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August 2008

Palin's windfall profits tax

When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had to find money for her state, where did she turn? To the oil companies. But not the way you might expect. According to Kevin Drum in his blog for Mother Jones magazine, as part of a tax reform measure last year, Palin raised taxes on the oil industry upon which Alaska, a state with no income or sales tax, relies. Yep, a Republican tax raiser. And one who put the tax increase squarely on big business, one of the party's traditional constituencies. But I'm sure John McCain knew that when he selected her as... Read more →

Hurricane Gustav tax watch

The IRS is among the millions of us tracking Hurricane Gustav. As I write, the storm is a Category 4 monster and is heading for the western half of Louisiana's coast. Tax officials have announced that they will, if necessary, provide tax relief to affected areas. That typically includes extension of deadlines and the ability to get special tax relief to help cover some of your damage costs. I've blogged about this it seems like a gazillion times, but if you need a refresher, check out this post. As for the areas that might be eligible for the special tax... Read more →

Man rams Alabama IRS office with car

While frustration about your taxes is totally understandable, driving your car into an IRS office probably isn't the best way to deal with it. Then again, that move wasn't quite as drastic as the one the office-ramming driver first threatened. The 48-year-old Birmingham area man last week plowed his SUV into that city's Taxpayer Assistance Center after first telling a police dispatcher he was going to kill himself by driving off a cliff. The incident had begun earlier in the day, according to the Birmingham News, when a phone conversation between the man, his wife and an IRS employee didn't... Read more →

Legit business expense? Deduction?

Did you hear about the ABC News producer who was arrested in Denver this week while trying to take pictures of Democratic Senators and VIP donors leaving a private meeting at The Brown Palace Hotel? As a former newspaper reporter, my immediate inclination is to side with Asa Eslocker, who works with ABC News' investigative unit. According to Charlie Gibson's blog The World Newser, the network has video showing Eslocker standing on a public sidewalk, so the charge of trespassing seems, uh, bogus! And not that I'm casting any aspersions or trying to start rumors, but this overzealous attempt to... Read more →

Burial fees = improper taxes

A Massachusetts funeral director has won a round in his latest legal battle to eliminate burial fees imposed by the state's cities and towns. What the municipalities call fees, contends Paul F. Silva, are really taxes in disguise. The Massachusetts Appeals Court agrees, ruling that the burial permit fees charged in the three towns named in Silva's suit are "improper taxes." "A municipality should not be able to justify an otherwise invalid tax merely by providing an accounting of expenses," said the Court. Silva, a funeral director at Silva-Faria Funeral Homes in Fall River and Somerset, had already won a... Read more →

Obama and Biden and taxes, oh my!

Yikes! I just looked at the clock and realized that I haven't blogged today. I could feel the earth's spin starting to slow, so here goes. The Democrats are about to wrap up their soiree tonight. I'll probably be watching another event from a sporting venue, specifically Texas Stadium. It's not that I don't care about what Barack Obama has to say, but thanks to the InterWeb and cable TV reruns, even non-Tivo folks can see what they want when. Plus, rather than listen to political posturing from either side, I'd rather see some of the "red meat" that commentators... Read more →

McCain's seven-house money lesson

The Democrats are having a field day at their Convention this week with Sen. John McCain's seven houses. But beyond the political punches that aren't being pulled, McCain's confusion about his personal real estate could be part of a bigger problem. Sure, most of those properties probably belong to his wife Cindy, and we already know that she prefers keeping her money (or at least her taxes) separate from John's finances. That's fine. A lot of married couples operate on the same principle. And the McCains no doubt have people to take care of their separate accounts. Again, not a... Read more →

North Carolina adds energy tax holiday

The fall sales tax holiday calendar is starting to fill up. North Carolina is the latest state to schedule an event that offers consumers relief from its state sales and use tax. The timing of the event, Nov. 7-9, is especially welcome, since by then the state's tax rate will have increased to 4.5 percent. Local levies also will be waived during the November weekend. As in many other states, this new North Carolina tax holiday is an add-on. The Tar Heel State held its back-to-school event earlier this month. And as in some other locales, this holiday was created... Read more →

Accountant fights IRS and wins!

Yeah, that headline looks like it came straight out of weekly News of the Weird, but it's true. Plus it's much catchier than "Demutualization tax battle finally ends." Both are accurate. The decision more than two decades ago by insurance companies to demutualize and the accountant who for most of that period fought the IRS over the tax consequences to individual policy holders due to that corporate shift has been resolved in favor of taxpayers. And some folks now might finally reap the tax refund rewards of accountant Charles Ulrich's efforts. Demutualization details: For all of us non-insurance folks, here's... Read more →

Austin homes in negative equity territory

Here in happy-go-lucky Austin, where music blares from every venue, Tex-Mex and BBQ are served 24/7 and Shiner flows faster than our drought-starved regional waters, things apparently aren't so rosy on the home front. In today's edition, the New York Times looks at Merced, Calif., the most foreclosure-ridden town in the United States. But what caught my eye, aside from the idiot moves made by lenders, buyers and even municipalities, was the map that detailed other areas where a sizable portion of homes are worth less than what buyers paid. Right smack dab there in the middle of the Times'... Read more →

IRS issues word on churches & politics

With the Democratic Party Convention kicking off tomorrow and the Republican Party event on its heels, the IRS thought it a good time to remind religious groups what is and isn't acceptable as far as tax-exempts group and political activities. OK, maybe it wasn't an act of the tax gods, but merely a coincidence. Still, what with the recent Saddleback Show, it's a good idea to make it clear -- again -- that the IRS still has some degrees of separation of church and state when it comes to collecting revenue. Blur those lines, and the agency will want some... Read more →

Who's paying for the conventions?
You and I!

