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December 13, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Tax Credits

  |   Video
  • As the end of the year approaches, time is running out to make a charitable contribution that will count as a tax credit on your 2011 tax return. Enrolled Agent Ellen Campbell talks about some of the tax credits available to Arizona taxpayers.
  • Ellen Campbell - Enrolled Agent
Category: Business/Economy

View Transcript
Ted Simons: 2010 is almost over, which means time is running out to make a charitable contribution that will pay you back at tax time. Here to tell us more is Ellen Campbell, she is an enrolled agent with Campbell tax and financial Services in Phoenix. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Ellen Campbell: Thank you.

Ted Simons: OK, a basic definition here for those who still maybe aren't up to speed on this. The difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction.

Ellen Campbell: The good news is the credits are actual -- pays tax directly. Where a deduction reduces the total amount that's taxed. The credit gives you the money back. So it actually is much more beneficial to you than a regular tax deduction. Both are available with these credits we're going to talk about today.

Ted Simons: So the credits are basically if we talk about something someone is interested in, they go ahead and contribute that amount up to a certain amount, and they get that back?

Ellen Campbell: The state of Arizona gives it back in the form of a reduced income tax.

Ted Simons: And how much is allowed now?

Ellen Campbell: Well, the total for a married couple is $2,200. Back in your pocket. If you give that much away.

Ted Simons: That's a married couple, single?

Ellen Campbell: Single is $1,100.

Ted Simons: Now those are totals. But they have to come in four different -- what -- how does that work?

Ellen Campbell: You have to give it exactly the way the legislature presents it. It's four different categories of donations. The categories are the Arizona military family credit, and that's a very specific one, but again, that limit for singles is $200. But for a married couple, $400. If you give $400 to the Arizona military family relief fund, you get $400 back when you file your tax return. I need to say that right up front, there are people that actually pay no Arizona taxes. And I'm not talking about people who write checks -- it doesn't matter if you get a refund ordinarily, you can get a bigger refund if you take advantage of these credits. But if you have no tax in Arizona, because you have great deductions, or low income, these credits won't help you. But if you overpay in one year, it will roll forward to the next year. So you don't lose the whole thing.

Ted Simons: Interesting. I want to get to these four categories. The Arizona military family relief, private schools as well, and those limits are higher than the others correct?

Ellen Campbell: Those are the ones that are really high. $500 for a single person, and $1,000 is the maximum you can get for a married couple. Private school tuition organization, not the private school itself, but the tuition organization. Any private school can tell you they'll have to make the donation.

Ted Simons: Indeed, and obviously this has been a controversial issue. The legislature look the at it this past session and decided not only do we like it, we're going to up to that limit and a lot of folks were crazy about it, we've talked about it on "Horizon" quite a bit. But that's number two. Number three, public schools as well.

Ellen Campbell: Public schools is for extracurricular activities. That limit is different, it's $200 for singles, and $400 for married couples. And again, this is only for extracurricular things, but includes field trips, so think what your money can do to benefit the education of your own child or children that you know. You could support the football team, or the chess club, or a field trip that kind of out of classroom norm.

Ted Simons: And the fourth, out of the four, although probably number one for a lot of folks, would be working poor as well.

Ellen Campbell: Yes. This is for charities that benefit the working poor. Now, these charities are not as plentiful as they were last year, all the charities had to recertify, so there are only about 50% of them that were last year. So the best advice is, all that you can give the same amounts up to $200 for singles, $400 for marrieds, you have to ask the charity now, do you qualify for the working poor credit. Because only the charity can really tell you if they do. There is a list, however, published by the -- on the Arizona department of revenue website. It's kind of long, and you have to look for it, but you can see the list of charities.

Ted Simons: What is the process for filing for these credits? Are there receipts to keep, was there a form to fill out how do you fill it out what do you gotta do?

Ellen Campbell: The receipts are essential. Without the receipt, I'm not sure you could even get the credit. But -- then there's also a form, the state of Arizona has a form 301 that is got to be attached to the return and that is just the summary, an accumulation form. There's other forms that have to be hooked on. So it's complicated if you do it yourself, but well worth it because as we discussed, you can get more than your money back. If you are able to itemize on the federal return, schedule A, where you put your mortgage, if you can do that, or use that, you take these deductions to that form and deduct them on the federal return after the state has given all your dollars back. That's a good deal.

Ted Simons: So basically what you're saying is, and I think we discussed this on the program a couple of times as well, the federal return is tied to the state return.

Ellen Campbell: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: There are other things as well. We just don't have time as far as the litany of things you can look for as far as credits and deductions and such. Are these time sensitive things, things people need to figure out as far as get it done now or you lose it?

Ellen Campbell: Yes. You must make these donations by the last day of the year. And you -- to be deductible on this 2010 tax return. So if you don't have money in December, go ahead and make the deduction any time during the year, but know the credit will work for you in 2011.

