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New York Issues Much-Anticipated Guidance on Taxation of Telecommuting Employees

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and work-from-home mandates, New York employers and their nonresident employees have been waiting for the Department of Taxation and Finance to address the million-dollar question: Do wages earned by a nonresident who typically works in a New York office but is now telecommuting from another state due to the pandemic constitute New York source income? New York has historical guidance concerning the application of its “convenience of the employee/necessity of the employer” test, the test used to determine whether a telecommuting nonresident’s wages are sourced to New York, but until recently the Department had been silent as to whether or how such rule applied under the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As many expected, in a recent update to the residency FAQs, the Department clearly stated its position that a nonresident whose primary office is in New York State is considered to be working in New York State on days that he or she telecommutes from outside the state during the pandemic unless the employer has “established a bona fide employer office at [the] telecommuting location.” The Department adopted the “bona fide employer office” test in 2006 as its way of applying the convenience of the employee rule to employees that work from home. The bona fide employer office test is a factor-based test and, for the most part, a home office will not qualify as a bona fide employer office unless the employer takes specific actions to establish the location as a company office. (See: TSB-M-06(5)I, New York Tax Treatment of Nonresidents and Part-Year Residents Application of the Convenience of the Employer Test to Telecommuters and Others.) As is apparent in the FAQ, the Department is mechanically applying this test to employees working from home as a result of the pandemic and is not providing any special rules or accommodations for employees that have been required or encouraged by New York State and local governments to telecommute.

Interestingly, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue took a similar approach to New York’s by promulgating a regulation requiring nonresidents that typically work in Massachusetts but are telecommuting from outside the state to pay tax on their wages. On October 19, 2020, New Hampshire filed a Motion for Leave to File Bill of Complaint with the United States Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Massachusetts’ regulation. We understand that New Jersey is considering joining New Hampshire in this lawsuit based on New York’s recent guidance, which would require many New Jersey residents to pay New York income tax even though they are no longer working in New York. The US Supreme Court has twice declined to rule on the constitutionality of the convenience-of-the-employee test, so stay tuned on this important development.




MTC Marketplace Seller Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Underway

Yesterday, the application period opened for the limited-time MTC Marketplace Seller Voluntary Disclosure Initiative opened and it will close October 17, 2017. Since our last blog post on the topic detailing the initiatives terms, benefits and application procedure, six additional states (listed below) have signed on to participate in varying capacities. The lookback period being offered by each of the six states that joined this week is described below.

  1. District of Columbia: will consider granting shorter or no lookback period for applications received under this initiative on a case by case basis. DC’s standard lookback period is 3 years for sales/use and income/franchise tax.
  2. Massachusetts: requires compliance with its standard 3-year lookback period. This lookback period in a particular case may be less than 3 years, depending on when vendor nexus was created.
  3. Minnesota: will abide by customary lookback periods of 3 years for sales/use tax and 4 years (3 look-back years and 1 current year) for income/franchise tax. Minnesota will grant shorter lookback periods to the time when the marketplace seller created nexus.
  4. Missouri: prospective-only for sales/use and income/franchise tax.
  5. North Carolina: prospective-only for sales/use and income/franchise tax. North Carolina will consider applications even if the entity had prior contact concerning tax liability or potential tax liability.
  6. Tennessee: prospective-only for sales/use tax, business tax and franchise and excise tax.

Practice Note

The MTC marketplace seller initiative is now up to 24 participating states. It is targeting online marketplace sellers that use a marketplace provider (such as the Amazon FBA program or similar platform or program providing fulfillment services) to facilitate retail sales into the state. In order to qualify, marketplace sellers must not have any nexus-creating contacts in the state, other than: (1) inventory stored in a third-party warehouse or fulfillment center located in the state or (2) other nexus-creating activities performed by the marketplace provider on behalf of the online marketplace seller.

While Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee have signed on to the attractive baseline terms (no lookback for sales/use and income/franchise tax), Minnesota and Massachusetts are requiring their standard lookback periods (i.e., 3+ years). Thus, these two states (similar to Wisconsin) are not likely to attract many marketplace sellers. The District of Columbia’s noncommittal case-by-case offer leaves a lot to be determined, and their ultimate offer at the end of the process could range from no lookback to the standard three years.




Massachusetts Department of Revenue Repeals Directive 17-1

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (Department) has just issued Directive 17-2 revoking Directive 17-1 which adopted an economic nexus standard for sales tax purposes. Directive 17-2 states that the revocation is in anticipation of the Department proposing a regulation that would presumably adopt the standards of Directive 17-1. It appears that the Department took seriously, perhaps among other concerns, internet sellers’ arguments that Directive 17-1 was an improperly promulgated rule. Internet sellers that recently received letters from the Department regarding Directive 17-1 (see our previous blog post) may need to reconsider their approach.




