What My Noisy New Hobby is Teaching Me about Tax

Shu-Yi Oei

While Sam was out there visiting the National Parks, I went and acquired a noisy new hobby.

drums

So far, I’ve only had two drum lessons but am completely hooked. What took me so long to pick up the drums? If you love music, get a kick out of repetitive motion, and enjoy making a big noise, I highly recommend it.

Learning the drum set is a matter of first impression for me. [FN1] So the actual noise making aside, it’s given me an unexpected midsummer opportunity to revisit what it feels like to learn a new skill for the first time, which of course makes me think about the fundamentals of teaching and writing in tax.

Here are some newbie observations:

  1. Assembling the Drum Set

I went out and bought a cheap drum set so I could practice at home. What really surprised me was the amount I learnt about the drums simply by virtue of assembling the drum set. Things I know now that I didn’t know before:

  • That restaurant in New Orleans called the High Hat? Turns out it probably isn’t named after an actual hat.
  • Who knew you had to tune the drums? It’s almost as if it’s a musical instrument or something.
  • The crash cymbal and high hat sit much lower to the ground than I had ever imagined.
  • You can actually turn the snares on a snare drum on and off. Did I know that? Nope.

The experience of assembling my own drum set was so useful that it got me thinking about how one might get one’s tax students to do the equivalent of assembling a drum set. Continue reading “What My Noisy New Hobby is Teaching Me about Tax”

The Surly Subgroup Turns One!

Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess. Today is the one-year blogiversary of the Surly Subgroup. What started off as a group-blogging experiment hatched at last year’s Critical Tax Conference at Tulane Law School has provided quite a bit of entertainment for Surly bloggers and our guest bloggers, and hopefully for our readers as well.

It’s obviously been a big year on tax and other fronts. Since our inception, we’ve published 206 blog posts on a variety of topics. And we’ve drawn readers from 140 different countries.

Surly regulars and guest bloggers have covered various tax-related issues surrounding politics and the 2016 election—including disclosure of presidential tax returns, the Emoluments Clause, the Trump Foundation, and the Clinton Foundation. We’ve written about churches, 501(c)(3)s and the IRS treatment of non-profits. We’ve discussed the tax reform proposals of the 2016 presidential candidates and the #DBCFT. We’ve written several administrative law posts about Treasury Regulations and rulemaking.

Politics aside we’ve also covered other important issues in tax policy—including taxation and poverty, healthcare, tax policy and disabilities, tax compliance, and tax aspects of the Puerto Rico fiscal crisis. We’ve discussed several issues in international and cross-border taxes, touching on the EU state aid debate, the CCCTB, taxation and migration, the Panama Papers, tax leaks more generally, and tax evasion in China.

We hosted our first ever online Mini-Symposium on Tax Enforcement and Administration, which featured posts by ten different authors on a variety of tax administration topics. The Mini-Symposium was spearheaded by Leandra Lederman. Leandra had organized and moderated a discussion group on “The Future of Tax Administration and Enforcement” at the 2017 AALS Annual Meeting, and many of the discussion group participants contributed to the online symposium. We hope to organize future online symposia on other topics.

We’ve blogged about various conferences, workshops, and papers, both tax related and not-so-much tax related. We’ve also had lots of fun writing about taxes in popular culture – Surly bloggers and guest bloggers have written about the tax aspects of Pokémon Go, tax fiction, music-related tax issues (Jazz Fest! Prince! “Taxman”!), soccer players, dogs, Harry Potter fan fiction, Star Trek, and John Oliver. Surly bloggers even recorded a few tax podcasts!

In short, it’s been a busy year, and we’ve had a lot of fun with the Surly platform. We hope you have as well. Going forward, we’re going to keep the blog posts coming. We also hope to draw more regular and guest bloggers and to organize other online symposia.

Thanks for reading!

Taxation and Migration

By: Diane Ring
IMG_0592Today St. Louis University School of Law hosted the Sanford E. Sarasohn Conference on Critical Issues in Comparative International Taxation II: Taxation and Migration. This event offered a much needed forum to explore the intersection between international tax law and questions of migration and refugees. Topics addressed included using the tax system to remedy migration challenges (see, for example, Matthew Lister, “A Tax-Credit Approach to Addressing Brain-Drain” suggesting a tax transfer from jurisdictions on the receiving end of a brain drain to the countries losing skilled labor; and see Cristina Trenta, “Migrants and Refugees: An EU Perspective on Upholding Human Rights Through Taxation and Public Finance” advocating an EU-wide tax to finance members’ commitments to refugee human rights). Other papers considered the burdens that tax-induced migration creates for the society the migrant leaves and for some members of the jurisdiction the migrant joins (see, for example, Allison Christians, “Buying In: Citizenship and Residence by Investment”). The full set of 15 conference papers will be published in the St. Louis University Law Journal and will provide a valuable resource on the breadth of taxation and migration questions.

