February 22, 2019 From the Chair

Your Changing Tax Section

By Eric Solomon, Washington, DC

New Orleans Meeting

The Tax Section held its Midyear Tax Meeting in New Orleans on January 17-19.  Because of the government shutdown, IRS and Treasury representatives were not able to attend.  Nevertheless, there was much to discuss.  Numerous panels addressed the continuing deluge of guidance relating to the 2017 Tax Act, such as proposed regulations regarding qualified opportunity funds and final regulations regarding the 20% deduction for sole proprietors and owners of pass-through entities (section 199A), as well as additional guidance regarding the many new international tax provisions.

The featured speaker at the plenary session on Saturday, January 19 was Richard Rubin, the U.S. tax policy reporter for The Wall Street Journal.  It is always interesting to hear the unique insights of someone who is not a practicing tax professional but spends a lot of time observing and reporting on the tax world.  Richard explained how he tries to translate complex issues to his readers, who are educated, curious and ideologically diverse, and who want to understand taxes in order to make informed decisions.  In his articles he strives to be readable and credible, and in his analysis he strives to be skeptical without cynicism.

At the plenary session Nina Olson, the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate, received the Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award for her commitment to pro bono programs, including low-income taxpayer clinics (LITCs), for more than two decades.  Prior to her appointment as the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina founded and served as the Executive Director of The Community Tax Law Project, the first independent section 
501(c)(3) LITC in the United States.  While in that role, she worked with Janet Spragens to develop and ensure the passage of section 7526, which authorizes matching grants for LITCs.  In her acceptance speech, Nina praised the Tax Section for its longstanding support for pro bono activities.  She noted that the LITC program would not have been so successful without the Tax Section’s support.  The award presentation and her remarks can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RotvQ6vKM8o.

In its 18th year and going strong, the Annual Law Student Tax Challenge, organized by our Young Lawyers Forum, held its finals during the New Orleans meeting.  Congratulations to the winners and all who participated.  The J.D. first place team was Thomas Boland and Jordan Fruchter of Albany Law School.  The LL.M. first place team was Kasia Parecki and Christine Kuglin of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  The J.D. best written presentation was by Janette Duran and Luis Garcia of the University of New Mexico School of Law, and the LL.M. best written presentation was by Deborah Kelessidis and Arpine Khachikyan of Loyola Law School of Los Angeles.  Thanks to the judges who volunteered their time to read and hear the arguments.  The competition winners and video clips from the oral rounds are available in the Young Lawyers Corner section of this issue of ABA Tax Times.

As always, the Tax Section staff did an outstanding job organizing the meeting.  Because the Tax Section staff handles the logistics so well, attendees are not aware of all the work necessary to put on such a large meeting, and may not notice how well all the details are addressed.  Special thanks to meeting planners Haydee Moore, Sarah Deschauer, Michelle Chuang, and Genevieve Lynn for their great work.  Also, thanks to Director John Thorner and all the rest of the Tax Section staff for everything they do to make Tax Section meetings a success. 

As discussed in previous columns, registered attendees at Tax Section meetings can access the complete set of meeting materials by clicking on a zip file that was distributed by e-mail after the meeting.  In addition, whether or not you attended the New Orleans meeting, all Tax Section members have complimentary access to all the written materials from past meetings on the website at ambar.org/taxiq.  Audio recordings of individual sessions are available through DCP, our outside digital conference partner, at http://www.dcprovidersonline.com/abatx/

Association New Membership Model

As discussed in my previous column, the Board of Governors and House of Delegates of the American Bar Association have adopted a new membership model to increase ABA membership.  The new model includes a revised Association dues structure, which will reduce the number of categories of Association dues and will lower Association dues for younger practitioners and solo/small firm practitioners.  The new dues structure will be effective for the fiscal year starting in September 2019.  Dues to join the Tax Section, which are in addition to Association dues, will remain at $75 per year for 2019-2020. 

The change to the new dues structure is likely to have a detrimental effect on Association revenues, at least in the short run, until the anticipated increase in Association membership occurs.  The Tax Section has a separate Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Association that provides more operating flexibility to the Tax Section.  Under the MOA, the Tax Section does not receive funds from the Association, unlike other ABA sections and divisions.  As a result of the MOA, we do not anticipate that the Tax Section will be negatively affected to any significant degree by any cost cutting the Association might need to undertake as a result of the anticipated short-term decrease in Association revenues.

