Why We Need Rational Tax Discourse: A Progressive’s Lament

By Jennifer Bird-Pollan

I woke up this morning to a viral video of Rep. DelBene of Washington State questioning economist Thomas Barthold, Chief of Staff of the Joint Committee on Tax (who incidentally became Chief of Staff of the nonpartisan organization in 2009, when Democrat Charles Rangel, then chair of House Ways and Means Committee, praised him heartily).

The optics are a progressive’s dream come true:  whip-smart Congresswoman shows up white-haired, straight-laced, white man by revealing how the proposed tax bill screws over individuals while protecting corporations.  And all across social media sites progressives are eating it up.   The thing is, while I share my friends’ progressive values, and I love a good younger-woman-shows-up-an-older-man video, the line of questioning in this exchange is entirely misguided and misleading, and all of the students in my basic income tax course can explain why.

Continue reading “Why We Need Rational Tax Discourse: A Progressive’s Lament”

Imputed Income and Donald Trump’s Tax Deduction for Stay-at-home Moms

By: Jennifer Bird-Pollan

This week Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released a series of proposals aimed, presumably, at improving his approval ratings among women.  Much of the focus in reporting on this plan has been on the proposed six weeks of maternity leave that employers will have to make available to all of their female employees.  Another element of the proposal is focused on mothers who do not work outside of the home.  Trump’s plan offers a tax deduction for childcare expenses to all parents (including adoptive parents and foster parents) with children under the age of 13 living at home.  In a unique twist, rather than having a uniform cap for the amount of childcare expenses taxpayers can deduct, the plan caps the amount of the deduction at the average cost of childcare in the state of residence.  In another radical departure from current law, Trump’s childcare deduction would be available to stay-at-home parents who provide care for their own children in their own homes.  In the explanation of this proposal Trump claims that allowing the deduction to be claimed by stay at home parents means the government would be allowing families to decide for themselves”what’s in a family’s best interest.”   Further, the proposal claims that giving a deduction to stay home parents is “a belated recognition by the federal government of the economic value of the work provided by stay-at-home parents.”  Continue reading “Imputed Income and Donald Trump’s Tax Deduction for Stay-at-home Moms”

Improving Tax Compliance in a Globalized World

By Jennifer Bird-Pollan

I have spent the past two days in the beautiful “free city” of Rust, Austria.  (Among other things, Rust is known as a haven for storks, including those in the photos below.  Most buildings in the old town have stork nests on their roofs.)

I am in Rust to attend a conference organized by the Institute of Austrian and International Tax Law of the Vienna University of Economics and Business.  The Institute organizes a conference in Rust every year using the same model.  Organizers first issue a call for contributors, each of whom writes a country report on the year’s topic, answering a series of questions prepared by Institute staff, describing the situation in his or her home country.  Contributors and participants include representatives of tax authorities, tax law and economics academics, practicing tax attorneys and accountants, and representatives of international organizations, among others.  The reports are circulated to participants in advance of the conference, and all are expected to prepare themselves by reading the country reports before arriving.  The two day conference then consists of the reporters presenting 3 minute “input statements” on a variety of topics, followed by discussion among the almost one hundred participants.  Here we are discussing an input statement from the Russian reporter, Professor Danil Vinnitskiy:

Rust Conference

As indicated in the title of my post, this year’s topic is tax compliance, and it has been fascinating to hear about the approaches of various governments including Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Norway, Russia, Germany, Nigeria, Croatia and many more.  Discussions have covered questions including the measurement of the tax gap, FATCA and other information exchange programs, inter-agency information exchange, and withholding procedures, among other things.  For those interested in learning more about these matters, the reports will ultimately be published in the coming months.

Professors Michael Lang and Alexander Rust host the conference, along with others from the Institute, and they understand that hard conference work should be accompanied by some opportunities to talk informally with other participants.  The informal events typically include a local wine tasting, a sunset dinner boat trip on the lovely Neusiedlersee, and many coffee breaks with opportunities for discussion with others.

Rust dinnerRust sunset

Having attended the Rust conference twice now, I can highly recommend it to others.  Keep an eye out for the call for participants for the 2017 conference!

Teaching Tax – At Home and Abroad

by Jennifer Bird-Pollan

I’ve just finished my sixth year of teaching tax at the University of Kentucky, which is longer than I’ve done any other professional task, but I still feel like I’m a beginner.  I have started to develop strong classroom preferences (students may not use computers in my classes, I prefer lots of participation, and I prefer textbooks that elucidate concepts, rather than trying to hide the ball).  But at the same time I have many more questions about the best way to do this work (what should I cover and leave out, given the time constraints?  how can I encourage students to prepare seriously ahead of time, while still giving robust answers to student questions in class?).  I am eager to hear from others, both my co-bloggers and visitors, what they think about these issues, and I plan to devote future blog posts to some of my thoughts about these questions.  However, having just finished teaching “International Aspects of U.S. Tax Law” at the Vienna University of Economics and Business for the second time, I thought I’d focus here on some of the differences I have observed teaching U.S. income tax law abroad.   Continue reading “Teaching Tax – At Home and Abroad”


How exciting – my first ever blog post!  My name is Jennifer Bird-Pollan, and I am a tenured Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, teaching a variety of tax classes.  My research over the past few years has focused primarily on wealth transfer taxation, in particular on the interaction between current policies taxing transfers at death and various philosophical views of distributive justice.  I am also in the final stages of drafting a dissertation on the subject of philosophy and wealth transfer taxation in completion of a PhD in Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.

Continue reading “Introductions”