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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.




Federal COVID-19 Relief Bill Brings State Tax Policy to a Grinding Halt

On March 11, 2021, US President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), the COVID-19 relief bill that includes $350 billion in relief to states and localities. To prevent states from using federal relief funds to finance tax cuts, Congress included a clawback provision requiring that any relief funds used to offset tax cuts during the next three years be returned to the federal government. Here is the text of the provision:

  • A State or territory shall not use the funds provided under this section or transferred pursuant to section 603(c)(4) to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue of such State or territory resulting from a change in law, regulation or administrative interpretation during the covered period that reduces any tax (by providing for a reduction in a rate, a rebate, a deduction, a credit or otherwise) or delays the imposition of any tax or tax increase.

This language broadly prohibits states from taking legislative or administrative action through the end of 2024 that reduces state tax revenues by any means (deduction, credit, delay, rate change, etc.) if doing so could be characterized as the use of federal relief funds to offset, directly or indirectly, the tax reduction. Practically speaking, this limitation will completely hamstring state and local governments from the normal ebb and flow of tax policy changes, adjustments and interpretations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this language freezes state legislative and administrative tax policy development out of fear anything they may do would require the return of federal relief funds. We expect the US Department of the Treasury will issue guidance clarifying this provision in the coming weeks.

Practice Note: This provision of ARPA is, in our view, the most significant federal pre-emption of state tax policy in history. For the next three years, legislators and tax administrators alike will be scrutinized as their tax policy decisions are evaluated through the lens of this prohibition. This level of congressional control over state tax policy decisions and fiscal autonomy likely violates the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution and would dismay the framers’ basic notions of federalism.

While Congress has the ability to limit the use of federal funds in ensuring its policy goals are accomplished, the overly broad state tax limitation adopted by Congress goes far beyond its stated purpose and prevents states from furthering ARPA’s goals by using tax policy to craft their own COVID-19 relief measures. Any regulation or administrative interpretation that reduces state tax revenue or delays the implementation of a tax is, effectively, barred by the unprecedented intrusion into state tax policy-making.

The effects of ARPA’s state tax limitation are immediate and far-reaching. It will chill continuing state efforts to couple/decouple state tax codes to or from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Additionally, ARPA already stalled legislation pending in Maryland that would delay, for one year, implementation of its digital advertising services gross receipts tax, restoring return filing and tax [...]

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Connecticut Bill Aims to Address the Impact of Telecommuting during the Pandemic

As we continue to face growing concerns because of the nationwide impact of COVID-19, taxpayers should be mindful of the potential impacts that the continued rise in telecommuting may have on their state personal income tax liabilities.

A bill was recently introduced in Connecticut that partially addresses this situation. Connecticut House Bill No. 6513 (HB 6513) clarifies that Connecticut residents will not face double taxation on their 2020 taxes and will instead receive a credit against their Connecticut personal income taxes for taxes paid in other states even if the resident, because of COVID-19, was working remotely from Connecticut rather than from their usual out-of-state office. HB 6513 further states that the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services, in determining whether an employer has nexus with Connecticut for purposes of the imposition of any Connecticut tax, shall not consider the activities of an employee who worked remotely from Connecticut solely because of COVID-19.

HB 6513 passed in the 151-member Connecticut House of Representatives on February 24, 2021, and passed in the 36-member Connecticut State Senate on March 1, 2021. The bill now heads to the state governor’s desk for signature. While it is expected that the Governor will sign the bill, passage of the bill still leaves taxpayers with uncertainty for 2021. Many taxpayers nationwide are likely to continue working remotely (from states other than where their usual offices are located) for the foreseeable future, and absent Congressional legislation or a Supreme Court decision, this state income tax issue does not seem likely to abate any time soon.




New York Issues Much-Anticipated Guidance on Taxation of Telecommuting Employees

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and work-from-home mandates, New York employers and their nonresident employees have been waiting for the Department of Taxation and Finance to address the million-dollar question: Do wages earned by a nonresident who typically works in a New York office but is now telecommuting from another state due to the pandemic constitute New York source income? New York has historical guidance concerning the application of its “convenience of the employee/necessity of the employer” test, the test used to determine whether a telecommuting nonresident’s wages are sourced to New York, but until recently the Department had been silent as to whether or how such rule applied under the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As many expected, in a recent update to the residency FAQs, the Department clearly stated its position that a nonresident whose primary office is in New York State is considered to be working in New York State on days that he or she telecommutes from outside the state during the pandemic unless the employer has “established a bona fide employer office at [the] telecommuting location.” The Department adopted the “bona fide employer office” test in 2006 as its way of applying the convenience of the employee rule to employees that work from home. The bona fide employer office test is a factor-based test and, for the most part, a home office will not qualify as a bona fide employer office unless the employer takes specific actions to establish the location as a company office. (See: TSB-M-06(5)I, New York Tax Treatment of Nonresidents and Part-Year Residents Application of the Convenience of the Employer Test to Telecommuters and Others.) As is apparent in the FAQ, the Department is mechanically applying this test to employees working from home as a result of the pandemic and is not providing any special rules or accommodations for employees that have been required or encouraged by New York State and local governments to telecommute.

Interestingly, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue took a similar approach to New York’s by promulgating a regulation requiring nonresidents that typically work in Massachusetts but are telecommuting from outside the state to pay tax on their wages. On October 19, 2020, New Hampshire filed a Motion for Leave to File Bill of Complaint with the United States Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Massachusetts’ regulation. We understand that New Jersey is considering joining New Hampshire in this lawsuit based on New York’s recent guidance, which would require many New Jersey residents to pay New York income tax even though they are no longer working in New York. The US Supreme Court has twice declined to rule on the constitutionality of the convenience-of-the-employee test, so stay tuned on this important development.




