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    The most significant tax law change since 1986 has CPAs and taxpayers calculating ways to adjust for what is likely to be a busy tax season.
    The interest was obvious at a special year-end tax-planning seminar held this past month by Scheffel Boyle CPAs: The event packed the house at the N.O. Nelson Campus of Lewis and Clark Community College in Edwardsville.
    Mike Fitzgerald, a CPA who heads up the tax department for Scheffel, one of the largest accounting firms in the Metro East, said the new 1040 will look simple this year, about a half page on the front and a half page on the back.
    But many new schedules and other complexities have been added in.
    “So, it’s not simplified at all,” he said.
    The measures are part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. There are numerous changes affecting individuals, businesses, and estates and gifts.
    The new, individual tax rates still have seven tax brackets, but the percentages and amounts of income that the percentages are applied against for taxation both have changed. For instance, if you are married and filing jointly, your top tax bracket is now going to be 37 percent for income over $600,000. That was changed from 39.6 percent on income over $470,000. Similar percentage changes were made for single filers.
    “What they’ve done is expanded those brackets and lowered the rates so that more income is going to be subject to lower rates,” said Fitzgerald, who is principal of Scheffel Boyle’s Alton office.
    A big change for taxpaying families is the removal of a $4,050-per-person exemption for each dependent.
    However, the standard deduction has been increased for every category of filer, which has led to questions.
    “There is some confusion out there that some people won’t be able to itemize,” Fitzgerald said. “That is not the case. But you’ll only itemize if your itemized deductions are greater than the standard deduction.”
    Last year, the standard deduction for a single filer was $6,350. This year it’s $12,000. Married filing jointly is up from $12,700 to $24,000. A lot more people may be taking the standard deduction as a result.
    Another big change is the limit in mortgage and home equity interest deductibility. Under the old law, you could take a deduction of interest on properties up to $1 million of debt and on home equity debt of $100,000. Also, the home equity could be used for any purpose.


p01 PiersonBryon Pierson, in cap, poses a question during a recent event aimed at building opportunities for businesses in East St. Louis.

Photo by Adrian Freund Stillman

    East St. Louis area officials are on a mission to build alliances between small businesses and potential government resources.
    Entrepreneurs and others got a rare opportunity to find out what’s potentially available to them during a fall event sponsored by the Illinois Small Business Development Center for the Metro East and the Greater East St. Louis Business Development Association. The event was held on SIUE’s East St. Louis Higher Education Campus.
    Of particular interest is the work being done by the National Development Council, a 50-year-old nonprofit and Community Development Funding Institution licensed under the U.S. Small Business Administration.
    The organization, known simply as NDC, has leveraged $500,000 provided by the city into a $2 million loan fund called Grow East St. Louis. The program will provide low-cost financing for small businesses and has committed three staff members to work in the city.
    The program promises low interest rates, 100 percent financing, quick turnaround and longer terms and lower payments on qualifying projects. Money is being made available for businesses wanting to buy equipment to increase production; refinance expensive debt; purchase a building; or cleanup to attract clients.
    The object is to draw investment in a town that traditionally has ranked among the most impoverished in the country.
    “This administration is really intent on investing in those who have invested in us,” Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said. “Starting with the small businesses that exist.”
    Many businesses have been stymied in their attempts to get conventional financing to keep business going or to expand, she said.

p01 workplace transitionWalmart’s panel of speakers, from left, Jamie Tylka, Skylar Heinle, Jim Olsen, Lisa Cheek, Frankie Travis and Carrie Wiggins.

Photo by Melissa Meske

    Throughout history, uprisings by employees over unsafe working environments, inequity in pay, racial and age discrimination and sexual harassment have repeatedly been met with labor negotiations, increased opportunities, better policies and improved practices.
    Today’s workplace, however, is seeing a transition that just might be its greatest challenge to fairness and equality yet. Employers are now being challenged with providing appropriate, legal and fair guidance and protection to employees on a whole new level, as transgender people seek acceptance and respect from co-workers and customers alike.
    In Illinois, there are laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity. If a company is not proactive in its policymaking, handling transgender issues can become problematic.
    So, how should a company handle it when an employee that was hired in as “Joseph” comes in to work one day and informs management that she is transitioning as a transgender woman whose name is now “Jody?”
    Walmart is one such company embracing the change. “This is that place” has become a new corporate mantra inside one of the country’s largest employers.
    Managers and employees from throughout Walmart’s St. Louis market region recently gathered at the main campus of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to learn more about how to manage and support transgender employees and their co-workers.
    In a training presentation co-sponsored by Lewis and Clark, its Veterans Club and LC Pride, managers and associates from Walmart stores sat beside students, faculty, other workforce stakeholders and community members to take a realistic look at the issue.
    Walmart Market Manager Jim Olsen facilitated the two-hour presentation, “Transgender: Transitioning in the Workplace.” Other presenters included Carrie Wiggins talking about transgender patient care from a pharmacy and vision center perspective; Frankie Travis and Lisa Cheek presenting information regarding non-discrimination laws and workplace policies; and Jamie Tylka, who provided guidelines for managing workplace gender transitions.
    New verbiage related to transgender people was introduced, and companies nationwide were urged to learn and embrace it. For example, Olsen identified himself as genderfluid.
    “What that means is that I identify as both male and female, and that can change from day to day,” Olsen said.


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    Alton-based Simmons Hanly Conroy says a California jury has awarded $30.2 million to Norris Morgan, 65, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
    Morgan contracted mesothelioma after repeated exposure to asbestos-containing transite pipe sold by defendant J-M Manufacturing (J-MM) while working as a construction supervisor in southern California.