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Maryland Comptroller Adopts Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax Regulations

On December 3, 2021, the Maryland Comptroller published notice of its adoption of the digital advertising gross revenues tax regulations (which was originally proposed on October 8, 2021). Per the Maryland Administrative Procedure Act, the final adopted regulations will go into effect in 10 calendar days, or December 13, 2021. (See Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t § 10-117(a)(1).)

The final regulations were adopted almost entirely as proposed, with just two minor changes that the Attorney General (AG) of Maryland certified as non-substantive. Specifically, the changes to the October 8 proposed regulations concern the information that may be used to determine the location of a device and are described by the AG as follows:

  • Regulation .02(C): The Comptroller is clarifying language regarding the allowable sources of information a taxpayer may use to determine the location of a device. Specifically, this final action amendment changes “both technical information and the terms of the underlying contract” to “both technical information and nontechnical information included in the contract.”
  • Regulation .02(C)(2): The Comptroller is amending the non-exhaustive list of technical information to include “industry standard metrics.”

Practice Note: While “industry standard metrics” is a nice addition to the list of sources that may be used to determine the location of devices for sourcing purposes, significant and fundamental questions and concerns submitted as part of the comments were not addressed by the Comptroller in adopting the final digital ad tax regulations. The tax is subject to multiple lawsuits (both state and federal court) and pending a court order to the contrary is scheduled to take effect beginning January 1, 2022, with the first filing obligation for large taxpayers in April 2022. Taxpayers grappling with how to comply with this new tax are encouraged to contact the authors.




Maryland Digital Advertising Services Tax—Implementation Delay Likely

On the morning of Friday, February 26, 2021, the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee added a new item to its agenda for the hearing later that morning. The new item was proposed amendments to Senate Bill 787, a bill that would amend the Maryland Digital Advertising Tax by excluding broadcasters and news media and preventing service providers from directly passing the tax through to customers. One of the amendments would change the tax years to which the tax applies from tax years beginning after December 31, 2020, to tax years beginning after December 31, 2021. The amendment passed on a voice vote.

The amendment was sponsored by the bill’s author, Senate President Bill Ferguson. Senator Ferguson was also the chief proponent of the Digital Advertising Services Tax. A companion bill, House Bill 1200, sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, came up for a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee later that day, but only testimony from supporters of the two carve-outs was received. No amendments were offered, and no votes were taken.

Because the amendment delaying the implementation of the Digital Advertising Services Tax is coming from the Senate’s president, we believe its passage a near certainty. This amendment, if passed, would not delay the effective date of the tax, it would only change the tax year to which it first applies from 2021 to 2022.




Maryland Sued over Digital Advertising “Tax”

Today, McDermott Will & Emery filed suit in Maryland federal court on behalf of a number of leading trade associations against Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, challenging the state’s recently enacted 10% gross receipts “tax” applicable to digital advertising revenue. The plaintiffs in the suit are the US Chamber of Commerce, the Internet Association, NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association. The suit asks that the court invalidate Maryland’s punitive imposition as violating several provisions of the US Constitution and the Internet Tax Freedom Act.

A file-stamped copy of the complaint is available below:



The complaint alleges that Maryland’s focus on internet advertising services (the tax does not apply to traditional advertising) discriminates against the internet, violating the Internet Tax Freedom Act. Next, because Maryland’s new law burdens and penalizes conduct occurring outside Maryland, it violates the Commerce and Due Process Clauses of the US Constitution. The complaint alleges that the characteristics of the imposition and the circumstances surrounding its enactment demonstrate a clear purpose and intent to punish out-of-state digital advertising companies for their extraterritorial activities.

The case is Civil No. 21-cv-410 (D. Md., filed February 18, 2021). Michael B. Kimberly, Paul W. Hughes, Stephen P. Kranz and Sarah P. Hogarth of McDermott, Will & Emery’s Washington, DC, office represent the plaintiffs.

Practice Note: The filing of this suit sends a signal to other states, like New York, Connecticut and Montana, where similar proposals are under consideration. Policymakers in those other states should recognize that following Maryland’s lead will only lead to the courthouse.




Maryland Enacts First Digital Advertising Services Gross Receipts Tax: Now What?

