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Friday, February 16, 2018

How to Pay for a $1.7 Trillion Tax Cut 

The tax legislation enacted in December of last year adds roughly $1.7 Trillion to the national debt. Even some opponents of increasing the national debt voted for the legislation. Most of the revenue lost on account of the legislation comes from tax cuts for large corporations and wealthy individuals. Some not-so-wealthy individuals face tax increases, but those increases aren’t financing that $1.7 trillion bill that will come due someday.

Now there is reason to think that opponents of increasing the national debt had good reason not to worry about the inconsistency between voting for the legislation and increasing the national debt. The answer is in the budget proposed by the Administration, which might come as a shock to some people once they look at it closely, but perhaps was expected all along by the advocates of tax cuts for the wealthy. The proposal is to slash $1.5 trillion from Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs that assist, wait, the poor and the middle class.

Though this stupidity might seem quite clever in the short term to those who are engineering what has been happening, in the long run it is counterproductive even to the interests of the oligarchs and others who support supply-side economics, trickle-down theory, and other outdated, disproven, and foolish approaches to governance.

Once the two percent of Americans who received those overhyped $200 and $300 bonus payments realize that that income falls far short of making up for the loss of all the programs being reduced or eliminated, will it be too late for them also to realize that voting for candidates based on their words rather than on their actions is just as foolish as the decisions being made by the candidates who prevailed?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Will My Reaction to Their Tax Plan Break Their Hearts? 

The federal tax legislation passed in December limits the deduction for state and local taxes to $10,000. In some states, many taxpayers‘ state and local tax bills exceed that amount by more than a little bit. In some instances, their state and local tax bills can reach two, three, four, or more times the limit. State and local politicians in these states, who rightfully view the limitation as a siphoning of funds from their states to states traditionally dependent on the federal income tax revenue they like to criticize, have taken several approaches to dealing with the issue. Some states are suing the federal government. Some states, including those joining in the litigation, are trying to find ways to make state and local tax payments that exceed $10,000 deductible.

One idea that has gained traction, most recently in New Jersey according to this story is to replace the state and local taxes, or at least some portion of them, with payments to charitable funds. Why do this? Though the federal tax law has for decades imposed limitations on charitable contribution deductions, those limitations are so generous that they would prevent the deduction only in the most unusual of circumstances.

Advocates of this approach admit that they are unsure if the idea will work. The governor, who is pushing for the plan, “can’t guarantee . . . success.” But he, and others, see little harm in trying. Most agree that the state would need to enact legislation to implement the plan.

Perhaps my conclusion will break their hearts. The plan won’t work. Here’s why.

To be deductible as a charitable contribution, a payment must satisfy several requirements. One of those requirements is that the payment be voluntary. Another is that the payment not be a quid pro quo.

If New Jersey enacts legislation that reduces some portion of state and local taxes and replaces that payment obligation with a requirement that taxpayers make payments to a charitable fund, then there is no charitable contribution deduction because the payment is not voluntary. If the payment is made voluntary, state and local revenues will decrease because surely there will be many taxpayers who choose not to make a voluntary payment.

If New Jersey enacts legislation that reduces some portion of state and local taxes and replaces that payment obligation with a requirement that taxpayers make payments to a charitable fund, then there is no charitable contribution deduction because the payment is a quid pro quo. First, the payment can be viewed as a transfer of money in exchange for lower tax bills. Second, the payment can be viewed as a transfer of money in exchange for state and local government services.

One supporter of the plan pointed to tax credits offered in other states for charitable contributions. The flaw in that comparison is that those credits are provided by the state legislatures as reductions in state and local taxes, not as attempts to recharacterize state and local taxes as charitable contributions for purposes of the federal income tax.

I’m not alone in concluding that this attempt to cloak state and local taxes in the garb of charitable contributions will not work. As Jared Walczak of the Tax Foundation, put it, “IRS and Treasury officials weren't born yesterday. They will see right through these proposals, recognizing the contributions for what they are: payment of taxes."

Monday, February 12, 2018

You’re Doing What With Those Tax Cuts?  

Readers of this blog know that I consider the December 2017 tax legislation to be unwise, misdirected, and harmful to the economy. I have shared some of my thoughts in Those Tax-Cut Inspired Bonus Payments? Just Another Ruse, That Bonus Payment Ruse Gets Bigger, Oh, Those Bonus Payments! Much Ado About Almost Nothing, and Much More Ado About Almost Nothing. These commentaries explain in part why I think funneling tax cuts to the wealthy and to large corporations fails to infuse the middle class and the poor with the resources needed to stimulate the economy based on genuine, long-term demand. The few crumbs being tossed to a very small portion of the consumer class isn’t enough.

