Audit Notes: Romney and taxes, prison phone racket, WSJ

The Atlantic eyes the Republican's corporate tax plan

Nobody can figure out what exactly Mitt Romney wants to do with taxes. His plan is mathematically impossible, and Wednesday night’s debate just confused matters even more.

The candidate actually said at one point in the debate that “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans,” which is either false or an epic flipflop. By the lack of outrage emanating from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, I’m going to go with the former.

But The Atlantic’s Matthew O’Brien looks at an uncovered issue and thinks he has him pinned down: Romney would cut corporate taxes by about a trillion dollars over a decade, and most of the benefits would go to the very richest.

This looks like a pretty standard tax reform — cut rates and preferences, blah, blah, blah — but look again. Romney only cuts preferences in the second step. The first step is not paid for. This is not a mistake; this is the plan. At least according to his advisers. Setting aside one-time costs like the repatriation tax holiday, the Tax Policy Center figures Romney’s initial rate cut would reduce revenues by $96 billion in 2015 alone — or nearly a trillion dollars over a decade. Who are the lucky flesh and blood people who would benefit from this 13-digit tax cut? That’s a tricky question to answer, but the latest figures from the Tax Policy Center estimate that 53 percent of the corporate income tax falls on the top 1 percent. In other words, this $96 billion corporate tax cut would be a $51 billion tax cut for the top 1 percent. That’s good for an average cut of $43,440 for each household in the top 1 percent, going by these 2015 Tax Policy Center distributional tables.

— Here’s a racket you never knew about: charging prisoners up to a dollar a minute to call their families.

Two private equity firms control the market, and they pay a big chunk of their revenues back to prisons to secure their bids. Bloomberg:

Forty-two states got commissions from phone companies in 2008, averaging 42 percent of the charges and reaching as much as 66 percent, according to a July filing by groups asking the FCC to set a benchmark rate of 20 cents or 25 cents a minute.

Until recently, charges from Global Tel*Link ran about $100 a month for Tom and Dora Pickles, 79-year-old retirees in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Their son, Scott, is serving a life sentence in Connecticut after killing his wife and two children

We’re talking big bucks. One of the firms, Securus, sold for $450 million last year and estimated it would bring in ebitda of $80 million this year. That’s a lot of moneycoming from people who might make 16 to 93 cents an hour.

And these companies have gotten very little media coverage.

— Jim Romenesko reports that Wall Street Journal staffers are calling Robert Thomson’s Thursday note on further integrating the paper with Dow Jones Newswires “the layoffs memo” (emphasis mine):

We must now begin a new phase of integration, creating a single newsroom that does away with duplication and puts extra emphasis on scoops, thoughtful analysis and deeper reporting. The aim is to fashion an editorial engine that will drive content for all of our platforms, from the print Journal to a real real-time news service and customized digital feeds for specialist readers. For that strategy to be successful, total integration must be our imperative, not to cut costs (though spending, like imbibing, should always be done in moderation), but to make the most of our peerless journalism.

If it’s true that doing away with duplication means layoffs, it seems like a sign that the paper is getting ready for its spinoff from News Corporation, it isn’t making a lot of money, and Rupert Murdoch isn’t planning to endow the new company with much of the mothership’s cash.

The glib management-speak here sure seems like the “less is more” baloney. Good luck putting extra emphasis on scoops while also putting extra emphasis on deeper reporting. And read Dean Starkman on the paper’s last big integration with Dow Jones Newswires.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,