Tax Break

Essential reading: State, local fiscal burdens drag on economic recovery, and more

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

* State, local fiscal burdens drag on economic recovery. Connor Dougherty – The Wall Street Journal. State and local government tax collections have improved from the recession years, they only recently regained their pre-downturn peak. Meantime, local governments, which unlike states rely on property taxes, continue to suffer from the big drop in real estate prices. Given political pressure to reduce the federal budget deficit, cities and states are likely to get less help from Washington. If that happens they would have to make up the gap with tax hikes of their own or else live more frugally—what they’re doing now. Link

* Public pensions to give ‘clearer picture’ of finances. Lisa Lambert – Reuters. Public retirement systems will have to make major changes in how they disclose their pension assets and liabilities, under new rules that the board in charge of accounting standards for U.S. state and local governments is set to approve on Monday. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board will vote on the changes at an afternoon meeting. The reforms were proposed nearly a year ago to give more detail on how pensions affect governments’ finances. Link

* IRS whistleblower tax take plunges, senator frets. Patrick Temple-West – Reuters. A report from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s troubled whistleblower program said tax collections from tipsters fell sharply last year, prompting a U.S. lawmaker on Friday to say he may delay two Treasury Department nominees until the program improves. In fiscal 2011, the IRS collected only $48 million through the program, down from $464 million in fiscal 2010, the agency reported to Congress on June 15. Link

* Germany builds core group for transactions tax. John O’Donnell – Reuters. Germany will work with a core group of European Union countries on introducing a financial transactions tax, its finance minister said on Friday, after efforts to get an agreement among all 27 EU countries fell short. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said 10 countries were prepared to use an EU process known as ‘enhanced cooperation’ to push ahead with developing the tax, which Britain and other states, including some in the euro zone, oppose. Link

* MHRC looks to close 2 percent tax loophole. Kiran Stacey – The Financial Times. Tax officials have hinted they could close the six-year-old loophole which may have allowed wealthy people to reduce their tax rate to just 2 per cent by borrowing money from companies of which they were directors. The UK tax-collecting agency HM Revenue & Customs said yesterday its staff were looking into the scheme, which allows people to borrow large sums from their companies, free of tax. Link

Essential reading: China minister calls for tax changes to boost spending, and more

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

* China minister calls for tax changes to boost spending. Liyan Qi – The Wall Street Journal. China needs to improve its tax system to stimulate spending, Finance Minister Xie Xuren said Thursday. The central government will study measures to expand a value-added tax trial, and improve China’s consumption tax to “guide reasonable consumption” more effectively, Mr. Xie said in a statement on the ministry’s website. Link

* Obama stands firm against extending tax cuts for rich. Caren Bohan and Thomas Ferraro – Reuters. President Barack Obama’s Democrats traded shots with Republicans on Wednesday about how best to avoid a year-end “fiscal cliff,” as the administration insisted on the need to let tax cuts for wealthier Americans expire as scheduled on January 1. The prospect of higher taxes and automatic spending cuts that kick in next year have spurred calls for Obama to temporarily extend all of the Bush-era tax breaks to coax Republicans into a sweeping debt deal, but the White House stood firm. Link

* Bill Clinton becomes Romney’s favorite surrogate for Obama. Sam Youngman – Reuters. In the space of five days, Bill Clinton went off message on two important issues – tax cuts and Romney’s time as a private equity executive – raising questions about the former president’s motives. This week, Clinton said he favored a temporary extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, not just the middle class, as Obama prefers. Link

Essential reading: As governor, Romney picked winners and losers, no taxes for Lagarde, and more

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

* As governor, Romney picked winners and losers of his own. Andy Sullivan – Reuters. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s June 2006 announcement that drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb was moving into his state served as a signature accomplishment. The new facility came with a price tag: Romney and other state officials agreed to $67 million in tax breaks and other inducements to ensure the New York-based company picked Massachusetts over rival states like North Carolina. Romney backed tax breaks for film makers and biotech and medical-device manufacturers. His administration promoted venture capital-style funds that extended loans to start-up companies, some of which subsequently went out of business. Link

* Christine Lagarde, scourge of tax evaders, pays no tax. Kim Willsher – The Guardian. Christine Lagarde, the IMF boss who caused international outrage after she suggested in an interview with the Guardian on Friday that beleaguered Greeks might do well to pay their taxes, pays no taxes, it has emerged. As she is an official of an international institution, her salary of $467,940 (£298,675) a year plus $83,760 additional allowance a year is not subject to any taxes. Link

* Anti-tax crusader assails report on Republican shift. Patrick Temple-West – Reuters. Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, scourge of any and all tax increases, said on Tuesday that a news report questioning the vitality of his “no new taxes” pledge – a vow taken by many Republican politicians – is overblown. Republicans who have not signed the pledge may be in congressional races they are unlikely to win anyway, while other candidates have rules against signing pledges, he said. Link 

Essential reading: Renouncing U.S. citizenship to save on taxes, and more

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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

 

