City Council proposes $257M in new spending

A thousand more cops, free school lunches, more money to fight homelessness and a commission to overhaul the city’s property tax system were among the items included in the City Council’s $257 million budget request Wednesday.
The spending would be in addition to the $73.7 billion budget proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last February. Next month, the mayor will unveil his executive budget, which will be followed by negotiations with the council and a budget deal by the end of June.
In recent years, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the council would engage in what was derisively known as “the budget dance,” in which the mayor would propose cuts to city services and the council would fight to restore that money. Both Mr. de Blasio and his ally Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have said they do not intend to repeat that process this year, which critics said was designed to distract New Yorkers from reforms that were needed.
And while some of the new spending proposed by the council could complicate negotiations with the mayor, much of what it is asking for is aligned with Mr. de Blasio’s anti-inequality agenda, including money to fight homelessness and increase the supply of affordable housing. A spokesman for the mayor did not immediately respond to the council’s proposal.
Hiring 1,000 new cops would be paid for through savings found in the $635 million spent on police overtime each year, Ms. Mark-Viverito said Wednesday at a City Hall press conference. The cost to hire 1,000 officers for the July 2014 class is $94.3 million in the first year and $97.9 million in the second, the council estimates.
The council is also proposing to create a new rental subsidy program to help move families out of homeless shelters. After tense negotiations between Mr. de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, language was removed from the state budget last month that would have precluded the use of state funds to pay for such a program.
The tax commission, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, would work collaboratively with the de Blasio administration to correct inequities in the city’s $21 billion property tax system. (Tax commissions are all the rage these days: Gov. Andrew Cuomo formed two last year, one of which he used to justify cuts to the state’s corporate tax rate, while giving the other panel less attention).
Critics have long complained about the city’s property tax system. As Crain’s Daniel Geiger wrote last month, “For decades the city has been criticized, especially by the commercial real estate industry, for placing too much of the financial burden on rental-apartment and office buildings. Meanwhile, single-family homes, condos and co-ops, especially those trading hands for tens of millions of dollars on Park Avenue and Central Park West, pay far less than their fair share, critics say.” A class action lawsuit was recently filed challenging the system as racially discriminatory.
Ms. Mark-Viverito said the tax commission would not be a short-term project. “It’s not going to be done in the bat of an eye,” she said. “It’s a big, big nut.”
With regards to the city’s 150 open labor contracts and the billions of dollars in retroactive raises sought by the municipal unions, Ms. Mark-Viverito said the outcome remains unknown. But she said if the city receives extra tax revenue, as projected by the Independent Budget Office, that money should be “applied to labor negotiations.”

As the economy heats up, Con Ed goes green

Consolidated Edison Inc. emitted 3.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases last year. Just about everyone agrees this isn’t sustainable. Even Con Ed’s new chief executive, John McAvoy.

To demonstrate his utility’s commitment to cleaner energy, one of Mr. McAvoy’s first acts as CEO was overseeing the installation of 200 solar panels on the roof of the 100-year-old building that is Con Ed’s headquarters near Union Square. The $270,000 project—about half of which was paid for with a federal government grant—will lower the utility’s own electric bill by $7,000 a year.

“I’m excited about this; this is the right thing to do,” said Mr. McAvoy, who replaced Kevin Burke as Con Ed’s chief at the end of last year. “This takes us forward to the next decades of energy technology.”

Con Ed’s panels produce a tiny amount of power—about 40 kilowatts, or enough to light up two floors in its headquarters. And solar accounts for only 0.3% of the more than 13,000 megawatts of energy that flow at peak times through Con Ed’s wires and pipes. Still, the alternative-energy figure is growing fast, and Mr. McAvoy said his utility is committed to making it easier for New Yorkers to convert to solar power if they want it.

“There’s a natural link between running a transmission and distribution system and helping customers get clean-energy technology,” he said.

Talking up clean energy is good public relations, but Con Ed is also putting its money where its mouth is. Since 2011, it has invested a half-billion dollars in 17 solar-energy projects that collectively produce 292 megawatts of power sold to other utilities. An additional 50 megawatts are in development.

