By Rebecca Baker
Our Spotlight series highlights the careers and lives of tax professionals around the world. This week’s Spotlight is on Jacob Schumer, an Orlando attorney who advises Florida’s local governments on taxes, special assessments, and user fees, among other issues.
Schumer also acts as a contract general counsel to small organizations, including businesses and nonprofit entities. Outside of the Orlando area, where he is active in the local bar association, Schumer may be best known for his articles in Bloomberg Tax about Disney’s special taxing district, which is now controlled by appointees of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Outside of work, you’ll typically find Schumer watching or talking about the new Star Wars-themed show “Andor,” enjoying Trader Joe’s mini chocolate ice cream cones, or searching for a good podcast.
What’s your official title and what does it mean? I’m an associate attorney. At a small firm like mine, it means I do all kinds of things—marketing, administration, you name it—and of course, lots and lots of legal work.
Free time: book, audiobook, or podcast? Podcast for sure. I used to listen to audiobooks, but after the 30th time I went off on a train of thought and didn’t absorb anything for 15 minutes, I realized that maybe audio isn’t the way for me to digest a long, coherent work. I do love to read a good book on occasion though, and Peter Hessler’s “River Town,” about one city in China in the 1990s, is one I recommend.
Tax is a huge subject. What’s your area of special interest? I specialize in local government law, typically on the government side, which often means advising on local taxation. In Florida, local government budgets are automatically linked to their property tax rate, so each year, cities and counties engage in an automatic give-and-take where higher spending automatically translates to increased taxes, and lower spending to lower taxes. But maybe from a lawyer’s perspective, what’s most interesting is everything that’s not a tax but seems like one to an ordinary person—things like special assessments and fees—that local government has more freedom to control.
What’s the last movie or show that you watched and loved (DVD, Netflix, or in the theater)? Have you watched “Andor,” the “Star Wars” show on Disney+? If you know me, or if you’ve talked to me in the last three months, there’s a good chance I annoyed you about watching “Andor”—and I am not sorry. It’s not just a good “Star Wars” show; it’s a top-to-bottom depiction of revolution that is refreshingly human and grounded.
What college did you attend and what did you study? Before I went to Vanderbilt University Law School, I studied European history at University of California, Santa Cruz, concentrating on early 20th century Europe and the Holocaust. It basically ended up being a study of polarization, evil, and societal reactions and support of evil. It was a good area to concentrate on for the modern age.
Go-to pick-me-up: Coffee or tea? Coffee. Though not necessarily as a pick-me-up, but more of a maintenance to stave off withdrawal.
What’s the best tax or financial advice that anyone ever gave you? Your readers will appreciate this: I was told to never take a trust case, because to take a trust case is to take a tax case, and to take a tax case as a non-tax expert is to commit malpractice. I may know local taxes, but I know better than to try to answer a question about federal or state taxes around trusts.
If you weren’t working in the tax profession, what would your dream job be? If money were no object, I would probably be want to be a writer. I really like writing—both the serious analysis kind and the completely unserious kind—so I’ve started blogging in my spare time like it’s 2005. It’s been surprisingly fulfilling and fun.
If you had the opportunity to make one change in the tax world—an extra credit, a disallowed deduction, whatever—what would it be? I would standardize and simplify a lot more about how local government assessments and taxing units work. Much of the basics of what local governments do, including taxes, is not set out in statute, but based on assumptions that we’ve probably carried over from how fiefdoms worked under old English law. This is the case in Florida, and from what I understand, the vast majority of other states as well. This means that even small cities and towns with tiny budgets need to spend a lot on attorneys just to make sure they don’t egregiously violate the law.
Favorite food, snack, or candy during tax season or other busy time? Trader Joe’s makes some mini chocolate ice cream cones that we initially bought for my son but now I eat on an all-too-regular basis. I hope they get rid of them so I’m never tempted again.
What tax news or move made the most impact on your practice or clients this past year? The biggest news may have been the proposed dissolution of Disney’s special taxing district, which would have been a truly unprecedented scenario for many reasons, but especially for the local counties that would have taken on a massive amount of debt and expenses. Luckily, the district will not be dissolved and that scenario will never come to pass, but it was interesting to think about.
If you received a big tax refund check right now, what would you do with it? I would put it into a special trust account that only could be used to pay babysitting expenses, so my wife and I could get out of the house more.
You can find out more about Schumer on LinkedIn.
You can learn more about Schumer’s firm, Shepard, Smith, Kohlmyer & Hand, P.A., here.
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