Tomorrow’s Ninth Circuit Oral Argument in Altera

By: Leandra Lederman

Susan Morse and Stephen Shay have blogged today on Procedurally Taxing about the Ninth’s Circuit oral argument tomorrow in Altera Corp. v. Commissioner, as has Dan Shaviro on his blog, Start Making SenseAltera is the transfer pricing and administrative law case involving the Treasury’s cost-sharing agreement regulation. The Tax Court invalidated the regulation under the Administrative Procedure Act, as arbitrary and capricious. That is because the Tax Court accepted the taxpayer’s argument that it need not share stock-based compensation costs under a qualified cost-sharing agreement because arm’s length parties would not do so. The Tax Court found that Treasury had inadequately addressed evidence in the notice-and-comment process that parties not under common control did not share stock-based compensation costs, although Treasury explained in the Preamble to the regulation that cost-sharing agreements between uncontrolled parties are not sufficiently comparable to those in controlled-party transactions.

Altera raises an important administrative law question about what is required of Treasury for its regulations to be valid. Susie and Steve spearheaded an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit in favor of the Commissioner, in which I joined, along with Dick Harvey, Ruth Mason, and Bret Wells. An amicus brief prepared by another group of professors also supports the Commissioner. There are also amicus briefs by business groups on the other side. See Susie and Steve’s blog post for more detail. And for prior coverage on the Surly Subgroup, see this post on our amicus brief, explaining why the Ninth Circuit should reverse the Tax Court’s decision invalidating the regulation.

The Real IRS Scandal

By: Leandra Lederman

It is well known that the IRS was accused in 2013 of targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups for delays in their 501(c)(4) applications for tax-exempt status. TIGTA’s May 2013 report (and Lois Lerner’s statements at an ABA Tax Section meeting a few days earlier) launched the controversy, which harmed the IRS and a number of its employees. (Cf. my earlier Surly post, “Don’t Impeach IRS Commissioner Koskinen.”)

In 2016, I published an article, “IRS Reform: Politics As Usual?,” analyzing the facts underlying these accusations and the law applicable to the IRS’s determination of tax-exempt status. I argued that the facts showed that the IRS was not motivated by partisan politics. Rather, what happened was that IRS employees included a keyword approach in its efforts to triage the large volume of applications for tax-exempt status it was receiving. Its “Be On the Lookout” (BOLO) list of words was designed to help it identify for further scrutiny those organizations that were engaged in more political activity than was permitted under section 501(c)(4), which, generally speaking gants exempt status to organizations “for the promotion of social welfare.” As I describe in that article, the IRS tried but failed to get ahead of a brewing political controversy on this. There was evidence even in the 2010 IRS PowerPoint highlighting types of groups applying for a determination of exempt status under 501(c)(4) that the IRS had both Tea Party and progressive political organizations on its radar. But the news was full of stories of the IRS supposedly targeting conservative tax-exempt organizations.

The Washington Post has reported in an article titled Liberal groups got IRS scrutiny, too, inspector general suggests, that TIGTA will be issuing a new report finding that the IRS also used keywords to try to identify progressive groups engaging in too much political activity to qualify for the tax exemption under 501(c)(4) they were applying Continue reading “The Real IRS Scandal”

Analysis of the ABA Tax Section’s Reduced Travel Support for Academics

CaptureAusBy: Leandra Lederman

A hot topic among professors at the recent ABA Tax Section meeting in Austin was the reduction in travel support for academics scheduled to take effect with the upcoming meeting in San Diego. As Prof. Bryan Camp wrote on TaxProf blog, The background is that, for years, and through the most recent meeting, full-time professors who have a leadership role in the section (Chair or Vice-Chair of a committee, or higher positions) have received a travel subsidy. The subsidy consists of $100/night toward actual hotel expenses, reimbursement of coach airfare (up to a mileage-based cap*), and $10 towards local transportation. Full-time professors speaking on panels who are not in leadership have also long received a travel subsidy, which I believe is the same as for professors in leadership, except without the $100/night towards hotel room cost. The Tax Section recently decided to eliminate the subsidy for academics, except for those who meet the Section’s definition of “young lawyer,” which has been reported as under age 40 or less than 5 years in practice. (I’m not sure how the “less than 5 years in practice” works, but I imagine it refers to something like bar membership, so that someone like me, who practiced for less than 5 years before entering academia in 1994, would not qualify.)

