Tax Reform in an Age of Sexual Harassment

Tax reform is, in many ways, a product of its time. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the late-2017 tax reform effort would somehow intersect with the post-Weinstein revelations of rampant sexual harassment and assault by powerful men.

And yesterday it happened: Senator Ken Buck introduced an amendment to H.R. 1. Under his proposed amendment, businesses would no longer be permitted to deduct payments for legal settlements, costs, fines, and fees associated with sexual harassment or sexual assault.  Continue reading “Tax Reform in an Age of Sexual Harassment”

Tax Reform, Tuition Waivers, and Economic Mobility

By Michael Austin and Sam Brunson

“Before any great things are accomplished, a memorable change must be made in the system of education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. The education of a nation instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.”—John Adams

There has been much ado recently (including on Surly) about the fact that the current version of tax reform before the House of Representatives repeals Section 117(d) of the Internal Revenue Code. As a general rule, you have to pay taxes on anything of value your employer gives you. Section 117(d) is an exception to this rule; among other things, it exempts graduate students from paying taxes on tuition waivers. With that subsection excised from the Code, graduate students would be taxed on tuition waivers that they receive (usually in addition to a very modest stipend) when they worked as teaching and research assistants as part of their program.

If this repeal were to become law, students without personal or family resources would have a very difficult time pursuing graduate education. But while the plight of graduate students has gotten huge amounts of attention, it is not the worst thing about the repeal of Section 117(d). Continue reading “Tax Reform, Tuition Waivers, and Economic Mobility”

The GOP Tax Plan and Divorce

By Sam Brunson

CC BY-SA 3.0 Nick Youngson

Well, it has finally arrived. This morning, the House GOP gave us a 426-page bill (and an 82-page section-by-section summary).

There’s a lot going on here, and it’s hard to say how much attention we should pay. After all, now lobbyists, Democrats, and interest groups can read the bill and start arguing against (or for) it. Moreover, this is just the House; the Senate still has to release its bill,[fn1] which may differ substantially. And the fact that we have a bill doesn’t in any way indicate that (a) it will be enacted, or (b) the enacted law will look anything like the bill.

Still, we have a bill! Continue reading “The GOP Tax Plan and Divorce”

Parsonage Allowance Update 1: Briefing Remedies

By Sam Brunson

So #TaxWeek isn’t going quite the way we expected;[fn1] the House is now expecting to release its tax bill tomorrow. (Or maybe not.) Which means we’re not bringing any coverage of the tax bill today.

But that’s okay! It gives me room to slot it some follow-up to last month’s decision that section 107(2) violated the Establishment Clause. Remember, Judge Crabb found it unconstitutional, but ordered the parties to provide supplementary briefing about the appropriate remedies. Should she enjoin the IRS from providing benefits under section 107(2)? Or should she expand the set of taxpayers who could benefit from section 107(2)? Or something else entirely?

The initial briefs were due (and were filed) Monday. And, unsurprisingly, they all agreed on a lot: Continue reading “Parsonage Allowance Update 1: Briefing Remedies”

Did Taxes Bring Us Ghostbusters?

By Sam Brunson

Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Sadly, no. But it helped bring several B horror movies that I’ve never seen (and you probably haven’t, either).

Back in the 1970s, film tax shelters were big enough that the Ways and Means Committee got a report on the subject.[fn1]

But the US wasn’t the only market that allowed for film tax shelters. In 1974, Canada raised its Capital Cost Allowance from 60% to 100%. Investors could deduct 100% of the money they put into Canadian-produced movies. How important was this increased deduction limitation? In 1974, only three movies were produced in Canada. In 1979, the number had increased to 77. Continue reading “Did Taxes Bring Us Ghostbusters?”

The Manafort Indictment

By Sam Brunson

After a late night watching baseball, I woke up this morning to news of Paul Manafort’s indictment.[fn1] And the 31-page indictment is filled with tax evasion. But, after laying out the fact of and ways in which Manafort evaded taxes, none of the counts seem to charge him with tax evasion. (I find that puzzling, though I’ve never been a litigator, much less involved in criminal tax cases, so I don’t really have any experience with which to judge the strangeness or not of not charging him with tax evasion.)