For comparison’s sake, PSEG Long Island, the former Long Island Power Authority, has 125 megawatts of solar capacity and an additional 150 in development, a spokeswoman said. The nation’s largest renewable-power player, Florida-based NextEra Energy, operates or is developing 789 megawatts of solar power, according to Jim von Riesemann, a utilities analyst at CRT Capital.

“Con Ed is legitimately a major player in solar,” Mr. von Riesemann said.

Growing demand

If it sounds odd that a 120-year-old utility would embrace solar energy, it helps to understand that Con Ed sold most of its fossil-fuel-powered plants back in 1999 and the Indian Point nuclear plant in 2001. Now it doesn’t matter so much to Con Ed what source of energy its 3.4 million customers prefer so long as they continue to plug into its grid, which includes 130,000 miles of electric cables and wires and 4,200 miles of gas mains.

But Con Ed is also extolling the virtues of solar because any energy that commercial or residential customers can generate on their own rooftops will help ease the pressure on the utility’s network during heat waves. Peak demand is expected to grow by about 3% this summer, to a record 13,675 megawatts.

When everyone cranks up their air conditioners, powers up their computers and turns on their flat-screen TVs, the strain on Con Ed’s grid may be especially tough, considering regulators recently froze rates while also demanding the utility spend $1 billion during the next few years to protect against major storms.

The rate freeze is one reason why Con Ed’s normally reliable stock has underperformed in the past 12 months, falling by 4%, compared with an 8% increase in its peer-group index. Still, in January, the utility raised its dividend for the 40th consecutive year.

While Con Ed preaches the benefits of solar energy, Mr. McAvoy, a Con Ed lifer with a degree in mechanical engineering, acknowledges that the economics of conversion remain challenging and will likely remain so for at least three years. For starters, although solar-panel prices have fallen considerably in recent years, the cost of installing them hasn’t declined much.

Even with government subsidies, it still costs about $250,000 to install panels on the average Manhattan office-tower rooftop, said Natural Resources Defense Council energy-policy analyst Pierre Bull. Those upfront costs are a heavy lift, even though Mr. Bull said solar-generated electricity costs between 12 and 15 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s below the average commercial rate in New York of 16.4 cents per kilowatt-hour this past January and the residential rate of 19.5 cents, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Another hindrance is that some office and apartment rooftops in New York are too small to interest solar-panel installers. Most developers want to build systems that generate at least 100 kilowatts—more than double the size of Con Ed’s rooftop project. That requires about 20,000 square feet of roof space, said Rory Christian, New York clean-energy director at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“A lot of rooftops here have lots of vents and air conditioners that make installing solar panels a challenge,” Mr. Christian said.

That said, the city’s solar capacity has grown to 40 megawatts from essentially zero a decade ago, and government officials have made further increases a priority. The Cuomo administration recently launched a so-called Green Bank that’s intended to use private and public capital to finance solar-conversion projects. The state is also developing an incentive plan called NY-Sun, modeled after a successful public-private program in California, the NRDC’s Mr. Bull said.

City’s solar-friendliest locales

As for Con Ed, the utility company is working with the City University of New York’s Sustainability Project along with city and state officials to streamline the permit process in parts of the city where adding solar capacity would relieve the most pressure on the utility’s grid. Potentially solar-rich locations include much of Manhattan’s East Side below 31st Street, Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood and northern Staten Island.

So far, Mr. McAvoy said, 2,000 residential and commercial customers have installed solar equipment. He’s not worried about customers abandoning the utility in large numbers: The sun simply doesn’t shine enough here to generate adequate energy for most people.

“Solar provides power several hours of the day,” Mr. McAvoy said. “We provide the others.”

Five Red Flags That Scream “Don’t Take This Job!”

You can find tons of advice about how to get a job interview and how to snag a job. Most of it comes from the “Do whatever you have to do to get hired!” school of thought. The job market isn’t a job-seeker’s paradise, but it isn’t bad considering what it was like just a year or two ago. If you’re willing to step outside the velvet ropes and try something new in your job search, you can get the interview, and get the job.