Increasing the value of ABA membership is a critical element of the new membership model.  Accordingly, the ABA is creating a large, new library of free online content for ABA members.  The Tax Section is contributing to this library, which will have three parts: (1) material available to the public, such as contact information and marketing material; (2) content available to all ABA members, such as basic substantive material; and (3) content available only to a Section’s own members.  ABA members who are not Tax Section members will have a limited number of opportunities per month to access matter in the third category (material that is generally available only to Tax Section members).  This online library is expected to be accessible at the time the new dues structure is initiated.

ABA Website Issues

In October 2018 the ABA launched a new website.  The new website has a clean design, simplified navigation and improved search capabilities.  It is now possible to browse the ABA website on a mobile phone or tablet, enabling the ABA to capitalize on trends toward mobile devices as the primary means for internet engagement.

Unfortunately, there are problems with the site’s functionality, including login, event registration, and product purchases.  The Association is working with its outside contractor to address these issues and hopes to resolve them soon.  In the interim, however, these problems have negatively affected the Tax Section.  For example, a significant number of members of the Tax Section had difficulty registering for the New Orleans meeting.  We asked members experiencing difficulties registering for the New Orleans meeting to reach out directly to Tax Section staff.

While the Association is working to resolve the issues, the Tax Section has engaged its own outside contractor to handle registration for upcoming meetings this spring.  We hope that this temporary solution for the Tax Section will solve the registration problems. 

If you experience any problems with the ABA website, please reach out directly to Tax Section staff at (202) 662-8670 or tax@americanbar.org.  We continue to work to ensure our members are appropriately served.

Pro Bono and Public Service

As the largest national member organization of tax professionals, the Tax Section excels at mobilizing and preparing members to address unmet tax-related needs of the underserved population throughout the country.  The Tax Section is prepared to respond to requests to link tax professionals with specific opportunities to provide services.  We also provide training and mentoring to those members ready and willing to serve, but who may not have the necessary background and expertise to address issues faced by the underserved population. 

The Tax Section is maximizing its pro bono impact by: (1) providing education and training to practitioners interested in participating in pro bono work; (2) providing resources and mentorship for practitioners in their pro bono activities; (3) connecting members to pro bono opportunities; (4) elevating the profile of pro bono work for tax practitioners nationally; and (5) raising funds for the Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) endowment and administering the Christine A. Brunswick Public Interest Tax Fellowship (which enables new tax professionals to spend two years providing services to low-income taxpayers).

With respect to education and training, the Tax Section has been active in a number of areas.  It hosted its annual Low-Income Taxpayer Representation Workshop, which provides a day of training to LITC practitioners and other pro bono attorneys.  This workshop took place in Washington DC on December 3, the day before the Taxpayer Advocate Service’s national LITC conference.  Our thanks to Sheri Dillon and Morgan Lewis & Bockius for the use of the firm’s Washington office for the workshop.  The Tax Section also participated on a plenary panel at the Taxpayer Advocate’s conference, helping to build a deeper connection between the Tax Section’s pro bono program and the national LITC program.  In addition, the Pro Bono and Tax Clinics Committee put on an excellent program at our Midyear Meeting in New Orleans.

For Pro Bono Week (the last week in October), the Tax Section hosted a free webinar about disaster readiness.  In addition, the Tax Section hosts a quarterly free pro bono webinar, to be held this year on February 28.  These quarterly pro bono webinars focus primarily on collection matters, the greatest area of need for pro bono assistance nationally.

The Tax Section provides scholarships to low-income taxpayer clinicians to help defray expenses to attend Tax Section meetings.  The scholarships are given to four clinicians for each Tax Section meeting.

With respect to resources and mentorship, the Tax Section’s Tax Connect page for the Pro Bono and Tax Clinics committee has over 1,000 active participants sharing numerous questions and suggestions each day.  This resource, which is not restricted to Tax Section or even ABA members, was especially helpful during the IRS shutdown, allowing participants to brainstorm about ways to assist taxpayers. 