Massachusetts DOR Sending Letters to Sellers Regarding July 1 Effective Date of Economic Nexus Directive

Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (Department) sent letters to several companies regarding Directive 17-1. The Directive announces a “rule” requiring remote internet sellers to register for and begin collecting Massachusetts sales and use tax (sales tax) by July 1, 2017, if they had more than $500,000 in Massachusetts sales during the preceding year. The legal premise behind the rule is that the Department believes sellers with more than $500,000 in annual Massachusetts sales must have more than a de minimis physical presence so that requiring sales tax collection would not be prohibited by Quill Corp v. North Dakota, 504 US 298 (1992). The Directive’s examples of such physical presence include the presence of cookies on purchasers’ computers, use of third-party carriers to make white-glove deliveries and the use of online marketplaces to sell products. The Directive also states that sellers who fail to collect tax beginning July 1, 2017 will be subject to interest and penalties (plus, of course, any uncollected taxes).

We think the Directive is contrary to law on three main grounds. First, we believe that the items that the Department asserts create physical presence are insufficient to establish more than a de minimis physical presence. For example, the presence of cookies on computers in a state appears to be less of a physical presence than the floppy disks the seller in Quill sent into North Dakota (which were used by its customers to place orders) that the United States Supreme Court viewed as de minimis. Second, the Directive violates the state administrative procedures act because it constitutes an administrative rule that was not validly adopted. Third, the Directive’s rule violates the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a federal statute, because the rule discriminates against internet sellers.

By its own terms, the Directive applies only prospectively. The Directive does not assert a blanket rule that internet sellers are liable for sales tax for periods prior to July 1, 2017, if they met a certain sales threshold. The risks from non-collection for such periods are dependent on a company’s specific facts. The letters advise sellers that they may be eligible for voluntary disclosure for such prior periods.

Companies have two general options: (1) register and begin collecting or (2) not register or collect. Litigation has been brought on behalf of a number of sellers to challenge the Directive on the grounds identified above. One important aspect of that litigation is the request for an injunction barring the enforcement of the Directive pending a court decision; an injunction would likely prompt many sellers to take a “wait and see” approach. Ultimately, sellers must make a business decision based on their own facts and business circumstances.




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.




Massachusetts Court Holds Department of Revenue’s Guidance to Be Unreasonable

Northeastern University, the Trustees of Boston University, Wellesley College and 131 Willow Avenue, LLC prevailed in their appeal of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s (the Department) rejection of their Brownfields tax credit applications in Massachusetts Superior Court. 131 Willow Avenue, LLC v. Comm’r of Revenue, 2015 WL 6447310 (2015). The taxpayers argued, and the court agreed, that the Department improperly denied their applications based on the unlawful use of Directive 13-4 issued by the commissioner of revenue (the Commissioner). At issue was the validity of Directive 13-4’s prohibition on nonprofit and transfer Brownfields tax credit applicants from receiving or transferring credits based on documentation submitted in a taxable year that commenced before the effective date of a 2006 amendment expanding the Brownfields tax credit statute to include nonprofit organizations and allow for credit transfers. The court held that the directive was “unreasonable and [the Department’s] denial of the applications based on that directive was unlawful.” (more…)




Massachusetts Department of Revenue Introduces Pilot Voluntary Disclosure Program

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (the Department) released a draft administrative procedure introducing a pilot Voluntary Disclosure Program (the Program) for the settlement of uncertain tax issues for business taxpayers on January 19. The Department introduced this Program in response to a suggestion made by Scott Susko, an author of this article, and another practitioner, both of whom serve as taxpayer professional representatives on the Department’s Advisory Council. We commend the Department for reacting to this suggestion in such a proactive manner.

The Program will provide “a process through which uncertain tax issues may be resolved on an expedited basis, generally within four months” (All quotations in this post are from the Department’s draft administrative procedure).

We think this Program will be particularly helpful to public companies in resolving issues related to their financial statement reserves.

The Program defines an “uncertain tax issue” as an issue “for which there is no clear statutory guidance or controlling case law, and which has not been addressed by the Department in a regulation, letter ruling, or other public written statement,” and “for which a taxpayer would be required to maintain a reserve in accordance with ASC 740: Accounting for Uncertainty in Income Taxes (formerly Fin 48).” The issue also “must not have been addressed as part of a prior audit of the taxpayer, a prior application for abatement or amended return filed by the taxpayer, or a prior ruling request made by the taxpayer.”

To qualify for the Program, “any potential tax liability attributable to the uncertain tax issue(s) must be $100,000 or more, exclusive of interest and penalties.” A taxpayer that is under audit or has received notice of an impending audit is not eligible for the Program. The Department has the “discretion to determine that the Program is not appropriate for specific cases.”

The Department “will consider settlement of an uncertain tax issue(s) where: (1) the taxpayer has presented its position on the issue(s) and the Department agrees that the tax treatment of the issue(s) is uncertain; and (2) the taxpayer has fully disclosed and documented the issue(s) and the facts associated with that issue(s).”

A taxpayer may initiate the process by submitting an anonymous letter to the Department, which will respond to the taxpayer within 30 days. If the Department accepts the taxpayer into the Program, the taxpayer may submit an application, including a settlement proposal and identifying the taxpayer, within 45 days of receiving the Department’s acceptance letter.

