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Delaware (Re)Proposes Unclaimed Property Reporting and Examination Manual Regulation

On August 1, the Delaware Department of Finance (DOF) published a revised version of its proposed reporting and examination manual regulation addressing audit procedures and method of estimation.  See 21 DE Reg 123 (Aug. 1, 2017). The revised proposed regulation is substantially similar to the first draft proposed earlier this year, but contains a dozen or so notable differences (described in more detail below). Because the former draft of the regulation was never finalized, the 60-day time period for eligible holders to convert to the Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) Program (administered by the Secretary of State) or an expedited audit has not started to run, and will not commence until the final DOF regulation is published in the monthly Register of Regulations. Based on the fact that the DOF is accepted comments through August 31, 2017 (and likely needs at least a month to take them into consideration), the final regulation is not expected to be published before October 1, 2017, giving eligible holders at least three more months before the looming conversion deadline.

Our summary of the initial regulations proposed by the DOF and Secretary of State (SOS) on April 1, 2017 is available here. The final SOS VDA estimation regulation was published on July 1, 2017, without substantive amendments. See 21 DE Reg 50 (July 1, 2017). Below is a brief summary of the key differences between the old and new proposed DOF reporting and examination manual that holder’s should be aware of.

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MTC Offers 18 State Marketplace Seller Amnesty Initiative

The Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) is moving quickly to implement a multistate amnesty program through its current National Nexus Program (NNP) for sellers making sales through marketplaces. The new MTC marketplace seller amnesty program is limited to remote sellers (3P sellers) that have nexus with a state solely as the result of: (1) having inventory located in a fulfillment center or warehouse in that state operated by a marketplace provider; or (2) other nexus-creating activities of a marketplace provider in the state. Other qualifications include: (1) no prior contact/registration with the state; (2) timely application during the period of August 17, 2017 through October 17, 2017; and (3) registration with the state to begin collecting sales and use tax by no later than December 1, 2017, and income/franchise tax (to the extent applicable) starting with the 2017 tax year.

The baseline guarantee is prospective-only (beginning no later than Dec. 1, 2017) tax liability for sales and use and income/franchise tax, including waiver of penalties and interest. The program also attempts to ensure confidentiality of the 3P seller’s participation by prohibiting the states and MTC from honoring blanket requests from other jurisdictions for the identity of taxpayers filing returns. Note, however, that the confidentiality provision would still allow for disclosure of the content of the agreement in response to: (1) an inter-government exchange of information agreement in which the entity provides the taxpayer’s name and taxpayer identification number; (2) a statutory requirement; or (3) a lawful order.

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Substitute Alert ‒ Delaware Technical Corrections Bill

Last Friday, the Delaware Senate released a substituted version of the bill (Senate Bill 79) introduced last month as a technical corrections bill to Senate Bill 13—the unclaimed property rewrite legislation enacted earlier this year.

The Senate substitute differs from the introduced version of Senate Bill 79 as follows:

  1. It does not strike § 1147(a)—the provision that limits the ability of a holder to assign or otherwise transfer its obligation to pay or deliver property or to comply with the unclaimed property law to others (aside from a parent, subsidiary or affiliate of the holder).
  2. It would delay the timeline that Delaware must promulgate regulations to December 1, 2017.
  3. It would make changes to the State Escheator’s authority to grant waivers of interest and penalties under § 1185 as follows:
    1. Removes the language in the introduced bill that made the discretionary waiver of penalties only applicable to late filed property remitted while under examination.
    2. Gives State Escheator the following waiver authority for property remitted before January 1, 2019:
      1. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State with a required report under § 1142 (the general holder report section) or § 1170 (the compliance review section) of this title.
      2. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State as a result of securities examinations in which estimation is not required under §§ 1171 and 1172 of this title.
      3. Waive up to 50 percent of the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for all unclaimed property remitted to the State and not provided for in paragraphs (b)(1) or (b)(2) of this section.
    3. Gives State Escheator the following waiver authority for property remitted on or after January 1, 2019:
      1. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State with a required report under § 1142 (the general holder report section) or § 1170 (the compliance review section) of this title.
      2. Except for examinations expedited under § 1172(c) of this title, waive up to 50 percent of the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for all unclaimed property remitted to the State and not provided for in paragraph (c)(1) of this section.

