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Alert: California False Claims Expansion Bill Advances to the Senate

Like the days of the Old West, last week a masked gang held up local businesses demanding their wallets. Unlike the days of the Old West, this was not the hole-in-the-wall gang, but the California State Assembly who, on June 10, 2020, approved AB 2570, a bill that authorizes tax-based false claims actions. If passed, AB 2570 would expand the California False Claims Act (CFCA) to allow private, profit-motivated parties to bring punitive civil enforcement tax-based lawsuits. The bill now heads to the California Senate where its predecessor bill, AB 1270, failed last year. According to the bill’s author, Assembly Member Mark Stone, there are two key differences between AB 2570 and last year’s AB 1270. First, AB 2570’s definition of “prosecuting authority” has been revised to remove the term “counsel retained by a political subdivision to act on its behalf.” In his comments on the Assembly floor, Stone explained that this amendment was “sought by the bill’s...

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Last Minute Relief for Filers of Business Property Statements

Once again, San Francisco has shown leadership in addressing property tax relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, May 4, 2020, the San Francisco County Assessor announced that she was moving the deadline for businesses to file their Business Property Statements (Form 571-L) to June 1 of this year, due to physical office closure of the San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder. Normally, under state law, a 10 percent penalty automatically attaches when a taxpayer’s business property statement is filed after May 7. But, if May 7 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday, then a property statement that is mailed and postmarked on the next business day is deemed to have been timely filed. Under the applicable statue, legal holidays include days when the county’s offices are closed for the entire day. As a practical matter, most, if not all, county assessor offices across the state are closed. Yet, most assessors have been reluctant to go on the record...

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AB 2570: Déjà vu All over Again as California Attempts to Amend CFCA

California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, and Assembly Member Mark Stone have again advanced legislation that would amend the California False Claims Act (CFCA) to enlist private bounty hunters to go after California taxpayers. Becerra described the latest bill, AB 2570, as an additional tool to combat against “corporate cheats” whom Becerra claimed cost the state billions in lost revenue in 2019. Of course, the state already possesses an arsenal of tools to combat any underreporting: currently, the power to investigate cases of suspected tax fraud rests with the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) and the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). Thus, as many of the predecessor bill’s critics have adeptly noted, AB 2570 is more appropriately characterized as a “solution in search of a problem.” The text of AB 2570 is almost identical to its predecessor, AB 1270, which failed to make it out of the legislature last year, and has...

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Illinois Amnesty Programs Now Underway

As previously announced, the Illinois Department of Revenue has begun a new amnesty program, running October 1 through November 15, 2019. All taxes paid to the Illinois Department of Revenue for taxable periods ending after June 30, 2011, and prior to July 1, 2018, are eligible for amnesty with relief from penalties and interest. Unlike prior Illinois programs, taxpayers who do not participate in amnesty will not be subject to double interest or penalty charges on subsequent audit assessments for taxes that were eligible for amnesty. A link to the Illinois Department of Revenue forms for its amnesty program is attached here. The Illinois Secretary of State also offers an amnesty program running from October 1 through November 15, 2019, for corporate franchise taxes related to periods ending after March 15, 2008, and on or before June 30, 2019. In light of the phase-out of the corporate franchise tax by January 1, 2024 (enacted by Public Act 101-9),...

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Vultures Circling as Bill to Expand California FCA to Tax Looms in Legislature

Legislators in Sacramento are mulling over one of the most (if not the most) troubling state and local tax bills of the past decade. AB 1270, introduced earlier this year and passed by the Assembly in late May, would amend the California False Claims Act (CFCA) to remove the “tax bar,” a prohibition that exists in the federal False Claims Act and the vast majority of states with similar laws. If enacted, this bill will open the door for a cottage industry of financially driven plaintiffs’ lawyers to act as bounty hunters in the state and local tax arena. California taxpayers would be forced to defend themselves in high-stakes civil investigations and/or litigation—even when the Attorney General’s Office (AG) declines to intervene. As seen in other states, this racket leads to abusive practices and undermines the goal of voluntary compliance in tax administration. While the CFCA is intended to promote the discovery and prosecution of fraudulent behavior, the...