When you’ve been through a job-search drought for months and haven’t had much or any interview activity, your standards can start to drop. If the drought lasts long enough, your standards may plummet. You’ll delude yourself then that any job at all is better than another month of unemployment. That’s when a job-seeker can tumble headfirst into the Vortex.

The Vortex is the place a job-seeker goes when somebody (anybody!) is interested in hiring him or her. You can lose your bearings in the Vortex. You can ignore critical signs the universe is sending you. Most of us have been there at one time or another.

I almost took a job working for a horrible woman years ago. She used most of our interview time to insult me, but she kept calling me back. At the time I thought it was strange. Now I see that the woman’s “You’re an idiot, but let’s talk again” approach made perfect sense for her, because it was very important for her to hire someone she could berate and belittle. She was testing me. After a telephone conversation where she said “Are you ready to forget everything you know and learn how to do business MY way?” I gave Miss Hateful the slip, telling her that I’d decided to stay at my current job.

I realized that her real need in a new hire was not the Assistant Customer Support Manager she’d advertised for, but a whipping boy (or girl, in my case).

Harsh experience teaches us that there are many jobs worse than another month of unemployment. In fact, I believe that when we say “No!” to the wrong things, we invite the right opportunities in. I’ve seen it over and over with clients and friends. We grow our mojo when we say “I don’t think it’s a match, but thanks for your time” and bail on a lousy opportunity. Here are five red flags the universe will send you to tell you it’s time to get out of Dodge.

Things Are Moving So Fast!

A thoughtful selection process for a white-collar job is likely to take six weeks, and many of them take longer than that. You don’t want an employer to string you along for months or go silent for weeks on end, but a too-rapid selection process is a big red flag. Some companies churn people in and out so fast that the new-hire process is a very low priority. If you can walk and talk and fog a mirror, you’re welcome to join the team and suffer with everyone else until your new-found mojo impels you out the door.

If your gut is telling you the people interviewing you are less interested in you as a teammate and more in filling the open requisition with any warm body at all, run away. There are employers who will value you for yourself, not because you’re available two weeks from Monday.

What’s the Job Description Again?

Lots of organizations are in flux – that’s the nature of business. If you go on a job interview and no two people in the mix have the same idea about what the job is, be wary.

“I talked to Anita in HR, and she said it was a Supply Chain job,” said Donald, a Purchasing Manager.

“Anita passed me on to Hal, the Director of Operations, and he said he needed somebody to manage the production plan and keep the sales reps happy. I was trying to fit all that together when I met Barry, the CEO, who said he wanted the new hire to create a channel marketing strategy. That’s when I took myself out of the running.”

Too much uncertainty in the role definition makes a job undoable, and virtually guarantees that somebody will be unhappy with your performance if you step into the job. Hold out for a company that knows what it needs in a new hire and is willing to commit to it in writing.

The Comp Plan is Fantastic, But I Can’t Tell You What It Is

“I’m excited about this new opportunity,” says Bridget, a Director of Administration. “The base salary is low, but they’ve got a fantastic bonus program.” “How does it work?” we asked her. “I don’t know,” Bridget said. “I have to go back next week and meet the VP of HR.”

Bridget went back and met more people, but the VP of HR wasn’t in. She didn’t reschedule, either. When Bridget got her offer letter a week later, it included the exact base salary amount that Bridget earned in 1998, and the note “You will be eligible for the Acme Explosives Management Bonus Program.”

“How does that bonus program work, exactly?” Bridget asked her hiring manager, who said “The VP of HR is working on it.” Bridget fled. Worthy employers pay the market rate, and they’re not afraid to tell you what your comp package is going to look like, down to the nickel.

Sorry, That Information is Classified

When you’re a finalist for a new job, you should be invited to meet your teammates. You should get the information you need to make your decision, should you get the job offer. You should get a copy of the employee handbook, the benefits plans and any performance programs that will govern your employment in the firm.

If someone balks when you ask for information that will help you decide whether or not to come on board, flee. If they’re going to ask you to sign the last page of the employee handbook on Day One (and nearly all employers do) why would they withhold it from you a week ahead of time?

