Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Taxation and Citizenship Workshop at U Michigan

This week at the University of Michigan Law School, Reuven Avi-Yonah and I are co-hosting an academic workshop on the topic of citizenship and taxation. Because it is a workshop, most of the papers are still in draft and won't be publicly available for some time. However, we will be doing a writeup of the proceedings and I'll post that when it is available, and of course I'll post when the symposium volume is published. Here are the speakers and topics:

  • Reuven Avi-Yonah (Michigan) Constructive Unilateralism : US Leadership and International Taxation 
  • Allison Christians (McGill) Uncle Sam Wants … Who? 
  • Wei Cui (UBC) Residence and Source as Interconnected Concepts 
  • Tessa Davis (South Carolina) Of Tax Crimes and “Bad” Citizens: How the Role of Tax Law in Making a Citizen Informs Tax Law and Policy 
  • Jane Frecknall-Hughes (Hull) Tax and the citizen: the philosophical underpinnings 
  • Christine Harlen (Leeds) Making America Exceptional: Perfectionist Civic Republicanism and the Taxation of Americans Abroad in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920 
  • Michael Kirsch (Notre Dame) The Taxation (or Non-Taxation) of Citizens’ Foreign Income: Distilling the Competing Normative Arguments 
  • Sagit Leviner (Ono) Citizenship Transcendent 
  • Patrick Martin (Procopio) Tax Simplification: The Need for Consistent Tax Treatment of All Individuals (Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and Non-Citizens regardless of immigrant status) Residing Overseas, Including the Repeal of U.S. Citizenship Based Taxation 
  • Ruth Mason (Virginia) Citizenship Taxation 
  • Linneu Mello (Bichara) How the Brazilian Tax Authorities Control Information and What FATCA Has To Do With It 
  • Henry Ordower (St. Louis) Is the Expatriation Tax Constitutional? Mark to Market and the Macomber Conundrum 
  • Adam Rosenzweig (Washington St. Louis) Once a US Person, Always a US Person 
  • Daniel Shaviro (NYU) Taxing Potential Community Members’ Foreign Source Income 
  • Peter Spiro (Temple) Citizenship Overreach and the U.S. Tax Regime 
  • Saul Templeton (Calgary) Bill C-51, FATCA, and the End of Taxpayer Privacy 
  • Edward Zelinsky (Cardozo) The Problems of Defining Residence: The U.S. Experience
Student Panel

  • Montano Cabezas (Georgetown) Reasons for Citizenship-Based Taxation? 
  • Christine Kim (NYU) Considering “Citizenship Taxation” : In Defense of FATCA 
  • Gene Magidenko (UMich) – A Defense of Citizenship Taxation 
  • Gianluca Mazzoni (Brescia) The Interaction Between FATCA and Data Privacy 
  • Miguel Nicolas (UParis) FATCA and International Law 
The range of topics and viewpoints represented is encouraging and I look forward to the discussion.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Today at McGill: Steven Dean on Taxing Social Enterprise

The Spiegel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium at McGill University continues today with a presentation by Steven Dean on “SE(c)(3): A Catalyst for Social Enterprise Crowdfunding.” This event is presented in conjunction with a collaborative project between the Stikeman Chair in Taxation and the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy at McGill Law on the topic of how regulation impacts innovation. In the paper, Prof. Dean proposes a novel tax regime that offers entrepreneurs and investors committed to combining financial returns and social good with a means of broadcasting that resolve and screening out "greenwashed" ventures.

This year's colloquium focuses on the fundamentals of corporate tax policy by critically examining issues in national and international tax policy. Today's talk will take place from 14:30-17:30pm in Room 202 of New Chancellor Day Hall, 3644 Peel Ave, Montreal. Students, faculty and the McGill community in Montreal are welcome to attend.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Latest Update in Canada FATCA IGA litigation

The Federal Court of Canada (Martineau J.) issued a decision in the Canadian FATCA IGA litigation on September 16, ruling against the plaintiffs by finding that the provisions of the IGA are duly enacted law, thus clearing the way for the Canadian tax authorities to furnish information to the United States. You can read the decision here.  Today, the Plaintiffs made a motion for an interlocutory injunction pending appeal of the decision.

Because of my role as an expert witness I will abstain from detailed comments other than to stand by my submissions, but I do note the overwhelming sense of judicial impotence expressed in the September 16 decision. The decision notes that the issues at stake involve injustice at the individual level as well as harsh dealings in terms of sovereign relations. As to the former, the legality of the regime is given as its justification, while the latter are deemed inappropriate matters for judicial intervention. Instead the plaintiffs are directed to seek redress for the personal effects of these circumstances though political and administrative channels.

