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Stephen (Steve) P. Kranz is a tax lawyer who solves tax problems differently. Over the course of his extensive career, Steve has acquired specific skills and developed a unique approach that helps clients develop and implement holistic solutions to all varieties of tax problems. He combines strategic thinking with effective skills for the courtroom, the statehouse and the conference room. Read Stephen P. Kranz's full bio.

Today, US Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) filed the Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act of 2018 (S.3581) for reintroduction in the United States Senate. A companion version is expected to be reintroduced tomorrow in the House of Representatives by Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). This bill, if enacted, would establish a national framework for how states apply their sales and use tax systems to sales and uses of digital goods and digital services.  The bill would resolve current uncertainty regarding which state has the right to tax certain sales and whether a state has the right to tax the sale of a digital good or digital service. The bill also would establish uniform, destination-based, sourcing rules for sales of such products and services.

Sales of digital goods and services are highly mobile transactions. A customer could have a billing address in one state and download a digital good from the seller’s server in another state while the customer is traveling in a third state. Whether such a transaction has sufficient attributes in any one of the three states to give rise to the right to tax the transaction by any one of them is open to question. Assuming one of the states has the right to tax the sale, there is a question as to which state that might be. The bill would clearly specify that one of the states has the right to tax the sale and clearly delineate which state has such taxing rights.  Continue Reading Federal Digital Goods Bill: Rules of the Road for State Sales and Use Taxation of Digital Goods and Services

The US House Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, July 24 at 10:00 am EDT in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building. According to a press release circulated last night, the topic of the hearing will be “[e]xamining the Wayfair decision and its ramifications for consumers and small businesses.” According to comments made by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to Bloomberg Law, specific pending or former legislation will not be considered and instead the hearing will be informational and used to drive the committee’s next steps, if any.

The 8 witnesses that will be testifying at the hearing next week are listed below.

  1. Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform President
  2. Chad White, Class-Tech-Cars, Inc. Owner
  3. Lary Sinewitz, BrandsMart Executive Vice President, on behalf of the National Retail Federation
  4. Bartlett Cleland, American Legislative Exchange Council General Counsel and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer
  5. The Honorable Curt Bramble, National Conference of State Legislatures Past President
  6. Andrew Moylan, National Taxpayers Union Foundation Executive Vice President
  7. Joseph Crosby, MultiState Associates Incorporated Principal
  8. Andrew Pincus, Mayer Brown Partner

A live video feed of the hearing will be available here next Tuesday. The authors plan to attend the hearing in-person and will post a follow-up blog summarizing our thoughts shortly after the hearing concludes next Tuesday. Stay tuned!

Moments ago, the US Supreme Court issued its highly-anticipated decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., et al., No. 17-494. The 5-4 opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and concluded that the physical presence requirement established by the Court in its 1967 National Bellas Hess decision and reaffirmed in 1992 in Quill is “unsound and incorrect” and that “stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power.” This opinion will have an immediate and significant impact on sales and use tax collection obligations across the country and is something every company and state must immediately and carefully evaluate within the context of existing state and local collection authority.

Summary of Opinions

The majority opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and was joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito and Gorsuch. In reaching the conclusion that the physical presence rule is an incorrect interpretation of the dormant Commerce Clause, the opinion states that the Quill physical presence rule: (1) is flawed on its own terms because it is not a necessary interpretation of the Complete Auto nexus requirement, creates market distortions and imposes an arbitrary and formalistic standard as opposed to the case-by-case analysis favored by Commerce Clause precedents; (2) is artificial in its entirety and not just at its edges; and (3) is an extraordinary imposition by the Judiciary. The majority went on to conclude that stare decisis can no longer support the Court’s prohibition of a valid exercise of the States’ sovereign power, noting that “[i]t is inconsistent with this Court’s proper role to ask Congress to address a false constitutional premise of this Court’s own creation.” The majority noted that the South Dakota law “affords small merchants a reasonable degree of protection” and “other aspects of the Court’s [dormant] Commerce Clause doctrine can protect against any undue burden on interstate commerce.” The majority opinion specifically notes that “the potential for such issues to arise in some later case cannot justify an artificial, anachronistic rule that deprives States of vast revenues from major businesses.” Finally, the majority decision provides that in the absence of Quill and Bellas Hess, the first prong of Complete Auto simply asks whether the tax applies to an activity with substantial nexus with the taxing State and that here, “the nexus is clearly sufficient.” Specifically, the South Dakota law only applies to sellers that deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the State or engage in 200 or more separate transactions, which “could not have occurred unless the seller availed itself of the substantial privilege of carrying on business in South Dakota.” With respect to other principles in the Court’s dormant Commerce Clause doctrine that may invalid the South Dakota law, the majority held that “the Court need not resolve them here.” However, the majority opinion does note that South Dakota appears to have features built into its law that are “designed to prevent discrimination against or undue burdens upon interstate commerce” including: (1) a safe harbor for small sellers; (2) provisions that prevent a retroactive collection obligation; and (3) the fact that South Dakota is a member of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement.

Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch both wrote a standalone concurring opinions. Justice Thomas acknowledged that he should have voted with Justice White in Quill to overturn Bellas Hess and Justice Gorsuch seemed to caution his concurrence should not be read as an agreement with all aspects of the dormant Commerce Clause (perhaps looking forward to future issues that may be before the Court).

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. The dissent argues that any alteration to the physical presence rule should be undertaken by Congress and that departing from the doctrine of stare decisis is an exceptional action demanding special justification, which is even further heightened in the dormant Commerce Clause context. The dissenting opinion went on to note that the majority “breezily disregards the costs that its decision will impose on retailers” and that the “burden will fall disproportionately on small businesses” which they note is something Congress could fix as part of a legislative solution. The Chief Justice Robert’s dissent concludes that “I fear the Court today is compounding its past error by trying to fix it in a totally different era.”

Practice Note and Next Steps

Today’s opinion raises no shortage of questions that will be discussed and further evaluated over the coming weeks and months. One thing that is clear from the decision is that the Court is still concerned about potential undue burdens that state tax systems may impose on businesses, particularly small businesses. The Court appears to have concluded that South Dakota’s imposition does not run afoul of those concerns, however, the door is open as to whether other states’ tax systems would satisfy the new requirements. The Court repeatedly emphasized that South Dakota’s participation in the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement was an important factor in upholding the imposition of tax. The Court also cited South Dakota’s lack of retroactivity and a threshold as important factors as well.

States will obviously rejoice at the decision. Expect states to seek legislative and regulatory expansion of their “doing business” laws to align with the South Dakota v. Wayfair opinion, with significant activity in the next round of state legislative sessions.

The Court reiterated that Congress may act to address any of the concerns with the new standard. In fact, Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion acknowledges that “Congress may legislate to address these problems if it deems it necessary and fit to do so.” Although little progress has been made in Congress on this issue for some time, the landscape is now changed and that may result in pushing Congress to act.

On April 9, 2018, the New York State Supreme Court granted Starbucks’ motion to dismiss claims that it had failed to collect more than $10 million of sales tax at its New York stores. Lawyers from McDermott’s State and Local Tax (SALT) group and its White Collar and Securities Defense team handled the matter.

A unique feature of New York law is that the attorney general and private qui tam plaintiffs are permitted to bring New York False Claims Act (NYFCA) actions under New York Financial Law for “claims, records, or statements made under the tax law.” Fin. L. 198(4)(a)(i)-(iii). Under federal law and the law of most states, there is no False Claims Act liability for tax issues. But in New York, the attorney general and private plaintiffs can pursue False Claims Act cases for failure to comply with tax law. There have been numerous large settlements and judgments issued against major companies under the NYFCA, including one settlement for $40 million. See A.G. Schneiderman Announces $40 Million Settlement With Investment Management Company for Tax Abuses, Marking Largest Whistleblower Recovery in Office’s History (April 18, 2017). If successful, qui tam plaintiffs can recover a 25 – 30 percent share of the amount recovered, together with costs and attorneys’ fees. Fin. L. § 190(6)(b).

