As an ice-breaker exercise last fall, Accountancy Professor James Wittenbach divided his graduate Tax Research class into teams and challenged them to come up with creative tax credits that would serve a social purpose. “I didn't want students sending me a proposal saying, ‘Scrap the entire code and let's go with a flat tax.' I wanted something that was doable,” he said.
The teams gave simple presentations of their ideas in class, and Wittenbach figured that was that. But about a month later, Dan Kelly (MSACCT '06) came back to him with an idea that seemed not just doable, but excellent. The devastation from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma prompted Kelly to propose allowing taxpayers who take the standard deduction—about 70 percent of all taxpayers—a charitable deduction for their contributions to hurricane relief organizations.
Kelly presented his plan in class before two executives from Deloitte & Touche, Jim Jaeger and Scott Ecker. Jaeger invited Kelly and fellow student Katie Landsberg (MSACCT '06, '05) to Washington , D.C. Last October, they presented the proposal to Deloitte's National Tax Policy Office, which is the accounting firm's central way station for monitoring legislation affecting the accounting industry.
Though Kelly's proposal ultimately didn't survive to become law, Wittenbach's tax proposal exercise did, and now has a competitive spirit. The Deloitte executives returned to Wittenbach's classroom on Oct. 3 to announce this year's winning team, who were selected by a four-member panel of tax experts. Andree Johnson, James Flaherty and David McCormick proposed a graduation tax package that grants varying credits for earning a high school diploma, as well as undergraduate and graduate degrees. The trio plan to visit Deloitte's policy office in Washington this fall.