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The US Department of the Treasury Says State IRC Conformity Bills Do Not Trigger Federal Relief Claw-Back Provision

As we’ve blogged about in the past, the recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) includes an ambiguous claw-back provision. If broadly interpreted, it could result in states losing relief funding provided under the APRA if there is any state legislative or administrative change that results in the reduction of state revenue. This provision is causing havoc in the state tax world, rightfully so.

After much yelling and screaming from state attorneys general and those in the tax world, including McDermott (see McDermott letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attached), the US Department of the Treasury issued a press release announcing forthcoming “comprehensive guidance” on this provision. Treasury also addressed a question that has been on the top of our minds since the provision was enacted: Could state legislation addressing state conformity to the Internal Revenue Code trigger the claw-back? States routinely conform to and decouple from changes to the Internal Revenue Code, so if such actions could trigger the claw-back, state legislatures would be reluctant to consider them. We were so concerned about this issue that we specifically addressed it in our letter to Secretary Yellen.

This week, we received the Treasury’s guidance on this issue: Conformity bills will not trigger the claw-back. In its press release, Treasury stated:

… Treasury has decided to address a question that has arisen frequently: whether income tax changes that simply conform a State or territory’s tax law with recent changes in federal income tax law are subject to the offset provision of section 602(c)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act, as added by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Regardless of the particular method of conformity and the effect on net tax revenue, Treasury views such changes as permissible under the offset provision.

This is a step in the right direction and should ease concerns of state legislatures. Passing a conformity bill will not cause any loss of federal funding. Treasury’s guidance, because it applies to all “methods of conformity,” should cover any legislation that either couples with or decouples from the Internal Revenue Code.

But our work is not done. In our letter to Secretary Yellen we also asked for guidance confirming that state actions in other areas will not trigger the claw-back. Specifically, we made concrete suggestions that actions to correcting tax statutes or rules that are either unconstitutional or barred by or violate federal law also should not trigger the claw-back. Treasury’s recent press release gives us a glimmer of hope that Treasury will exclude such actions from the clutches of the claw-back provision as well. Stay tuned for more!




McDermott Provides Treasury Department with Concrete Suggestions for Guidance on the American Rescue Plan Act’s Claw-Back Provision

The recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) includes an ambiguous claw-back provision that has brought the world of state and local tax policymaking to a grinding halt. Because ARPA’s adoption occurred during the final weeks of many states’ legislative sessions, rapid issuance of guidance from the US Department of the Treasury is needed before the sessions adjourn to prevent the irreversible damage that will occur if a state foregoes enacting policies aimed at alleviating the economic disruption caused by COVID-19 out of fear of facing claw-back of federal relief.

McDermott recently sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, urging the issuance of guidance giving a balanced interpretation of the claw-back provision. This guidance is necessary to avoid putting state legislatures, governors and tax administrators across the country in an untenable situation where every tax change or adjustment being considered—no matter how innocuous or routine—will carry the risk of a reduction to their state’s share of federal funding for the next three years.

In the letter, we provided concrete suggestions on areas where the ARPA left room for such balanced interpretation. We suggested that Treasury interpret the claw-back provision as either inapplicable to or provide a safe harbor for:

  • Changes addressing state conformity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)
  • Corrections of unconstitutional tax statutes or rules
  • Corrections of tax provisions barred by or that violate federal law
  • Actions in which there is no or only a weak connection between the law change reducing net revenue and the use of federal relief funds
  • Changes in the law announced before the enactment of ARPA
  • Reductions in net revenue related to purposes that further ARPA’s objectives.

The letter pointed out that states need concrete guidance, whether formal or informal, addressing these areas. Such guidance will alleviate the concerns of state governments and allow state policymakers to function and continue the orderly administration of state taxes.




Federal COVID-19 Relief Bill Brings State Tax Policy to a Grinding Halt

On March 11, 2021, US President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), the COVID-19 relief bill that includes $350 billion in relief to states and localities. To prevent states from using federal relief funds to finance tax cuts, Congress included a clawback provision requiring that any relief funds used to offset tax cuts during the next three years be returned to the federal government. Here is the text of the provision:

  • A State or territory shall not use the funds provided under this section or transferred pursuant to section 603(c)(4) to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue of such State or territory resulting from a change in law, regulation or administrative interpretation during the covered period that reduces any tax (by providing for a reduction in a rate, a rebate, a deduction, a credit or otherwise) or delays the imposition of any tax or tax increase.