* No comment necessary: Grover Norquist plays the Nazi card. Andrew Rosenthal – The New York Times opinion. Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Casey introduced legislation last week that would penalize Americans who renounce their citizenship to evade taxes. Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, had this to say: “I think Schumer can probably find the legislation to do this. It existed in Germany in the 1930s and Rhodesia in the ’70s and in South Africa as well. He probably just plagiarized it and translated it from the original German.” Link

* Ireland-bound Eaton is latest to end U.S. corporate citizenship. Nanette Byrnes – Reuters.
Eaton Corp’s purchase of electrical equipment maker Cooper Industries means another U.S. company will soon leave the United States in favor of relocating its headquarters to a foreign country with sharply lower taxes. In the case of diversified industrial manufacturer Eaton, a complicated corporate structure will allow it to become part of an Irish corporation and enjoy that country’s low 12.5 percent corporate tax rate. Link

* Yahoo to sell Alibaba stake, take hit on taxes. Maxwell Murphy – The Wall Street Journal. Yahoo tried for years to find a tax-efficient way to unlock the value in its partial Alibaba ownership, but ultimately decided to eat the full 38 percent in federal, state and local taxes in order to finalize a deal, CFO Tim Morse said on Monday. Though a tax-free deal eluded Yahoo and Alibaba, the taxable alternative is nonetheless complex, and is designed to incentivize Alibaba’s initial public offering. Link

* Brazil makes new tax cuts to revive economy. Luciana Otoni and Tiago Pariz – Reuters.
Brazil’s government on Monday unveiled a new round of temporary tax cuts worth about $1 billion to boost the struggling automotive sector and other industries in its latest attempt to restore a lost economic boom. Investor jitters about the economy at home and abroad helped send Brazil’s currency to its weakest closing level in three years on Monday. But Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the measures should help revive an economy that has been stagnant since mid-2011, while also providing protection from the debt crisis in the euro zone. Link

* Japan tax hikes can’t wait; BOJ stimulus still needed-OECD. Reuters. Japan should stick to its plan of raising the consumption tax from 2014 or even earlier to demonstrate budget prudence and avert a run-up in borrowing costs, the OECD said, adding that a credible fiscal consolidation plan must be top priority. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development also urged the central bank to maintain the zero rate policy and quantitative easing mainly via asset purchases until inflation returns and reaches the Bank of Japan’s target of 1 percent. Link

* IRS widens debt forgiveness program. Patrick Temple-West – Reuters.
More middle-class Americans will be able to work out their debts to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service because of changes in a tax payment forgiveness program, the agency announced on Monday. The “Offer in Compromise” program lets taxpayers negotiate agreements with the IRS to pay less than the full tax owed. The announced changes make the program more flexible for taxpayers, with some people able to pay off their debts faster, according to the IRS. Link

* Would Romney be another Bill Clinton or another George W. Bush? Bruce Bartlett – The New York Times opinion.
The Bill Clinton and George Bush 43 administrations are almost perfect tests of starve-the-beast, tax and spending theory; Clinton raised taxes in 1993, while Bush signed into law seven different major tax cuts, according to a Treasury Department study. If there were any truth whatsoever to starving the beast, we should have seen a rise in spending during the Clinton years and a fall in spending during the Bush years. In fact, we had exactly the opposite results. Link

Essential reading: HP loses Dutch tax shelter case, popular deductions on the block, and more

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

* HP loses $190 million tax case against IRS. Lynnley Browning – Reuters. Hewlett-Packard Co on Monday lost a battle with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for more than $190 million in tax refunds tied to a Dutch tax shelter designed by the derivatives arm of American International Group. The ruling turns a spotlight on an aggressive tax-cutting strategy created last decade by AIG Financial Products and bankrolled by several European banks. The strategy involved trading derivatives with the aim of generating capital losses and foreign tax credits for large corporations, like HP, which then used them to try to lower their U.S. tax bills. Link

* In Republicans’ push for tax overhaul, popular deductions on the block. Donna Smith – Reuters. Republicans have not touched hundreds of tax breaks in tax laws, fearing that doing so could be called a tax hike. That could be changing. They’re not advertising it, but Republicans in Congress, along with a few Democrats, are exploring the idea of limiting or ending some of Americans’ most sacred tax breaks. They include deductions on contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts and possibly those on home mortgage interest, each of which save millions of Americans thousands of dollars each year. Link

* Brown warns Californians: Taxes or cuts. Jim Carlton – The Wall Street Journal. California Gov. Jerry Brown laid out a revised budget plan that relies on deeper spending cuts and higher taxes to bridge a projected state deficit that has widened to $15.7 billion from $9.2 billion since January. The Democratic governor said Monday he had no choice but to cut even deeper into social services to help close a budget gap that has shot up due to lower-than-expected tax revenue and delays and court-ordered impediments to spending cuts. Brown proposes to nearly double spending cuts to $8.3 billion for fiscal year 2012-13 from a January estimate that $4.2 billion of reductions were needed. Link

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

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 

Essential reading: Private equity defends deductions, Brazil’s tax “lion,” and more

