AICPA Names Winners of 2012 Student Competition

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By Deanna C. White

Four accounting students from the University of Texas at Dallas joined forces to craft an innovative proposal on tax reform that earned them first place in the 2012 AICPA Accounting Competition.

The team, aptly named "Working Capitol", learned they were awarded first place December 19, when the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) announced the competition winners. The team of four undergraduate students earned $10,000 for their proposal on income tax reform.

Members of the University of Texas at Dallas team are:

  • April Crawford (captain)
  • Shahrzad Azimi (member)
  • Trey Sweeney (member)
  • Samuel Teichelman (member)
  • John Barden (faculty advisor)

Students from Albion College in Albion, Michigan, took second place and received a $5,000 award. The third-place team from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, received $2,500.

This year's competition challenged teams from around the country to take a stab at timely election year topics. Students were asked to advise a hypothetical presidential candidate on viable solutions to some of the nation's most urgent economic concerns – Social Security, the national deficit, and income tax. 

"CPAs are known for proposing creative and intelligent solutions to complex problems", said AICPA Chairman Richard Caturano, CPA, CGMA, who announced the winners. "I was impressed with the quality of the proposals the finalists presented, as well as their ability to articulate their vision in an engaging and easy-to-understand manner. The skills they demonstrated will serve them well throughout their careers in the profession."

Twenty teams were chosen to participate in the semifinals and asked to submit video proposals to be posted on ThisWayToCPA, where the public cast its vote on the best ideas. The public's results, and a review of an executive judging panel, narrowed the field to three final teams, who traveled to Washington, DC, in December to present to a panel of judges and defend their proposal in a question and answer session.

The University of Texas at Dallas team's winning submission outlined how they would tackle today's tax issues by simplifying the code, making it easier to understand, and offering a "major restructuring of the personal income tax code", according to team captain Crawford.

"We chose to address the income tax issue because we felt increasing tax revenues could ultimately help to solve many pressing issues within our country", Crawford said. "We also felt that the burden of income taxes is far too high for many American families, and that it is time to fairly tax individuals based on their actual income."

Crawford also said while they recognize paying taxes is a necessary part of American society, they also feel the process needs to be simplified and taxes should be easier to pay.

Components of the team's proposal included:

  • Implementing of a 5 percent value-added tax to reduce noncompliance, expand the tax base, and lead to an increase in tax revenue.
  • Eliminating the corporate income tax to avoid major markups on the prices of goods that are "ultimately paid by consumers."
  • Undertaking a major restructuring of the personal income tax system (because a value-added tax is not progressive). The team suggested changing the brackets and rates that currently exist, and adding a zero percent bracket so that those making under $50,000 annually would no longer be required to pay a federal income tax.
  • Capping the mortgage interest deduction and the charitable contribution deduction at 23 percent, and modifying capital gains rates to be one half of the taxpayers' marginal rate based on income.

Crawford said her team felt the competition allowed them to practice many of the skills that will be critical in their careers as future CPAs – skills such as basic scheduling and organization, proposal writing and public speaking in high-pressure situations, and tackling the intricacies of tax policy.

But ultimately, Crawford said, the AICPA competition taught them how to put their personal platforms aside, even on a potentially controversial topic, and work together toward a common goal.

"To do our best as a team, we had to listen openly to other ideas and find ways to compromise", Crawford said. "Since the competition topics were so political, we all had to work to put our personal feelings aside and remain unbiased while trying to come up with the best solutions. I feel that all of the things I learned in this competition will make me more valuable as a CPA."



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