Financial Planning | Legislative / Regulatory

‘Follow the money?’ Good luck.

Magnify What was it Deep Throat told Bob Woodward in "All the President's Men?"

"Follow the money," right?

That's easier said than done in this economic stimulus shell game we've been playing lately.

In an effort to shore up our troubled economy, we've handed out close to $1 trillion to banks, automakers, financial institutions and other groups as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Under the 2008 law that created the TARP, the president is authorized to recoup any TARP money that hasn't been paid back after five years -- in 2013, in other words.

President Obama, though, apparently has decided he doesn't want to wait that long. He is announcing a plan to collect up to $120 billion of that money via a fee on large banks and financial organizations.

And I get that. That's our money, after all, taxpayers. A little payback isn't that much to ask, is it?

But wait ... the shells just moved again.

The folks at Planet Money have alerted us to this gem of a Reuters story.

According to Reuters' Tom Hals, a provision in a new unemployment law passed in late 2009 will allow some bankrupt financial organizations to apply for billions in tax refunds. These are bankrupt organizations, mind you -- financial firms that, in conflict with the spirit of the stimulus plan, won't do anything else to help boost our economy.

I'm quoting here from the Reuters article:

The tax benefit was tucked into legislation late last year that broadened unemployment insurance and extended tax credits for homeowners. The provision allows companies of all sizes to apply losses in 2008 or 2009 to prior income over five years to receive tax refunds. The previous standard allowed them to apply losses back two years.

Chief executives and industry groups representing manufacturers, homebuilders and retailers pressed for that tax benefit, although economists expect businesses from across the economy to reap some gain.

Part of the money paid out as 2010 refunds is expected to be recouped in the next few years when businesses turn a profit and begin paying taxes again.

But some of the companies that plan to seek a refund will never pay tax, because they have no future.

The professionals who are liquidating bankrupt companies including Circuit City Stores Inc. and Linens 'n' Things are going through the corporate books in anticipation of getting cash back from Washington. The refund money will be used to pay off creditors.

So we're going to be demanding repayment on our TARP loans and extending tax breaks to bankrupt companies that will never again help our economy.

Makes as much sense as anything else that's happened in the past few years. Seems like we could use some CPAs in positions of authority these days.

What's your take on our recovery plan? Is it working?


Bill Sheridan