General Assembly Veto Override

On February 12, 2021, the Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of HB 732 (2020) (the Act), a bill enacting a first-of-its-kind digital advertising services tax on the annual gross receipts from the provision of digital advertising services in Maryland. The tax only applies to companies having annual gross revenues (without deduction of any expenses) from all sources of $100 million or more. The rate of the tax varies, depending on the level of global annual gross revenues, from 2.5% (for companies with $1 billion or less in global annual gross revenues) to 10% (for companies with more than $15 billion in global annual gross revenue). The rate applies to gross revenues from the performance of digital advertising services in Maryland. For instance, a company subject to the 10% rate having $100 million of revenue attributable to the performance of digital advertising services in Maryland would owe an annual tax of $10 million that will be reported and paid on a quarterly basis throughout the year.



Effective Date

Even though the legislation says the tax is effective July 1, 2020, under the Maryland Constitution, vetoed legislation becomes effective the later of the effective date in the bill or 30 days after the veto is overridden. Based on today’s veto override, the bill should become effective on or about March 14, 2021. However, because the legislation is “applicable to all taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020,” the digital advertising services tax will be retroactive to the beginning of this year.

Looming Compliance Deadlines

The digital advertising services tax applies on an annual basis with a return due on or before April 15 of the following year. However, the tax also requires quarterly filing and payment for certain taxpayers. On or before April 15 of the current year, persons subject to the tax are required to file a declaration of estimated tax showing how much Maryland digital advertising services tax they expect they will owe for the calendar year. As part of the declaration and quarterly with returns filed thereafter, the Act requires that they pay at least 25% of the estimated annual tax shown on the declaration. There is a penalty of up to 25% of the amount of any underestimate of the tax. The Act also creates a fine of up to $5,000 and criminal penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for willfully failing to file the annual return.

Filing and Guidance TBD

At the time of writing, the Maryland Office of the Comptroller has not published any of the forms necessary for making the declaration of estimated tax or the return due on April 15 of the current year. The comptroller’s office also has not adopted regulations as required by the Act, providing guidance on when advertising revenue is derived in Maryland, likely a daunting and complicated task since this is a novel question that other states have not addressed. Many aspects of the Act are vague at best [...]

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Washington Surtax on “Big Banks” Struck Down as Unconstitutional

On May 8, Washington’s 1.2% surtax on “specified financial institutions” (banks with at least $1 billion a year in net revenue) was struck down by a King County Superior Court judge. Judge Marshall Ferguson ruled that the tax, which is imposed on top of all other taxes, violates the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution by discriminating against out-of-state banks in both purpose and effect.

In their briefs, attorneys for the Washington Bankers Association and American Bankers Association explained that an out-of-state bank would pay a much higher tax rate (and be at a competitive disadvantage) compared to an in-state bank because its global revenue is sufficient to trigger owing the surtax. The associations presented evidence that every bank meeting the definition of “specified financial institution” was an out-of-state bank, and that no in-state bank met the definition. Further, they pointed to statements by legislators appearing to show an intent to promote “local banks” and address a national wealth disparity and regressive taxation.

The state responded that the surtax is neutral on its face, applying to all businesses with $1 billion regardless of their headquarters location, and that none of the funds were used to subsidize or reduce tax burdens on in-state banks. They also argued that the tax should be presumed constitutional and rejected the plaintiffs’ standing to sue as associations. The actual effect of discrimination seemed especially persuasive to Judge Ferguson, who asked counsel for the state, “If the tax so clearly falls on non-Washington businesses, is that not a discriminatory effect?”

The state may appeal the case, Washington Bankers Association et al. v. State of Washington et al., No. 19-2-29262-8, to the Washington Supreme Court.

Practice Note: The structure of the tax struck down in this case, a surtax imposed only if the company’s global income exceeds a high threshold, has been on the rise. San Francisco’s gross receipts tax on businesses with over $50 million in receipts, Portland’s clean energy surcharge on businesses with over $1 billion in national gross revenue, and Maryland’s proposed digital advertising tax based on a sliding scale of global revenue all come to mind. This ruling may be the first sign that judges will not be afraid to subject such taxes to scrutiny under Commerce Clause analysis.




New State Digital Ad Taxes? Will Maryland’s Take Effect? Which States Will Follow? Litigation Guaranteed!

On March 18, 2020, Maryland legislature sent a massive new tax on digital advertising services to Governor Hogan for consideration. The tax imposes a rate of up to 10% on annual gross revenue in the state derived from digital advertising services. This tax is on a sliding scale based on companies’ global revenues and would take effect with tax year 2021. There are many legal problems with the legislation, including the violations of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, the Commerce Clause and the First Amendment. Other states have considered and are considering similar proposals. It is imperative that companies know how broadly this new tax will apply.

