Sunday, December 25, 2011

Determination of Primary Candidates

There is something wrong with a process that keeps plausible national candidates off of a major political party's primary ballot. Not fhat I would vote for either one of them (Perry and Gingrich, I mean) but it just not serve the interests of a democracy, in my opinion.

See RTD story.

Holiday Wishes To All

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best wishes for everyone this holiday season and into the new year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why is a theft loss better than a capital loss?

In my previous post I described a new IRS position on the treatment of losses in Ponzi schemes that will allow some taxpayer-victims to take theft losses instead of capital losses. I didn't say why that is useful.

The Internal Revenue Code allows an individual with a net capital loss to offset $3,000 of ordinary taxable income each year until that loss is exhausted. So, if a person had, for example, a $51,000 capital loss (and no capital gains), that loss would be deducted over 17 tax years.

On the other hand, a personal theft loss is immediately deductible (1) if the taxpayer itemizes deductions and (2) after taking away $100 and 10% of adjusted gross income. So, a taxpayer with, for example, $100,000 of other taxable income and a $51,000 theft loss, would have a $40,900 deduction in the year of the loss.

So which is better, deducting $3,000 per year for 17 years or deducting $40,900 immediately? That is up to the taxpayer who has been victimized by a Ponzi scheme.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ponzi Schemes and Income Taxes

Some Ponzi scheme victims may get more tax relief for their losses since the IRS issued Revenue Procedure  (abbrev. Rev Proc) 2011-58 which modifies one issued over two years ago, Rev Proc 2009-20

Ponzi Scheme victims have had the option of treating their losses as theft losses instead of capital losses if the loss in question was qualified. In general, a qualified loss was only incurred if the lead figure of the scheme was the subject of a federal or state criminal complaint or the right sort of civil proceeding. If the lead figure died before the complaint was filed, then the loss wasn't qualified.
Rev Proc 2011-58 broadens the definition of a "qualified loss." Now, the limit described in the preceding paragraph has been removed under certain circumstances.

There is a bunch of other technical gobbledygook in the new Rev Proc and the one it modified so don't rely on this post to justify claiming a deduction. However, if you or someone you love was taken advantage of in a Ponzi scheme (also known as pyramid scheme) then it might be worth while to buy an hour or two of time from a qualified tax professional.

Most of us, by the way, will talk about an issue like this at no charge for a half hour or so to filter out at least some of the folks who clearly aren't going to get a useful deduction. Note, however, there are no guarantees. At the end of the freebee 30 minutes the tax pro might not be sure whether the prospective client has a "qualified loss." At that point, the person with the loss may have to decide whether to start paying for the tax pro's time to get a final answer.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend

It's been a little hectic around here. My wife had full knee replacement surgery on Nov 23, the day before Thanksgiving, and that has pretty much absorbed my time since then.

Fortunately, she's making better than average progress where progress is measured by the angle of the knee joint fully extended - 0º (straight) is the target – and fully flexed – 105º is the target.

All things considered, it was a good Thanksgiving and we have much to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Scams Using IRS as Bait

The Internal Revenue Service and others continue to report on various schemes directed at persuading people to reveal personal information in the mistaken belief that are responding to an IRS request.

Here is a simple fact.


If you get an unexpected email from the IRS, forward it to, then delete it.

I have heard is at least one report that con artists are sending phony requests for personal information through the U.S. Postal Service on the pretext of being from the IRS. Be careful.

Note also that the IRS web domain is The web address that has .org instead of .gov does NOT belong to the IRS. It is a fraud.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Like A Four Year Old?

Here are some extracts from a pdf document available at Iowa State University.
  • dresses self without much help
  • walks a straight line
  • understands the concepts of tallest, biggest, same, more, on, in, under, and above
  • asks and answers who, what, when, why, where questions
  • likes to talk and carries on elaborate conversations
  • persistently asks why
Of course, I picked favorable characteristics of four year olds. There are others that are more like ... well, like what you would expect from a four year old ... or ... fill in the blank.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sarbanes-Oxley and Internal Control

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), among other things, created a requirement that publically traded companies have an adequate system of internal controls in place and that management those companies prepare an annual report on the adequacy of those controls (the infamous Section 404). SOX also requires that an independent auditor examine each covered company's internal controls and express an opinion on the management report.

