Tax Return of the Jedi

By: Leandra Lederman

It started on Twitter with the following tweet from Prof. Musgrave:

I replied with what became my most popular tweet to date. (The bar was not high.)

As Twitter replied with funny comments, the idea quickly became fodder for Break Into Tax, the YouTube channel that Allison Christians and I launched last month. So, here it is: TAX RETURN OF THE JEDI: UNOFFICIAL PARODY TRAILER. Don’t miss the Circular 230 disclaimer at the end!

Institutional Corruption and Avoidance of Taxation: Final VIRTEU Roundtable

By Diane Ring

The most recent Roundtable session in the series of four VIRTEU [Vat fraud Interdisciplinary Research on Tax crimes in the European Union] sessions this spring focused on the limited success we have seen with the formal regimes of gatekeepers tasked with ensuring that taxpayers accurately meet their reporting and taxpaying obligations. The session then explored the role that whistleblowers play in remedying the resulting enforcement gaps. (A recording of this 3rd Roundtable is available here). Building on that discussion, the 4th and final Roundtable session, to be held Friday March 12, 2021 at 12:30pm EST (5:30pm GMT), will turn to the related topic, Institutional corruption and tax avoidance.

This March 12th discussion will examine corruption broadly understood to encompass not only the most direct forms of corruption (e.g. bribes) but more indirect forms (including implicit deals with officials), on to questions of undue influence, conflict of interest and the power of lobbying. Attention will be given to not only government actors, but also structural and institutional features that impact corruption and avoidance of taxation, including the role of large corporations, wealth, and power bases. For more information on the Roundtable, see below. To join us for the discussion, please register here.

Supervillainy and the U.S. Tax Code

By: Leandra Lederman

Recently, my resident D.C. comics fan, Nickolas Cole, asked me to watch with him Episode 3 of the animated Harley Quinn TV series, “So, You Need A Crew?”. (Warning: this show is not safe for work.) He thought I would enjoy the premise of the episode, which is that female supervillains face a glass ceiling. (You can’t make this stuff up. Well, actually, I suppose you can and someone did!)

I’m not much of a fan of cartoons but I thought the quirky humor was pretty well done. So, there I am watching Harley Quinn struggle to recruit a crew to work for her when all of a sudden, there’s the U.S. Master Tax Guide! And it has the voice of Wanda Sykes. The writers didn’t miss a trick. The intro to the tax stuff features the tax-preparation boutique “TAXES 4 FREE* *NOT 4 FREE,” seemingly ripped from the headlines. (That appears at 1:17 here, but if you don’t mind cursing cartoon characters, you may enjoy the whole three-minute segment, which captures a lot of the premise of the episode.)

Continue reading “Supervillainy and the U.S. Tax Code”

VIRTEU Roundtable #3: Whistleblowing, Reporting, and Auditing in the area of taxation

by Diane Ring

We do not yet live in a world in which taxpayer compliance can simply be assumed. Instead, we must rely on the interplay of reporting requirements, internal and external auditing, and ultimately whistleblowing, to help ensure compliance with the tax system. How do they fit together? What can we expect from reporting and auditing? When do they breakdown, and why? How does whistleblowing–both the actual cases and the “threat” of whistleblowing–shape law, taxpayer behavior, and society’s understanding of compliance. And when does this tax noncompliance intersect with government corruption and fraud? What recommendations and options might we consider for the future?

Next week, the VIRTEU Roundtable Series tackles these questions in its 3rd Roundtable: “Whistleblowing, Reporting and Auditing in the area of taxation.” (VIRTEU [Vat fraud: Interdisciplinary Research on Tax crimes in the European Union]). This session builds on the first two Roundtables which gathered experts from around the world to discuss tax crime, corruption, CRS, and business ethics, and which can be viewed online: (1) Roundtable #1: Exploring the Interconnections between tax crimes and corruption; and (2) Rountable #2: CSR, Business Ethics, and Human Rights in the area of taxation.

The 3rd Roundtable, on “Whistleblowing, Reporting and Auditing in the area of taxation,” will be held Friday February 26, 2021 at 5:30-7:00pm GMT (12:30-2:00pm EST). For more information on the panel, see below. To join us, visit the registration link here.