We Need a Bit More Information, And a Pint of Blood

When you’re proceeding through a Selection Pipeline, your natural assumption is that the people on the other side of the equation like and trust you. When they start asking you for proof of various things (a W-2 or payslips to prove your last salary, for instance) you know that these are people who don’t trust themselves to make a good hire. Are they going to share your predecessor’s salary information with you? Not likely. So why should you share your past salary information with them?

Any organization so ill-equipped to gauge the value of its applicants that it resorts to some other employer’s payslips is not an employer that can grow your flame. Tell them you won’t be sharing your past salary information with anyone besides your accountant, and go in search of people who get you. If they don’t get you, they don’t deserve you, and you have no time to waste with people who will never see the brilliance you bring.

With Tax Day Over, Tax Scammers Are Still In Business

Tax Day might have come and gone but the scammers remain…

With the ink barely dry on tax returns, scammers are already reaching out to taxpayers. My office received a flurry of emails just after Tax Day purporting to be from the “IRS e-help Desk.” The email offers a case ID number and states that details about the case are attached. The attachment is a zip file.

The email is actually sent from an email account with a domain registered in India. The IP address associated with the email is listed as “poor” on the Barracuda Reputation System.

It’s likely that the zip file contains malware such as a virus or spyware. Don’t open the attachment and don’t click on the associated links.

Remember that the IRS does not ever initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication including texts and social media. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

If you get one of these emails, forward it to and delete.

Here’s what the most recent scammy email looks like:

(Click to expand)

In addition to the email scams, those phone scams aren’t slowing down either. Earlier in the week, the IRS issued “another strong warning for consumers to guard against sophisticated and aggressive phone scams targeting taxpayers.”

In the most common version of the scam, callers posing as IRS representatives contact taxpayers by phone, claiming that they owe money to the IRS. Taxpayers are told that they must pay the balance promptly using a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer or be subject to punishment, including arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license.

Of course, it really isn’t the IRS calling. The IRS doesn’t generally initiate contact by phone, will not use abusive language or threaten arrest, will not ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer and will never ask for a credit card number over the phone. According to the IRS, if you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:
•If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
•If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.
•If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Just because tax season is over for most taxpayers doesn’t mean that the scams will slow down. There are a number of scams circulating in an attempt to take advantage of taxpayers. Don’t let your guard down.

Want more taxgirl goodness? Pick your poison: receive posts by email, follow me on twitter (@taxgirl), hang out with me on Facebook or check out my YouTube channel. If you want to keep an eye on documents I’ve posted, check out my profile on Scribd. And finally, you can subscribe to my podcast on the site or via iTunes (it’s free).

Food Industry Alliance Publishes Toolkit for Reducing Food Waste

An alliance of food manufacturers, retailers, and foodservice operators announced the release of a toolkit to help businesses in the food sector reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfill. The Best Practices and Emerging Solutions Toolkit was produced by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), a cross-sector industry initiative led by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), and the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

“The Food Waste Reduction Alliance has been working to tackle food waste challenges within the food sector since 2011, but we know that there are companies out there that are just starting to look at the issue,” says Gail Tavill, vice president of sustainable development for ConAgra Foods and one of the toolkit authors. “Our goal for the toolkit is to elevate the issue of food waste within the sector and enable more companies to take action by sharing key learnings and model practices gleaned from organizations who are at the leading edge of this issue.”

Approximately 80 billion pounds of food waste are discarded in U.S. landfills each year. The majority of food waste is generated at the residential level, but it can also be a byproduct of manufacturing, retail and foodservice operations. The FWRA toolkit focuses on strategies food manufacturers, retailers, and foodservice operators can employ to keep food out of landfills and reduce food waste at the source.

“The sad truth is that while food is going to waste, 37 million Americans struggle to put enough food on the table to feed their families. The safe, edible food that is diverted from the waste stream to food banks through model practices showcased in the toolkit make a positive social impact on communities across the country by providing sustenance to those in need,” says Karen Hanner, director of manufacturing product sourcing at Feeding America and a key contributor to the toolkit.

