Congress in an election year, but the announcement is certain to fuel debate in the run-up to November’s elections. The plan, over a year in the making, is President Barack Obama’s first official foray into reform of the tax code, which most experts believe badly needs a revamp after years of being loaded up with special provisions. The centerpiece is a cut in the top corporate rate – now at 35 percent, among the highest in the industrialized world. That will appeal to businesses, which gripe that the current U.S. rate puts them at a competitive disadvantage. Controversy will erupt when officials lay out which “loopholes” they want to cut. The proposal makes a special carve-out for manufacturing – cutting that tax rate to 25 percent – and proposes a minimum tax on profits earned in low tax countries. Link 

* Romney says wants ‘flatter, simpler’ tax system. Steve Holland – Reuters. Battling to come back in Michigan, Republican Mitt Romney said on Tuesday he wants a tax system that is flatter and simpler as he laid the groundwork for a major economic address coming up in days. Romney is expected to release an updated tax plan on Wednesday ahead of the Republican candidates’ debate in Phoenix. “I want to see taxes flatter, and fairer and simpler, because I want our tax policies to encourage growth,” Romney said on Tuesday. Link

* Heralding end of ‘dark times,’ Christie offers budget that is bigger and cuts taxes. Kate Zernike – The New York Times. After two years of enforcing austerity, Gov. Chris Christie argued on Tuesday that New Jersey could afford to have it all, presenting a budget he said would cut income taxes by 10 percent at the same time it gave money to schools, provided for the poor and met the state’s pension obligations. The governor proclaimed that “we have left the dark times” as he proposed a $32 billion budget, a 3.7 percent increase over last year’s spending. While still less than the budget of 2008, when the economy faltered, it would be the largest of his tenure. Democrats argued that the income tax cut, which would be phased in over three years, was aimed more at presidential primary voters in Iowa than wallets in New Jersey. Link  

Foster Friess: wealthy should “self-tax” through philanthropy

Wyoming multimillionaire Foster Friess, whose super PAC strongly supported Rick Santorum’s candidacy, argues the best kind of taxation would be none at all.  Government should step back and let the wealthy “self-tax” and so choose where to spend their money rather than letting the government do so, he says.

Citing philanthropic efforts by Bill Gates and others, Friess praises them not only as the creators of jobs and great products, but also as people who embrace the idea of helping their fellow man.

In this video interview with Chrystia Freeland of Reuters, he urges the country to “honor and uplift the one percent.”

Obama touts Boeing, critics lament company tax breaks

Obama went to aircraft giant Boeing on Friday to tout U.S. manufacturing and to pitch changes in the U.S. tax code – including slashing tax deductions for corporations that shutter U.S. plants, and a new minimum tax on foreign profits earned in tax havens.
“My attitude is every multinational company should have to pay a basic international tax. You should not have an advantage by building a plant over there, over somebody who is investing here and hiring American workers,” Obama said visiting a Boeing plant in Everett, Washington.

“And every penny of that minimum tax should go towards lowering taxes for companies like Boeing that choose to stay and hire here in the United States of America,” he said.

Ironic, since most business groups are privately groaning about the idea of a basic minimum tax on foreign profits earned in low tax countries like the Cayman Islands.

U.S. IRS keeps list of “dangerous” taxpayers

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service keeps a secret list of what it calls “potentially dangerous taxpayers.” Government officials familiar with the list say the IRS has had the list since at least the early 1990s.

Half a dozen local law enforcement officials interviewed by Reuters said they didn’t know about it, but that it could be helpful in preventing violent crimes. Rights activists counter that further distribution would encroach on people’s privacy.

Earlier this month the FBI warned that anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States.

The IRS website lays out some basics about the list. Taxpayers who assault or try to intimidate IRS workers may be listed along with members of groups that advocate violence against the IRS.

Tax and Accounting Calendar

Mary Schapiro, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Some events in the week ahead:

Tuesday, February 21

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel Small Business/Self-Employed Decreasing Non-Filers Project Committee telephonic open meeting, 10 a.m. EST.

Tuesday, February 21 – Thursday, February 23

The Tax Executives Institute will sponsor a three-day seminar in San Diego, California, on audits, appeals and tax controversies, covering topics including winning at appeals, international tax controversy and building an effective transfer pricing case. Sheldon M. Kay, deputy chief of IRS Appeals, will be the Tuesday luncheon speaker.

Tax loss harvesting: how and why to do it

In a groundbreaking 1998 behavioral economics study,  Berkeley professor Terrance Odean found that as a group, investors tend to hold on to their losers, hoping for a rebound, and instead sell their winners.

That’s often a bad idea, and not just because losers may keep descending. Hanging onto those losers also keeps you from taking advantage of some smart tax planning.

In this video, Reuters Personal Finance Editor Lauren Young explains how to lock in your investment losers to reduce what you owe Uncle Sam.

Who’s the poorest of the presidential candidates?

Rick Santorum addresses the Detroit Economic Club, February 16, 2012. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

One thing Rick Santorum’s tax returns, released late on Wednesday, made clear: None of the leading presidential candidates fits into the 99 percent of the populist Occupy Wall Street movement.

Santorum told Politico he isn’t rich. “I don’t have wealth,” he said.

Essential tax and accounting reading: Santorum’s tax returns, progress on payroll taxes, Wegelin, and more

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaking at a rally in Tacoma, Washington REUTERS/Anthony Bolante

The top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Santorum reports four years of tax returns. Samuel Jacobs – Reuters. Republican U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum released tax returns on Wednesday showing he and his wife earned around $1 million annually in the last few years. Santorum issued returns for the last four years, the most of the current Republican candidates who have tried to outdo each other in showing transparency about their taxes. The former Pennsylvania senator and his wife earned $659,000 in 2007, $952,000 in 2008, $1.1 million in 2009 and about $923,000 in 2010, according to the tax returns posted online by the Politico news organization. Link

* Lawmakers finalize payroll-tax agreement. Naftali Bendavid and Siobhan Hughes – The Wall Street Journal. Congressional negotiators working on a deal to extend jobless benefits and a payroll-tax cut say they have come to a deal, paving the way for a vote before the policies expire at the end of the month. A tentative deal outlined earlier this week would extend the tax break, which reduces workers’ payroll taxes to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent, until year-end. It would also renew expiring jobless benefits but cut the maximum number of weeks. And it would adjust the Medicare payment system to avoid a 27 percent drop in physicians’ fees. Under a last-minute deal, only new government employees will be subject to pension-contribution increases. The Senate’s three Republican negotiators will not back the package, a Senate aide said. That does not undermine the agreement, but it could potentially pose complications for House Republicans, who will take a tough vote without the backing of some key counterparts in the Senate. Rank-and-file GOP lawmakers already dislike the package because lawmakers did not find a way to offset the cost of extending cuts to the payroll tax. Link