Update on the GOP Bill’s Tax on Graduate Tuition Waivers

Patrick W. Thomas
Professor of the Practice, Notre Dame Law School

Following up on my post on the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers in the GOP tax bill, there have been a few new developments. (By the way, my fellow Hoosier from the opposite end of the state, Michael Austin, along with Sam Brunson, have a great post on the proposed repeal of section 117(d) as it affects university employees and their dependents.)

First, it’s been confirmed that the intent of the House bill (if not necessarily the effect, per my post) is to tax graduate student tuition waivers, for those graduate students who work in a research or teaching assistant role. According to an article in The Verge, a spokesperson from the Ways and Means Committee explicitly indicated as much in an email. While Congressman Brady did release an amendment to the bill Monday (text here) and a subsequent amendment on Thursday (text here), none of the education provisions were affected. Additionally, the bill (incorporating Congressman Brady’s amendments) was reported out of Ways and Means on a party line vote on Thursday. Continue reading “Update on the GOP Bill’s Tax on Graduate Tuition Waivers”

The Senate Tax Bill’s “Clarification” of Independent Contractor Status: Tax and Employment Law Tradeoffs

By: Diane Ring

Shu-Yi Oei and I have been tracking the recent tax reform developments as well as a couple of proposed tax bills that deal with worker classification, information reporting, and tax withholding. Based on a description prepared by the Joint Committee on Taxation, it looks like the Senate Tax Bill is going to include a new safe harbor provision guaranteeing worker classification as an independent contractor and will make changes to independent contractor withholding and information reporting. We posted our analysis of this proposal and its potentially serious implications on TaxProf Blog: The Senate Bill and the Battles Over Worker Classification.

Our main points:

1. Not just tax: This worker classification safe harbor is not just about tax, it will likely have impacts on employment/labor law outcomes and protections as well.

2. Not just gig workers: Based on the Joint Committee description, the proposal is not limited to gig economy workers —anyone who meets the safe harbor requirements (which are pretty easy to satisfy in many cases) can be classified as an independent contractor. This may have the effect of encouraging employers to push workers into work relationships that come within the safe harbor. Or, in certain cases, it may facilitate the strategic movement of higher-income workers into independent contractor status — see point 4 below.

Continue reading “The Senate Tax Bill’s “Clarification” of Independent Contractor Status: Tax and Employment Law Tradeoffs”

GOP Raises Taxes on Graduate Students … Or Does It?

Patrick W. Thomas
Professor of the Practice, Notre Dame Law School

We’ve all been poring over the GOP tax bill, released last week. On my initial read, I mainly looked at those provisions that affect my own practice in a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic: the expansion/restriction of the Child Tax Credit; the elimination of the dependency exemption; and the lack of any expansion in the Earned Income Tax Credit (paging Paul Ryan…). Selfishly, I also calculated the bill’s effect on my own taxes: a nearly 3% tax cut that I do not need!

Or so I thought. You see, my wife is a Ph.D. student in computer science who, like most students at the University of Notre Dame, receives a full tuition waiver, in addition to a stipend from the university. As I returned home on Friday, ready to put the tax bill out of mind for a couple hours, I saw a tweet from Claus Wilke, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas:

Uh oh. Back to tax policy on a Friday night, it seems. And, perhaps, so long to that tax cut. Continue reading “GOP Raises Taxes on Graduate Students … Or Does It?”

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”

International Sharing Economy Conference: Day 2 Takeaways

By: Diane Ring

Yesterday I blogged about Day 1 of the international sharing economy conference, titled “Reshaping: Work in the Platform Economy.” Today the Conference resumed in Amsterdam and included a fascinating roundtable with representatives from some of the platform firms alongside some sharing economy workers. Each offered their experience/perspective on the sector, posed questions to each other, and took questions from the audience.

Not surprisingly, just as there are a range of business models and niches in the sector, there are also a variety of reasons why workers participate in and do platform work. What workers seek from the platforms (beyond good pay) may differ from worker to worker. For example, a sharing economy worker may desire contact with other workers, a sense of community, predictability, or worker dignity. Building on the Day 1 discussions, several themes emerged by the close of the Conference:

Continue reading “International Sharing Economy Conference: Day 2 Takeaways”

European Commission Prods OECD, EU, and Members States on Digital Taxation: An Analysis

By: Diane Ring

Complaints regarding the international tax system’s ability to handle the digital economy (think Google, Amazon, and a myriad of online service providers) are now ubiquitous. The heart of the problem is two-fold: (1) technology allows these corporations to effectively conduct business in a country without a physical presence there, and (2) much of these businesses’ value derives from intangibles whose value can be difficult to document.

The first reality limits a host country’s ability, under current law, to assert jurisdiction to tax the businesses. The second means that for core transactions by these businesses, such as licensing intangibles to related parties, it can be very difficult for the tax authorities to guarantee that the transactions are at arm’s length prices (and not shifting profit into low tax jurisdictions). The topic is pervasive enough to have merited its own Action Item in the ongoing OECD BEPS Project (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting).

However, a real, coordinated global response has been much harder to secure.  This week, the European Commission (EC) made its most recent foray into the debate with a Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council. But the EC was not just talking to European Union (EU) bodies; it was directly speaking to the OECD and EU member states. What exactly is the EC’s goal with this Communication?

