Archive for the ‘Legislation’ Category

Speaking of Efficiency

Friday, December 5th, 2014

I do know how we can improve the Tax Code: Force Congresscritters to do their own taxes. I have an instructive vignette on why this is the case.

A friend of mine was hired by a major tax software company to be in customer support. He has had to learn about the Tax Code so he can answer questions. Currently, he’s taking training courses. He had this to say recently:

If you say anything about Basis, At-Risk, or Passive Limitations, I’m going to have to cut you. One of the biggest things I’m learning at [Software Company] is our tax code is ****ed and needs serious fixing.

Imagine what would happen if every Congresscritter did their own tax returns by hand. The Tax Code would unanimously be shrunk four hours later. My friend probably didn’t give the Tax Code much thought until he took his new job. I’m certain he agrees with me that using it as a “Swiss Army Knife” makes no sense.

Unfortunately, there’s no chance of meaningful reform with the current President. His goals appear to be to make things worse rather than better. It will be at least 2017 before meaningful tax reform will be on the table.

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.

The Tanning Tax: Alan Greenspan Gets It Right (Again)

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, has the wonderful quote:

Whatever you tax, you get less of.

It’s something our Congresscritters might take to heart…but I doubt it. Today, let’s look at the tanning tax.

This tax is one of the many ways that Congress had to pay for ObamaCare (aka the Affordable Care Act). Like almost everything else with ObamaCare, it’s not working as expected. The tax was predicted to generate $200 million annually. Instead, it’s took in $91 million in 2012 (the last year there are statistics for).

In this Politico article, Barton Bonn, Head of the American Suntanning Association, notes,

It’s effectively a price increase for our customers…Anybody knows that if you increase the price on a product or service, some people are not going to show up after the price increase, and that’s what occurred.

I’m not sure Mr. Barton is correct; I suspect some in Congress do not understand the law of supply and demand. In any case, it’s just another of the many tax flaws with ObamaCare.

Coming Attractions: When the IRS Writes New Law When They’re Not Allowed To

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

The IRS is part of the Executive Branch of government. The Executive Branch can’t write law–they can issue regulations based on laws passed by the legislative branch (Congress) and then only when Congress authorizes it. There’s an issue percolating in the courts which is likely going to cause a huge headache throughout the country: tax credits for federal health care exchanges.

Today, a federal court judge in Washington denied the Administration’s request to stop a lawsuit challenging the IRS’s interpretation of the ability to give tax credit subsidies on federal health care exchanges. US District Judge Paul Friedman denied a preliminary injunction but did order the case tried on an expedited basis; he said that he expects to issue a ruling by February. Earlier this year a judge in Oklahoma also denied an Administration dismissal request in a similar case. There are two other cases filed on this matter.

Jonathan Adler of the Volokh Conspiracy notes the issue succinctly:

The IRS rule contravenes the plain text of the PPACA, as the statute only authorizes tax credits (and subsidies) for the purchase of insurance in an exchange “established by a state” under Section 1311 of the law…Supporters of the IRS rule claim that Congress could not have intended that Americans in dozens of states would be unable to obtain tax credits to help them purchase insurance. They’re right. Congress intended for every state to create its own exchange, as PPACA supporters said time and again, but states refused. Now that their assumption has been proven wrong, this does not provide an excuse to rewrite the plain statutory text.

This matters because in tax when a statute says “x,” it’s “x.” A good example of this is some of the ludicrous ways the Alternative Minimum Tax impacts individuals. Judges have stated in their rulings that these make no sense but because it’s written into the statute, there’s no choice on this matter: Until Congress changes the law, they’re stuck. I expect the same thing to happen here. Of course, Congress could change the law but the chance of that happening is equivalent to the chance of snow in Las Vegas in July.

Assuming that this suit is successful, it will strike at the heart of the mandates in the law. Assuming this ruling comes in February, there will be even more of a mess with the law. The ObamaCare rollout has hardly been something one could call “smooth.” Proponents have been hopeful that the light they’re seeing is the end of the tunnel. To me, it looks like an oncoming train.

44 Days

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

44 days isn’t much time. It’s about a month and a half. Yet in the bizarre world of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), it’s a big deal. Over the coming weeks I’m going to be looking at various provisions in light of the current law and the current difficulties–perhaps impossiblities–of individuals to actually sign up and obtain a policy. Consumer Reports is suggesting that perhaps a solution to signing up is to wait a while–at least a month; hopefully by then the software glitches will be gone.

Anyway, back to the point of this post, 44 days. Nancy Pelosi famously said, “But we have to pass the bill [ObamaCare] so that you can find out what is in it.” Well, there are some interesting deadlines in ObamaCare:

December 15th: Date you need to be enrolled by for coverage to take effect on January 1, 2014 [1];
February 15, 2014: Date you must have coverage by in order to be exempt from the Individual Mandate Tax; and
March 31, 2014: Final date to enroll for calendar year 2014.

The Obama Administration was unaware that someone who enrolls on February 16, 2014 will be subject to the individual mandate penalty tax until it was pointed out to them. The penalty for 2014 is $95 or 1% of Adjusted Gross Income, whichever is greater. I suspect for much of my client base the 1% of AGI will be greater, perhaps far greater than $95. Consider an amateur gambler who has $100,000 of gambling wins and $100,000 of gambling losses and who makes $100,000 of salary. He’s looking at a $2,000 penalty. Still, given the cost of health insurance under ObamaCare that might be a more financially prudent choice.

But do be aware that the true deadline is February 15th, not March 31st. It’s yet another quirk in the law.


[1] It is unclear if dates that fall on weekends–December 15th falls on a Sunday–cause the deadline to be extended a day. As best as I can tell, the answer to that is no…but I did not read the 3,000 page legislation.