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Illinois Bills to Watch

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. (more…)




New Delaware Unclaimed Property Decision Further Complicates Landscape

Another federal judge slams Delaware’s unclaimed property audit methodology but rejects the holder’s reliance on the priority rules as a defense to the audit demands. See Marathon Petroleum Corp. et al. v. Cook et al., No. 1:16-cv-00080-LPS (D. Del., Sept. 23, 2016)The court recognized the unjustness of Delaware’s audit approach, but followed a previous case finding the priority rules can only be raised by states with competing claims. (more…)




Massachusetts’ First Really Good Amnesty Program Since 2002

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (Department) is widely promoting a new amnesty program with significant taxpayer benefits.  Our experience with Massachusetts amnesty suggests that this is the broadest program offered by the Department since 2002.

Individual and business taxpayers may participate in the program for taxes due on or before December 31, 2015. To participate in the program, taxpayers must complete an amnesty return online and submit payment for the full amount of tax and interest electronically by Tuesday, May 31, 2016.

The amnesty program, which waives most types of penalties, offers three special features for taxpayers to consider.

Taxpayers in Audit Can Participate

First, unlike many other state amnesty programs, the current Massachusetts program is available to taxpayers who are under audit. The Department’s auditors have been notifying taxpayers of the program, and Department personnel have confirmed with us that taxpayers under audit are eligible for the program. Department personnel have asked that taxpayers who wish to participate in the program simply notify their auditor.

Refunds Permitted

Second, unlike many other amnesty programs, taxpayers who participate in the Massachusetts program do not lose appeal rights or otherwise forfeit their right of refund for amounts that are disputed in the audit or that they later conclude were mistakenly paid under amnesty. A recent Technical Information Release provides that participation in the amnesty program and the payment of any tax and interest “does not constitute a forfeiture of statutory rights of appeal or an admission that the tax paid is the correct amount of liability due.”

Non-Filers Can Participate

Third, for the first time since 2002, non-filers may participate in the amnesty program.  Participating taxpayers will receive a three-year limited look-back period.

Taxpayers with eligible liabilities should seriously consider whether to participate in the program.




City of Chicago Debt Relief Program – A Tax Amnesty Opportunity

Chicago’s Department of Finance currently is offering an amnesty program called the Debt Relief Program (Program).  The Program gives individuals and businesses the opportunity to resolve outstanding debt and avoid certain interest and penalties. The Program is outlined in Article IV of the Management Ordinance enacted with the City of Chicago’s (City’s) Fiscal Year 2016 Budget.   It is unrelated to the Chicago Department of Finance’s recent Voluntary Disclosure offer to providers and customers with respect to the Personal Property Lease Transaction Tax, which we covered in a previous blog post.

The Program runs from November 15, 2015 to December 31, 2015, and offers amnesty for three types of “debt,” defined as follows:

  1. Unregistered Taxpayers or Unregistered Tax Collectors: Includes tax liabilities for tax periods prior to January 1, 2012, for any taxpayer or tax collector that is not currently registered with the City for the tax.
  1. Final Tax Assessments: Includes tax assessments issued prior to January 1, 2012, where the taxpayer failed to respond to the Department of Finance’s findings that taxes were owed.
  1. Real Property Transfer Taxes: Includes real property transfers that took place prior to January 1, 2012.

We think the better reading of the City’s reference to “unregistered” taxpayers is that the registration is tax specific, meaning that a taxpayer registered to pay a particular tax would not, by the fact of that registration, be precluded from participating in the amnesty program with respect to another type of tax for which the taxpayer had not registered.  (City of Chicago Debt Relief Ordinance of 2015, Section 2; Form 2015 Debt Relief Application – Unregistered Taxpayers and Tax Collectors, Section 2).

The Program’s main benefit includes the waiving of interest and penalties. In order to receive this benefit, the eligible tax debt must be paid in full and the applicable tax returns must be filed with the City by December 31, 2015. If the eligible tax debt is not paid in full by December 31, 2015, regular interest and penalty amounts will be assessed.

