November 24, 2008 - Phil Hodgen

Reaction to first day of Tax Update and Planning Conference

As the Conference Co-Chair of the CalCPA Education Foundation’s 2008 Tax Update and Planning Conference, my job is to introduce the speakers and take care of small glitches as they arise in the conference. I figured I would sit through the whole day of presentations, and did.

Scared the hell of of me.

Sitting through Tom Daley’s Federal Tax Update was like being on the wrong end of a firehose. Followed by Skip Kessler discussing changes in real estate taxation, including 1031 exchange stuff. How do these guys keep up with this?? And even if you’re finding this stuff as it changes, how do you remember it?? Onward to Matthew Burke from the State Board of Equalization (California property tax, change of ownership rules, etc.), Jonathan Karp on passthrough entities and Alex Brucker on retirement plans.

International tax law is basically an area where the prevailing enforcement attitude from the IRS is “Death penalties for parking tickets!” and I see that this is true in other areas as well. It seems that the general POV for the IRS is that of the Borg. “Resistance is futile.”

I am not sure why a small business would even bother offering a pension plan to its employees given the utter insanity erupting from the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service.

Nor am I exactly sure why a sensible person would voluntarily be an accountant, given the way that Congress dinks around with the Internal Revenue Code and the Internal Revenue Service spews administrative rulings. I’m sure there are nice people at the IRS (I’ve met some, and they truly are) and I’m sure that their mothers love them. But there is something dreadfully wrong with the tax system. Something has gone off the rails.

Having just purchased and devoured Charles T. Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack (highly recommended) I cannot help but compare Munger’s clarity of purpose and thought with the muddled aimlessness of Congress and its bureaucratic minions.

Let’s just put it this way. The laws of asymmetrical warfare seem to have been utterly lost on Congress and the Treasury Department. There is a congenital failure–in tax policy and enforcement actions–to look beyond the immediately-desired effect, to the knock-on effects that really aren’t that hard to predict.

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