“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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Judicial deference to state tax agencies puts taxpayers at a steep disadvantage and wastes time and resources on costly tax disputes. A united advocacy effort can help promote passage of state-level legislation that takes the tax administrator’s thumb off the scales of justice in administrative and judicial review of tax determinations.

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The District of Columbia (DC) Office of Tax & Revenue (OTR) implemented sweeping changes to the Qualified High Technology Company (QHTC) certification process this year. As you may remember, beginning last year, OTR implemented a new online QHTC self-certification process for companies to obtain exempt purchase certificates. This year, OTR is expanding the scope of

On November 14, the second day of its 2018 veto session, the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to override Governor Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1737 (Bill). As we have previously reported, the Bill is a proposed new law that would reform the Illinois Insurance Code’s regulatory framework for captive insurance companies and significantly drop the state’s current premium tax rate on self-procured insurance. The Illinois General Assembly passed the Bill on May 31, 2018, with bi-partisan support. The Illinois Department of Insurance, key industry groups and several large Illinois-based taxpayers also support the legislation.

If it becomes law, the Bill would create a much more favorable regulatory framework for Illinois captives, following the lead of multiple jurisdictions, including Vermont, Hawaii, South Carolina and the District of Columbia.
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In June 2018, just before the US Supreme Court ruling in Wayfair, Illinois enacted an economic nexus standard modeled after South Dakota’s law (see our prior coverage). The new Illinois standard takes effect on October 1, 2018. On September 11, the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) issued an emergency rule (Regulation 150.803), together with other guidance found on its website, intended to assist remote retailers with compliance with the new law.

The Regulation was effective immediately. Retailers should note the following key features of the Regulation.
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On May 24, 2018, the Circuit Court of Cook County granted the City of Chicago’s Motion for Summary Judgment in the case captioned Labell v. City of Chicago, No. 15 CH 13399 (Ruling), affirming the City’s imposition of its amusement tax on internet-based streaming services.

City’s Amusement Tax and Amusement Tax Ruling #5

The City imposes a 9 percent tax on “admission fees or other charges paid for the privilege to enter, to witness, to view or to participate in such amusement. …” Mun. Code of Chi., tit. 4, ch. 4-156 (Code), § 4-156-020(A); see also id. § 4-156-010 (defining “amusement” in part as a performance or show for entertainment purposes, an entertainment or recreational activity offered for public participation and paid television programming). On June 9, 2015, the City Department of Finance (Department) issued Amusement Tax Ruling #5, taking the position that the amusement tax is imposed “not only [on] charges paid for the privilege to witness, view or participate in amusements in person but also [on] charges paid for the privilege to witness, view or participate in amusements that are delivered electronically [emphasis in original].” Amusement Tax Ruling #5, ¶ 8.

The Ruling sought to impose an amusement tax on subscription fees or per-event fees for the privilege of: (1) watching electronically delivered television, shows, movies or videos; (2) listening to electronically delivered music; and (3) participating in online games, provided the streamed content (i.e., movies, music, etc.) was delivered to a customer in the City. See id. ¶¶ 8, 10. The Ruling stated that “this means that the amusement tax will apply to customers whose residential street address or primary business street address is in Chicago, as reflected by their credit card billing address, zip code or other reliable information.” Id. ¶ 13. A copy of the City’s Amusement Tax Ruling #5 is linked here.
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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.
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Due to the current impact and the likelihood that states will consider legislation and agency guidance addressing federal tax reform implications for state business taxes, a united, effective, nationwide advocacy effort is needed to ensure the issues are consistently addressed on a multi-state basis. In preparation for anticipated ramifications, a multi-state coalition will need to consider the subjects summarized below. For further coverage, continue reading here.

How McDermott Will & Emery Can Help You:

  • Formation of a coalition of companies and industry trade organizations dedicated to proactively addressing state tax issues raised by federal tax reform on a nationwide basis
  • Identify and track, in real time, proposed state legislative and regulatory responses to federal tax reform
  • Analyze proposed state reforms and develop substantive amendments and comments
  • Develop and implement advocacy campaigns to secure favorable legislative and regulatory outcomes, including
    • Preparation of all advocacy collateral
    • Organization of on the ground advocacy, including retaining in-state advocates where needed
    • Activating allied organizations to ensure broad support
  • Provide support concerning the proper reporting of state responses to federal tax reform on company financial statements

Coalition Goals: 

  • Prevent state legislation expanding tax base through decoupling from federal deductions
  • Support state legislation adopting comprehensive federal reform conformity, with appropriate deviations
  • Identify and remedy Commerce Clause issues
  • Encourage states revenue department to publish guidance on issues such as definitional questions, apportionment approaches and problems with different group calculations
  • Identify and act on opportunities to address related issues through state responses to federal reform
  • Prepare to address potential nexus changes in response to South Dakota v. Wayfair


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On December 19, 2017, DC Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the District Tax Independence Act of 2017 (Act), which would require the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to submit a report outlining the steps and amendments necessary to decouple the District’s tax deduction laws from federal law. As introduced, the Act would require this report by no