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In light of a controversial proposed state tax on Yale's $25.6 billion endowment, the University has begun significant outreach to alumni and the general public alike with the aim of defeating the bill.
Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander '65 wrote a Wednesday email to alumni living in Connecticut, voicing the University's concerns about the bill and urging recipients to reach out to state legislators if they share similar worries. Alexander stressed that the General Assembly has overstepped its bounds on proposing two bills this legislative session targeting the University.
The first bill, SB 413, aims to tax unspent returns on university endowments of $10 billion or more, while SB 414 seeks to clarify which property taxes Yale pays on its nonacademic buildings. Though New Haven lawmakers, Senate President Martin Looney and Rep. Toni Walker have backed both bills, Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration denounced the bill proposing an endowment tax earlier this week.
"My colleagues and I are confident these unprecedented proposals do not pass constitutional muster and we would challenge them vigorously if passed," Alexander wrote in his email to state alumni. "It is ironic these attacks come at a time full of much positive news to share about our university: how it strengthens access, and how it strengthens its home community."
A YaleNews press release from the Office of Public Affairs amp; Communications Thursday morning reiterated Alexander's concerns to a broader audience of current Yale students, faculty and staff. Headlined "Yale opposes legislation to revoke its tax-exempt status," the release reiterated the University's consistent stance that the bills are unconstitutional and go against Yale's right of non-taxation, established by its charter in 1701.
While Alexander's office works to rally alumni against the bill, some former students said they doubt the bill will even pass the state legislature.
T. Wayne Downey '57, who lives in Guilford, said alumni have maintained a sense of humor about the proposal, noting Florida Gov. Rick Scott's March 29 invitation for Yale to relocate its campus to the Sunshine State.
Alumni living in Connecticut, however, expressed no clear consensus on the bill.
Milford resident Susan Beck '75 said the proposal is preferable to other methods Malloy has used to try to balance the budget, such as cutting state funding for individuals with mental disabilities.
"So many of the other things [Malloy] wants to do are so unpalatable, and as usual, strike at the people who always come up on the short end of the stick," Beck said.
But Downey said the bill was unnecessary, given the positive impact that Yale has on New Haven.
In his email, Alexander noted that Yale is one of the state's largest employers and that New Haven was Connecticut's only major city to see job growth from 2004 to 2014, with 7,000 new jobs created during that period.
Downey also referred to other, more intangible benefits that Yale provides to New Haven, like free art museums and music recitals that are open to the public.
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Thomson Reuters has added content to its Checkpoint Catalyst tax research system focusing on the taxation of real estate investment trusts and their shareholders.
The new topic includes information about qualification as a REIT, tax benefits offered to REIT investors, and important state and local tax considerations in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A REIT is similar to a mutual fund for commercial real estate. REIT shareholders are able to benefit from regular income streams and long-term growth from real estate investments without having to satisfy stringent capital requirements. A REIT is a tax-preferred vehicle because, unlike a regular corporation, it is not subject to entity-level tax on earnings that it distributes to its shareholders. But these benefits are only available if the real estate company satisfies a variety of intricate requirements.
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NGOs have called for worldwide transparency on taxation in the wake of the release of the Panama paper as international reaction continues.
The Panama Papers leak of millions of documents lifts the lid on how offshore companies are used by the global elite to conceal the ownership and control of assets and property worth billions.
Members of The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which includes The Irish Times, have spent more than a year examining a cache of 11.5 million documents and records from Panama-based Mossack Fonseca, one the biggest providers of offshore services to individuals, companies and middle men who advise them.
French president FranÃ§ois Hollande said the revelations were good news that would help boost tax revenues. French minister for finance Michel Sapin said the authorities would seek access to the papers. Once authorities have acquired and verified the information, they would review the taxes of the individuals concerned and apply any penalties, notably for non-declared foreign bank accounts and shelf companies.
In Russia, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin dismissed allegations against the president. On Russian TV Rain, the spokesman said the document release was aimed at an external audience.
âItâs clear that the level of Putinophobia has reached a level at which itâs impossible to speak well of Russia, and itâs required to speak ill of Russia,â he said.
Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been defended by members of his government. When asked about offshore companies reportedly owned by the Sharif, the countryâs information minister, Pervez Rasheed, said âEvery man has the right to do what he wants with his assets, to throw them in the sea, to sell them, or to establish a trust for themâ.
