Tax Reform, Tuition Waivers, and Economic Mobility

By Michael Austin and Sam Brunson

“Before any great things are accomplished, a memorable change must be made in the system of education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. The education of a nation instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.”—John Adams

There has been much ado recently (including on Surly) about the fact that the current version of tax reform before the House of Representatives repeals Section 117(d) of the Internal Revenue Code. As a general rule, you have to pay taxes on anything of value your employer gives you. Section 117(d) is an exception to this rule; among other things, it exempts graduate students from paying taxes on tuition waivers. With that subsection excised from the Code, graduate students would be taxed on tuition waivers that they receive (usually in addition to a very modest stipend) when they worked as teaching and research assistants as part of their program.

If this repeal were to become law, students without personal or family resources would have a very difficult time pursuing graduate education. But while the plight of graduate students has gotten huge amounts of attention, it is not the worst thing about the repeal of Section 117(d). Continue reading “Tax Reform, Tuition Waivers, and Economic Mobility”

Why We Need Rational Tax Discourse: A Progressive’s Lament

By Jennifer Bird-Pollan

I woke up this morning to a viral video of Rep. DelBene of Washington State questioning economist Thomas Barthold, Chief of Staff of the Joint Committee on Tax (who incidentally became Chief of Staff of the nonpartisan organization in 2009, when Democrat Charles Rangel, then chair of House Ways and Means Committee, praised him heartily).

The optics are a progressive’s dream come true:  whip-smart Congresswoman shows up white-haired, straight-laced, white man by revealing how the proposed tax bill screws over individuals while protecting corporations.  And all across social media sites progressives are eating it up.   The thing is, while I share my friends’ progressive values, and I love a good younger-woman-shows-up-an-older-man video, the line of questioning in this exchange is entirely misguided and misleading, and all of the students in my basic income tax course can explain why.

Continue reading “Why We Need Rational Tax Discourse: A Progressive’s Lament”

How SALT Deduction Repeal Promotes State Capture of Federal Charitable Contributions

By Manoj Viswanathan, Associate Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law

The current version of the GOP tax bill dramatically limits the deductibility of state and local taxes. For individuals, the deduction for state and local income taxes is eliminated entirely and the deduction for state and local property taxes is limited to the first $10,000. [fn.1] Though much has been said about the proposal, there has been little discussion about how eliminating the state and local tax deduction dramatically incentivizes (1) states to solicit charitable contributions in exchange for state tax credits and (2) taxpayers to make these charitable contributions.

Consider a taxpayer donating $500 to a tax-exempt private school in Arizona. Assuming the taxpayer itemizes, this reduces the taxpayer’s federal taxable income by $500 as per Sections 170(c) and 67(b)(4). Under Arizona’s School Tax Credits for Individuals program, this donation also entitles the taxpayer to a dollar-for-dollar $500 credit against state income tax liability. By donating the $500, the taxpayer has both saved $500 in state tax liability and obtained a federal charitable contribution deduction of $500. Continue reading “How SALT Deduction Repeal Promotes State Capture of Federal Charitable Contributions”

The Distortive Effects of Partially Repealing the SALT Deduction

By Adam Thimmesch

The treatment of the state and local tax deduction under the GOP’s tax bill has gotten a lot of attention since the bill’s roll out last week. All else being equal, the proposed changes would disproportionately impact high-income taxpayers in blue states, and that issue is front and center in discussions about the bill. The TCJA is also noteworthy, however, in that it does not propose completely eliminating the SALT deduction as had been previously discussed. Instead, it contains a partial repeal for some taxpayers. That creates some noteworthy distortions that might escape the attention of the average person following these discussions.

Continue reading “The Distortive Effects of Partially Repealing the SALT Deduction”

Paradise Papers: Day 2

By: Diane Ring

The most recent big financial data leak, dubbed the Paradise Papers, is now in full swing in the media. On Monday, Shu-Yi Oei blogged the initial release and its immediate takeaways (including the revelation that U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross continued to hold investments in a shipping business that had business connections to key Russian figures). But each passing hour brings new information and individuals into the public spotlight – and in the process sheds light on how such information is likely to be used and what the media and the public seem to find most noteworthy.

So what did Day 2 bring? . . .

Continue reading “Paradise Papers: Day 2”

Some Initial Thoughts on the Paradise Papers Leak

Shu-Yi Oei

Another data leak broke on Sunday, November 5, while I was on a plane home from Bergen, Norway. Coincidentally, Diane Ring and I were in Bergen presenting our Leak-Driven Law paper at a tax conference organized by Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance, Norwegian Centre for Taxation, and Notre Dame University.

This new “Paradise Papers” leak involves a set of 13.4 million records from 1950 to 2016.

