Deficient Notices of Deficiency and the Remedy Question

By: Leandra Lederman

In QinetiQ v. Commissioner, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit refused to invalidate a Notice of Deficiency that simply stated “that QinetiQ ‘ha[d] not established that [it was] entitled’ to a deduction ‘under the provisions of [26 U.S.C.] § 83.’” The taxpayer had argued that the Notice “failed to provide a reasoned explanation for the agency’s final decision, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-06.” The court’s analysis of this issue focuses on the distinction between court review that is subject to the APA and court review that is not. The QinetiQ court found that review of IRS deficiency actions, which predates the APA, falls into the latter category.

The QinetiQ case can readily be grouped with Mayo Foundation and the post-Mayo cases focused on the intersection of administrative law with federal tax law. In a recent post on the Procedurally Taxing blog, Bryan Camp does a nice job of analyzing the case in that context. But another perspective on the case is that the APA argument in QinetiQ is the latest packaging of some taxpayers’ complaints about uninformative Notices of Deficiency. In fact, QinetiQ also argued that the Notice violated Code section 7522, which requires various IRS notices, including Notices of Deficiency, to “describe the basis for, and identify the amounts (if any) of, the tax due, interest, additional amounts, additions to the tax, and assessable penalties included in such notice.”

As I wrote over two decades ago, in one of my first articles, “‘Civil’izing Tax Procedure: Applying General Federal Learning to Statutory Notices of Deficiency,” 30 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 183 (1996), the conflicts and confusion over the validity of Notices of Deficiency stem from two issues. The first is that courts often focus on only one of the Notice’s functions in isolation, such as its jurisdictional role as the “ticket to Tax Court” in deficiency cases. My 1996 article argued that the Notice of Deficiency not only plays that role, it also provides notice to the taxpayer (like civil process) and acts as an inchoate complaint, helping to frame the issues if a Tax Court case ensues. As I explain there, less content should be required for jurisdictional purposes than to frame the content of the litigation. Code section 7522 arguably reflects this idea, as I’ll explain further below. Continue reading “Deficient Notices of Deficiency and the Remedy Question”

Budget Reconciliation Process and Obamacare

By: David Herzig

Friday the Wall Street Journal published Daniel Hemel and my article on why we think it will be very hard for the Senate to just do away with the ACA (aka Obamacare) via reconciliation.  We follow-up our earlier Surlygroup posting (also cross-posted at Yale J. Reg.) which discussed why the Senate norms are hard to break.  Since that article, we have developed some fairly interesting models on why we think the Senate norms are rather sticky – more on that to come.

In the Wall Street Journal article we state, “Most significantly, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus may be forced to choose between their antipathy toward the ACA, also known as Obamacare, and their allegiance to longstanding institutional norms. In the end, the scope of ACA repeal will likely depend on whether Senate Republicans decide to score political victories in the short term or to maintain the Senate’s unique culture for the long haul.”

The problem for the republicans is the Byrd rule.  Repeal of the ACA will have budgetary impact beyond the budget window.  A decision will need to be made on the impact.  As we stated, “On some reconciliation-related questions, the presiding officer defers to the Budget Committee chairman, currently Senator Mike Enzi. On other questions, including whether a provision produces “merely incidental” effects on the budget, the presiding officer generally follows the advice of the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian, the official adviser to the Senate on the body’s rules.”

Continue reading “Budget Reconciliation Process and Obamacare”

The Art of the (Budget) Deal

By Daniel Hemel and David Herzig

Who Holds the Trump Card on Reconciliation?

Republicans on Capitol Hill are reportedly planning to use the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process to repeal the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the tax code. Against that background, Sam Wice says that “the most powerful person in America” in 2017 will be Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, the nonpartisan official who will “determine” how much of their agenda Republicans can pass through reconciliation. This, of course, is an exaggeration: like it or not, the most powerful person in America in 2017 will be Donald J. Trump, who will wield all the power of the imperial presidency. But Wice’s post helpfully directs our attention to the budget reconciliation process, the rules of which quite likely will determine whether the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill can repeal the ACA and reform the tax laws.

