Archive for the ‘Taxable Talk’ Category

It’s Time to Panic!

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

If you use a tax professional and have not yet provided your paperwork to him or her, it’s time to panic and work on this. In past years, I’ve made this post in early October. But this tax year is different than others, and if you turn your paperwork in after the end of September, it’s quite possible your return will end up being filed after the October 15th extension deadline.

Tax returns are taking longer to prepare this year than last. We’re seeing the average return taking 10% longer than last year. Let’s assume that an average tax professional could prepare ten returns in a day; this year, he or she might only get nine done. That doesn’t sound like much, but most tax returns on extension are difficult ones, with complications.

If you file late, realize it’s as if your extension never happened. Of course, if you’re getting a refund filing late is not the end of the world: The penalties for late filing are based on the tax you owe, so if you don’t owe any tax there are no penalties.

Our official deadline for receiving paperwork was September 17th. Most tax professionals I know had similar deadlines. That means if you haven’t turned in your paperwork you’re on borrowed time. It’s time for the procrastinators out there to stop procrastinating if you don’t want to pay an extra 25% of your tax for late filing.

Gambling With an Edge Podcast

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

I appeared on last week’s “Gambling With an Edge” podcast. We discussed the IRS letters sent to cryptocurrency users, does having a large number of W-2Gs increase audit risk, and sending tax returns by regular mail — and many other topics. You can download the podcast at the link (above), or subscribe to “Gambling With an Edge” on iTunes and other podcast services.

We’ve Moving, and We’re on Vacation

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

Our offices are moving (conveniently while we’re on vacation). Our new address is:

Clayton Financial and Tax
222 S Rainbow Blvd, Ste 205
Las Vegas, NV 89145-5356

And we’re going to enjoy a vacation. If something earth-shattering in the tax world happens while I’m relaxing, I’ll take time out to post on it. Otherwise, enjoy the fine bloggers listed in the blogroll on the right.

I’ll be back on Tuesday, August 6th.

Annual Blog Hiatus

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

It’s time for our annual blog hiatus. We’ll be back after April 15th. Our annual series of Bozo Tax Tips will come out beginning April 1st, and if something truly remarkable happens in the tax world between now and April 15th we will report on it.

The 2018 Tax Offender of the Year

Monday, December 31st, 2018

Another year has gone by. And that means it’s once again time for that most prestigious of prestigious awards, the Tax Offender of the Year. As usual, there’s a plethora of nominees. As usual, I wish there weren’t any deserving winners.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) received a nomination. “This isn’t tax simplification, and few have received benefits,” a correspondent told me. The first part of the statement is absolutely true. The TCJA is anything but simplification. As for few receiving benefits, almost all the provisions of the TCJA impact 2018 taxes (and onward). We’ll have a much better idea of what this law will (or won’t) due to taxpayers in a few months. I’m holding this nomination in abeyance until next year.

The Miccosukee tribe of Indians received another nomination. The tribe has been fighting a losing battle over the taxation of profits from their casino in southern Florida. The tribe itself is exempt from taxation (it’s a sovereign nation); however, members of the tribe are not exempt based on distributions of those profits. This issue has been percolating up and down the Tax Court, District Courts, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for a few years. On June 4th the 11th Circuit ruled in United States v Jim:

When an Indian tribe decides to distribute the revenue from gaming activities, however, the distributions are subject to federal taxation. Id. § 2710(b)(3)(D). The Indian tribe, as a consequence, must report the distributions, notify its members of their tax liability, and withhold the taxes due on them. Id. § 2710(b)(3)(D); 26 U.S.C. §§ 3402(r)(1), 6041(a).

In the case before us, an Indian tribe engaged in gaming activities. Each quarter, the tribe used the revenue of the gaming activities to fund per capita distributions to its members. But the tribe disregarded its tax obligations on these distributions. It neither reported the distributions nor withheld taxes on them…

In this appeal, the member and the tribe contend that the District Court erred in concluding that the exemption for Indian general welfare benefits did not apply to the distributions. The tribe alone asserts that the District Court erroneously upheld tax penalties against the member and incorrectly attributed to the member the distributions of her husband and daughters. Lastly, the tribe argues that the District Court erred by entering judgment against it as an intervenor.

