Nebraska state senator's bill would make churches pay property tax

Ernie Chambers, a long-serving, African-American state senator, has proposed a bill that would strike the word "religious" from the list of groups that are property-tax-exempt.

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Public Resource wants to liberate tax records for US nonprofits - converting 100lbs of scanned bitmaps on DVDs into searchable data on $1.5T worth of activity


Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

On November 1, Public.Resource.Org released a new service which put 6,461,326 US nonprofit tax returns on the net for bulk download, developers, and search engines to access. We offered to give the working system to the government, and also sent them a few suggestions on ways they could better meet their mission and save themselves a boatload of money. Since then, we've been frantically trying to get the government's attention to take decisive action, but to no avail.

The way the government makes the nonprofit tax returns available to the public is broken in many ways. The IRS insists on selling the tax returns as a monthly feed of DVDs costing $2,580 per year. Each month, I get a stack of a dozen DVDs, each one has 60,000 1-page TIFF files on it. This is just so lacking in clue, and even simple suggestions like using Dropbox instead of mailing us DVDs have been ignored.

In terms of breakage though, the truly big problem is the deliberate dumbing down of tax returns for large nonprofits in order to avoid what an IRS official actually said to us would be "too much transparency." All the big nonprofits have to e-file their tax returns. E-filing means they submit actual machine-processable data encoded in XML.

The way the IRS releases that information is mind-boggling. They image the data onto tax forms and then release them as 200 dot per inch TIFF files. So, instead of having a computer program extract the gross revenue, or the CEO salaries, or whether or not the nonprofit operates a tanning salon on premises (an actual question on the form!), you get something that is so bad that OCR is difficult. Nonprofits are a $1.5 trillion chunk of the U.S. economy, yet we're deliberately dumbing down data that could make that sector more efficient and more vibrant. That's dumb.

Since November, we've been trying to get the IRS and the Obama Administration to release this information, but they've refused. We've met with all sorts of IRS officials such as Lois Lerner and Joseph Grant of Tea Party fame, and we've also met with a ton of boldface names in the White House, such as Todd Park (the President's CTO) and Steve VanRoekel (the Federal CIO). Nobody will release the data. The IRS is worried the big nonprofits will be upset if information such as multimillion-dollar CEO salaries is more readily available.

Since discussion hasn't worked so far, we've retained the services of Thomas R. Burke, an eminent First Amendment attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine and he's been working with our own counselor David Halperin. Today, they filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. One reason we picked the Northern District because they have a requirement that the parties try and work out their problems out of court using what is known as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which includes techniques such as mediation and arbitration. The ADR rules in this District Court require each party to bring to the mediation an official who has the authority to resolve this issue.

So, I'm reaching out to my good friends Todd Park and Steve VanRoekel, the architects of the President's great new machine-processable data directive, and I'm personally asking them to help us resolve this dispute with the administration. We're all on the same side here, let's work this out and get on with the real job at hand!

Links:
Our complaint in district court
Copies of our letters back and forth to the White House and the IRS
Sunlight Foundation: Nonprofit E-file Data Should Be Open
Think Progress: How the IRS Could Make it Easier to Track Dark Money, Right Now
Forbes: IRS: Turn Over a New Leaf, Open Up Data

WA grants MSFT $1.5B tax amnesty, resorts to taxing dance-clubs to make up shortfall

Jeff Reifman sez,

After granting Microsoft amnesty on its $1.5 billion Nevada tax dodge, state tax collectors are aggressively targeting Seattle dance clubs and night clubs over an obscure 'opportunity to dance' tax. Auditors search the Internet to find out whether people dance at specific clubs. One clubowner reports an auditor told him: 'You have the opportunity to dance, and we verified it by 8 or 10 different references on Yelp.'

"My auditor came in with an obituary of a girl who committed suicide,"says another club owner. "When I argued that we aren't primarily a dance club -- we have 'No Dancing' signs up everywhere -- she flashed this obit that said the girl liked to dance at [our club].

