Tax Issues Ahead: A Conversation with AICPA’s Melissa Labant

September 29, 2015

Melissa Labant, CPA/PFS, CGMAThe CPA Advocate sat down recently with AICPA Director of Tax Advocacy Melissa Labant, CPA/PFS, CGMA, in order to understand how tax policy is developed within the organization and get her insights on where the AICPA will be focusing its tax advocacy efforts in the coming months. 

How does the AICPA develop its policy for which you advocate?

Our tax policy is 100 percent member-driven.  It is developed by committees and technical resource panels, comprised of Tax Section members from across the country, and ultimately approved by the AICPA Tax Executive Committee.  It is important to us that our committees and technical resource panels include CPAs who are sole practitioners as well as CPAs from large firms, industry and education.  For more information on how we develop tax policy, consider checking out the video of Jeffrey A. Porter, CPA, a former chair of our Tax Executive Committee, on the AICPA’s tax advocacy homepage.  Also, if someone has a special interest in advocacy, consider applying for one of our volunteer positions through Volunteer Central, which opens up on November 10, 2015.

What’s the outlook for Congressional action on the expired tax extender provisions, Melissa?

The AICPA has pressed Congress for years to provide taxpayers and tax practitioners with certainty about the extenders, on which Congress too often doesn’t act until the end of the year, so we were pleased when the Senate Finance Committee passed an extenders bill in July by a vote of 23 to 3 that would extend more than 50 temporary tax provisions for two years.  However, the bill has not yet been voted on by the full Senate.  The House’s approach to addressing extenders is a little different, as they would prefer to make selected extenders permanent.  In February, the House passed a bill making several of the temporary provisions permanent, and the House Ways and Means Committee on September 17 approved five more of the tax breaks as permanent provisions.  It may be December or early next year before the House and Senate are able to reach final agreement.  In the meantime, the AICPA will use every opportunity to urge lawmakers to act quickly. 

What’s the status of the AICPA’s effort to have permanent tax disaster relief enacted by Congress?

We’re making good progress.  Our proposal on permanent tax disaster relief has been very well received by members of Congress.  We are currently working with several lawmakers who have expressed an interest to craft legislative language that would automatically trigger disaster tax-related benefits for victims of natural disasters.  For example, many of our recommendations were included in the “Permanent Disaster Tax Relief Provisions” introduced in Title III of the National Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2015 (H.R. 3110), which was introduced by Rep. Tom Reed.  There is a companion bill in the Senate which was introduced by Senator David Vitter.  (See related story for more details.)  We anticipate seeing additional bills introduced in the next several months that encompass many of our recommendations.

Melissa, what is the most frequently asked question from AICPA members?

Well, in the last couple of months, most of the questions that I have received from members related to the tax return due dates legislation in the recently enacted Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015, which extended the Highway Trust Fund for three months.  Although members are very appreciative of this “win” for the profession, which provides a more logical flow of tax return information, there remain a lot of questions about the effective date.  Generally speaking, the new tax return due dates apply to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2015 (applicable to the 2017 filing season).  However, because of some transition rules (particularly for C corporations), we have recently developed a chart with all of the effective dates to make the transition to the new rules easier for our members. 

What can you tell us about the other AICPA Tax Advocacy professionals? 

We have six other very talented professionals on our team: Ogo Anokwute, Kristin Esposito, Jonathan Horn, Melanie Lauridsen; Eileen Sherr, and Amy Wang.  They have a wide range of tax expertise gained in settings from solo practitioner to international CPA firms and U.S. corporations.  They understand the problems faced by our members.  That’s a huge help in meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and with IRS and Treasury officials.  They all have different areas of responsibility as liaisons for the 11 advocacy committees/panels that formulate our positions and draft comment letters and testimony, which are then approved by the Tax Executive Committee.