William W. Oliver Professor of Tax Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. Find my research at http://ssrn.com/author=48125 and my full publication list at http://www.law.indiana.edu/people/lederman/publications.shtml. I teach Income Tax, Corporate Tax, Tax Procedure, and Tax Policy Colloquium. I generally write about tax compliance and tax administration, the U.S. Tax Court, and the federal income tax as it applies to individuals and corporations.
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.”
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.)
Back in December 2011, I received a targeted mailing. It was the postcard below, which I received at the office. Thus far, I haven’t found a Maurer colleague or tax friend who received this mailing. Some marketer apparently did his or her homework and identified me as someone with an interest in both tax and chick lit! I don’t get to read novels very often anymore, but this looked like exactly the kind of book I would enjoy. I even acted on the sticker on the reverse of the postcard, which said “A book makes a great holiday gift!” “Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure” was a great start to the Christmas list request I had recently received.
I received the book for Christmas and got hooked on the series. I’ve gotten through Book 10 so far. They’re a lot of fun. It never occurred to me to blog about them, though, until I read the first page of “Death, Taxes, and Cheap Sunglasses” while on a plane, and saw a link with tax issues I frequently write about. The opening paragraph reads:
“I slid my gun into my purse, grabbed my briefcase, and headed out to my car. Yep, tax season was in full swing once again, honest people scrambling to round up their receipts, hoping for a refund or at least to break even. As a taxpayer myself, I felt for them. But as far as tax cheats were concerned, I had no sympathy. The most recent annual report indicated that American individuals and corporations had underpaid their taxes by $450 billion. Not exactly chump change. That’s where I came in.”
As Daniel Hemel points out in a cross-linked post on Whatever Source Derived, if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is possible that Code section 7701(o) will go with it. (Section 7701(o) and its accompanying penalty were included in the ACA as a revenue raiser.) This raises the question of what repeal would mean for the economic substance doctrine specifically and for judicial anti-abuse rules more generally. This post makes three main points:
Repeal of Code section 7701(o) is not a good idea. At a minimum, its potential repeal should be considered separately from the ACA, as it has no substantive link to the ACA.
Repeal of the codified economic substance doctrine should not affect other judicial doctrines.
Repeal of Code section 7701(o) would not eliminate the judicially developed economic substance doctrine. Daniel has provided a couple of arguments in support of that view, drawing on statutory-interpretation principles, and I add an argument based on the language of section 7701(o) itself.
First, anti-abuse rules are valuable. They help prevent taxpayers from engaging in artificial transactions designed to produce artificial tax benefits, such as non-economic losses used to offset unrelated income. Some of these transactions may not actually “work” under the technical provisions of the Code, Treasury regulations, or IRS guidance. However, abusive tax shelters typically are structured to take advantage of the literal language of the tax laws. If (and, ideally, only if) technical challenges fail, anti-abuse doctrines help prevent misuse of the tax laws. Continue reading “The Status of Judicial Anti-Abuse Doctrines if Code Section 7701(o) Were Repealed”→
Since January 18, 2017, the Surly Subgroup has hosted a mini-symposium featuring posts by members of the Discussion Group I organized for the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) annual meeting on the topic of The Future of Tax Administration and Enforcement.” Over the course of the mini-symposium, we have seen a wide range of posts, all of which are listed at the end of this post, following my take on the topic.
Specifically, Sam Brunson argued that, in light of the large tax gap and low IRS audit rate, it’s time for tax returns to be public (with information such as Social Security numbers redacted). Roberta Mann also blogged on possible solutions to the tax gap. In part, she points to improving the process for IRS guidance.
Chris Walker also focused on IRS guidance, blogging on “administrative law exceptionalism,” particularly in the context of the application of APA rules to Treasury rulemaking in Altera, a case in which he served as counsel of record for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as amicus curiae in support of Petitioner-Appellee Altera in the 9th Circuit, and in which I participated in an amicus brief in support of the Commissioner.
On January 7, 2017, I had the pleasure of moderating a Discussion Group I organized for the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) annual meeting. The topic of the discussion was “The Future of Tax Administration and Enforcement.” The topic was prompted by the funding crisis in which the IRS finds itself and the challenges that poses for tax administration, which I wrote about in two articles published last year, “The IRS, Politics, and Income Inequality,” 150 Tax Notes 1329 (Mar. 14, 2016) and “IRS Reform: Politics As Usual?,” 7 Columbia Tax J. 36 (2016) (the latter of which was part of a symposium Kristin Hickman organized on tax administration).
