This Associated Press note about tax deduction rates for miles driven raised a surprising number of questions in my mind, considering how short it was.
1) Is there any correlation between the deduction the IRS permits and the rates at which law firms reimburse students traveling for interviews? In 2006 the IRS allowed business travel to be deducted from individuals' income at 44.5 cents per mile, yet the reimbursement rate among firms ranged from 48.5 at McDermott, Will & Emery to MoFo's 43.5 and Womble Carlyle's 40.5. It is of course better to be reimbursed than to take the deduction, particularly when one is a law student whose main income will be the following summer's associateship, and I'm guessing that law firms simply deduct all expenses related to recruiting, so the incentive still is to keep the rates low because again, it is better to have the money than the deduction. Nonetheless, this seems like a pointless variability -- surely NALP could set an amount each year and put that on its forms.
2) If gas prices have dropped this year and cars are becoming increasingly fuel-efficient without big jumps in purchase price, why keep increasing the business mileage rate beyond what inflation adjustment would require? It's gone from 40.5 cents per mile in pre-Katrina 2005, to 44.5 in 2006, to 48.5 for 2007. Is there a coming gas price spike that the IRS knows about?
3) Why hasn't Congress increased the rate for people deducting travel costs related to charitable service? Multiple pieces of tax legislation have been passed in the last several years, yet even as the IRS-determined medical and moving rate will have doubled in 2007 to 20 cents, from its 2000 rate of 10 cents, the deduction for charity travel is frozen at its Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 rate of 14 cents per mile. The only legislative effort in the intervening decade was a brief increase to 32 cents per mile for Katrina-related charity work. If tax deductions generally are given to provide incentives for behavior, apparently charity travel is the least worthwhile kind.