On November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act (“Act”) was signed into law by President Barack Obama. One of the many provisions of the Act significantly impacted: (i) the manner in which entities taxed as partnerships are audited by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”); and (ii) who is required to pay the tax resulting from any corresponding audit adjustments. The new rules sprung into life for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.
On February 21, 2014, then House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) issued a discussion draft of the “Tax Reform Act of 2014.” The proposed legislation spanned almost 1,000 pages and contained some interesting provisions, including repealing IRC § 1031, thereby prohibiting tax deferral from like-kind exchanges. Not only would taxpayers have been impacted by this proposal, but it would have turned the real estate industry upside down. Qualified intermediaries would have been put out of business. Likewise, title and escrow companies, as well as real estate advisors specializing in exchanges, would have been adversely affected by the proposal.
On November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act (“Act”) was signed into law by President Barack Obama. One of the many provisions of the Act significantly impacts: (i) the manner in which entities taxed as partnerships will be audited by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”); and (ii) who is required to pay the tax resulting from any corresponding audit adjustments. These new rules generally are effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. As discussed below, because of the nature of these rules, partnerships need to consider taking action now in anticipation of the new rules.
The Current Landscape
Entities taxed as partnerships generally do not pay income tax. Rather, they compute and report their taxable income and losses on IRS Form 1065. The partnership provides each of its partners with a Schedule K-1, which allows the partners to report to the IRS their share of the partnership’s income or loss on their own tax returns and pay the corresponding tax. Upon audit, pursuant to uniform audit procedures enacted as part of the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (“TEFRA”), examinations of partnerships are conducted generally under one of the following scenarios:
- For partnerships with ten (10) or fewer eligible partners, examinations are conducted by a separate audit of the partnership and then an audit of each of the partners;
- For partnerships with greater than ten (10) partners and/or partnerships with ineligible partners, examinations are conducted under uniform TEFRA audit procedures, whereby the examination, conducted at the partnership level, is binding on the taxpayers who were partners of the partnership during the year under examination; and
- For partnerships with 100 or more partners, at the election of the partnership, examinations may be conducted under uniform “Electing Large Partnership” audit procedures, whereby the examination, conducted at the partnership level, is binding on the partners of the partnership existing at the conclusion of the audit.
Lawmakers believed a change in TEFRA audit framework was necessary for the efficient administration of Subchapter K of the Code. If a C corporation is audited, the IRS can assess an additional tax owing against a single taxpayer—the very taxpayer under examination—the C corporation. In the partnership space, however, despite the possible application of the uniform audit procedures, the IRS is required to examine the partnership and then assess and collect tax from multiple taxpayers (i.e., the partners of the partnership). In fact, the Government Accountability Office (the “GAO”) reported in 2014 that, for tax year 2012, less than one percent (1%) of partnerships with more than $100 million in assets were audited. Whereas, for the same tax year, more than twenty-seven percent (27%) of similarly-sized corporations were audited. The GAO concluded the vast disparity is directly related to the increased administrative burden placed on the IRS under the existing partnership examination rules.
As reported in my November 2014 blog post, President Obama’s administration wants to limit taxpayers’ ability to defer income under IRC § 1031. In response to former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp’s proposed Tax Reform Act of 2014, which would have eliminated IRC § 1031 altogether, the Obama administration proposed to retain the code section, but limit deferral with regard to real property exchanges to $1 million per taxpayer each tax year. Personal property exchanges, under the President’s proposal, would go unscathed.
In 2015, President Obama expanded his proposal relative to IRC § 1031 to limit personal property exchanges by excluding certain types of property from the definition of “like kind.” The excluded personal property included items such as collectibles and art. The President’s proposed $1 million real property exchange limitation was left intact.
Late this afternoon, President Obama signed into law the tax extenders legislation referenced in my blog earlier today. Hopefully, we can now complete our client year-end tax planning.
The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 Passes Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate
Late in the day on December 15, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the “Act”). The Act, which represents a $622 billion tax package, revives many taxpayer-friendly provisions of the Code that expired a year ago.
The Act passed the House with a vote of 318 to 109. Voting in favor of the Act were 77 Democrats and 241 Republicans.
The Act moved to the U.S. Senate, where it was presented along with a comprehensive spending bill. As expected, the Senate voted in favor of the legislation today by a vote of 65 to 33. Consequently, the Act moves from Congress to the desk of President Obama. Most commentators expect that he will promptly sign the Act into law, as his administration has shown strong support.
As reported in my January 20, 2015 blog post, the IRS continues to take strong blows to its body in terms of budget setbacks. President Obama, however, as part of his administration’s 2016 budget proposal issued on February 2, 2015, plans to end some of the pain being imposed on the Service. His budget proposal, if enacted, would infuse over $12.9 billion into the Service’s coffers during fiscal year 2016. This represents an increase of approximately $2 billion over the fiscal year 2015 IRS budget.
President Obama’s 2016 budget proposal includes provisions which, in the aggregate, increase income tax revenues by approximately $650 billion over 10 years. At least three of the proposed tax increases will be of concern to a broad spectrum of taxpayers:
On February 2, 2015, President Obama published his 2016 budget proposal. It proclaims that “[a] simpler, fairer, and more efficient tax system is critical to achieving many of the President’s fiscal and economic goals.” While some tax practitioners may debate the claim that the tax provisions embedded in the President’s budget proposal make the tax system simpler, it is a certainty that a significant number of tax practitioners will question the fairness of these provisions.
As in the past, the President’s budget proposes that “wealthy millionaires” pay no less than 30% of their income in federal income taxes. To facilitate accomplishing that goal, President Obama suggests these taxpayers be prevented from making charitable contributions to reduce their tax liability. He states: “…this proposal will act as a backstop to prevent high-income households from using tax preferences to reduce their total tax bills to less than what many middle class families pay.”
Larry J. Brant
Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder and the Chair of the Tax & Benefits practice group at Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant practices in the Portland office. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long-term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.