Now comes more bad news. Verizon has announced that “Tax-reform legislation will have a positive impact to cash flow from operations in 2018 of approximately $3.5 billion to $4 billion." What does it plan to do with this money? It plans to spend between $17.0 billion and $17.8 billion for capital expenditures in 2018, compared to the $17.2 billion it spent in 2017. In other words, Verizon’s tax cut money isn’t going to other businesses. Verizon announced it will give stock shares to its employees. Its 155,000 employees will share $400 million in stock, which amounts to less than $2,600 per employee. Crumbs. Surely the employees would prefer cash. So where is that tax cut money going? It’s going to “be used primarily to strengthen Verizon’s balance sheet.” In other words, it’s going to the owners. Though there are shareholders among those in the consumer class, keep in mind that the richest ten percent of Americans own 84 percent of the stock market. So when someone claims that tax cuts are good for stock ownership, the translation is that it’s very good for the richest ten percent, and lets a few more crumbs fall down to the other 90 percent. That’s not good long-term planning for the economy or the nation.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Taxes and Geese 

It’s a problem no one wants. It’s a problem many people, perhaps most people, have encountered or at least have seen. Geese descend on a lawn, a sports field, a park, a golf course, or any open area, and begin to leave mementoes of their visits. What they leave is slippery, smelly, unpleasant, and unattractive. So most people facing these rude visitors would try to find ways to discourage their return. It’s not easy. The internet is full of web sites with advice on getting rid of the geese, and businesses have sprung up offering geese removal services.

The geese don’t care whether the owner of the property they are polluting is rich or poor. One would assume that a wealthy individual, unlike most people whose income barely covers existing bills, or falls short, can pay some experts to show up and deal with the problem. But for a New Jersey billionaire, according to this article, the solution is to refuse to pay his real property taxes. This fellow claims that he has tried all sorts of devices to keep the geese off his property, and that they have not worked. It is unclear whether he himself has been out stringing up fishing line, installing decoys, and spraying liquids, or whether he has paid someone to do this. Surely he has the resources to pay someone, and surely if they fail to delivery he can refuse to pay the bill.

Why is this billionaire refusing to pay his property taxes because geese are fouling his property? He argues that the geese problem is reducing the value of his property. That probably is true, and he has the option of seeking a revaluation, and surely a revaluation will not reduce his taxes to zero. Instead, he claims that the town has an obligation to solve the problem. The town’s position is that it’s a private property problem. Apparently this billionaire thinks that his taxes are paid for the purpose of financing geese removal and that failure of the town to live up to its end of the contract he unilaterally wants to impose on it justifies his nonpayment of the real estate taxes. Interestingly, the taxes he currently is refusing to pay are school taxes. The logic behind refusing to pay for school funding because the town is not solving a private property owner’s problem escapes me.

The geese appear to provide a convenient pretext for this billionaire. He plans to file class action litigation on behalf of property owners who think their taxes are too high. His claims that the property tax valuation process needs repair are not without merit, but surely there are other ways to contribute to the betterment of the public good. Why not establish a foundation to fund the training and expertise that he explains tax assessors need, and to provide management improvements so that the assessors make better use of their time that he claims is necessary. For a billionaire who supports education and health care, as this guy does, it’s a no-brainer to put some money to work finding ways to fix the geese problem. He might even make money if he comes up with a solution.

There’s an inconsistency in adding to the list of things someone wants a government to do while at the same time trying to reduce the revenue available to that government. Money that could be used to deal with the geese problem will be diverted to pay the legal fees of defending the litigation that has been promised. Perhaps money can buy principle, as he claims is the case, but it appears that money cannot buy common sense.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Tax Cut Crumbs 

So the supply-side trickle-down crowd pushed a bad tax bill through the Congress. Then, as I discussed in If A Tax Act is So Wonderful, Why the Need to Promote It?, they decided they needed to hype the legislation because they want to erase the image of wealthy individuals and large corporations gobbling up most of the tax cuts while ordinary Americans get tax cut crumbs.

Perhaps that is why Paul Ryan, according to numerous stories, including this one, decided to issue a tweet sharng the news that a public high school secretary was “pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week.” Technically, her gross pay is unchanged. Her take-home pay was reduced because the employer withheld $1.50 less in federal income taxes.

What the secretary didn’t mention, probably because, like most Americans, she is unaware of the issue, is whether the withholding decrease is too much. If it is, she will end up with a smaller refund in the early months of 2019 or, worse, find herself writing a check or making an electronic funds transfer to the U.S. Treasury. Why? There has been too little time for the IRS to issue revised withholding tables that are sufficiently accurate. Taxpayers should run pro forma analyses to determine if their withholding has decreased by too much, but very few people do that sort of computation. Instead, they rely on the IRS and employers to “do the right thing.” Though usually well-intentioned, the IRS and employers don’t always get it right.

