The Tail, the Dog, and Gig Workers

By: Diane Ring

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New legislation has just been introduced in the Senate that creates a “safe harbor” for independent contractor status. The proposed legislation provides that if a worker relationship satisfies certain criteria, then that worker can bypass the sometimes messy, multi-factor test for distinguishing between employees and independent contractors, and will be classified as an independent contractor for tax purposes. What prompted action now to address what has been a decades-old classification challenge for workers, businesses and the IRS alike? The gig economy. (Hence, the not-so-catchy title for the legislation: The New Economy Works to Guarantee Independence and Growth (NEW GIG) Act of 2017 (S. 1549).)

The legislation’s sponsor, Senate Finance Committee member John Thune, (R-S.D), described the impetus for the legislation as follows: “My legislation would provide clear rules so that these freelance style workers can work as independent contractors with the peace of mind that their tax status will be respected by the IRS.”

Is this really what gig workers are worrying about? . . . Continue reading “The Tail, the Dog, and Gig Workers”

Online Shopping and Tax Privacy

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By Adam Thimmesch

The privacy implications of online commerce are complicated and fascinating. On the one hand, it allows individuals to protect their privacy by shopping for sensitive items without the knowing glances of store clerks, fellow patrons, or those passing by. On the other hand, it creates a digital trail that can connect them to a particular vendor or purchase in perpetuity. This can occur with respect to items that are politically, medically, or sexually sensitive and with respect to items that they’d just prefer to keep a secret. (For example, if you forget to browse in private mode, you might find that your wife’s Facebook feed now includes ads for the items that you were searching out for her birthday. Woops. Sorry dear.)

Your online shopping habits might also soon be known to your state revenue authority. Given states’ limited jurisdiction to require online vendors to collect sales taxes from consumers, some states have taken a new approach—requiring those vendors to, instead, rat out their customers to the state. Continue reading “Online Shopping and Tax Privacy”

House Appropriations Bill

By: David Herzig

With all the diversions this week, it was easy to miss that the House Committee on Appropriations posted on June 28th the Appropriations Bill for FY 2018.  The bill seems to include a couple items that not many were expecting.  So, I thought I would highlight some of the key provisions.  Since it is Friday before a Holiday weekend, I’ll keep it short for now.  There are four main provisions I will address: (1) IRS Targeting/Johnson Amendment; (2) ACA Penalties; (3) Conservation Easements; and (4) 2704 (Estate/Gift Tax).

I. IRS Targeting/Death of Johnson Amendment

First, is a clear response to the “targeting” of groups from the Lois Lerner Administration. In three separate sections (107, 108 and 116), the bill attempts to regulate the IRS, not Continue reading “House Appropriations Bill”

Macron and the Potential Future of Tax Leaks

By: Diane Ring

The French election for president—an event worthy of note in its own right (particularly on the heels of the Brexit vote)—generated a political, international relations, security and media firestorm due to a late-breaking data leak and hack. On Friday, the campaign of French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron announced that it had been the subject of a major computer hack. At least 9GB of emails and personal and business documents from Macron’s campaign were posted to a document sharing site called Pastebin. Initial reports contended that the hack and leak were an effort to aid Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, and may have been undertaken with Russian assistance. While Macron won the election, the potential fallout out from these leaks may have only just begun.

There’s an important tax dimension to the story, which may have been slightly overshadowed by Friday’s massive data dump. Two days before, on Wednesday, Le Pen hinted during a debate at possibility that Macron might have an offshore account in the Bahamas. Apparently, two hours before the debate, documents were anonymously posted on an internet forum that purported to include Macron’s signature and to show that he had a Bahamas bank account. During the debate, Macron responded that the claim was false and constituted “defamation.” On Thursday, Macron and his campaign outlined the spread of this offshore-account assertion on various sites and contended some were connected to “Russian interests.” On Friday, Macron lodged a complaint with the French prosecutor’s office regarding offshore account allegations made online.

Though the Friday hack and data dump have dominated the spotlight, the alleged tax leak is in fact part of the bigger and quite troubling picture of leaks in the modern cyber environment . . .

Continue reading “Macron and the Potential Future of Tax Leaks”

We Should be Taking President Trump’s Tax Plan Seriously

By: David J. Herzig

Today President Trump’s top tax advisors laid out the first details of the his tax plan. Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin unveiled the plan which according to Fox News, Cohn called “the most significant tax reform legislation since 1986, and one of the biggest tax cuts in American history.”