According to James Doty, chair of the SOX created Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), the outside auditors are not doing an acceptable job of evaluating the assertions made by company managements. A Reuters article is here.

A major motivation that led to SOX being enacted was the need to ensure better detection and prevention of corporate fraud as perpetrated by the management of Enron, Xerox and a number of other companies. A major tool in achieving that goal is to have an effective system of internal control in place. The problem described by Mr. Doty means that tests of internal control are inadequate to detect weaknesses in the system, weaknesses that could be exploited by people inside these publically traded corporations.

Regulations and laws do little good if not enforced. Since the PCAOB is the single most important regulator of both reporting by publically traded companies and auditing of those companies by CPA firms, it will be interesting to see what he and the PCAOB do about this problem.

Chesterfield Location for Science Museum of Virginia

A Chesterfield satellite location of the Children's Museum of Richmond has been funded by a couple long active in the museum.  This RTD story has some additional details.

The story states, "The museum is evaluating locations in the area of Hull Street Road and state Route 288 because of the high concentration of children there." Some zoning classifications allow museums by right but several do not. It is not unlikely that any proposed location will require action by the Chesterfield Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. It will be interesting.

A Year With Frog and Toad

A Year With Frog and Toad is a great story of friendship. There is also a lot of singing, dancing and jokes. A few of the jokes will only seem funny to older people who need a longer lifetime's experience to recognize the reference but that's probably a good thing. One ongoing gag gives real meaning to "snail mail."

The publicity blurb suggests ages 4 and up which is probably about right. It was a stretch for one 3 year old earlier today but he managed to enjoy it (and to get just a little bit scared during the thunder storm scene). Be aware, winter doesn't get much play in this production since that's when toads and frogs hibernate.

This Theatre IV production is currently running at the Barksdale Theater at Willow Lawn and will do so through December 31.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pet Peeve of the Moment: Quick Claim

There is no such thing as a "quick claim," at least not in relationship to real estate ownership. There is a thing called "quitclaim." Definitions are at the links below.


Economy moving upwards

Job and trade data show an improving economy. Both new unemployment claims and the trade deficit fell in most recent federal reports. A Reuters article is here.

For September, American manufacturers reported the most new orders since July 2008. As seems reasonable, stocks of those companies have increased in price. A Bloomberg article is here.

Info for Veterans Who Own Small Businesses

The Small Business Administration provides a range of resources to assist all small business owners become more successful. This week (for what I hope is an obvious reason), the SBA has been focusing on how veterans can benefit from their services.

In an article on the SBA web site, Deputy Administrator Marie Johns provides an overview of such services and a link to a report of the Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business Development which she chaired. That report, a 34 page pdf file, is available here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tax Practice Improvement Committee

I've been appointed to the AICPA's Tax Practice Improvement Committee. As the name implies, our mandate is to find ways for CPAs in tax practice to improve their operations by delivering better services to their clients in a cost effective manner. I attended my first meeting of the committee yesterday in Washington, DC.

Four working groups were created yesterday. I'm on the Technology Working Group with Ed Zollars of Phoenix,  AZ (Thomas, Zollars & Lynch) and Michael Gebura of Cleveland, OH (Grant Thornton).

I'm looking forward to this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jim Holland Wins Reelection

Four of five incumbants will be returning to the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors. Of the three challenged incumbants, only Marlene Durfee was unable to hold her seat. With three true Republicans on the BOS, it will be interesting to see what influence, if any, Dan Gecker will have on decisions reached by that body.

Vote counts for the Dale Supervisor race are here.

Michael Jackson made a good run at the School Board seat for the Dale district. I expect next time he runs for office, he will win.