The model practices and emerging solutions were compiled from the more than 30 FWRA member companies that are focused on reducing food waste within their operations. Specific topics discussed include:

· Tactics for overcoming obstacles to food donation such as liability and supply chain issues

· Emerging solutions and new technologies for recycling food waste, including energy production opportunities

· Strategic planning to avoid food waste generation

The toolkit also offers a “Getting Started” section for companies that are just beginning to consider food waste reduction strategies. Conducting a waste characterization assessment, establishing standard operating procedures and developing collaborative relationships with partners from the anti-hunger community, waste management providers, and other stakeholders are among the starting points outlined.

Numerous real-life examples and case studies of the approaches discussed are found throughout the Best Practices and Emerging Solutions Toolkit.

“One of the most valuable features of the toolkit is that it includes examples and insights from companies that illustrate the strategies outlined. What’s more, the alliance recognizes that there are operational differences between food manufacturers, retailers and foodservice companies, so there are case studies that speak to the unique concerns and challenges of each sector,” says Jason Wadsworth, sustainability coordinator for Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and toolkit co-author.

“FWRA members are committed to reducing food waste not just within their own organizations, but across the entire food sector. By sharing our collective experience, we hope to enable other companies to tackle food waste more efficiently and more effectively than when we started the process,” says Brandon Tidwell, sustainability manager with Darden Restaurants and toolkit co-author. “The more companies that join the effort, the faster we can change the social acceptability of wasting food.”

MTA strikes ‘tentative’ deal with transit union

After two years of stalemate, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the transit workers union announced a “tentative” contract agreement that would provide retroactive raises to workers in exchange for their increased contribution to health care costs.

Transit workers would receive 1% raises each for the first two years of the contract, followed by 2% raises for each of the last three years. The amount compounds to a pay hike of just over 8.3% for the union’s 34,000 members. The deal would also provide for improved dental coverage and health coverage for the spouses of deceased union workers, as well as paid maternity leave. Meanwhile, union workers’ health care contributions would increase to 2% of their paycheck from the current 1.5%.

MTA CEO Thomas Prendergast said he could not put a dollar figure on the amount the raises will cost, but noted that the deal would have no impact on subway fares or bridge tolls.

The deal was announced on the 38th floor of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s midtown Manhattan office, with Mr. Cuomo playing the role of mediator. All sides cautioned that the deal was not yet final, pending board approval from both the MTA and Transport Workers Union Local 100 members.

“This went on for two years,” Mr. Cuomo said, describing the long and acrimonious stalemate between the MTA and the union. “So you know it wasn’t easy.”

He added, “It’s not final until it’s final. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Then Mr. Cuomo sat smiling as Mr. Prendergast and TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen signed a document stipulating the deal.

Just as news broke that a contract was imminent, the union reached out to Mr. Cuomo to intervene in the talks, providing an opportunity for the governor to preside over the agreement. But it is unclear to what extent the authority won changes to union work rules that it has long blamed for increased costs and inefficient operations. Mr. Prendergast said the deal included “no specific” work rule changes.

Report: Walmart Workers Cost Taxpayers $6.2 Billion In Public Assistance

Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing, according to a report published to coincide with Tax Day, April 15.

Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 400 national and state-level progressive groups, made this estimate using data from a 2013 study by Democratic Staff of the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“The study estimated the cost to Wisconsin’s taxpayers of Walmart’s low wages and benefits, which often force workers to rely on various public assistance programs,” reads the report, available in full here.

“It found that a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.”

Americans for Tax Fairness then took the mid-point of that range ($4,415) and multiplied it by Walmart’s approximately 1.4 million workers to come up with an estimate of the overall taxpayers’ bill for the Bentonville, Ark.-based big box giant’s staffers.

The report provides a state-by-state breakdown of these figures, as well as some context on the other side of the coin: Walmart’s huge share of the nationwide SNAP, or food stamp, market.

“Walmart told analysts last year that the company has captured 18 percent of the SNAP market,” it reads. “Using that figure, we estimate that the company accounted for $13.5 billion out of $76 billion in food stamp sales in 2013.”

Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove described this week’s report as “inaccurate and misleading,” referring to its use of extrapolated data and adding that public assistance program eligibility requirements vary from state to state.

“More than 99 percent of our associates earn above minimum wage,” he said. “In fact, the average hourly wage for our associates, both full and part-time, is an average of $11.83 per hour.”

