02 July 2007

Trouble in the House

I was in Cannon a few weeks ago when I experienced my first bout of apoplectic rage. I suppose I should have expected it, but somehow I let my guard down and was sideswiped by idiocy.

In June, ITIF - a think-tank that serves the interests of the high-tech community - held a forum on research and development (R&D) trade policy. ITIF, particularly Julie Hedlund and Bob Atkinson, claim that other countries are discriminating against US technology industries in a protectionist fashion and against international law. Atkinson and Hedlund then proposed a list of actions that the US government (USG) could take to address this discrimination.

Now, they don't get loopy until you notice one of their suggestions. Most other countries, says ITIF, bear the legal costs of defending their companies' intellectual property rights in World Trade Organization (WTO) cases. The USG doesn't do that, as a rule, and lets Microsoft and other technology companies fend for themselves and fight their own legal battles. ITIF suggests that, since these companies are enforcing international law - fighting the good fight, so to speak - the USG should support Microsoft and others by defraying their legal costs. This would occur via a tax credit of 25% of US companies' legal costs in fighting WTO cases.

Alright, let's just say that we decided to give international companies this tax credit. That leads us to an interesting situation.

Here is my interchange with Atkinson at the forum (paraphrased):

KG: "Wouldn't we want to be consistent and give such a credit to press legal cases to enforce other bits of international law, like labor, environmental, and human rights regulations?"

RA: "Oh, no. I don't think any companies would want to file those kinds of cases."

KG: "But what about other organizations, like unions and non-governmental organizations? Surely those unions, NGOs and foundations would appreciate such help from Uncle Sam, right?"

RA: "See, those folks don't pay taxes. So they wouldn't be able to benefit from such a tax credit."

KG: "I think you're thinking about tax deductions, which only taxpayers can use. But you're proposing tax credits so any organization could benefit."

RA: "No, no. They wouldn't be able to benefit because they don't pay taxes. Only folks that pay taxes can get a tax credit."

And here my apoplexy began.

Now, for an ordinary Joe, I can understand such a mistake. The difference between tax credits and tax deductions is not so easy to keep straight. (Hint: poor folks that don't have to pay taxes can still benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit.) But, see Atkinson is no ordinary Joe. He's a planner by training, but has since published multiple books on economics. The idea that he would not know the difference between a deduction and a credit is laughable.

I'm not laughing.

Tax policy is a huge topic in R&D circles. Either Robert Atkinson is incompetent to speak on matters of tax policy or he is lying. Such behavior in the US Congress is unacceptable.

I can't let blatant falsehoods stand. Not like this. Hence this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Just to make sure this is accurate, I should relay some private comments recevied from a CPA friend of mine:

    "For Corps and Individuals some credits are "refundable", meaning that even if your tax liability is -0-, the gov't will pay YOU ... Examples are
    [...] Earned Income Credit and Rentors Credit in CA. By and large MOST credits (like 95% guestimate) are NOT "refundable" (a tax term), and
    therefore if your tax is -0-, you loose the Credit forever - end of story for both businesses and individuals. Businesses also get some
    refundable credits.

    One Exception is the Foreign Tax Credit. If you are unable to use a Foreign Tax Credit (individuals and businesses) in any given year, b/c you owe -0- tax, the Foreign Tax Credit can be carried forward to future years to offset future years' tax.

    In the case of non-profits, NGOs (unions are non- profits), foundations do not pay taxes unless they violate their non-profit status and become
    unwittingly for-profit businesses. They are NOT given ANY "refundable" credits, and hence if they owe -0- tax, they do not get credit $$$s
    similar to the Earned Income Credit; they do not get any 'refundable' credits ...
    End of story.

    The non-profits/foundations/NGOs pay taxes ONLY on "Unrelated Business Income" ... And I do not believe that there are any credits (currently) that would reduce the tax on unrelated business income.

    So were legislation to be passed to credit an offset for legal costs incurred, 1) it would need to be a credit against the tax on Unrelated Business Income and/or 2) it would need to be deemed a 'refundable' credit for the non-profits/foundations/NGOs to benefit - and this would be
    untread ground in nonprofit/foundation/NGO tax law, so it would be an 'uphill' (pun) fight to grant the same credit to this group, as might be granted to a Microsoft or to an Intel."