Tag Archives: taxes

Americans Are Migrating to Low-Tax States

Cato released author Chris Edwards’ study onTax Reform and Interstate Migration.”

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/california-exodus-e1521557958581.jpg?itok=fqjbCEqr

The 2017 federal tax law increased the tax pain of living in a high-tax state for millions of people. Will the law induce those folks to flee to lower-tax states?

To find clues, the study looks at recent IRS data and reviews academic studies on interstate migration.

For each state, the study calculated the ratio of domestic in-migration to out-migration for 2016. States losing population have ratios of less than 1.0. States gaining population have ratios of more than 1.0. New York’s ratio is 0.65, meaning for every 100 residents that left, only 65 moved in. Florida’s ratio is 1.45, meaning that 145 households moved in for every 100 that left.

Figure 1 maps the ratios. People are generally moving out of the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West, but they are also leaving California, on net.

People move between states for many reasons, including climate, housing costs, and job opportunities. But when you look at the detailed patterns of movement, it is clear that taxes also play a role.

I divided the country into the 25 highest-tax and 25 lowest-tax states by a measure of household taxes. In 2016, almost 600,000 people moved, on net, from the former to the latter.

People are moving into low-tax New Hampshire and out of Massachusetts. Into low-tax South Dakota and out of its neighbors. Into low-tax Tennessee and out of Kentucky. And into low-tax Florida from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and just about every other high-tax state.

On the West Coast, California is a high-tax state, while Oregon and Washington fall just on the side of the lower-tax states.

Of the 25 highest-tax states, 24 of them had net out-migration in 2016.

Of the 25 lowest-tax states, 17 had net in-migration.

https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/wp-content/uploads/map.png

Source: by Chris Edwards | Cato Institute

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Leak Reveals Secret Tax Crackdown On Foreign-Money Real Estate Deals In Vancouver

Confidential briefing for CRA auditors outlines strategy to tackle suspected tax cheats who do not report global income or who ‘flip’ homes – but reveals that last year, there was only one successful audit of global income for all of British Columbia

A backhoe destroys a C$6 million mansion in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood this year. The destruction of the well-kept home prompted community outrage and was cited in a briefing for Canadian tax auditors looking into Vancouver real estate transactions. Photo: Twitter / @DeborahAMG

A secret strategy briefing for Canada Revenue Agency auditors has revealed plans to crack down on real estate tax cheats in Vancouver, with 50 auditors being assigned to investigate purchases funded by unreported foreign income.

Presentation notes for the seminar, delivered to auditors on June 2 and leaked to the South China Morning Post, show that only one successful audit of worldwide income was conducted in British Columbia in the past year, in spite of Vancouver’s reputation as a hotspot for immigrant “astronaut families” whose breadwinners often work in mainland China and Hong Kong.

The plans, which come amid a furore over the role of Chinese money in Vancouver’s runaway housing market, were provided by a Canada Revenue Agency employee who attended the June 2 briefing. The briefing is identified as a “protected B” confidential document on the cover.

The cover for a confidential CRA briefing for auditors. Photo: SCMP Pictures

But the employee feared the sweep would prove inadequate. “Sure, they’ve upped the numbers because it’s hitting the papers,” they said. But on average, they estimated, each redeployed income auditor would only be able to conduct 10 to 12 audits per year – about 500 or 600 in total. “This is nothing,” compared to the likely scale of the cheating, they said.

Confidential briefing notes for CRA auditors reveal how the Canadian tax agency is targeting unreported global income and other issues related to real estate sales in the Vancouver region. Photo: SCMP Pictures

That estimate is in keeping with the briefing text which says the crackdown will “review the top 500 highest risk files within our region”.

The briefing lists four areas being targeted for audit under the CRA’s “real estate projects”, launched in response to “significant media attention”: unreported worldwide income, property “flipping”, under-reporting of capital gains from home sales, and under-reporting of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on sales of new homes.

‘High-end homes, minimal income’

The time-consuming global income audits will tackle “individuals living in high-valued areas in BC who are reporting minimal income not supporting their lifestyle”, as well as those who buy “high-end homes with minimal income being reported.”