He said the company had no internal figures to share on the number of workers receiving public assistance.

“The bottom line is Walmart provides associates with more opportunities for career growth and greater economic security for their families than other companies in America,” he said. “Our full and part-time workers get bonuses for store performance, access to a 401K-retirement plan, education and health benefits.”

Hargrove added that the number of Walmart employees receiving Medicaid is similar to the percentage for other large retailers — and comparable to the national average.

He pointed to a 2005 report by economist Jason Furman, now a White House adviser, describing Walmart’s Medicaid enrollment as “a reflection of [its] enormous size.”
Other large retail chains have been the focus of similar reports in recent months. In October, two studies released to coincide showed that American fast food industry outsourced a combined $7 billion in annual labor costs to taxpayers. McDonald’s MCD -0.11% alone accounted for $1.2 billion of that outlay.

Yum Brands came in at a distant number two, with its Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC subsidiaries costing $648 million in benefits programs for workers each year.

The Upper Crust

Traditional pizza concept takes a page from fast casual’s playbook.

The fast-casual pizza category is booming with its more personalized customization experience, and traditional quick-serve pizza brands are taking note. Earlier this year, Pizza Hut unveiled its Hand-Tossed pizza as a fresh new option with a lighter crust akin to the fast-casual segment’s artisanal offerings.

“We’ve heard from our consumers that they’re looking for a little more uniqueness in their experiences,” says Doug Terfehr, spokesman. He says the company responded with the most popular way that people get pizza: tossed by hand.

“In our opinion, pizza … has always been made to order,” Terfehr says. “Bringing it more to the … top setting is new and a trend that we’re definitely paying attention to.”

Rachel Kalt, creative solutions manager for restaurant consulting firm The Culinary Edge, says there is a growing desire from increasingly knowledgeable consumers for a more authentic eating experience.

A lot of these fast-casual concepts that you see are pizzas being hand stretched in front of you and using high-end ingredients,” Kalt says. Pizza Hut realized hand-tossed crust can speak to an authentic, elevated experience, she says.

Jim Reynolds, corporate chef and director of R&D for consulting firm Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations, sees quick-serve chains trying to shed their corporate image and the notion of mass-produced items.

“This Pizza Hut concept … [is] trying to bring back the art in food, trying to be able to tell a story about food, really trying to make it seem like it’s produced here,” Reynolds says.

IRS Taxing Tax Day Freebies?

The list of Tax Day Freebies and discounts grows every year. Tax Day can be painful, so collecting fun perks that also help businesses seems like a win-win. But could they themselves be taxed? It’s not a silly question.

If a merchant gives you a free burger on Tax Day, the merchant treats it as a promotional expense. Selling two for the price of one? Same. Usually, the IRS can’t impute income when you get something discounted or for free, but sometimes it can.

More important, sales tax authorities commonly treat freebies as taxable sales. Often, the retailer is treated as the consumer. That way the state gets the tax. Many items given away are really sold, just for less.

When a store pays your sales tax for you, it actually reduces the price of the item. What if your employer grosses-up your year-end bonus to cover your taxes? That gross-up is additional wages, a tax issue that’s circular, so you need a formula to solve it.

For the 4th year in a row, Arby’s is giving away free snack-sized curly fries on tax day.For the 4th year in a row, Arby’s is giving away coupons for free snack-sized curly fries on Tax Day.

If you receive $100 but must give half to a family member, partner or colleague, you might assume you’re only taxed on $50. Not always. You might be stuck with $100 of income even though you gave $50 away. Find a diamond ring? Its fair market value is taxable even if you don’t sell it. See Who Pays Tax On Hef’s Engagement Ring Sale?

In short, many bargains are taxed. Sure, most Tax Day freebies are small-scale. But if one customer wins a free trip to Paris or a free car? You guessed it, it’s taxed. If you pay $5 for a $20 meal on Tax Day for yourself, there should be no tax effect. But if an employer gives Tax Day freebies to employees?

Depending on the employer’s line of business, it may be taxable as compensation, perhaps at the full $20 value, not just $5. If you get a Tax Day freebie and share the wealth with family and friends, there could be gift tax, although these gifts should fall within the $14,000 annual gift tax exclusion!