âThere is no crime in this in Pakistani law or in international law.â
The UK government has not commented on a story reported in the Guardian, on the tax affairs of prime minister David Cameronâs late father, Ian Cameron. A Downing Street spokeswoman said there was no comment on âa family matterâ.
John Key, prime minister of New Zealand defended his governmentâs tax record, after the Panama documents showed links to offshore trusts set up by Maltese politicians and officials. He said New Zealand was given a âclean bill of healthâ by the OECD in 2013, following a review of its tax laws.
In Australia more than 800 wealthy Australians are under investigation by the Australian Taxation Office for possible tax evasion linked to their alleged dealings with Mossack Fonseca, according to Associated Press,.
Prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, has come under pressure to resign from opposition there. They have planned a vote of no confidence after leaked documents about his wifeâs ownership of a tax haven-based company with large claims on the countryâs collapsed banks.
Oxfam Ireland has called for a global tax body to oversee the payment of tax by wealthy individuals and corporations.
Jim Clarken, chief executive of the charity, said the current global tax system just does not work because business has evolved, borders donât exist to the extent they did and there is a complexity to taxation that wasnât there before.
He said there should be a global system to which all countries could sign up.
âWe are not talking about a unified tax rate or anything like that, just a set of rules that every country in the world can agree to that will essentially remove the opportunities for people to play one country of against another to benefit themselves or their corporations,â he said.
The charity has estimated, based on UN and other figures, that $150 billion is lost in tax revenue by wealthy individuals not paying their fair share every year.
Campaigning group Transparency International called for a crackdown on âthe many ways wealthy people can shelter their money from taxâ. A spokesman said the only way to stop this âgrand corruptionâ is through governments, businesses and others coming together and rejecting dirty cash as illegitimate.
âThe time has come to stop turning a blind eye to anonymous purchases of luxury property and goods, refuse to issue unvetted investment visas and create a legal framework that is fit for purpose in detecting flows of dirty cash,â he said.
A spokesman for charity Action Aid said the Panama papers show those with the means to do so, are able to break the rules on a massive scale, benefiting at the expense of ordinary citizens, with the poorest countries in the world being hit hardest.
Sinn FÃin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said he has written to the Revenue Commissioners urging a full investigation into any potential loss to the Irish State revealed by the Panama Papers.
He has also called for legislative action on country by country reporting and the creation of a public register of beneficial owners of companies as concrete ways of fighting such avoidance and potential evasion of tax.
âThe public interest demands an immediate Revenue investigation and the bringing into the public light of as much information as possible,â he said.
- Additional reporting Reuters
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Ed Jenkins leads a bipolar life -- at least, that's how he describes it.
Jenkins is an instructor of accounting at Penn State and a tax consultant at State College firm Boyer amp; Ritter.
"I enjoy getting to know students and it's rewarding to teach," he said. "I also like to practice taxation. I'm focused on federal and international taxation. I can't walk away from that, and it influences what I do in the classroom."
He discussed what people and businesses are facing this tax season, his specialty in foreign bank accounts and how a wife learned her husband was a millionaire.
Q: Why'd you get into accounting?
A: I've always done things backward. I wanted to be a veterinarian. I went to Penn State to study animal sciences and realized I had no idea how to study for that, and then I got into international economics. That sounded really good to try to get a job. I ended up at Dun amp; Bradstreet writing business reports, and then I needed to get a job I could eat with. I went back to Penn State to get my MBA, got the credits I needed to be a CPA (certified public accountant) and took the CPA exam.
Q: What are some common questions people want answers to this tax season?
A: I specialize in international taxation, so I have clients that have international investments, real estate holdings and foreign accounts. There is a very big issue right now with foreign bank accounts. A lot of people are getting caught up in (the merger of) UBS Warburg and Swiss Bank. A whole regime that went into effect in 2010 is causing intergovernmental agreements to kick in and trade information. If you have an account abroad you're going to get caught in it. I've spent 80 to 90 percent of my time working on foreign bank accounts and keeping people out of jail.
In terms of the general public, most people are just worried and feeling pinched. If you look at income statistics, income has been flat for years. People feel pinched and anxious. There's talk about changing tax law. Congress for the last few years has passed extender legislation in December, so businesses and people come to me asking, "What do I do, Ed?" And the answer is that I don't know what the law is going to be. They should have passed it before, but they waited until the end of the year. If we were supposed to spend half a million dollars on capital investments to spur the economy, why are they passing it in the second week of December? There's a general anxiety, because people don't know what the rules are.