Tax Break

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  

* UK Treasury looks again at mansion tax. Jim Pickard and Chris Giles – The Financial Times. The idea of a “super council tax” is a form of mansion tax and was pushed “hard, very very hard” during last year’s budget talks by senior British Liberal Democrats Vince Cable and Danny Alexander. Yet it has long been anathema to many Tories who believe it would be unfair and anti-aspirational and would hit Conservative voters hard. But it is one option being considered anew by the Treasury, which likes the idea of taxing wealth rather than income and particularly focusing on assets, such as homes, that are not easily moved abroad. There are an estimated 155,000 homes in England and Wales worth more than 1 million pounds ($1.58 million), and about 80 percent of them are in London. People buying 2 million pound ($3.16 million) or more homes already paid a fifth of the total stamp duty revenue raised in Britain. Link

($1 = 0.6321 British pounds)

Essential tax and accounting reading: Obama’s budget, Japan’s economy, the EU’s carbon tax, and more

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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

* Obama faces task of selling dueling budget ideas. Jackie Calmes – The New York Times. With the election-year budget he unveils on Monday, President Barack Obama more than ever confronts the challenge of persuading voters that he has a long-term plan to reduce the deficit, even as he highlights the stimulus spending and tax cuts that increase deficits in the short term. In his budget Obama again will commit to $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, including $1.5 trillion in tax revenue from the wealthy and from closing some corporate tax breaks, and reductions in spending for a range of programs, including the military, Medicare, farm subsidies and federal pensions. But Republicans are sure to criticize the president’s proposals as heavy on gimmickry and double-counting, and reject his proposed tax increases. Link.


* EU say it’s ‘flexible’ on carbon tax. Eric Yep and Gaurav Raghuvanshi – The Wall Street Journal. The European Union is willing to be flexible with its emissions tax on airlines, but won’t suspend the tax unless countries can agree on an ambitious alternative, EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said Monday. Several countries have expressed opposition to the tax, with some threatening retaliatory measures against the EU. It is unclear whether a global agreement is possible by April 2013, when the first payments are due. Link.

* Japan’s big GDP drop a worry for PM tax plan. Tetsushi Kajinoto – Reuters. Japan’s economy shrank much more-than-expected in the fourth quarter, as Thai floods, a strong yen and weak demand hurt exports, casting doubt on hopes for a quick pick up in activity that could bolster government plans to raise the sales tax. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda hopes to contain the rise in the debt pile – now already twice the size of the economy – by doubling the national 5 percent sales tax by late 2015, but has yet to win over a combative opposition and a skeptical public. Link.

Essential Reading: Ernst & Young’s fine, Swiss bank fallout and the Buffett rule

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

* Watchdog fines Ernst & Young $2 million over audits. Dena Aubin – Reuters. The watchdog board for corporate auditors on Wednesday said it has imposed a $2 million penalty, its largest fine ever, on accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young LLP in a settlement involving past audits of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board said it also sanctioned four current and former Ernst & Young partners for violating PCAOB rules in the audits of Medicis, which sells prescription drugs for asthma and skin conditions. Ernst & Young settled without admitting or denying the PCAOB’s findings. The audits in question involved Medicis’ 2005, 2006 and 2007 financial statements, the PCAOB said. Link.

* Payroll-tax cut extension talks bog down as time runs short. Siobhan Hughes and Corey Boles – The Wall Street Journal. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday lawmakers working on an extension of a popular payroll-tax cut had only until early next week to reach a deal, as the two sides negotiating the package showed few signs of compromise and spent a morning meeting digging in to their positions. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp said that if negotiators can’t agree on current proposals to offset the cost of the package, they may have to “begin looking at scaling back some of these core policies” or else rely on deficit spending or simply kick the issue “outside the scope of the conference.” House Republicans started the latest round of talks with a proposal to cover the cost partly with a freeze to cost-of-living pay increases for federal workers. That outraged Maryland Democrats, whose constituents include many government workers. Democrats were no happier with a proposal to gradually force more senior citizens to pay higher premiums for Medicare. Link.

* Wegelin boss gives up NZZ role after US tax probe. Emma Thomasson – Reuters. The head of Wegelin – Switzerland’s oldest private bank and which the United States has indicted for helping clients dodge taxes – is standing back from his role as chairman of the country’s influential Neue Zuercher Zeitung daily. Konrad Hummler, one of Switzerland’s most high-profile bankers, said on Thursday he needed to focus on the U.S. case against Wegelin on charges it enabled Americans to evade taxes on at least $1.2 billion in offshore bank accounts. Hummler had come under pressure to step down as NZZ chairman for fear the Wegelin case could damage the reputation of Switzerland’s oldest newspaper – the voice of the country’s business establishment. Link.

Essential reading: Chinese airlines, Swiss banks and more

 

Air China planes on the tarmac of the Beijing Capital International Airport. REUTERS/David Gray

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

* China bars airlines from EU tax plan. Simon Rabinovitch – The Financial Times. The Chinese government has barred the country’s airlines from complying with a European Union charge on carbon emissions, escalating a dispute that officials have warned could turn into a trade war. Chinese airlines had previously said they would not pay the EU carbon tax, but the formal prohibition by the State Council, or cabinet, puts Beijing in direct opposition to Brussels. China has notified all Chinese airlines that, without government approval, they cannot join the EU emissions trading scheme or charge customers extra because of it, state-agency Xinhua said. The impact on Chinese airlines with routes to Europe was unclear. Although the EU’s carbon scheme went into effect for airlines on January 1, Brussels has not started charging them yet. Link to The Financial Times.

What Mitt missed on his tax forms, and why?

Romney tax return 

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign acknowledged to Reuters and others that his campaign is revising his federal ethics forms. They will now report more than a half-dozen offshore holdings, including income from a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account, that was not disclosed last year.

The Romney campaign has described the issue as a minor discrepancy, and noted that all taxes owed on the overseas accounts were paid. But given the political football that overseas assets and tax disclosure have become –with the Internal Revenue Service cracking down on those who have assets abroad — that acknowledgment raises important questions.

First, why did the Romneys choose to hold assets overseas, particularly in places that have been targeted in the IRS’s ongoing crackdown? In addition to Switzerland, the Romneys held assets in the Cayman Islands, the Bermudas and Ireland, all countries that have lower tax rates than the U.S. Things can be perfectly legal, yet look terrible for someone with political ambitions, especially a presidential candidate.