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October 2009

September 2009

Let's do a little conventional political tax math. Business organizations generally support issues championed by Republicans. Republicans generally oppose the federal estate tax, or as they tend to call it, the "death tax." So that 1 + 1 should = business groups also would like to see the total elimination of the estate tax. Wrong. Forty-six business groups, including big business dogs such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have told Congress they want a permanent 35 percent tax on estates worth more... Read more →

Bo-Tax back in play?

The Senate Finance Committee just decided that there would not be a public option in its health care reform plan.The Washington Post and New York Times have details on the vote. No big surprise there. Sensing such opposition, Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., never even included that option in his preliminary proposals. Another item not in either of the chairman's marks, or working documents, was the long-rumored tax on cosmetic surgery procedures, or the Bo-Tax as legislative punsters tagged it. But some say, according to the California Healthline newsletter, that 'Bo-Tax' as Funding Mechanism Still Under Consideration. The Botox-plus tax... Read more →

Blogging and other work-related duties will be delayed today as I deal with the aftermath of a leaking water heater. Actually, exploding is more like it. Making matters worse is that the damn thing is in our attic. I know. That's apparently what the builders do here in the Austin area. Put things that can leak, like water heaters and A/C handler overflow pans, in the attic. Over rooms and clothes-filled closets. Not a smart idea, guys. Not smart at all. I'd rather give up some garage space so that leaks happen in areas where they are not so problematic.... Read more →

That headline got your attention, didn't it? It's from Bruce Bartlett's latest column in Forbes. The article's subhead drives home his point: Americans can't have their cake and eat it too. Bartlett's elaboration on the issue is sure to provoke even more of an uproar. For example: Republicans pay lip service to balancing the budget, but only when Democrats are in office. When they were in power under George W. Bush, they all agreed with Vice President Dick Cheney when he told Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." And then there's: This reversal of the historical conservative... Read more →

In Share the Moment and Spread the Wealth, the Ping column in today's New York Times, Brad Stone looks at our incessant, innate need to connect and share. He's talking about bloggers, but if you want to get all existential about it, he could be talking about the human condition in general. But for the sake of simplicity, let's stay within the blogosphere. That's what Stone does, looking at the myriad ways to share your blogging wisdom. He notes that your parents' instructions to share has grown into a big business (actually several big businesses). While the article has much... Read more →

What are you doing on Oct. 15? If you got an extension to file your taxes, you might be frantically filling out your 1040 that day. But Oct. 15 is also Blog Action Day, or BAD. On that Thursday, thousands of bloggers will focus on one issue that's important to the world. The 2009 topic is climate change. You say your blog doesn't deal with ecological issues? That's not a problem. In 2007, the inaugural Blog Action Day topic was the environment. I blogged about the various environmental tax breaks available that tax year. Last year, the unifying issue was... Read more →

House fire deduction flares up

I've spent most of my professional life in the media, but I still am amazed at what prompts news outlets to pick up or push out a particular story. Take the item on the Ohio and Wisconsin couples who donated their homes to local fire departments for use in training firefighters. The IRS extinguished the deductions, but the cases are still in court so things could change. My post, as well as one from TaxProf, went out on the blogosphere in late July. Now, two months later, TaxProf reports that the Associated Press' Sept. 25 version of this tax story... Read more →

No, the Obamas aren't looking for a tax professional to help them file their first 1040 as residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Rather, the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) is now taking comments from anyone -- that's you, me and all our friends and relatives (OK, maybe not some of my relatives, but I digress.) -- who has ideas and opinions on ways to improve the U.S. tax system. This isn't, however, an open call for totally new ways to assess and collect taxes. So forget about submitting tax protester arguments, the flat tax and its variations or the... Read more →

Mr. Tax Law Writing Tax Evader

OK, so I wrote a blog piece a few weeks ago saying that Rep. Charles Rangel should surrender his Ways and Means chairmanship. Well, this video from PJTV in the style of those hilarious Bud Light "real men of genius" TV and radio commercials kind of blows my mere words away! Enjoy. Related posts: Rangel must go redux Ways & Means chair in trouble ... again More Rangel wrangling and W&M ghosts Real Taxpayers of Genius e-file Hat tip to TaxProf Blog and Taxable Talk Read more →

All the recent focus on ACORN and its now-severed ties with the IRS also has produced more interest in the VITA, or the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Apparently, some folks think that the few bad apples caught on the hidden ACORN videotapes represent the way the overall VITA services are provided. They don't. My tax-blogging colleague taxgirl offers a fine argument for continuing the VITA program. As she notes, this IRS-supported program does a lot of good. Through VITA, low- to moderate-income (generally, $49,000 and less) individuals who need help filing their returns can get it at no cost.... Read more →