From the ICIJ’s website:

“The new files come from two offshore services firms as well as from 19 corporate registries maintained by governments in jurisdictions that serve as waystations in the global shadow economy. The leaks were obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a network of more than 380 journalists in 67 countries.”

The two offshore services firms in question are the offshore law firm Appleby and Asiaciti Trust, an offshore specialist headquartered in Singapore. Over 7 million of the records came from Appleby and affiliates.

Diane and I argued in Leak-Driven Law that (1) the high-salience and shocking nature of tax and other leaks and (2) the interventions of the press and other actors in processing, framing, and generating publicity about these leaks are important features that can affect how legal responses and reactions occur in the aftermath of a leak. We’ll be keeping track of how events unfold in the aftermath of this latest leak and how it fits or doesn’t fit with the observations in our paper:

Some initial notes and reactions:

This was at Least in Part a Cyber Hack.

Most of the news coverage I’m seeing is focused on the content on the leak, but it’s worth noting that at least with respect to Appleby, this new leak was in part a result of a cyberattack on Appleby that happened last year. I haven’t seen anything to suggest that this was a data theft by an insider (e.g., employee) turned whistleblower. In its response to the leak, Appleby defended itself and noted the challenges of cyber-crime for individuals and businesses.

The Appleby Hack Occurred in 2016.

Continue reading “Some Initial Thoughts on the Paradise Papers Leak”

GOP Raises Taxes on Graduate Students … Or Does It?

Patrick W. Thomas
Professor of the Practice, Notre Dame Law School

We’ve all been poring over the GOP tax bill, released last week. On my initial read, I mainly looked at those provisions that affect my own practice in a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic: the expansion/restriction of the Child Tax Credit; the elimination of the dependency exemption; and the lack of any expansion in the Earned Income Tax Credit (paging Paul Ryan…). Selfishly, I also calculated the bill’s effect on my own taxes: a nearly 3% tax cut that I do not need!

Or so I thought. You see, my wife is a Ph.D. student in computer science who, like most students at the University of Notre Dame, receives a full tuition waiver, in addition to a stipend from the university. As I returned home on Friday, ready to put the tax bill out of mind for a couple hours, I saw a tweet from Claus Wilke, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas:

Uh oh. Back to tax policy on a Friday night, it seems. And, perhaps, so long to that tax cut. Continue reading “GOP Raises Taxes on Graduate Students … Or Does It?”

What Happened to Family Values?

By: Francine J. Lipman

The House GOP Bill is out and tax professionals across the globe are reading and re-reading the 429 pages of details. A few of the many things that jump off of the pages for me are that it doesn’t seem to support working families with kids (it REPEALS the up to $5,000 exclusion from gross income for dependent care assistance that many working parents use to subsidize the skyrocketing costs of child care while they work) or even those who (like my fantastic law students at UNLV) are pursuing and paying for higher education.

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Continue reading “What Happened to Family Values?”

Missing In Tax Reform: What About the Gas Tax?

By: David J. Herzig

I, and others, certainly will have plenty of articles about what is wrong and right about the current tax cuts proposals.  But, as I read the plan, I became frustrated with a proposal that was missing – fixing the Highway Trust Fund.

Infrastructure spending is a priority of this administration.  In the spring President Trump announced his $1 Trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) infrastructure plan.   According to the administration, the plan will rebuild the nation’s roads, tunnels and bridges.  By September, the administration was contemplating how to pay for this spending from private sector credits to dumping the burden on the states.

The most recent discussion of how to pay for the $1 Trillion spend happened during discussions with the House Ways and Means members.  According to the Washington Post, “At the meeting Tuesday, Higgins said Trump indicated the administration instead would seek to pay for infrastructure upgrades through direct federal spending — either by paying for projects with new tax revenue or by taking on debt.”

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I was hoping, I know naivety, that another option would be discussed – pay for the infrastructure spending like always via the Highway Trust Fund which generates revenues via the gasoline and diesel tax.  Since there would be a budgetary shortfall, maybe we should actually increase or fix the tax.

History of Gas Tax Continue reading “Missing In Tax Reform: What About the Gas Tax?”

Some Tax Reform Links and Tweets over at #BLPB

Ann Lipton at Business Law Profs Blog has assembled a nice collection of links to news commentary and tweets about the House tax bill.

Many of the links Ann has assembled look at the industry and deal-specific impacts of the tax bill…For example, potential effects on LBOs, sports stadium financing, future of stock options, higher education, and homebuilders.  A nice complement to the more ubiquitous analyses of revenue effects, scoring, and distributional estimates we’re seeing on the tax prof/economists side. This information about who is likely to feel what effects gives us some insights into how the politics/political economy of this tax reform is likely to unfold going forward. Well worth a click.