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The US Department of the Treasury Says State IRC Conformity Bills Do Not Trigger Federal Relief Claw-Back Provision

As we’ve blogged about in the past, the recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) includes an ambiguous claw-back provision. If broadly interpreted, it could result in states losing relief funding provided under the APRA if there is any state legislative or administrative change that results in the reduction of state revenue. This provision is causing havoc in the state tax world, rightfully so.

After much yelling and screaming from state attorneys general and those in the tax world, including McDermott (see McDermott letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attached), the US Department of the Treasury issued a press release announcing forthcoming “comprehensive guidance” on this provision. Treasury also addressed a question that has been on the top of our minds since the provision was enacted: Could state legislation addressing state conformity to the Internal Revenue Code trigger the claw-back? States routinely conform to and decouple from changes to the Internal Revenue Code, so if such actions could trigger the claw-back, state legislatures would be reluctant to consider them. We were so concerned about this issue that we specifically addressed it in our letter to Secretary Yellen.

This week, we received the Treasury’s guidance on this issue: Conformity bills will not trigger the claw-back. In its press release, Treasury stated:

… Treasury has decided to address a question that has arisen frequently: whether income tax changes that simply conform a State or territory’s tax law with recent changes in federal income tax law are subject to the offset provision of section 602(c)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act, as added by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Regardless of the particular method of conformity and the effect on net tax revenue, Treasury views such changes as permissible under the offset provision.

This is a step in the right direction and should ease concerns of state legislatures. Passing a conformity bill will not cause any loss of federal funding. Treasury’s guidance, because it applies to all “methods of conformity,” should cover any legislation that either couples with or decouples from the Internal Revenue Code.

But our work is not done. In our letter to Secretary Yellen we also asked for guidance confirming that state actions in other areas will not trigger the claw-back. Specifically, we made concrete suggestions that actions to correcting tax statutes or rules that are either unconstitutional or barred by or violate federal law also should not trigger the claw-back. Treasury’s recent press release gives us a glimmer of hope that Treasury will exclude such actions from the clutches of the claw-back provision as well. Stay tuned for more!




McDermott Provides Treasury Department with Concrete Suggestions for Guidance on the American Rescue Plan Act’s Claw-Back Provision

The recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) includes an ambiguous claw-back provision that has brought the world of state and local tax policymaking to a grinding halt. Because ARPA’s adoption occurred during the final weeks of many states’ legislative sessions, rapid issuance of guidance from the US Department of the Treasury is needed before the sessions adjourn to prevent the irreversible damage that will occur if a state foregoes enacting policies aimed at alleviating the economic disruption caused by COVID-19 out of fear of facing claw-back of federal relief.

McDermott recently sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, urging the issuance of guidance giving a balanced interpretation of the claw-back provision. This guidance is necessary to avoid putting state legislatures, governors and tax administrators across the country in an untenable situation where every tax change or adjustment being considered—no matter how innocuous or routine—will carry the risk of a reduction to their state’s share of federal funding for the next three years.

In the letter, we provided concrete suggestions on areas where the ARPA left room for such balanced interpretation. We suggested that Treasury interpret the claw-back provision as either inapplicable to or provide a safe harbor for:

  • Changes addressing state conformity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)
  • Corrections of unconstitutional tax statutes or rules
  • Corrections of tax provisions barred by or that violate federal law
  • Actions in which there is no or only a weak connection between the law change reducing net revenue and the use of federal relief funds
  • Changes in the law announced before the enactment of ARPA
  • Reductions in net revenue related to purposes that further ARPA’s objectives.

The letter pointed out that states need concrete guidance, whether formal or informal, addressing these areas. Such guidance will alleviate the concerns of state governments and allow state policymakers to function and continue the orderly administration of state taxes.




BREAKING NEWS: New York Considers 5% Gross Receipts Tax on Almost Every Corporation

On January 21, A. 9112 was introduced in the New York Assembly. An identical Senate companion bill, S. 6102, has been referred to the Senate Budget & Revenues Committee after being introduced in May 2019. The bills would impose an additional 5% tax on the gross income of “every corporation which derives income from the data individuals of this state share with such corporations.” The bills do not provide further detail or limitation on the scope of the proposed new imposition language.

The bills would also establish a six-member Data Fund Board, to invest the tax revenue collected and distribute net earnings “to each taxpayer of the state” in a manner determined by the Board. If enacted without amendment, the bills would take effect 180 days after being signed into law.

As written, the proposed New York tax would unconstitutionally apply to all income worldwide earned by a company deriving income from data from New Yorkers. A state tax on a multistate business must “be fairly apportioned to reflect the business conducted in the State.”

The tax as written is so broad it would apply to essentially every business. Every business collects data and uses it to market or complete a sale, and any corporation with data-derived income from New York customers would be subject to the new tax on their total revenue. “Data” is a broad term. If a company collects zip codes or phone numbers at checkout, asks for email address to join a mailing list, counts customers coming in or out of the store, collects website click or open data, or asks for information from customers, such as their size or shipping address, before making a sale, it apparently would be subject to this tax. For many such businesses, a gross receipts tax at a 5% rate would wipe out all profits, equivalent to an over 100% corporate income tax. At that point, a tax for engaging in data collection might become so punitive it violates the Due Process Clause. Another obvious due process problem is that the lack of definitions and the broad sweep of this proposal could invalidate it on void for vagueness grounds.

Any meaningful attempts to address these constitutional issues, such as by specifically applying the tax only on big tech companies, would add new problems under the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA). A tax on digital use of data while the non-digital use of data is not similarly taxed would run afoul of PITFA’s ban on tax discrimination against electronic commerce.

First Maryland, then Nebraska, now New York. The repeated introduction of targeted taxes on digital companies early in 2020 seems to be the start of an alarming trend of legally suspect tax proposals that we are keeping a close eye on.




Gross Receipts Taxes Face Policy and Legal Challenges

“Generally, the only places with gross receipts taxes today are U.S. states and developing countries.” –Professor Richard Pomp, University of Connecticut

As the economy shifts to a digital one, we are finding that states are turning toward unconventional revenue options. One trend we’re seeing is the surprising comeback of the gross receipts tax (GRT):

  • Oregon’s new Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) takes effect January 1, 2020. Oregon officials are currently writing rules to implement it. Portland, Oregon also adopted a 1% gross receipts tax, imposed only on big businesses, starting January 1, 2019.
  • San Francisco voters imposed an additional gross receipts tax on businesses with receipts of more than $50 million beginning January 1, 2019. This is on top of the gross receipts tax that was phased in from 2014 to 2018 to replace the city’s payroll tax.
  • Nevada’s Commerce Tax took effect July 1, 2015, imposing differing tax rates on 26 categories of business with over $4 million in receipts. Part of the revenue was to reduce the state’s MBT payroll tax, but legislators suspended those reductions this year; it’s now in court.
  • Serious proposals to adopt a statewide gross receipts tax keep coming, with the last three years including Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming. A San Jose, California gross receipts tax proposal was approved to gather petition signatures in 2016 but eventually morphed into a business license tax overhaul.

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