PROMESAs, PROMESAs?

Shu-Yi Oei

After swearing up and down that I would blog more about Puerto Rico’s 70 billion dollar debt crisis, I of course was remiss and did not. But a new paper by Mitu Gulati and Robert Rasmussen, “Puerto Rico and the Netherworld of Sovereign Debt Restructuring” has provided me the impetus to dive into this topic again.

Recall that unlike U.S. municipalities (such as Detroit), Puerto Rico bodies and utilities aren’t considered debtors for purposes of Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and therefore don’t have access to the municipal bankruptcy process. See 11 U.S.C. § 101(52). Puerto Rico attempted to address its fiscal woes by enacting the 2014 Puerto Rico Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act, which created a debt restructuring mechanism analogous to Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 13, 2016 that the Act was preempted by Section 903(1) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust, 136 S. Ct. 1938 (2016). [Fn. 1]

After the Franklin Trust decision, Congress stepped in and passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) legislation on June 30, 2016, to allow Puerto Rico to restructure without filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Briefly, PROMESA establishes an independent oversight board, provides for a bankruptcy-like debt restructuring process, and requires submission of a Fiscal Plan by Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s required Fiscal Plan was approved by the Oversight Board on March 13, 2017; however, that plan has come under criticism from bondholders.

This all begs the question, however, of what would have happened had Congress NOT passed the PROMESA legislation. Puerto Rico would have been left in a bind in which it had no access to the U.S. municipal bankruptcy process but was preempted from enacting any analogous debt restructuring mechanism by Section 903(1) of that same Bankruptcy Code, per Franklin California Tax-Free Trust. [Fn. 2]

Gulati and Rasmussen’s paper focuses on this question, arguing that, as a constitutional matter, the United States may not prohibit Puerto Rico from enacting its own bankruptcy-like restructuring process while offering no alternative mechanism. This leaves Puerto Rico in an untenable “netherworld,” in which it has the power to issue debt without the mechanisms for dealing with financial distress on the back end.

Continue reading “PROMESAs, PROMESAs?”

The Insurance Market Regulations in the Republicans’ Health Care Bill: Crippling Obamacare, or Passing a Hot Potato to State Governments?

By David Gamage

On Monday, the House Republicans finally revealed their draft bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (#Obamacare or #ACA). The bill is titled the American Health Care Act, and commentators have been referring to it as either the #AHCA or #Trumpcare.

To assess the bill, it is helpful to think of it as consisting of four primary buckets:

  1. ending many of Obamacare’s tax provisions (read: large tax cuts for the very wealthy);
  2. phased-in cuts to Medicaid funding and scheduled devolution of Medicaid to the states (read: eroding the health safety-net program for the poor);
  3. transforming Obamacare’s other major health subsidies from being based mostly on income and health costs to being based more on age (read: the implications of this are actually less straightforward than what much of the commentary suggests, but that is a topic for another day); and
  4. other changes to Obamacare’s insurance market regulations (the subject of today’s blog post).

In this blog post, I will focus on the fourth bucket—the changes to Obamacare’s insurance market reforms other than the changes to the subsidies. Time permitting, I hope to write future blog posts on some of the other buckets.

What is most striking about the AHCA’s insurance market changes is how they keep the vast majority of Obamacare’s reforms in place. Right-wing groups have thus taken to calling the AHCA “#ObamacareLite”. Yet I consider this a misnomer. A more accurate label would be #ObamacareCrippled.

The AHCA’s changes do not really water down Obamacare, as the intended slur of “ObamacareLite” implies. Rather, the AHCA’s changes would likely cause Obamacare‘s framework for regulating the individual market to fall apart. If the AHCA bill were to be enacted in its current form, the result would likely be adverse-selection death spirals. The only real hope for saving the individual market would be for state governments to step up with new state-level regulations for supporting insurance markets within each state.

Continue reading “The Insurance Market Regulations in the Republicans’ Health Care Bill: Crippling Obamacare, or Passing a Hot Potato to State Governments?”

It’s Complicated.

