Saturday, October 20, 2012

How Country Music Stars Are Gaming The Tax Code In Tennessee

According to an investigation by The Knoxville News Sentinel, wealthy individuals — including corporate CEOs and country music stars — are taking advantage of a loophole in Tennessee law to claims huge tax breaks on their property. This tax provision is meant to help farmers, but instead is helping members of the 1 percent save tens of thousands of dollars on their property taxes every year:

An investigation by The Knoxville News Sentinel and The Commercial Appeal found…an impressive roster of wealthy Tennesseans who make their millions elsewhere but use the farmland protection law to escape much of their local property tax bills — from Fortune 500 executives to country music stars. [...] 
In Williamson County, the local assessor has enrolled well-known country music stars such as Billy Ray Cyrus, and Naomi and Wynonna Judd in the program, yet public records reveal little about those operations. 
Cyrus, for example, receives a $29,000-a-year tax break on a 467-acre, $6.5 million spread with a tree-topped hill near Thompson Station, Tenn., where the “Achy Breaky Heart” star owns a 7,850-square-foot home. Williamson County records show Cyrus, who’s also lived at times in Los Angeles, holds separate farming greenbelts on six of seven parcels that comprise the 467-acre tract. By law, applications for greenbelt are supposed to be filed with the local Register of Deeds. Yet a check of records there revealed applications for just two of the six farming greenbelts, both from 1994, when the singer disclosed that he intended to raise corn, horses and cattle.

Sadly, this is not a phenomenon confined to the Volunteer State. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) took advantage of lax Florida tax laws and some cows to lower his property tax bill. Tom Cruise pulled the same trick with sheep in Colorado, as did Bon Jovi with beehivesin New Jersey. Some corporate campuses even qualify as “farms” because they let a few cows graze on the land.

States can ill-afford to let revenue slip away, as they’re still combating the effects of the Great Recession. Eliminating a loophole that allows the wealthiest citizens to avoid paying property taxes seems like a no-brainer.

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