Perhaps the secretary was pleasantly surprised because she’s one of those people who don’t pay attention to news, tunes out of political discussions, and perhaps is among the half of eligible voters who didn’t bother to go to the polls in November of 2016. Would she be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised to learn that while she banks an additional $1.50 per week, the Koch Brothers stand to gain $1,400,000,000 and tossed $500,000 into Paul Ryan’s pockets as a thank-you gift?

Shortly after posting the tweet, Ryan deleted it. The California’s Lieutenant Governor’s reaction was not unlike mine and that of many others: “Guess someone told Paul Ryan you shouldn't go around praising yourself for giving a working person an extra $1.50 a week.” It is just amazing to me how oligarchs and their puppets think they deserve high praise, obedience, and votes because they hand tax cut crumbs to ordinary Americans. I suppose they take this approach because they can, and because enough Americans buy into their propaganda. At some point, will enough Americans wake up? Or will it take the next great crash to motivate people to learn something about long-term economic and tax policy?

Monday, February 05, 2018

Much More Ado About Almost Nothing 

Several weeks ago, in Oh, Those Bonus Payments! Much Ado About Almost Nothing, I elaborated on two previous posts, Those Tax-Cut Inspired Bonus Payments? Just Another Ruse and That Bonus Payment Ruse Gets Bigger, in which I explained the crumb-like nature of the pennies per hour that are being handed to some workers. In in Oh, Those Bonus Payments! Much Ado About Almost Nothing, I shared the news that Walmart’s trumpeted $1,000 bonus is actually a $1,000 bonus for a handful of employees. The average bonus is $190, which means some employees will be tossed a twenty-dollar bill and expected to dance with joy. Reports are that in many instances, these bonus payments have been announced but not paid.

Now comes news that Home Depot is emulating Walmart. Only those employees with 20 years of service will receive a $1,000 bonus. How many Home Depot employees have been with that company for 20 or more years. Surely nowhere near 100 percent, 50 percent, 25 percent, or even 10 percent. Employees with two to four years of service will receive $250. Those with fewer than two years of service will receive $200. What’s the average? Somewhere between $200 and $1,000, but surely closer to $200 because there are so few long-tenured employees. Even using $500 as the average, the bonus payments will cost Home Depot $190,000,000 before taking into account the tax savings from the tax deduction for the bonus payments. Shortly before the tax legislation was signed, but as it was making its final journey through Congress, Home Depot announced a $15,000,000,000 share buyback program for its shareholders. Count the zeroes in each number.

Those bonus payments amount to pennies per hour. But it’s not a raise. There’s no promise of a bonus payment in 2019. Employees receiving a bonus cannot commit to higher long-term expense commitments. They will not be able to commit to higher monthly mortgage payments, higher monthly rents, higher monthly car payments, or much of anything.

Though those who pushed the unwise tax legislation through Congress claim that it will toss thousands of dollars into each household, no one should expect such a result, as I explained in Another Word for Fake Tax Math. According to a Reuters/Ipso poll released about a week ago, only two percent of American adults responded that they are getting a raise or bonus as a result of the tax legislation. For almost everyone, their economic challenges continue.

All of this propaganda is working, at least on some Americans. According to a Monmouth University poll the percentage of Americans who approve of the tax legislation increased from 26 percent to 44 percent, while those disapproving of it fell from 47 percent to 44 percent. I wonder how many of those people who changed their minds, even though the legislation wasn’t changed, suddenly figured that they, too, would be getting a raise or bonus. By the time people realize that their economic condition hasn’t improved or hasn’t improved by much more than a crumb, will it be too late for them to undo the votes that they will come to regret? That happens, as is evident from the number of people finally waking up to Michael Bloomberg’s warning that they failed to heed. In the meantime, the cash flowing into the hands of oligarchs and large corporations will contribute to inflationary pressure, making economic conditions even more difficult for ordinary people, even those dancing with joy because they received a $300 bonus on which they must pay taxes. It’s just too bad that so many Americans are incapable or unwilling to learn economics, analyze economic trends, understand long-term impacts, avoid being blinded by temporary economic distractions, and evaluate politicians on the basis of performance and not cheap talk. While they are so excited about what amounts to pretty much nothing, their future economic chances are being undercut. This is not going to end well, except for the rich and powerful.

Friday, February 02, 2018

If A Tax Act is So Wonderful, Why the Need to Promote It? 

According to this recent story, the Koch brothers have announced that they are willing to spend as much as $20 million “to promote the tax law.” Senator John Cornyn of Texas admitted that “Republicans will need to fight to sell their tax overhaul.” He claimed that this is necessary in order “to combat the misinformation and the naysayers.”

