Archive for the ‘Legislation’ Category

Trump’s Tax Plan

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

President Trump released his tax “plan.” That’s an overstatement; the plan is really an outline. Gone would be the Alternative Minimum Tax, the Estate Tax, and most itemized deductions; there would be three tax brackets with the top tax bracket at 35%; the corporate tax rate would fall from 35% to 15%; and the top capital gain tax rate would be 20%.

The outline is one page, and is more a statement of goals than anything else. There are definite issues that I have with it in my area of expertise: gambling. And overall the results wouldn’t be good for most gamblers.

For professional gamblers, there would be no direct changes. Professional gamblers report their income on a Schedule C; there’s no change here. However, amateur gamblers could be devastated by the proposal. Consider an amateur gambler who correctly reports his $100,000 of winning sessions and $80,000 of losing sessions. Under current tax law, he pays tax on $20,000 of net winnings (his gambling losses are an itemized deduction on Schedule A). Under President Trump’s plan, he would pay tax on $100,000 of winning sessions; his gambling losses wouldn’t be deductible. This would have a devastating tax impact on gambling.

There is an easy fix for this, and it comes from a state not known for having a good tax system—New Jersey. Add in a Schedule G for gambling, where gambling wins and losses for an amateur gambler would be listed; the net would flow to Other Income where it would be taxed.

The final result of tax reform won’t be known for months, and it’s probable what emerges from Congress won’t look anything like what’s been proposed.

What Will President Trump Do To Our Taxes?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

When I woke up this morning I discovered yet another impossible item just happened (the Cubs really did win the World Series, right?). The media was saying that Hillary Clinton was going to be President. Oops. So what will President-Elect Trump likely mean for taxes?

1. John Koskinen will soon be the ex-IRS Commissioner. This is one prediction I’m very confident in. Republicans believe that he is one of the reasons we don’t know who ordered the IRS scandal. President-Elect Trump will ask for his resignation and get it.

1A. We will know the truth behind the IRS scandal within two years.

2. Obamacare will die. Even if Hillary had been elected, it’s been clear that the measure’s days were numbered. From a health care standpoint, I have no idea what (if anything) will replace it. But Obamacare is still unpopular, unworkable, and insane; its loss will be grieved by only a few.

From a tax standpoint, this means that the Net Investment Income Tax could also die, along with the additional Medicare tax. I’m far more confident in predicting the death of Obamacare than guessing what its replacement will be. It’s definitely possible we’ll see the status quo ante come back.

3. A tax reform package will be introduced and gain traction, but the end result will be a compromise. Democrats didn’t win the Senate, but do hold enough seats to filibuster. It’s more likely that we will see business tax reform pass than personal tax reform. However, this will be the best opportunity for real tax reform since the 1986 tax reform.

4. There’s no chance of overall federal tax rates increasing in the next four years. Zero.

5. But there’s also state taxes, and in yesterday’s elections we saw so-called “blue” states generally pass tax increases (California and Maine). We will continue to see small businesses migrate away from high-tax states to low-tax states. There’s a corollary that will be happening: Pie-in-the-sky blue state projects such as California’s train to nowhere will be getting no federal funding. (That train isn’t going to be running in the next four years.) Similar projects nationally will also die.

6. None of this will impact 2016 taxes. In a rare (perhaps unique) intelligent act, Congress changed the tax law for both 2015 and 2016 so we know exactly what 2016 taxes will be.

7. Another major impact will be the Supreme Court. There’s now no chance that Merrick Garland’s nomination will move forward. It’s far more likely a conservative will be nominated for the Court. I’m definitely the wrong person to ask on what the impact will be on this, but this is another certain impact of Trump’s victory. It’s also probable that President-Elect Trump will have at least one other Supreme Court nomination during his term in office.

8. President Obama believes in regulations; President-Elect Trump has publicly stated that for each new regulation two existing regulations will be eliminated.

9. President Obama used executive orders to implement large portions of his agenda. President-Elect Trump has stated he will rescind those orders when he takes office. Most of these do not deal directly with tax policy, but there will be indirect impacts.

Overall, the times are a-changing. We’ll start getting a flavor for the new administration when President-Elect Trump start naming his cabinet officers and other appointments

A Bipartisan Tax Bill? I’ll Drink to That!

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

There hasn’t been much bipartisanship on Capitol Hill recently. But there is a piece of legislation that is being proposed by both Democrats and Republicans. It’s to end age discrimination against bourbon and whiskey.

You didn’t know that there was such discrimination? Well, it’s not at the liquor store; rather, it’s in the Tax Code. One of the fundamentals of accounting is to match expenses against revenue. The problem for bourbon and whiskey is that it must age, so the expenses must wait until the product is sold. As this article from the Louisville Courier-Journal notes, a bipartisan group of Kentucky and Tennessee Congressmen would like to change that. They would like bourbon and whiskey producers to be able to take their expenses as incurred.

We’ll have to wait and see if this measure gains any traction in Congress. If it does, bourbon producers will certainly be drinking up for the success.

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).