By: Shu-Yi Oei

I’ve been thinking a lot about movies lately, partly because this pesky sign appeared outside my house a couple of days ago, and partly because of the Louisiana film tax credit, which has been all over the local news.

film sign 2

A couple of days ago, an Associated Press article reported that Louisiana’s motion picture industry was down by 90% this year as filmmakers moved production to states with more generous tax incentives. (I guess that puts the filming outside my house in the 10%?). It was also reported that Governor John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Economic Development agency are going to commence an examination of the film tax credit and its economic impact in Louisiana. As the news reports indicate, the decline in movie production activity is undoubtedly due to the fact that, facing a state budget deficit, legislators placed caps and limitations on the credit in legislation passed last year. The most material change was an aggregate $180 million cap on the credit for tax years 2015-18, which will then sunset. RS: 47:6007(C)(1)(d)(ii). As a result, movie production has reportedly moved to states with more generous film tax incentives.

The Louisiana film tax credit is a complex beast, and I can’t cover all its intricacies here. But some broad policy points are worth mentioning. Continue reading “It’s Complicated.”

State Tax Reform Amidst Cajun Sausage Making

Steven Sheffrin
Professor of Economics & Director of the Murphy Institute, Tulane University

It was not quite Cajun boudin being prepared in Baton Rouge this winter and spring, but the sausage being concocted in the Louisiana Legislature was equally spicy. With low oil prices and years of “creative” budgets under Governor Bobby Jindal, the new Governor, John Bel Edwards, and the Legislature faced an initial budget shortfall of roughly 16 percent of the state general fund for the next fiscal year. Three separate legislative sessions later, they did reach a balanced budget, although with less revenue than the Governor had wanted. The revenue raisers included a dizzying array of sales tax changes that only temporarily limited exemptions, temporary limits on the refundability of business credits, and various other “haircuts” for business. Not exactly the purest of tax reforms.

But buried in this avalanche of legislation were some serious reforms of the Louisiana corporate tax along the lines that my colleagues and I had recommended to the Legislature last year.

Continue reading “State Tax Reform Amidst Cajun Sausage Making”

Tax Policy and Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Crisis: An Insolvency Primer and Some Tax Things to Read

By: Shu-Yi Oei

I’ve been following the story of Puerto Rico’s default on its public corporation debt repayment obligations, which has been unfolding over the last several months. The latest happened on Monday, May 2 (well, technically Sunday), when Puerto Rico missed a major debt payment that was due to the bondholders of its Government Development Bank (GDB).

The topic has been well covered from the sovereign debt/insolvency angle over on Credit Slips, so I won’t go into that in detail here. As I understand it, the main points are these:

(1) Puerto Rico owes around $70 billion total outstanding debt to its creditors, of which a significant chunk is public corporation debt. Public corporations are corporations owned by the government of Puerto Rico. For example, the GDB is a public corporation.

(2) Unlike U.S. municipalities such as Detroit, Puerto Rico entities aren’t considered debtors for purposes of Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. They therefore don’t have access to the Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy process. See 11 U.S.C. § 101(52). This is a bit of a head scratcher.

(3) In 2014, Puerto Rico’s legislature passed a law, the Puerto Rico Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act, which created a mechanism analogous to Chapter 9 bankruptcy by which Puerto Rico public corporations can restructure their debt. See Puerto Rico Passes New Municipal Reorganization Act: Puerto Rico Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act, 2014 P.R. Laws Act. No. 71, 128 Harv. L. Rev. 1320 (2015).

(4) Some bondholders filed a lawsuit, contending that Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code preempts the Recovery Act. The First Circuit ruled that the Recovery Act is preempted. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust v. Puerto Rico, 805 F.3d 322 (1st Cir. 2015). The Supreme Court granted cert and heard oral arguments on March 22, 2016. No decision yet. For one scholar’s take on the issue, see Stephen J. Lubben, Puerto Rico and the Bankruptcy Clause, 88 Am. Bankr. L.J. 553 (2014).

(5) In light of all this, some have called for U.S. Congressional action, and there’s been legislation drafted to address Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis that will allow for both restructuring and reform going forward. The House Committee on Natural Resources put forth a draft bill, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”). See also here for a helpful executive summary that accompanied an earlier draft. So far, that legislation has stalled, but they’re still trying.

There are many important issues in play, about which various stakeholders and commentators disagree. Some big ones are: (a) whether the draft PROMESA legislation raises retroactivity issues that make it unfair to bondholders (including mutual funds and their investors) who may be subject to restructuring ex post without having had notice of that possibility ex ante; (b) relatedly, whether creating a bankruptcy-like restructuring process for Puerto Rico is bad for bondholders because it prevents holdout creditors from holding up restructuring negotiations, (c) how much oversight and sovereignty Puerto Rico should cede (for example, different stakeholders feel differently about the installation of an oversight board); (d) the extent to which austerity measures are feasible and should be imposed [fn1], and (d) and what substantive reforms should be put enacted going forward.

So where does tax come in?

Continue reading “Tax Policy and Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Crisis: An Insolvency Primer and Some Tax Things to Read”