We affirm the ruling of the District Court in each of these matters. The distribution payments cannot qualify as Indian general welfare benefits under [the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act] because Congress specifically subjected such distributions to federal taxation in [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act]. The member has waived any arguments as to penalties or the amount assessed against her, and the tribe lacks a legal interest in those issues. The District Court did not err in entering judgment against the tribe because the tribe intervened as of right and the Government sought to establish its obligation to withhold taxes on the distributions. [footnote omitted]

This taxpayer owes $278,758.83 as of April 9, 2015; the tribe and its members could owe more than $1 billion in personal income taxes. Yet that sum pales in comparison to our ‘winner.’


As most of you know, I grew up just outside of Chicago. I have fond memories of riding the El and of taking the train up to Milwaukee. Subways and other forms of mass transit work well in dense cities such as Chicago, New York, and Boston.

Amtrak, however, has been a money loser. Running passenger trains through the northeast corridor ekes out a profit, but the rest of the service doesn’t make money. Put simply, you need a dense corridor to make trains a winner.

In November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 1A. As noted in the ballot summary, “Provides for a bond issue of $9.95 billion to establish high-speed train service linking Southern California counties, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area.” The argument in favor stated:

Proposition 1A is a $9.95 billion bond measure for an 800-mile High-Speed Train network that will relieve 70 million passenger trips a year that now clog California’s highways and airports—WITHOUT RAISING TAXES…

Proposition 1A will save time and money. Travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 2½ hours for about $50 a person. With gasoline prices today, a driver of a 20-miles-per-gallon car would spend about $87 and six hours on such a trip.

The rebuttal to the argument stated:

Prop. 1A is a boondoggle that will cost taxpayers at least $20 billion in principal and interest. The whole project could cost $90 billion—the most expensive railroad in history. No one really knows how much this will ultimately cost.

Now that we’re ten years after passage, we can determine that both sides were wrong. The last official analysis showed a price tag of $77 billion. The New York Times, in an article this past July, upped the price to $100 billion. So both sides were wrong about the cost, but the opponents had the right idea. And with this project years from completion and the cost having risen every time there’s been a new analysis, I’ll take the over on $100 billion. That’s why California’s high speed rail project (aka “The Train to Nowhere”) is this year’s Tax Offender of the Year.

So where will the money come from to build the train? It’s not coming from this Congress; President Trump and Republicans in Congress vociferously oppose the project. Proposition 1A says that the train must be self-supporting; less than 3% of high-speed train networks in the world are self-supporting. Authority Spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley told the Sacramento Bee “We haven’t been shy about the fact that this project was never fully funded.” The hope is that once the system begins to operate that it will show private industry its usefulness and that they would be willing to invest in the project.

Consider that the first segment will run from Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, to Madera, a bit south of Merced. It does go through the San Joaquin Valley’s largest city, Fresno, but it does not run through Visalia; instead, it runs near Hanford. I’ll be blunt: There’s no chance that the first segment will be self-supporting. There aren’t enough riders wanting to commute between these cities to make the line profitable. Additionally, state route 99 runs between all these cities. Yes, it will take longer in a car but you have your own transportation when you get to your destination, and you don’t have to wait for the train.

Where high speed rail works is in dense corridors. For example, the Japanese bullet trains run between such cities as Tokyo (population 38 million for the metropolitan area), Osaka (19 million), and Nagoya (9 million). The California bullet trains will initially run between Shafter (population 19,608) and Madera (population 65,508). If we use Bakersfield (840,000 for the metropolitan area) and Fresno (972,000) we get something a little better. Still, how many people really commute between these cities? Having lived in Visalia for years, I can state unequivocally it’s not a lot.

Proponents argue that once the train reaches the Bay Area and Southern California, ridership will pick up; both metropolitan areas have millions of residents. But there’s a huge difference between Tokyo and either California metropolitan area. The Tokyo metropolitan area is 5,240 square miles with a population of 38 million. The Los Angeles metropolitan area is 33,954 square miles with a population of 18.7 million. The Bay Area is 10,191 square miles with a population of 7.77 million. Put simply, Japan is densely populated so train travel works very well.

Additionally, there are several airports serving both the Los Angeles metropolitan area (Los Angeles International, Burbank, Ontario, Long Beach, and Orange County) and the Bay Area (San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland). There are numerous flights between each of the Southern and Northern California airports. These flights take about one hour and cost about $100. High speed rail is going to have to beat that in some way in order to attract paying customers. Frankly, I doubt either will happen.

If the system is built, I do think that it will attract riders going to and from the Central Valley. There aren’t many flights to Fresno from the Bay Area (or from Los Angeles). There’s also the issue of demand; there really isn’t that much into the Valley. But the service can certainly attract riders there. However, it’s not going to be near enough riders for the project to pay for itself.