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QHTC You Later: DC Bids Farewell to Historic QHTC Certification Process

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 this online self-certification requirement to all QHTC benefits—including exempt sales as a QHTC and other non-sales tax benefits available to a QHTC (summarized here). This change was accomplished through amendments to the QHTC certification regulation (DC Mun. Regs. tit. 9, § 1101) that were proposed by OTR in November 2018 and became final on January 4, 2019. The changes apply to all tax returns due on or after January 1, 2019. So What Changed? Historically, the relevant OTR regulation provided that to claim a credit or other benefit, a QHTC was required to attach a form prescribed by OTR...

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Court Strikes Down New York Opioid Surcharge on Manufacturers and Distributers

On December 19, 2018, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of McDermott’s client, the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA), the trade association for pharmaceutical distributors. In Healthcare Distribution Alliance v. Zucker, the court granted summary judgment and enjoined enforcement of the New York Opioid Stewardship Act, which imposed a $600 million surcharge on manufacturers and distributors of opioid pharmaceutical products. The first $100 million installment was due on January 1, 2019. McDermott prevailed on its argument that the Tax Injunction Act (TIA) did not bar federal jurisdiction over HDA’s challenge to the surcharge. While the surcharge raised $600 million in revenue, the court held that for the TIA’s purposes, it was a regulatory fee, not a tax, in part because its proceeds were dedicated to specific opioid-related funds and segregated from general state revenues, and in part because the New York...

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Illinois Department of Revenue to Waive Penalty for Late Filing of Business Income Tax Returns Due October 15

The Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) announced that it will grant abatement of late filing penalties for taxpayers that file their Illinois business income tax returns on or before November 15 and request penalty waivers for reasonable cause. The Department stated that it will waive late penalties due to the “complexity” of recent federal tax reform and possible taxpayer challenges in meeting the October 15 extended filing deadline for federal and state purposes.

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Illinois Appellate Court Overturns Tax Tribunal Ruling for the First Time

On December 29, 2017, the Illinois Appellate Court issued a ruling reversing the decision of the Illinois Independent Tax Tribunal (Tribunal) in Waste Management of Ill., Inc. v. Ill. Independent Tax Tribunal, 2017 IL App (1st) 162830-U. This is the second appellate court to consider a Tax Tribunal ruling, and the first to overturn a decision of the Tribunal. The appellate court overturned the Tribunal’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) and held that for the time periods at issue, the Motor Fuel Tax Law (Tax) (35 ILCS 505/1 et seq.) did not impose tax on compressed natural gas (CNG). In this case, Waste Management filed monthly returns reporting and paying the Tax on its usage of CNG. Following an amendment to a Department regulation that explicitly provided that CNG was subject to the Tax (see 86 Ill. Admin. Code § 500.200(c)), Waste Management amended its returns and sought a refund of Tax paid on...

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Illinois’ Invest in Kids Tax Credit

Overview Illinois’ July 2017 Revenue Bill for the 2018 fiscal year included the Invest in Kids Act (Act), which creates a new program, effective January 1, 2018, that provides up to $75 million in income tax credits for Illinois taxpayers making contributions to eligible organizations that grant scholarships to students attending private and parochial schools in Illinois. The Act allows approved Illinois taxpayers to receive state income tax credits of 75 percent of their total qualified contributions to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs), up to $1 million annually per taxpayer. For example, a contribution of $100,000 to an SGO allows an approved taxpayer to claim a $75,000 income tax credit. The program is administered by the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department). The Department will allocate the credits among taxpayers on a first-come, first-served basis. Who Benefits? The Act is intended to benefit students who are members of households whose...

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