In my view it was political malfunction in both the US and Canada that brought forth FATCA and then the FATCA IGA, and that FATCA as applied can be summed up in terms of administration as a case of continuous indifference to individuals who are wrongdoers in no real sense yet bear the brunt of severe punishments meant for others. If the judiciary is also not to blame and not to fix, then it seems there is no avenue to right the wrongs of FATCA anywhere. I hope that is not the case.

In any event, two days after the decision was released, the IRS announced another delay in FATCA, this time for Model 1 IGA countries. Model 1 IGA countries involve government-to-government sharing, as compared to Model 2, under which financial institutions directly report to the IRS pursuant to authority granted by their home governments. Canada has a Model 1 IGA so it could delay furnishing information to the United States if it notifies the IRS before September 30, 2015 "and provides assurance that the jurisdiction is making good faith efforts to exchange the information as soon as possible." There have been some efforts to compel the Canadian government to avail itself of this option (see, e.g., here and here), but I am not sure how to monitor the government's response.

More to come as events unfold.

Spiegel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium at McGill Law

McGill Law's annual Speigel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium kicks off today with a presentation by Roseanne Altshuler on the viability of a switch from worldwide to territorial corporate taxation in the United States. This year's colloquium will focus on the fundamentals of corporate tax policy by critically examining issues in national and international tax policy. Today's talk will take place from 14:30-17:30pm in Room 202 of New Chancellor Day Hall, 3644 Peel Ave, Montreal. Students, faculty and the McGill community in Montreal are welcome to attend.

Here is the colloquium line-up for the fall:

Monday, September 28: Rosanne Altshuler

Rosanne Altshuler is Dean of Social and Behavioral Science and a Professor of Economics at Rutgers University. She was the Chair of the Department of Economics at Rutgers from 2011 to 2015. She has written widely on federal tax policy, including her most recent article “Lessons the United States Can Learn from Other Countries’ Territorial Systems for Taxing Income of Multinational Corporations.”

Monday, October 5: Steven Dean

Steven Dean is a Professor at Brooklyn Law School and a specialist in tax law. His research addresses a range of tax and budgetary issues, including unconventional solutions to problems such as tax havens, regulatory complexity and tax shelters. His recent article, “Tax Deregulation,” considered the surprising implications of enhancing taxpayer autonomy.

Monday, November 2: Richard Murphy

Richard Murphy is a chartered accountant and economist. He is the founder of the Tax Justice Network and the director of Tax Research LLP, which undertakes work on tax policy, advocacy and research. Mr. Murphy is the co-author of several publications on tax policy, including his most recent book, “Over Here and Undertaxed: Multinationals, Tax Avoidance and You.”

Tuesday, November 10: Daniel N. Shaviro

Daniel Shaviro is a Professor of Taxation at the New York University School of Law. Professor Shaviro has written several books examining tax policy, budget policy and entitlements issues. His most recent book, “Fixing US International Taxation,” offers an analytical framework for international tax policy that sidesteps the standard worldwide taxation vs. territorial taxation framework.

Monday, November 23: Kim Brooks

Kim Brooks is Dean and Weldon Professor of Law at the Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University. Dean Brooks’ research focuses on corporate and international tax law and policy. She focuses on using a discrete area of tax law to understand a larger tax concept, and using the tax system to promote international economic justice. Dean Brooks has written widely on tax treaties and international taxation, including her recent chapter, “The Troubling Role of Tax Treaties” in the volume 51 of “Tax Design Issues Worldwide: A Series on International Taxation.”

Monday, November 30: Albert Baker

Albert Baker is the Global Leader in Tax Policy at Deloitte & Touche LLP, where he specializes in international tax, including mergers and acquisitions, corporate financing and corporate reorganizations. His recent research focuses on base erosion & profit shifting, a project to address concerns that current international tax frameworks result in double non-taxation, or stateless income, or reducing the tax base in high tax countries.

The Spiegel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium has been made possible by a generous grant from the law firm Spiegel Sohmer, Inc., Montreal, for the purpose of fostering an academic community in which learning and scholarship may flourish. I am delighted to welcome these distinguished guests and look forward to today's discussion.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Update on the Canadian FATCA Litigation

As readers may be aware, two Canadian citizens filed a lawsuit last year against the Attorney General and the Minister of National Revenue in the Federal Court of Canada (Federal Court File T-1736-14). Over the past two days in Vancouver, the parties have presented their arguments in a summary trial in front of the Hon. Luc Martineau. The summary trial involves arguments on the parties' affidavits and cross-examinations undertaken prior to the hearings--no live witnesses.

