The “Devil’s Dictionary Guide” to the End of Session

Some alternative definitions of words you will hear frequently over the next six weeks

The approach of the tax conference committee and the end of session is not only hectic, but also confusing, with a lot of legislative terms thrown around. Fortunately, former Texas State Deputy Comptroller and State Tax Notes columnist Billy Hamilton has done everyone a favor by publishing two volumes of his “Devil’s Dictionary of Taxation.” In light of our educational mission, here are some of his definitions of tax-related terms likely to be heard over the next few weeks (with an additional one or two of our own).

Budget: A plan designed to make a series of political calculations look systematic and thoughtful.

Bill: 1) A proposed new law offered by a legislator who doesn’t seem to realize that the state has gotten by just fine without the law for more than a century. 2) A small bomb waiting to detonate.

Bill Language (Language): The building blocks of a modern Tower of Babel.

Rule: The administrative provisions needed to explain what it was the legislature meant to do but did not achieve.

Omnibus Tax Bill: 1) Tax legislation that incorporates parts of many different legislative tax actions in a single, large terrifying bill. 2) A tax administrator’s worst fears realized.

Tax Conference Committee: Multi-act political theatre in which the script is being written in real time behind closed doors down the hall.

Tax Commissioner: 1) The head of a tax agency. 2) A person hoping to soon move on to a more lucrative and less taxing occupation.

Non-Partisan Staff: 1) Gifted and dedicated individuals with a unique genetic mutation allowing them to remain utterly expressionless as zany ideas get discussed around them. 2) World’s most dangerous poker players.

Loophole: Any provision of the tax code allowing a credit, deduction, or exemption that one opposes,

Incentive: Any provision of the tax code allowing a credit, deduction, or exemption that one supports.

Tax Credit: Allowing certain taxpayers to reduce their taxes as recompense for doing what they intended to do anyway but had the good sense to resist doing until the government anted up.

Tax Expenditure: 1) Government spending by other means. 2) A tax credit, deduction, or exemption predicated on the assumption that any money an individual or business holds actually belongs to the government.

Tax Incidence: The analysis and measurement of who lost the game of musical tax chairs.

Business Taxes: A tax on people passed through a middleman, usually with extra handling charges.

Estate and Gift Taxes: Government’s effort to support the adage that you can’t take it with you.

Gross Receipts Taxes (e.g. wholesale gas tax): An increasingly popular form of taxation created by people who weren’t paying attention in their public finance classes.

Benefit principle: The theory by which you are charged for something for which you thought you had paid taxes.

Budget Reserve: The Mom’s cookie jar of state finances, the location of which is known to everyone in the family.

Transparency: Burying the truth under piles of otherwise useless data.

Adjourn Sine Die: 1) Literally, “without day”—the end of a legislative session. Time to pack up, go home and see how mad the voters (and the spouse) are. 2) Even more literally, “time to party”.