Oh, did I mention that the details of the biggest cuts were printed on a single sheet of paper?

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There has been plenty of ink (and jokes) already spilled about the plan.  For example, you can read Richard Rubin of the WSJ (here) or Alan Rappeport of the NY Times (here). The long and the short of the plan is it seems to very very costly.  The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget guesses it could cost $3 to $7 trillion with their estimate at $5.5 trillion.  That is a lot of money!

Continue reading “We Should be Taking President Trump’s Tax Plan Seriously”

A Libertarian Tip

By: David Herzig

Yesterday on Twitter, Scott Greenberg (@ScottElliotG) posted the following tweet from Matt Bruenig.

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Well, David Gamage, Omri MarianAndy Grewal and I had fun in 120 characters debating the quality of the tax advice provided on both the receipt and the note.  Suffice to say: (A) this will be appearing on a number of basic income tax exams shortly;[1] and, (B) neither piece of advice provided by “Mr. Libertarian” seems to be correct.  Both David and I pointed out that the “tip” did not seem to meet the old Duberstein detached and disinterested test.  Clearly there was a quid-pro-quo; don’t spit on my food and I will give you extra money in addition to the bill.

Joking around about the gift/income distinction made me think that tipping is very tax inefficient.  Assuming that what I said is true: tips are not gifts and they are income to the recipient. This means that the payment is not deductible by the payor (just personal consumption) yet income to the recipient, i.e. the server. If it is ordinary income to the recipient, then there should be a corresponding wage deduction, right?

Let’s assume the following counterfactual.  The restaurant includes the tip as part of the bill.  The restaurant pays the employee salary including the entire tip.  Under this structure, the restaurant would receive an entire wage adjustment for the tip paid.  The customer is still does not receive a deduction for paying the employee’s wages and the employee still pays the same amount of income tax.  But the employer captures the unused deduction for wages by the customer.  Theoretically, this deduction could be shared by all the stakeholders to reduce costs to all parties.

Who cares?  Well, only economists and tax professors, probably.  Back to finals preparation!

[1] Here is David Gamage’s hypo: customer leaves $1K and says, I just won the lottery and want to share some of my winnings as a “gift”. 

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!

Panama Papers: The One-Year Anniversary

By: Diane Ring

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Panama Papers leak. In April 2016, the ICIJ announced the leak and a few weeks later (May 9, 2016) released a database that included a subset of the leaked data. The leak itself comprised over 11 million records spanning 40 years from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. At its core, the leak revealed the true ownership of over 200,000 offshore entities, thereby raising a host of tax and political questions regarding many of the entities’ owners.

So what has happened over the past year as a result of the leak? Continue reading “Panama Papers: The One-Year Anniversary”

The Games We Play

Shu-Yi Oei

I’ve been ever so slightly glum since my colleague Ann Lipton went and blogged about this game called the Unicorn Startup Simulator over at BLPB. The goal of the game is for your startup to have a billion dollar valuation by the end of the year while keeping your employees happy. You have to make a series of decisions juggling those two goals. Turns out that’s harder than one might imagine. Here is what keeps happening to me:

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So, I guess the message is “don’t quit your day job”?

Anyway, I was feeling grumpy about not having cool tax games to call our own but then I went hunting around and realized, WAIT, we do have tax games! Whether they’re cool or not is another story.

Here are a couple:

Continue reading “The Games We Play”

Neil Gorsuch and the Tax Law

On Friday, the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch as the newest Justice on the Supreme Court, and today he was officially sworn in, taking the seat that Justice Scalia’s passing left vacant.

When Justice Scalia passed away, I looked at the tax opinions he had authored. It turns out, Justice Scalia didn’t author a whole lot of tax opinions, and those that he did author were, as I said, “workmanlike,” without the verbal pyrotechnics, wit, and flair he was known for.

I was curious whether Justice Gorsuch would bring anything different to that seat, so I looked for tax opinions he had authored.[fn1] My search terms brought up 34 hits; the vast majority were not actually cases dealing with the federal income tax.[fn2] In fact, I only saw two cases dealing with federal income tax issues, and neither of them really dealt with the tax law. Continue reading “Neil Gorsuch and the Tax Law”