In broad strokes the suit seeks to prevent the Canadian Revenue Agency from furnishing to the US Internal Revenue Service the personal and financial account information of Canadian citizens pursuant to the FATCA IGA signed by Canada and enacted into law last year. This is not a charter-based (constitutional) challenge, rather it is a challenge that certain provisions of the IGA are unlawful based on the Canada-US Tax Treaty Act  (which in effect ratifies the US Canada Tax Treaty) and the Income Tax Act. Thus it is not about fundamental rights and freedoms at this stage, but about an interpretation of relevant laws, including the existing tax treaty.

The litigants are being funded by a grassroots group that organized itself for this purpose, called the Alliance for the Defence of Canadian Sovereignty/L'Alliance Pour la Défense de la Souveraineté Canadienne (ADCS). ADCS has many of the court filings available here and here and here, and one of the group's organizers has blogged about the proceedings here and here.  While the lawsuit made the news when it was filed, e.g. here and here among several others, I am seeing virtually no press coverage at this stage, except for one brief article here. That is a shame and I hope that journalists will renew their interest in this issue.

Long-time readers will be aware that I made a submission to the Department of Finance concerning many of the legal issues surrounding the adoption of the IGA, that I understand FATCA to be a tax treaty override that is not cured by the IGAs, and that I understand the IGAs to lack validity as legal instruments under US law. In connection with this litigation, I wrote two "expert reports" and was cross examined for purposes of the summary trial; the reports and transcript are part of the court record and mostly available at the links above, but I will also make the reports available on request. If and when additional information about the summary trial becomes available I will update this post.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

In global tax governance, institutions matter.

José Antonio Ocampo posted a plea for institutional reform in tax policymaking today,  in which he decries the jealous guarding of tax policy exclusivity by OECD countries, especially the US and the UK. At the recent Financing for Development conference, developing countries called for a greater role for the UN in global tax governance but the OECD countries balked. Ocampo writes:
The OECD, whose members are essentially the world’s 34 richest countries, certainly has the capacity to set international standards on taxation. Yet the domination of a select group of countries over tax norms has meant that, in reality, the global governance architecture for taxation has not kept pace with globalization. 
The Monterrey Consensus reached in 2002 included a call to enhance “the voice and participation of developing countries in international economic decision-making and norms-setting.” But although the OECD invites some developing countries to participate in its discussions to establish norms, it offers them no decision-making power. The OECD is thus a weak surrogate for a globally representative intergovernmental forum.
I understand that it is costly and complicated to develop institutions that allow for meaningful participation by all people affected by transnational tax policy norms.  But the international tax system is a resource allocation machine that has significant impacts on people's life chances across all populations. I fail to see what principles of justice support a world in which a small and privileged group of people make decisions of both process and substance that directly impact, and yet purposefully and systemically exclude, the majority of the world's population. The substance of norms, rules, and standards may matter in global tax governance, but ultimately institutions matter even more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Uber deemed an employer, not a partner, to driver in California

So says the California Labor Commission according to this story from Reuters, and I would guess other jurisdictions will follow. But Uber responds that:
"Reuters' original headline was not accurate. The California Labor Commission's ruling is non-binding and applies to a single driver. Indeed it is contrary to a previous ruling by the same commission, which concluded in 2012 that the driver 'performed services as an independent contractor, and not as a bona fide employee.' Five other states have also come to the same conclusion. It's important to remember that the number one reason drivers choose to use Uber is because they have complete flexibility and control. The majority of them can and do choose to earn their living from multiple sources, including other ride sharing companies."
I would guess it is precisely the definition of "complete flexibility and control" that will be at issue going forward. I think Uber is an employer of its drivers for tax law purposes and that its drivers do not have anything like complete flexibility or control in substance.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Updated: Gotcha! Yet another obscure asset reporting form for US persons

UPDATE: as of sometime this afternoon (depending on your time zone), the BEA has updated its website to extend the filing deadline to June 30 for all new filers. Moreover, it appears that the BEA definition of US Persons is generally limited to persons resident in the United States (with specific exceptions, see comment from Andrew below). As I mention in the comments, I am a bit wary about drawing conclusions of law from instructions to forms but I do think that the instructions at least form the basis for reliance that most physically non-resident US citizens should not be required to fill out the BE-10.  The sudden deadline extension nevertheless suggests that a number of people have been caught by surprise by the new reporting obligation, so that my main point about educating one's regulatory target is still apposite. I have revised this post accordingly.

