- Payday lenders sue federal agencies over Operation Choke Point [Bloomberg News, Business Journals, earlier; more, Funnell]
- Speaking of those lenders: “California Supreme Court to review ‘rent-a-tribe’ arrangement for payday lenders” [CL&P, more]
- “If someone starts trying to blame the Global Financial Crisis on ‘de-regulation’, you can stop reading…” [Lorenzo via Arnold Kling]
- Can we just admit that the feds’ real target in the Credit Suisse case was the bank’s customers? [ABA Journal]
- Maryland does not approve of Bitcoin [my Free State Notes via Kevin Funnell]
- Behind Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, SCOTUS’s big case on securities class actions, two lawprofs are jousting [Alison Frankel, Reuters, and there’s a Cato connection; earlier]
- For expats, FATCA raises “prospect of being discriminated against as an American for all things financial” [Peter Spiro/OJ; Sophia Yan, Money] More renounce U.S. citizenship [Yahoo] A Canada-based FATCA resource [Isaac Brock Society] Earlier here, etc.
Law enforcement for profit to take another big leap forward? [Washington Post]:
The Internal Revenue Service would be required to turn over millions of unpaid tax bills to private debt collectors under a measure before the Senate, reviving a program that has previously led to complaints of harassment and has not saved taxpayers money.
The provision was tucked into a larger bill, aimed at renewing an array of expired tax breaks, at the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose state is home to two of the four private collection agencies that stand to benefit from the proposal.
It requires all “inactive tax receivables” to be assigned to private debt collectors if the IRS cannot locate the person who owes the money or if IRS agents are unable to make contact within a year.
The idea has been tried twice before, but was discontinued both times after poor results including net losses on the program. Nina Olson, who holds the position of Taxpayer Advocate in the U.S. government (and is no relation), strongly opposes the program, noting that some of the money would be recouped by the Treasury anyway through means such as future withheld refunds without the need for paying 25 percent contingency fees to the middlemen. Bounty-hunting freelancers are more likely to resort to tactics such as day-and-night harassing calls, and have less flexibility to work out payment plans for those getting back on their feet after reverses or, in the case of estate taxes, heirs who may have not yet received the inheritances from which they need to pay the tax due.
Compare many state governments’ practice of putting out plaintiff’s-side litigation opportunities to private lawyers at contingency fee, which has created a durable lobby for hardball extractive lawsuits of dubious social benefit as well as showering large sums on law firms that already are or soon become influential political players in their states.
“How Breast Implant Size is Relevant to Tax Policy” [Alan Cole, Tax Foundation]
Huge win for justice and good sense: facing a mounting public furor, “The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.” [WaPo] Credit goes above all to the Washington Post and its reporter Marc Fisher for exposing the most outrageous features of the IRS’s refund-interception program last week, as recounted in this space; I like to think I helped as well by beating the drum early and repeatedly since then with Cato’s help. Overlawyered’s Facebook post on the subject has been seen by more than 60,000 people and shared more than 700 times in the past few days. (Have you liked us yet?)
The next step should be to establish for the public record how the provision in question got slipped into the farm bill, and at whose behest. Congress’s refusal to be forthcoming on this topic speaks volumes about its lack of a felt sense of responsibility toward the people it represents.
And a theme I’ve been repeating for almost as long as I’ve been writing about law: statutes of limitations developed in civilized legal systems for a reason. They protect us not only from cost, uncertainty, and the misery of legal process, but from injustice of a hundred other kinds, and they protect society itself from spiraling into a legal war of all against all. Stop trying to abolish them!
Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds this month are instead getting letters like the one [Mary] Grice [of Takoma Park, Md.] got, informing them that because of a debt they never knew about — often a debt incurred by their parents — the government has confiscated their check.
The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year — $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department’s debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.