My attitude about advertising and marketing does not mesh with the views held by most people in those industries. To me, advertising and marketing are necessary when a product or service is new, so that what’s being sold can be brought to the attention of the public. It also is necessary if new information needs to be shared, such as the reduction of a price or a change in a product or service in response to competition or customer suggestions and concerns. What is not necessary is advertising to hype a successful product. Almost all, if not all, of the hottest selling products and services have benefitted from word of mouth, or, in the digital age, by “going viral.”

If the Republican tax act is so wonderful, people will realize that without someone needing to beg them to think that it is so. When people open their weekly paychecks and discover another $100,000, oh, wait, my mistake, discover another $8, will they dance in the streets and tell their friends how wonderful the Republican tax plan has made their lives? When they receive the layoff notice, will they sing praises to the architects and devotees of trickle-down-not? When they read in the paper or learn online that the store where they are employed is closing, will they write thank-you notes to the Congress that is within the grasp of the Koch brothers and other oligarchs? When they are starving and are permitted to eat the crumbs that fall from the table, will they bow in abject gratitude to those who have made their lives miserable? Will $20 million of “advertising” change their minds and convince them that being treated badly is a wonderful experience?

Let’s face it. Last time around, people figured out pretty quickly what went wrong with cutting taxes while increasing spending. So this time, the purveyors of supply-side economic theory are emulating the child who tells the parent when the parent walks in the door, “I didn’t break the cookie jar.” Hopefully the planned propaganda campaign will be just as effective as a preemptive strike.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How Not to File a Joint Return 

A recent Tax Court decision, Plato v. Comr., T.C. Memo 2018-7, demonstrates how not to go about getting one’s spouse to sign off on a proposed joint return. It’s not the way I would have advised someone to do it.

The taxpayer and his wife separated in December 2007. Their community property assets were liquidated subject to a stipulation order in December 2007. The taxpayer prepared and signed a federal income tax return for 2007, reporting a filing status of married filing jointly and a tax liability of $46,073. On April 15, 2008, the taxpayer left the joint return and a check for $46,073 “under the mat at the front door” of his wife’s residence for her to sign and mail to the IRS. No evidence was presented showing that the return was mailed or that the check was negotiated. The taxpayer did not request an extension of time to file the joint return, but he asked his wife to request an extension. Neither the request for an extension of time nor the joint return was filed with the IRS.

The IRS prepared a substitute for return for 2007. Based on the substitute for return, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency to the taxpayer, determining a deficiency and additions to tax for 2007. During the course of the examination and after the notice of deficiency was issued, the taxpayer submitted a 2007 federal income tax return, reporting a filing status of married filing separately, and tendered a payment of $43,490 with the separate return. The IRS accepted the payment, and it was the basis for the recalculation of the additions to tax for which the IRS determined that the taxpayer was liable.

Because the IRS and the taxpayer had resolved the issue of tax liability, the Tax Court was left with deciding whether the additions to tax determined by the IRS should be upheld. The taxpayer’s attempt to avoid the addition to tax for failure to file a timely return, based on his having left the joint return with his wife along with a check and his history of filing tax returns in a timely manner, did not convince the court. The court noted that prior cases had established that a taxpayer cannot rely on an agent to file a timely tax return, and that failure to obtain a spouse’s signature on a joint return when the couple is separated does not per se constitute reasonable cause for failing to file the return in a timely manner.

The taxpayer escaped the addition to tax for failure to pay tax shown on the return because the IRS did not place into the record the necessary forms to meet its burden of production. Another failure by the IRS to meet its burden of production spared the taxpayer the addition to tax for failure to pay estimated tax.

There are safe and prudent ways to obtain a spouse’s signature on a joint return. Though the fact that a couple is separated can make the process more challenging, it is inappropriately risky to leave a tax return and a check under a doormat. The list of things that could happen to the return and the check is long, and I’ll let readers imagine the possibilities. For starters, consider various wild and domestic animals and weather. In fact, it’s quite possible that the taxpayer’s wife never found the return and check. The better course of action would be to arrange a meeting. Even handing the return and check to the other spouse poses risks, because the other spouse can forget to sign and mail the return. Though it is tempting to think that couples who are not separated don’t face challenges, think of what might happen if the return and check are left on the kitchen counter. This time, for starters, consider domestic animals and children.

Monday, January 29, 2018

How’s This for a Tax-Cut-Inspired Bonus Payment? 

It is no secret I am not a fan of supply-side economics or trickle-down theory. The reason is simple. They don’t work. They’ve been tried. They have failed. Technically, they do work. They work for a small group of oligarchs. So, to be precise, the reason I don’t support them is that they don’t work for America or the vast majority of its people.

