Apple, Phantoms, Roads, and Debt

Is the EU about to grab the Holy Grail? The European Union plans to launch a formal investigation into Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland—described by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) as “the Holy Grail of tax avoidance,” Reuters reports. The US Senate determined that Apple had cut billions from its US tax bill by giving affiliates registered in Cork, Ireland, the right to license Apple’s intellectual properties to other related companies. Those Cork firms were declared to be not tax resident in any other country. Apple says it complied with law, achieving an effective non-US corporate income tax rate of 3.7 percent.

In Ukraine, one word… Plastics. In Ukraine, seated at a transparent plastic table and six chairs—bug-proof seating reminiscent of Cold War counterintelligence tactics—top tax officials of the former government cooked up a massive and elaborate tax fraud.  As described by the Associated Press, corrupt officials set up 100 to 120 phantom firms to funnel tax dollars to the scammers’ pockets and dramatically reduce the tax bills of participating companies. Over three years they bilked the nation out of $11 billion, more than half a year’s tax revenue. Ukraine’s budget is currently supported by a $17 billion International Monetary Fund loan package.

Michigan wants a transportation deal by Friday. Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the state are moving closer, and Republican Governor Rick Snyder wants something on his desk before the legislative session ends this week. If lawmakers close a deal, Michigan voters may get to choose between a sales tax hike or a gasoline tax increase on the November ballot. Michigan wants to raise $1 billion in order to start fixing the state’s roads and bridges this summer.

Over in Ohio… The state just passed a huge tax cut, thanks to a surprise budget surplus. TPC’s Norton Francis reviews the numbers: It might have been better to bank the money.

Student debt continues to weigh heavily. Its size is likely slowing economic growth—and it seems a likely election issue for Democrats this year. The Obama Administration has expanded an income-based repayment program. It has also asked the Treasury and Education departments and two private tax preparation firms to help borrowers understand how to avoid default during tax filing season.

The IRS highlights a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights takes the multiple existing rights embedded in the tax code and groups them into 10 broad categories. The goal is to make them more visible and easier for taxpayers to find on the IRS website. The rights are, briefly: to be informed; to quality service; to pay no more than the correct amount of tax; to challenge the IRS’s position and be heard; to appeal an IRS decision in an independent forum; to finality, privacy, and confidentiality; to representation; and to a fair and just tax system.

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