The Department will waive penalties related to the uncertain tax issue for a taxpayer that reaches an agreement with the Department pursuant to the Program, as well as for a taxpayer that does not reach an agreement with the Department “provided the taxpayer acted in good faith.”

The Department requested practitioner comments on the draft administrative procedure by February 1, and MWE submitted two technical comments.

Our first comment was that following the initial evaluation, the Department should issue to the taxpayer a one-page technical position explaining whether it does or [...]

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Massachusetts DOR May Lose Staff This Summer

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) likely will have significantly less employees starting July 1, 2015, due to a Massachusetts employee retirement incentive program.  Governor Charlie Baker recently signed legislation establishing the program on May 4, 2015 (see 2015 Mass. Acts Chapter 19, An Act Relative to State Personnel).  With more than half of DOR’s employees eligible to participate in the program, DOR is the state agency with the potential to lose the highest percentage of employees.

The program allows employees who already are eligible to retire but have not reached their maximum pension benefit to add up to five years onto their age, years of service or a combination of both, so they can retire immediately with a higher pension.  The program limits total workforce reductions in Massachusetts to 5,000 employees.  Eligible employees must submit an application to the State Board of Retirement between May 11 and June 12, 2015, to participate.  The retirement date and last day of work for approved employees will be June 30, 2015.  The Baker administration can use up to 20 percent of the savings from the retired employees to hire replacement staff, but it is unclear when such hiring will take place and how much funding will be allocated to DOR versus other state agencies affected by the program.

What does this mean for taxpayers and tax practitioners?  We are hearing that there may be a potential shortage of staff at DOR, particularly in the Audit Division.  Audits may be slowed and relationships that have been developed over years with auditors may end abruptly.  Consequently, taxpayers and their representatives might aim to quickly resolve any matters they have outstanding with DOR sooner rather than later as DOR may be forced to slow down following the reduction in staff this summer.

It is unclear what effect the program will have on the Litigation Bureau and other sections of DOR.  A loss of litigators could slow cases currently before the Appellate Tax Board.

Although disagreements may exist with various DOR positions, we are pleased with the institutional strength of DOR.  We hope that steps will be taken to retain the institutional knowledge of long time DOR personnel.




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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A Year’s Review of Massachusetts Tax Cases

Allied Domecq Spirits & Wines USA, Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue, 85 Mass. App. Ct. 1125 (2014)

In a unique case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a ruling of the Appellate Tax Board (ATB) that two corporations could not be combined for corporation excise tax purposes for 1996 through 2004. The distinctive aspect of this case was that a company was found not to have nexus with Massachusetts even though it rented property in the state and had employees in the state. If the company had been found to have nexus, it could have applied its losses to offset the income of an affiliated Massachusetts taxpayer in a combined report. The Appeals Court pointed to factual findings of the ATB that the transfer of employees located in Massachusetts to the company “had no practical economic effect other than the creation of a tax benefit and that tax avoidance was its motivating factor and only purpose.” The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied the taxpayer further review on August 1, 2014. Although this case is notable because the sham transaction doctrine rarely, if ever, has been applied to find that a company did not have nexus, a similar factual scenario likely would not occur today because Massachusetts adopted full unitary combination in 2009.

First Marblehead Corp. v. Comm’r of Revenue, 470 Mass. 497, 23 N.E.3d 892 (2015)

In a case that attracted the attention of, and an amicus brief from, the Multistate Tax Commission, the Supreme Judicial Court addressed how the property factor of a taxpayer subject to the Financial Institution Excise Tax (FIET) should be apportioned. The taxpayer, Gate Holdings, Inc. (Gate), had its commercial domicile in Massachusetts and held interests in a number of Delaware statutory trusts that purchased student loan portfolios. Below, the ATB held that Gate’s loans should be assigned to Massachusetts, resulting in a 100-percent property factor for apportionment purposes. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed and interpreted the Massachusetts sourcing provisions at issue, which are based on a model from the Multistate Tax Commission and incorporate the Solicitation, Investigation, Negotiation, Approval and Administration (SINAA) rules, as sourcing Gate’s loans to Massachusetts where Gates had its commercial domicile. The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision may be of interest in Massachusetts and other states because several states have adopted sourcing rules for financial institutions that are based on the Multistate Tax Commission’s model.

Genentech, Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue, Mass. App. Tax Bd., Docket No. C282905, C293424, C298502, C298891 (2014)

The ATB held that Genentech, Inc., a biotechnology company, was engaged in substantial manufacturing and thus required to use single sales factor apportionment. Genentech is appealing the ruling.

National Grid Holdings, Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue, Mass. App. Tax Bd., Docket No.  C292287; C292288; C292289 (2014); National Grid USA Service v. Comm’r of Revenue, Mass. App. Tax Bd., Docket No. C314926 (2014)

The ATB addressed whether an international utility corporation’s deferred subscription arrangements constituted debt for corporate excise purposes. The ATB held that it did not. In reaching its decision, [...]

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