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

* Private equity defends business-debt deductions. John McKinnon – The Wall Street Journal. A private-equity group will release a report on Tuesday that attacks one of the central tenets of many tax-overhaul plans in Washington – the idea of curbing deductibility of business debt. Limiting debt deductibility could raise the effective tax rate on new investment and could well stifle growth, said the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, a trade group. The group says that a limit on deductibility of interest expenses in exchange for a 1.5 percentage point reduction in the corporate rate, “would increase the marginal effective tax rate on new corporate investment from 31.0 percent to 33.1 percent. Link

* House bill shields defense from cuts. Janet Hook and Damian Paletta – The Wall Street Journal. House Republicans, seeking to prevent defense-spending cuts at the end of the year, advanced a plan that would instead reduce spending on health-care programs, food aid and other major domestic initiatives of the Obama administration. Democrats agree that the arbitrary cuts should be replaced with a more carefully calibrated budget agreement, but they want a mix of defense cuts, tax increases and domestic spending cuts. Many Republicans oppose any tax increases and want to avoid the $55 billion in scheduled defense cuts next year and partially replace them with cuts in domestic entitlement programs such as Medicaid. Link

* Brazil’s secret fiscal weapon: the tax “lion.” Alonso Soto – Reuters. In Brazil, groups of armed agents fly around the country by helicopter, pounding on doors and instilling fear in the hearts of those who break the law. They’re not the police – they’re from the tax agency. The Federal Revenue Service will be one of the most important keys to Brazil’s economic prospects in 2012. President Dilma Rousseff is counting on the agency’s tax-collecting prowess to help her government meet ambitious budget targets without smothering the country’s suddenly brittle economy. Link

Essential reading: Offshore tax havens’ links to crime, budget choices, and more

Tourists walk on Seven Mile Beach at sunset in George Town, Cayman Islands REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

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

* These islands aren’t just a shelter from taxes. Robert Morgenthau – The New York Times opinion. The British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Bermuda and the Bahamas – these offshore jurisdictions allow some individuals and corporations to engage in outright tax fraud, costing America at least $40 billion each year. The secrecy laws in these tax havens are at the root of serious crimes: fraud, money laundering and international terrorism. Follow the trail of nearly any major financial scandal and you will enter one or more of these notorious jurisdictions. Link

* House Republicans target social cuts to shield military. David Lawder – Reuters. Republicans in the House of Representatives on Monday will fire their first shots of the next deficit-reduction battle, advancing legislation to cut nearly $380 billion largely from social programs while protecting defense spending. President Barack Obama is likely to consider signing a replacement measure that offers “balance,” meaning spending cuts combined with new revenues such as those proposed in Obama’s February budget plan. But the tax increases for the wealthy proposed by Obama, along with some spending increases, make that budget a non-starter for House Republicans. Link

Essential reading: Ernst & Young no longer lobbying for companies it had audited, and more

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

* Ernst, audit clients cut lobbying ties-records. David Ingram and Dena Aubin – Reuters. Ernst & Young’s lobbying unit is no longer listed as a lobbyist for three major U.S. companies, all of whom were 2011 audit clients of the accounting giant. The deregistration follows questions raised by two U.S. senators in March about whether the dual relationships crossed auditor independence boundaries. Documents filed last month with Congress showed that Washington Council Ernst & Young, the E&Y unit, was no longer registered as doing lobbying work for Amgen Inc, CVS Caremark Corp and Verizon Communications Inc. Link

* House Democrats plan to pounce again on GOP budget. Ed O’Keefe – The Washington Post. House Democrats plan to attack the spending plan next week as the GOP-controlled House votes on a budget reconciliation package that includes cuts to replace automatic, across-the-board reductions set to begin in January as part of the Budget Control Act. The BCA raised the debt ceiling, cut $1 trillion in federal spending and authorized another $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade, with roughly half of the money coming from defense spending. Link

Essential reading: Mall landlords battle tax, Groupon shifts board amid accounting issues, and more


A padlock on a closed shop in a Colorado mall REUTERS/Rick Wilking

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

* Mall landlords engage in taxing battle. Kris Hudson and Stu Woo – The Wall Street Journal. U.S. shopping-center owners, smarting from high vacancies partly due to the rise in Internet shopping, are throwing their weight behind federal bills aimed at requiring online retailers to collect sales tax. At the same time, some of the biggest mall owners also are gaining traction in their efforts in individual states to squeeze sales tax out of the world’s largest online retailer—Amazon.com Inc. Seven states have reached pacts with Amazon to collect sales tax, with Nevada and Texas joining the list last week. Five more are in talks on similar deals. Link

* Groupon replaces Schultz, Efrusy on board. Alistair Barr – Reuters. Groupon Inc (GRPN.O) appointed two new directors on Monday and said Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) Chief Executive Howard Schultz and venture capitalist Kevin Efrusy were leaving the board as the company tries to address criticism of its accounting practices. The world’s largest daily deals company came under renewed fire in March after revising its fourth-quarter financial results and admitting to a “material weakness” in its financial statements, months after its high-profile IPO. Groupon’s audit committee was criticized because some members are busy executives who may not have enough time to devote to fixing the company’s accounting problems. Link