The supposed case of a C$5.8 million home bought by someone who claimed a tax break intended for the poor is cited in the CRA briefing. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The presentation includes a photo of a luxury home supposedly bought for C$5.8million whose owner claimed the “working income tax benefit” for low earners. It also lists the tuition fees of Vancouver private schools.

 

Confidential briefing notes for CRA auditors show that 50 income tax auditors are being redeployed to tackle real estate cheats in BC. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Property flippers who swiftly resell homes for profit will meanwhile be audited to see if their properties truly qualify for exemption from capital gains tax, granted to people selling their principal residence.

The briefing describes various excuses given by owners who moved out of newly purchased homes, including a negative feng shui report, the “bad omen” of tripping over a crack in the sidewalk, and a painter dying in the home.

It cites the highly publicized case of a well-kept 20-year-old, C$6million mansion that was simply torn down after being bought, prompting community outrage.

Yes, we are getting a response now, but the government has known about this issue for a few years. They held back

CRA employee

The briefing does not say the owners of this home, or the $5.8 million home, are tax cheats and nor does the SCMP suggest so.

The CRA employee said the briefing, which was streamed online, was delivered by CRA’s Pacific region business intelligence director, Mal Gill.

The CRA briefing lists various excuses given by people who moved out of new homes, apparently claimed as principal residences. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Gill declined to discuss the briefing. “I cannot confirm anything to you,” he said, referring the SCMP to a CRA communications manager.

The case of a well-kept C$6million Vancouver home that was simply demolished after purchase is cited in leaked notes for Canadian tax auditors. Photo: SCMP Pictures

A spokeswoman said: “The CRA cannot comment or release information related to risk assessment or non-compliance strategies.”

However, she said real estate transactions in Toronto have been the subject of greater scrutiny, for some years. “More recently, the CRA has been actively monitoring and auditing real estate transactions in British Columbia,” she said.

“For the year ending March 31, 2016, the CRA completed 2,203 files [in BC and Ontario] related to real estate,” she said.

In addition to the 50 redeployed income auditors, the leaked briefing says CRA is assigning 20 GST auditors and 15 other staff to the real estate project in BC.

The CRA source said they leaked the material because, “like many people, I’m pretty disgusted by what’s happening here [in the Vancouver real estate market], and a lack of enforcement has been a part of the problem. Yes, we are getting a response now, but the government has known about this issue for a few years. They held back.”

The CRA briefing reveals that there was just one successful audit conducted on unreported global income in BC last fiscal year. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The employee said they were surprised to discover that only one successful audit of global income had been conducted in BC in the year to March 31. “That’s the ludicrousness of this. I was shocked when I saw this, and they only got C$27,000 in tax revenue out of it,” they said.

Asked whether this might show a widespread problem with undeclared worldwide income did not exist in BC, the source said: “No, what it shows is that inadequate people and resources have been put to the task. These [tax cheats] are highly sophisticated individuals, with good representation from their lawyers and accountants, and we are sending out our least experienced people to catch them. That’s the problem.”

Source cites CRA’s ‘racism fear’

Census data from 2011 has previously shown that 25,000 households in the City of Vancouver spent more on their housing costs than their entire declared income, with these representing 9.5 per cent of all households.

But far from being impoverished, such households were concentrated in some of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods, where homes sell for multi-million-dollar prices.

The source suggested CRA bureaucrats previously feared being labelled racist if they targeted low-income declarers buying real estate “because the vast majority of these cases, involving high real estate values, involve mainland Chinese”.

The crackdown was not intended for public knowledge, and instead was to satisfy “people from high up” in the CRA and government who wanted to know “what are you guys doing about this…there’s stuff hitting the papers every day”, the source said. Yet the briefing says the crackdown “will not address the major concerns about affordability of real estate”.

“The vast majority of these [undeclared global income] cases, involving high real estate values, involve mainland Chinese”

CRA employee

The source said there had previously been little done to check whether taxpayers were secretly living and working abroad while supporting a family in Vancouver. “There’s virtually no liaising done with immigration. The common auditor would never check when people are actually coming and going, to check whether they might be going back to China or wherever to work. You can be lied to, to your face: ‘Oh no, I live here [in Canada] full-time’.”

