Tax Break

Essential reading: Firms pass up tax breaks, loopholes impact U.S. deficit, and more

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

* Firms pass up tax breaks, citing hassles, complexity. John McKinnon – The Wall Street Journal. Many companies are saying “no, thanks” to tax breaks and are likely paying more taxes than legally required. Corporate breaks that Washington hopes will boost the economy often prove ineffective. Firms are leaving tens of billions of dollars on the table every year. Out of 1.78 million corporate tax returns in the United States, only about 20,000 claimed any of the three dozen main business tax credits in the code, according to Internal Revenue Service estimates. Link 

* Tax loopholes block effort to close gaping U.S. deficit. Jonathan Weisman – The New York Times. Senator Mike Crapo made sure that a $3 billion loophole — protecting “black liquor,” an alcoholic sludge used as fuel in timber mills and factories — remained open in the negotiations over the highway bill that President Obama signed this month. Many budget experts criticize the loophole as a tax dodge because it allows the sludge to qualify for an energy subsidy created to wean the country off imported oil for vehicles, which black liquor does not do. Link

* Cost difference: GOP and Democrats tax plans not so far apart. John McKinnon – The Wall Street Journal. Democrats sought to highlight the lower cost of their bill to extend Bush-era tax cuts, compared to the GOP version, in an analysis they released Friday night. Senate Democrats touted their $250 billion plan as $155 billion cheaper than a competing Republican version that costs about $405 billion. The real difference between the competing plans, of course, is the GOP extension of tax breaks for families making more than $250,000 next year. That costs about $49 billion, according to the latest estimate from congressional experts. Link

* Crackdown on tax-dodge sellers. Vanessa Houlder – The Financial Times. Sales people promoting abusive tax dodges will be forced to hand over client lists, under proposals aimed at cracking down on those who “artificially and aggressively” reduce their tax bills. The UK Treasury is also considering extending the financial services misselling rules to penalize advisers who market schemes that clearly do not work, as part of new measures aimed at pricing open schemes and warning taxpayers of the risks of aggressive avoidance. Link

* Art’s sale value? Zero. The tax bill? $29 million. Patricia Cohen – The New York Times. The object under discussion is “Canyon,” a masterwork of 20th-century art created by Robert Rauschenberg that art dealer Ileana Sonnabend’s children inherited when she died in 2007. Because the work, a sculptural combine, includes a stuffed bald eagle, a bird under federal protection, the heirs would be committing a felony if they ever tried to sell it. So their appraisers have valued the work at zero. The IRS has appraised “Canyon” at $65 million and is demanding that the owners pay $29.2 million in taxes. Link

Essential reading: Obama challenges Republicans to keep tax cuts for middle class, and more

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

* Obama challenges Republicans to keep tax cuts for middle class. Jeff Mason and Alister Bull – Reuters. President Barack Obama called on Monday for a one-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year, seeking to steer the election-year debate away from high unemployment and portray himself as a champion of ordinary Americans. The tax proposal is unlikely to sway Obama’s Republican opponents in Congress, who argue that the cuts should be maintained for everyone, including higher earners. Link

* Tax bill aims to encourage small business hiring. Corey Boles – The Wall Street Journal. Senate Democrats will try this week to pass a targeted tax relief package aimed primarily at encouraging small businesses to hire new workers. The $28 billion bill, the latest in a series of election-year tax maneuvers by the political parties, would provide a tax credit to all firms that hire new workers or increase pay for existing staff. Companies could earn a maximum credit of $500,000 against their 2012 income tax liability under the bill. Link

* Maine Governor LePage apologizes for “Gestapo” comment. Reuters. Maine Governor Paul LePage apologized on Monday for calling the U.S. Internal Revenue Service the “Gestapo” during criticism of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. The Republican governor compared the tax agency to Nazi secret police during a weekend radio address on healthcare. Link

David Cay Johnston on how the well-to-do can pay no taxes

In this video Reuters tax columnist David Cay Johnston interprets some of what we know — and don’t know – about the wealthiest Americans and their taxes.

Tax fairness has been a hot topic this year.

An IRS analysis shows that of the 3,975,288 tax returns reporting income of $200,000 or more for 2009, 35,061 had no U.S. income tax liability at all.

Another IRS report looks at the 400 very highest incomes and finds that a handful of this group also hit the tax-free list.

That’s not fair! may push U.S. tax revamp

It may seem too simple to be true, but the urge among humans for basic fairness may be among the biggest drivers for a revamp of the U.S. tax code, at least competing with the influence of lobbyists, general greed and politics.

That was one message of tax war veterans gathering at the Urban Institute in Washington on Tuesday where Nietzsche, Marx and other philosophers were mulled along with the hard-nosed lessons of the last revamp in 1986 under Republican President Ronald Reagan.

“Fairness is still the queen of principles that brings us back,” to trying to fix the tax code, said Eugene Steuerle, who was a key economic aide in Reagan’s Treasury Department under that historic overhaul.
Democrats and Republicans say they want a rewrite of the code and cite the mind-numbing complexity combined with the unfairness of breaks favoring select groups. The issue could gain steam after the Nov. 6 elections.