Yet while one should not underestimate the importance of reconciliation, one should also not overestimate the power of the Parliamentarian in the reconciliation process. As a formal matter, the Parliamentarian’s role is advisory; and as a practical matter, the Parliamentarian has little say over significant aspects of reconciliation. Other actors—most notably, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wy.)—wield at least as much influence as the Parliamentarian. Most importantly, Enzi—not MacDonough—will determine whether the provisions in any reconciliation bill violate various rules against deficit-increasing legislation being passed via reconciliation. And unlike the Parliamentarian, the Budget Committee Chairman is very hard to fire.

Reconciliation measures can begin in either or both chambers. However, since the ultimate vote on the budget measure occurs in the Senate, we’ll focus on the Senate side of the reconciliation process for purposes of this discussion. On the House side, the Rules Committee Chair and the Budget Committee Chair will wield outsized influence as well. We expect Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) to stay on as House Rules Committee Chair; as for the House Budget Committee Chair, the race is on for a replacement to Tom Price, the Georgia Republican recently tapped as Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary.

To understand why the Budget Committee Chair is as powerful as he is, a bit of background on reconciliation may be helpful. Continue reading “The Art of the (Budget) Deal”

Letter Urging the Senate to Vote on U.S. Tax Court Nominations

Over 50 tax law professors have signed a letter (available here) urging the U.S. Senate to vote on U.S. Tax Court nominees Elizabeth Ann Copeland and Vik Edwin Stoll. Unfortunately, these nominations may not get much attention in the wake of the election. However, the signatories (myself included) are urging the Senate to schedule a vote on these nominees, both of whom were favorably reported out of the Senate Finance Committee over a year ago. Danshera Cords has more on Procedurally Taxing.

Will the Supreme Court Hear a Retroactive Taxation Case This Term?

By: David J. Herzig

Earlier this year, the Washington Supreme Court held that the retroactive application of the legislature’s amendment to a Business & Occupation (B&O) tax exemption revising the definition of “direct seller’s representative” to conform to the Washington Department of Revenue’s interpretation of the exemption did not violate a taxpayer’s rights under due process, collateral estoppel, or separation of powers principle.

Like most states, Washington had a B&O tax for “the act or privilege of engaging in business activities.”  Under the original law, out-of-state sellers were exempt if they acted through a representative.  DOT Foods shows up in Washington and sells through a wholly owned subsidiary to avoid the B&O tax.

In 1999, the Washington Department of Revenue changed its interpretation of the statute to subject DOT and others to the B&O tax.  Dot challenged that change (215 P.3d 185 (Wash. 2009) “DOT I”)) and won.  DOT I applied for the tax periods 2000-2006.

DOT then sought a refund for the period Jan. 2005 – Aug. 2009 (not the time period of DOT I).  In the meantime, in 2010 the Washington State Legislature changed Wash. Rev. Code Sec. 82.04.423(2) in response to the DOT I ruling.  The statute both retroactively and prospectively changed the statute. Based on the statutory change, the Washington Department of Revenue rejected the refund claim.

For the period covered by DOT I, DOT and Washington agreed on a settlement for a 97% refund for B&O taxes paid.  For the May 2006 to December 2007 period (after DOT I), the refund request was denied.  DOT challenged the retroactive application under the theories of collateral estoppel, separation of powers, and due process.  DOT lost in the Washington Supreme Court and now has appealed to the US Supreme Court.

The test for whether or not retroactive tax legislation satisfies Due Process is United States v. Carlton, 512 U.S. 26 (1994).  Carlton  applied a rational basis test.  The Court stated retroactive tax legislation would not violate due process if, “legitimate legislative purpose furthered by rational means.”  According to the ACTC brief,   “The Washington Supreme Court ignored the unique circumstances of the Carlton case, which involved the correction of an obvious legislative error that was identified very soon after the statute was enacted and which the taxpayer was admittedly exploiting for its own benefit.”

Continue reading “Will the Supreme Court Hear a Retroactive Taxation Case This Term?”

