Virgin Islands Are at Center of Dispute on Tax Break
The United States Virgin Islands and several wealthy financiers who own homes there are working to persuade Congress to drop a new requirement that at least half the year be spent in the islands in order to get a tax break intended to spur their economic development.And who is the one Senator who is trying to get the new regulations overturned? If you guessed Gordon Smith you would be right.
The economic development program allows an effective federal income tax rate of just 3.5 percent for bona fide residents of the Virgin Islands. It has drawn wealthy Americans from the mainland and kindled an economic boom.
But the program, whose benefits have been available for decades, has also allowed some homeowners who spend little time in the islands to avoid federal taxes estimated at $400 million. At least one person, who lived in the islands less than one month a year and nonetheless claimed the program's benefits for income he generated selling insurance in Massachusetts, has pleaded guilty to tax fraud.
The new requirement, adopted by the Internal Revenue Service under legislation enacted by Congress in 2004, is intended to crack down on the practice. The legislation followed articles that exposed how little time some of the beneficiaries spent in the islands and how little of their income was derived there.
The program has long required individuals who benefit from the tax break, as well as companies that do so, to commit $100,000 of capital, employ 10 local residents, buy goods and services from local suppliers and promise to make charitable donations. But until Jan. 31, when the new restriction took effect, there was no explicit residency requirement; the I.R.S. instead used a "facts and circumstances" test to assess eligibility. As a result of the change, individuals claiming the benefit must now prove that they have spent 183 days in the Virgin Islands during the year.
In response, the Virgin Islands Tax Working Group, which represents people who benefit from the break, paid $200,000 last year for lobbyists, according to records compiled by Political Money Line, a nonpartisan campaign finance tracking service. At least one senator, Gordon H. Smith, Republican of Oregon, has been saluted in the islands at a fund-raiser on his behalf attended by several beneficiaries of the program.So while Oregon's schools starve and Oregon's infrastructure deteriorates Gordon Smith is looking out for the Virgin Islands and the wealthiest Americans. Doesn't Oregon deserve a Senator who will look out for Oregon and Oregonians?
The government of the Virgin Islands is just as eager as the beneficiaries to have the new restriction eased. Donna M. Christensen, the islands' delegate to Congress, acknowledged problems with the program in written testimony submitted at a hearing held Wednesday by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department and thus territorial affairs. But she asked committee members to lobby for a lightening of the residency requirement.
Hat tip to Cody Hoesly at Blue Oregon