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Storm Shelter: California’s New Voluntary Compliance Initiative

Beginning August 1, California income taxpayers that used a tax shelter or that have unreported income from the use of an offshore financial arrangement for tax years beginning before January 1, 2011, will have the opportunity to pay tax and interest on income related to those transactions and avoid a barrage of penalties under California’s new voluntary compliance initiative (VCI 2). According to the California Franchise Tax Board, VCI 2 is aimed at “tax schemes that serve no significant purpose other than reducing tax.” Taxpayers may recall California’s first voluntary compliance initiative (VCI 1), which was enacted in 2003 as part of the state’s initial deluge of antitax shelter legislation and in response to what the FTB claimed to be a steady loss of revenue because of tax shelter transactions. Although VCI 2 mirrors its predecessor in many ways, as explained in greater detail below, there are significant differences worth consideration. Moreover, VCI 2 follows closely on the heels of the latest round of FTB notices aimed at identifying some transactions as abusive tax avoidance transactions for purposes of California’s widening penalty provisions. Clearly, a storm is on the horizon; however, refuge under cover of voluntary compliance should be taken only after careful consideration of the pros and cons associated with participating in VCI 2.

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