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Mary Kay McCalla Martire focuses her practice on state and local tax disputes. She helps clients with audits, tax-related litigation, letter rulings and settlement conferences. Mary Kay has experience resolving disputes involving income, sales and use, utility and telecommunications taxes, as well as premium and retaliatory tax. Read Mary Kay McCalla Martire's full bio.

Earlier this fall, the Cook County Board voted to repeal its constitutionally suspect, politically unpopular one cent per ounce sweetened beverage tax (Tax). The short-lived Tax will expire at the end of the County’s fiscal year on November 30, 2017.

Having been tasked with implementing the Tax, the Cook County Department of Revenue (Department) is now charged with unwinding it. Distributors and retailers who have paid the Tax are entitled to credits or refunds on their unsold inventory at month’s end. The Department recently issued guidance on the credit/refund procedure.

Retailers that have paid Tax to their distributors may claim a credit/refund from their distributors for Tax paid on their unsold inventory by completing the Department form entitled “2017 Sweetened Beverage Retailer Inventory Credit Request Form and Schedule A.” Retailers should complete and submit the form to their distributors, not the Department.

Distributors must file a final Tax return with the Department on or before December 20 (Final Return). To the extent a distributor already has refunded or credited Tax to its retailers, the distributor may claim a credit for the amount refunded on the “other deductions” line of its Final Return. Distributors must file the Department’s standard refund application, found on the Department’s website, to claim refunds for amounts refunded or credited to retailers after December 20. The Department has issued a new form (the “Sweetened Beverage Tax Distributor Credit Form Schedule”) to be submitted by distributors to the Department in support of any credit or refund claims. The form requires distributors to identify the retailers to which it has provided credits/refunds and the amounts thereof.

Retailers who self-remit the Tax may take a credit on their Final Return with supporting documentation. In addition, retailers that have unsold inventory as of December 1, on which they previously remitted floor tax, may obtain a refund of the floor tax through the Department’s standard refund procedure.

Practice Notes:

  1. To the extent possible, Taxpayers should take advantage of the opportunity to claim a credit on their Final Returns in order to avoid the time and expense associated with the County’s standard refund procedure.
  2. Since the Tax was repealed, enthusiasm has waned for various Illinois House Bills (HB 4082-84) proposing to limit the authority of localities to impose beverage taxes. It’s difficult to predict whether the bills will be enacted.
  3. However, the State of Michigan has passed legislation, signed into law by Governor Snyder on October 26, 2017, which prohibits municipalities from levying local taxes on food or beverages.

The Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) has issued a proposed new administrative rule addressing the nexus implications for out-of-state retailers attending trade shows in Illinois. The proposed rule, linked here, reaffirms the Department’s long-standing position that all sales made at an Illinois trade show are subject to Illinois Retailers Occupation Tax and any applicable local taxes. In a move welcomed by taxpayers, the proposed rule goes on to delineate a “safe harbor” of activities that will not create nexus for out-of-state retailers with respect to their other Illinois sales.

Under the safe harbor provision, an out-of-state retailer’s presence at an Illinois trade show will not create nexus for its other Illinois sales if each of the following conditions is met:

  1. The retailer attends no more than two trade shows per calendar year;
  2. The retailer is physically present at the two trade shows for an aggregate total of no more than eight days during any calendar year; and
  3. Combined gross receipts from sales made at the two trade shows during any single calendar year do not exceed $10,000.

Continue Reading Illinois DOR Proposes Use Tax Nexus Standards for Trade Show Retailers

On July 28, Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak dismissed the Complaint filed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and a group of retailers challenging the constitutionality of the Cook County, Illinois Sweetened Beverage Tax (Tax). A copy of the court’s Order is linked here (Order). The Order also dissolved the June 30 temporary restraining order which had halted the county’s imposition of the Tax, on which we have previously reported. In response to the Order, the county required Tax collection to begin on August 2. The county also announced that by September 20, retailers must remit a “floor tax” on the inventory of sweetened beverages in their possession as of August 1.