Bottom line the EC seems to have several intersecting objectives: (1) clarify the problem, (2) identify and prod global actors, (3) delineate proper approaches, and (4) warn about the implications of nonaction. Continue reading “European Commission Prods OECD, EU, and Members States on Digital Taxation: An Analysis”

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”

Something Old, Something New: Two Workshop Series @ Boston College Law School this Fall

Shu Yi Oei

I’m happy to announce that we have a couple of workshop series happening at BC Law School this academic year. I’m really quite excited about these. Because what’s life without a workshop?

Tax Policy Workshops & Roundtable…

Boston College Law School has run a Tax Policy Workshop Series since 2007. This fall, we continue in that tradition, with speakers Daniel Hemel (Chicago), Ruth Mason (UVA), Zachary Liscow (Yale), and Lily Batchelder (NYU) presenting papers.

BC Law and Tulane Law are also hosting a joint BC-Tulane Tax Roundtable on March 23, 2018. More info about that coming soon.

…and a New Regulation and Markets Workshop Series!

In addition, here’s something a bit fun: Some BC Law colleagues and I have started a new workshop series, focusing on Regulation, Markets, and Business. This multidisciplinary workshop series focuses on the study of regulatory approaches to markets and business. It investigates how such economic regulation should be designed in order to balance the interests of various constituencies. It also explores how traditional approaches to regulation compare, contrast, and intersect with emerging methodologies.

We’ll feature presentations by invited legal scholars of their works-in-progress. The hope is to create opportunities for scholars working on issues of economic regulation to discuss and present their research in a forum of academics working in related intellectual spaces. The workshop is offered to Boston College JD and LLM students as a 1-credit seminar.

Here’s the 2017-18 slate:

FALL 2017

September 12, 2017 – Saule Omarova (Cornell): “Private Wealth and Public Goods: A Case for a National Investment Authority”

September 26, 2017 – Rory Van Loo (Boston University): “Consumer Law as Tax Alternative”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 – William Birdthistle (Chicago-Kent):  “Free Funds: Retirement Saving as Public Infrastructure”

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 – Cary Martin Shelby (DePaul): “The Role of Competition in the Regulation of Investment Funds”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017, 12:15 pm – Lily Batchelder (NYU), co-sponsored with Tax Policy Workshop: “The Shaky Case for a Business Cash-Flow Tax”

Continue reading “Something Old, Something New: Two Workshop Series @ Boston College Law School this Fall”

Slurpees and the Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax

Me with my Slurpee.

By Sam Brunson

Today and tomorrow are 7-Eleven’s annual Bring Your Own Cup Day. In case you’re not familiar with it (or your Facebook feeds aren’t filled with bizarre containers of florescent sugar-ice), on #BYOCupDay, you can bring any container in your house to a 7-Eleven and, as long as it fits in the Slurpee machine, you can fill it up for $1.50.

After my wife and kids spent the day on the beach watching the Air and Water Show rehearsal, they were ready for some Slurpee. So, when I got out of work, we walked the three blocks to the nearest 7-Eleven. (Last year, we took berry-picking buckets; this year, we were much more modest and just brought cups my father-in-law bought when we took him to a Cubs game a couple years ago.)

When we got to the store, we were greeted by this sign: Continue reading “Slurpees and the Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax”

So about that Robot Tax…

Shu-Yi Oei

I came across a couple of news stories recently about how South Korea is introducing the world’s first robot tax. But based on the press reports, it sounds like the so-called robot tax is actually just a reduction of the tax deductions available to businesses that invest in productivity-boosting automation. The news sources themselves concede that this “robot tax” not exactly a tax on robots but rather a tax benefit reduction for automation investment.

Talk of a “robot tax” has landed at the forefront of tax news since Bill Gates mentioned it in a Quartz interview back in February of 2017. But of course, scholarship about robots (not to mention robots themselves) has been around for quite a bit longer. There’s even a “We-Robot” robotics law and policy conference that’s been going on since 2012, which I keep meaning to crash, but then there’s always something else going on.

A lot of what seems to be driving the tax conversation is the fear that robots are taking over jobs, though there’s some uncertainty about the extent to which robots are to blame.

Personally, I’ve been having a hard time squaring the newly ascendant tax conversation about the robot tax with the broader legal scholarship on robots. In some of the news and other commentary discussing Robotaxation, my reaction has been something to the effect of “I’m not sure that word means what you think it means.” Turns out, there is something of an existing conversation about what constitutes a robot in the first place—see, for example, Richards and Smart (2013) for a nice discussion of some of the definitional issues. See also this “What is a Robot?” piece in The Atlantic. In defining “robot,” it might matter how a robot moves in the physical world, what kind of quasi-independent agency it seems to exercise (autonomous vs. semi-autonomous), how humans interact with it, and even what sorts of emotions it triggers in us mere humans. We might understand some automated machines to be robots but others to just be automated equipment. And these distinctions make sense, from the viewpoint of areas like tort law, privacy law, the law of principals and agents, and the more general regulation of robots (and of artificial intelligence as a subcategory of robots).

But in some of the tax discussions about robots that I’ve seen on the interwebs, it’s quite clear that the authors don’t necessarily mean Robot when they say Robot. Continue reading “So about that Robot Tax…”