The Democratic and Republican party conventions won't get near the ratings of the Olympics, but all of us really should watch them. After all, we're footing the bill. The Federal Election Commission has announced that each convention will receive $17 million in taxpayer funds as part of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. This is the money that you and I authorize when we check that box, or boxes, on our 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ). You know, that line right under the address label spot on the form that says, "Presidential Election Campaign. Check here if you, or your spouse... Read more →

Business taxes: too much, too little

Big business pays way too much tax. Big business doesn't pay nearly enough tax. Who's right? It depends upon who's compiling, or at least interpreting, the numbers. A Government Accountability Office study released this month found that two-thirds of both American companies and foreign companies doing business in the United States end up avoiding all federal income tax obligations despite corporate sales totaling $2.5 trillion. "This report makes clear that too many corporations are using tax trickery to send their profits overseas and avoid paying their fair share in the United States," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), one of the... Read more →

Different tax policy roads to same goal

Apparently Barack Obama and John McCain are like the hubby and me. At least when we travel. When we head out on the road, I'm the titular navigator, although the hubby already has plotted the course and basically knows how he's going to get us to our destination. But I still hold the map -- that's right, we're a GPS-free family -- and I make suggestions. We both want to get to the same place. We agree on the basic method to get there. But each of us has our own preferred route. That seems to be the same process... Read more →

Insurance tips for storm victims

I was delighted to see that Sanibel, the lovely island on Florida's Gulf Coast that I was worried about in this earlier post, came through Tropical Storm Fay unscathed. Many other Sunshine State residents weren't so lucky. Gerry Willis, personal finance writer for CNN, has some insurance tips for those storm-battered folks. You can watch a video version here. Elsewhere on CNN, a Willis article from about a year ago looks at the damages that a lot of homeowner polices don't cover. That's always good, although very distressing, to know. Flimjo also makes that same point in his post, Lessons... Read more →

Poker players want GOP to deal them in

Politics is a gamble. And during every election process, a lot of folks try to hedge their bets. That's especially true when it comes to the contest with the highest stakes: the U.S. presidency. So it's really no surprise that a group which literally depends on gambling is trying to shuffle (or stack, depending upon your point of view) the political deck. According to CQ Politics, the Poker Players Alliance wants a new deal from the Republican Party. The last two Republican platforms included the following language: "Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families.... Read more →

'Girls Gone Wild" founder offers a preview of his tax evasion defense

Joe Francis, whose soft porn Girls Gone Wild video empire has made him rich, doesn't go on trial for tax evasion charges (blogged about here) until next month. But he's already announced that he's going to use a modified Snipes Defense. Francis says that it's his accountant's fault. That was the original Snipes Defense: "I was just following what I believed to be the good and accurate advice of my trusted tax professional." Never mind that the fine print on the 1040 says that when you sign it, you take responsibility for what's on it. The "it's not my fault"... Read more →

My favorite Florida spot is Fay target

I am so bummed! My most favorite place in all of Florida looks like it's the bullseye for Fay. My best hope is that if the track there to the left holds, Fay's still "just" a tropical storm and not a full-fledged hurricane when she makes landfall at Sanibel Island. That lovely retreat on Florida's Gulf Coast took a pounding from Hurricane Charley at about this time back in 2004. It took years for it to recover. The good thing is that most of the island is the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and nature is much quicker to rebound... Read more →

Liechtenstein will cooperate … somewhat

Liechtenstein, which has been under pressure from worldwide tax officials to ease its bank secrecy standards, now says it will "cooperate" in an effort to ease global tax collector concerns about the reported billions of dollars stashed there by tax-averse customers. But such "comprehensive cooperation," as Liechtenstein officials characterize it, only goes so far. So expect the tiny Alpine country to maintain its "culture of privacy." "In the future, we should offer all states comprehensive cooperation if they are willing to find sensible solutions with us the for the client relationships we have built up," Prince Alois of Liechtenstein said... Read more →

Taxes at Comic-Con?

Two attorneys have come up with what is probably the first tax comic book. Get Smart (About Special Manufacturing Deductions) is the creation of Jeffrey M. Tolin, tax principal and senior tax advisor for the entertainment industry at Ernst & Young, and Michael H. Salama, vice president for tax administration and senior tax counsel with the Walt Disney Company. At the Web page for Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, where Tolin is an adjunct professor in the school's Tax LLM program, the graphic novel is described as a parody of the classic television show Get Smart. It blends, say the... Read more →