Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Mr. Hyatt Goes to Washington…Again

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

The saga of Gilbert Hyatt and the Franchise Tax Board, California’s income tax agency, continues. As you may remember, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled last September that the FTB committed fraud against Mr. Hyatt (false representation and intentional infliction of emotional distress), but threw out most of the Mr. Hyatt’s other claims. The FTB filed a Petition for Certiorari in March; it was granted today.

From Chris Smith of the Franchise Tax Board I learned that the Supreme Court will look at two issues: “Whether Nevada may refuse to extend to sister States haled into Nevada courts the same immunities Nevada enjoys in those courts.” As Mr. Smith notes, this relates to monetary damages that Mr. Hyatt received. Second, “Whether Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410 (1979), which permits a sovereign State to be haled into the courts of another State without its consent, should be overruled.”

The latter will be the key issue for me. In the Nevada trial, the FTB was found to have committed fraud. If Mr. Hyatt had resided in California (instead of Nevada), he would have been powerless to sue the FTB for damages (California law does not allow this). Consider if the FTB were to repeat the same actions against you where you reside; wouldn’t you like to have some recourse against them? Remember what Bill Leonard wrote about this case:

Tax agents rummaged through his trash without warrants, visited business partners and doctors, and shared his Social Security Number and other personal information with the media. This is outrageous behavior and I call on the FTB to rein in their agents. What really galled me is the FTB testified in open court that this level of harassment was only a typical audit. If true, then the stormtroopers are alive and well at the FTB.

Remember, those actions occurred not in California but in Nevada.

This is the second time that the Hyatt case has been to the US Supreme Court. Back in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that Mr. Hyatt could sue, and that Nevada v. Hall should not be overturned. It will be interesting to see what happens this time. The case will likely be heard this Fall with a decision probably coming in early 2016.

Honesty Is Usually a Good Policy

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Ronald Jerome Boyd is the Chief of the Los Angeles Port Police. The Port Police are responsible for policing Los Angeles Harbor (which is one of the busiest in the country). Mr. Boyd has been Chief since November 2004 (and has been head of emergency management at the port since January), but he’s now on paid administrative leave. That’s because he’s been indicted on 16 counts of corruption and tax charges.

Chief Boyd is alleged to have been involved in obtaining a port contract to a software company where he would share in 13.33% of the profits. Chief Boyd is alleged to have lied to FBI agents during the investigation. The contract was for a smartphone app called “Portwatch.” The problem is that Chief Boyd allegedly didn’t reveal that he was going to receive that kickback.

Adding to his woes are tax charges. Chief Boyd is alleged not to have filed tax returns from 2008 to 2011 for his security business and to have substantially underreported income on his personal tax returns from 2007 to 2011.

Chief Boyd will be surrendering to authorities this coming week.

Bozo Tax Tip #5: Ignoring California

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Perhaps I should call this Bozo Tax Tip “Forming a California Trust.” Why? Let me explain.

Let’s assume John and Jane, two California residents, form a trust to benefit their children, Ann and Bob. Ann lives in Florida; Bob resides in California. The trust is an irrevocable trust, so it files its own tax return (a Form 1041). The income to the beneficiaries is reported on Schedule K-1s. Ann is surprised and calls her accountant when she receives both a federal K-1 and a California K-1.

The issue is simple: The trust is a California trust, so the income is California-source. California requires that a Schedule K-1 for Form 541 (California’s trust tax return) be included. Yes, Ann must pay California tax on the income. Ann’s CPA called me and asked me why I included the K-1 from California. My response was succinct: I have to and Ann has to pay the tax.

California’s desire to have anyone and everyone pay California tax has led to many trusts relocating to Nevada (which has no state income tax) and other trust-friendly states. California isn’t one of those states. Ann’s parents, John and Jane, could have formed the trust in Nevada but because they didn’t Ann is stuck in the Hotel California. You can check out any time but you can never leave.

Ignoring the California K-1 is a Bozo idea. Instead of just paying tax, you will get the joy of paying tax, penalties, and interest. If your parents are in California and thinking of forming a trust to benefit you, it may be worth your time to talk about Nevada to them. Otherwise, welcome to the Hotel California.

Bozo Tax Tip #6: Nevada Corporations

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

As we continue with our Bozo Tax Tips–things you absolutely, positively shouldn’t do but somewhere someone will try anyway–it’s time for an old favorite. Given the business and regulatory climate in California, lots of businesses are trying to escape taxes by becoming a Nevada business entity. While I’m focusing on California and Nevada, the principle applies to any pair of states.