#TaxValentines 2021

By: Leandra Lederman

The Tax Valentines poems on Twitter are always a highlight of the winter for me. Tax folks can be very creative weaving together romance and tax concepts! This year, there seemed to be fewer overall, but there still are plenty to be found if you search #TaxValentines on Twitter. Prof. Kathleen DeLaney Thomas even shared Tax Valentines her students wrote as a fundraiser for public interest grants for UNC Law students!

Here are a couple of new ones I didn’t get a chance to post on Twitter:

Roses are red
You are so fine
If you were a deduction
You’d be above the line
#TaxValentines
Continue reading “#TaxValentines 2021”

Tax Crime and Corruption: VIRTEU Roundtable Series and Research

by Diane Ring

It is no surprise to those working in the tax field, whether in government, private practice, academia or the nonprofit sector, that not all taxpayer mistakes are innocent. Some taxpayers affirmatively engage in fraud, and sometimes that fraud is wrapped up with corruption. The high profile spate of tax leaks beginning in 2008 helped put a more public face on many aspects of an old problem.

As part of an effort to better respond to tax crimes and corruption, the EU has funded an interdisciplinary and comparative research legal research project — VIRTEU [Vat fraud: Interdisciplinary Research on Tax crimes in the European Union]. This project is aimed at exploring connections between tax fraud and corruption. Focused in part on VAT fraud, the relevant issues and the kinds of questions that must be asked are universal across the tax system.

VIRTEU, for which I am a special advisor, is hosting a Roundtable Discussion Series this spring that brings together experts from academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to engage in topical discussions around the general problem of tax fraud and corruption. Along with the the VIRTEU project’s Principal Investigator Dr. Costantino Grasso and Co-Investigator Dr. Lorenzo Pasculli, I will be organizing and hosting the series, which is also sponsored by Boston College Law School, Coventry University Research Centre on Financial and Corporate Integrity, and OLAF (the European Anti-Fraud Office).

The first session, “Exploring the interconnections between tax crimes and corruptions“, will be held via Zoom on Friday January 29, 2021 (at 11:00am EST/ 4:00pm GMT). Here is the registration link. See below for more details – and join us for what promises to be an invigorating discussion of the connections between the legal and policy frameworks for corruption and for tax crimes.

Superman, Tax Evader?

By: Leandra Lederman, with thanks to my in-house comics expert, Nickolas Cole

Nick, who’s been a Superman fan since childhood, got me the Oct. 1961 issue of the Superman comic for Christmas. It’s got a story in it billed as “Superman Owes a Billion Dollars” in taxes! Here’s the splash panel:

The basic premise is that a new Revenue Agent “at the Internal Revenue Bureau in Metropolis,” Rupert Brand,* discovers “no record that Superman has ever paid taxes!” (In case you’re wondering, nope, the IRS was not called the “Internal Revenue Bureau” back then. In 1953, it changed its name from the “Bureau of Internal Revenue” to the “Internal Revenue Service.” Perhaps a clue that not to rely on any of the tax statements in the story!)

Brand figures out the quickest way to reach Superman about this apparent delinquency, and explains that even the President of the United States pays taxes (cf. these blog posts), and so must Superman!

Why does Superman owe tax? Well, the story explains that “each year, Superman captures countless criminals, collecting a fortune in reward money!” And not just that, “whenever he digs up buried treasure” [treasure trove, anyone?] “or squeezes coal into diamonds, he earns more untold millions! All that wealth is income!”

Continue reading “Superman, Tax Evader?”

Why Tax Losses Matter (for Pres. Trump’s Taxes and Everyone Else’s)

By: Leandra Lederman

Tax losses pose a special problem for the federal fisc. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first some set-up as to how tax noncompliance differs on the income side versus the deduction and credit side. The overall purposes of this post are to address some questions I’ve gotten and pull together some tax enforcement themes that are implicated by the recent NY Times reporting on Pres. Trump’s returns.

The Importance of Third-Party Reporting

A lot of tax noncompliance occurs with respect to income. Not for folks with mainly wage and salary income who maybe earn a little bit of interest from a bank account. All of that is reported by third parties (the payors) to the IRS, on information returns like Form W-2 or Form 1099. The taxpayer/payee receives a copy the information return and that both simplifies reporting and communicates what information the IRS has about the transaction. As Joe Dugan and I argue in a forthcoming article, third-party reporting is very effective. With the IRS able to do simple return matching to catch any incorrect reporting (intentional or otherwise), IRS figures like this bar graph show that there’s not a lot of noncompliance where there’s substantial third-party information reporting.

