Don't Make Section 501(c)(4) The Patsy of the IRS Scandal

The Visalia Times-Delta recently published an editorial of mine defending section 501(c)(4) organizations that have been vilified as of late as a reactionary response to the IRS tea party scandal.  I defend both their tax-exempt status and the fact that donors' names are kept confidential. 

Pres. Obama Lectured on the 10% Biblical Tithe and the U.S. Tax System

On Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast, renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson gave a 25 minute address that lambasted political correctness, proposed changes to Obamacare and urged tax reform.

One of his more interesting discussions delved into "fairness" and the U.S. tax system.

He argued:

"What about our taxation system? So complex there is no one who can possibly comply with every jot and tittle of our tax system. If I wanted to get you, I could get you on a tax issue. That doesn't make any sense. What we need to do is come up with something that is simple.
When I pick up my Bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the Universe, God, and he's given us a system. It's called tithe. Now we don't necessarily have to do it 10% but it's principle. He didn't say, if your crops fail, don't give me any tithes. He didn't say, if you have a bumper crop, give me triple tithes. So there must be something inherently fair about proportionality. You make $10 Billion dollars you put in a Billion. You make $10 you put in $1 - of course, you gotta get rid of the loopholes, but now now some people say, that's not fair because it doesn't hurt the guy who made $10 Billion dollars as much as the guy who made $10. Where does it say you have to hurt the guy. He's just put in a billion in the pot. We don't need to hurt him.
It's that kind of thinking - it's that kind of thinking that has resulted in 602 banks in the Cayman Islands."

What We Can Learn From the 100th Anniversary of the Federal Income Tax

Just a few days ago marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 16th Amendment, which enabled the establishment of the U.S. federal income tax.

The 16th Amendment has a fascinating political history and the fact that there was popular support for the self-imposition of additional taxes was somewhat unique.  However, the 16th Amendment was never intentioned to be the federal government's main source of revenues.  Indeed, when it was being promoted, it was marketed as "just 1% on the top 1%"--meaning that only the top 1% of earners would be subject to the tax, which rates began at just 1%.  After all, who could be against such a tax? As the House of Representatives Committee Report indicated "all good citizens, it is therefore believed, will willingly and cheerfully support and sustain this, the fairest and cheapest of all taxes".

Over the years, the rates went up and up and the percentage of those actually subject to the income tax increased as well.  What was envisioned as a "soak the rich" tax, ultimately "soaked" the middle class as well. 

Income Tax Rates Rise...Revenues Fall: The UK's Vanishing Millionaires

From the WSJ editorial page,

Politicians would love to lay the whole burden of their policies on a tiny minority of the rich, but you can't finance the welfare state on the shoulders of the 1%. That's something for the U.S. to remember as President Obama pretends he can fill a $1 trillion budget hole with tax hikes on "millionaires and billionaires."

(Hat Tip: Tax Prof Blog)

To Avoid 21% Sales Tax Theater Sells $16 Carrots--Gives Away Tickets

In what can be considered the most original method of avoiding (or evading) a draconian 21% sales tax, a Spanish theater has actually resorted to "selling" carrots for $16 a piece, and then giving away a theater ticket for free.

When the Spanish government hiked sales tax on theater tickets this past summer, Quim Marcé thought his theater was doomed. With one in four local residents unemployed, Marcé knew that even a modest hike in ticket prices might leave the 300-seat Bescanó municipal theater empty.
"We said, 'This is the end of our theater, and many others.' But then the next morning, I thought, we've got to do something, so that we don't pay this 21 percent, and we pay something more fair," says Marcé in Spanish.
He looked out his window at farmland that surrounds this village, two hours north of Barcelona, and suddenly had an idea: Instead of selling tickets to his shows, he'd sell carrots.
"We sell one carrot, which costs 13 euros [$16] -– very expensive for a carrot. But then we give away admission to our shows for free," he explains in Spanish. "So we end up paying 4 percent tax on the carrot, rather than 21 percent, which is the government's new tax rate for theater tickets."
Classified as a staple, carrots are taxed at a much lower rate and were spared new tax hikes that went into effect here on September 1.

Mandate Constitutional--3.8% Investment Tax Now On Its Way

From the WSJ on the implications of the Supreme Court's health care decision:

It really is happening.
Until this week, investors were waiting to see what the Supreme Court would do about the 3.8 percentage-point surtax on investment income, part of President Obama's health-care overhaul. The IRS hasn't yet released guidance on the new tax.
So when the court affirmed the law on Thursday, investors—and tax advisers—started scrambling.
The new tax, which Congress passed in 2010, affects the net investment income of most joint filers with adjusted gross income of more than $250,000 ($200,000 for single filers). Starting on Jan. 1, 2013, the tax rates on long-term capital gains and dividends for these earners will jump from their current historic low of 15% to 18.8%, assuming Congress extends the current law.
If, on the other hand, Congress allows the tax rates set in 2001 and 2003 to expire on Dec. 31—an unlikely scenario, according to many experts—the top rate on capital gains will rise to 23.8% and the top rate on dividends will nearly triple, to 43.4%.
Whatever the fate of the 2001-03 tax rates, advisers are telling clients to start making moves to minimize the new levy. ...
Here are answers to some basic questions about the tax:

  • How does the 3.8% tax on investment income work?
  • How is "investment income" defined?
  • What are some examples of when the tax would and wouldn't apply?
  • How would the 3.8% tax apply to the sale of a principal residence?
  • What happens if a taxpayer has adjusted gross income above the threshold that is then reduced by a large itemized deduction—such as for medical expenses or a charitable gift?
  • Does the 3.8% tax apply to trusts and estates?
  • Doesn't the health-care law also have an extra payroll tax for higher earners?

Today it's a penalty...tomorrow a tax?

There were quite a few interesting exchanges today during day one of the Supreme Court's hearing on the health care reform act and whether the individual mandate penalty was or was not a "tax". 

The government was boxed into a difficult position because it had to argue for purposes of the AIA that the individual mandate penalty wasn’t a tax, but tomorrow it will take the exact opposite position and say Congress passed the law under its taxing authority. Its position is further complicated by the fact that the administration still wants the court to consider the law jurisdictional, or binding on all federal courts.
At one point Breyer corrected U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli after Verilli had repeatedly referred to a “tax.”
“Why do you keep saying `tax’?” Breyer asked. Verrilli then referred to the “tax penalty.”
“The penalty,” Breyer insisted.
“Right, that’s right,” Verilli said.