Baseball is back, even as some teams are looking at early-season snow days. Little-leaguers across the land are donning gloves and getting ready to watch their favorite big-leaguers take to the field. Stats geeks are prepping spreadsheets to crunch numbers like WAR (Wins Above Replacement), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), and LWCT (Largest Wad of Chewing Tobacco). And the umpires at the IRS are watching a new pitch that Washington just threw across their plate, too.

Since 1921, code section 1031 has let you exchange property you’ve held for business or investment without paying tax on your gains. These “like-kind” exchanges usually involve real estate. They also include vehicles and equipment — if an up-and-coming CEO wants to swap his company’s tired old Gulfstream IV for a newer, shinier model V, that’s cool, too. The IRS has even ruled that “trades of player contracts owned by major league baseball clubs will be considered exchanges of like-kind property.”

But last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act trimmed the roster on like-kind exchanges to real estate only. And that means some teams may already be behind in the count for taxes they owe on their trades!

Here’s the challenge: how exactly do you value a baseball player’s contract? The New York Times offered an example when they first reported the problem: last year, the Detroit Tigers sent right-handed starting pitcher Justin Verlander, four years into a six-year, $162 million contract, to the Houston Astros. The Astros sent back 20-year-old outfielder Daz Cameron (now playing for the Single-A Lakeland Flying Tigers), 19-year-old Venezuelan righty Franklin Perez (now playing for the AA Erie Sea Wolves), and 21-year-old catcher Jake Rogers (also playing for the Sea Wolves).

The veteran Verlander is clearly “worth” more. But he’s 35, and he can’t keep throwing heat forever. So how do you quantify his contract with a number the IRS will accept? Is it the $28 million/year he earns today? (Fun fact: that meant $136,000 per inning last season.) Or is it “some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?”

And Detroit faces a different challenge. How do you assign a “net present value” to an unknown quantity like Perez who isn’t even old enough to buy a drink? Any Bull Durham fan can tell you sometimes all it takes is the right coach to turn a prospect into a phenom. But how do you push him into playing his best ball without pushing him into Tommy John surgery? And what if his trip to “the show” lasts just 21 glorious days?

Finally, what about the human cost of all this activity? How do you put a price tag on a 10-year-old Pittsburgh fan’s tears when you tell him his beloved Pirates have traded his hero Andrew McCutcheon to the hated San Francisco Giants for a rookie pitcher, a minor-league outfielder, and “$500,000 in international signing bonus allocation,” whatever the heck that is?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is full of hanging curveballs like the new like-kind exchange limits. That’s why you can’t just wait for April 15 to roll around and hope for a “cheese dog” across the plate. So call us when you’re ready to take a swing at a plan, and see how much you can save. Don’t forget we’re here for your teammates, too!

The rapper Cardi B grew up in the South Bronx’s Highbridge neighborhood, where the median family income barely tops $27,000. Cardi, born Belcalis Armanzar, couldn’t wait to get out. She spent much of her time at her grandmother’s home across the Harlem River in Washington Heights. By age 23 she released her debut video and album. Last year she joined the A-list with her hit “Bodak Yellow,” where she raps about being rich and arriving at “the club” in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith.

Apparently, Cardi really is stacking some nice paper. On March 22, she recorded an angry rant demanding to know where her tax dollars go. “So you know the government is taking 40% of my taxes. And, Uncle Sam, I want to know whatchyou doing with my [gerund favored by rappers] tax money. Because, you know what I’m saying? When you donate, when you donate to a kid from a foreign country, they give you updates of what they’re doing with your donation.” She complained about rats infesting New York City’s subway, and concluded, like any good auditor, “I want receipts.”

Cardi does have a point here. If you give to a group like Save the Children, you’ll get letters from the child you’re helping. It’s too bad Cabinet secretaries don’t write taxpayers detailing where their dollars go. (“Dear Taxpayer: I write to tell you that I dropped $31,000 for a dining room table and millions more for private jet rides.”)