I’ve Got ITINs on My Mind

By: Francine J. Lipman

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) Holders Pay Over $45 Billion Annually in Federal, State, and Local Taxes

Among the many amazing opportunities I have had as a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is continuing my work with immigrants on their tax issues. As I have written about at length unauthorized immigrants pay many tens of billions of dollars a year in taxes including federal (about 4.4 million ITIN tax returns were filed in 2015 paying over $23 billion including $18.1 in federal income taxes and $5.5 in self-employment taxes), state, and local income, property, sales, excise, etc. ($12 billion annually), and payroll taxes (about $12 billion a year in net Social Security and Medicare taxes for which they currently receive no current or future benefit).

ITINs GENERALLY

Nevertheless, Congress continues to challenge this population with respect to their tax compliance. If you do not know what an ITIN is then this issue likely does not directly affect you … however if you want a quick education the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has a great primer available in English and Spanish here. Since 1996, IRS has issued about 21 million ITINs although only about 5 million are currently being used. Congress had previously enacted legislation causing any ITIN not used for five years to expire. However, that legislation was not given a chance to be enforced, because Congress has been busy enacting more recent ITIN expiration legislation that supersedes the five year law.

THE CURRENT ITIN on my mind ISSUE

ITIN EXPIRATIONS

In the recently enacted PATH Act of 2015 (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes), among other matters, all ITINs issued before 2013 will be expiring and have to be renewed. An ITIN issued after December 31, 2012, will remain valid unless the person to whom it was issued does not file a tax return—or is not included as a dependent on the return of another taxpayer—for three consecutive years.

Congress has phased-in the expiration of ITINS as follows:

IF THE ITIN WAS ISSUED         THE ITIN EXPIRES ON

before January 1, 2008                    January 1, 2017
in 2008                                             January 1, 2018
in 2009 or 2010                                January 1, 2019
in 2011 or 2012                                January 1, 2020

In an effort to streamline the process, the IRS is identifying the first wave of ITINs expiring on January 1, 2017 as ITINs with the middle digits of 78 or 79. The IRS will identify the respective middle digits for the second, third, and fourth waves of expirations in time.

HOW TO RENEW BEGINNING October 1, 2016 

ITINs scheduled to expire as of January 1, 2017 (middle digits 78 or 79 or any ITIN not used on a tax return for the last three consecutive years (e.g., 2013, 2014, and 2015)), can be renewed using the newly revised for this purpose Form W7 (available here) also known as an Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. No tax return is required for a renewal application.

The application including all required original documents (e.g., passport) must be mailed to Internal Revenue Service, ITIN Operation, P.O. Box 149342, Austin, TX 78714-9342. The anticipated time that the IRS will take to renew or issue an ITIN outside of peak processing times (between January and April) has historically been about six weeks. However, in a recent press conference the IRS said that they would be sending 400,000 letters to ITIN holders with expiring ITNs so there could be a much longer waiting period. The National Taxpayer Advocate has written about the ITIN application backlog and bottleneck in her 2015 Report to Congress as Most Serious Problem Number 18.

Any original documents or certified copies submitted in support of an ITIN application are supposed to be returned within 65 days. Taxpayers who do not receive their original and certified documents within 65 days of mailing them to the IRS may call 1-800-908-9982 to check on their documents.

CERTIFIED ACCEPTANCE AGENTS   Not surprisingly, many immigrants will not want to send original documents to the IRS. In lieu of sending original documentation, taxpayers may be eligible to use an IRS authorized Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA) or make an appointment at a designated IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center location. CAAs often charge a fee for services rendered although some of the large chains of retail tax preparation companies are advertising free ITIN renewal services. I would advise taxpayers to proceed with caution as there may be ancillary costs, charges, or fees. The Consumer Federation of America, among others including myself, have written about the high cost of tax assistance services for low-income taxpayers and the potential for consumer abuse including price gouging.

FAMILY ITIN APPLICATIONS   The IRS will accept a Form W-7 renewal application from each member of a family if at least one of the family members listed on a tax return has an ITIN with the middle digits of 78 or 79. If one family member has middle digits 78 or 79, all family members who have an ITIN may submit a Form W-7 renewal application at the same time.

FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES IF ITINs Are NOT Renewed

Until ITINs are renewed, returns with expired ITINs will be processed and treated as timely filed, but the returns will be processed without any exemptions and/or credits claimed and no refund will be paid. The taxpayer will receive a notice from the IRS explaining the delay in any refund and that ITINs must be renewed. Once ITINs are renewed, any exemptions and credits will be processed and any allowed refunds will be paid. If ITINs are not renewed, taxpayers may be subject to interest and penalties for any tax owed as a result of disallowed exemptions and credits.

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HELP IS AVAILABLE

The more than 130 Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics across the country should be able to answer questions and point you in the right direction to get assistance. To find the contact information for a LITC in your area look at this user-friendly map and list in English and Spanish here.

Moreover, the NILC and other immigrant advocate groups and pro bono lawyers like myself are always here to lend a hand. On November 16th, UNLV will be hosting a Continuing Legal Education program titled “Everything You Need to Know About the NEW Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) Renewal Process” from 12:30 – 2:30 p.m. at William S. Boyd School of Law, Moot Court Room. Join us.

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Does Enforcement Reduce Compliance?

Shu-Yi Oei 

Boston College Law School held its first Tax Policy Workshop of the semester last Thursday and the speaker was Surly Blogger Leandra Lederman. Leandra presented a draft paper entitled “To What Extent Does Enforcement Crowd Out Voluntary Tax Compliance?” The draft isn’t publicly available yet, but you can email Leandra for a copy.

So, what’s the paper about? The standard economic model tells us that a taxpayer will weigh the magnitude of the penalty and the likelihood of audit to reach an “expected” cost of punishment for tax evasion. Allingham & Sandmo (1972). So, if the audit rate is low (which it is), the expected cost of evasion also remains low, absent draconian penalties. Yet, we see relatively high voluntary compliance rates in the U.S. Some scholars claim that this is a “puzzle” and theorize that there is some sort of “intrinsic motivation” to comply with tax obligations, regardless of the low expected costs of punishment. Leandra has pointed out in several articles that this simple comparison presents a false puzzle because it ignores information reporting (and withholding), which IRS voluntary compliance statistics show is highly effective. She argues that information reporting is akin to an invisible audit. Nonetheless, some scholars suggest that enforcement and deterrence action are “extrinsic motivators” that might actually reduce compliance by displacing (i.e., “crowding out”) preexisting internal motivations to comply.

Leandra’s paper synthesizes the empirical literature on the effects of audit threats and fines as well as the growing tax and non-tax literature on contexts in which enforcement can lead to reduced compliance. In brief, the paper finds:

Continue reading “Does Enforcement Reduce Compliance?”

Tax Professor Letter Opposing Impeachment or Censure of IRS Commissioner Koskinen

By: Leandra Lederman

123 tax law professors recently signed a letter (available here) urging House leaders “to oppose any resolution to impeach or censure John Koskinen, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.” Full disclosure: I am among the signatories. The letter explains not only that “[w]e believe that nothing that has been reported provides any basis for impeachment or censure” but also that impeachment or censure will undermine tax administration:

“The IRS carries out a vitally important mission for our country. Respect for the IRS fosters the voluntary compliance that is essential for our revenue system to work.

Impeachment or censure will harm the country by weakening our revenue system.  Impeachment or censure would disrupt the functioning of the IRS—which has had four Commissioners in as many years—leading to increased tax evasion, reduced revenue collection, and a higher national debt.  Impeachment or censure would also set a dangerous precedent and deter talented people from working to improve the country’s struggling revenue system.”

This is an important message and I hope House leaders will listen.

Continue reading “Tax Professor Letter Opposing Impeachment or Censure of IRS Commissioner Koskinen”

Walmart and Puerto Rico

By: David J. Herzig

Everyone knows by now the dire financial problems facing Puerto Rico.  (My co-blogger Shu-Yi Oei wrote about the default in Surly here.)  In order to generate liquidity to pay debt and run government operations, Puerto Rico began to look to the deepest pockets for help.  If you are looking for a deep pocket, look no further than Walmart.  The question facing Puerto Rico was how to get more money out of Walmart without actually targeting the corporation (that would be unconstitutional.)