What’s so sad about this decision is that Tax Section meeting attendance by academics is likely to drop off markedly, although academics add a lot to the Section, as discussed further below. The Teaching Taxation Committee will suffer significantly, and so will other committees with many professors in leadership. It will also be harder to get faculty to speak on panels. There are several factors that will drive this effect:

  1. Law school budgets, and notably travel budgets, have been cut significantly in the wake of student application declines nationally that began in about 2011. My school continues to be generous, but I have heard from so many professors I have lost count about reduced, often dramatically reduced, annual travel budgets for faculty–budgets that may not support more than one or two conferences a year, for example. Continue reading “Analysis of the ABA Tax Section’s Reduced Travel Support for Academics”

Stetson Law School Seeks a Tax Professor

Stetson Law School, Florida’s oldest law school, is looking for a tax professor, especially a lateral. Here is the ad, from TaxProf blog:

Stetson University College of Law invites applications for a full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty position for a dedicated teacher/scholar specializing in tax law. While we are particularly interested in receiving applications from experienced lateral candidates, we will consider hiring at all levels, with or without tenure.

Stetson encourages applications from women, minorities, LGBTQ candidates, persons with disabilities, and all others who will contribute to our stimulating and diverse cultural and intellectual environment. Applicants should have a strong academic record and demonstrated commitment to outstanding teaching, scholarship, and service. Confidential inquiries are welcome.

Stetson’s beautiful campuses are located in Florida’s Tampa Bay region, the nation’s eighteenth largest metropolitan area. Stetson Law, Florida’s oldest law school, is internationally known for its programs in Advocacy, Legal Writing, Elder Law, and Higher Education Law. We encourage interested applicants to visit our website at http://www.law.stetson.edu to learn more about our school, our community, and our programs.

Application review will begin by mid-August and will continue until the positions are filled. Lateral candidates may be asked initially to video conference with the Appointments Screening Committee; other interviews may occur in Washington, D.C. during the AALS 2017 Faculty Recruitment Conference.

Please submit your cover letter, resume, and contact information for professional references, and address your application to Professors Mark Bauer and Ann Piccard, Co-Chairs, Faculty Appointments Screening Committee. You may email your application to facultyappointments@law.stetson.edu. You may also apply through standard mail; please send correspondence to Jessica Zook, Stetson University College of Law, 1401 61st Street South, Gulfport, Florida 33707.

Looking Back at Maurer’s SALT-Filled 2017 Tax Policy Colloquium

By: Leandra Lederman

With classes starting again, I have been planning for the new academic year, which also entails looking back at the 2016-2017 year. I’m teaching Introduction to Income Tax this Fall, and will be teaching Corporate Tax and Tax Policy Colloquium this Spring.

I am fortunate to run our Tax Policy Colloquium. I blogged on TaxProf Blog about launching the Colloquium and reflected back on it there after its first year. From my perspective, it has consistently been a terrific experience. Spring 2017 was special, though, because many of the paper topics seemed to connect, although that was largely unplanned. Here is the list of presenters we hosted, and their paper titles:

Daniel Hemel, University of Chicago Law SchoolFederalism as a Safeguard of Progressivity

Rebecca Kysar, Brooklyn Law School, Automatic Legislation

Les Book, Villanova University School of Law & David Walker, Intuit (via Skype), Thinking About Taxpayer Rights and Social Psychology to Improve Administration of the EITC

Allison Christians, McGill University Faculty of LawHuman Rights At the Borders of Tax Sovereignty

Mildred Robinson, University of Virginia School of Law, Irreconcilable Differences?: State Income Tax Law in the Shadow of the Internal Revenue Code

Jason Oh, UCLA School of LawAre Progressive Tax Rates Progressive Policy?