The leaked documents show that in in addition to the single audit on global income in the last fiscal year, CRA in BC conducted 93 successful audits on property flips, 20 on capital gains tax and 225 on under-reported GST. The audits yielded C$14.4 million in new tax, of which C$10million was GST. There was C$1.3 million in fines.

As of April 29, there were 40 audits of global income under way, 205 related to flipping, 34 related to capital gains and 428 related to GST.

The average Vancouver house price now sits around C$1.75million for the metropolitan region, while the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver’s “benchmark” price for all residential properties is C$889,100, a 30 per cent increase over the past year. However, incomes remain among the lowest in Canada, making Vancouver one of the world’s most un-affordable cities .

http://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/1989586/leak-reveals-secret-tax-crackdown-foreign-money-real

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email ian.young@scmp.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70

For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions

Buying Power

For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions

Daniel S. Loeb, shown with his wife, Margaret, runs the $17 billion Third Point hedge fund. Mr. Loeb, who has owned a home in East Hampton, has contributed to Jeb Bush’s super PAC and given $1 million to the American Unity Super PAC, which supports gay rights.

By NOAM SCHEIBER and PATRICIA COHEN for The New York Times, December 29, 2015

WASHINGTON — The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes. They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates.
Moreover, each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back.

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.

All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign.
Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.

The ultra-wealthy “literally pay millions of dollars for these services,” said Jeffrey A. Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, “and save in the tens or hundreds of millions in taxes.”

Some of the biggest current tax battles are being waged by some of the most generous supporters of 2016 candidates. They include the families of the hedge fund investors Robert Mercer, who gives to Republicans, and James Simons, who gives to Democrats; as well as the options trader Jeffrey Yass, a libertarian-leaning donor to Republicans.

Mr. Yass’s firm is litigating what the agency deemed to be tens of millions of dollars in underpaid taxes. Renaissance Technologies, the hedge fund Mr. Simons founded and which Mr. Mercer helps run, is currently under review by the I.R.S. over a loophole that saved their fund an estimated $6.8 billion in taxes over roughly a decade, according to a Senate investigation. Some of these same families have also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative groups that have attacked virtually any effort to raises taxes on the wealthy.

In the heat of the presidential race, the influence of wealthy donors is being tested. At stake is the Obama administration’s 2013 tax increase on high earners — the first substantial increase in two decades — and an I.R.S. initiative to ensure that, in effect, the higher rates stick by cracking down on tax avoidance by the wealthy.

While Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have pledged to raise taxes on these voters, virtually every Republican has advanced policies that would vastly reduce their tax bills, sometimes to as little as 10 percent of their income.

At the same time, most Republican candidates favor eliminating the inheritance tax, a move that would allow the new rich, and the old, to bequeath their fortunes intact, solidifying the wealth gap far into the future. And several have proposed a substantial reduction — or even elimination — in the already deeply discounted tax rates on investment gains, a foundation of the most lucrative tax strategies.

“There’s this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it’s that they can buy policy, and specifically, tax policy,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who served as chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “That’s why these egregious loopholes exist, and why it’s so hard to close them.”

The Family Office

Each of the top 400 earners took home, on average, about $336 million in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. If the bulk of that money had been paid out as salary or wages, as it is for the typical American, the tax obligations of those wealthy taxpayers could have more than doubled.

Instead, much of their income came from convoluted partnerships and high-end investment funds. Other earnings accrued in opaque family trusts and foreign shell corporations, beyond the reach of the tax authorities.

The well-paid technicians who devise these arrangements toil away at white-shoe law firms and elite investment banks, as well as a variety of obscure boutiques. But at the fulcrum of the strategizing over how to minimize taxes are so-called family offices, the customized wealth management departments of Americans with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in assets.
Family offices have existed since the late 19th century, when the Rockefellers pioneered the institution, and gained popularity in the 1980s. But they have proliferated rapidly over the last decade, as the ranks of the super-rich, and the size of their fortunes, swelled to record proportions.
“We have so much wealth being created, significant wealth, that it creates a need for the family office structure now,” said Sree Arimilli, an industry recruiting consultant.