The Legislature gave up $100 million annually to Microsoft so it can target the city's music scene to try to make up $880,000. The Century Ballroom, a popular dance club, is holding ongoing fundraisers to offset its $250,000 in back taxes. Dancers are effectively funding Microsoft's Nevada tax dodge.

Seattle Dance Clubs Fundraise to Pay Microsoft’s Tax Bill (Thanks, Jeff!)

Santa tax

"Cash-strapped Ukraine on Wednesday reminded entertainers making money by posing as Did Moroz - the local version of Santa Claus - and his helpers to pay income tax." [Reuters]

Pranksters crash final speech of corporate tax avoidance taxman, posh hilarity ensues

UK fair tax/anti-cuts activists crashed the Key Haven Publications' Practical Tax Planning conference in Oxford, where Dave Hartnett, the outgoing top UK taxation bureaucrat, was giving the final speech of his career. Hartnett was responsible for widely criticized blunders that forgave billions in tax liability owed by Vodaphone and Goldman Sachs. Posing as representatives of Goldman Sachs and Vodaphone, they entered the hall during Hartnett's after-dinner speech to present "The Golden Handshake Award for Lifetime Achievement in Corporate Tax Planning." After a few moments' confusion, the conference organisers twigged to what was going on, and began to say some of the weirdest, most stagey-sound posh=weirdo utterances heard this side of a Mr Burns impersonator's night at a cabaret:

"Everybody, these people are trespassers and intruders. This is a [garbled] to trespass, and you will go sir, you will depart immediately, before we set the dogs on you."

[Protesters leave, singing, "For he's a jolly good fellow, and so say Goldman Sachs"].

"Go! You're trespassing. You're trespassing scum! Go!"

[Exeunt omnes]

All in a posh accent that could cut glass.

Black tie activists crash HMRC boss' retirement do (via MeFi)

Major American firms pay more in CEO compensation than they do in fed tax

26 major American companies paid more to their CEOs than they paid in taxes in 2011, including Citigroup, Abbott Labs, and AT&T. This from a study published by the Institute for Policy Studies entitled Executive Excess 2012: The CEO Hands in Uncle Sam's Pocket. They note that this figure has climbed since last year. Reuters's Nanette Byrnes reports:

Among companies topping the institute's list:

* Citigroup, the financial services giant, with a tax refund of $144 million based on prior losses, paid CEO Vikram Pandit $14.9 million in 2011, despite an advisory vote against it by 55 percent of shareholders.

* Telecoms group AT&T paid CEO Randall Stephenson $18.7 million, but was entitled to a $420 million tax refund thanks to billions in tax savings from recent rules accelerating depreciation of assets.

* Drugmaker Abbott Laboratories paid CEO Miles White $19 million, while garnering a $586 million refund. Abbott has 64 subsidiaries in 16 countries considered by authorities to be tax havens, the institute said.

Companies paid CEOs more than they paid in taxes

1942 Donald Duck cartoon funded by the US Treasury exhorts you file your tax-return

Here's a great 19412 Donald Duck toon funded by the Treasury, explaining to war-torn America why they need to all file their taxes to defeat tyranny.

Help Donald Duck File His 1941 Federal Tax Return

Marvel Comics to US gov't: mutants are not human (and should not be taxed as such)


Radiolab covers the strange saga of Marvel Comics's fight against the US customs authority over whether X-Men dollies were "dolls" or "toys" -- the difference being that dolls (which are defined as characters that represent humans) are taxed at twice the rate of "toys." The case turned on whether a mutant was, indeed, human, or whether they were monsters. Despite Professor X's long advocacy for the essential humanity of mutants, his corporate owners argued that he and his cohort were mere monsters (for tax purposes).

Reporter Ike Sriskandarajah tells Jad and Robert a story about two international trade lawyers, Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, who noticed something interesting while looking at a book of tariff classifications. "Dolls," which represent human beings, are taxed at almost twice the rate of "toys," which represent something not human - such as robots, monsters, or demons. As soon as they read that, Sherry and Indie saw dollar signs. it just so happened that one of their clients, Marvel Comics, was importing its action figures as dolls. And one set of action figures really piqued Sherry and Indie's interest: The XMEN, normal humans who, at around puberty, start to change in ways that give them strange powers.