Nevada is doing everything it can to draw businesses from California. Frankly, California is doing a lot to draw businesses away from the Bronze Golden State. But just like last year you need to beware if you’re going to incorporate in Nevada.

If the corporation operates in California it will need to file a California tax return. Period. It doesn’t matter if the corporation is a California corporation, a Delaware corporation, or a Nevada corporation.

Now, if you’re planning on moving to Nevada forming a business entity in the Silver State can be a very good idea (as I know). But thinking you’re going to avoid California taxes just because you’re a Nevada entity is, well, bozo.

Gilbert Hyatt Loses in Federal Court

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

A federal court in Sacramento ruled against inventor Gilbert Hyatt last week. Mr. Hyatt is involved in a 22-year old battle with California’s Franchise Tax Board (the state’s income tax agency). This all stems over when Mr. Hyatt moved to Las Vegas, and that seven month difference has resulted in a case that has already made it once to the US Supreme Court.

The underlying issue is a residency audit of Mr. Hyatt to discover when he moved to Nevada. Did he move at the end of September 1991 or April 1992? At audit, the FTB ruled it was April (leading to an additional $7.4 million of income tax owed to California). Mr. Hyatt appealed to the California Board of Equalization. That appeal remains unresolved and that got Mr. Hyatt upset.

He filed a federal court case in Sacramento demanding that the appeal be heard. The Court dismissed the case; Mr. Hyatt will appeal. Meanwhile, later this year I expect the retrial of Mr. Hyatt’s intentional infliction of emotional distress damage award against the FTB for committing fraud against him. Last year, the Nevada Supreme Court threw out most of a $500 million verdict for Mr. Hyatt, but did leave $1.4 million of damages (based on the FTB committing fraud) and ordered a retrial on the IIED damages related to the fraud.

Taxes Impacting the Giants

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

The San Francisco Giants have been one of baseball’s more successful teams; they’re the current world champions. But they haven’t been as freewheeling in spending money as other teams. Their General Manager blames California taxes.

The top tax rate for California is 13.3%, and it kicks in at $1 million of income. As you can imagine, most major league baseball players earn far more than that. In an interview with Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, GM Brian Sabean stated:

“To entice a free agent to come to San Francisco, we’re almost in an overpay situation, so why get involved in all those battles where you’re not going to be able to go up the totem pole money-wise?” Sabean said.

When asked to elaborate on why the Giants have to overpay, Sabean said, “You’ve got the state of California taxes.” …Asked if the high California income tax has been a problem for a while, Sabean said, “To a certain extent. Things now are getting more and more about the signing bonus, more and more about your take-home. Exponentially, when you get involved in some of those numbers, it makes a sizable difference to some.”

There’s an obvious implication here: the big spending Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have inflated their salaries to cover high state taxes. Jon Lester, this year’s biggest free agent signee, ended up with the Chicago Cubs. Illinois’ income tax is now down to 3.75%; that’s a lot lower than California. This may be good news for Cubs fans like me.

California at Bottom of Small Business Entrepreneurship Rankings

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

While I was on vacation, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council released its 19th annual “Small Business Policy Index 2014: Ranking the States on Policy Measures and Costs Impacting Small Business and Entrepreneurship.” (Hat Tip: Joe Kristan) The listing measures the costs, both in taxes and regulations, on small businesses. As noted in the report,

Some elected officials, policymakers and special interests believe that taxes, regulations and other governmental costs can be increased with impunity. Economic reality tells a different story. Ever-mounting burdens placed on entrepreneurs and small businesses by government negatively affect economic opportunity. People go where economic opportunity is, in turn, bringing more opportunity with them. The “Small Business Policy Index” tries to make clear the relative governmental burdens placed on entrepreneurship among the states, so that business owners and their employees, elected officials and citizens in general can better grasp the competitive position of their respective states.

Here’s the listing of the best states:

1. South Dakota
2. Nevada
3. Texas
4. Wyoming
5. Florida
6. Washington
7. Alabama
8. Indiana
9. Colorado
10. North Dakota

And here are the bottom ten:

41. Connecticut
42. Maine
43. Iowa
44. Oregon
45. Vermont
46. Minnesota
47. Hawaii
48. New York
49. New Jersey
50. California

In looking at the actual factors, California is near the bottom on most tax and regulation rankings. (interestingly, California had the best score on unemployment tax.) Contrast that with Nevada, which doesn’t have a state personal income tax, doesn’t have a corporate income tax, and doesn’t have the regulatory burden of California. It’s no wonder that Nevada ranks higher than California.

