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Kentucky to Begin Taxing Video Streaming Services under Telecom Tax

Legislators in Frankfort added a new “video streaming service” tax to the omnibus tax bill (HB 354) as part of a closed-door conference committee process before the bill was hastily passed in the House and Senate. Notably, the new video streaming service tax was not previously raised or discussed as part of HB 354 (or any other Kentucky legislation) before it was included in the final conference committee report that passed the General Assembly in March.

Specifically, as passed by the General Assembly, HB 354 will add “video streaming services” to the definition of “multichannel video programming service” subject to the telecom excise tax.  This is the same tax imposition that the Department of Revenue argued applied to video streaming services in the Netflix litigation—an argument that was rejected by the courts in Kentucky and then subsequently settled on appeal. Under existing law, Kentucky taxes “digital property” under the sales and use tax. The term is broadly defined and applies to audio streaming services, but expressly carves out “digital audio-visual works” (i.e., downloaded movies, TV shows and video; defined consistently with the SSUTA) from the scope of the sales and use tax imposition. HB 354 would not modify the treatment of digital goods and services under the sales and use tax, and changes that would be implemented are limited to the telecom excise tax imposed on the retail purchase of a multichannel video programming service. (more…)




Unclaimed Property Hunger Games: States Seek Supreme Court Review in ‘Official Check’ Dispute

Background

As detailed in our blog last month, MoneyGram Payment Systems, Inc. (MoneyGram) is stuck in between a rock and a hard place as states continue to duel with Delaware over the proper classification of (and priority rules applicable to) MoneyGram’s escheat liability for uncashed “official checks.”  The dispute hinges on whether the official checks are properly classified as third-party bank checks (as Delaware directed MoneyGram to remit them as) or are more similar to “money orders” (as alleged by Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and numerous other states participating in a recent audit of the official checks by third-party auditor TSG). If classified as third-party bank checks, the official checks would be subject to the federal common law priority rules set forth in Texas v. New Jersey, 379 U.S. 674 (1965) and escheat to MoneyGram’s state of incorporation (Delaware) since the company’s books and records do not indicate the apparent owner’s last known address under the first priority rule. However, if the official checks are classified as more akin to money orders under the federal Disposition of Abandoned Money Orders and Traveler’s Checks Act of 1974 (Act), as determined by TSG and demanded by Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the other states, they would be subject to the special statutory priority rules enacted by Congress in response the Supreme Court of the United States’ Pennsylvania v. New York decision and escheat to the state where they were purchased. See 12 U.S.C. § 2503(1) (providing that where any sum is payable on a money order on which a business association is directly liable, the state in which the money order was purchased shall be entitled exclusively to escheat or take custody of the sum payable on such instrument).

In addition to the suit filed by the Pennsylvania Treasury Department seeking more than $10 million from Delaware covered in our prior blog, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue recently filed a similar complaint in federal district court in Wisconsin, alleging Delaware owes the state in excess of $13 million. Other states participating in the TSG audit (such as Arkansas, Colorado and Texas) also recently made demands to MoneyGram and Delaware.

It is interesting to note that in 2015, Minnesota (MoneyGram’s former state of incorporation) turned over in excess of $200,000 to Pennsylvania upon its demand for amounts previously remitted to Minnesota for MoneyGram official checks. Apparently not only do the states in which the transaction occurred disagree with but even a former state of incorporation took the majority path.   (more…)




A Very Scary Time of the Year: MTC Joint Audit Selection

With both Halloween and the Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) Income Tax Audit selection nearing, taxpayers should prepare themselves for the possibility of being spooked in the near future.  On Thursday, October 30, from 2-4 pm EST, the MTC Audit Committee—including representatives from the 22 states participating in the upcoming round of joint income tax audits—will be holding a teleconference that will begin with a public comment period.  Because of the inevitable disclosure of confidential taxpayer information, the bulk of this meeting—including selecting the various companies to audit—will take place during the second half of the agenda and be closed to the general public.  Just because a company has completed an audit in the past does not mean this season will be all treats.  The authors have noticed that companies previously audited by the MTC can remain on the list of targets and are often repeat selections.

Unique Complexities

The MTC audit process is not without its share of traps for the unwary.  First and foremost is the effort a taxpayer must expend in managing a multistate audit.  Issues such as differing statute of limitations, the effects of federal Revenue Agent’s Reports (RAR) and net operating loss (NOL) differences on limitations periods, timing of protests, and tax confidentiality become of heightened importance when one auditor is reviewing a taxpayer for multiple states.  Audited taxpayers should also keep in mind that the MTC does not issue the actual deficiency notices – these must come from the states.  As a result there may be certain areas such as credits or refunds that the MTC does not review and must be raised directly with a participating state.

On the substantive side, a primary area of inquiry of an MTC audit has been and is likely to continue to be inter-company transactions.  Historically MTC audits have taken a variety of approaches to disallow a taxpayer’s intercompany structure, including collapsing separate affiliates, applying the sham transaction doctrine, or using aggressive addback concepts.      Another similar concern for taxpayers audited by the MTC is the increased likelihood of transfer pricing issues being raised.  This comes in the wake of the creation of the MTC Arm’s-Length Adjustment Service (ALAS) this summer, led by former Montana Department of Revenue Director Dan Bucks.  The group recently held a transfer pricing summit at which it designed the MTC services to include third-party economic consultants at every stage.  The MTC transfer pricing services are expected to be implemented in mid-2015—just in time for companies selected for an MTC Income Tax Audit to be the test subjects.  Notably, of the nine states committing seed money to the development of a multistate transfer pricing audit service, five (Alabama, Hawaii, Kentucky, New Jersey and the District of Columbia) are participating in the MTC Income Tax Joint Audit Program.  It is not clear whether the two MTC-sponsored audit programs will be intertwined; however, the option was proposed this past summer and remains a possibility as we approach the upcoming audit selections.

Finally, it remains to [...]

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MTC to Hold Transfer Pricing Group Meeting with Third-Party Contract Auditors

On October 6 and 7, 2014, the Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) will hold an Arm’s-Length Adjustment Service (ALAS) Advisory Group Conference at the Atlanta Airport Marriott.  On the first day, third-party contract auditors will give presentations on transfer pricing issues.  An ALAS Advisory Group meeting will be held on the second day.

This past year, the MTC has been designing a joint transfer pricing program.  So far, nine members have committed money to the development of this program: Alabama, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, New Jersey and North Carolina.

Dan Bucks, former executive director of the MTC and former director of the Montana Department of Revenue, is the project facilitator.  In the lead-up to the event, he discussed arm’s-length issues with numerous third-party contract auditors.  On October 6, the contract auditors will explain how they believe a multistate transfer pricing program should work and how the MTC would best use their services to conduct transfer pricing audits on behalf of member states.

The list of contract auditors includes Chainbridge Software, Economics Analysis Group, Economists Incorporated, NERA, Peters Advisors, RoyaltyStat and WTP Advisors.  While project facilitator, Dan Bucks, has indicated that this meeting is not an audition for a procurement process, the discussion seems to be headed in that direction and the MTC has not ruled out utilizing third-party audit assistance in the transfer pricing program.

Businesses concerned with the overall direction of the ALAS Advisory Group, including the possibility of subjecting taxpayers to Chainbridge-style audits on a nationwide scale, should contact the authors.  For more information on the conference, please visit the MTC ALAS webpage.




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