Word on the street is that the Chesterfield Planning Commission could see as many as three new members in January.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

RTD -- Election 2011: All politics is local

In its editorial this morning,  Richmond Times-Dispatch didn't exactly say, "Vote for Jim Holland." They did say, "The Dale District's Jim Holland responded with dignity to a difficult situation regarding the board's chairmanship." The editorial did not mention Jim's opponent either by name or other reference.

That is about as close as they will ever come to endorsing a Democrat.

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Favorite Cardinal


Election day in Virginia is Tuesday, November 8th. The polls are open from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

Here are the people I hope will win in Chesterfield.

For Board of Supervisors:

In the Dale Magisterial District, JAMES "JIM" HOLLAND. Jim is my business partner, the man who appointed me to the Planning Commission and my friend of 16 years. Four years ago his campaign slogan was "Leadership that Listens." Since that time he has lived up to the promise of that slogan. He listens, he gathers information, and then he decides based upon what is best for the citizens of the Dale District and of Chesterfield County. He is a strong supporter of education, public safety, and creating jobs. He also believes in holding people and organizations accountable for meeting their responsibilities to the chagrin of the current School Board, among others.

Unlike his opponent, Jim knows that a good system of public education is crucial to attracting employers to Chesterfield County. Jim also knows, as do we all, that bankers don't make beans and that CPAs are, deservedly, one of the most trusted professions in the United States. Bankers suffer the fate of lobbyests and politicians, 90% of the group give the other 10% a bad name.

In the Matoaca Magisterial District, MARLENE DURFEE

Marlene Durfee has been a burr under the saddle of a lot of people during the last four years and that is a good thing. Sometimes, she talks too much. But, she also believes in holding people accountable for meeting their responsibilities. She asks tough questions and keeps asking until she gets the right, accurate, complete answer. I like her style and admire her for her courage.

In the Bermuda Magisterial District, MARK FAUTZ

I don't know Fautz as well as the other two I favor for Board of Supervisors. However, his opponent, the incumbant, is just too conservative, in my opinion, even for Chesterfield County. According to one source, about 40,000,000 Americans between 18 and 40 have tattoos. To Ms. Jaeckle, those people are self-mutilators who should be separated from civilized society (or, at least, the businesses they frequent should be separated). There are over 14,000,000 college students in America. They are the sort of people Ms. Jaeckle doesn't want living in Chesterfield County. (I know I'm being generous when I presume that in her use of the phrase, "that sort," Ms. Jaeckle meant college students.)

For School Board

In the Dale Magisterial District, MICHAEL JACKSON

About a year ago I offered the suggestion that all five members of the School Board should be voted out of office. Even if I didn't hold that broad opinion I would support Michael Jackson. He understands that School Board members are accountable to the parents and voters of Chesterfield, not the paid administrators who are supposed to be answering to the School Board. Michael's background, experiences and training make him an ideal steward of Chesterfield's students and the resources intended for their education.

In the Bermuda Magisterial District, STELLA EDWARDS

Stella Edwards would bring a highly relevant set of experiences to the School Board. She has been involved in education both as a profession and as a volunteer serving, learning and problem solving for most of her adult life. Her opponent has the same good intentions and much general experience but Stella's experiences and training are specific to educating children in a public school system.

In the Matoaca Magisterial District, SHAUKAT M. SIDDIQI

The best thing I can come up with to say about incumbant Omarh Rajah is that he seems to be disliked by the other current members of the School Board. As a one term incumbant, Tom Dolan lost to Mr. Rajah four years ago.

I know from personal experience that retired college professor Dr. Shaukat Siddiqi has dealt first hand with the successes and failures produced by public education. He has been recognized for his effective contributions to both Virginia State University and Chesterfield County. He would bring a fresh, competent, effective voice to the Chesterfield School Board.

For Commissioner of the Revenue, MICHAEL J. MARCOTTE

The incumbant has spent almost $3,000,000 on two whacks at acquiring a usable computer system and failed. When budget constraints forced tough decision making, he layed off tax auditors. The Board of Supervisors recognized that lost tax revenues would be greater than the salaries saved and said so to no avail.

Marcotte recognizes the problems created and compounded by the incumbant and he has solutions ready to solve or mitigate those problems.