The following taxes are not eligible for the Program:  regulatory, compensation or franchise fees, special assessments, the cigarette tax, the automatic amusement device tax, wheel tax license fees, the Chicago Transit Authority portion of the real property transfer tax, and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority airport departure tax. Also ineligible are tax debts in pending legal activity or for which the City has obtained an order from the Department of Administrative Hearings or a judgment from a court of competent jurisdiction. All other taxes imposed under the Municipal Code of Chicago or by ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council are eligible for the Program.

Unregistered taxpayers and taxpayers with outstanding tax debts to the City of Chicago should consider whether to participate in the Program. To apply for tax debt relief through the Program, taxpayers need to complete a Tax Debt Relief application with the City, accompanied [...]

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Taxpayers Stand to Lose Under Chicago’s Lease Tax VDA Offer

Yesterday, the City of Chicago (City) Department of Finance (Department) published an Information Bulletin that provides additional guidance on the Personal Property Lease Transaction Tax (Lease Tax) and extends a new Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) offer to providers and customers. The updated guidance includes an overview of the Lease Tax, a description of the amendments included in the FY 2016 Revenue Ordinance that passed on October 28, 2015, and answers to 15 FAQs. The details on the Department’s controversial interpretation of the Lease Tax in Ruling #12 and the recent amendments to the Lease Tax have been covered by the authors in prior blog posts, available here and here. The new VDA offer is a significant development that may be enticing to certain providers and customers. However, before providers and customers rush to sign up to pay the Lease Tax for the foreseeable future, they should carefully evaluate whether any Lease Tax obligation is in fact due and whether they qualify under the loose terms outlined in the Bulletin (discussed in detail below). It should be noted at the outset that the guidance (and accompanying VDA offer) do not relate to the City’s amusement tax, which has also been of concern after a ruling was issued this summer interpreting the tax to apply to streamed digital content.

VDA Offer Terms

The most significant component of yesterday’s guidance is the VDA offer beginning on page 6 of the Bulletin. While the VDA may seem enticing, we encourage providers and customers alike to proceed with caution as the practical application of the ambiguous (and discretionary) terms are tainted with uncertainty.

As a threshold to qualifying, the provider or customers must qualify (i.e., be a qualified discloser) for the City standard voluntary disclosure program. Under the standard program, a taxpayer must not be under audit or investigation (i.e., has not received a written notice relating to an audit or investigation for the tax at issue) and must “waive their right to an administrative hearing or claim for refund or credit, and agree not to initiate or join any lawsuits for the payments made under the program.” This is significant because we believe a challenge to the Lease Tax is imminent and those that participate in the VDA program will not benefit if any such challenge is successful.

Even if a taxpayer is considered a qualified discloser under the standard program, to qualify for the more favorable Lease Tax offer providers and customers must file an application by January 1, 2016, and come into compliance with the Lease Tax Ordinance by the same date (or such later date that the Department may agree to). If all of these requirements are met, they will receive the following terms:

  1. As to charges for nonpossessory computer leases that qualified for Exemption 11 under the Department’s interpretation of the exemption before the issuance of Ruling #12, no liability for tax, interest or penalties based on those charges for [...]

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Post-DMA, Federal Court of Appeals Broadly Interprets Jurisdictional Limitations of Anti-Injunction Act

Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held in Florida Bankers Ass’n v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, No. 14-5036 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 14, 2015) that the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA, codified at 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a)) barred two state banking associations from challenging Treasury regulations that: (1) required banks to annually report interest paid to certain foreign account-holders, and (2) imposed a penalty on banks that fail to do so.  Notwithstanding attempts to reconcile the holding with recent precedent, the majority’s decision directly conflicts with the recent unanimous Supreme Court decision in Direct Mktg. Ass’n v. Brohl, 135 S. Ct. 1124 (March 3, 2015) (DMA), which found that the Tax Injunction Act (TIA, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1341) did not bar a retail association’s challenge to comparable Colorado notice and reporting requirements (and accompanying penalty) imposed on out-of-state retailers.  The TIA is modeled off of, and has consistently been interpreted to apply in the same fashion as its federal companion, the AIA. Given the striking similarities between the two cases, it is hard to reconcile the expansive application of the AIA in Florida Bankers with the narrow analysis of the TIA in DMA.

