Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Approves Sales Tax Apportionment for Software

On May 21, 2021, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision affirming the Massachusetts Tax Appeal Board’s decision in favor of Microsoft and Oracle, ruling that the companies may apportion sales tax to other states on software purchased by a Massachusetts company from which the software was accessed and seek a tax refund.

The case involved a claim by vendors for abatement of sales tax collected on software delivered to a location in Massachusetts but accessible from multiple states. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) claimed that the statute gave it the sole right to decide whether the sales price of the software could be apportioned and, if so, the methods the buyer and seller had to use to claim apportionment. Under rules promulgated by the DOR, there are three methods to choose from, such as the purchaser giving the seller an exemption certificate claiming the software would be used in multiple states, none of which the purchaser used. The DOR argued that if a taxpayer did not use one of the methods specified in the rule, no apportionment was permitted. The vendors sought abatement of the tax on the portion of the sales price that could have been apportioned to other states had one of the methods specified under the rule been used. The DOR claimed the abatement procedure was not a permissible method of claiming apportionment.

The court held: (1) the statute gave the purchaser the right of apportionment and it was not up to the DOR to decide whether apportionment was permitted; (2) the abatement procedure is an available method for claiming the apportionment; and (3) the taxpayer was not limited to the procedures specified in the rule for claiming sales price apportionment.

The court’s decision was based in part on separation of powers: “Under the commissioner’s reading of [the statute], the Legislature has delegated to the commissioner the ultimate authority to decide whether to allow apportionment of sales tax on software sold in the Commonwealth and transferred for use outside the Commonwealth.” The court found such a determination represented “a fundamental policy decision that cannot be delegated.”

The Massachusetts rules reviewed by the court have their genesis in amendments to the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) (that never became effective) providing special sourcing rules for, among other things, computer software concurrently available for use in more than one location. Even though Massachusetts is not a member of the SSUTA, officials from the DOR participate in the Streamlined process and apparently brought those amendments home with them and had them promulgated into the Commonwealth’s sales tax rules.

Practice Notes: This case addresses one of the issues with taxing business models in the digital space. This important decision makes clear, at least in Massachusetts, that taxpayers have post-sale opportunities to reduce sales tax liability on sales/purchases of software accessible from other states where tax on the full sales price initially was collected and remitted by the seller.

Taxpayers may have refund opportunities related to this [...]

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Indiana Tax Court Upholds Pharmacy Benefit Management Costs of Performance Approach

The Indiana Tax Court held that a “pharmacy benefit management company” sold services as opposed to tangible personal property for tax years 2011 through 2013. The company’s receipts were properly sourced as revenue from services under the income producing activity/costs of performance rule, which in this case meant that all receipts were sourced outside of Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Revenue (Department) argued that the pharmacy benefit management company’s “receipts from its sale of prescription drugs should have been sourced to Indiana as required for sales of tangible personal property under Indiana Code” because the company’s “primary ‘revenue stream’ was attributable to buying, selling, and delivering prescription drugs in transactions which occurred within [Indiana].”

The court disagreed with the Department, finding “[the pharmacy benefit management company’s] income was derived from providing pharmacy benefit management services and not from selling prescription drugs during the years at issue.” The court looked to the company’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-K filing, observing “[n]one of the emphasized words [in the Form] describe a sale of goods, but instead, describe services. Indeed, nowhere in the designated portion of [the company’s] Form 10-K does the text state that the [company’s] revenue is from the sale of prescription drugs, focusing on facilitating delivery as its discrete service, not as a function of selling a good” (emphasis in the original). On May 1, 2019, Indiana switched from its historical cost of performance sourcing methodology to a market-based sourcing for services, retroactive to January 1, 2019.




US Treasury Issues Guidance on the ARPA Claw-Back Provision

Earlier this week, the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) issued formal guidance regarding the administration of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) claw-back provision. The guidance (Interim Final Rule) provides that the claw-back provision is triggered when there is a reduction in net tax revenue caused by changes in law, regulation or interpretation, and the state cannot identify sufficient funds from sources other than federal relief funds to offset the reduction in net tax revenue. The Interim Final Rule recognizes three sources of funds that may offset a net tax revenue reduction other than federal relief funds—organic growth, increases in revenue (e.g., a tax rate increase) and certain spending cuts (i.e., cuts that are not in an area where the recipient government has spent federal relief funds). According to the Treasury, this framework recognizes that money is fungible and “prevents efforts to use Fiscal Recovery Funds to indirectly offset reductions in net tax revenue.”

