OK, we’re not going to spend too much time on income tax. I would guess that most of you have had some dealings with filing your annual federal income tax, but that’s not what this course is designed to teach. I want to take this in a different direction – specifically, what affect do these taxes have on public agencies, which in this case pertains to the city of Detroit.
Start by reading the following article and then follow the instructions found immediately afterwards (in red).
Finding lost income tax revenue in Detroit
Date March 25, 2019
University of Michigan Master of Accounting graduates who worked on projects in Detroit in 2017 are (left to right): Shannon Galligan, Amber Blanks, Elkena Steele and Angie Pae. Image Credit: Catherine Shakespeare
ANN ARBORâ€”As Detroit emerged from the largest municipal bankruptcy in 2014, city officials knew they needed to boost collections of income taxâ€”the cityâ€™s top source of revenue.
Increasing tax collection meant finding ways to improve processes and close the tax gap. Detroit finance officials connected with Cathy Shakespeare, associate professor of accounting at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.
Shakespeare teaches a class of Master of Accounting students each winter term that focuses on helping the city of Detroit with tax research and other projects assigned by Odell Bailey, director of Audit & Compliance for Detroitâ€™s Office of the Treasury and the former auditor general of Detroit Public Schools.
Odell Bailey, income tax manager for the city of Detroit, in his office at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. Image Credit: Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography
â€œThe more you understand about business and how people pay their taxes, the better you will be able to identify and help close the tax gap,â€ Bailey said.
Bailey assigns a variety of tasks to the students over winter term, which Shakespeare calls â€œvery, very ambiguousâ€ and thus offers an exceptional learning opportunity.
â€œItâ€™s been a really, for me, rewarding partnership,â€ she said.
At first, students were asked to find out how much was underreported. U-M students built a model that indicated a large portion of business tax revenue wasnâ€™t getting reported. Similar underreporting was indicated for income taxes.
â€œItâ€™s partly that people just donâ€™t know. And sometimes itâ€™s the people donâ€™t care. They know and they donâ€™t report,â€ Shakespeare said. â€œThis was probably the coolest project to date. The students came back with more than Odell and I thought possible.â€
Angie Pae, who was part of the student team that conducted the research in winter 2017, said they found that partnership income and self-reported, or contractor income, was â€œprobably the main source that was being underreported for the city.â€
The students collected data from licensing, construction permits, parcel ownership, real estate evaluations and property tax data to find discrepancies, said Pae, who earned her bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™s degrees at the Ross School of Business.
â€œOf the thousands of businesses and entities filing returns, how do you choose which ones may not only have the highest risk of underreporting or underpayment but which ones can potentially increase the amount of tax you collect?â€ Pae asked. â€œWhat could be the biggest reward for the amount of effort? We tried to narrow that down.â€
The cityâ€™s income tax rate is 2.4 percent for residents, 1.2 percent for nonresidents and 2 percent for corporations.
In addition to contractors and lawyers, the students gave Bailey good ideas to collect income taxes from entertainers and visiting sports teams.
â€œI mean when the top paid basketball players come to play at Little Caesars Arena, it can be worth as much as $2,500 in taxes,â€ he said.
â€œWe ultimately want people to know there is a presence, there is a cop on the beat,â€ Bailey said. â€œWhen people know that and are informed about their responsibility, most of them will do the right thing.â€
Not knowing too overly much about this – yet having some basic understanding of human behavior – I ask you (my students) to answer the following.
If Detroit has been struggling for decades to attract residents, then why rely on income tax to fund their municipal projects? I would think this discourages people who make more money from living there, right?