The Order rejected both of the constitutional arguments raised by the Complaint. The court held that Plaintiffs raised a good faith Illinois Uniformity Clause challenge, and thereby shifted the burden of proof to the county, because the Tax applied to pre-made, but not made-to-order sweetened beverages. The court went on to hold, however, that the county met its burden to justify this arbitrary tax classification by alleging that pre-made sweetened beverages were more widely available and therefore more likely to be purchased and consumed than made-to-order beverages (thus generating more tax revenues) and by arguing that imposing the Tax on made-to-order beverages would be administratively burdensome. The court then held that Plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden of establishing that the county’s justifications were insufficient in law or unsupported by the facts. According to the court, the “County has set forth a real and substantial difference between the people taxed, who purchase ready-to-drink, pre-made sweetened beverages, and those not taxed, who purchase on-demand, custom sweetened beverages.” (Order at 9.)

Continue Reading Illinois Court Upholds Cook County’s Beverage Tax Finding It Passes Constitutional Muster and Related Developments

A legal challenge to Cook County Illinois Sweetened Beverage Tax (Tax) heads back to circuit court today for a hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction. On June 30, Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), halting Cook County, Illinois’ imposition of the Tax, which was to take effect on July 1. Judge Kubasiak found that the “Plaintiffs have persuaded the Court that a fair question exists as to the constitutionality” of the Tax.

Earlier this week, the plaintiff group, which includes the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and a group of retail food markets, successfully opposed the county’s emergency appeal of the TRO. In a ruling issued on Monday, July 10, the Illinois appellate court declined to set aside the TRO. While the fight is far from over, the Illinois rulings are a positive development for retailers, who have not succeeded to date in their efforts to defeat the Philadelphia sweetened beverage tax. See Opinion, Williams v. City of Phila., Nos. 2077 C.D. 2016, 2078 C.D. 2016 (Pa. Commw. Ct. June 14, 2017).

Continue Reading Beverage Tax Wars Continue as Parties Head Back to Court for a Preliminary Injunction Hearing on the Cook County, Illinois Tax

Yesterday afternoon, after months of wrangling and a marathon 4th of July weekend session, the Illinois House of Representatives voted to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill (SB) 9, the revenue bill supporting the State’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017-2018 Budget. The vote ended Illinois’ two year budget impasse and may avoid a threatened downgrade of Illinois bonds to junk status. The key tax components of the bill as enacted Public Act 100-0022 (Act) are as follows:

Income Tax

Rate increase. Income tax rates are increased, effective July 1, 2017, to 4.95 percent for individuals, trusts and estates, and 7 percent for corporations.

Income allocation. The Act contains a number of provisions intended to resolve questions regarding how income should be allocated between the two rates in effect for 2017.

  • Illinois Income Tax Act (IITA) 5/202.5(a) provides a default rule, a proration based on the days in each period (181/184), for purposes of allocating income between pre-July 1 segments and periods after the end of June when rates increase. Alternatively, IITA 5/202.5(b) provides that a taxpayer may elect to determine net income on a specific accounting basis for the two portions of their taxable year, from the beginning of the taxable year through the last day of the apportionment period, and from the first day of the next apportionment period through the end of the taxable year.

Continue Reading Tax Changes Implemented As Part of Revenue Package Supporting Illinois Budget

On May 31, the Illinois General Assembly closed its regular legislative session, without a budget agreement.

Senate Bill 9

As we previously reported, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill 9 (Bill), a tax proposal that is part of the Illinois “Grand Bargain” that we described in a previous post. The version of Senate Bill 9 that passed out of the Senate passed the House Revenue Committee on May 29 on a partisan vote. The House has extended the Bill’s final action deadline to June 30.

The current version of the Bill is similar but not identical to the version that we have previously described. Some of the more significant amendments include the following:

Two New Taxes. The Bill now proposes to create two new taxes. The “Video Service Tax Modernization Act” purports to impose a tax on satellite television and streaming television services at a rate of 5 percent of the gross revenues that a provider earns from its Illinois customers. The Bill also creates the “Entertainment Tax Fairness Act” which seeks to tax viewing “entertainment,” defined as “paid video programming whether transmitted by cable service, direct-to-home satellite service, direct broadcast satellite service, digital audio-visual works service, or video service.” The tax rate is 1 percent of charges paid by the customer. Both taxes exempt satellite or subscription radio services and can be passed-through and collected from customers.