Ted Simons: OK. Last question, real quickly, what is an enrolled agent?

Ellen Campbell: We're licensed by the department of treasury to represent taxpayers before the internal revenue Service and the state agency. We're licensed demonstrating that tax proficiency that we know tax law.

Ted Simons: Good information. Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

Ellen Campbell: You're welcome.

Thomas Allegations

  |   Video
  • Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and one of his former deputies are facing serious ethics allegations in an investigation commissioned by the Arizona Supreme Court. Phoenix School of Law Associate Professor Keith Swisher talks about lawyer ethics and the attorney discipline process as they relate to the alleged ethical lapses by Thomas.
  • Keith Swisher - Phoenix School of Law Associate Professor
Category: Law

View Transcript

Ted Simons: An independent investigator says alleged ethics violations by former Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas justify disbarment. Here to talk about lawyer ethics and the attorney discipline process is Keith Swisher, a professor for the school -- the Phoenix school of law. Keith, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Give me an overview here of what is facing -- what Andrew Thomas is facing.

Keith Swisher: Sure. The probable cause panel of the state bar of Arizona called it a reckless four-year campaign of corruption, ultimately with significant cost to the taxpayers. In short, he's facing over 30 different ethics charges, which can lead to disbarment. In other words, he would be prohibited from practicing law, his livelihood.

Ted Simons: Let's get to the process here. Who initially decided to go ahead and investigate this?

Keith Swisher: What happened for a lawyer discipline is there a complainant at some level. It can be one of many people. Often times it's a client, but it could be another lawyer. In this case there were numerous complaints being made about Andrew Thomas. Ultimately what happened was the Supreme Court of Arizona appointed an investigator. It's unusual case in that the investigators actually from Colorado, a respected investigator under the auspices of the Colorado Supreme Court. We've for a couple years now been thoroughly impressed by Colorado because its lawyer discipline system tended at least before to be faster and more effective than ours, so we've been trying to model it. Anyway, we appointed this independent investigator, and just last week we were -- the report -- his independent report was made public. It's an 80-plus-page document detailing numerous alleged instances about the impropriety on Mr. Thomas's behalf.

Ted Simons: I want to get more on the report in a second here, but as far as the initial steps, what the bar asked the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court goes ahead and investigates and decides, what, there's something here, a three-person panel is convened? Correct?

Keith Swisher: That's right. It hasn't been convened yet. It's interesting in that we are right on the cusp of changing our system a little bit. Had this transpired say a year ago, Thomas would have had a hearing before one person, one lawyer in the community typically randomly selected from a pool. Because now in the changes to our process, he'll have three people on this panel presumably, he'll have our new presiding disciplinary judge, judge O'Neill, he'll have one lawyer randomly selected, and one member of the public. And by member of the public I mean someone who is a non-practicing lawyer or a -- not a judge either.

Ted Simons: Who selects those folks?

Keith Swisher: It's volunteer. Application process is going on right now, and there will be a pool, and it will be randomly selected. Although some of this process is fresh.

Ted Simons: We've got our three-person panel, we'll get that three-person panel going here, how will evidence in this case be presented?

Keith Swisher: It's similar to a trial. Generally speaking the rules of evidence apply. It won't be in a courthouse, it will be presumably in a conference room not too much unlike what we're in right now. And he'll have a chance to present evidence and the bar will present evidence of its own.

Ted Simons: Will the bar's evidence be mostly entirely surrounding or including the report, the aforementioned report from the independent investigator from Colorado?

Keith Swisher: I'm assuming that will form the primary basis. My understanding is the same independent investigator namely John Gleason from Colorado will continue on as the primary prosecutor in the bar case that will take place here in Arizona. And certainly what's in the report, the gist of it will form the basis of his evidence. But I predict live testimony, etc.

Ted Simons: Why didn't the bar, you kind of touched on this earlier, to clear things up, why isn't the bar doing this themselves?

Keith Swisher: It's a good question. Some field of the bar just should do it themselves. Instead, the Supreme Court appointed as I mentioned, the Colorado investigator, thought that he would be even more independent than a state bar investigator. Earlier on in the process Mr. Thomas mentioned alleged various conflicts of interest on the bar's part, and indeed a former -- the previous independent investigator. So I think eventually my guess, I'm reading from the tea leaves, the Supreme Court said, Wall Street go out of state, which should alleviate the conflicts of interest, if any.

Ted Simons: You referred to this earlier that Andrew Thomas will be allowed to answer the charges and present his own information. How does he do that, because I've read somewhere that he feels as if he will not be able to have legal counsel with him. What's that all about?