In this case, two private relator plaintiffs alleged that Starbucks failed to collect sales tax on warmed and “to-go” food items over a 10-year period. The relators filed a complaint, under seal, on or about June 11, 2015, with the New York Attorney General (AG). The AG declined to intervene. On June 30, 2017, the relators elected to proceed on their own with the lawsuit and filed a complaint seeking a judgment for at least $10 million in allegedly unpaid sales tax, as well as treble damages, civil penalties and attorneys’ fees. There was no allegation that Starbucks had failed to properly pay New York taxes that it had previously collected and was holding improperly. The relators’ allegations were solely based on their claim that Starbucks had under-collected sales tax from its New York customers.

On behalf of Starbucks, McDermott filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Starbucks properly collects and pays its taxes to the State of New York and that Starbucks has consistently worked cooperatively with auditors from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. McDermott further argued that the relators “survey” of purchases at Starbucks locations and anecdotal conversations with Starbucks employees failed to properly allege that Starbucks violated the tax law or engaged in any fraud.

On November 10, 2017, the court held oral argument. On April 9, 2018, the Honorable James d’Auguste agreed with McDermott’s arguments and dismissed the case. See State of New York ex rel. James A. Hunter & Keenan D. Kmiec v. Starbucks Corporation, No. 101069/15, Dkt No. 40 (Sup Ct. April 9, 2018). The court held that the relators failed to properly allege that Starbucks had knowingly avoided or recklessly disregarded the law. Id. at 15. The court also opined that “the Survey was not scientifically performed and plaintiffs’ Survey was unsupported by any expert review or report.” Id. at 17. Finally, the court concluded that “plaintiffs’ allegations that Starbucks’ illegal practices were ongoing for a decade before this action was started and that it suffered $10 million in damages are based purely on speculation.” Id. at 17.

McDermott’s SALT and White Collar and Securities Defense teams joined forces in representing Starbucks in connection with this matter. The team consisted of Todd Harrison, Steve Kranz, Mark Yopp, Joseph B. Evans, Kathleen Quinn and Samuel Ashworth.

Full Case Name:          State of New York ex rel. James A. Hunter & Keenan D. Kmiec v. Starbucks Corporation, No. 101069/15 (Sup Ct. April 9, 2018)

Court:                           New York State Supreme Court

Justice:                         James E. d’Auguste

Opposing Counsel:     Hunter and Kmiec

Minnesota has several bills pending that would address the Minnesota state tax implications of various provisions of the federal tax reform legislation (commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act).

HF 2942

HF 2942 was introduced in the House on February 22, 2018. This bill would provide conformity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) as of December 31, 2017, including for corporate taxpayers. The bill makes clear that, with respect to the computation of Minnesota net income, the conformity to the Internal Revenue Code as amended through December 31, 2017, would be effective retroactively such that the federal provisions providing for the deemed repatriation of foreign earnings could have implications in Minnesota. Continue Reading Overview of Minnesota’s Response to Federal Tax Reform

On Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) issued additional guidance concerning its treatment of the new deemed repatriated foreign earnings provisions found in Internal Revenue Code Section 965, enacted in the federal tax reform bill (known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or “TCJA”).  The Department confirmed key aspects of Illinois’ treatment of the repatriation provisions, including:

  • Both the income inclusion and deduction provided for in the deemed repatriated foreign earnings provisions will be taken into account in determining a taxpayer’s tax base, so that the inclusion in Illinois will be net. The Department’s guidance references the new federal IRC 965 Transition Tax Statement, which a taxpayer must file with its 2017 federal return when reporting deemed repatriated foreign earnings; that statement includes both income under IRC 965(a) and the corresponding participation deduction under IRC 965(c).
  • Additionally, the Department’s guidance also confirms that the net amount included as deemed repatriated foreign earnings will be treated as a foreign dividend eligible for Illinois’ dividend-received deduction, which can be a 70 percent, 80 percent or 100 percent deduction depending on a taxpayer’s percentage share of ownership of the foreign subsidiary subject to the repatriation provisions. See 35 ILCS 5/203(b)(2)(O). (For tax periods beginning on or after January 1, 2018, 80 percent is reduced to 65 percent and 70 percent is reduced to 50 percent because this provision incorporates the federal dividend-received deduction rates found in IRC 243, which was amended as such by the TCJA.)