The problem for California taxpayers is that they are liable for the project. Those bonds will need to be paid back. There’s a need for at least another $70 billion to finish the line. The best estimate for the annual subsidy is $100 million. Yes, I know that Proposition 1A specified that there can’t be a subsidy. Does anyone really believe that California’s politicians will follow the law on this? (Hint: I don’t.)

But Russ, this is a state project. Its impact is limited to California. If California wants to shoot itself in the foot, we should let it. The problem with that argument is that the next time the California economy suffers a downturn, California will run to Congress for a bail-out. Today, the Trump Administration is likely to tell California, “No.” However, I have my doubts that a future Democratic administration won’t go for a bail-out on this project, leaving non-Californians liable for this boondoggle. There’s a need for $70 billion. The sooner that this project is put out of its misery the better for both California and the country.

Quentin Kopp, a former Supervisor in San Francisco, was the man who introduced the project and was a proponent. He told reason.com

It is foolish, and it is almost a crime to sell bonds and encumber the taxpayers of California at a time when this is no longer high-speed rail. And the litigation, which is pending, will result, I am confident, in the termination of the High-Speed Rail Authority’s deceiving plan…

[The selling of bonds is] deceit. That’s not a milestone, it’s desperation, because High-Speed Rail Authority is out of money.

California High Speed Rail is a worthy winner of the 2018 Tax Offender of the Year award.


That’s a wrap on 2018. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Nominations Due for Tax Offender of the Year

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

In a little less than a month it will be time to reveal this year’s winner of the prestigious “Tax Offender of the Year” award. Remember, To be considered for the Tax Offender of the Year award, the individual (or organization) must do more than cheat on his or her taxes. It has to be special; it really needs to be a Bozo-like action or actions. Here are the past lucky recipients:

2017: State and Local Pension Crisis

2016: Judge Diane Kroupa
2015: Kenneth Harycki
2014: Mauricio Warner
2013: U.S. Department of Justice
2012: Steven Martinez
2011: United States Congress
2010: Tony and Micaela Dutson
2009: Mark Anderson
2008: Robert Beale
2007: Gene Haas
2005: Sharon Lee Caulder

Gambling with an Edge Podcast

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

I was the guest on this week’s Gambling with an Edge podcast. You can download the podcast here or on iTunes. The main point of discussion was the new tax law, but we covered some other topics such as bad tax states for gamblers, the Cincinnati Reds’ bobblehead case, and yesterday’s ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair.

Annual Blog Hiatus

Friday, March 16th, 2018

With the heart of the 2018 Tax Season upon us, it’s time for my annual blog hiatus. My series of Bozo Tax Tips will appear in early April, and if something truly earth-shattering happens in tax, I’ll still be here. Otherwise, I’ll be back post-April 17th.

Blogroll Update

Monday, January 1st, 2018

It’s been a while, but I’ve finally updated the blogroll. I’ve removed the deadwood and added a few new blogs (and tax agencies). If you have a tax blog that you think should be added, let me know by commenting. I’ll check it out.

The 2017 Tax Offender of the Year

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

It’s once again time for that most prestigious of prestigious awards, the Tax Offender of the Year. To win this award you need to do more than cheat on your taxes; it has to be a Bozo-like action or actions. As usual, we had plenty of nominees.

President Trump received a nomination. Now, I realize many do not like the President’s politics, and the tax reform bill that was signed into law isn’t tax simplification. However, it is tax reform, and it will lower taxes for most Americans. As for Democrats’ charges that it will kill millions and cause the world to end, please. President Trump may deserve criticism over other political issues, but not on taxes (today).

Finishing in third place was Joseph Cervone, CPA, of White Plains, New York. Mr. Cervone saw the tax credits available for energy and coal and thought, “I can get free money for my clients! Let’s just submit $23 million of phony credits!” Mr. Cervone is enjoying 22 months at ClubFed.

Finishing in second place was the California legislature. The Bronze Golden State had a flirting with single-payer health care; luckily for California taxpayers the projected $400 Billion cost caused even the ultra-liberals to get cold feet. California continues to waste money on the train to nowhere. The project originally had a cost of $33 billion; it’s now up to $68 billion. It’s probable, though, that the project will die as further funding from the federal government is unlikely. It would be nice for Sacramento to stop spending money on it; the $3 billion spent could be used for far better things.