Click below to watch our recent webinar on this new tax. We discuss the legal challenges that can be made and how to protect your company from the unlawful reach of such laws.




Maryland General Assembly Sends Digital Advertising Tax to Governor; Nearly Identical Bill Pending in New York

With gatherings larger than 50 people banned and the State House cleared of visitors, on March 18, 2020, Maryland’s legislature approved HB 732, which contains a massive new punitive tax on digital advertising services, and sent it to Governor Larry Hogan (R) for his consideration.

Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax

Contradicting the clear legislative trend in the advertising space to exempt the facilitation of advertising services (but tax the consumer transactions that may result therefrom), HB 732 would impose a new, one-of-a-kind tax on the annual gross revenue of digital advertising services that are deemed to be provided in the State. The proposed tax contains a tiered tax rate structure (arbitrarily determined based on the advertising service provider’s global annual gross revenues) that would allow for a tax rate of up to a whopping 10% of the annual gross revenue in the State derived from digital advertising services. As passed, HB 732 would take effect July 1, 2020, and the new tax would apply to all taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020.

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BREAKING NEWS: Maryland Proposes (French) Tax on Advertising – Digital Platforms and Advertisers Beware!

On January 8, SB 2 was introduced to establish a new digital advertising gross revenue tax of up to 10% on “annual gross revenues of a person derived from digital advertising services in the state.” This uncharted new tax would make Maryland the first state or locality in the United States to impose a targeted tax on the gross revenue of digital advertising services.

The bill defines “in the state” as appearing on the user’s device located in the state (determined based on either the user’s IP address or reasonable knowledge). “Digital advertising services” is defined as “advertisement services on a digital interface, including advertisements in the form of banner advertising, search engine advertising, interstitial advertising, and other comparable advertising services.” The definition uses the word “includes” rather than “means,” enabling the definition to be read even more broadly. “Digital interface” is defined as “any type of software, including a website, part of a website, or application, that a user is able to access.”

The tax applies at a sliding scale:

  • 2.5% for person with global annual gross revenues of $100 million or more
  • 5% for person with global annual gross revenues of $1 billion or more
  • 7.5% for person with global annual gross revenues of $5 billion or more
  • 10% for person with global annual gross revenues of $15 billion or more

The bill would require quarterly estimated tax payments and an annual return and provides that willful failure to file a digital advertising gross revenues tax return is a misdemeanor subject to a $5,000 fine and 5 years’ imprisonment.

The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Thomas Miller (D), the outgoing Senate President, and Senator William Ferguson (D), the incoming Senate President. Maryland legislative leaders have been hinting at new taxes on the digital economy, digital downloads, and streaming subscriptions as they decide how to fund a proposed $825 million per year education spending increase. Governor Hogan (R) opposes the education spending increase as too expensive, amounting to a $6,000 per family tax increase, and in response Democrats last week ruled out raising income, sales, or property tax rates. We therefore may see additional digital taxation bills aside from this one.

Because Maryland would tax digital advertising but not tax non-digital advertising, the tax is a “discriminatory tax” prohibited by the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA). The use of an arbitrary threshold of global annual gross revenues, while perhaps politically popular, serves to tax larger global advertising service providers at a higher tax rate than their domestic counterparts, in violation of the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

The proposal also raises serious First Amendment (singling out digital commercial speech for a punitive tax) and Equal Protection (lack of rational basis for punitive tax on digital advertising) issues. For example, the Maryland Court of Appeals has held that municipal taxes on advertising media were unconstitutional for singling out for taxation newspapers and radio and television stations entitled to first amendment immunities.  See City of Baltimore [...]

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Tax Amnesty Hits the Midwest (and Beyond)

With many state legislatures wrapping up session within the past month or so, there has been a flurry of last-minute tax amnesty legislation passed. Nearly a half-dozen states have authorized upcoming tax amnesty periods. These tax amnesties include a waiver of interest and, in some circumstances, allow taxpayers currently under audit or with an appeal pending to participate. This blog entry highlights the various enactments that have occurred since the authors last covered the upcoming Maryland amnesty program.