The Tax Section also continues to connect members to pro bono opportunities.  Through the Adopt-A-Base program, Tax Section members are connected to opportunities to teach basic tax law to military personnel who provide free tax assistance on military bases.  The program is run by the IRS Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication (SPEC) office, which regrettably was closed throughout the training season by the IRS shutdown.  Nevertheless, Tax Section volunteers persevered and conducted more than 30 trainings at military bases.  Without the commitment of the Tax Section and its members, the trainings would have been postponed and potentially cancelled, which could have caused some military bases to suspend tax assistance.  The Tax Section expresses special appreciation to Wells Hall, Melanie Kletz and others from Grant Thornton nationally, Rachael Rubenstein and her colleagues at the Texas Bar Association, and numerous Tax Section members and their firms as well as LITC practitioners for their support of the Adopt-A-Base program.

In November, the Tax Section’s Elder Law Initiative hosted an event in Pittsburgh to assist seniors.  The Elder Law Initiative is also providing input to the IRS in the development of a new Form 1040SR focused on senior tax filers.

With respect to elevating the profile of pro bono work nationally, on December 13 the Tax Section had its annual meeting with the IRS (discussed more below) to discuss various tax administration issues.  The agenda included issues relevant to low-income taxpayers, including transcript delivery and collection due process.  Besides this meeting, the Tax Section has otherwise provided valuable input to the IRS about transcript delivery.

Pro Bono Pledge Program

In December, the Tax Section officially launched the Pro Bono Pledge program.  As I mentioned in a message in December as well as in my previous column, the goal is to encourage Tax Section members to perform pro bono work or make a donation to the TAPS fund.  The simple form can be completed online

For those who commit to provide pro bono hours, volunteer opportunities will be circulated as they become available.  Those who satisfy their pledge by providing pro bono assistance or making a TAPS contribution will be recognized in the program for the Celebrate Pro Bono Reception at the May Tax Meeting and on the Tax Section website.  I hope you will join me in making a Pro Bono Pledge!

If you have any questions about the Tax Section’s pro bono activities, please reach out to Bahar Schippel (bschippel@swlaw.com) or Meg Newman, the Tax Section’s Counsel responsible for pro bono activities (megan.newman@americanbar.org).

Comment Letters

As a result of the enactment of the 2017 Tax Act, the Treasury Department and IRS continue to draft and issue substantial amounts of interpretive guidance.  The Tax Section continues to prepare and submit comments, including on proposed regulations about global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) and qualified opportunity funds.  The Tax Section also has submitted comments on recent changes to the IRS transcript delivery system, as well as on implementation of the 2017 Tax Act provision in section 512(a)(6) about tax-exempt organizations with more than one unrelated trade or business and the 2017 Tax Act provision in section 1297(f) about the qualifying insurance corporation exception from passive foreign investment company status. 

The Treasury Department and IRS highly value Tax Section comments and read them carefully.  There is an endless pipeline of projects to work on, so please volunteer to join a comments project.

Meetings with the IRS and the Treasury Office of Tax Policy

On December 13, the Tax Section held its annual meetings with the IRS and the Treasury Office of Tax Policy to discuss issues of common concern.  Commissioner Charles P. Rettig (who previously was Vice Chair for Administration, among other Tax Section roles) joined us for part of the IRS meeting and shared his initial impressions of his new role. 

At the IRS meeting we discussed the proposed changes to Form 1040, changes to the transcript delivery system, the availability of determination letters for qualified retirement plans, potential IRS guidance on the 2017 Tax Act changes to the alimony deduction, the processing of collection due process requests, and cryptocurrency.  There are ongoing interactions between the Tax Section and the IRS on these matters.

At the meeting with the Treasury Office of Tax Policy, we discussed selected technical issues regarding various aspects of the 2017 Tax Act, including the 20% deduction for sole proprietors and owners of pass-through businesses (section 199A), expensing (section 168(k)), carried interest (section 1061), GILTI (section 951A), and tax accounting (section 451(b)).

The meetings were quite productive.  The engagement at the meetings by the government officials and their appreciation for Tax Section comment letters demonstrate some of the value the Tax Section brings to improving the tax system.

Publications

We are pleased to report that the transition of The Tax Lawyer to our new collaborating partner, the Northwestern University Law School Tax LL.M. program, continues to progress smoothly.  Northwestern students have now edited their first issue, for Fall 2018.  The student editors attended the New Orleans meeting of the Publications Committee with their faculty advisor Professor David Cameron. The student editors provided a useful window into their editing process.  It is clear that the collaboration between the Tax Section and Northwestern is going extremely well.