Income Tax. The Bill now proposes to increase income tax rates for individuals, trusts and estates to 4.95 percent (rather than the previously proposed 4.99 percent rate). Also, the tax rate increases, including the increase to 7 percent for corporations (corporate increase unchanged from the Bill’s prior version), continue to be permanent.

Sales Tax Base Expansion. The current version of the Bill removes repair and maintenance services, landscaping services, cable television services (but see “Two New Taxes” described above) and some personal care services (including nails and hair removal) from the Bill’s expansion of the Illinois sales tax base.

It is difficult to predict whether any portion of Senate Bill 9 will be enacted. Since the Illinois General Assembly’s regular sessions have now ended, legislative approval will require a three-fifths majority and, to date, the governor has refused to endorse the legislation.

Senate Bill 1577

We have previously reported on Senate Bill 1577, which proposes to increase the penalty amounts imposed for violation of the Illinois False Claims Act. The bill passed the House on May 30 with the exception for certain low dollar tax claims as previously described.

Just days away from the May 31 close of its regular legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly has yet to enact the comprehensive series of tax and budget reforms that were first proposed by the Illinois Senate leadership late last year. Yesterday, the Senate passed a modified version of Senate Bill (SB) 9, the tax proposal we described in a previous post, without any Republican support. SB 9 now moves to the Democratically-controlled House for consideration. Even if approved by the House, it seems likely that Illinois’ Republican Governor will veto the legislation. Continue Reading Illinois Bills to Watch

In two recent General Information Letters (GILs), the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) reaffirmed that computer software provided through a cloud-based delivery system is not subject to tax in Illinois. The Department announced that while it continues to review cloud-based arrangements and may determine they are taxable at some point, any decision to tax cloud-based services will be applied prospectively only. The GILs also recognize Quill’s physical presence requirement for Commerce Clause nexus. Continue Reading Illinois Department of Revenue Reaffirms Cloud-Based Services Not Taxable

In an effort to resolve Illinois’ 20-month budget impasse, the Illinois Senate leadership (Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Rodogno) have jointly proposed a series of bills to increase revenue, reduce spending, and respond to the Illinois Governor’s concerns regarding pension reforms, workers compensation reform and property tax relief.  A series of twelve bills have been introduced, all of which are interlinked for passage.  The bills are termed the Illinois “Grand Bargain.”  Most of the tax-related changes are found in Senate Bill 9.  The current version of the Senate Bill 9 (Amendment 3) (“Bill”) was submitted on March 3 and includes the following proposed changes: Continue Reading Tax Highlights of Proposed Illinois “Grand Bargain”