It seems that in the United States, the asset reporting forms and non-filing penalties just keep on coming, and yet the will to inform individuals about their obligations--especially those who live outside of the United States and do not receive client alerts from big US law firms or big 4 accounting firms--remains curiously absent.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis does a survey of "US Direct Investment Abroad" every five years. In past years, if you were required to file, the BEA contacted you.

Not any more; now you are just supposed to know that the BEA exists and has its own reporting requirements, and that if you are a US person (which includes individuals), you are supposed to go and file a report to them, separate and distinct from all of of your other tax and financial asset reporting requirements. I do not know what the definition of US Person is for BEA purposes, and whether it includes US citizens and other persons, regardless of their residence--looking into that now. The definition of US Person for BEA purposes appears to diverge from that for tax purposes, such that in most cases reporting is required by those physically resident in the United States.

BEA reporting is subject to a civil penalty of $2,500 to $25,000 for nonfiling, plus $10,000, or a year in jail, or both, if the nonfiling was wilful. I am not sure who is responsible for collecting this fine but if it is the IRS (as is the case for FBAR), then I wonder why the Service doesn't bother to tell taxpayers about the form and its deadline anywhere at all on the IRS website.

A BE-10 form must be filed by any US Person that directly or indirectly held 10% or more of the voting securities ("US Reporter") of any non-U.S. business enterprise (a “Foreign Affiliate”). There are no de minimis exceptions: no matter how small your nonUS corporation might be (or have been-you must file for the year even if the corporation ceases to exist), you must report or face the penalty. US Reporters must file Form BE-10A for themselves and may have to file additional BE-10 forms for their corporations.

The deadline is tomorrow: May 29 now June 30. There is an extension available but it requires filing a request prior to the due date. Prepare for a delay in accessing that form right now--the BEA server appears to be overloaded. Possibly a request to extend filed today (if that is even possible from outside the United States) would be granted, I am not sure.

The BEA is a valuable source of information necessary for policy research, and I do not in any way object to the general need to collect information on US companies. What I object to is that again and again, US regulators seems to forget that "US Persons" includes a massive population of individuals who live permanently outside of the territory, who cannot realistically be expected to simply "know" about all the forms they are supposed to report, and who are dramatically underserved by the US agencies that continue to produce these requirements. US Persons are now potentially subject to three overlapping and duplicative reporting regimes, each with its own quirky forms, convoluted instructions, inconsistent deadlines, and heavy penalties: the IRS, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and now, every five years, the BEA, all with little to no effort to educate the population each agency expects to be fully compliant.

I do wish that US lawmakers would understand that when they enact complex regulatory regimes with hefty penalties, they have a responsibility to educate the targets of that regulation. I am not talking about large, multinational conglomerates or high net worth individuals with teams of legal counsel. They are protected: their counsel's job is to keep up to date on all regulatory compliance regimes, inform their clientele, and and make money off compliance fees. I am not worried about them. I am talking about the human beings who just happen to live and work in other countries. If they have small businesses, they may well have non-US corporations in those countries where they live and work.  Regulatory agencies that seek to regulate these individuals have a responsibility to inform that is global in scope. It seems to me obviously unjust to suddenly impose complex requirements, with attendant penalties, on a whole new population without making any effort to educate them that this is the new order of things. Today's last-minute deadline extension seems to acknowledge this basic issue.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Presumption against Extraterritoriality: Win for foreign insurers in Validus Reinsurance case

Tim Todd had an article in Forbes yesterday on the Court of Appeals grant of summary judgment in Validus Reinsurance Ltd. v. United States, decided May 26. This was a de novo review; the district court had granted summary judgment for Validus in 2014 (Mem. Op. Feb 5, 2014), and the government appealed on grounds that the district court had "adopted an overly narrow interpretation." From the Court of Appeals decision:
Because both parties offer plausible interpretations, we conclude that the text of the
statute is ambiguous with respect to its application to wholly foreign retrocessions [a type of insurance product at issue in the case]. The ambiguity is resolved upon applying the presumption against extraterritoriality because there is no clear indication by Congress that it intended the excise tax to apply to premiums on wholly foreign retrocessions. Accordingly, we affirm the grant of summary judgment, albeit on narrower grounds, on Validus’s refund claims. 
Tim explains the jargon in the case so I won't repeat that here, but his point of note is that:
Generally, courts presume that legislation operates only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Thus, unless Congress expresses an “affirmative intention,” statutes have no extraterritorial effect. 
Here, the retrocessions were extraterritorial: wholly foreign parties issued policies that were “negotiated, executed, and performed outside of the United States.” And, the court noted, the “government has identified no clear indication by Congress that it intended the excise tax to apply to wholly foreign retrocessions, and we have found none.”
This is an interesting area of law that I have not studied enough but would like to. I note that the Appeals Court observed that "At first glance, the plain text of section 4371 appears to extend the reach of the IRS Commissioner to any casualty and life insurance policy issued by a foreign insurer anywhere in the world," but that read in conjunction with its definitions clauses, the scope is more modest. The court engages in a step by step statutory analysis (always fun) and ends up engaging in a fairly detailed discussion of what it means to "cover" something. Having hauled out a few dictionaries, the Court decides that the language is ambiguous, hence the need to turn to the general presumption against extra-territoriality.