Still, get used to thinking that taxes apply everywhere. If you win the lottery, win cash in a game show, or hit it big at the casino, you pay tax. If you win goods instead of cash, their value is income. When Pontiac gave away cars on Oprah, the recipients were on the hook for taxes even though they didn’t receive cash.

You name it, it’s taxed. In employment, your employer must withhold extra taxes from your cash pay to make up for any property you get in kind. Can’t you claim it was a gift? Many people try this, including John Edwards with his “it was a gift, not a campaign contribution” defense. See Surprising Tax Lessons From John Edwards’s Indictment.

How to distinguish between income and gifts? Gifts involve “detached and disinterested generosity.” A briefcase or a country club membership from your boss is meant to reward you for a job well done and help secure additional services in the future. There is an exception for small holiday gifts to employees. The IRS says you can hand out turkeys or holiday baskets to employees provided the gifts don’t exceed $100 in value.

Suppose an employee puts in unpaid overtime and you reward her with tickets to the Super Bowl? They are wages. You’re supposed to increase the withholding on her cash wages to cover the value of the tickets. But that works only if you pay with a combination of cash and goods. If a buddy who isn’t a regular employee helps out at your business occasionally and you thank him with tickets? The IRS says to report them as pay on Form 1099; they’re not a tax-free gift.

Back to Tax Day? Seems like every day….

Week Ahead: No Hiding Place For Stocks

Under-pressure stocks have no place to hide in the coming days, despite the possibility of lighter trading due to Passover beginning on Monday and U.S. stock and bond markets closing for Good Friday in the Easter week ahead.

The next four days brings an onslaught of earnings from more than 50 major companies in the S&P 500, speeches by Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, and a slew of economic indicators in the United States and China.

Also planned in the coming week are a number of high-profile initial public offerings (IPOs) of stock that will test the market’s appetite amid the rout of the techs.

Traders already twitchy cannot afford to switch off amid this flurry of economic and corporate news before the Easter break.

Investors may seek the perceived safety of blue chip shares as the rout in so-called “momentum” stocks in tech and biotech continues.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index is down almost 5 percent for the month, the S&P 500 is down 3 percent, and the Dow Jones index is down 2.6 percent.

The real bloodbath has been in biotech shares. According to Reuters data, the Nasdaq biotechnology index has fallen 21 percent from its record high in February. The price-to-earnings ratio on this index is 34.4, compared to the forward price-to-earnings ratio for the S&P 500 of 14.9 — so the pain in these stocks may not be over.

The earnings news this coming week may not bring too much respite.

Analysts say that in the first quarter, growth in profits for S&P 500 companies is expected to have increased just under 1 percent from a year ago, way down from a January forecasts of more than 6 percent growth.

Only the brave bet against the U.S. stock markets, but the next few days will certainly test optimism.

Monday brings updates on U.S. retail sales for March, U.S. business inventories for February and earnings from Citigroup C -1.19%.

On Tuesday, Fed chair Janet Yellen is expected to speak by video to a conference in Atlanta in Georgia, the Consumer Price Index is due for release, investment bank Moelis & Co launches its IPO, and companies reporting earnings include Yahoo YHOO -1.62%!, Intel INTC -0.93%, Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola.

Wednesday is a huge day for economic and corporate news in the United States and China. Data on China’s first quarter growth and March industrial production, investment and retail sales will be released as traders watch with anxiety.

Wednesday also sees data on U.S. housing starts, building permits and industrial production for March, the release of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book report on economic conditions in its 12 districts, and a speech by Fed chair Janet Yellen in New York.

Yellen’s recent hint that interest rates could rise back toward normal levels a little bit faster than expected put many investors and traders on edge and they will watch her language closely this coming week.

Further, Wednesday also brings expected IPOs from travel software firm Sabre and Chinese microblogging company Weibo and earnings from American Express, IBM, Bank of America and Google.

Thursday brings big earnings news from Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, General Electric, PepsiCo and UnitedHealth, as well as updates on U.S. initial weekly jobless claims and the influential Philadelphia Fed survey.

It promises to be yet another week where anything could happen. Hang on to your hats.