Tax Break

Essential reading: Facebook elite set up to skirt estate tax, California tax hike talk, and more

May 14, 2012

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

* How Facebook’s elite skirt estate tax. Laura Saunders – The Wall Street Journal. Tax specialists are paying attention to how half a dozen of Facebook’s luminaries, including founder Mark Zuckerberg, appear to be using a perfectly legal maneuver called a grantor-retained annuity trust, or GRAT, to avoid at least $200 million of estate and gift taxes on their own Facebook shares. Facebook’s prospectus cites eight separate “annuity trusts” set up by insiders. All told, these trusts hold about 22 million shares that will be worth more than $690 million if Facebook goes public at $31.50 a share, the middle of its projected range. Link

* Brown pushes tax hike as California’s money woes deepen. Jim Christie – Reuters. California Governor Jerry Brown was elected in 2010 on a promise to fix the state’s chronic fiscal crisis. His weekend announcement of a much bigger-than-expected shortfall in the state budget signals how far he still has to go. In an unusual move that underscored the highly politicized nature of the state budget, Brown took to YouTube on Saturday to deliver the bad news: the state’s projected budget deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1 is now $16 billion, up from the $9 billion anticipated in January. Link 

* Arrest is warning on secret offshore accounts. Laura Saunders – The Wall Street Journal. In a fresh warning to U.S. taxpayers who haven’t confessed secret offshore accounts, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Internal Revenue Service announced the arrest of Michael Little, a British investment adviser who allegedly helped several members of a prominent American family conceal more than $10 million in Swiss bank accounts for 11 years. According to the charges, Little advised the family members to set up Swiss accounts that would nominally be controlled by him and a Swiss lawyer. Link 

* Japan opposition leader hints at extended tax hike debate. Alexander Martin – The Wall Street Journal. The leader of Japan’s main opposition party on Monday suggested that an extension to the current parliamentary session may be necessary to debate the government’s proposed consumption tax hike, in a sign that he may be leaving the door open for compromise ahead. The opposition party LDP may be willing to give Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda more time to reach a compromise on a bill that would double the country’s 5 percent consumption tax to 10 percent by 2015. Link

* Americans feel defriended over perceived Eduardo Saverin tax dodge. Rene Lynch – The Los Angeles Times. Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook co-founder who renounced his U.S. citizenship in what many have seen as a move to avoid paying federal taxes, has managed to unify many Americans behind Uncle Sam’s outstretched hand. Many in the online world this week are outraged at the perception that Saverin is trying to dodge the tax man. Saverin made his riches off Facebook-loving U.S. taxpayers and is now defriending the country that made him rich. Link 

* Should carried interest be taxed as ordinary income, not as capital gains? The Wall Street Journal opinion. In the private-equity business, carried interest is the share of the profit from the sale of a company that goes to the managers of the firm that bought and then sold the company. Michael Graetz, a professor of tax law at Columbia Law School, wants carried interest taxed as ordinary income. David Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute and a professor and chairman of the economics department at Suffolk University in Boston, believes it should be taxed as capital gains. Link 

* Sunday dialogue: Making taxation fairer. The New York Times opinion. In letters to the editor, Times readers offer ideas for tax reform but doubt it will happen. Link

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