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 Law With No Name or the “2017 Budget Reconciliation Act”

Victor Thuronyi

Legislative drafting conventions are conservative, and it is traditional for a bill to have a long title which describes the purposes of the bill in technical detail, and then to include in the first section a short title which provides a more user friendly name.  The short titles of Acts used to be fairly straightforward (e.g., the “Revenue Act of 1939”) but by the late 70s or early 80s, they tended to get cute and political, so now we have names like the “PATRIOT Act” and the “Affordable Care Act.”

The tax bill just passed by both houses of Congress introduces a new and somewhat unprecedented variation.  There is no short title.  There used to be: the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA).  However, at the last minute, it was stripped out of the bill because the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that it was extraneous to the bill’s purpose of affecting revenues, which is what a reconciliation bill is limited to.  Hard to argue with that – the name of the law does not have an effect on revenues.

As a result, it would not be accurate to refer to this piece of legislation as the TCJA.  Opponents have been referring to it as the Trump Tax Scam, and likely will continue to do so.  It is probably too much to ask the media and tax advisors to refer to it that way, since that does seem overtly political.  The “2017 Budget Reconciliation Act” perhaps would work (BRA for short).  Several pieces of legislation enacted through reconciliation procedure have been called “Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 19xx” so there is precedent.  So calling it a Budget Reconciliation Act is a correct generic description in the absence of an official short title.  I believe that calling it a tax reform act would also be political, since it falls far short of reform.  Budget reconciliation is perhaps as neutral as one can get.  An additional argument for this is that the bill contains not only tax provisions but also provisions on Alaska drilling, which are not tax related, but are related to budget reconciliation.

 

Saule Omarova (Cornell) presents “Private Wealth and Public Goods: A Case for a National Investment Authority” At Boston College Law School

Shu Yi Oei

UPDATE 9/19/17: I blogged more about Omarova & Hockett’s National Investment Authority suggestion over on Taxprof Blog. You can read the post here.


Today, Boston College Law School welcomes Professor Saule Omarova (Cornell) as the first presenter in our inaugural Regulation and Markets Workshop Series. The paper (with Robert Hockett, also of Cornell) is entitled “Private Wealth and Public Goods: A Case for a National Investment Authority.” It’s available on SSRN.

Here’s the abstract:

The American Presidential election of 2016 was won under the rhetorical banner of returning America to its past productive glory. Any such undertaking presents an extraordinary challenge, demanding a correspondingly extraordinary institutional response. This Article proposes precisely such a response. It designs and advocates a new public instrumentality – a National Investment Authority (“NIA”) – charged with the critical task of devising and implementing a comprehensive long-term development strategy for the United States.

Patterned in part after the New Deal-era Reconstruction Finance Corporation, in part after modern sovereign wealth funds, and in part after private equity and venture capital firms, the NIA is an inherently hybrid, public-private entity that combines the unique strengths of public instrumentalities – their vast scale, lengthy investment horizons, and explicit backing by the public’s full faith and credit – with the micro-informational advantages of private market actors. By creatively adapting familiar tools of financial and legal engineering, the NIA overcomes obstacles that ordinarily impede or discourage private investment in critically necessary and even transformative public infrastructure goods. By channeling presently speculative private capital back into the real-economy, moreover, the NIA plays an important role in enhancing the resilience and stability of the U.S. and global financial systems.

The Article makes original contributions not only to contemporary policy debates over how to revive America’s productive prowess and bring its financial system back into the service of the real economy, but also to current theoretical understandings of “public goods” and how to provide them. It offers a more complete and coherent account of such goods as solutions to collective action problems that pervade decentralized markets, hence as goods that can be supplied only through exercises of collective agency. The NIA proposal advanced in the Article operationalizes this theoretical insight by elaborating a specific institutional form that such collective agency can take.

The paper is really interesting and I have many swirling thoughts. I’ll say more after the workshop.

 

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”

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.”