The territory, instead, tinkered with an old law to created a tax hikes which on the face seemed neutral.  However, the law, according to Walmart, targeted primarily the large retail corporation. The after-tax effect of the corporate alternative minimum tax change was to raise Walmart’s Puerto Rican tax liability to over 90% of its income.

How did we get here? Last year, Puerto Rico enacted Act 72-2015 (Act 72) into law. The key component of the act was an increase in the Tangible Property Component (TPC) of the corporate AMT.  According to prior reporting, “The TPC piece of the AMT imposes a tax on the value of property transferred to an entity doing business in Puerto Rico from a related party outside of Puerto Rico.”

Then last December, Walmart filed suit styled, Wal-Mart Puerto Rico Inc. v. Zaragoza-Gomez, 15-cv-3018, U.S. District Court, District of Puerto Rico (San Juan) challenging Act 72.  According to Walmart, the tax was unconstitutional violating the commerce clause.  Moreover, the new tax raised the company’s estimated income tax to “an astonishing and unsustainable 91.5% of its net income.”

In March of 2016, the District Court agreed with Walmart and in a 109 page opinion stated, “Puerto Rico’s AMT, on its face, clearly discriminates against interstate commerce.”  Part of the story told by bond holders, is that in the course of the trial, it came to light the government of Puerto Rico might have been misleading their bond holders and this law was a kind of hail-mary.  Per the UBS report, “In the course of the trial, senior officials of the García administration were obliged to provide sworn testimony. Judge Fusté’s subsequent written opinion provided information that had been either knowingly or inadvertently withheld from investors by the Government Development Bank.”  So, yes, the tax was targeted at Walmart.  Also, the government of Puerto Rico was also not disclosing to its bond holders the true economic conditions.

Late last week, the 1st Circuit agreed with the District Court.   The 1st Circuit concluded, “As to the merits of the Commerce Clause challenge, the AMT is a facially discriminatory statute that does not meet the heightened level of scrutiny required to survive under the dormant Commerce Clause.”

Continue reading “Walmart and Puerto Rico”

House Staffer is a Tax Protester?

By: David J. Herzig

Politico reported yesterday that “Isaac Lanier Avant, chief of staff to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Democratic staff director for the Homeland Security Committee, allegedly did not file returns for the 2009 to 2013 tax years.”

According to the Department of Justice Press Release, Mr. Avant has been a staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2002.  In 2005, he filed a form with “his employer that falsely claimed he was exempt from federal income taxes.  Avant did not have any federal tax withheld from his paycheck until the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) mandated that his employer begin withholding in January 2013.”

This seemingly innocent story might get more torrid.  For starters, missing from the press release by Justice is that, as Richard Rubin pointed out to me, Mr. Avant’s employer was Congress.  Do you hear the can of worms opening?  I mean, who at payroll in Congress is green-lighting the stopping of withholding?  What did his form look like? Did he make up an official and name it – W-NONE?  How many other staffer’s did this?  How did he never get audited?  According the the press release and the story, Mr. Avant did not file tax returns for 5 years; I guess a matching program would not catch anything since he had no withholding.  But, one would think Congress would at least ensure that every employee has filed a tax return.

Not sure which awesome tax protester argument he is going with.  Personally, I hope it is that he is a sovereign citizen.  It would be great if the Democratic staff director of Homeland Security thought the U.S. laws did not apply to him.  I guess we will have to wait for the actual complaint.  For those interested, the IRS has outlined numerous frivolous tax arguments.

 [UPDATE 8/24/16 at 8:41 pm: It appears that a claim of Sovereign Citizen might really be in play.  According to the Panolian, a local Batesville, Mississippi newspaper, Mr. Avant is the son of Vernice Black Avant and the late Robert Allen Avant Sr.  In 2011, according to the Panolian, Mr. Avant’s mother, who is also a court clerk, filed an “11-page ‘Affidavit of Truth'”  “declaring that she is a “freeborn Sovereign” are meant to distinguish her as an individual, distinct from a corporation.”  “The affidavit cites participation in the use of bank accounts, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, vehicle license plates and tax returns as ‘under duress.'”]