We’ve been told that handing $1.5 trillion in tax breaks mostly to big corporations and the wealthy nonetheless is a good thing because they will create jobs. But what have they been doing? They have been handing out crumb-size bonus payments, cutting jobs, and shying away from raising wages, as I have described in Those Tax-Cut Inspired Bonus Payments? Just Another Ruse, That Bonus Payment Ruse Gets Bigger, and Oh, Those Bonus Payments! Much Ado About Almost Nothing. Yes, here and there a corporation has raised wages a bit, but the overall picture isn’t one of money flooding into the hands of the middle-income and poverty-level households.

Now comes news, as reported by various sources, including this one, that another beneficiary of tax cuts is doing some cutting itself. Kimberly-Clark Corporation has announced it will layoff roughly 5,500 employees and close 10 of its plants. According to this report, that’s about 13 percent of its workforce. Though its revenue has decreased somewhat over the past five years, its earnings increased 1 percent in the last quarter of 2017, and its adjusted earnings per share rose 8.3 percent. Its total revenue in 2018 was $18.3 billion, an increase over 2017, and its operating profit was $3.3 billion. The company plans to increase its dividend by 3.1 percent. In addition, as this report reveals, the company anticipates a lower tax rate in 2018 than it faced in 2017. In other words, this is a company that isn’t hurting financially, and if it wanted to scale back, surely could let attrition, rather than job deprivation, be the pathway to implementing its plans.

This situation is more proof that cutting taxes for big corporations doesn’t save American jobs nor prevent the closing of American manufacturing plants. According to this report, Kimberly-Clark plans to use the tax cut to pay for the restructuring plan that includes the layoffs. In other words, it costs money to get rid of workers, and tax breaks are being used to finance layoffs.

I wonder how the roughly 5,500 workers who find themselves on the street with no job feel about the tax cut that will save them a few dollars. I wonder how they feel about the claim that cutting taxes for big corporations is a better approach than cutting taxes for the poor and middle class, especially considering that cutting taxes for big corporations and the wealthy hasn’t helped the poor and middle class when it’s happened in the past. I wonder how many of them, if any, has thought about supply-side economics and trickle-down theory, examined the history, or thought that when voting, they were voting in favor of that approach to managing the national economy. I wonder how many of them celebrated when the tax cut legislation was enacted, thinking it would be a good thing for them, only now to discover not only would it not lift them up economically, it is financing their trip to joblessness. I wonder if they went into work thinking they would be getting a bonus, and not the dreaded pink slip. I wonder if they realize that the people who claimed to have their back didn’t.



Friday, January 26, 2018

Red, Blue, Taxes, and Education 

A week ago, in Makers and Takers, Red and Blue, Federal Tax Deductions and State Taxes, I examined William Baldwin’s list of eight states where he concludes “takers” are driving out the makers and the correlation of the tax rates in those states with their dependence on, or contribution to, federal revenue. I noted:
On closer examination, as demonstrated by WalletHub’s 2017’s Most & Least Federally Dependent States, it turns out that the four “red” states in Baldwin’s list – Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia – rank among the most federally dependent states, ranking 2, 5, 12, and 23. On the other hand, the four “blue” states on his list – California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York – rank among the least federally dependent states, ranking 34, 42, 46, and 47. In other words, the “red” states can pull off their “come here, taxes are low, but services are high” campaigns because federal money pours into those states from “blue” states whose residents finance the low-tax ride that “red” state residents enjoy. This isn’t a new revelation. In The Colors of Making and Taking and More Tax Colors, I explored the disparity between the states that held to progressive tax and economic policies and those that held to regressive tax and economic policies.
Several days ago, I was informed that WalletHub had released its 2018’s Most & Least Educated States in America. Curious, I looked to see where those eight states ranked. The four “red” states in Baldwin’s list – Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia – rank 25, 48, 50, and 49, respectively. The four “blue” states on his list – California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York – rank
26, 3, 13 , and 12, respectively.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Is this simply coincidental correlation? Or is it a matter of causation? Could it be that states with higher taxes provide higher quality education to its citizens? Could it be that using money for improving the minds and brains of Americans is more valuable than using money to acquire power and control over Americans? Does educational disparity have something to do with the ability to distinguish facts from fake news, truth from propaganda, and false promises from aspirations and hope? Does it have something to do with the ability to understand and analyze issues before reaching conclusions? Does educational disparity have something to do with the reason voters in “red” and “blue” states vote as they do?

For years I have complained about the “dumbing down” of America. Reducing analyses to a handful of characters and sound bites does nothing to assist the nation in holding its place in the international order. In the long run, education matters.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

So What Will YOU Do With Your Tax Cut? 