I grew up just outside of Chicago. I’m a fan of Chicago sports teams (save the White Sox), and many of my relatives live in or near Chicago. Yet Illinois in general and Chicago in particular is now known for high and increasing taxes and out-migration. A search on Chicago taxes finds stories like, “Chicago Property Tax Bills Going up 10 Percent This Year,” “Increased taxes, fees on phones, ride-hailing and concert tickets approved in 2018 Chicago budget,” and “Chicago’s soda tax is repealed.” You can read an article about fed-up Illinois homeowners debating moving from Chicago.

The question, though, is why are taxes increasing in Illinois and Chicago? Is it just the politicians, or is there an underlying cause? There is an answer: Public Employee Pension Funds. These funds (generally on the state level) are the cause of the problem in Illinois, and are this year’s Tax Offender of the Year.

The Tax Foundation has a map showing the funding in various states. Here are the top ten (best) funded states as of 2015 (latest year that statistics are available):

1. South Dakota, 107%
2. Oregon, 104%
3. Wisconsin, 103%
4. North Carolina, 99%
4 (tie). Tennessee, 99%
6. New York, 98%
7. Idaho, 95%
8. Nebraska, 93%
9. Delaware, 92%
10. Florida, 91%

And here are the ten worst:

40. Arizona, 64%
40 (tie). Colorado, 64%
42. Hawaii, 61%
42 (tie). Rhode Island, 61%
42 (tie). South Carolina, 61%
45. Alaska, 60%
45 (tie) Pennsylvania, 60%
47. Connecticut, 51%
48. New Jersey, 48%
49. Illinois, 41%
49 (tie) Kentucky, 41%

The Tax Foundation’s closing paragraph explains the problem:

Pension obligations must be fulfilled eventually. Policymakers should consider that reform now may be less costly and less painful than coping with a larger crisis later.

As of 2015, both California and Nevada are about average (at 74% funded). Unfortunately, California is now at 64% and falling. So why has this happened and what can be done about it?

Pew has a report on the 2015 analysis, and the problems began in the early 2000s: Liabilities increased at the same basic rate while assets in pension funds didn’t. In many states the pension fund crisis hasn’t come (yet). In a few, it won’t come (pensions are properly funded). In at least one state, Illinois, the crisis exists today; in another, California, it’s coming very soon. Consider that California pensions aren’t well funded yet we’ve had a huge boon in the stock market over the last two years!

Some cities and counties are in even worse shape. A Hoover Institution report shows that both Chicago and Cook County (the county that Chicago is in) have massively underfunded pensions. So Chicago residents have a triple whammy: underfunded state, county, and city pensions.

As for the reasons why this crisis exists, there are a couple.

1. When rates of return increased in the late 1990s, that increase was built into new public employee contracts. The late 1990s featured the dot-com boom in the stock market. Those rates of returns, in the 7% range, aren’t seen today (they’re about 2% to 3%).

2. Politicians ignoring the issue. It’s always easiest to pass the buck to the next mayor, or the next governor, or the next state legislature. That’s what’s been done in Illinois, and the state is in severe crisis. The Democrats who control the state legislature are beholden to the public employee unions who, shockingly, don’t want to see pensions cut. Last time I looked, Illinois is nearly a year behind in paying its bills–all because of the pension crisis. So Democrats are only proposing tax increases rather. Residents who can move are doing so, and they can escape the pension crisis.

So what’s the answer to this crisis? There are a couple:

1. Pension reform is needed nearly everywhere in the US. Yes, pension benefits are going to decrease. That’s going to happen, either through negotiation or when the systems run out of money. It’s a certainty.

2. Reform for civil service/public employee unions. I am reminded of what President Franklin Roosevelt said:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Meaningful reform means that public employee unions won’t have collective bargaining or massive reform of civil service (or both). Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin noted this in a speech and implemented reforms. You will note that Wisconsin pensions are fully funded (one of only three such states).

Pain is coming in the world of pensions. Public employee unions can either recognize it, and live with change, or it will be forced upon them. Taxpayers stuck in bad states (e.g. Illinois) and bad cities (e.g. Chicago) will vote with their feet. Chicago politicians can’t tax John and Mary Smith who leave Chicago for places like Florida. Politicians also need to recognize reform is mandatory. Yes, it will be painful but the cost of kicking this can further down the road is even greater.


That’s a wrap on 2017. While I hope that 2018 will not provide me a lengthy list of candidates for Tax Offender of the Year, I suspect (as usual) that I’ll have plenty of choices.

I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!