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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...

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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.

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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Plain and Simple: Maryland Tax Court Holds Insurance Company is Exempt from Corporate Income Taxes

Although taxpayers often complain that complying with the tax laws imposed by the numerous state and local taxing jurisdictions that exist in the United States is a burdensome process, many of these tax statutes also provide benefits to taxpayers in the form of exemptions, deductions and credits.  Taxpayers who structure their affairs according to the plain language of these favorable tax laws can be frustrated when state revenue departments attempt to deny them the benefits of the statute.  A recent opinion from the Maryland Tax Court supports the argument commonly advanced by taxpayers in these situations – that when the language of a statute is clear, there is no room for the revenue department to interpret the statute in a contrary manner.  See National Indemnity Co. v. Comptroller of the Treasury, Dkt. No. 14-IN-OO-0433 (Md. Tax Ct. April 24, 2015). Maryland, like many states, exempts “insurance companies” from the payment of corporate income taxes...

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Maryland Offers Attractive Amnesty Program – Even for Taxpayers Under Audit!

Starting September 1, 2015, the Comptroller of Maryland (Comptroller) will offer qualifying taxpayers that failed to file or pay certain taxes an opportunity to remit tax under very attractive penalty and interest terms.  The 2015 Tax Amnesty Program (Program) is the first offered in Maryland since 2009, when the state raised nearly $30 million, not including approximately $20 million collected the following year under approved payment plans.  The amnesty program offered before that (in 2001) brought in $39.4 million.  Consistent with the Maryland amnesty programs offered in the past, the Program will apply to the state and local individual income tax, corporate income tax, withholding taxes, sales and use taxes, and admissions and amusement taxes. The Program was made law by Governor Larry Hogan when he signed Senate Bill 763, available here, after two months of deliberation in the legislature.  While the Program is scheduled to run through October 30, 2015,...

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State Revenue Departments Misapplying Federal Tax Law

State income tax laws generally build on federal tax law.  The typical pattern is to begin the calculation of state taxable income with federal taxable income and then to modify it by adding or subtracting items where state tax policies differ from federal tax policies.  As a result, a corporation’s state taxable income can be affected by the application of the federal Internal Revenue Code.  State revenue departments generally do not consider themselves bound by Internal Revenue Service determinations respecting the application of federal tax law and believe that they are free to interpret the Internal Revenue Code as they see fit.  Unfortunately, this has led to problems because state tax auditors often are not well trained in federal tax principles.  We had an instance earlier this year in which an auditor claimed that the merger of a wholly-owned subsidiary into its corporate parent was taxable because there was an increase in the parent’s retained...

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U.S. Supreme Court Turns its Attention to State Tax, Agrees to Hear “Double Taxation” Case

The Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari filed by the Maryland Comptroller of Treasury in Comptroller v. Wynne, Dkt. No. 13-485 (U.S. Sup. Ct., cert. granted May 27, 2014).  The central issue in Wynne is whether a state must allow its residents a credit for income taxes paid to other states, in a manner sufficient to prevent double taxation of income from interstate commerce, to avoid violating the fair apportionment and discrimination prongs of the dormant Commerce Clause. Like most states, Maryland taxes its residents on their entire income, wherever earned, and permits a credit for income tax paid to other states, limited to the amount of Maryland tax on the income taxed by other states.  But Maryland’s income tax includes both a state and a county tax component, and Maryland permitted a credit for taxes paid to other states only with respect to its state income tax.  The state rate was 4.75 percent and the county tax rate applicable to the...

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