IRS: Scrounging Through the Seat Cushions



Ed Krayewski referenced it in the Morning Links, but this New York Times article about the Internal Revenue Service demanding $29 million for a piece of art that cannot legally be sold deserves a longer, more painful look. Excerpt:

The object under discussion is "Canyon," a masterwork of 20th-century art created by Robert Rauschenberg that Mrs. Sonnabend's children inherited when she died in 2007.

Because the work, a sculptural combine, includes a stuffed bald eagle, a bird under federal protection, the heirs would be committing a felony if they ever tried to sell it. So their appraisers have valued the work at zero.

But the Internal Revenue Service takes a different view. It has appraised "Canyon" at $65 million and is demanding that the owners pay $29.2 million in taxes.

"It's hard for me to see how this could be valued this way because it's illegal to sell it," said Patti S. Spencer, a lawyer who specializes in trusts and estates but has no role in the case.

As we gear up for a week of largely phony fiscal cliff/debt ceiling/tax cut politics, this story is a timely reminder that when the federal government is borrowing 40 cents on every dollar, not only is it a reflection of deep political mismanagement and cowardice, but it's a virtual license for the I.R.S. to go scrounging through your pockets, regardless of fairness or plain common sense.