In the wake of embarrassing (and in one case, allegedly illegal) videotapes of ACORN employees offering bad tax (and other) advice, the IRS has ended its relationship with the group. The IRS announced it will no longer use Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) employees or services in Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), one of the IRS' free nationwide tax-preparation services. Recently both the House and Senate passed legislation to cut off federal funds to ACORN. Several Representatives, led by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), also wrote to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and President Obama urging an end... Read more →

Tax plea for 'Girls Gone Wild' founder

Finally! The end to our tackiest national tax nightmare is near. "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis apparently has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors so we should be hearing much less about his tax troubles. According to published reports, Francis will plead guilty this afternoon in a California court to filing false tax returns (and one count of bribing Nevada jailers for food; really), receive credit for time (301 days) already served in connection with the tax charges and pay $250,000 in restitution. Any outstanding tax liabilities allegedly owed by Francis or his companies from 2002 to 2008... Read more →

Senate health care, take two

OK, I'm not going to post every time there's a proposed change to health care reform legislation. I could spend 24/7 doing that, driving both me and y'all crazy(ier). But since I've given the Senate version, originally announced last week and now being debated in the Senate Finance Committee, a lot of attention, I did want to share some key changes (so far) in the chairman's health care reform proposal. Individual costs: In his second "mark," or working document, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), has dramatically reduced the proposed excise tax that would be assessed folks who didn't purchase insurance. The... Read more →

Yesterday in my post about Taxing Pennsylvania's arts and culture, I only semi-facetiously commented that I'd pay to see rowdy, and ever-vocal, Philadelphia NFL and NHL fans attending an opera. Well it looks like the Eagles and Flyers fans caught the train to the Big Apple for the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera. The New York Times reports there was "harsh booing" for the director of the Met's new production of Puccini's "Tosca" during curtain calls Monday night. Of course, if I had paid $1,250 for a ticket -- which could have brought the City of Philadelphia $100 in... Read more →

Museums tend to be nonprofits. As such, they don't distribute any surplus funds to owners or shareholders, but rather use the money to help pursue the organization's goals. And by getting IRS approval for their nonprofit status, the groups are tax exempt. Taxes, however, can be collected from their visitors. That's exactly what Pennsylvania lawmakers plan to do. After a budget fight, the Keystone State's legislators reached an accord that would extend the state's 6 percent sales tax to arts and cultural institutions, including theaters and museums. Movie houses and sporting events would not be taxed. The extra money from... Read more →

The Senate's tax committee will begin dissecting the chairman's health care reform proposal at 9 a.m today. Expect the bill to come out of the legislative surgery with substantial changes. The bill unveiled last week by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., actually has already undergone a bit of a makeover. Baucus said that at today's Committee mark-up he'll release a modified version of his bill that will address "a lot of legitimate concerns" that were raised about the original measure. In addition to those changes, Finance Committee members have offered hundreds of amendments dealing with ways to finance... Read more →

I predicted back in August that Death and taxes will continue. That topic, the impending (and improbable) repeal of the estate tax, was addressed this weekend in a Wall Street Journal article. It offers some good info on the political battles being fought behind the scenes before this matter gets a full public debate. The article also has some nifty (and pretty!) graphics, created using Tax Policy Center data. I've checked out the group's estate tax info myself and found the equally attractive and informative image you see there to your left. As the pie chart indicates, and the TPC... Read more →

The IRS means it this time. Really. The tax man is giving owners of offshore accounts, suspected of being used to evade taxes, extra time to 'fess up. The deadline was Wednesday, Sept. 23. It's been pushed to Oct. 15. The great tax confessional program is part of an effort initiated in March to get folks with hidden accounts to voluntarily disclose them. If they don't, and the IRS discovers the accounts in which you might, possibly, perhaps have been hiding taxable income from Uncle Sam, then you'll face, says the tax agency, much harsher civil penalties and potentially criminal... Read more →

Being a good Texan, I'm partial to roundups. Teague, Texas, Post Office Mural "Cattle Roundup" by Thomas Stell, Jr., 1940; TE Photo, April 2009 So you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that my look at some doctors' support for a potential federal soda tax made the latest PF Bloggers' Weekly Roundup. Thanks to Joe Taxpayer for taking the lead on this trail blog drive. Now all y'all readers, giddyup and go on over there for the rest of the Grade A herd of financial offerings! Read more →

How are your parents doing? Not just physically and emotionally, but financially? That's a question more Baby Boomers are asking every year. It's a difficult topic, for both parents and adult children. And in most families, there are no easy answers for anyone. Today's New York Times looks at the situation in Taking Care of Parents Also Means Taking Care of Finances. Photo of aging bench warmers by jonrawlinson Recommendations in the NYT article include taking advantage of government and nonprofit programs and services available to help the aging, as well as hiring a private caregiver. I mentioned several such... Read more →