Here's the actual court opinion (PDF).

The solomonic court divided the mutants into varying degrees of humanness. In the human camp were the Invisible Woman, Punisher, Daredevil, U.S. Agent, Peter Parker, and Jumpsie were humans. The remainder (including the Fantastic Four) were mutants.

Mutant Rights (via MeFi)

Jon Stewart on Fox's response to Warren Buffett's "socialism"

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Jon Stewart is in fine form in these clips in which he highlights the absurdity of Fox's headless-chicken impression in the wake of Warren Buffet stating the fact that there's something weird when billionaire contribute smaller proportions of their wealth to the upkeep of society than their cleaning ladies. I swear, I don't know why they air The Daily Show at night: I love it first thing in the morning, just the tonic to ginger up the blood.

Daily Show: FOX News Class Warfare: $700 Billion From Rich or Poor? (via Reddit)

Who benefits from US tax-cut extension? [Chart]


Barry Ritholtz sez, "The NYTimes graphic department has your Sunday morning chart porn regarding the extension of tax cuts. Its an illustration fueled by data from the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization. The graphic shows how much Americans have gotten so far broken down by income groups. And it calculates that extending all of the Bush Tax Cuts for the next decade will cost another $2.7 trillion (through 2020)."

Your Coming Tax Cut (or Not) (Thanks, Barry, via Submitterator!)

Satellite photos catch Greek tax-evaders

As the nation of Greece teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, its tax authorities are taking aim at Greece's notorious tax-evading rich elite. Using satellite photos, the tax authority examined the claim of the residents of Athens's wealthy suburbs and discovered that, rather than the 324 swimming pools claimed by the locals, there were 16,974 of them.

The cheating is often quite bold. When tax authorities recently surveyed the returns of 150 doctors with offices in the trendy Athens neighborhood of Kolonaki, where Prada and Chanel stores can be found, more than half had claimed an income of less than $40,000. Thirty-four of them claimed less than $13,300, a figure that exempted them from paying any taxes at all.

Such incomes defy belief, said Ilias Plaskovitis, the general secretary of the Finance Ministry, who has been in charge of revamping the country's tax laws. "You need more than that to pay your rent in that neighborhood," he said.

He said there were only a few thousand citizens in this country of 11 million who last year declared an income of more than $132,000. Yet signs of wealth abound.

"There are many people with a house, with a cottage in the country, with two cars and maybe a small boat who claim they are earning 12,000 euros a year," Mr. Plaskovitis said, which is about $15,900. "You cannot heat this house or buy the gas for the car with that kind of income."

Greek Wealth Is Everywhere but Tax Forms (via Memex 1.1)

(Image: Google Earth/Memex 1.1)

IRS sends out two agents to collect $0.04 in back-taxes from car-wash

Two grim IRS agents travelled to Harv's Metro Car Wash in Sacramento to hand him a demand-letter for his taxes owing in arrears: $0.04 worth.

Update: To be clear: it was $0.04 in unpaid tax that had accrued over $200 in penalties.

Arriving at Harv's Metro Car Wash in midtown Wednesday afternoon were two dark-suited IRS agents demanding payment of delinquent taxes. "They were deadly serious, very aggressive, very condescending," says Harv's owner, Aaron Zeff.... "It's hilarious," he says, "that two people hopped in a car and came down here for just 4 cents. I think (the IRS) may have a problem with priorities."
Bob Shallit: IRS visits Sacramento carwash in pursuit of 4 cents (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Image: wealth of pennies, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from r-z's photostream)

Cartoon about Microsoft's giant tax gift from Washington State


Jeff sez, "Inspired by Boing Boing post about Microsoft tax dodge, cartoonist RR Anderson takes on Washington's $100 million tax cut and tax amnesty for Microsoft." Broke-ass Washington State Set to Give Microsoft $100 Million Annual Tax Cut and Amnesty for $1 Billion in Tax Evasion (Thanks, Jeff!)