Keith Swisher: Yeah, it's -- I saw that too. And I think it's -- it can be misinterpreted. The only way it could be accurate would be if he means that the state bar or the taxpayers won't be paying for his attorney. That said, he's still plenty free to hire a private counsel, or to have counsel represent him pro bono.

Ted Simons: So -- and he is an attorney himself, he can represent himself if he so chooses.

Keith Swisher: You know the saying --

Ted Simons: Yes. So we got -- this is pretty serious business here as far as the practice of law is concerned. Give us the range of sanctions he is facing.

Keith Swisher: Sure. So in ascending order of importance, we could have the reprimand, which is essentially the boo, lawyer, you did a bad job, don't do again were watching. A censure, which is sort of a public reprimand in the sense of you've committed professional misconduct, and it's sort of announced to the public. Then you have suspension, which is quite serious. He can't practice law within whatever the set period of time is, typically one year. Typically you have to notify clients, courts, it's very embarrassing and detrimental to livelihood. And finally you have disbarment, which is similar to the as I believe you’ve mentioned -- it's sort of like the death penalty of professional discipline. He can't practice law at all. My understanding is that he is practicing law right now, and that would obviously completely cut off the livelihood.

Ted Simons: What kind of appeals process can he take?

Keith Swisher: After this three-member panel --

Ted Simons: let's say something happens, what can he do?

Keith Swisher: His recourse after that under the new system would be to the Arizona Supreme Court. And he can petition for review to the court if he feels that the panel has errored, either in its findings that he committed ethical misconduct or in its sanction, disbarment perhaps. He could say, even if true, I don't deserve disbarment, I maybe a censure.

Ted Simons: How rare is it for an elected official to be facing this kind of disciplinary hearing, investigation, possibly even sanctions, from a state bar? It seems pretty rare.

Keith Swisher: It's fairly rare. It's tough for me to say that it's -- it's not unheard of. It's tough for me to say that it's rare. Lawyer discipline historically has been under enforced. I think as a profession we've been doing a better job lately about bringing to justice those in our ranks, and if Thomas is one of them, to call to count, whether it's hurting clients or corruption, etc. So enforcement -- the idea is that if someone is committed serious misconduct, we bring the profession would bring the case against them. Unfortunately that hasn't been regularized in the past, but it -- we're doing a better job. So I think you might be seeing at least in Arizona, you know if an elected official happens to be an attorney, the ethical rules still generally speaking apply if you're representing a client.

Ted Simons: Yet there's some who would say because you're an elected official and you represent so many different aspects of society, the dynamic is so different than a private attorney who has one or at least a more focused group of people that he or she represents. And a valid concern there?

Keith Swisher: I do I would agree that it gets a more complicated in a position like his. According to investigator -- investigative report and what the probable cause panelist, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Arizona, many if not most of those allegations transcend this complication that we have about who exactly is a client of an elected county attorney. Is it the people, is it justice, is it in this case the board of supervisors, or them individually? So there's a lot of different points there. But the allegations here transcend that in the sense of that what he was doing in some of his deputies had no merit to them. So regardless of who we exactly pinpoint client, that's problematic under the ethical rules.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, what kind of timetable are we looking at here?

Keith Swisher: Give or take a year. I mean that in a more or less sense. In part because some of this process is new, as I mentioned, also if the past is any judge of the future, there were a lot of -- he's lodged a lot of motions before challenges to the process, and those slow them down. Barring a lot of those types of considerations, perhaps this summer this next summer we could have a hearing.

Ted Simons: Very good. Keith, good information. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Keith Swisher: My pleasure.

West Nile Virus

  |   Video
  • Arizona is leading the nation for 2010 in cases of mosquito-spread West Nile Virus. Dr. Bob England, Director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, discusses this unusual phenomenon.
  • Dr. Bob England - Director, Maricopa County Department of Public Health
Category: Medical/Health

View Transcript
Ted Simons: According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, Arizona this year leads the nation in cases of West Nile Virus. Here with more on that and an update on flu season is Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County department of public health. Dr. Bob, always good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Bob England: Good to see you.

Ted Simons: Worst in the country for West Nile? What's going on here?

Bob England: Oh, yeah. And I wish I knew why. There are lots of different thoughts about it. The CDC was helping us look at it to try and understand why so much here and why so much of it was focused in the east valley. Especially early in the season. Looking at ecological factors, different species of birds, maybe different types of birds that were more or less hospitable to the virus, mosquitoes, differences in the way we're diagnosing or testing for it now. The jury is still out on what's going to be the cause.

Ted Simons: Sometimes with things like crime statistics, just the act of reporting, the process of reporting can just mess with the numbers in a variety of different ways.

Bob England: Sure.

Ted Simons: Are we maybe looking at something like that here?

