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May 2013

I write and blog about taxes, so it's no big surprise that some of those pieces focus on the Internal Revenue Service. And given all that's going on right now in connection with the IRS, it's also no big surprise that the federal tax agency was the topic of three posts last week at my other tax blog. That's right, instead of the ususal Tuesday and Thursday items, I took a look on last Monday at the fallout from the IRS focus on Tea Party groups that applied for tax-exempt status. The next day was a reminder that IRS furloughs... Read more →


One Powerball ticket for last night's $590.5 million lottery jackpot was sold at a grocery story in Zephyrhills, Fla. The winning numbers were 10, 13, 14, 22, 52 and the Powerball 11. Yes, that's a little less than earlier estimates of the ultimate payout. But the final tally is still enough to make last night's jackpot the largest in Powerball history. The game's previous largest jackpot was $587.5 million won Nov. 28, 2012. The lottery multimillionaire now must decide whether to take his or her new fortune in 30 year payouts or in one lump sum of almost $371 million.... Read more →


Here we are again. Eight weeks after gamblers were having a field day putting money on a big Powerball jackpot and March Madness college basketball games, we're back at another gambling convergence. Today we have another huge Powerball amount up for grabs -- at $600 million as I type and growing -- and the Preakness. The possible Powerball winnings could pass the all-time U.S. jackpot amount of $656 million that was paid out as a Mega Millions prize, split three ways, in March. If there is a Powerball winner tonight, the current jackpot's lump sum would be $376.9 million. As... Read more →


Last week was wild in D.C. Three separate hot button issues erupted into what are being termed by many as scandals. It made me miss being there to watch the crazy first-hand. Questions are being asked, fingers pointed, jobs lost in the wake of three scandals fixating Washington, D.C., this May. Benghazi attack, political aftermath: Let's start with the tragedy at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya. In that attack last September, Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Questions about the circumstances surrounding the attack and how the Obama Administration dealt with it bubbled back up last... Read more →


The Internal Revenue Service has become the ultimate reality show. Although the way the agency dealt with a crush of applications from organizations seeking tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status began in the summer of 2010, the public spotlight was turned on in full force on May 10. That day, an IRS executive publicly apologized for the way some employees sorted certain applications for closer review. That's when "As the IRS Turns in the Wind" programming began. Cable news channels began extensive coverage of how the IRS used group names, such as Tea Party or Patriot, to review the applications and, in some... Read more →


Good news for some tax preparers. If you paid for testing under the Internal Revenue Service's nascent system of regulating tax preparers, a refund of your exam fee could be in the works. The IRS this week answered the big question that's been hanging out there since a federal court decision in January put the agency's Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP) system, notably the testing component, on hold: What's the deal with money I paid for a test that now is not allowed? Here's the official IRS word, per its special Web page devoted to the ongoing court challenge: Fee... Read more →


If you've never worked in Washington, D.C., you have no idea of what's really important in the nation's capital. It's softball. I am not kidding. Every year when the weather starts to warm up, the city's attention turns to softball. The variation of baseball, with its larger ball, smaller playing field and 10th team member, is perfect for all of the city's power mongers. If your hardballs in the halls of Congress don't produce a strike, you always can transfer your legislative, lobbying or bureaucratic frustrations to the D.C. athletic counterpart. There are three leagues: Congressional, House and Senate. Only... Read more →


Obama fires IRS Acting Commissioner

The first head has rolled in the wake of the Internal Revenue Service's mishandling of applications by conservative groups for tax-exempt status. IRS Acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller was asked to submit his resignation. He did. Yes, folks, that's how people are fired in Washington, D.C. President Obama announced Miller's departure in a brief public statement late this afternoon regarding the IRS' overzealous review of Tea Party and similar groups' applications for 510(c)(4) tax-exempt status. The change at the top of the IRS is necessary, said Obama, because "it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going... Read more →


You remember the summer of 2010. That was when the Tea Party movement showed that it was a group to be reckoned with, backing a notable number of candidates who later that year were elected to Congress. Tea Party members gather in Washington, D.C., in September 2009. Photo via Wikimedia Commons. That year the Tea Party also got itself more organized, taking advantage of the Super PAC movement. These organizations are able to collect unlimited money from donors who remain anonymous. And as long as the group's activities are, according to tax rules, primarily for social welfare, not political ends,... Read more →


What did IRS officials know and when did they know it? If you're of a certain age, you immediately recognize that question as a variation of the famous one from Watergate scandal days: "What did the president know and when?" This time, the "what" refers to the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party and similar conservative groups in the processing of applications for nonprofit status. And although some on Capitol Hill want to include President Obama in the inquiry, the answers first must come from the tax agency itself. The Department of Justice announced today that it has launched... Read more →