Continue Reading Illinois Confirms Treatment of Deemed Repatriated Foreign Earnings Provisions

This morning, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill into law that will exempt cloud-based software transactions from State Gross Retail and Use Taxes, effective July 1, 2018. The signing took place at the headquarters of Indiana-based cloud service provider DemandJump, Inc.

Specifically, Senate Enrolled Act No. 257 (which was unanimously passed by both chambers of the General Assembly) will add a new section to the Indiana Code chapter on retail transactions that specifically provides that “[a] transaction in which an end user purchases, rents, leases, or licenses the right to remotely access prewritten computer software over the Internet, over private or public networks, or through wireless media: (1) is not considered to be a transaction in which prewritten computer software is delivered electronically; and (2) does not constitute a retail transaction.” The new law will also clarify that the sale, rental, lease or license of prewritten computer software “delivered electronically” (i.e., downloaded software) is subject to the Gross Retail and Use Taxes. Continue Reading BREAKING: Indiana Enacts Cloud Software Tax Exemption

It’s been nearly three months since the federal tax reform bill (commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or “TCJA”) was enacted and states continue to respond to the various provisions of the TCJA. Recently, there have been notable legislative efforts in New York, Idaho, Iowa and Minnesota.

New York

Starting with the release of the Governor’s Budget Bill in January 2018, the 30-day amendments to that Bill on February 15, and the amendments to the Assembly Bill and Senate Bill this month, there has been much action this legislative session concerning the potential response to federal tax reform. The proposed response in the two latest bills—the Assembly Bill (AB 9509) and the Senate Bill (SB 7509)—is discussed below. Continue Reading More States Respond to Federal Tax Reform

Virginia and Georgia are two of the latest states to pass laws responding to the federal tax reform passed in December 2017, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Both states updated their codes to conform to the current Internal Revenue Code (IRC) with some notable exceptions.

Virginia

On February 22, 2018, and February 23, 2018, the Virginia General Assembly enacted Chapter 14 (SB 230) and Chapter 15 (HB 154) of the 2018 Session Virginia Acts of Assembly, respectively. Before this legislation was enacted, the Virginia Code conformed to the IRC in effect as of December 31, 2016. While the new legislation conforms the Virginia Code to the IRC effective as of February 9, 2018, there are some very notable exceptions. The legislation explicitly provides that the Virginia Code does not conform to most provisions of the TCJA with an exception for “any… provision of the [TCJA] that affects the computation of federal adjusted gross income of individuals or federal taxable income of corporations for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2016 and before January 1, 2018…” Thus, despite Virginia’s update of its IRC conformity date, Virginia largely decouples from the TCJA. Continue Reading Southeast States Respond to Federal Tax Reform and NJ Senate Leader Talks Tax Surcharge to Limit Corporate “Windfall”

States are moving to advance different solutions in their efforts to address federal tax reform. Illinois recently introduced legislation to addback the new deduction for foreign-derived intangible income (a topic we’ve previously covered), and its Department of Revenue has issued its position on other aspects of federal reform. Oregon, after resolving a controversy between its senate and house, is about to pass legislation addressing deemed repatriation income and repealing its tax haven inclusion provisions.

Illinois Issues Guidance on Federal Tax Reform

On March 1, the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) issued guidance explaining its position with respect to how various law changes made in the 2017 federal tax reform bill, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Act), will impact taxpayers in Illinois.

While, for the most part, the pronouncement provides a cursory analysis of the provisions of the Act and a conclusory statement as to whether each provision will result in an increase or decrease in a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (for individuals) or federal taxable income (for corporations), there are a few items that do warrant some specific mention.

With respect to Illinois’ treatment of the Act’s new international tax provisions, the Department provides some insight into treatment of deemed repatriated foreign earnings and global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI). For purposes of both the deemed repatriated foreign earnings and the GILTI, the Act provides that a taxpayer computes its taxable income by including an amount in income and taking a corresponding deduction to partially offset the inclusion. The Illinois guidance indicates that the inclusion in Illinois will be net, with both the income inclusion and the deduction taken into account in determining a taxpayer’s tax base. This is consistent with the provisions of the Illinois corporate income tax that provide that the Illinois tax base is a corporation’s “taxable income,” which is defined as the amount of “taxable income properly reportable for federal income tax purposes for the taxable year under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.” 35 ILCS 5/203(b)(1), (e).