Even without charges, though, there’s a fascinating romp through tax haven-aided tax evasion here. Continue reading “The Manafort Indictment”

Chris Long, Philanthropist

On NPR this morning, I heard that Chris Long, a defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles, is donating his entire year’s salary to various charitable organizations that provide scholarships and support to underserved youth. (He already donated his salary from the first six games of the season to fund two seven-year scholarships at his alma mater in Charlottesville.)

That is unequivocally a good thing, and a generous thing. But it’s not without tax consequences.

When I think about charitable gifts, the first thing that comes to mind is their deductibility. But it turns out that the deduction for charitable contributions comes with a couple limitations. First, of course, is that only taxpayers who itemize get to deduct charitable contributions. Of course, given that this is a $1 million plus (more on that in a minute) donation, Long will definitely itemize. Continue reading “Chris Long, Philanthropist”

Remedies and the Parsonage Allowance

By Sam Brunson

On Friday, the Western District of Wisconsin ruled (again) on the constitutionality of the section 107(2) rental allowance for “ministers of the gospel.”[fn1] The litigation between the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the IRS has been going on for a long time—I first blogged about it in 2013—so I’m not going to spend a lot of space here discussing the specifics of the case. If you want to look at what’s been going on, you can check out this post and the posts I’ve linked to in it.[fn2] Long story short, this is the second time the court has ruled the rental allowance is unconstitutional. The first time, the Seventh Circuit reversed on the grounds that the plaintiffs had never tried to claim a tax-free rental allowance, so they had no standing. This time, they did claim a refund, which the IRS refused, the court found standing, and, in a well-written and extremely persuasive opinion, it again found section 107(2) unconstitutional.

Although the court declared that section 107(2) violated the Establishment Clause, it didn’t order a remedy. The opinion explains that in the first round, all of the parties assumed that the only relief available was to declare the provision unconstitutional and enjoin its enforcement. This time, though, the Freedom From Religion Foundation suggests that there may be two other remedies available. The first is to refund a portion of plaintiffs’ taxes and order the IRS to “extend benefits under the statute to those excluded.” The second is to declare section 107(1) (that is, the in-kind provision of tax-free housing to “ministers of the gospel”) also unconstitutional. Continue reading “Remedies and the Parsonage Allowance”

Appealing Chamber of Commerce v. IRS?

By Sam Brunson

Last Friday the District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a decision in Chamber of Commerce v. IRS.  In its decision, the court held that the IRS violated the Administrative Procedure Act in issuing Treas. Reg. § 1.7874-8T. The most interesting part of the case was that the Chamber got past the standing and Anti-Injunction Act hurdles; the substantive decision was that Congress didn’t eliminate the notice-and-comment requirement by expressly permitting time-limited temporary regulations. For a great substantive discussion of the case, take a look at Andy Grewal’s post on Notice & Comment.

The question on everybody’s mind now is, will the government appeal? On the one hand, as Andy explains, the court’s opinion is fairly summary; it may be right that the Anti-Injunction Act doesn’t bar the suit here, but it hasn’t done the work to make the holding bullet-proof.

On the other hand, the IRS takes a risk appealing to the Fifth Circuit. I’m not a close court-watcher, but I’ve heard talk that the Fifth Circuit is less than totally favorable to the IRS. Continue reading “Appealing Chamber of Commerce v. IRS?”

FY 2018 Appropriations Bill and the IRS

Last Thursday, the House passed an appropriations bill by a vote of 211 to 198. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess how much of the appropriations bill will survive the Senate, but, just in case, it’s worth taking a look at it. And, it turns out, the House really wants to use the appropriations bill to regulate the IRS. Some of the provisions strike me as warranted. Some innocuous. Some strike me as bizarre, payback, perhaps, for long-held grudges. And some strike me as downright insidious. In this post I’m going to focus on the last two categories because frankly, they’re more fun to write about.

The provisions that regulate IRS behavior can be found in sections 101-116 of the appropriations bill. And what provisions are bizarre payback or downright insidious? Continue reading “FY 2018 Appropriations Bill and the IRS”