Missouri

On April 27, 2015, Governor Jay Nixon signed a bill (HB 384) that creates the first Missouri tax amnesty since 2002. The bill creates a 90-day tax amnesty period scheduled to run from September 1, 2015, to November 30, 2015. The amnesty is limited in scope and applies only to income, sales and use, and corporation franchise taxes. The amnesty allows taxpayers with liabilities accrued before December 31, 2014, to pay in full between September 1, 2015, and November 30, 2015, and be relieved of all penalties and interest associated with the delinquent obligation. Before electing to participate in the amnesty program, taxpayers should be aware that participation will disqualify them from participating in any future Missouri amnesty for the same type of tax. In addition, if a taxpayer fails to comply with Missouri tax law at any time during the eight years following the agreement, the penalties and interest waived under the amnesty will be revoked and become due immediately. Finally, taxpayers who are the subject of civil or criminal state-tax-related investigations, or are currently involved in litigation over the obligation, are not eligible for the amnesty.

According to the fiscal note provided in conjunction with the bill, the state estimates that 340,000 taxpayers will be eligible for the amnesty and that the program will raise $25 million.

Oklahoma

On May 20, 2015, Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill (HB 2236) creating a two-month amnesty period from September 14, 2015, to November 13, 2015. The bill allows taxpayers that pay delinquent taxes (i.e., taxes due for any tax period ending before January 1, 2015) during the amnesty period to receive a waiver of any associated interest, penalties, fines or collection costs.

Taxes eligible for the amnesty include individual and corporate income taxes, withholding taxes, sales and use taxes, gasoline and diesel taxes, gross production and petroleum excise taxes, banking privilege taxes and mixed beverage taxes. Notably, franchise taxes are not included in this year’s amnesty (they were included in the 2008 Oklahoma amnesty).

Indiana

In May, Governor Mike Pence signed a biennial budget bill (HB 1001) that included a provision authorizing the Department of Revenue (Department) to implement an eight-week tax amnesty program before 2017. While the Department must promulgate emergency regulations that will specify exact dates and procedures, several sources have indicated that the amnesty is expected to occur sometime this fall. The upcoming amnesty will mark the second-ever amnesty offered by Indiana (the first occurred in 2005). Taxpayers that participated in the 2005 program [...]

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U.S. Supreme Court’s Wynne Decision Calls New York’s Statutory Resident Scheme into Question

On May 18, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Comptroller of the Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne. In short, the Court, in a five-to-four decision written by Justice Alito, handed the taxpayer a victory by holding that the county income tax portion of Maryland’s personal income tax scheme violated the dormant U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Specifically, the Court concluded that the county income tax imposed under Maryland law failed the internal consistency test under the dormant Commerce Clause, because it is imposed on both residents and non-residents with Maryland residents not getting a credit against that Maryland local tax for income taxes paid to other jurisdictions (residents are given a credit against the Maryland state income tax for taxes paid to other jurisdictions).

The Supreme Court emphatically held (as emphatically as the Court can be in a five-to-four decision) that the dormant Commerce Clause’s internal consistency test applies to individual income taxes. The Court’s holding does create a perilous situation for any state or local income taxes that either do not provide a credit for taxes paid to other jurisdictions or limit the scope of such a credit in some way.

The internal consistency test—one of the methods used by the Supreme Court to examine whether a state tax imposition discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause—starts by assuming that every state has the same tax structure as the state with the tax at issue. If that hypothetical scenario places interstate commerce at a disadvantage compared to intrastate commerce by imposing a risk of multiple taxation, then the tax fails the internal consistency test and is unconstitutional.

Although the Wynne decision does not address the validity of other taxes beyond the Maryland county personal income tax, the decision does create significant doubt as to the validity of certain other state and local taxes such as the New York State personal income tax in the way it defines “resident.” New York State imposes its income tax on residents on all of their income and on non-residents on their income earned in the state; this is similar to the Maryland county income tax at issue in Wynne.

“Resident” is defined as either a domiciliary of New York or a person who is not a domiciliary of New York but has a permanent place of abode in New York and spends more than 183 days in New York during the tax year. N.Y. Tax Law § 605. (New York City has a comparable definition of resident.) N.Y.C. Administrative Code § 11-1705. Thus a person may be taxed as a statutory resident solely because they maintain living quarters in the state and spend more than 183 days in the state, even if those days have absolutely nothing to do with the living quarters; this category of non-domiciliary resident is commonly referred to a “statutory resident.” As such, under New York’s tax scheme, a person can be a resident of two states—where domiciled and where a statutory resident—and thus [...]

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