Mitigating the tax impact of these provisions, the Department also takes the position that the amount included as deemed repatriated foreign earnings or as GILTI will be treated as a foreign dividend eligible for Illinois’ 100 percent dividend-received deduction. See 35 ILCS 5/203(b)(2)(O), (b)(2)(G). This rationale is in accordance with the provisions in the Illinois statute that provide a dividend-received deduction for dividends received or deemed received under Internal Revenue Code sections 951 through 965. Thus, because the deemed repatriated foreign earnings are included pursuant to section 965 and the new GILTI is included pursuant to section 951A, those amounts should both be dividends eligible for the dividend-received deduction.

In addition, the Department has specified that the new provision limiting the use of federal net operating losses (NOLs) in an amount equal to 80 percent of the taxpayer’s taxable income is a change that could provide an increased tax base or increased tax revenue to Illinois. Corporate taxpayers should not get confused, however. Illinois allows use of the federal NOL only for individuals. Corporate taxpayers, however, have to add back any federal NOL and then compute a separate NOL for purposes of the Illinois corporate income tax. Thus, neither the 80 percent limitation nor the change to unlimited carryforwards will impact the ability of a corporate taxpayer to use its NOL for purposes of the Illinois corporate income tax.

Nail Biting Success in Oregon on Tax Haven Repeal Following Federal Tax Reform

While drama surrounded Oregon’s legislation addressing aspects of federal tax reform, the end result provides clarity and relief for taxpayers with international affiliates. Oregon has now addressed the repatriation provisions of federal tax reform and is in the process of repealing its (hated) tax haven inclusion provision.

Oregon Senate Bill 1529-A addresses several elements of how the state will conform to federal tax reform. Oregon decided it needed to address reform rapidly because of the risk of a perceived windfall to taxpayers if the state did not change its existing dividend-received deduction statute. Absent the legislation, Oregon would have included both the repatriation addition and the deduction in its tax base and allowed its 80 percent dividend-received deduction against the gross, not the net. The adopted legislation changes this calculation. The legislation requires that amounts deducted for income repatriated under section 965 must be added back in calculating Oregon taxable income. This provision is added to ORS 317.267, the provision decoupling from the federal dividend-received deduction. The tax on the remaining amount would be due in year one, as there is no provision in the bill similar to the federal 8-year payment allowance. It is estimated that the state will receive approximately $160 million from the one-time deemed repatriation. Absent the change, the state would have lost $100 million.

The legislation provides additional relief from the tax on repatriated income. Oregon is one of the states that had adopted tax haven legislation, requiring income of the taxpayer’s affiliates incorporated in certain listed countries to be included in the taxpayer’s taxable income. ORS 317.716. As a result, Oregon may have already taxed some of the income now deemed repatriated. To alleviate any double taxation, new Section 33 in the bill allows a credit for taxes attributable to this income. The credit is limited to the lesser of the tax attributed to the repatriated income or the tax on the income included under ORS 317.716. Unused credits may be carried over five years.

The drama over passage of the bill revolved around a provision that repealed the tax haven inclusion provisions of ORS 317.716. The bill that passed the senate unanimously included the repeal of the tax haven provision. When it reached the house, however, Amendment –A9 removed the repeal. A hearing on the bill included testimony both for and against the repeal. Proponents argued that it was too soon to determine whether repeal was necessary and the tax haven provision should be maintained until the Department of Revenue completed a study to determine whether there was truly overlap between the tax haven inclusion and the GILTI provisions. McDermott provided written comments explaining why maintaining the tax haven provision was duplicative of the policy behind the new GILTI provision and would require complex computations to avoid double taxation when a taxpayer was subject to both GILTI and the tax haven inclusion. COST and the Tax Foundation also provided comments supporting the bill as passed by the senate that included the tax haven repeal language. The house ultimately passed a bill repealing the tax haven provisions, and the senate agreed in conference. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Under amendments to the bill, the Department of Revenue will have an opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of GILTI, but it is not clear whether the pending budget bill will provide funding for this study.

Please contact us to join McDermott’s multi-state coalition, the STAR Partnership, which will address state business tax ramifications raised by federal tax reform. Further information is available here.