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Tax Blawg

Tax Talk for Tax Pros

Introduction

Welcome to TaxBlawg, a resource from Chamberlain Hrdlicka for news and analysis of current legal issues facing tax practitioners. Although blawg.com identifies nearly 1,400 active “blawgs,” including 20+ blawgs related to taxation and estate planning, the needs of tax professionals have received surprisingly little attention.

The Wall Street Journal's Tax Blog gives “tips and advice for filers,” and Paul Caron’s legendary TaxProf Blog is an excellent clearinghouse for academic and policy-oriented news. Yet, tax practitioners still lack a dedicated resource to call their own. For those intrepid souls, we offer TaxBlawg, a forum of tax talk for tax pros.

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Posts in Legislation.

Although death and taxes might, according to Benjamin Franklin, be the only certainties in this world, Congress is surely striving to add another - that is, the certainty of uncertainty.  Congress, it seems, is committed to keeping taxpayers in as much doubt as possible for as long as possible about the status of a variety of important provisions that will affect both substantive tax liabilities and compliance obligations.

Now that the tax extenders legislation has died, what’s next?  At least some of the provisions (e.g., the new tax regime for “carried interests”) are likely to find their way into future legislation.  But what about the tax extenders themselves, such as the look-through rule of section 954(c)(6) and the section 41 research credit?  Although many of the extensions involve tax expenditures (i.e., provisions that cost the Treasury money), they would almost certainly be offset by the bill’s revenue raisers, which were themselves styled as anti-abuse and loophole-closing provisions.  As a result, we probably have not seen the last of these measures.

Categories: Legislation

If you haven’t memorized the 433 pages of the latest version of the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010 (undoubtedly named to allow for the euphonious acronym, AJACTLA), you are denying yourself a unique treat.  (To get the true flavor, don’t forget the fifteen pages of amendments included with the House passage of the bill on May 28.)  We will allow others to give you a full rundown of the 206 sections of the bill and content ourselves with a summary of the highlights.

You might recall our prior post on the Wyden-Gregg tax reform proposal in which we discussed the proposed limitation on corporate interest deductions.  To summarize, the legislation would limit the deductibility of payments on corporate debt to the amount of the interest in excess of the annual rate of inflation, thereby discouraging the use debt to finance corporate operations.

We previously asked: “Why use inflation as the index for disallowing interest deductions, rather than simply disallowing, say, a fixed portion of the interest deduction?”  Thanks to the efforts of Greg ...

President Obama's health-care legislation is becoming more of a tax issue on a daily basis.  In addition to the codification of economic substance (discussed here; see also yesterday's TNT story featuring our own Phil Karter) contained in the reconciliation bill, the consequences of the legislation seem to be increasingly a matter of tax, rather than health-care, policy.

Of particular relevance here is the brewing confrontation between Reps. Waxman and Stupak and the companies who have announced substantial hits to their financial statements as a result of provisions in the health-care legislation. In response to these announcements, Reps. Waxman and Stupak have requested that companies provide documentation verifying their assessment of the impact of the legislation and have indicated an intention to hold a hearing to examine the impact of the new law on these companies.  (Presumably, the documentation provided by the companies will be a central basis for whatever questions are directed at the executives who appear at these hearings.)

Without taking a position about the politics of the matter, the dynamics of the request (and any responses to it) may implicate sensitive areas of tax policy and procedure. At this point, Reps. Waxman and Stupak have merely requested that the corporate taxpayers provide information about the impact of the health-care legislation. Suppose, though, that one or more companies decline to produce the requested information.  The perceived costs and benefits of the health-care legislation are likely to be key issues in the upcoming Congressional races this fall.  If the request is declined, and Congressional Democrats fear that their signature achievement is being negatively perceived, would subpoenas to the taxpayers, demanding that they produce the information, come next?

Assuming that scenario, would taxpayers then be obligated to provide the information being sought?  Perhaps more importantly, would Congress be authorized to use that information in a public hearing?

The passage of President Obama's health-care legislation will no doubt have long-lasting consequences for the economy in general and the health-care industry in particular.  Less noticed by the general public, but central in the minds of tax professionals, has been a single provision in the accompanying reconciliation bill that codifies the so-called "economic substance" doctrine.  Having often been introduced in bills that eventually died in the catacombs of the legislative process, many practitioners were beginning to believe that codification was a cousin of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster - often spotted, but never confirmed.

Categories: Legislation

We previously discussed how the Wyden-Gregg bill proposes reducing interest deductions to the extent the interest simply compensates for inflation.  Inflation affects tax calculations in two ways.  First, it affects the dollar figures in the Code so that, for example, when your wages keep up with inflation, but you are pushed into a higher tax bracket, the resulting “bracket creep” is caused by inflation.  Second, when the value of your investment simply keeps pace with inflation and does no better, you still recognize a “gain” when you sell it.  Here, the measurement of real income has been distorted by inflation.

Many “bracket creep” issues are taken care of through section 1(f) of the Code, which adjusts dollar amounts in the Code to account for inflation.  But the Code has not generally corrected for the effects of inflation on the measurement of income.  A proposal made by the Treasury after the 1984 election would have broadly attacked the effects of inflation on income measurement.

To see an example illustrating the two ways inflation affects tax calculations as well as further discussion of the 1984 Treasury proposals, keep reading.

Last Tuesday, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) released a proposed tax reform bill (the "Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act of 2010") that has received substantial press coverage. For some initial reactions, see here, here, and here.  As much for the apparent bipartisanship of its origins, the bill has received attention for the boldness of its proposals.  Many commentators have likened the Wyden-Gregg alliance to the Reagan-Bradley pairing that ushered in the Tax Reform Act of 1986.  Like its nearly 25-year-old predecessor, the current proposal ...