Tax Break

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

* Scottish Power tests US tax breaks on interest. Kim Dixon – Reuters. The U.S. Tax Court is expected to issue shortly its first major decision in years on the tax deductibility of interest in certain corporate debt transactions in a case that pits the UK’s Scottish Power against the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS is challenging $932 million in interest deductions taken by the power utility on $4 billion in intercompany notes issued between company units. The tax collector argues that the transactions should be treated as equity, which would nullify the deductions taken by the Spanish-owned company. Link

* Tweaking tax code could spur green energy: senator. Roberta Rampton – Reuters. A freshman Democratic senator thinks he may have found a way to encourage investment in wind, solar and biofuel projects without sapping too many taxpayer dollars or injecting new venom into a bitter partisan battle over energy incentives. Chris Coons will introduce legislation on Thursday that would allow a broad range of renewable power generation and transmission projects to qualify for a tax structure used widely by pipeline and other energy-related companies. 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: 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

Do you support a “Buffett tax” on the wealthy?

Warren Buffett (C), chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, sells jewelry at Borsheims jewelry store in Omaha, Nebraska, May 1, 2011 as part of his annual shareholders' meeting. Buffett supports higher taxes on the wealthy. REUTERS/Nati Harnik/Pool

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support imposing a minimum tax rate of 30 percent on those who earn $1 million or more a year, according to Reuters/Ipsos poll results released on Tuesday.

The poll showed that 64 percent of those surveyed favored a “Buffett tax” as proposed by the Obama administration and named for multibillionaire investor Warren Buffett, who backs it.