Saturday, January 30, 2010

Should the pay of Utah public employees and bureaucrats be public record?

There is a bill being sponsored in the state legislature that would end publicizing the salary specifics of non-elected and non-appointed public employees. HB266 is being sponsored by Rep Powell of Heber City, which was supposedly inspired by the Heber City payroll manager who claimed publicized salary information of employees was causing "strife" in the workplace.

Although this bill seems harmless, who doesn't want to protect public employees privacy, it would set a bad precedence. Despite the fact that the bill would still provide salary ranges and titles of public employees, it would diminish the rights of taxpayers to know specifics of how their tax dollars are being spent and on whom. Especially in smaller governments, I suspect that nepotism/cronyism is a problem, or at least a perceived problem in Utah. In 2004, Salt Lake County Mayor Workman was charged for using nepotism and County funds. Last year, the Mayor of the small Utah metropolis Stockton attempted to fire a cop for citing his son. Allowing public governments to withhold names of public employees would only increase (1) nepotism/cronyism in city and county governments and/or (2) increase the perception of nepotism/cronyism in these governmental organizations.

Moral of the story is limiting public access to government information is never a good thing. Public employees must realize, and I believe most do, that they are being paid with entrusted funds and that the public has the right to know anything they want about the use of those funds. While I agree with the bills (no doubt) earnest concerns to protect public employees from identity theft, I don't believe the state's city and county officials need to be handed a information vault to do so. State law doesn't require the publishing of SSN's of public employees just the names, titles, and income.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Divorce Decrees and Form 8332

In a Tax Court case Thomas v. Commissioner released 1-19-2010, petitioner asked the court to determine if he is entitled to a dependency exemption despite the fact that the petitioners ex-wife claimed the dependency exemption in violation of the agreement in the divorce decree.

In the divorce decree, the petitioner and the P's ex-wife had agreed to claim the dependency exemption for their child on alternating years with a caveat that the petitioner remained current on child support. In the tax year at issue petitioners ex-wife claimed the exemption in a year that the petitioner was entitled to the exemption and the petitioner was current on his child support. The petitoner paper filed his return but he attached the divorce decree instead of form 8332

The petitioner doesn't meet any of the ordinary criteria to claim the exemption -- his only hope is Section 152(e). The requirements are that the

-- Taxpayer provides over one half of the support for the child (51%)
-- The parents have to be divorced or separated for at least the last 6 months of the tax year.
-- The dependant is in the custody of one or both parents
-- The custodial parent releases the exemption in writing. The written release must conform to the following and only the following:
The declaration includes the children's names and the years for which the exemption is being released
The custodial parents signature and date
The custodial and noncustodial parents name's and SSN's
The court held that petitioner is not entitled to the exemption because (among other things) the divorce decree contained conditions for the exemptions release. Unfortunately the conditional release of the dependancy exemption is a common componant in divorce decree language, and it is in direct opposition to the requirements proscribed by the Treasury Department.
First, I would encourage attorneys to discuss the dependancy exemption much more thoroughly and (if possible) draft language in the decree that conforms to form 8332 and IRC Section 152(e). This is much easier said than done. Due to that fact that conforming language requires an unconditional release of the exemption, custodial parents who agree to form 8332 conforming language will have to accept losing the ability to use the exemption as a bartering tool. On the other hand non-custodial parents who are only able to get conditional exemption releases in the decree language are left somewhat to the whims of the custodial parents to sign form 8332 each year that they are entitled to the dependancy or to violate the decree and claim the child anyway.
Due the paradox that section 152(e) and form 8332 create for divorcing couples, I would like to suggest that Congress consider a limited (to the exemption amount) adjustment or deduction for child support. Doing so would grant some comparable tax relief to non-custodial parents who are honest in paying child support, and it would eliminate major controversies. The custodial parent maintains the exemption and the child tax credit, and the non custodial parent gets relief for taking part in the care of their children, and the IRS would no longer be burdened with trying to chase down who gets the exemption and who has to pay back taxes and penalties for claiming the exemption when they were not entitled to.