Essential reading: Global focus on taxing the rich, tax day crashes, and more

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives to speak about tax fairness and the economy at Florida Atlantic University, April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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

* Soaking the rich might not be a panacea. Vanessa Houlder – The Financial Times. The super rich are under fire across much of the developed world. U.S. President Barack Obama is on the road this week promoting the “Buffett rule”, a minimum tax on millionaires. In France, François Hollande is proposing a 75 per cent tax rate on the rich. In Britain, George Osborne, chancellor, has expressed shock at evidence showing the scale of tax planning by some of the wealthiest people in the country. Link

*Obama to enlist millionaires in Buffett Rule campaign. Margaret Talev – Bloomberg News. President Barack Obama is intensifying his campaign for higher taxes on top U.S. earners, casting the issue against Republican opposition as one of fairness and support for the middle class. Link

Essential tax and accounting reading: taxing the rich, MF Global accounting under review, Simpson-Bowles cuts get a vote, tax hike helps New York budget, and more

Fiscal Commission co-chairs Alan Simpson (L) and Erskine Bowles April 14, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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

* The case for raising top tax rates. Eduardo Porter – The New York Times. The wealthy are feeling defensive about their taxes. Most Americans may think the rich pay too little but, not surprisingly, only 30 percent of the rich agree. More than two-thirds of families earning a quarter of a million dollars a year or more tell Gallup’s pollsters that their taxes are too high. It is true that high-income Americans carry the biggest tax burden. While fewer than 1 in 20 families make more than $200,000, they pay almost half of all federal taxes. However they feel about the tax man, there is a case to be made that they can pay much more. The reason has nothing to do with fairness, justice or ideology. It is about economics and math. Link

* US FASB weighs reform to accounting used by MF Global. Sarah Lynch – Reuters. The U.S. accounting standard-setting board could this year revamp the accounting treatment that MF Global used to mask risky European sovereign debt exposure, an official at the board will tell lawmakers on Wednesday. “Moving forward with this project will involve a series of public education and decision-making meetings and the exposure of a proposed standard for public comment,” said Financial Accounting Standards Board Technical Director Susan Cosper in prepared testimony. Cosper noted that while historically most repo-to-maturity transactions have involved U.S. Treasury securities, the range of instruments involved has broadened over the years to include other debt instruments such as those seen in the MF Global case. Link

Corporate state taxes vary widely, depend on industry, location and longevity, study finds

On Wednesday, the Tax Foundation came out with a study on the tax rates different types of businesses face in different states.

Broadly speaking, the foundation found that corporate taxation practices vary widely not only from state to state, but even from one business to another within any one state, and even between businesses in the same line of work in the same state depending on the age of their facilities, with newer locations getting sizable tax breaks and incentives.

“Until you see the data in black and white, these are just perceptions” of differences, Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, a think-tank that generally  favors lower tax rates for corporations, told me.

Senator Levin unhappy with Facebook’s pending $3 billion tax break

Even before it’s become a public company, web giant Facebook’s has caught plenty of government attention, much of it around the company’s taxes and the impact its billions in stock options are likely to have on the tax coffers.

Today Senator Carl Levin, long active on tax issues, took to the Senate floor to point out the many things he dislikes about the company’s expected tax picture, hoping to tap into broader discussions about the need for greater fairness in the tax code.

On the heels of a California estimate that it could haul in $2.5 billion in income taxes over the next five years as Facebook workers cash in stock options, Levin is highlighting the corporate tax implications of all those stock options.

Tax and Accounting Calendar

A worker arranges a saree drying after dyeing in a village south of Kolkata REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Some events in the week ahead:

Monday, February 27 – Tuesday, February 28
The Practicing Law Institute will sponsor a two-day program in New York featuring speakers from Treasury and the IRS on a number of topics including investment adjustments, accounting issues, Treasury Department developments, inter-company transactions, and tax attributes and consolidation.

Tuesday, February 28

* The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board will hold an open board meeting at its offices at 1666 K Street NW in Washington DC and via web conference to consider proposed standards on related parties, significant unusual transactions and other matters. Starting at 9:30 AM.

Essential reading: Falling deficit alters budget debate, and more

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

* Falling deficit alters debate. Damian Palleta – The Wall Street Journal. Rising government revenue from tax collections and bailout paybacks are shrinking the federal deficit faster than expected, delaying the point when the government will reach the so-called debt ceiling and altering the budget debate in Washington. Link    

* Who would win or lose on online sales tax. Jayne O’Donnell and Hadley Malcolm – USA Today. Major retailers and local stores will be the big winners if the House follows the Senate and requires Internet retailers to collect sales taxes on online purchases. Link    

* Weigh taxes when picking a state for retirement. Arden Dale – The Wall Street Journal. When it comes to choosing the best state in which to retire, some people look beyond traditional needs like nice weather and recreational opportunities. Link