Tax Break

Essential tax and accounting reading: Californians support tax hikes, dividend taxes, $1 trillion of tax breaks, inheritance tax, and more

California coast REUTERS/Mike Blake

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

* Strong majority back Jerry Brown’s tax-hike initiative-poll. Anthony York – The Los Angeles Times. California voters strongly support Gov. Jerry Brown’s new proposal to increase the sales tax and raise levies on upper incomes to help raise money for schools and balance the state’s budget, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they supported the governor’s measure, which he hopes to place on the November ballot. It would hike the state sales tax by a quarter-cent per dollar for the next four years and create a graduated surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 that would last seven years. Link

* Will a dividend-tax hike spoil the party. Jack Hough – The Wall Street Journal. Apple’s dividend announcement this past week is good news for income investors, but bad news might be lurking around the corner. Unless Congress takes action, the top tax rate for the highest earners on most dividends, currently 15 percent, is set to jump to a whopping 43.4 percent next year. That is a maximum income-tax rate of 39.6 percent —since dividends will once again be taxed as regular income — plus a 3.8 percent tax on investment income as part of the health-care overhaul passed in 2009. Link

* Tax breaks exceed $1 trillion: Report. John McKinnon – The Wall Street Journal. A congressional report detailing the value of major tax breaks shows they amount to more than $1 trillion a year — roughly the size of the annual federal budget deficit — and benefit wide swaths of the population. The new report, by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, underscores how far-reaching many of the tax breaks are. They include the exclusion from taxable income for employer-provided health insurance, the biggest break, at $164.2 billion a year in 2014; the exclusion for employer-provided pensions, the second-biggest, at $162.7 billion; and the exclusions for Medicare and Social Security benefits. Link

* The rich get even richer. Steven Rattner – The New York Times opinion. New statistics show an ever-more-startling divergence between the fortunes of the wealthy and everybody else — and the desperate need to address this wrenching problem. Even in a country that sometimes seems inured to income inequality, these takeaways are truly stunning. In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households. Link

* Death tax defying – The Wall Street Journal editorial. While Washington continues to debate what to do with the federal death tax — the top rate is now 35 percent and is scheduled to rise to 55 percent  next year — states are starting to recognize that their high estate taxes are a good way to chase away wealth producers. Last year Ohio abolished its estate tax, joining the 28 other states that do not impose such a tax at death. The left has long been flummoxed by polls showing that roughly two of three Americans want this tax abolished. Americans instinctively understand that the tax is unfair. It punishes a lifetime of thrift and investment solely due to the accident of death. And it does so in a way that imposes another tax on income that in most cases has already been taxed once, or sometimes twice. 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.

The alternative minimum tax and one man’s 74 percent tax rate

In his Saturday column in the New York Times, Pulitzer-prize winning reporter James B. Stewart tallied up his tax rate and found it to be a shocking 74 percent of taxable income. Is he possibly the most taxed man in America, he wonders?

Tax rates have been much discussed of late, with Mitt Romney’s tax returns disclosing his 13.9 percent tax rate, and the appearance of Debbie Bosanek, Warren Buffett’s secretary, at the State of the Union address last week to boost President Obama’s push for more tax equity.  Bosanek is reported to pay a 35.8 percent tax rate, while her famous boss says his rate is 17.4 percent of his taxable income.

How could Stewart’s rate be so stratospheric? After some research, he determined that his personal situation is “a near-perfect storm of punitive tax policies.” He lives in one of the highest tax districts in the country (New York City), earns his income (rather than getting it from capital gains or carried interest, a la Romney), doesn’t have a significant mortgage deduction and pays an unincorporated business tax on some of his income, like book royalties.