For the Senate of Virginia

In the 10th Senate District, DAVID BERNARD

People who pander to anti-government, anti-science extremists need to be replaced. People who care about the environment and about creating jobs across the Commonweath should be elected. Replacing John Watkins with David Bernard would accomplish both of these objectives.

In the 16th Senate District, HENRY MARSH

I saved the best for last. Henry Marsh is one of the sharpest, knowledgable people I've met. He knows the best way to get re-elected is to take care of the interests of the people who vote for him and that is exactly what he does. He is an advocate and protector of individual rights, a strong supporter of education at all levels, and a man of conviction who can be trusted to put the good of the people first.

Incorporate Your Sole Proprietorship?

I was crusing around Chesterfield running errands and listening to the radio when I heard an advertisment for service company that helps people incorporate their small businesses, for a fee. What could happen if you don't take advantage for their assistance? According to them, you could lose everything you own!

I got bad news for all you sole proprietors with no employees. Incorporation will protect you from just about nothing if you incorporate and you're the only employee. You see, when an employee messes up and damages a customer, the customer sues the employer AND the employee. Usually, the employee has zilch so, usually, the plaintiff goes after the employer's deeper pockets.

But, if you are the only employee of the corporation you own and a customer (or anyone else) is damaged by your action, then YOU are still on the hook. Oh, the horror! What will you do? What can you do?

Answer: Buy liability insurance.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why do people have a lower opinion of politicians than of insurance companies?

Mark Lindquist is a hero. He was injured on the job -- in Joplin, Missouri during the tornado on May 22, 2011. His injuries and his characterization as a hero came from his performing job related duties during that tornado.

According to Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, Lindquist isn't entitled to Workman's comp, "based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado."

So, that outfit would deny compensation to delivery truck driver, "based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in that traffic accident?" It makes you wonder about the validity of this "insurance" company's denial of 7 other claims from injuries received during the tornado.

See the details here.

Commonwealth Transportation Board Approves Amended Subdivision Street Acceptance Regulations

In general, the Virginia Department of Transportation maintains streets and roads in most counties including Chesterfield. However, VDOT only does so for streets and roads accepted into the state system. The new regulations specify the criteria for acceptance of subdivision streets into the Virginia system so that the state will maintain them.

The main change in the Subdivision Street Acceptance Regulations  is increased connectivity requirements for subdivisions. This is important because it will result in more connections between new and existing subdivisions. In turn, this is important because residents of existing subdivisions generally do NOT want prospective new residents to be able to drive through their streets to get to major arterials. They (the existing residents) fear an increase in traffic with an accompanying decrease in safety and general quality of life.

Another important change is a requirement for sidewalks in new subdivisions with an average lot size of 1/4 acre or less and along both sides of new streets that average over 8,000 motor vehicle trips per day. New streets that average between 2,000 and 8,000 trips per day would have to have a sidewalk on at least one side.

The new regulations go into effect on January 1, 2012. They are described here with links to both the new and current regulations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ok, I know technology is not on my list of topics for this blog but ...

Google has announced Android 4.0, code name, "Ice Cream Sandwich. Both CNET and Huffington Post have articles. It looks totally cool to me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

IRS commissioner challenges budget cuts

Reuters reports here that Douglas Shulman, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, wrote a letter to Congress (specifically the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee) on October 17, stating that proposed cuts in the IRS budget would result in tax revenues declining by four times the amount of the proposed cut.
Service to honest taxpayers would decline as well.

Dale Candidates Forum

Last night the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce and the Chesterfield Business Council jointly sponsored a forum for Board of Supervisors and School Board candidates in the Dale Magisterial District of Chesterfield County.

With only a little bit of tongue in cheek I suggest that Cliff Bickford (R) could shorten his entire presentation to one slogan, "Vote for Me and I'll Be Just Like Jim Holland."


However, there were significant differences between Bickford and Holland (D, incumbent). First and foremost is the importance of education. Both candidates favor increased efforts towards economic development but the totality of their remarks showed one important difference on what is needed to achieve success.

