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Circuit court concludes commuting cop commanders can claim car costs
By Julian Block

Federal court judges with lifetime tenures are, to the distress of the IRS, sometimes hostile to the agency’s notion that its proclamations ought to be considered ukases. A case in point: The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit rejected the pro-IRS reasoning of the Tax Court and allowed Salt Lake City police captains Jon R. Pollei and Harry W. Patrick to deduct driving costs from their homes to station houses.

The case was spawned by a cost-cutting campaign undertaken by Salt Lake City. As part of those efforts, Salt Lake City decided to require command.

The Tax Court ruled that the IRS correctly characterized the between-home-and-stationhouse trips as commuting, not business, because the captains did not do any work during the trip, whereas the Tenth Circuit noted that the city gave them no choice, requiring commanding officers to perform supervisory and patrol duties during those trips. The appellate court gave short shrift to the IRS’s entreaty that allowing write-offs by police captains under standing orders to keep in radio contact with headquarters would immediately result in hordes of other commuters deducting travel outlays – for instance, employees who use car telephones or portable dictaphones during between-home-and-job drives.

There was, responded the court, no foundation for the feds’ fears of vastly decreased tax collections causing ballooning budget deficits and grass growing in the streets of America. After all, the overwhelming majority of employees voluntarily decide to forego public transportation and use their personal cars; that kind of personal convenience cannot authorize deductions. Moreover, unlike the two captains, virtually no employees are able to validly assert that they hold public-service or safety jobs that require them to use their personal cars.

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