No one seems eager to take credit for [the provision]…
While a variety of stale disputes are involved, some of the most controversial involve alleged Social Security overpayments to long-deceased parents that the government says it has a right to reclaim because they contributed or might have contributed to the support of now-grown children. Targets say they are helpless to contest the seizures in many cases because financial records have long since been thrown out, in line with the IRS’s own guidelines which do not encourage the keeping of financial records for decades. State as well as federal refunds can be intercepted, and the taxpayer who wants to argue must sue to get the money back.
A spokeswoman says the feds attempt to contact targets about the claims before attaching refunds, but the Washington Post’s report cites examples in which notice was sent to decades-old post office boxes or addresses, even though both tax and Social Security authorities held current correct addresses for the taxpayer.
Need it be added that many of the methods the government is using would be deemed unlawful if asserted by creditors trying to collect private debts? To name only the most egregious of the problems, children cannot ordinarily be made to pay parents’ debts, even when there is a writing by the parent acknowledging the debt as valid (which will ordinarily be lacking in after-the-fact assertions of overpayment).
It is at most a minor ironic consolation that taxpayers are likely to react to these outrageous tactic by scaling back hard on the widespread practice of voluntary over-withholding, reasoning that it is unsafe to build up a big refund if authorities can snatch it away for unpredictable reasons with little hope of recourse.
P.S. More from J.D. Tuccille, Reason.
Kind of like Venezuela with Old Bay seasoning: “Responding to a threat that the “House of Cards” television series may leave Maryland if it doesn’t get more tax credits, the House of Delegates adopted budget language Thursday requiring the state to seize the production company’s property if it stops filming in the state. … Del. William Frick, a Montgomery County Democrat, proposed the provision, which orders the state to use the right of eminent domain to buy or condemn the property of any company that has claimed $10 million or more credits against the state income tax. The provision would appear to apply only to the Netflix series, which has gotten the bulk of the state credits.” [Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, earlier citing David Boaz]
- “Maryland To Cut Estate Tax As Blue States Fall In Line” [Ashlea Ebeling, Forbes]
- Why is the state doling out tax credits to the successful House of Cards TV series? [David Boaz, Cato]
- Union boon at kids’ expense: assembly moves to impose prevailing-wage scheme on school construction [Carroll County Times, Maryland Reporter]
- Bill appears to have stalled: “Proposed Maryland Law Could Lead to Confiscation Of Guns from Noncomplying Folks with Criminal Records” [Brian Doherty, Reason, HB0623]
- “HHS Inspector General To Examine Maryland’s Troubled Health Exchange” [Kaiser Health News]
- Bill to prohibit fracking reported unfavorably by environmental committee, but opponents set sights on blocking LNG terminal at Cove Point in Calvert County, compressor at Myersville in Frederick County [MLW; Sean Hackbarth, US Chamber; Frederick News Post]
- “Maryland politicians already reneging on pension reforms” [Steve Malanga, Public Sector Inc.]
- “Woman Arrested Nine Years After Failing to Return Rented Video” [S.C.: Lowering the Bar, more]
- “Why India’s Ban Against Child Labor Increased Child Labor” [James Schneider, EconLib]
- “I’ve never seen an attorney general sanctioned.” Court hits Nevada AG Catherine Cortez Masto with sanctions after collapse of robosigning suit against mortgage servicer that state hired D.C.’s Cohen Milstein to bring [Daniel Fisher, update (case settles)]
- Another review of the new collection The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law (Frank Buckley, ed.) [Bainbridge, earlier]
- They would be major: “The Gains from Getting Rid of ‘Run Amok’ Occupational Licensing” [David Henderson]
- E-cigarettes could save lives [Sally Satel, Washington Post]
- How incentives to avoid tax can lead to social tragedy, in this case via ABBA stage outfits [Guardian]
It’s a win for small tax return preparers and a loss both for unilateral assertions of agency power (Congress had never given the Internal Revenue Service the power it claimed here) and for big national tax-prep chains, which had supported the regulation with a view to suppressing “kitchen table” competitors. Andrew Grossman analyzes for Cato, and the Institute for Justice, representing independent tax preparers, can take due credit for a big legal win.