The 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index: Bring Me the Usual Suspects

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

The Tax Foundation released its 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index. In what will shock few readers of this blog, the usual suspects remain at both the top and bottom of the list.

First, let’s look at the top states–the best for business:

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

What do these states share? Generally, low taxes (and in the case of some of these states, no income tax). But as the Tax Foundation noted, “But this does not mean that a state cannot rank in the top ten while still levying all the major taxes. Indiana, which ousted Texas from the top ten this year, and Utah have all the major tax types, but levy them with low rates on broad bases.”

What happens when you have high taxes, complex taxes, and non-neutral taxes? You end up in the bottom ten:

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

Let’s take my home state, Nevada, and compare it with California (my old state) to see why each ranks where they do. The Tax Foundation looked at five taxes: Corporate Tax, Individual Income Tax, Sales Tax, Unemployment Insurance Tax, and Property Tax.

Nevada doesn’t have a corporate tax or an individual income tax, so the state is tied at number one for both. California ranks dead last on the individual income tax. Not only does the Bronze Golden State have the highest state tax rate, there are numerous conformity issues (with federal taxes), and a tax bureaucracy that is hard to work with. California is below average for the corporate tax. This isn’t because California is that good; rather, there are states that are far worse.

Nevada and California rank 40th and 41st respectively on sales tax. Both states have complex systems with rates that vary in different districts. Additionally, both states have fairly high sales tax rates. California significantly outranks Nevada on Unemployment Insurance Tax. Nevada’s tax rate is one of the highest; California’s is relatively low with conformity on the maximum income base for this tax ($7,000). Nevada slightly outranks California on property tax (9th versus 14th). California’s low ranking is because of limits from Proposition 13. It’s something that gives certainty and is probably the third rail of California politics.

What most observers forget is the importance of the individual income tax. Most businesses pay tax through individual income taxes, not corporate taxes. S Corporations, LLCs, LLPs, general and limited partnerships, and sole proprietorships are flow-through entities that are taxed on the individual level. States that provide low rates on individual income taxes generally do better for businesses. While California is known for its entrepreneurs (think Silicon Valley), its tax climate discourages such ventures.

And for those who think that taxes don’t matter, I’m in Nevada as a result of taxes and California’s miserable business climate. Nissan moved its headquarters from California to Tennessee, and taxes were a big factor. For both small and large businesses (and everyone in between), these issues count. The Tax Foundation’s full study is well worth your perusal.

House Passes Tax Bill; Most Things Stay the Same for 2012

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

This evening, the House passed by a 257-167 vote the tax compromise. Here’s what this bill means:

Income Tax
- For 2013 forward, the Bush tax cuts were permanently extended except for the “wealthy.” That’s defined as $400,000 for individuals, $450,000 if married filing jointly (MFJ). Above this, the top marginal tax rate returns to 39.6%
- Welcome back, marriage penalty! (See above.)
- The Alternative Minimum Tax will no longer be patched each year; it is now indexed for inflation. Among other pluses with this, the tax filing season should begin normally in mid-January.
- Many tax credits were extended for five years, including the American Opportunity Credit, the Earned Income Credit, and the child tax credit (at a higher level than in the past).
- The ability to deduct sales tax instead of state income tax was extended for one year. Other deductions, such as the teacher expense deduction and the tuition and fees deduction, were also extended.
- Both exemptions and itemized deductions will again “phase out” at high incomes: $250,000 (single), $275,000 (head of household), and $300,000 (MFJ). Note that those itemized deductions which didn’t phase out in the past (e.g. gambling losses) will not phase out in the future, either.

Payroll Tax
The 2% payroll tax holiday has expired. Employee’s share of social security will return to 6.2% from 4.2%; self-employment tax increases to 15.3% from 13.3%.

Estate Tax
The estate tax exemption continues at $5 million base, with inflation adjustments ($5.12 million for 2012). The rate increases to 40% from 35% above the exemption.


The ‘sequester’ (cutting of expenses) was put off for two months. Coincidentally, that’s about when the debt ceiling will be reached. That battle–likely to begin in February–will be interesting as most Republicans want significant cuts and most Democrats don’t.

This year figures to be quite taxing for Congress (and that pun was intended).

Fiscal Cliff Compromise Deal?

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Last night the Senate approved on a compromise deal that averts the “fiscal cliff.” Supposedly, most tax provisions that were to expire are extended in the deal (including the deduction for state income tax, a permanent indexing for the AMT, and cancelled debt relief on a primary residence). The House will likely vote on the deal later today.

There will still be major battles ahead inc Congress, as this measure does nothing on spending. The debt ceiling will be reached within two months, and Republicans likely will demand major cuts in spending to allow for a debt ceiling increase.

I’ll have more on this tomorrow when I’m back working.

Fiscal Cliff Deal Near?

Monday, December 17th, 2012

CBS News is reporting that a fiscal cliff deal may be reached by mid-week. Here is the report from Major Garrett of CBS:

We shall see. Presumably, an AMT patch is part of the negotiations.

Hat Tip: Hot Air

Math Is Hard

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Here’s a math question: What’s 15 +13? It’s 28, of course. Unfortunately, the Santa Clara Valley Water District (near San Jose, California) didn’t check their work. They added 15 years to 2013 and got 2029, not 2028. Oops. It’s a big problem because that’s what was written in a parcel tax proposal that’s on the November ballot.

The ballot proposal is now invalid, and the deadline for making changes on ballot proposals was two weeks ago. Now the water district must file a lawsuit and hope the judge allows a change to the measure. And it’s the second error with this ballot measure–a two-word clerical error was fixed a few weeks ago.

If approved–and that’s if it appears on the ballot–the proposal would add a $54 tax to each parcel within the water district.