Tax cheats got $1.4 billion in stimulus loans – Washington Times

Tax cheats got $1.4 billion in stimulus loans – Washington Times.

By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times

Tax cheats were given $1.4 billion in government-backed mortgage loans under President Obama’s economic stimulus, and the government doled out at least an additional $27 million in tax credits to delinquents who took the first-time-homebuyer tax break, according to a government audit released Wednesday.

Under government rules, delinquent taxpayers are supposed to be ineligible for the mortgage insurance program unless they have reached a repayment agreement with the Internal Revenue Service. But the Federal Housing Administration didn’t have the right controls to weed out bad applications, said the Government Accountability Office, Congress‘ chief investigative arm.

That meant FHA insured $1.4 billion in mortgages for 6,327 borrowers who collectively owed $77.6 million in unpaid taxes, or an average of more than $12,000 each.

The auditors said that as a category, the tax cheats had foreclosure rates up to three times as high as other borrowers, which meant the delinquent taxpayers exposed the government to even greater risks.

“In the name of ‘stimulus,’ the federal government gave mortgage insurance to thousands of people we knew were tax cheats and had a bad track record paying their debts,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who joined a bipartisan group of other lawmakers to request the investigation. “The federal government needlessly put taxpayers on the line to help tax cheats buy homes. Congress needs to ensure that tax cheats are no longer allowed to take advantage of FHA programs.”

In addition to the mortgages, the auditors found that more than half of the tax-delinquent borrowers claimed the first-time-homebuyers’ credit, worth up to $8,000.

GAO said there is no prohibition against someone claiming the credit, even though they still have unpaid tax bills. The credit is refundable, meaning taxpayers can get a check back from the government if the benefit exceeds their liability. IRS rules generally call for the agency to subtract any unpaid taxes from the refund, but in three of the nine cases that GAO analyzed in depth, it said the taxpayers had declared bankruptcy, meaning the IRS was prevented from docking the refunds.

The report was the GAO’s second study looking at tax cheats and the stimulus.

In the first report, GAO said thousands of contracts and grants were paid out under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to those with unpaid tax bills.

Mr. Obama pushed the $831 billion economic stimulus in early 2009 as a means of bolstering the faltering economy, and promised to use strict controls to cut fraud and abuse. At its peak in mid-2010, it was responsible for as many as 3.6 million jobs, but could have funded as few as 700,000, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Part of the Recovery Act was aimed at shoring up the housing market, which included the first-time-homebuyer tax credit and the mortgage assistance, which let the FHA insure loans at a higher rate in high-cost housing markets.

About 1.7 million individuals claimed the tax credit, while FHA insured more than $20 billion in mortgages for 87,000 homeowners, thanks to the Recovery Act provisions.

Under a White House policy, buyers who are delinquent on their federal taxes are not supposed to receive the mortgage assistance, unless they have worked out a repayment agreement with the IRS. But FHA rules don’t prod private lenders to ask for that information, and the FHA doesn’t have a system to work with the IRS to get that information.

Mr. Coburn joined Sens. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat; Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat; Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican; and Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, to request a review of the program.

“The stimulus-spending program was ill-conceived, with far too little oversight,” Mr. Grassley said. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone, unfortunately, that tax dollars have gone to tax cheats. It’s another one of many negative consequences of writing checks without enough checks and balances.”

Compounding the matter, those with tax problems are more likely to end up in foreclosure. Nearly a third of mortgage holders with unpaid taxes were “seriously delinquent” on their payments, and 6.3 percent had been foreclosed – a rate nearly three times higher than homeowners who were paid up with the IRS.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development accepted the report and will work with the IRS to try to get access to information that would help it cull tax cheats, Carol J. Galante, an acting assistant secretary, said in the department’s official response.

She said they also will try to clarify FHA rules so lenders are clear about the eligibility requirements for loans.

Solyndra Scandal Ends Green Jobs Myth

Seal of the United States Department of Energy.

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Solyndra Scandal Ends Green Jobs Myth.