So what will YOU do with your tax cut? That question assumes you will be getting one, so apologies to those of you who come out on the wrong side of the tax break giveaway. A good guess is that most people getting tax cuts will use the several hundred dollars to buy food and clothing that they and their children desperately need, pay off credit card debt, or hold it for the next financial crisis. Those making the latter choice, if the option is available because they and their children are adequately fed and clothed, are probably remembering what happened the last time huge tax cuts caused a flood of money to flow into the hands of those who clearly don’t worry about food or clothing for the children, or vacations or luxury items, for that matter. That money found its way into bad investments that eventually fell apart, sending the nation’s economy and household budgets into the tank.

So what are the wealthy and the corporations going to do with their tax cuts? Supposedly they are creating jobs, but the track record so far is that they are handing out crumb-size bonus payments, cutting jobs, and shying away from raising wages, as I have described in Those Tax-Cut Inspired Bonus Payments? Just Another Ruse, That Bonus Payment Ruse Gets Bigger, and Oh, Those Bonus Payments! Much Ado About Almost Nothing. Yes, here and there a corporation has raised wages a bit, but the overall picture isn’t one of money flooding into the hands of the middle-income and poverty-level households. The overwhelming percentage of the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts goes to corporations and the wealthy, as this report explains.

Now, news has emerged that with days after the House passed its version of the tax bill, Charles Koch gave $500,000 to Paul Ryan to finance Ryan’s campaign aspirations. The Koch brothers spent enormous amounts of money pushing for passage of the tax breaks, which turned out to be worth billions for them and their enterprises, not only financing lobbying efforts but also paying for advertisements designed to “persuade” average Americans that the tax breaks were all about helping the poor and middle class and not the wealthy. Turns out that it was about providing more funds to buy more members of Congress in order to get more tax cuts in order to buy even more members of Congress, a process that stops when the oligarchy owns the government not only de facto but de jure.

There’s no question that the tax legislation was designed to enable the oligarch agenda. As widely reported, in articles such as this one, several White House staff and some Congressional Republicans admitted that the two groups most excited about the legislation were “big money political donors and wealthy CEOs.” No kidding. There’s no doubt that Republicans expect big money contributions to provide the means to counteract the pushback expected from the overwhelming number of American voters who, according to poll after poll, have continually expressed disappointment in the giveaway. One member of Congress admitted, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”

What must be remembered is that numerous studies confirm what many, but not enough, people realize. The wealthy have a disproportionate impact on government policies even though they support policies opposed by a majority of Americans, in many instances, by most Americans.

Though one billionaire can shovel half a million dollars into a campaign, 50,000 ordinary Americans can each put $10 into an opposing campaign. Does this work? No. For every millionaire, there are roughly 35 American adults. Yet few millionaires can afford to dish out $500,000 to buy a member of Congress. For every multimillionaire, there are almost 500 American adults. That’s on one-hundredth of the number needed to turn the tide of income and wealth inequality that is now on the precipice of destroying democracy and turning the nation into a private fiefdom of the manor born.

Monday, January 22, 2018

How to Be Patriotic, Tax Style 

Supporters of the tax break handout to corporations are gloating over the announcement by Apple that its planned activities over the next five years will “contribute” more than $250 billion to the U.S. economy. There is nothing in the announcement that justifies attributing that claim to the recent tax legislation, and most of what Apple describes as its future plans are activities in which it had already planned to engage. Its claim that it will create 20,000 jobs isn’t guaranteed, and in fact a footnote to the announcement makes it clear that its claims are projections. Nor is there any guarantee that those jobs will be overseas jobs being brought back to this country or jobs restricted to American territory.

One of the “look how wonderful we are” boasts in the announcement is the anticipation, again, not a promise or guarantee, that Apple will bring back some or all of the cash it stashed overseas as part of a plan to reduce its tax payments to rates far below the supposedly economy-killing rate that the recent legislation chopped down. The new rate is still higher than Apple’s effective rate. So why is it bringing back some or all of its cash? I think it’s because of a fear that if it doesn’t repatriate the money now, the opportunity to do so might very well disappear with the next Congress, along with a much stiffer price for dealing with the issue. It’s almost like a temporary tax amnesty program. In fact, it is. For corporations, not individuals.

But here is the kicker. Apple then claims that the $38 billion in taxes that it anticipates paying on account of the repatriation “would likely be the largest of its kind ever made.” I suppose Apple wants everyone reading the announcement, or the stories based on it, to view Apple as an extremely patriotic taxpayer, making a generous payment to the Treasury. That payment, though, is nothing more than the accumulation of some, not all, perhaps a small fraction, of the taxes Apple avoided by stashing its profits, and jobs, overseas.

Suppose an individual neglects to pay taxes, or schemes and manipulates his or her transactions so that taxes are postponed. When others finally get fed up and persuade legislators or revenue officials to do something to get those unpaid taxes paid, will that individual get a ticker-tape parade in recognition of the very large payment that must be made?