California Bill Would Make Taxpayer Information Available to the Public (Seriously!)

A concerning bill is pending in the California Senate. SB-972 would require the California State Controller’s Office (the Controller) to make taxpayer information publicly available. The bill would require that the Controller post on its website a list of all taxpayers subject to the California corporation tax with gross receipts of $5 billion or more and information about each taxpayer, including the tax liability of taxpayer and the amount of tax credits claimed by the taxpayer in the previous calendar year. We are hearing that the California Senate is likely to pass the bill. If the bill does pass in the Senate, it will head to the Assembly.

This bill is surprising (and alarming) because the usual policy of states and tax departments is to protect the confidentiality of taxpayer information. In fact, most states have statutory provisions ensuring that taxpayer information obtained through tax filings and audits is kept confidential, and disclosure is criminal in most states. If SB-972 is adopted, California will be one of the only states (if not the only state) to proactively make taxpayer information public. There does not appear to be a public benefit to releasing this historically confidential information, making the bill’s infringement on taxpayers’ privacy expectations concerning.

We understand that California may be looking to increase tax on corporations (possibly by repealing certain tax credits) as a means to raise revenue, and it seems likely that this bill is related to that goal, or at least embarrassing taxpayers who do not pay significant funds to the state. However, the bill simply goes too far; releasing information that is universally treated as confidential eviscerates taxpayer privacy and should not be permitted. The legislation is simply an effort to weaponize taxpayer information and shame taxpayers based on what they owe or do not owe to the state.




Taxes, Like Temperatures, Going Up: California COVID-19 Budget “Revenue Solutions”

Yesterday Governor Gavin Newsom turned to a familiar gambit from California’s playbook to help tackle the budgetary hole wrought by COVID-19. In January, the Governor proposed his budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which projected a $5.6 billion surplus. Indeed, revenues through March are reported as having run $1.35 billion above projections. But, as the Governor says in his May Revision to his January Budget, “[t]he COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession has changed the fiscal landscape significantly.” Without the various changes proposed by the May Revision, which includes the “revenue solutions” described below, the Governor’s Budget projects a $54 billion deficit.

The May Revision proposes two significant changes to business taxation. The Governor proposes suspending net operating losses for 2020, 2021, and 2022 for medium and large businesses. The Governor also proposes limiting business incentive tax credits from offsetting more than $5 million of tax liability per year for 2020, 2021, and 2022.

While it is not known what parameters were used for the May Revision revenue estimates, and the actual threshold for being a medium or large business subject to NOL suspension will be set during the legislative process should the Governor’s proposal be enacted, standards used for prior NOL suspension periods may provide a guide. For taxable years beginning in 2008 and 2009, California suspended the NOL carryover deduction for taxpayers with a net business income of $500,000 or more. For taxable years beginning in 2010 and 2011, California’s NOL suspension affected taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income of $300,000 or more. In neither case were disaster losses affected by the NOL suspension rules.

The May Revision also includes two proposals to address the sales and use tax gap: (1) Used car dealers would have to remit sales tax to the Department of Motor Vehicles with the registration fees, and (2) Market value will be used to determine the price paid in private auto sales.

Also tagged as “revenue solutions” in the May Revision are three General Fund proposals from the Governor’s January Budget Proposal: (1) Extending the sales tax exemption for diapers and menstrual products through the end of 2022-23; (2) Extending the carryover period for film credits awarded under Program 2.0 from six years to nine years; and (3) Extending the current exemption from the minimum tax for first year corporations to first year LLCs, partnerships and LLPs. The May revision also maintains a new tax on e-cigarettes based on nicotine content and will be deposited in a new special fund.

Overall, the revenue solutions in the May Revision are projected to net $4.4 billion in 2020-21, $3.3 billion in 2021-22 and $1.4 billion in 2022-23. The Governor states, “These tax measures as a whole are intended to raise revenue, stimulate economic growth, and help those in need.”

He explains that his May Revision revenue solutions “recognize the disproportionate tax relief that has been provided to larger corporations, compared to small businesses, which has resulted in relatively lower tax payments.” And he adds that [...]

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DC and New Jersey Join Mississippi in Disregarding Coronavirus-Caused Remote Work for Tax Purposes

As part of our open letter to state tax administrators urging relief of undue tax administration burdens in light of COVID-19, we urged the disregarding of remote work for tax purposes. The public health necessity for businesses to close central operations and direct employees to work from home should not be used as an “opportunity” to create nexus for affected businesses.

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Iowa Responds to McDermott’s Call to Drop Unnecessary or Dangerous Tax Administration Requirements

In late March, we wrote an open letter to state tax administrators requesting that they take steps to relieve undue tax administration burdens in the wake of the COVID-19 situation. We gave five suggestions, including postponing deadlines for tax filing and payment, waiving requirements to use hard-copy documents or checks, suspending accrual of interest on assessments during mandatory closures, directing revenue agencies to resolve outstanding controversies, and disregarding remote work for tax purposes.

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The Nexus Implications of Teleworking

Over the past several weeks, state and local governments have issued a slew of “stay-in-place” or “shelter-in-place” orders mandating the closure of all “nonessential businesses” and requiring all persons to self-isolate. For most companies, this means that most, if not all, of their employees are required to work remotely. While telework has become a great way for businesses to protect their employees from the Coronavirus (COVID-19), it may also be exposing the businesses to taxation in states where they may not otherwise have sufficient nexus. This is because employees may be working remotely from states where a business does not otherwise have a presence. Under the traditional nexus rules, the employees’ work in these states would likely be sufficient to create nexus such that the states can tax the business. This seems unfair given that the federal, state and local governments are strongly encouraging individuals not to travel and to work remotely.

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