Bickford, unfortunately, doesn't seem to grasp the importance of quality education to attracting investment by large national and international firms. He opposes pay raises for teachers. He opposes increasing the budget for the school system. He opposes finding a replacement for the federal stimulus money that will no longer be available which will result in a "catastrophic" (School Board member David Wyman's word later in the evening) reduction in the school budget.

Jim Holland, on the other hand, sees clearly that large firms are not going to invest in an area unless they are confident the school system will produce a quality work force. Another reason investing firms insist on quality local education is that current employees will resist transferring their families to an area with poor schools. Quality new hires will also be more difficult to attract if the school system is less than it should be.

Comprehensive Plan

Another difference between the two candidates was their response to the question of which version of the comprehensive plan (the Steering Committee's original or the Planning Commission's markup) would each vote for if the decision had to be made today. By his response, Jim Holland rejected the two false premises of the question, that decision had to be made now and that there are only two choices. Jim said he would consider the changes recommended by the Planning Commission after gathering information from county staff, his Planning Commissioner and, most importantly, from the citizens of his district and the county.

As always, Holland made clear the importance of gathering facts and carefully analyzing alternatives before making a decision.

Cliff Bickford bought into the false premises, first describing his problem with the two versions.

The Planning Commission recommendations will likely include combining the revitalization section with the economic development section. The logic is that the two activities overlap considerably and the county's economic development office is responsible for both. Despite the fact that there is no substantive change or elimination of revitalization goals and objectives, Bickford doesn't like this cosmetic change in the way the plan is formatted.

Bickford's problem with the Steering Committee draft is that it calls for very low density in the Countryside area, one residential unit per 25 acres. (The Planning Committee markup changes this to one unit per 5 acres.) This is a substantive issue; the final decision will require tradeoffs among the many interested parties. However, Bickford said he would vote for the Steering Committee version of the Plan because of the irrelevant, cosmetic change suggested by the Planning Commission.

In summary, Bickford would accept a density in the Countryside he finds to be a serious shortcoming to avoid a word-smithing change he doesn't like.

Addendum: October 19th, 2011, 11:30 PM

Another takeaway from Monday night's forum is that Bickford does not understand that cash proffers do not apply to commercial development. Cash proffers are paid by residential developers as they file for building permits.  Cash proffers on residential development do not inhibit commercial development in Chesterfield County.

In considering modification of the cash proffer system, the Board of Supervisors will have answer the question of whether reducing a cost of residential development is the right strategy when the goal is to increase the commercial percentage in the real estate tax base.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Food within walking distance

Jim Holland and I, along with other businesses in Amberdale, will soon have a couple of more choices for food , hopefully by the time busy season gets here. Both a deli/sandwich shop and a sit down restaurant will be available soon. The vacancy rate in the Amberdale commercial area is approaching zero, I'm happy to say.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Busy Season, Part II

Those individuals who obtained a six month extension of time to file their 2010 income tax return and have not yet filed have until October 17th to get that return in the mail. There is no additional extension available. Either file by next Monday or file late.

The late filing penalty, if any, on returns that are filed late would be computed from April 15th. (The extension is invalid if you don't file by the extended due date.) The penalty maxes out at 25% (5% per month) on the tax due. If the full amount due was paid on April 15th (as it should have been) the penalty would be zero because 25% of zero is zero.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Commercial office space

The Richmond metro market for commercial office space is improving more rapidly than the residential market according to this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Of course, the vacancy rate for offices is still about double the "frictional rate" of 5%.

For about two years I've been predicting that economic growth will become robust in another year or so. I don't do that anymore. Now I say economic growth will be significant after the mortgage driven housing glut has worked through the market. I make no predictions about when the housing glut may be dealt with.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Has anyone seen my signature?

Has anyone seen the signature of a typical medical doctor? What are these people thinking?

Here are the first two paragraphs from an article in Wednesday's Virginian-Pilot:

"By next year's election, poor penmanship might be reason enough to disqualify a voter's mailed absentee ballot in Virginia.