Family offices, many of which are dedicated to managing and protecting the wealth of a single family, oversee everything from investment strategy to philanthropy. But tax planning is a core function. While the specific techniques these advisers employ to minimize taxes can be mind-numbingly complex, they generally follow a few simple principles, like converting one type of income into another type that’s taxed at a lower rate.

Mr. Loeb, for example, has invested in a Bermuda-based reinsurer — an insurer to insurance companies — that turns around and invests the money in his hedge fund. That maneuver transforms his profits from short-term bets in the market, which the government taxes at roughly 40 percent, into long-term profits, known as capital gains, which are taxed at roughly half that rate. It has had the added advantage of letting Mr. Loeb defer taxes on this income indefinitely, allowing his wealth to compound and grow more quickly.

The Bermuda insurer Mr. Loeb helped set up went public in 2013 and is active in the insurance business, not merely a tax dodge. Mr. Cohen and Mr. Bacon abandoned similar insurance-based strategies in recent years. “Our investment in Max Re was not a tax-driven scheme, but rather a sound investment response to investor interest in a more dynamically managed portfolio akin to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway,” said Mr. Bacon, who leads Moore Capital Management. “Hedge funds were a minority of the investment portfolio, and Moore Capital’s products a much smaller subset of this alternative portfolio.” Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen declined to comment.

Louis Moore Bacon, shown with his wife, Gabrielle, is the founder of a highly successful hedge fund and a leading contributor to Jeb Bush’s super PAC. Among his homes is one on Robins Island, off Long Island. Bloomberg News, via Getty Images

Organizing one’s business as a partnership can be lucrative in its own right. Some of the partnerships from which the wealthy derive their income are allowed to sell shares to the public, making it easy to cash out a chunk of the business while retaining control. But unlike publicly traded corporations, they pay no corporate income tax; the partners pay taxes as individuals. And the income taxes are often reduced by large deductions, such as for depreciation.

For large private partnerships, meanwhile, the I.R.S. often struggles “to determine whether a tax shelter exists, an abusive tax transaction is being used,” according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office. The agency is not allowed to collect underpaid taxes directly from these partnerships, even those with several hundred partners. Instead, it must collect from each individual partner, requiring the agency to commit significant time and manpower.

The wealthy can also avail themselves of a range of esoteric and customized tax deductions that go far beyond writing off a home office or dinner with a client. One aggressive strategy is to place income in a type of charitable trust, generating a deduction that offsets the income tax. The trust then purchases what’s known as a private placement life insurance policy, which invests the money on a tax-free basis, frequently in a number of hedge funds. The person’s heirs can inherit, also tax-free, whatever money is left after the trust pays out a percentage each year to charity, often a considerable sum.

Many of these maneuvers are well established, and wealthy taxpayers say they are well within their rights to exploit them. Others exist in a legal gray area, its boundaries defined by the willingness of taxpayers to defend their strategies against the I.R.S. Almost all are outside the price range of the average taxpayer.

Among tax lawyers and accountants, “the best and brightest get a high from figuring out how to do tricky little deals,” said Karen L. Hawkins, who until recently headed the I.R.S. office that oversees tax practitioners. “Frankly, it is almost beyond the intellectual and resource capacity of the Internal Revenue Service to catch.”

The combination of cost and complexity has had a profound effect, tax experts said. Whatever tax rates Congress sets, the actual rates paid by the ultra-wealthy tend to fall over time as they exploit their numerous advantages.

From Mr. Obama’s inauguration through the end of 2012, federal income tax rates on individuals did not change (excluding payroll taxes). But the highest-earning one-thousandth of Americans went from paying an average of 20.9 percent to 17.6 percent. By contrast, the top 1 percent, excluding the very wealthy, went from paying just under 24 percent on average to just over that level.

“We do have two different tax systems, one for normal wage-earners and another for those who can afford sophisticated tax advice,” said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego who studies the intersection of tax policy and inequality. “At the very top of the income distribution, the effective rate of tax goes down, contrary to the principles of a progressive income tax system.”

A Very Quiet Defense

Having helped foster an alternative tax system, wealthy Americans have been aggressive in defending it.

Trade groups representing the Bermuda-based insurance company Mr. Loeb helped set up, for example, have spent the last several months pleading with the I.R.S. that its proposed rules tightening the hedge fund insurance loophole are too onerous.