Lachlan Markay

President Barack Obama’s solution for America’s unemployment woes has been a stubborn campaign to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on economic “stimulus”–much of it on so-called “green jobs.” Report after report has shown the approach to be a total failure. And now, a new scandal involving Solyndra, a bankrupt solar panel company in California, should be the final nail in the coffin for the government’s meddling in the free market.

“[W]e can see the positive impacts [of the stimulus] right here at Solyndra,” Obama claimed when he spoke at the company’s newly unveiled factory in May of last year. He was correct that the results of his stimulus would be on display at that factory. But he was wrong that those results would be positive. Little more than a year later, the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and plans to lay off more than 1,000 employees.

The Solyndra factory where Obama spoke was built after the company received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department as part of the stimulus’s green jobs push. “Through the Recovery Act, this company received a loan to expand its operations,” Obama noted. “This new factory is the result of those loans.”

But “everyone knew that the plant wouldn’t work,” according to a former Solyndra employee. So why was the President so sure of the plant’s success when he spoke there? What’s more, the company was built on “a model that says, well, I can build something for six dollars and sell it for three dollars,” according to an industry analyst. That would normally be a red flag for investors. So why did the President claim that “the true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra”?

The answer to both of those questions: The government’s decisions are driven by politics and ideology and are divorced from economic reality. Want proof? Take a look at a January 31 e-mail between Office of Management and Budget staff regarding “Solyndra optics” — that is, how the issue looks in the public’s eyes. ”If Solyndra defaults down the road, the optics will arguably be worse later than they would be today,” they wrote, adding:

In addition, the timing will likely coincide with the 2012 campaign season heating up, whereas a default today could be put in the context of (and perhaps even get some credit for) fiscal discipline / good government because the Administration would be limiting further taxpayer exposure letting bad projects go, and could make public steps it is taking to learn lessons and improve / limit future lending.

In other words, in January the Administration was essentially letting the 2012 campaign dictate decisions on the federal government’s financial involvement with Solyndra. They were not responding to normal profit-and-loss signals, as they should. Had Energy Department bureaucrats been investing their own money, they might have been more careful. But it was others’ money — taxpayers’ money — at stake. Self-interested investors, who naturally weed out bad investments, were wholly absent. The result: Taxpayers are likely to lose up to $535 million, while the people who made the decision to throw money at Solyndra have, so far, been completely insulated from reprisal.

Much attention has been paid to accusations of cronyism in the Energy Department, given that a major Solyndra investor is also a big Obama donor. But the fundamental lesson of the Solyndra scandal is not that money buys political favors. That now goes without saying. The real takeaway is that government intervention in the economy is a fool’s errand, as Heritage’s Nicolas Loris notes:

Solyndra exemplifies the government’s abysmal track record of picking winners and losers in the marketplace, and the solar company is not the only example of energy stimulus struggles. With a number of targeted energy tax credits set to expire at the end of this year or next, industry groups are lobbying hard for extensions. Especially given the U.S. fiscal situation, this is a time to end all energy subsidies—not to extend wasteful, market-distorting policies. When the government decides to favor a technology with subsidies, it’s a good bet that subsidy ‘winner’ is a loser in the marketplace.

Indeed, at least four other companies to receive money from Obama’s stimulus package have gone bankrupt, Fox News reports.

Even where companies do create jobs, they do so at such exorbitant cost that the effort cannot reasonably be considered a success. To date, The Washington Post reports, the Energy Department loan guarantee program from which Solyndra benefitted has created one new permanent job for every $5.5 million spent. Lend that kind of money to a private business in an industry that doesn’t rely on taxpayer support, and it will put hundreds if not thousands to work.

Government subsidies are invitations for political favoritism, of course. But more importantly, as engines of job creation, they simply don’t work (just ask Spain). Sure, the Administration’s “green jobs” program has led to allegations of corruption. But it has also failed even in its foremost task of creating jobs for an economy with a chronic unemployment problem. Columnist Jim Pethokoukis writes, “Solyndra is the logical endpoint of Obamanomics.” Unfortunately, the American people are paying the price for getting us there.