The AALS Discussion Group included experts on tax law, administrative law, and cybersecurity. The discussion spanned topics that included IRS resource and task priority issues, administrative law aspects of tax administration, and cross-border tax administration concerns. In the coming weeks, Surly Subgroup will be hosting a mini-symposium featuring posts by members of the Discussion Group. The first substantive post will be this Friday, January 20, and is by Christopher Walker from The Ohio State University, Michael E. Moritz College of Law, who is a member of the group but was unable to attend the discussion itself due to a flight cancellation. The panel on January 7 was as follows:
In QinetiQ v. Commissioner, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit refused to invalidate a Notice of Deficiency that simply stated “that QinetiQ ‘ha[d] not established that [it was] entitled’ to a deduction ‘under the provisions of [26 U.S.C.] § 83.’” The taxpayer had argued that the Notice “failed to provide a reasoned explanation for the agency’s final decision, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-06.” The court’s analysis of this issue focuses on the distinction between court review that is subject to the APA and court review that is not. The QinetiQ court found that review of IRS deficiency actions, which predates the APA, falls into the latter category.
The QinetiQ case can readily be grouped with Mayo Foundation and the post-Mayo cases focused on the intersection of administrative law with federal tax law. In a recent post on the Procedurally Taxing blog, Bryan Camp does a nice job of analyzing the case in that context. But another perspective on the case is that the APA argument in QinetiQ is the latest packaging of some taxpayers’ complaints about uninformative Notices of Deficiency. In fact, QinetiQ also argued that the Notice violated Code section 7522, which requires various IRS notices, including Notices of Deficiency, to “describe the basis for, and identify the amounts (if any) of, the tax due, interest, additional amounts, additions to the tax, and assessable penalties included in such notice.”
As I wrote over two decades ago, in one of my first articles, “‘Civil’izing Tax Procedure: Applying General Federal Learning to Statutory Notices of Deficiency,” 30 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 183 (1996), the conflicts and confusion over the validity of Notices of Deficiency stem from two issues. The first is that courts often focus on only one of the Notice’s functions in isolation, such as its jurisdictional role as the “ticket to Tax Court” in deficiency cases. My 1996 article argued that the Notice of Deficiency not only plays that role, it also provides notice to the taxpayer (like civil process) and acts as an inchoate complaint, helping to frame the issues if a Tax Court case ensues. As I explain there, less content should be required for jurisdictional purposes than to frame the content of the litigation. Code section 7522 arguably reflects this idea, as I’ll explain further below. Continue reading “Deficient Notices of Deficiency and the Remedy Question”→
Over 50 tax law professors have signed a letter (available here) urging the U.S. Senate to vote on U.S. Tax Court nominees Elizabeth Ann Copeland and Vik Edwin Stoll. Unfortunately, these nominations may not get much attention in the wake of the election. However, the signatories (myself included) are urging the Senate to schedule a vote on these nominees, both of whom were favorably reported out of the Senate Finance Committee over a year ago. Danshera Cords has more on Procedurally Taxing.
123 tax law professors recently signed a letter (available here) urging House leaders “to oppose any resolution to impeach or censure John Koskinen, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.” Full disclosure: I am among the signatories. The letter explains not only that “[w]e believe that nothing that has been reported provides any basis for impeachment or censure” but also that impeachment or censure will undermine tax administration:
“The IRS carries out a vitally important mission for our country. Respect for the IRS fosters the voluntary compliance that is essential for our revenue system to work.
Impeachment or censure will harm the country by weakening our revenue system. Impeachment or censure would disrupt the functioning of the IRS—which has had four Commissioners in as many years—leading to increased tax evasion, reduced revenue collection, and a higher national debt. Impeachment or censure would also set a dangerous precedent and deter talented people from working to improve the country’s struggling revenue system.”
This is an important message and I hope House leaders will listen.
“Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
Cos I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all . . . .”
Apparently this song was at least partly inspired by the theme for the 1966 TV show, Batman! And, in the early 1980s, Weird Al Yankovic wrote a parody called “Pac-Man,” though it was not released on any of his albums.
H&R Block used the Taxman song in a 2002 commercial literally showing only tax men: “It took an Act of Congress to pass 441 changes in the tax law. Will it take an act of God to understand them?” (There’s a different, more diverse version here.)