Commentary

Why people are boycotting TurboTax and H&R Block this year

Both Dylan Matthews at Vox (“Why I’m boycotting TurboTax this year”) and Josh Hoxie at Inequality.org (“The call for boycotting TurboTax”) made a compelling case this week for boycotting the mega-corporations to whom so many of us turn to do their taxes. Both posts are definitely worth your time. This is from Matthews’:

“It’s tax season again, and that means you’re probably thinking about using TurboTax. You wouldn’t be alone; Intuit, the company that sells TurboTax, claims the app has 31 million users. Its competitors did pretty well for themselves too, with H&R Block preparing more than 20 million returns last cycle and millions more using TaxAct and TaxSlayer.

Let me be blunt: You should not pay for TurboTax. If you want to use a free version of TurboTax or H&R Block at Home or TaxAct, go nuts. But for the love of God, don’t give Intuit money.

TurboTax is an evil, parasitic product that exists entirely because taxes are confusing and hard to file. Worse than that, Intuit is one of the loudest voices on Capitol Hill arguing against measures that make it easier to pay taxes. The Obama administration has argued for automatic tax filing, in which the IRS uses income information it already has to fill out your tax return for you. That would save millions of Americans considerable time and energy every year, but the idea has gone nowhere. The main reason? Lobbying from Intuit and H&R Block.

Don’t give Intuit money. Don’t give H&R Block money. To do so is to perpetuate the status quo in which you have to file your own taxes in the first place. The best way to escape this trap is for millions of taxpayers to start doing their own taxes in hopes of weakening Intuit and H&R Block and depriving them of money they could use to lobby against auto-filing. This requires privileging your own long-term interests ahead of your short-term ones; it’s mildly annoying to do your taxes by hand for now, but in the long run, if the plan works, you won’t have to do your own taxes at all.”

And here’s Hoxie:

“Just how much are we talking? To give you just a small taste of how bad it is, consider that Turbotax’s parent company, Intuit, spent $13 million lobbying congress from 2011 to 2015 in an effort to oppose automatic tax filing. Of course, Turbotax is not alone. With them is H&R Block, another company I’ve used in the past. They spent over $7 million in just the past five years. And that’s just lobbying, not including campaign contributions.

Now you might be thinking, like I did, wait there’s a way to make tax time wicked easy? Yes, and it’s been around for decades with support ranging from Obama to Reagan. It’s called “The Simple Return” and simply requires the IRS to send you a pre-filled out return using the documents they already have. Depending on your deductions, you might have to do one more step or you might be done just by sending it back. Then you’re done. Seriously, finding a stamp might be the hardest part.”

Both might have also added the fact that Block is guilty of being a leader in the predatory tax refund loan scam.

The bottom line: Both men argue convincingly that there are better and cheaper ways to do your taxes that will be better for you and, in the long run, much better for the country.

Commentary

McDonald’s wage increase proposal: workers not lovin’ it

McDonald’s announced Wednesday that it would raise wages for its corporate employees by an average of 10% in July. The bottom line: because the announcement only impacts employees in corporate-run restaurants, the increase would leave a whopping 90% of the chain’s nearly 900,000 workers out in the cold.

The move was widely panned by workers and labor advocates as a desperate response to the rapidly growing movement for an increased minimum wage, led by groups like RaiseUP for 15. One Charlotte-area McDonald’s employee summarized the situation perfectly:

“Because we joined together and stood up, McDonald’s was forced to raise pay,” said Brooks, who works at a Charlotte, North Carolina McDonald’s making $7.25 an hour. “Still, this is too little to make a real difference, and covers only a fraction of workers. It’s a weak move for a company that made $5.6 billion in profits last year. We’re going to keep fighting until we win $15 and union rights for all fast-food workers and our families.”

Raising wages is good for workers, businesses and the economy. Bigger paychecks help workers make ends meet and spend more at local businesses. In turn, businesses see more customers, better sales and lower employee absenteeism and turnover. It’s a virtuous cycle that promotes an economy benefitting everyone in North Carolina, not just out-of-state corporate executives and shareholders.

Minimum wage workers, faith communities, labor leaders and supporters from across NC will gather in Raleigh on April 15 as part of a National Day of Action in support of an increased minimum wage and the right to organize. Check out RaiseUP for 15’s Facebook page for details on the rally.