The major industry group representing private equity funds spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year lobbying on such issues as “carried interest,” the granddaddy of Wall Street tax loopholes, which makes it possible for fund managers to pay the capital gains rate rather than the higher standard tax rate on a substantial share of their income for running the fund.

The budget deal that Congress approved in October allows the I.R.S. to collect underpaid taxes from large partnerships at the firm level for the first time — which is far easier for the agency — thanks to a provision that lawmakers slipped into the deal at the last minute, before many lobbyists could mobilize. But the new rules are relatively weak — firms can still choose to have partners pay the taxes — and don’t take effect until 2018, giving the wealthy plenty of time to weaken them further.

Shortly after the provision passed, the Managed Funds Association, an industry group that represents prominent hedge funds like D. E. Shaw, Renaissance Technologies, Tiger Management and Third Point, began meeting with members of Congress to discuss a wish list of adjustments. The founders of these funds have all donated at least $500,000 to 2016 presidential candidates. During the Obama presidency, the association itself has risen to become one of the most powerful trade groups in Washington, spending over $4 million a year on lobbying.

And while the lobbying clout of the wealthy is most often deployed through industry trade associations and lawyers, some rich families have locked arms to advance their interests more directly.

The inheritance tax has been a primary target. In the early 1990s, a California family office executive named Patricia Soldano began lobbying on behalf of wealthy families to repeal the tax, which would not only save them money, but also make it easier to preserve their business empires from one generation to the next. The idea struck many hardened operatives as unrealistic at the time, given that the tax affected only the wealthiest Americans. But Ms. Soldano’s efforts — funded in part by the Mars and Koch families — laid the groundwork for a one-year elimination in 2010.
The tax has been restored, but currently applies only to couples leaving roughly $11 million or more to their heirs, up from those leaving more than $1.2 million when Ms. Soldano started her campaign. It affected fewer than 5,200 families last year.

“If anyone would have told me we’d be where we are today, I would never have guessed it,” Ms. Soldano said in an interview.

Some of the most profound victories are barely known outside the insular world of the wealthy and their financial managers.

In 2009, Congress set out to require that investment partnerships like hedge funds register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, partly so that regulators would have a better grasp on the risks they posed to the financial system.

The early legislative language would have required single-family offices to register as well, exposing the highly secretive institutions to scrutiny that their clients were eager to avoid. Some of the I.R.S.’s cases against the wealthy originate with tips from the S.E.C., which is often better positioned to spot tax evasion.

By the summer of 2009, several family office executives had formed a lobbying group called the Private Investor Coalition to push back against the proposal. The coalition won an exemption in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, then spent much of the next year persuading the S.E.C. to largely adopt its preferred definition of “family office.”

So expansive was the resulting loophole that Mr. Soros’s $24.5 billion hedge fund took advantage of it, converting to a family office after returning capital to its remaining outside investors. The hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller, a former business partner of Mr. Soros, took the same step.

The Soros family, which generally supports Democrats, has committed at least $1 million to the 2016 presidential campaign; Mr. Druckenmiller, who favors Republicans, has put slightly more than $300,000 behind three different G.O.P. presidential candidates.

A slide presentation from the Private Investor Coalition’s 2013 annual meeting credited the success to multiple meetings with members of the Senate Banking Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, congressional staff and S.E.C. staff. “All with a low profile,” the document noted. “We got most of what we wanted AND a few extras we didn’t request.”

A Hobbled Monitor

After all the loopholes and all the lobbying, what remains of the government’s ability to collect taxes from the wealthy runs up against one final hurdle: the crisis facing the I.R.S.
President Obama has made fighting tax evasion by the rich a priority. In 2010, he signed legislation making it easier to identify Americans who squirreled away assets in Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Islands shelters.

His I.R.S. convened a Global High Wealth Industry Group, known colloquially as “the wealth squad,” to scrutinize the returns of Americans with incomes of at least $10 million a year.
But while these measures have helped the government retrieve billions, the agency’s efforts have flagged in the face of scandal, political pressure and budget cuts. Between 2010, the year before Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, and 2014, the I.R.S. budget dropped by almost $2 billion in real terms, or nearly 15 percent. That has forced it to shed about 5,000 high-level enforcement positions out of about 23,000, according to the agency.