This language broadly prohibits states from taking legislative or administrative action through the end of 2024 that reduces state tax revenues by any means (deduction, credit, delay, rate change, etc.) if doing so could be characterized as the use of federal relief funds to offset, directly or indirectly, the tax reduction. Practically speaking, this limitation will completely hamstring state and local governments from the normal ebb and flow of tax policy changes, adjustments and interpretations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this language freezes state legislative and administrative tax policy development out of fear anything they may do would require the return of federal relief funds. We expect the US Department of the Treasury will issue guidance clarifying this provision in the coming weeks.

Practice Note: This provision of ARPA is, in our view, the most significant federal pre-emption of state tax policy in history. For the next three years, legislators and tax administrators alike will be scrutinized as their tax policy decisions are evaluated through the lens of this prohibition. This level of congressional control over state tax policy decisions and fiscal autonomy likely violates the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution and would dismay the framers’ basic notions of federalism.

While Congress has the ability to limit the use of federal funds in ensuring its policy goals are accomplished, the overly broad state tax limitation adopted by Congress goes far beyond its stated purpose and prevents states from furthering ARPA’s goals by using tax policy to craft their own COVID-19 relief measures. Any regulation or administrative interpretation that reduces state tax revenue or delays the implementation of a tax is, effectively, barred by the unprecedented intrusion into state tax policy-making.

The effects of ARPA’s state tax limitation are immediate and far-reaching. It will chill continuing state efforts to couple/decouple state tax codes to or from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Additionally, ARPA already stalled legislation pending in Maryland that would delay, for one year, implementation of its digital advertising services gross receipts tax, restoring return filing and tax [...]

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Governor Newsom Signs Executive Order Providing Last Minute Property Tax Relief

On Tuesday we authored a blog post commending San Francisco County Assessor Carmen Chu for moving the deadline for businesses to file their Business Property Statements (Form 571-L) to June 1 of this year. We noted that California statutory authority provides that if the property tax filing deadline falls on a date when the county assessor’s office is closed for the entire day, a property statement that is mailed and postmarked on the next business day is deemed to have been timely filed. We further explained, however, that despite the fact that most, if not all, county assessor offices across the state are closed due to COVID-19, most assessors have been reluctant to provide relief to the taxpayers struggling to meet the May 7 deadline. Consequently, we urged county assessors to follow the example set by the San Francisco County assessor and to likewise extend the business property tax deadline.

In April, we also authored a blog post encouraging the State Board of Equalization and county officials to issue clear, unambiguous guidance regarding the late-payment penalty waivers being offered to taxpayers who were unable to timely pay the second installment of their secured property taxes by the April 10th deadline due to hardship caused by COVID-19. We stated that although the provision of penalty waivers was an important first step, the ambiguity surrounding how a taxpayer might “prove” that he or she was “impacted by COVID-19” necessitated additional guidance.

Yesterday, on May 6, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he had signed a new executive order (Executive Order N-6-20) as a means of providing certain property taxpayers with much-sought relief.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives and livelihoods of many, and as we look toward opening our local communities and economies, we want to make sure that those that have been most impacted have the ability to get back on their feet,” said Governor Newsom.

As a first step, the executive order suspends, until May 6, 2021, penalties for failing to pay certain property taxes that were not delinquent before March 4, 2020, for taxpayers who demonstrate they have experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This extension applies to residential property owners and businesses that qualify as a small business under the Small Business Administration’s Regulations Code. To be eligible for the penalty waiver, a taxpayer must demonstrate “to the satisfaction of the tax collector that the taxpayer has suffered economic hardship, or was otherwise unable to tender payment of taxes in a timely fashion due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or any local, state, or federal government response to COVID-19.”

Second, the order also extends the deadline for certain businesses to file their Business Personal Property Tax Statements (Form 571-L) from May 7 to May 31 of this year. Specifically, the order suspends California Revenue and Taxation Code (“RTC”) section 441, subdivision (b) and RTC section 463, subdivision (a) until May 31, 2020, to the extent that either imposes a penalty for failure to [...]

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Iowa Responds to McDermott’s Call to Drop Unnecessary or Dangerous Tax Administration Requirements

In late March, we wrote an open letter to state tax administrators requesting that they take steps to relieve undue tax administration burdens in the wake of the COVID-19 situation. We gave five suggestions, including postponing deadlines for tax filing and payment, waiving requirements to use hard-copy documents or checks, suspending accrual of interest on assessments during mandatory closures, directing revenue agencies to resolve outstanding controversies, and disregarding remote work for tax purposes.