Where much tax noncompliance occurs is with respect to income earned by the self-employed and small businesses, where there’s much less third-party reporting and also more use of untraceable cash. (I added the red circle to the IRS image below.)

Continue reading “Why Tax Losses Matter (for Pres. Trump’s Taxes and Everyone Else’s)”

#TrumpTaxLimericks

By: Leandra Lederman

I was inspired last night while watching the debate to write some limericks about President Trump’s tax returns. I’m sharing them here to collecting them in one place. It would be great to see others add to the collection, too–there may not be as much love as on #TaxValentines Day–but #TaxLimericks could be a broader genre!

Continue reading “#TrumpTaxLimericks”

#TrumpTaxReturns

By Sam Brunson

Image from 401kcalculator.org. CC BY-SA 2.0

For the last several months, I’ve been meeting a guitarist and sometimes other musicians at a Chicago park to play outdoor socially-distanced jazz. This Sunday, driving home, my wife asked me if we knew what Trump had paid in taxes. “Of course not,” I confidently responded. “It looks like we do now,” she said.

And with that, my work goals for this week changed. I’m sure everybody reading this has seen Sunday’s New York Times story (and probably also its follow-up from yesterday). Along with a ton of other tax people, I’ve been trying to make sense of and contextualize the story, both to myself and to the public. And I’ve largely been doing my thinking in real-time on Twitter.[fn1]

I thought that I’d assemble a lot of those Twitter threads here into one place. At most I’ll lightly edit them and I’ll link to the actual threads on Twitter, too. Because over there I included GIFs on almost every tweet and I think I outdid myself. The relevant content will be here, though. Continue reading “#TrumpTaxReturns”

Updated Working Paper on Pandemic Regulation Includes Analysis of the CARES Act, H.R. 748

My co-authors and I (Hiba Hafiz, Shu-Yi Oei, and Natalya Shnitser) have just posted an updated version of our Working Paper, Regulating in Pandemic: Evaluating Economic and Financial Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis. The Working Paper is revised and updated to incorporate the provisions of H.R. 748 (the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or the “CARES” Act) enacted into law on March 27, 2020. In addition, the revised draft considers recent action by the Federal Reserve, the Department of Labor, and other agencies all through the analytical framework we offer for evaluating these initiatives.

Regulating in Pandemic: Evaluating Economic and Financial Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis

By Diane Ring

As is apparent to the entire nation, the United States is currently trying to manage a fast-moving public health crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). The economic and financial ramifications of the outbreak are serious. Yet the policy responses being developed have limited time for assessment and evaluation—despite their likely dramatic impacts. Three of my colleagues (Hiba Hafiz, Shu-Yi Oei, and Natalya Shnister) and I are currently working on a project that analyzes and tracks these emerging responses. Having spent the past several years working together as part of Boston College Law School’s Regulation and Markets Workshop, it made sense to combine our efforts and expertise to try and contribute to effective policy guidance at this critical time.

Our new Working Paper (“Regulating in Pandemic: Evaluating Economic and Financial Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis”) discusses the ramifications of proposed and legislated policy and other actions and identifies three interrelated but potentially conflicting policy priorities at stake in managing the economic and financial fallout of the COVID-19 crisis: (1) providing social insurance to individuals and families in need; (2) managing systemic economic and financial risk; and (3) encouraging critical spatial behaviors to help contain COVID-19 transmission. The confluence of these three policy considerations and the potential conflicts among them make the outbreak a significant and unique regulatory challenge for policymakers, and one for which the consequences of getting it wrong are dire.

This Working Paper—which will be continually updated to reflect current developments—will analyze the major legislative and other policy initiatives that are being proposed and enacted to manage the economic and financial aspects of the COVID-19 crisis by examining these initiatives through the lens of these three policy priorities. It starts by analyzing the provisions of H.R. 6201 (the “Families First Coronavirus Responses Act”) passed by the house on March 14, 2020. By doing so, this Working Paper provides an analytical framework for evaluating these initiatives.

 

The Kiddie Tax Needs a Better Fix Pt. 2

By Sam Brunson

Image by annca. Pixabay licence

As I explained in my previous post, the new kiddie tax is an absolute mess, with unintended and (I assume) unforeseen consequences that significantly harm, among others, poor college students and the children of service members killed in action. How is Congress going to fix this?