David Gamage, Indiana University Maurer School of LawTax Cannibalization and State Government Tax Incentive Programs

Justin Ross, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental AffairsThe Impact of State Taxes on Pass-Through Businesses: Evidence from the 2012 Kansas Income Tax Reform

These papers got us to think both about state tax systems and about how the U.S. federal and state tax systems interact or differ. One recurring theme was how regressive U.S. state tax systems generally are (aggregating all the taxes within a state). That discussion started with Daniel Hemel’s paper; he cited 2015 ITEP data that came up repeatedly throughout the course.

The ITEP site lists Washington, Florida, Texas, South Dakota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arizona, Kansas, and Indiana as the 10 states with the most regressive tax systems. I notice that several of those don’t have state income taxes. But many, including Indiana, do. As an example, here are the stats on Indiana’s tax system in 2015, coming in at 10th most regressive in the ITEP study.

In case you’re wondering, ITEP says that the 7 states with the least regressive tax systems in 2015 were (in alphabetical order) California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, and Vermont. Least regressive doesn’t mean “progressive,” though: “In each of these states, at least some low- or middle-income groups pay more of their income in state and local taxes than wealthy families. In other words, every single state and local tax system is regressive and even these states that do better than others have much room for improvement.”

I’m now looking ahead to another terrific group of Colloquium speakers in Spring 2018. Paper topics are as yet undetermined, so I don’t know if themes will emerge, but I will plan to follow up with more on the Colloquium content in the future.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Law Seeks to Hire A Tax Professor

By: Leandra Lederman

I’ve been asked to post the following announcement. I’m told that Pittsburgh would be able to hire at all levels from assistant professor to full professor.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Law invites applications for a tenure-stream position, beginning in the 2018-2019 academic year, to teach courses in the tax area. The successful candidate will become an integral part of Pitt Law’s tax program, which includes a Tax Law Concentration, a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, and the peer-reviewed Pittsburgh Tax Review. We anticipate hiring for this position at the rank of assistant, associate, or full professor, depending on the candidate’s qualifications. We strongly encourage applications from lateral candidates at all levels.

An interest in teaching and research in international aspects of tax law and/or in business/commercial law is desirable, as is an interest in and/or experience with incorporating experiential learning and innovative pedagogy (e.g., writing intensive, inter-professional, flipped classroom, etc.) into the classroom.

The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action, equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, veteran status, disability, national origin, creed, marital status, age, gender identity or sexual orientation in its hiring.  In furtherance of our strong institutional commitment to a diverse faculty, we particularly welcome applications from minorities, women, and others who would add diversity to our faculty.

Contact:  Harry Flechtner, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, University of Pittsburgh School of Law, 3900 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15260.  Email: law-appointments@pitt.edu.  Email submissions are preferred.  The deadline for applications is November 1, 2017.

AALS Call for Papers by Junior Scholars

By: Leandra Lederman

The AALS has issued a call for papers for presentation at the 2018 meeting in San Diego, CA. “Those who will have been full-time law teachers at an AALS member or fee-paid school for five years or less on July 1, 2017, are invited to submit a paper on a topic related to or concerning law.” The deadline is August 4, 2017. There is more information at this link on the AALS website.

AALS Call for Papers on The Challenges and Opportunities of Exotic Hybrids

By: Leandra Lederman


At the
2018 AALS annual meeting (San Diego, Jan. 3-6, 2018), the Section on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations will be co-sponsoring a program with the AALS Sections on Taxation, Securities Regulation, and Business Associations on “The Challenges and Opportunities of Exotic Hybrids—Series LLCs, Up-C’s and Master Limited Partnerships.” In addition to featuring invited speakers, speakers (and papers) will be selected from a call for papers located at this link. The submission deadline is June 15, 2017. 