Illinois Legislators have recently introduced three bills that would amend the Illinois False Claims Act (“Act”) to restrict the ability to bring tax-related claims. Senate Bill 9, the proposed “grand bargain” to resolve Illinois’ budget stalemate, includes language that would eliminate the ability to use the Act to bring tax claims.  In addition, Representative Frank Wheeler and Senator Pam Althoff have introduced House Bill 1814 and Senate Bill 1250, respectively, which are identical pieces of legislation that would significantly restrict a private citizen’s right to bring tax-related claims. Senate Bill 9, if adopted in its current form, would eliminate the ability to bring a tax-related claim under the Act.  Currently, the Act only excludes the right to bring income tax-related claims. 740 ILCS 175/3(c).  This would effectively conform the Act to the federal False Claims Act, which does not extend to tax claims.  Rather, tax-related claims are brought before the Internal Revenue Service’s Whistleblower Office as whistleblower claims. House Bill 1814 and Senate Bill 1250 (“Bills 1814/1250”) preserve the right to bring tax claims under the Act, and they maintain the prohibition against income tax claims.  However, in a significant improvement over current practice, the Bills would amend the Act to restrict the ability of a whistleblower or its counsel to control or profit from the filing of tax claims.  In addition, they enhance the role played by the Department of Revenue (“Department”) in determining whether a whistleblower’s tax claim should be pursued.  Effectively, the Bills make the filing of state tax-related whistleblower claims more like the procedure for bringing a federal tax violation before the IRS. Currently, the Act authorizes private citizens, termed “relators,” to initiate litigation to force payment of tax allegedly owed to the State.  740 ILCS 175/4(b).  Hundreds of such claims have been filed in Illinois by whistleblowers claiming a failure to collect and remit sales tax on internet sales.  Relators file a complaint under seal with the circuit court and serve the complaint on the State.  Id. 175/4(b)(2).  The Illinois Attorney General’s office then has the opportunity to review the allegations and decide whether to intervene in the litigation.  Id. 175/4(b)(2), (3).  The Department is not named as a Defendant and there is no requirement to involve the Department in the litigation.  If the Attorney General declines to proceed with the litigation, the relator may proceed with the lawsuit on its own and, if successful, is entitled to an award of 25 percent to 30 percent of the proceeds or settlement of the action, plus its attorneys’ fees and costs.  Id. 175/4(d)(2).  Even if the State intervenes and proceeds with the litigation, eliminating the relator’s day-to-day involvement, the relator is entitled to an award of 15 percent to 25 percent of the proceeds of settlement, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.  Id. 175/4(d)(1). In contrast, Bills 1814/1250 provide that only the Attorney General (“AG”) and the Department have the right to initiate claims under the Act for taxes administered by the Department.  Whistleblowers are required to report an alleged tax violation to the Department.  The Department must investigate the allegations and make a recommendation to the AG as to whether or not the AG should file suit based on the allegations.  Bills 1814/1250, 740 ILCS 175/4.5(b).  The AG can accept or reject the Department’s recommendation.  It can also bring suit in the absence of a Department recommendation.  Id.  If the AG initiates litigation based on a whistleblower’s allegations, the whistleblower is entitled to an award of 15 percent to 30 percent of the collected proceeds of the action and “related actions” or settlement, but no attorneys’ fees.  Id., 740 ILCS 175/4.5(d).  The whistleblower has no ability to proceed with litigation on its own if the Department or AG find the litigation unworthy.  These changes would significantly reduce the ability of a whistleblower or its counsel to profit from the filing of nuisance value claims. Bills 1814/1250 also provide that the Department has discretion to initiate an audit based on a whistleblower’s allegations and affirm that the audited entity has all the rights available to any other taxpayer to dispute any additional assessment of tax, interest and/or penalty charges.  Id., 740 ILCS 175/4.5(c).  Whistleblowers may not participate in or challenge the Department’s audit determination.  If the Department initiates an administrative action based on a whistleblower’s allegations, the whistleblower is entitled to an award of 10 percent to 15 percent of the collected proceeds of the action or settlement.  Id., 740 ILCS 175/4.5(d). Bills 1814/1250 also provide the much-needed ability to reduce the percentage award to a whistleblower under certain circumstances.  First, the Department has the discretion to reduce the percentage award to a whistleblower to 10 percent of the proceeds or settlement if it determines that the action (administrative or judicial) against a taxpayer is based primarily on disclosures from other sources.  Id., 740 ILCS 175/4.5(e).  (This provision is in the present version of the Act, but is a right afforded to the AG, not the Department.)  In addition, the Department has discretion to reduce the whistleblower’s award without limitation if it determines the whistleblower planned and initiated the violation of the Act.  Id., 740 ILCS 175/4.5(f).  The latter change should significantly reduce the ability of whistleblowers to profit from the repetitive filing of tax claims based on transactions initiated by the whistleblower. Bills 1814/1250 also would reduce the burden on the Circuit Courts with respect to these claims by requiring a whistleblower to file its claim with the Department, rather than the Court in the first instance, and by providing that Department award determinations are appealable exclusively to the Court of Claims.  Id., 740 ILCS 175/4.5(g), 705 ILCS 505/8(j). This is not the first time bills have been introduced to amend the Act.  Similar efforts over the past several years have been stymied when the legislature failed to consider the bills in Committee hearings. Hopefully, the Illinois General Assembly will take action to enact one of these much-needed legislative changes this year.