If there is one good thing about the Internal Revenue Service's ham-handed handling of political organizations' applications for tax-exempt status, it's that the fiasco has unified some heretofore diametrically opposed politicos. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who rode Tea Party support into office and could be a 2016 GOP presidential nominee front-runner, and President Obama agreed today that the IRS majorly messed up in targeting conservative groups that applied for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. That's the official tax code designation of Super PACs that proliferated following the Citizens United decision. "If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of... Read more →


At every Internal Revenue Service Nationwide Tax Forum I've attended, the display table that attracts the most attention is the one touting the agency's law enforcement branch. The IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) unit digs into potential criminal violations of the Internal Revenue Code and related financial crimes. Hey, everyone remembers who took down Al Capone. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2012, IRS criminal investigators might not have nabbed a crook to rival Scarface, but the tax lawmen did increase their results over actions taken in 2011. The CI branch initiated 5,125 cases in fiscal 2012. The number... Read more →


This is the third Mother's Day that my mom has been within easy driving distance. For most of my adult life, and all of my married days, that hasn't been the case. I am not, however, spending this day with her. Since her relocation nearer me, we've worked out a schedule where I pop in every two weeks or so. In synchronizing our calendars for the first half of 2013, we had to juggle her grocery shopping needs, Mother's Day, her upcoming birthday and the Senior Citizens' Center dance schedule. Mother's Day lost. But Mum and I don't need a... Read more →


More of us are spending more of our time online these days. So it's not surprising that Internet related issues were topics of posts last week at my other tax blog. First came the Senate vote approving the Marketplace Fairness Act. The bill would force most online retailers nationwide to collect sales tax on purchases based on the rates in the buyer's location. The approval of the bill means that we're closer to paying sales tax on remote purchases. But don't rush to place all your online orders. The bill must now pass the House, where its prospects are less... Read more →


Our neighborhood just finished up its spring community garage sale. Twice a year, May and October, my neighbors who want to unload some of their crap unwanted goods, ferry the stuff into their driveways and wait for folks to come take it off their hands. The hubby and I don't participate in the garage sales. Basically, neither of us wants to sit out in front of our house for hours and deal with folks who want to dicker over nickels. Plus the events start way too early for us on a Saturday morning. We do, however, appreciate bargains. That's why... Read more →


Nevada's live entertainment tax, or LET, brings in around $136 million during the state's two-year budget cycle. A revamping of the law, however, should increase the amount the tax adds to the Silver State's coffers. Under a proposal introduced this week to revamp the LET, just about everything except nonprofits and brothels would be taxed. Insert your own jokes about the possible connections of those two special, uh, industries. Many missed by current LET: "Taxation currently collects more than $11 million from venues," said Nevada Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick of the current LET. "Some pay, some don't." According to Kirkpatrick... Read more →


Tax-writing committee chairmen launch tax reform website

During my early years in Washington, D.C., when folks got worked up about an issue, they wrote their members of Congress. Honest to God pen to paper, postage stamp letters. Yeah, I know. Quaint meets geezer alert. But back then, it was what we had. We got bags and bags of mail on hot-button issues. And it worked. Just as well as it did at Kris Kringle's trial in "Miracle on 34th Street." 'Write Rosty' a tax reform winner: One of the most successful correspondence campaigns was in support of what became the historic Tax Reform Act of 1986. Back... Read more →


You thought the Internal Revenue Service was persistent. U.S. tax collectors can't hold a candle to their French counterparts. France's Centre for Public Finances sent a tax bill to a grave. To be fair, the French tax officials first sent the demand for tax payment to the taxpayer's home, in the Ile-de-France region outside Paris. It was returned to the Centre marked "Deceased." That didn't deter the tax office. The Local website reports that a tax staffer in the agency's Vincennes office tracked the late taxpayer to his last known address, the cemetery in the village of Autheuil. The original... Read more →


A congressional committee's recent look into ways to reform the tax code highlighted the many tax breaks that homeownership offers. Of course, to get these tax benefits -- most notably itemized deductions for mortgage interest and real estate taxes paid -- homeowners must first shell out some pretty big bucks. Most property owners are pretty sanguine when it comes to mortgage interest. As a nation of borrowers, we realize that loan interest is just part of the deal. The interest is also spread over 12 monthly payments, so we don't feel the payment pain so acutely. And refinancing opportunities have... Read more →


As expected, the Marketplace Fairness Act breezed through the Senate. Late Monday (May 6) afternoon, the Senate approved the measure that would require most of the country's online retailers to collect sales tax on purchases based on the rates in the buyer's home city, county and state. The bill and the subsequent votes -- the procedural one that came earlier to allow yesterday's final passage -- are rare in these usually politically partisan times. S. 743 was introduced in the Democratically controlled Senate by a Republican, Sen. Mike Enzi, from a conservative western state, Wyoming. However, it received broad bipartisan... Read more →