Poorly, I assume. And insufficiently.

I saw on Twitter yesterday that Rep. Cindy Axne is cosponsoring the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act. Under the proposed legislation, the definition of “unearned income” will exclude survivor benefits received by the children of deceased service members. If this legislation were to pass, children of military members killed in action would no longer pay taxes at the top marginal rate on their survivor’s benefits. Continue reading “The Kiddie Tax Needs a Better Fix Pt. 2”

U.S. Business Community Calls for Ratification of Tax Treaties in U.S. — Again

By Diane Ring

I have been wondering for the past few years why the business community has not put more pressure on the Senate to resolve the tax treaty roadblock created by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). In 2011, newly-elected Senator Paul announced objections to the ratification of tax treaties and protocols and sought to block Senate consideration of those tax agreements in the pipeline. Senator Paul contended that the exchange of information provisions in the treaties violated taxpayers’ 4th amendment rights to privacy in their banking and financial data and that U.S. disclosure of such data to treaty partners would violate the due process rights of taxpayers. He succeeded in blocking the agreements (none have been ratified since 2010) and the result is a backlog of negotiated but unratified U.S. tax treaties and protocols.

A single senator can delay vote on a treaty and keep debate open. Negotiation with Senator Paul has not proven fruitful because he fundamentally objects to the information exchange provisions. However, other senators do have procedural recourse to end debate on a treaty and bring it to a vote. Under a process known as “cloture” (see Senate Rule XXII), a vote of 60 senators can force the end of debate. But this procedural path also requires an additional 30 hours of debate and the Senate can conduct no other business during this time. Thus, the cloture option puts a significant price tag on efforts to end the ratification impasse.

In a 2016 article (When International Tax Agreements Fail at Home: A U.S. Example), I mapped the historical and Senate procedural factors leading to the standstill on tax treaty ratification in the U.S. and the business community’s failed efforts to lobby  ratification of tax treaties. For example, in 2013 several major U.S. business trade groups (including the Technology Industry Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the United States Council for International Business) sent a letter to Senator Bob Corker stressing the importance of approving pending tax treaties and protocols. Senator Paul remained unmoved by business community pleas and apparently, the problem had not been considered serious enough to warrant commencement of cloture.

But it now appears that the business community has been reviving its public efforts to pressure the Senate to act: Continue reading “U.S. Business Community Calls for Ratification of Tax Treaties in U.S. — Again”

Tax and Changing Labor Markets: The OECD Weighs In

By: Diane Ring

Across the globe, policy makers are wrestling with the possibility that the nature of work is changing and that those changes might be positive or negative. One of the most prominent changes identified is the rise of “non-standard” work, essentially work that is not part of a traditional employer-employee relationship. The rise of the gig economy, and perhaps its even greater growth in the public imagination, have fueled concerns about the prospect of disappearing employment and its replacement with less stable and less desirable non-employee work options.

The degree to which this shift is taking place is an empirical question which has been difficult to pin down. As my co-author Shu-Yi Oei and I have explored in our paper, Tax Law’s Workplace Shift (forthcoming in the Boston University Law Review), data on the changing nature of work comes from empirical studies, which suffer from limitations due to the questions asked, the terminology employed, and comparability of studies over time and across databases. But regardless of any precise conclusions on the rate at which work is changing, there are valid reasons to be concerned and inquire about the impact of tax law on any such shifts. The OECD has begun to weigh in on these questions, releasing a new working paper entitled Taxation and the Future of Work: How Tax Systems Influence Choice of Employment Form, by Anna Milanez and Barbara Bratta (March 21, 2019).

The OECD Project

In this paper, the OECD tackles the question of whether tax considerations may be driving any increases in non-standard work. Using three labor scenarios—traditional employee, self-employed worker, and incorporated worker (e.g., a personal services corporation)—the paper asks how the tax burdens change across the three labor scenarios in eight test countries (including the United States).

In particular, the paper measures the “tax payment wedge” in each labor scenario in each country.

Payment wedge = total employment costs minus worker take home pay                                                                                  total employment costs

where total employment costs equal take home pay, income tax, employee social security contributions, employer social contributions, and payroll taxes minus any cash transfers (i.e. cash payments from the government to the worker, such as those made with respect to dependent children).

What did the OECD find across these eight test countries? Continue reading “Tax and Changing Labor Markets: The OECD Weighs In”