Audit rates for the $10 million-plus club spiked in the first few years of the Global High Wealth program, but have plummeted since then.

Steven A. Cohen, shown with his wife, Alexandra, is the founder of SAC Capital and owns a home in East Hampton. He is a prominent art collector and has focused his political contributions on a super PAC for Gov. Chris Christie.

The political challenge for the agency became especially acute in 2013, after the agency acknowledged singling out conservative nonprofits in a review of political activity by tax-exempt groups. (Senior officials left the agency as a result of the controversy.)

Several former I.R.S. officials, including Marcus Owens, who once headed the agency’s Exempt Organizations division, said the controversy badly damaged the agency’s willingness to investigate other taxpayers, even outside the exempt division.

“I.R.S. enforcement is either absent or diminished” in certain areas, he said. Mr. Owens added that his former department — which provides some oversight of money used by charities and nonprofits — has been decimated.

Groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform, which are financed partly by the foundations of wealthy families and large businesses, have called for impeaching the I.R.S. commissioner. They are bolstered by deep-pocketed advocacy groups like the Club for Growth, which has aided primary challenges against Republicans who have voted in favor of higher taxes.
In 2014, the Club for Growth Action fund raised more than $9 million and spent much of it helping candidates critical of the I.R.S. Roughly 60 percent of the money raised by the fund came from just 12 donors, including Mr. Mercer, who has given the group $2 million in the last five years. Mr. Mercer and his immediate family have also donated more than $11 million to several super PACs supporting Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, an outspoken I.R.S. critic and a presidential candidate.
Another prominent donor is Mr. Yass, who helps run a trading firm called the Susquehanna International Group. He donated $100,000 to the Club for Growth Action fund in September. Mr. Yass serves on the board of the libertarian Cato Institute and, like Mr. Mercer, appears to subscribe to limited-government views that partly motivate his political spending.

But he may also have more than a passing interest in creating a political environment that undermines the I.R.S. Susquehanna is currently challenging a proposed I.R.S. determination that an affiliate of the firm effectively repatriated more than $375 million in income from subsidiaries located in Ireland and the Cayman Islands in 2007, creating a large tax liability. (The affiliate brought the money back to the United States in later years and paid dividend taxes on it; the I.R.S. asserts that it should have paid the ordinary income tax rate, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars more.)

In June, Mr. Yass donated more than $2 million to three super PACs aligned with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has called for taxing all income at a flat rate of 14.5 percent. That change in itself would save wealthy supporters like Mr. Yass millions of dollars.
Mr. Paul, also a presidential candididate, has suggested going even further, calling the I.R.S. a “rogue agency” and circulating a petition in 2013 calling for the tax equivalent of regime change. “Be it now therefore resolved,” the petition reads, “that we, the undersigned, demand the immediate abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service.”

But even if that campaign is a long shot, the richest taxpayers will continue to enjoy advantages over everyone else.

For the ultra-wealthy, “our tax code is like a leaky barrel,” said J. Todd Metcalf, the Democrats’ chief tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee. ”Unless you plug every hole or get a new barrel, it’s going to leak out.”

America’s Home Buyers Being Targeted as Washington’s ‘Pay-For’ Piggy Bank

Would-be home buyers recently averted a major price hike by the narrowest of margins. No, this potential hike had little to do with the wholesale cost of building materials, the cost of borrowing capital, a scarcity of inventory, or the transaction costs of builders, Realtors or lenders. Rather, the latest proposed tax on new homeowners was designed to cover the cost of maintaining our nation’s bridges and roads.

Wait a second — what, if anything, does highway spending have to do with the cost of a residential mortgage? If you guessed “absolutely nothing at all” you’d be correct. Unless, of course, you happen to be a member of the 114th Congress. In that case, America’s newest class of would-be homeowners represents something similar to years past when homeowners were taxed to cover things like the payroll tax reduction extension.

In the Washington of today — similar to past occasions, the American homeowner is all-too-often referred to as a “pay for.”

In this case, various members of Congress sought an offset for a proposed $47 billion federal highway spending bill.