The Interim Final Rule also provides guidance on what is considered a change in law, regulation or interpretation that could trigger the claw-back (called covered changes), but that point remains somewhat ambiguous. The Rule provides that:

The offset provision is triggered by a reduction in net tax revenue resulting from ‘a change in law, regulation, or administrative interpretation.’ A covered change includes any final legislative or regulatory action, a new or changed administrative interpretation, and the phase-in or taking effect of any statute or rule where the phase-in or taking effect was not prescribed prior to the start of the covered period. [The covered period is March 3, 2021 through December 31, 2024.] Changed administrative interpretations would not include corrections to replace prior inaccurate interpretations; such corrections would instead be treated as changes implementing legislation enacted or regulations issued prior to the covered period; the operative change in those circumstances is the underlying legislation or regulation that occurred prior to the covered period. Moreover, only the changes within the control of the State or territory are considered covered changes. Covered changes do not include a change in rate that is triggered automatically and based on statutory or regulatory criteria in effect prior to the covered period. For example, a state law that sets its earned income tax credit (EITC) at a fixed percentage of the Federal EITC will see its EITC payments automatically increase—and thus its tax revenue reduced—because of the Federal government’s expansion of the EITC in the ARPA. This would not be considered a covered change. In addition, the offset provision applies only to actions for which the change in policy occurs during the covered period; it excludes regulations or other actions that implement a change or law substantively enacted prior to March 3, 2021. Finally, Treasury has determined and previously announced that income tax changes—even those made during the covered period—that simply conform with recent changes in Federal law (including those to conform to recent changes in Federal taxation of unemployment insurance benefits and taxation of loan [...]

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Texas Governor Signs Bill Exempting Medical Billing Services from Sales Tax

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed HB 1445 into law, making “medical or dental billing services” exempt from sales tax. Under the statute, a “medical or dental billing service” is defined as “assigning codes for the preparation of a medical or dental claim, verifying medical or dental insurance eligibility, preparing a medical or dental claim form for filing, and filing a medical or dental claim.” Beginning in 2002, the Texas Comptroller’s office took the position for sales tax purposes that “medical billing services” were not taxable data processing services. In November 2019, the Comptroller published a notice stating that it was going to treat “medical billing services” as taxable “insurance services.” Implementation of that notice was delayed multiple times, most recently through October 2021. The Comptroller’s office may now take the position that the legislative definition of “medical or dental billing services” is narrower than the definition the Comptroller has applied in its recent guidance and assert that some items are still subject to tax effective October 2021. Companies should consider whether their medical billing services fall within the legislative definition of “medical or dental billing services.”




Kansas Decouples from GILTI and 163j

Yesterday afternoon the Kansas legislature overrode Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of Senate Bill (SB) 50, effectively enacting the provisions of the bill into law. Among those are provisions decoupling from certain Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provisions that taxpayers have been advocating for since 2018.

Under the new law, for tax years beginning after December 31, 2020, taxpayers receive a 100% deduction for global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) included in federal income. Furthermore, the new law is explicit that foreign earnings deemed repatriated and included in federal income under IRC § 965 are considered dividend income and eligible for the state’s 80% dividend-received deduction. The new law also decouples from the interest expense deduction limitation in IRC § 163(j), enacted as part of the TCJA for tax years beginning after December 31, 2020.

A Kansas decoupling bill was first proposed in 2019. Decoupling efforts faced an uphill battle because of the Kansas legislature’s reluctance to pass laws that could be perceived as tax cuts. The 2019 bill was vetoed by Governor Kelly, but that bill was not overridden by the legislature. The STARR Partnership and its members have worked closely with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce on the Kansas decoupling efforts and finally, in this legislative session, advocates were able to persuade the legislature that the decoupling provisions were not tax cuts but provisions designed to prevent a tax increase. This is a great result in Kansas and serves as a welcomed reminder that states that tax GILTI and 965 income (cough, cough, Nebraska) are outliers.




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