The 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index: Not Much Has Changed

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

I guess I could have called this, “Bring me the usual suspects,” but I’ve been using that phrase over and over. Yet not much has changed, so the usual suspects have good tax climates and the usual suspects have bad tax climates. That’s according to the Tax Foundation and their 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index.

Let’s look at the ten best states for business:

1. Wyoming
2. South Dakota
3. Nevada
4. Alaska
5. Florida
6. Montana
7. New Hampshire
8. Indiana
9. Utah
10. Texas

This list is remarkably similar to last year. The only state dropping out is Washington. The Evergreen state fell from 6th best to 11th; it was hurt by its sales tax ranking (48) and corporate tax ranking (28). While Washington does not have an individual or corporate income tax, it does have a Business & Occupation Tax. That’s a gross receipts tax on business income.

The bottom ten is also mostly unchanged:

41. Iowa
42. Connecticut
43. Wisconsin
44. Ohio
45. Rhode Island
46. Vermont
47. Minnesota
48. California
49. New York
50. New Jersey

Why are states ranked poorly? Here’s what the Tax Foundation says:

The states in the bottom ten suffer from the same afflictions: complex, non-neutral taxes with comparatively high rates. New Jersey, for example, suffers from some of the highest property tax burdens in the country, is one of just two states to levy both an inheritance and an estate tax, and maintains some of the worst structured individual income taxes in the country.

Maryland and North Carolina rose out of the bottom ten, while Iowa and Ohio fell into the bottom ten. North Carolina’s improvement was dramatic: from 44th to 16th. Why?

In this year’s edition, North Carolina has improved dramatically from 44th place last year to 16th place this year, the single largest rank jump in the history of the Index. The state improved its score in the corporate, individual, and sales tax components of the Index, and as the reform package continues to phase in, the state is projected to continue climbing the rankings.

As for why states rank where they do, consider my old home of California. The Bronze Golden State has complex taxes for individuals (it ranks worst in the country), corporations, and also has a complex sales tax system. If the Tax Foundation looked at flow-thru entities, California would rank even worse. In most states a single-member LLC does not have a state tax filing requirement. That’s not the case in California.

Kudos to the Tax Foundation for their annual report. It’s clear that policy makers do read this report. North Carolina saw drastic improvement. There’s improvement forthcoming in New York, with a major corporate tax reform implemented this year which should have a dramatic impact on at least one New York tax in the future.

Copying Steven Martinez’s Idea Is Not a Good Choice

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

I’m on the road this weekend, but a story from the San Francisco Bay Area caught my eye. Charles Waldo was already in jail. He was arrested on a 50-count indictment for insurance fraud, tax evasion, felony vandalism, and a high speed chase through central Costa Contra County. While awaiting trial, Mr. Waldo was in the Martinez, California jail.

When you’re in prison you do have time on your hands to determine your defense. There’s plenty of time to research the law on the charges you’re facing, work on strategy with your defense counsel, and perhaps other means of helping your case. Mr. Waldo allegedly decided to follow the idea of Steven Martinez. Mr. Martinez, for those who don’t remember, won the coveted 2012 Tax Offender of the Year award for hiring a hit man to eliminate the witnesses against him. Yes, Mr. Waldo supposedly did the same thing.

Mr. Waldo was indicted on Friday on nine counts of solicitation to commit murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. According to the press release from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office,

The indictment alleges that while serving time in custody at the Martinez Detention Facility, the defendant solicited and conspired with other inmates to arrange the killing of nine different witnesses that were set to testify against him at an upcoming trial. These ten new charges will be added to the fifty charges the defendant currently faces.

There is one bright spot for Mr. Waldo if he is found guilty and spends a very lengthy term at a California penal institution: He’s a shoe-in to be nominated for Tax Offender of the Year in a future year.

California Mandates E-Filing of Business Returns

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

The California legislature passed a law mandating e-filing of most business returns beginning with 2014 returns filed in 2015. This legislation was signed into law. Exemptions are available but must be requested from the Franchise Tax Board. Although not mentioned in the law, presumably a return that fails in e-filing (is rejected by the FTB) would also be allowed to be paper filed.

The exemptions that are available are for technology issues and other items that constitute “reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” A penalty of $100 for an initial failure is in the law, with repeated violations being charged $500. The requirement applies to C-Corporations, S-Corporations, partnerships, LLCs, and exempt organizations.

There is one major issue with the law that I see: Most tax software today does not allow for electronic filing of a single-member LLC return (a disregarded entity). While there is no federal return for such an entity, California does require the return to be filed (and an $800 annual fee be paid). California also does not have its own online system to e-file business returns. My software currently does not have the ability to e-file a California single-member LLC return. I’ll be asking my software provider about this…but not until after October 15th.