As crazy as it sounds, the latest unsuccessful home ownership “pay-for” proposal isn’t the first time such a plan has been considered. In fact, if you bought a home after December 2011 with a mortgage purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you’re already paying for much more than the cost of a place to live.

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 — H.R. 3765 of the 112th Congress charged new homeowners an additional 10 basis points in guarantee fee costs over the life of a 30-year mortgage. The proceeds were intended to help cover an increase in a two-month extension of the payroll tax credit and also unemployment compensation payments to long-term unemployed workers for roughly two months, from mid-December 2011 until February 29, 2012.

The law states that loan guarantee fees at Fannie and Freddie will rise “by not less than an average increase of 10 basis points for each origination year or book year above the average fees imposed in 2011 for such guarantees.” This means that an estimated $36 billion in additional fees collected over 10 years will be used to offset $33 billion in up-front costs tallied by a mere eight weeks of payroll tax deductions and unemployment insurance.

Kap / Spain, Cagle Cartoons

Of course none of this has anything to do with the financial health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or the creditworthiness of the individual borrower, but it directly impacts the cost of a new home purchase or refinance. It happened because there’s value in home ownership — value that some congressional leaders think can be taxed for almost anything.

The recent flurry of loan guarantee fee increases at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (three times in just over four years) has nothing to do with the risk expected within the overall portfolios of loan business purchased by either of the two mortgage guarantor giants Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac during this time frame. The overall creditworthiness of loan portfolios purchased by both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has risen significantly over the last six years. In fact, both GSEs carry loan portfolios with aggregate average FICO scores well in excess of the average American. Yet, loan guarantee fees at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have skyrocketed by more than 160 percent over the exact same time period.

One reason for the recent rise in “g-fee” expenses has to do with congressional spending packages brokered by both parties for all sorts of concerns. Add to this equation the simple fact that the GSEs themselves are essentially a government-controlled duopoly, and one can understand exactly how the last six years of guarantee fee hikes came to pass.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both currently operate under federal conservatorship administered by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Now in its 84th consecutive month, this “temporary” conservatorship has continued for almost seven years with no proposed plan for a future model. Freddie Mac declared over $8 billion in profits in 2014 alone. Fannie Mae recently declared profits of $4.6 billion in the brief April-through-June time period of 2Q 2015 by itself. Meanwhile, home buyers, cities, communities and the lenders and real estate agents that support the home ownership market have continued to struggle to recover from the housing financial crisis.

Keep in mind, the true cost of capital for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac alike, is essentially zero — they are “conservatees” of the federal government. The notion of passing the cost of capital to the consumer, much like a private sector bank would, simply does not apply in the same sense.

The damage that a deliberate yet unwarranted campaign of GSE guarantee fee has done to American home ownership is clear. With wrongheaded policies such as these, it is easy to understand how the U.S. home ownership rate has dropped to the lowest level in almost 50 years.

It bears mentioning that not everyone on Capitol Hill is interested in using your nest egg as their fiscal piggy bank. Various members of Congress from both political parties have stood in unison to say “enough.” Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee recently joined Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia in authoring an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) in opposition to the “homes for highways” pay-for gambit.

“Each time guarantee fees are extended, increased or diverted for unrelated spending, homeowners are charged more for their mortgages and taxpayers are exposed to additional risk,” said Senators Corker and Warner. Exactly.

It took a (rare) bipartisan effort led by Senators Corker and Warner to publicly shame Congress into upholding the same measure prohibiting such g-fee “pay-for” deals that they themselves passed only months ago.

It has happened before, and it will undoubtedly happen again. It’s just too easy, and it makes almost everyone happy. Everyone except the unsuspecting homeowner, that is. Various constituent groups get whatever spending item they’re after today, fiscal watchdogs get the satisfaction of knowing that at least someone, somewhere, is on the hook to pay the added cost. The problem is, if you’re in the market to buy a home in the foreseeable future or planning to refinance your existing home loan, that “someone” will most likely be you.

Prospective new homeowners have all sorts of pressing concerns to consider. Strapping the cost of a federal highway spending bill onto their backs by way of artificially inflated loan guarantee fees paid over the life of a 30-year mortgage shouldn’t be one of them.

Read more by Garrick T. Davis in The Huffington Post