The Tax Section is also making some needed changes to the content selection process for The Tax Lawyer to ensure that articles reach readers in a timely manner.  Starting this year, The Tax Lawyer will include state and local tax (SALT) items throughout the year rather than publishing a single issue dedicated to SALT.  Don’t forget to submit your work to The Tax Lawyer at http://ambar.org/TaxLawyerJournal.

The Tax Section also continues to publish books with insightful and timely information to assist you in your practice.  Last year, in addition to the latest edition of Effectively Representing Your Client Before the IRS, the Tax Section published the 2018 annual updates of the Sales and Use Tax Deskbook and the Property Tax Deskbook.  We continue to seek practical, authoritative titles for our books program.  If you have a book idea and/or proposal, please contact Todd Reitzel, Director of Publishing, at todd.reitzel@americanbar.org.

Tax Section Membership

The future of the Tax Section depends on our membership.  We need to adapt to provide benefits attractive to the changing needs of our members.  We need to increase the number of practitioners in all membership categories.  We especially need to reach out to younger practitioners, who hopefully will become Tax Section members for many years.  Accordingly, we are preparing an action plan on member recruitment to reach out more effectively to potential members and to retain current members.

Diversity and Inclusion

The recently formed Diversity in the Profession Committee (DIPC) oversees implementation of the Tax Section’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan.  The DIPC has recently determined that the role of committee liaisons to the Tax Section’s Diversity Committee needs to be better defined.  In the future, the liaisons from other Tax Section committees to the Diversity Committee will be asked to work with the Diversity Committee to: (1) serve as a two-way communication link between their committees and the Diversity Committee; (2) assist in developing programming involving diversity issues sponsored by both their committees and the Diversity Committee; (3) exchange ideas about how diversity is implicated in substantive areas (e.g., opportunity zones, new markets tax credits, and low-income housing credit); and (4) focus on adding diverse individuals on panels, comment letters and other projects.  In order to ensure improved communication between committee liaisons and the Diversity Committee, the Vice Chair of each of the committees will serve as the diversity liaison beginning in 2019-2020.  The DIPC is also working on a proposal to create a scholarship program to help defray transportation and hotel expenses for diverse individuals to attend Tax Section meetings.

Upcoming Meetings

The Tax Section will host a number of exciting CLE events this spring, both in-person meetings and webinars.  Two conferences focus on international taxation, the 19th Annual U.S. and Europe Tax Practice Trends Conference, April 3-5 in Paris, and the 12th Annual U.S. and Latin America Tax Practice Trends Conference, June 12-14 in Miami.  Both conferences focus on practical planning strategies for multinational corporations and their advisors and provide insight into how government tax officials view the evolving international tax landscape. 

Together with the Institute for Professionals in Taxation, the Tax Section will host the annual ABA/IPT Advanced Tax Seminars in New Orleans March 11-15.  These seminars feature a distinguished multidisciplinary faculty that will provide a practical examination of current state and local tax issues.

Also, don’t forget that this year’s Fall Tax Meeting will be in San Francisco on October 3-5.

May Tax Meeting in Washington, DC

The May Tax Meeting will be held May 9-11, 2019 at the Grand Hyatt in Washington DC.  Featuring numerous government officials, this meeting presents an excellent opportunity to hear from them and other experts about the latest developments that affect your client and practice.

Our scheduled plenary speaker will be Commissioner Rettig.  You will not want to miss his reflections about the satisfactions and challenges of his first year as Commissioner.

I am pleased to report that the Distinguished Service Award Committee met in New Orleans and selected Emily Parker of Dallas to receive this year’s Distinguished Service Award. This annual award was first given in 1995 to recognize outstanding service to the tax profession.  I had the privilege of working with Emily in government service, when she was Deputy Chief Counsel and Acting Chief Counsel at the IRS.  I especially commend Emily for her intelligence, no-nonsense focus and common sense.  We will present the 2019 Distinguished Service Award to Emily at the plenary session on Saturday, May 11.

We will also recognize the 2019-2020 class of Nolan Fellows, a select group of the Tax Section’s talented young tax lawyers.  In addition, we will announce the next class of Christine Brunswick Public Service Fellows, who will receive Tax Section funding for public service positions for two years.

This May meeting will be the last meeting at the Grand Hyatt.  In 2020 the Tax Section will host its May meeting in roomier space at the Marriott Marquis DC. 

Spring is right around the corner.  We look forward to seeing you in Washington in May.


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