Commentary

After shooting state’s foot off, NC Senate reloads and prepares to fire again

The warped ideological prism through which the leaders of the North Carolina Senate view reality continues to give rise to new and maddeningly counterproductive policy proposals. The latest came yesterday afternoon when, fresh off of wrecking the state revenue picture for years and handicapping core services like education, the courts and environmental protection with the regressive 2013 tax package, senators proposed another round of corporate tax cuts.

As Alexandra Sirota of the Budget and Tax Center explained it rather politely last night, this is the absolute last thing North Carolina needs right now:

“The corporate tax cuts in the Senate’s proposal would further reduce revenue for investments in our public schools and universities and other building blocks that help drive the success of businesses. Businesses need an educated workforce and modern infrastructure to be successful. Cuts to the tax rates for profitable corporations or changes to the way corporate income is considered for purposes of taxation also won’t address falling wages for the average North Carolinian. Furthermore, the Senate proposal changes to taxes paid by profitable multi-state corporations would not guarantee reinvest in our state and be at the expense of small, home-grown North Carolina businesses.”

In other (and less gracious words), the Senate’s unrequited love affair with trickledown economics continues and will, if unchecked, continue to spur North Carolina’s ongoing and destructive spiral back down into the realm of its backward neighbors like Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.

 

Commentary

The kind of simple legislation Congress ought to be passing

Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee (Photo: Inequality.org)

We’re now a decade and a half into the 21st Century and the notion that our nation’s runaway inequality is going to get any better anytime soon via the “genius of the market” has been shown to be utter nonsense. To the contrary, the incomes of the nation’s ruling class continue to skyrocket at such an astounding rate that the idea of the U.S. as a “middle class society” has come to seem quaint.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that congressional Republicans can’t get their act together to do much of anything.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. If a majority of the members of Congress possessed a modicum of courage and common sense, they’d be rushing through this bill as soon as possible.

As Congresswoman Barbara S. Lee of California explained here about the Income Equity Act of 2015 that she introduced last week:

“Few realize that CEO bonuses and ‘performance pay’ are subsidized by the American people. Corporations are given major tax breaks for providing exorbitant compensation.

Surely we can agree that corporations don’t need taxpayers to subsidize massive CEO pay?—?pay that’s grown nearly 1000 percent since 1978.

In America, corporations and executives are playing with a deck stacked against hardworking families.

And the Republican response to this profound income inequality has been a collective yawn.

It’s wrong for any business to keep workers in poverty while padding CEO’s wallets.

It’s even worse that some of these same businesses take huge tax deductions for millions in bonuses.

Clearly, our tax code is not designed to work for all Americans?—?just the select few.

My bill, the Income Equity Act, prohibits employers from taking tax deductions for excessive compensation—defined as any pay more than 25 times that of the company’s median wage worker or $500,000.

Congress should get to work for hardworking families, not millionaires and billionaires that want to get even richer on the backs of taxpayers.”

Amen, Congresswoman.

Commentary

Bill to rebuke Utilities Commission over windfall to companies: Not soup yet

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported this morning, a study committee at the General Assembly appears to be in the process of advancing a legislative proposal for the 2015 session that would reverse a controversial Utilities Commission decision from last fall that provided a windfall to big utility companies.

As I explained in the Weekly Briefing last October, the ruling allowed utility companies the option to keep charging consumers for income taxes that the companies no longer paid as a result of recent corporate tax cuts. The ruling was especially controversial in that it came in the form of a direct about-face from a previous 6-1 Commission decision from just months before. In the latter ruling, three new McCrory appointees joined with the Commission chair to overrule the previous decision — a move that sparked bitter dissent from three holdover Perdue appointees.

According to news reports, most companies have not actually been collecting the windfall. Only Dominion North Carolina Power — which serves a swath of northeastern North Carolina — has been pocketing the cash thus far. Nothing, however, would prevent Duke and the other big guys from following suit at some point unless the courts and/or the General Assembly step in.

This brings us back to the Revenue Laws Study Committee which included language in its draft report to the 2015 session reversing the decision yet again — see pages 4-6. This morning’s N&O story — especially the headline (“NC lawmakers to end policy letting utilities overcharge customers”) indicated that the draft report would be adopted today and that the legislature would pass the legislation into law.

A closer look, however, shows that such an optimistic take may well be premature. Read more