In the context of a globally networked financial system, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between something that is territorial and something that is extra-territorial in scope and reach. Here, the government had argued that the necessary nexus to the United States lay in the the underlying risks ultimately being insured--that is, "indirect" risk coverage. It seems that was one bridge too far for the DC Circuit.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fei, Hines, Horwitz on PILOTs as Property Taxes for Nonprofits

Interesting new paper on PILOTs: "payments in lieu of taxes" that some municipalities request of otherwise tax-exempt orgs. At a recent talk I did at Notre Dame on the topic of taxation and human rights, I explored the dual "social contribution" budgets that highly visible/profitable multinationals often have in impoverished places--the tax budget (that ends up appearing quite small in many cases) and the Corporate Social Responsibility or "CSR" budget (the fees some companies pay to build infrastructure or schools or provide basic services as a matter of "good corporate citizenship"). I brought up Starbucks' dealings with HMRC in response to charges of tax dodging as a rarely-seen tax-like-but-not-quite-tax arising in a developed country, and wondered aloud whether we ought to consider this kind of CSR outlay as in the nature of a tax, or not. One of the audience members suggested that the Starbucks payment or a CSR budget seems analogous to PILOTs, so it's worth taking a look at them. Good idea. I'll add this paper to the reading list. Here's the abstract:
Nonprofit charitable organizations are exempt from most taxes, including local property taxes, but U.S. cities and towns increasingly request that nonprofits make payments in lieu of taxes (known as PILOTs). Strictly speaking, PILOTs are voluntary, though nonprofits may feel pressure to make them, particularly in high-tax communities. Evidence from Massachusetts indicates that PILOT rates, measured as ratios of PILOTs to the value of local tax-exempt property, are higher in towns with higher property tax rates: a one percent higher property tax rate is associated with a 0.2 percent higher PILOT rate. PILOTs appear to discourage nonprofit activity: a one percent higher PILOT rate is associated with 0.8 percent reduced real property ownership by local nonprofits, 0.2 percent reduced total assets, and 0.2 percent lower revenues of local nonprofits. These patterns are consistent with voluntary PILOTs acting in a manner similar to low-rate, compulsory real estate taxes.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Upcoming event on Delivering Tax Benefits through the Tax System

On April 24, the American Tax Policy Institute is live-streaming an all-day conference "Delivering Benefits to Low-Income Taxpayers through the Tax System."  The conference is organized by Les Book, Villanova University School of Law and Deena Ackerman, U.S. Department of Treasury.  

You can view the program and also register to attend the conference in person here.  

Beginning at 8:45 a.m. (EST) on April 24, you can view the livestream conference webcast

I will be presenting on panel 4, "The International Approach to Delivering Benefits Through the Tax System." 

One focus of this panel is a comparative approach to the delivery of benefits (US/UK/Australia), but I plan to focus on the international implications of the US approach to delivering benefits through the tax code from the perspective of a specific group of “end users” whose financial situations would make them eligible for benefits delivery but who are nevertheless systematically denied these benefits. 

This group is the globally dispersed population of “US persons” who are deemed to be permanently resident in the United States for tax compliance and financial reporting purposes but are not so deemed for purposes of benefits delivered through the tax code, notably, the earned income tax credit. 

The premise I am studying: The inclusion of all US persons in the tax base regardless of domicile, juxtaposed with the blanket denial of eligibility for income support based solely on domicile, reveals the manifest injustice of citizenship-based taxation. I'll examine three inter-related rights-based claims in support of this premise. First, dispersed geographically and without a unified voice in Congress, the diaspora is inevitably denied effective civil and political rights in the design of the US tax system. Second, subject to the most complex aspects of the U.S. tax code regardless of any activity in the United States, and facing extraordinary compliance costs and disclosure risks even for nil returns, this group is effectively denied the administrative rights articulated in the taxpayer bill of rights. Finally, this group is systematically denied income support accorded to similarly situated taxpayers, in contravention of any normative policy. 

These are ideas in progress, so I really look forward to having the opportunity to work through them a little further by participating in this event.