The lesson, unfortunately, is that avoiding taxes is something that can be rewarded, if the person or entity doing so operates on a scale sufficiently large to dictate the terms of satisfying the tax debt. Once upon a time, people and companies in this sort of situation would hang their literal or figurative heads in shame. Now, shameful things have been re-branded as matters of pride.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Makers and Takers, Red and Blue, Federal Tax Deductions and State Taxes 

William Baldwin has taken a look at the impact of the recently enacted limitation on the deduction of state and local taxes for federal income tax purposes. In Financial Sinkhole States in the Trump Tax Era, he concludes that the reduction in the deduction is equivalent an increase in the cost of living for people residing in states that have relatively higher taxes. This, in turn, he suggests, will stimulate relocations from those states to states with relatively lower taxes. He focuses on eight states that he calls sinkhole states because the population dependent on the state, namely state government employees, welfare recipients, and retired state employees receiving pensions, exceed the number of “population feeding it.” Baldwin computes the “population feeding it” by calling the folks in that group “makers” and then explaining that, “The maker count is the sum of private-sector employment and federal employment. These are the people whose taxes pay the bills to keep the state government going.” So clearly he considers the state taxes paid by state government employees and retirees to be irrelevant, and those individuals to be something other than makers. His computations do not take into account the value of the services rendered by state employees. Nor do they take into account the burdens imposed by those among the “population feeding it” when they rely on state-funded benefits or engage in fraudulent and dangerous activities that threaten the lives and economic security of the state’s residents. His use of the terms “makers” and “takers,” along with his use of the phrase “productive workers” to describe non-government employees, reveal the underlying assumptions driving his analysis.

What Baldwin overlooks is the application of “makers and takers” analyses to the states themselves. Baldwin identified eight states where he concludes the takers are driving out, or will drive out in greater numbers, the makers. Those states are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia. Four are “red” states and four are “blue” states. Keep in mind that almost all “blue” states are considered to be places where the new limitation in the state and local tax deduction will, in effect, increase the cost of living there, while almost all “red” states engage in the “low tax” approach that devalues government and idolizes the so-called free market private sector.

On closer examination, as demonstrated by WalletHub’s 2017’s Most & Least Federally Dependent States, it turns out that the four “red” states in Baldwin’s list – Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia – rank among the most federally dependent states, ranking 2, 5, 12, and 23. On the other hand, the four “blue” states on his list – California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York – rank among the least federally dependent states, ranking 34, 42, 46, and 47. In other words, the “red” states can pull off their “come here, taxes are low, but services are high” campaigns because federal money pours into those states from “blue” states whose residents finance the low-tax ride that “red” state residents enjoy. This isn’t a new revelation. In The Colors of Making and Taking and More Tax Colors, I explored the disparity between the states that held to progressive tax and economic policies and those that held to regressive tax and economic policies.

The flow of money from “blue” states to “red” states is one of the primary reasons Republican-controlled Congresses don’t cut federal spending as their majority members promised during campaigns. When they get to Washington and see where the money goes, they realize that following through on their promises will cause “red” states to face a choice between eliminating services or raising taxes. I touched on this inconsistency, at the state level, in Why Do Those Who Dislike Government Spending Continue to Support Government Spenders?.

The recent tax legislation increases the extent to which “blue” states fund “red” states. Although litigation has been threatened and political maneuvering is underway, it is unlikely that much will change until the next step in Baldwin’s scenario is underway. Let’s suppose he is right, and taxpayers flee “blue” states for “red” states to reduce their tax burdens. The “blue” states will need to raise taxes even more, or cut services, or both. Eventually, the people Baldwin and others call “takers” will also leave the “blue” states and flock to the “red” states, which by then will be turning purple and even blue, as they face the consequences of “blue” state funding disappearing as “blue” states sink into the holes Baldwin predicts will swallow them up. When the “blue” states fall into the mess that Baldwin and others predict, the “red” states will go down with them.

There are those who rejoice at the clever way in which the recent tax legislation puts “blue” state taxpayers at a disadvantage. It is yet another salvo in the ongoing economic war between “red” and “blue” states. Every time someone points to New York or California as examples of how progressive tax and economic policies are failures, someone else points to Kansas and Louisiana as examples of how regressive tax and economic policies are failures. Those who are rejoicing at the prospect of “blue” states and their accompanying tax and economic policies failing ought to pause and consider the cost of such an outcome, and remember that there are “red” states in even worse economic condition. Once those “blue” states go down as Baldwin and others predict or hope or expect or worry, the “red” states will not be unscathed. Insularity is not a viable economic or tax policy option in a global world. That approach went out the window many decades ago.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Oh, Those Bonus Payments! Much Ado About Almost Nothing 

