Columbia Law School Convenes Annual Tax Conference

At Columbia Law School's recent tax conference, legislators, experts, and practitioners from around the country gathered to analyze groundbreaking new proposals and policies.  The annual conference is sponsored by the Charles E. Gerber Transactional Studies program, founded by Dean David M. Schizer and former Dean David W. Leebron.

Winter 2009

Past tax conferences held under its ambit have consistently stimulated important and influential conversations. “Academics have time to think imaginatively about what’s not in current law, and the system needs that,” says Tax Analysts Contributing Editor Lee Sheppard, a regular attendee. “Conferences can generate ideas that are later enacted in some form.”

Highlights of this year’s meeting included a presentation from Dean Schizer and Yale Law Professor Thomas Merrill, who outlined their proposal for a gasoline tax designed to promote conservation in a way that is politically palatable—a combination that has so far eluded every other oil levy. Columbia Law School professor-to-be Michael Graetz explained his proposal to scale back both the individual and the corporate income tax in exchange for a value-added tax, a change that would bring the U.S. into harmony with much of the rest of the world. Ed Kleinbard, head of Congress’ Joint Tax Committee—the staff of professionals who advise lawmakers on the cost and policy implications of various provisions—offered a new approach to analyzing the salience and costliness of non-tax policy provisions within the tax law. Conference organizer and Law School Professor Alex Raskolnikov led a spirited discussion about IRS enforcement in which former Commissioner Fred Goldberg insisted that the IRS is much less subject to influence than other agencies, in particular the Justice Department of the last administration.

As always, the Law School event drew a rich mix of attendees, including policymakers like Kleinbard, practitioners from major law firms in the U.S. and abroad, and academics from schools including Harvard and Yale. Many attendees came in part to celebrate the distinguished career of conference honoree Willard Taylor, who recently retired after 40 years with Sullivan & Cromwell. All were eager to hear new ideas that may become reality sooner rather than later, given the Obama administration’s mandate for change. “It’s going to be jump ball in tax policy for the next four years,” former Commissioner Goldberg told attendees.