Bob England: You know, I don't think so, because the fraction of the reported cases that are what we call neuroinvasive, sicker people, meningitis encephalitis, the fraction of those remained about the same through all the different years. This year it was a legitimate increase. We saw a big increase -- big, up to 11 people in blood donors, people who had no symptoms went in to give blood and were found to be positive. So it was a real increase this year. What's behind it, I'm not sure. Take-home point is, whatever was behind this increase, this disease is here to stay there. Are going to be years like this last one where it will probably spike. It will cause a significant number of cases of serious illness and significant number of deaths, and we all better not get too complacent about it. Next season we're probably going to be even more than ever asking for public participation. Look around your house, cleaning up any places that mosquitoes might be, stay tuned as the season begins, there will probably be special requests of people to try and dampen the amount of mosquitoes breeding in your yards as well as your neighbors' yards.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the season. What is the season for West Nile Virus?

Bob England: Long here. We're still not quite out of it because of our warmer temperatures. And it will pick up -- mosquitoes will start breeding late in the winter is our temperatures start to warm up. By march you'll be seeing some.

Ted Simons: OK. You mentioned the east valley, Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, for some reason the numbers there were unusually high.

Bob England: Right.

Ted Simons: Any indication at all what's going on?

Bob England: We have a lot of theories. You could speculate farming communities, horse properties, flood irrigation, but you know what? That's the same every year. Why this one year there was such a spike, we really don’t know.

Bob England: And there's still research going on in terms of resistance to pesticides of mosquitoes, perhaps variance in the virus itself, they're looking for all kinds of potential factors.

Ted Simons: So when we talk about preventing West Nile Virus, what do we need to do?

Bob England: Same old, same old. Try to avoid mosquito bites. Use repellent if you're outside, especially at dusk and dawn, when the mosquitoes are most active, and you notice yourself getting bit for crying out loud, go inside and do your business outside later. Keep your screens in good shape so mosquitoes aren't coming inside your house. And most importantly, get rid of those little bodies of water that breed mosquitoes all around all of our yards.

Ted Simons: Little things like the catch area for plants, if you water a plant too much and it builds up in that basin --

Bob England: the saucer around a potted plant, absolutely. In the middle of our summer, when it's really hot, it will hold water for even a few days, that's enough time for a mosquito to lay eggs and for those eggs to hatch into mosquitoes.

Ted Simons: Are there different -- I think we've all been outside and suffered from ankle biters, the ones getting you all over the ankles. Are those the kind to watch out for? It is the ones that buzz around your face?

Bob England: There are different species of mosquitoes that are more adept at carrying West Nile than others. They tend not to be floodwater mosquitoes, the ones that drive us the most crazy, the ankle biters that you're talking about. But you're never going to be able to tell which one is which -- when you're out there in your yard. So common sense precautions against all of them. Trying to avoid breathing around your yard, and use common sense to keep yourself from getting bit. Cover up or use repellent.

Ted Simons: All right. And until we know more about this, that's got to be the best answer, correct?

Bob England: You know, even when know more about it, it's still going to be the best answer, and this coming season we're going to be asking for people's help.

Ted Simons: OK. Let's -- before we let you go, we want to ask you about the flu season. How it is shaping up here?

Bob England: Here it is again. Yes, we're beginning to see numbers in different categories give us hints of an increase. Small outbreaks, increases in influenza like illness noticed in different places. Increases of actual laboratory confirmed cases, but just beginning. So we're right at the cusp of starting our regular flu season.

Ted Simons: Does it look like it's any different, any more or less than previous seasons?

Bob England: It's too early to tell, it really is. There's some places where last year's pandemic strain of H1N1 is popping up and causing some -- some level of concern. Britain I just saw a report out of where they've had about 10 deaths so far from the old pandemic strain. This year's flu shot covers for as it always does, three different strains, including H1N1 and this year they're using that pandemic strain as the strain they're protecting against in the flu shot. So one shot does it for you, it's still not too late to go out and get it. I wish you'd done it a month ago if you haven't gotten your flu vaccine, because it takes two or three weeks for your body to build antibodies, so don't wait much longer. Our flu season often doesn’t really get going until January, February, so there's time if you can get it.

Ted Simons: And last question, just for my edification, because I wonder about these things, you mentioned the flu season doesn't start until really the weather gets the coldest. If there's a La Nina year where it doesn't rain so much, or a warmer than usual winter, a colder than usual winter, does that impact the flu?

Bob England: That's a great question. You know, there is some limited data on survival of the virus being different with different temperatures, levels of humidity, and so forth. I don't think that explains much of it. Bottom line, it's going to be here in its usual season when it always is. It's almost like it watches the calendar and just shows up at the right time each year. And common sense precautions, flu vaccine, washing your hand, covering your cough, and please, please, please stay home and keep your kids home when they're sick.

Ted Simons: All right. Dr. Bob, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Bob England: Thank you.