ACTC Letter Requesting a Variance for Tax Guidance

By: Leandra Lederman

Sam Brunson previously blogged about President Trump’s Executive Order of January 30, 2017, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Cost,” which requires an agency to identify two regulations to eliminate for every new regulation it issues. (Sam also has related posts here and here). As Sam stated, the Executive Order burdens taxpayers, who benefit from the public guidance Treasury regulations provide.

On March 23, the American College of Tax Counsel (ACTC) sent a letter to the Secretary of Treasury, Hon. Steven Mnuchin, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Hon. Mick Mulvaney, “respectfully request[ing] that the Administration consider the unique role that the tax law plays in the lives of every American and provide the Treasury Department and the IRS with appropriate flexibility in issuing guidance that taxpayers and their advisors need in order to comply with the tax law.” The letter explains in part:

“By limiting the flexibility of Treasury and the IRS to issue such guidance, the Executive Order risks shifting the interpretive burden onto taxpayers, who must hire accountants, lawyers, and other advisors to guide them. . . . Moreover, by requiring Treasury and the IRS to identify two ‘deregulatory’ actions for each new guidance item, the Executive Order risks imposing additional burdens on taxpayers if it results in the elimination of existing rules that taxpayers and their advisors have come to rely on.”

I hope that Secretary Mnuchin and Director Mulvaney are receptive. As the ACTC’s letter states, even while simplification efforts are underway, “it is critical for taxpayers and their advisors to have the guidance needed to comply with the tax law as currently in effect.”

When a Tax Strategy Benefits a Subnational Government

2014-polo-ao5-1-million-lineBy: Leandra Lederman

Usually we think of tax shelters and other tax strategies as the province of private parties. These shelters may involve accommodation parties, even foreign government infrastructure, such as transportation systems, but we tend to think of private parties as getting the tax benefits. We may not think as often about a subnational government bolstering its tax revenues at the expense of the national government, particularly via a cooperating private party’s transaction structure. But that’s what happened a few years ago in Spain.

There is a Volkswagen (VW) plant in Pamplona, a city in the autonomous community of Navarra. From 2007-2011, Navarra reportedly collected approximately 1.5 billion Euros in value-added tax (VAT) from Volkswagen for its cars manufactured at the plant there. If VW-Navarra (which is a subsidiary of SEAT) had shipped the cars directly from Navarra to Germany, presumably Navarra would have had to refund that VAT. (Cars shipped to Germany leave Spain “clean of VAT* (translation mine)).

Instead, according to an interview with Prof. Fernando de la Hucha in this El Diario article, the basic structure was that VW-Navarra sold the cars (although without physically moving them there) to a related Barcelona company, VAESA (Volkswagen-Audi España S.A.), which is located in the Catalunya region, not Navarra. VAESA then sold them to SEAT with the very low mark-up of 5 Euros per car. SEAT, which is also in Catalunya, then sold them to VW-Germany—the transfer abroad triggering entitlement to a refund. But because the cars were sold from a city outside the Navarra region, VW’s refund claim did not go to Navarra. Instead, the Spanish national government was the one that issued the refund, which is how Navarra benefitted. (Catalunya did not issue the refund because, unlike Navarra, does not have a fiscal agreement with Spain that allows it to administer and collect taxes—only Navarra and the Basque regions do). The result was that Volkswagen was refunded the taxes it paid but Navarra profited at the expense of the Spanish government. (Spain has a credit-invoice VAT. Technically, the amount that Navarra retained was the VAT that VW-Navarra paid, which was the VAT on its sales to VAESA minus the VAT its suppliers had paid.)

Here is a simple diagram of the transaction, along with a map of Spain’s regions. (Navarra is in the north, bordering France; Catalunya—that’s the Catalan spelling—is in the northeast, also bordering France.)
Spain Tax Blog Post Diagram--LLmap_spain

Continue reading “When a Tax Strategy Benefits a Subnational Government”