Two weeks ago, in Those Tax-Cut Inspired Bonus Payments? Just Another Ruse, I explained the deceptiveness of the big deal being made of $1,000 bonus payments to employees in efforts to justify the tax legislation giveaway to corporations and oligarchs. I argued that the $1,000 bonus will be dwarfed by the consequences of the spending cuts that the Congress will enact in order to reduce the deficit caused by its sellout of America. A bit later, in That Bonus Payment Ruse Gets Bigger, I repeated my criticism, noting that the at least some of the employers handing out bonus payments were laying off employees, cutting purchase orders, and increasing prices charged to customers. If the tax cuts were what their advocates claimed they are, the recipients of the tax cuts would have no need to la off employees, cut purchase orders, or increase prices charged to customers. They are doing those things because they are plowing the tax cut funds into the wallets and off-shore bank accounts of people already drowning in the money to which they are addicted.

In several of my posts, I have referred to these bonus payments as crumbs. Indeed, when compared to the size of the tax cuts received by the employers, the bonus payments amount to one, two, perhaps five percent of the tax cut money. It’s like that when the gluttons dominate the buffet table.

Now comes news that required me to find a word that describes a piece of bread smaller than a crumb. I did not succeed, unless a molecule or an atom qualifies, but at that stage the substance isn’t bread. Perhaps speck might suffice.

What sort of news caused be to think about bread pieces smaller than crumbs falling from the table? It turns out, according to many reports, including this one from Business Insider, that the $1,000 bonus payments being made by Walmart – an employer that also is laying off workers – are limited to employees with at least 20 years of service. Most Walmart employees haven’t accrued that much time. The bonus is smaller for employees with less service time. Though Walmart has not publicized how much of a bonus payment is being made to an employee with a particular number of years of service, it did explain, as reported in several places, including ThinkProgess, that the bonus payments will total $400 million. Walmart has roughly 2.1 million employees. Simple arithmetic tells us that the average bonus is $190. That’s a far cry from $1,000. If $1,000 is a crumb, and it is, considering the size of the tax cuts, $190 is, at best, a speck.

Years ago, when I was a child and I found a nickel, someone said to me, “Don’t spend it all in one place,” and laughed. It would be cruel to give the same smart-aleck advice to the unfortunate person who gets a $50 or $100 bonus from an employer who stands to enjoy an $18 billion benefit from this latest trickle-down scam that even its inventor has admitted is a failure.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fixing State Tax Problems Caused by Federal Tax Changes 

Several weeks ago, in So What About Those State Taxes? Surprise?, I pointed out that “The recently enacted federal tax legislation not only affects federal income tax liability but also changes state income tax liability for most taxpayers living or working in states with an income tax,” because “Most state income taxes are linked in some way to the federal income tax system.” A little more than a week ago, in What Losing Federal Personal and Dependency Exemptions Does to Michigan (and Other) Taxpayers , I described the uncertainty facing Michigan as legislators, economists, and tax professionals debate whether it is necessary to amend the state’s tax laws to prevent Michigan taxpayers from losing the Michigan personal and dependency exemption deduction. I pointed out that necessary or not, it would be wise to clarify the matter.

It seems that Michigan’s governor and legislature is taking the sensible and careful route. According to various stories, including this Detroit News article, the governor is proposing legislation to set the Michigan exemption independent of federal tax law. The legislature appears willing to enact the proposal, though it would not be surprising if it was tweaked a bit, because getting the numbers just right not only is difficult in terms of computation but also challenging in terms of the meaning of “just right.” The Lieutenant Governor explained that the proposal probably reduces tax revenue a little bit, in contrast to the $840 million tax increase that Michigan taxpayers would otherwise face in 2018 and the $1.6 billion increase they would face in 2019. For many taxpayers, the state tax increase that would otherwise occur would more than wipe out the mere pittance of a federal income tax decrease that most Americans will see.

An alternative, reducing state income tax rates, has little support because it would cause some Michigan taxpayers to face tax increases, some to face tax decreases, and the rest to maintain close to the status quo. Proponents of the exemption restoration consider it to be the simplest, and fairest, solution. It is.

This problem affects many more states than Michigan. Louisiana, for example, as I discussed last week in State Tax Increases Cut the Tax Cuts faces similar issues. By relying on federal adjusted gross income, taxable income, exemptions, or other items, states are at the mercy of whatever the Congress does. Would it make sense, as a few states have done, to avoid relying on federal items in computing state income tax? Yes and no. Doing so avoids the chaos bred by the latest trickle-down Congressional nonsense. But it leaves each state with the legislative, administrative, and judicial burden of resolving each definition and each issue independently. Even the states that separately compute state taxable income rely on federal definitions of certain underlying items.

This is a story that will grow, as more and more state revenue departments finish their analyses and present their findings to state governors and legislatures. And it will continue to grow as state legislatures consider how to react. Unfortunately, most taxpayers aren’t paying attention to these issues.

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