The Republican-controlled State Board of Elections withdrew one set of rules governing absentee ballots - they gave election officials more leeway to count the ballots of voters who made mistakes filling them out - and substituted them with less-flexible guidelines."

And this paragraph further down the article,

"Removed from the current state absentee ballot regulation is language in the previous version that made it clear that illegible voter or witness signatures on a ballot wouldn't invalidate it, and a catch-all paragraph that specified ballots wouldn't be tossed if a voter's identity could be otherwise confirmed by election officials."

Overall, the proposed regulations will increase the liklihood that qualified voters will have their absentee ballots rejected despite the claim of a policy advisor to the State Board of Elections (Justin Riemer) who is quoted as saying, ""The goal here is to get things right on a tough issue... to err on the side of the voter."

Yeah, right.

Read it all at this link.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chesterfield County Comprehensive Plan

Many people in Chesterfield County ( but not everyone) are aware of the ongoing review of the Chesterfield County comprehensive plan. The process started over two years ago and is moving towards completion.

In misplaced anticipation of significant citizen interest and input, the Planning Commission held a two session public hearing on the proposed plan on Tuesday, October 3rd, one starting at 1:00 PM and one starting at 6:00 PM. We came prepared to stay late and to extend the public hearing to this (Thursday) evening if necessary. Eighteen (18) people, three in the afternoon and fifteen in the evening, chose to address the commission on this important issue. That is sad.

The greatest interest and controversy is what to do with western and southwestern Chesterfield County. The initial draft, presented by the steering committee and outside consultants on January 6th, 2011 calls for much of that region to be "Countyside" preserving its rural nature and limiting residential development to one unit per 25 acres. That draft also did NOT include the "East-West expressway" in its transportation plan. That road would run from the Skin Quarter area on Hull Street Road, approximately paralleling the Appomattox River, to I-95 near Petersburg.

The proposed changes, supported at this time by a majority of the Commissioners, would increase density to 1 residential unit per 5 acres and add the East-West expressway to the transportation plan. The greatest support for these changes comes from large landholders who want the opportunity to profit handsomely when development expands into their region of the county. Obviously, a comprehensive plan that calls for preservation of the rural character of that region is not to their liking. On the other hand, many families already living in that part of the county are more than happy with the notion that their rural, uncrowded way of life would be preserved.

Both the January and September versions of the proposed plan (along with a "mark up" that shows the actual changes next to the original wording) are available at this link.

Although the Planning Commission's public hearing has been held, it is not too late to have input. Contact information for members of the Commission is here and for members of the Board of Supervisors here. The Board of Supervisors will make their final decision on the plan early in 2012.

Write, email or phone your commissioner and your supervisor if you have strongly held opinions on any part of the comprehensive plan proposals.

Dale District supervisor corrects the record

Jim Holland, Chesterfield County Supervisor for the Dale Magisterial District (and my business partner and friend), has a letter to the editor in yesterday's Chesterfield Observer. In it, he corrects some misperceptions that might have come out of an earlier Observer article. Jim also makes good points about his record as a member of the Board of Supervisors.

CEOs Seeking Respect Must First Restore Lost Trust: Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein isn't much impressed by corporate execs whining that they are getting much respect in a column at Bloomberg. Here is the link.

While some criticisms of some specific individuals may be over the top, Klein makes a good point. Most of the criticism of business leaders has been brought upon those leaders by their own actions. Klein also properly acknowledges that it is more difficult to do busines in the U.S. than it should be.

Self pitying self righteousness, however, almost never works and, in fact, gets in the way of dealing with real problems facing American businesses.

Justice Department Prevails in Three Tax Shelter Cases on Same Day

One the top tax blogs (when he doesn't wander off into immaterial stuff like discussions of law school rankings) is Paul Caron's TaxProf Blog.

One of his posts yesterday refers to this DOJ Press Release. District courts for Southern Iowa and Minnesota along the the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (based in New Orleans) all came down on the side of the IRS in what the Service calls abusive tax shelters.


Welcome to Central Virginia and Beyond.

My focus will be on income taxes, business, and general public policy. No doubt my political views will become obvious as time goes by.