Fortunately for Cardi, it’s easy to find exactly where each federal spending dollar goes. (One caveat: it’s not entirely accurate to talk about where “tax dollars” go because the government spends almost $1.20 for every dollar it takes in.)

  • The biggest chunk — 23 cents out of every dollar — goes to Social Security. Now, Cardi is just 25, so she’s probably not spending much time worrying about retirement, but she can take satisfaction knowing at least some of that will make its way back to her grandmother in Manhattan.
  • Medicare and other healthcare services take 13 cents each. In fact, more than two-thirds of every tax dollar goes towards various social insurance programs, which also include unemployment compensation, veterans’ benefits, and the like.
  • National defense takes 15.3 cents out of every dollar. Interest on the national debt eats up six cents more. And education takes another three cents.
  • That leaves just six cents out of every dollar to cover everything else. That total includes all the perennial punching bags that budget hawks love to attack, like foreign aid (one penny per tax dollar), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (1.2 hundredths of a penny), and the much-maligned National Endowment for the Arts (four thousandths of a penny).

We’re willing to bet that no matter where your tax dollars go, you’d like to see less of them going there. So don’t just criticize like Cardi B. Call us for a plan, and we’ll give you something to dance to!

Back in 1985, a group of ambitious lawmakers set out to reform the federal income tax code. House Ways & Means Chair Dan Rostenkowski introduced the legislation. (This was before he became inmate #25338-016 at the Oxford Federal Correctional Institution.) Congress held dozens of hearings, cast 29 roll call votes, and debated 111 amendments on philosophical questions like Dan Quayle’s proposal “to provide that the period during which an individual is in the United States competing in a charitable sporting event shall not be taken into account in determining whether such individual is a resident alien.”

Ten months and 18 days later, President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act of 1986 into law. Two years after that, Congress passed a “technical corrections” bill to fix hundreds of drafting errors that made it into the final text.

Fast forward to 2017. Technology and the internet have made everything faster, right? That includes legislation, of course. On November 2nd, House Ways & Means Chair Kevin Brady introduced the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. There were zero hearings, handwritten amendments in the middle of the night, and a quick “never mind” when Senators realized they had accidentally killed the Research & Development credit.

On December 22 — just 50 days later — the President signed the bill into law. That’s less time than it usually takes to rename a post office after a local school board member. Now those lawmakers may be rediscovering something their grandmothers told them back when they were little: namely, “marry in haste, repent in leisure.” It turns out Congress may have skipped ahead to the bottom of their homework a little too quick, and made a teensy-weensy boo-boo or two along the way.

  • The cut in the top corporate tax rate, from 35% to 21%, happened to give big grain producers like Archer Daniels Midland a big advantage over smaller farmers. So a couple of agriculture-state senators tried to level the playing field by giving producers who sell to co-ops the same 20% “qualified business income” deduction as other pass-through businesses. Unfortunately, they let those farmers deduct 20% of their gross sales when they wanted to let them deduct 20% of their taxable income. Big difference. Can Congress pass a fix?
  • Lawmakers wanted to give restaurant owners and retailers a tasty break for renovation expenses by letting them deduct so-called “leasehold improvements” over 15 years. Instead, they made it 39 years. Restaurant lobbyists understand this was an honest mistake, like overcooking a steak. But, same as you can’t UN-cook an overdone slab of beef, there’s no easy “do-over” to fix the problem short of amending the actual law.
  • Even the giant multinational corporations you would expect to applaud the new lower rates are howling over “base erosion” rules, intended to stop them from playing games by shifting profits offshore to avoid taxes here. (Trust us, you don’t want to know the details.) It’s hyper-technical stuff, but there are big dollars at stake. Can you even imagine how many lawyers will buy new Jaguars with the money they bill for “taxsplaining” what Congress really meant in court?

Drafting errors and “technical” corrections certainly make tax planning harder. But they don’t make it any less important. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So call us when you’re tired of wasting money on taxes you don’t have to pay, and let’s see if we can show Congress how to do it right.