Majority Opinion

The majority opinion begins by highlighting the fact that the penalty imposed on the banks is technically a “tax” for purposes of the AIA because it is found in a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC, Ch. 68, Subchapter B) that states as much. See 26 U.S.C. § 6671(a). The majority emphasized that the Supreme Court recently confirmed that these types of penalties are treated as taxes when analyzing the application of the AIA, citing to the Nat’l Fed. of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius decision. The majority distinguishes DMA on the basis that, unlike the tax-penalty in Chapter 68B of the IRC, the Colorado penalty imposed on out of state retailers that failed to report was not—or at least the parties never argued or suggested that it was—itself a tax. The majority was clear that “[i]f the penalty here were not itself a tax, the Anti-Injunction Act would not bar this suit.” Because the penalty was a “tax”, a favorable ruling for the plaintiffs “would invalidate the reporting requirement and restrain (indeed eliminate) the assessment and collection of the tax paid for not complying with the reporting requirement.”  Because of this, the majority held that the banking associations’ challenge to the reporting requirements was barred by the AIA.

Practice Note: The majority relies heavily on the technical tax-penalty distinction in reaching their holding that the AIA applied. In making this distinction, the majority suggests that the label given to a penalty is controlling in determining whether the AIA and TIA apply to shut the door to federal district court. While at first glance it would appear that the holding is limited in scope to federal tax issues, it has the potential to spill over into the state tax world since many states have specifically conformed to [...]

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Delaware Senate Passes Unclaimed Property Reform Bill

On June 18, 2015, a bill (S.B. 141) was unanimously approved by the Delaware Senate that would place limits on the look-back period and permanently extend the Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) program. This represents the second bill this year that seeks to implement the recommended changes contained in the Unclaimed Property Task Force’s (Task Force) December 2014 final report (the first, S.B. 11, was signed by Governor Jack Markell on January 29, 2015). If passed by the House, the legislation would offer several additional protections to holders; however, it also contains a number of traps for the unwary that should not be overlooked.

Look-back Period Shortened

First, and most significantly, the bill would limit the examination look-back period in Delaware to 22 years, starting in 2017. For periods before 2017, the bill would limit the look-back period to 1986 (if currently under examination) or 1991 (for any examinations initiated after enactment).  While this proposed look-back period decrease would be a significant improvement from the status quo (which allows Delaware to look-back to any period after 1980), it would still represent one of the longer look-back periods in the country. Notably, the proposed 22-year look-back period would remain over twice as long as most state unclaimed property look-back periods (which are usually 10 years or less).

Permanent VDA Program

Second, the VDA program is amended to authorize the Secretary of State to request that any potential holder enter into an unclaimed property VDA. If the potential holder does not agree to the VDA within 60 days, they will be referred to the State Escheator for examination. The bill provides for a 19-year (reduced) look-back period for any holder than enters the VDA program on or after January 1, 2017, and allows two years to complete the VDA process. Additionally, S.B. 141 would strike the sunset provision for the VDA program, which is currently scheduled to expire July 1, 2016. Certain holders are not permitted to participate in the VDA program, including those that: (1) formally withdrew from the voluntary disclosure agreement program, or (2) were removed from the VDA program for failure to work in good faith to complete the VDA program as soon as practicable.

Interest

The bill would also amend the governing statute to allow interest of 0.5 percent per month (up to 25 percent of the amount due) to accrue from the due date for any late-filed unclaimed property reported and remitted on or after March 1, 2016. The current unclaimed property statute in Delaware does not have a provision permitting the accrual of interest (former interest provisions were repealed in June 2014 with the enactment of S.B. 228). Even before their repeal, the interest provisions were largely unenforced. Because the look-back period would remain over 20 years in Delaware, the added costs associated with the proposed interest increase (and actual enforcement) will likely be more than the amounts no longer owed due to the proposed look-back period reduction.

Mandatory Holder Contact

One procedural change [...]

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