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

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.

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: IRS under strain, Clinton’s tax proposal, and more

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

* Overseer: IRS could face ‘serious problems.’ Siobhan Hughes – The Wall Street Journal. The Internal Revenue Service is under strain as it faces a flood of new demands at a time of budget cutbacks, its government overseer said in a report on Tuesday, posing a risk that the tax collector will experience “serious problems in the future.” Link

* Bill Clinton: Extend all Bush-era tax cuts for a year. Reuters. Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday jumped into the debate over how to handle the looming expiration of historically low tax rates, putting him somewhat at odds with fellow Democrat President Barack Obama. Clinton, on cable television’s CNBC, said Congress may have to temporarily extend all the low tax rates that expire at year-end to give lawmakers more time to come up with a plan to cut deficits. Link

* Unchanged tax, health policies to explode U.S. debt-CBO. David Lawder – Reuters. U.S. public debt would balloon to twice the size of the nation’s economy in 25 years if current tax and spending policies are extended, Congress’ budget referee said on Tuesday, delivering fresh fodder for a year-end budget brawl. The Congressional Budget Office said in a report that if tax cuts enacted under George W. Bush are allowed to expire as scheduled on Dec. 31, along with some other tax and spending policies, U.S. public debt would shrink significantly, falling to 53 percent of gross domestic product by 2037 from 73 percent this year. Link

U.S. tax prosecutor Downing resigns, joins Miller & Chevalier

The logo of Swiss bank UBS at the company's Zurich office. Kevin Downing, the former U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division Attorney, had investigated UBS. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The U.S. prosecutor most responsible for piercing the veil of Swiss bank secrecy has joined the law firm of Miller & Chevalier, where he will focus on defending banks and other institutions involved in tax-related matters and controversies.

Kevin Downing, who resigned last week from the U.S. Department of Justice, said he expects to advise companies rather than individuals. Miller & Chevalier, based in Washington, D.C., has an extensive concentration in tax and international litigation.

Essential reading: Boehner sticks to no tax-hike pledge, and more

Speaker of the House John Boehner on Capitol Hill in Washington. REUTERS/Larry Downing

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

* Boehner holds firm on no tax-hike pledge. David Lawder – Reuters. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Thursday dismissed suggestions that Republicans were warming to raising revenue as part of a plan to cut the deficit, adding that tax hikes on millionaires would cost jobs. The top Republican in Congress blasted a proposal from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to raise taxes only on those earning more than $1 million, saying it would hurt too many small business owners, who hire the most U.S. workers. Link

* US House panel backs medical device tax repeal. Patrick Temple-West – Reuters. A Republican-controlled congressional panel voted on Thursday to repeal a tax on medical devices, a key revenue provision in President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law, but the measure was not expected to become law. Approval in the House, which is dominated by Republicans, was viewed as probable, possibly as soon as next week. But the measure faced an uphill climb in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where parallel legislation lacks bipartisan sponsors. Link

Essential reading: Union, liberal coalition pushes Obama tax plan, and more

Union supporters in Las Vegas, September, 2008. REUTERS/David Allio

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

* Union, liberal coalition pushes Obama tax plan. John McKinnon – The Wall Street Journal. A coalition of big unions and left-leaning activist groups has formed to support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise tax rates on families earning more than $250,000, amid growing signs that Democratic lawmakers want to limit tax increases to people making $1 million or more. Link

* An often procrastinating Congress is raring at the gate on tax cuts. Jennifer Steinhauer – The New York Times. The Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to lapse on Jan 1, have both parties in the House and the Senate eager, perhaps even giddy, to vote for their respective versions of an extension of the cuts this summer, well before the due date. Without any extensions, the expiration would raise taxes next year by $221 billion. Link

* Heard in more states: See you in tax court! Nanette Byrnes – Reuters. Six U.S. states have established or considered establishing independent tax tribunals in the last two years, a trend supported by the business community, but one which also is stirring debate about the need for these new tribunals. Georgia and Illinois approved laws last year to create a tax court. In Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley announced Thursday that he will pocket veto legislation that would create a new state tax tribunal, due to flaws in the bill, but will support its reintroduction in the next legislative session. Link

David Cay Johnston debates Grover Norquist

Reuter’s tax columnist David Cay Johnston appeared on the most recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, on the same panel with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

To see the whole show, you have to be a subscriber to HBO or HBO go, but here’s a clip from the “overtime” section of episode 248 including tax commentary, a discussion of J.P. Morgan’s loses, and much more politics both old and new.

Ep. 248: May 11, 2012 – Overtime

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