IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Brennan & McDonald, “Debt and Equity Taxation: A Combined Economic and Legal Perspective”

IMG_4076
Left to right: Tim Riffle, Tom Brennan, Leandra Lederman, David Gamage, Karen Ward

By: Leandra Lederman

 

On January 18, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law welcomed Prof. Tom Brennan from Harvard Law School as the first speaker of the year in our Tax Policy Colloquium. Tom presented an early draft of a paper co-authored with Robert L. McDonald, Debt and Equity Taxation: A Combined Economic and Legal Perspective. We had a lively and interesting discussion about it in the workshop, as well as over dinner.

The paper, which I do not believe is publicly available yet, deals with the taxation of hybrid securities. It describes current law on how those securities are categorized as debt or equity, as well as the history of how the law developed. The paper criticizes the binary categorization of hybrid instruments as either debt or equity. It thus argues for a bifurcated approach.

The core of the current draft is a proposed new approach to debt and equity that considers the capitalization of a corporation as a whole and taxes the components in line with the underlying economics. The paper disaggregates the risk-free return, the risky return, and abnormal returns (rents). The paper proposes two possible systems of taxation: the “unlevered equity system” and the “levered equity system.” In the unlevered equity system, debt consists of risk-free obligations (like short-term Treasury bills) and equity is unlevered ownership of assets. In the levered equity system, the definition of debt is the same but equity is fully leveraged ownership of assets (fully financed by risk-free obligations). Under the unlevered approach, although particular investors may own a mix of debt and equity, the corporation itself effectively issues no net debt because it issues no risk-free obligations.

A key insight of the paper applies the Domar-Musgrave economic result that, under certain assumptions, risky returns on assets do not bear tax. Brennan and McDonald point out that the Domar-Musgrave insight also applies to corporations, although the securities are liabilities for them instead of assets. (Many years ago, I applied Domar-Musgave analysis in an article of mine on the tax favoritism for entrepreneurship, but I had not thought about its possible application to corporate income, which is a fascinating idea.) The implication of that insight, as Brennan & McDonald note, is that the risk-premium portion of return on investment effectively does not bear tax. As a result, under the unlevered system, all corporate income would bear corporate tax because the unlevered system does not have any net debt obligations. By contrast, adopting the levered system would make the corporate tax burden only rents, given a tax deduction for debt. The paper explains that this reaches the same result as the Mirrlees Review’s exemption for “normal returns” on corporate capital, as well as the allowance for corporate equity (ACE), if the ACE deduction is defined in a particular way. Continue reading “IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Brennan & McDonald, “Debt and Equity Taxation: A Combined Economic and Legal Perspective””

The 2018 Tax Policy Colloquium at the IU Maurer Law School

ColloquiumPosterBy Leandra Lederman

The 2018 Tax Policy Colloquium at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law will kick off next Thursday, January 18, with the presentation by Harvard Law School professor Tom Brennan of a fascinating and timely paper he is co-authoring with Robert L. McDonald, Debt and Equity Taxation: A Combined Economic and Legal Perspective. Tom is a terrific speaker, and I expect the workshop to be really interesting.

Last year, I did a closing post noting that some themes had emerged in the semester’s colloquium. This year, I plan to blog each workshop afterwards, with permission of the speakers. The full workshop schedule follows after the jump. If you will be in Bloomington and are interested in attending one or more workshops, just let me know and I can send you the paper once I receive it. (Most of the paper drafts will not be publicly available.)

The Tax Policy Colloquium is a course for students; I expect about 14 this semester, including a visiting scholar from another school on campus who has asked to audit. I conduct a background session with the students to help them get up to speed on the concepts presented in the paper draft. Typically, the actual workshops are attended not only by the students but also by my colleague David Gamage, senior tax attorney/Maurer alumnus Tim Riffle, and a few other faculty–law school colleagues and/or tax or economics faculty from other schools on campus. Sometimes other members of the community attend, such as a tax professor from another law school; another attorney practicing in Bloomington or Indianapolis; a student not enrolled in the class (Shuyi Oei‘s and Ben Leff‘s talks in 2016 were particularly popular with other students!); and/or a local judicial clerk. Eric Rasmusen from the IU Kelley School of Business and Margaret Ryznar from IU’s McKinney Law School in Indianapolis have each attended several of the talks.

Continue reading “The 2018 Tax Policy Colloquium at the IU Maurer Law School”

Sharing syllabi and course updates in the wake of the recent tax law changes

By Leandra Lederman

Tax professors are of course among the many people affected by the recent, significant changes to federal tax law. I have heard from several people wondering how best to adapt their courses starting in January to these changes. I think that exchanging ideas and sharing syllabi, etc., may be very helpful.

Accordingly, several of us have each agreed to serve as the point person for a particular course. The point person can set up an email list for those who express interest by email, and then use that list to exchange questions, ideas, syllabi, URLs, handouts, etc. with others teaching the same course. Of course, casebook authors may also be working on updates, and other listservs may be helpful, but these distribution lists will allow those interested to participate in topic-focused groups to exchange materials and ideas in advance of and throughout the semester.

The point people thus far are the following Surly bloggers, for the following courses:

Individual Income Tax: Jennifer Bird-Pollan (email jbirdpollan@uky.edu)

Corporate Tax: Leandra Lederman (email llederma@indiana.edu)

Partnership Tax: Phil Hackney (email phackney@lsu.edu)

 
To get on an email list, please email the applicable point person. And folks interested in serving as a point person for another course (i.e., in setting up the email list and getting it started), please post in the comments below, with the course name and your email address.

Happy new year, everyone!

Are Sexual Harassment Plaintiffs’ Attorneys’ Fees Inadvertently Disallowed by the Tax Cuts Bill?

By Leandra Lederman

The Tax Cuts and Job Act’s conference bill includes section 13307, titled “DENIAL OF DEDUCTION FOR SETTLEMENTS SUBJECT TO NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS PAID IN CONNECTION WITH SEXUAL HARASSMENT OR SEXUAL ABUSE.” Fellow Surly blogger Sam Brunson blogged about an earlier version of this provision, which obviously reflects the recent, widely publicized revelations of sexual harassment and sexual assault that began with the Jody Kantor & Megan Twohey exposé of Harvey Weinstein in early October and was followed by a floodgate of allegations spanning a wide range of industries. Unfortunately, this tax provision, as drafted, is less than clear and could potentially have perverse—perhaps unintended—effects.

The provision seems intended as a policy-based provision rather than much of a revenue-raiser; it was one of very few things in the conference bill scored as raising less than $50 million over the entire 2018-2027 budget window. And, in the press release accompanying the predecessor of this provision, the Settlement Tax Deductions are Over for Predators Act (the STOP Act), which was introduced by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Rep. Buck stated, “‘When we allow companies to deduct sexual assault and sexual harassment related settlements, we’re asking the American taxpayer to subsidize hush money payments that cover-up sexual misconduct.’”

But what exactly does the provision disallow? The principal language in the conference bill (the material other than the effective date and relettering) is a new subsection added to Code section 162 that reads:

“PAYMENTS RELATED TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND SEXUAL ABUSE.—No deduction shall be allowed under this chapter for—

“(1) any settlement or payment related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such settlement or payment is subject to a nondisclosure agreement, or

“(2) attorney’s fees related to such a settlement or payment.” Continue reading “Are Sexual Harassment Plaintiffs’ Attorneys’ Fees Inadvertently Disallowed by the Tax Cuts Bill?”

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.