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What Can You Do About Your California Property Tax Payment – COVID -19’s Impact on California Property Tax Deadlines and Planning Considerations

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain California taxing officials have acted swiftly to provide state taxpayers with some much needed relief. On March 13, for example, the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) extended the corporate and personal income filing and payment tax deadlines to June 15, and then again on March 18, FTB further postponed the deadlines to July 15. The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) and the California Office of Tax Appeals (OTA) also has acted to implement measures aimed at supporting taxpayers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The Office of Tax Appeals granted an automatic 60-calendar-day extension of the deadline for appeals that have a briefing or other deadline that falls between March 1, 2020 and May 18, 2020. In addition, CDTFA published a statement on its website indicating that sales tax relief including return and payment extensions and penalty and interest waivers may be available to taxpayers upon request.

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Taxpayers May Not Prepay Income Tax to Avoid Cap on SALT Deduction

The federal tax reform package recently approved by Congress (the Bill) contains a cap on the state and local tax deduction that may be claimed by individuals on their federal income tax returns. The Bill provides that an individual may claim up to $10,000 of state and local property taxes and either income or sales taxes. The cap expires on January 1, 2026.

Individual taxpayers who have been considering prepaying their 2018 (or later) taxes in 2017 should be aware that the final version of the Bill contains a provision that prohibits individuals from prepaying their income tax for future years in 2017. As a result, any guidance issued by state revenue departments (for example, in Illinois) regarding the prepayment of 2018 income tax is no longer applicable. In certain jurisdictions, individuals may still have an opportunity to prepay their property tax assessments. For additional details, please contact your tax preparer.




State and Local Tax Aspects of Republican Tax Reform Framework

The White House and Republican congressional leadership released an outline this week to guide forthcoming legislation on federal tax reform. The states conform to the federal tax laws to varying degrees and the extent to which they will adopt any federal changes is uncertain. This memorandum outlines some of the key areas—individual taxation, general business taxation and international taxation— with which the states will be concerned as details continue to unfold.

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Tax Breaks for Data Centers: The Numbers Might Be Cloudy

States are competing aggressively to attract data centers with various tax incentives. Data center companies and their business customers are taking them up on their offers. But are these incentives really a good deal for the businesses? Tax incentives that seem attractive at first glance may not be beneficial when they are examined in the context of the entire tax picture, especially in the unique, uncertain, and developing world of state taxation of technology and computer services.

With the rise of global commerce, cloud computing, streaming video and a wide array of other internet-related businesses, data centers have become big businesses.  In 2014, the colocation data center industry reached $25 billion in annual revenue globally, with North American companies accounting for 43 percent of that revenue.[1]

To get in on the action, states have been trying to outdo one another by offering a slew of competing tax breaks to the industry. According to the Associated Press, states have provided about $1.5 billion in data center tax breaks over the past 10 years.[2]   Some states have gone even further, providing tax incentives to the entire data center industry through changes in the tax laws themselves. Such incentives can include reductions or exemptions from sales and use taxes on data center products or services, favorable income tax rates for data center companies and favorable property tax rules for data center assets. According to a recent analysis by the Associated Press, at least 23 states provide such statutory data center tax incentives.[3] Just a few of the most recent examples include a sales tax exemption for data center equipment in Michigan,[4] a broadening of the sales tax exemption for data center electricity and equipment in North Carolina[5] and a favorable apportionment formula for data centers in Virginia.[6]  Importantly, many of these incentives apply not only to the data centers themselves, but also to their customers.

Businesses considering whether to take advantage of these incentives would be well advised to consider not only the potential benefit from any particular tax incentive, but also whether the decision would affect their tax picture as a whole. Because of the current uncertain and changing landscape for state and local taxation of technology and computer services, the analysis of these incentives for data centers and their customers can be particularly complex.

One item that a taxpayer might overlook when considering whether to take advantage of an incentive program is what affect, if any, the choice of location might have on the taxpayer’s property factor for income tax apportionment purposes. Obviously, location of a company’s technology equipment in a data center under a colocation agreement will cause the company’s in-state property factor to increase due to its equipment being located in the state. However, data center customers also should be aware that local tax authorities might also argue that the colocation payments themselves constitute consideration for the use of real or tangible personal property and thus the [...]

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Illinois Appellate Court Holds City of Chicago Tax on Cars Rented Outside of but Used Within the City Valid

An Illinois Appellate Court, in Hertz Corp. v. City of Chicago, 2015 IL App (1st) 123210 (Sept. 22, 2015), gave the City of Chicago (City) permission to require rental car companies to collect tax on vehicle rentals from locations within three miles of the City, overturning a lower court ruling that found such taxation was an extraterritorial exercise of the City’s authority.  The appellate court granted summary judgment to the City and lifted the permanent injunction enjoining the City from enforcing the tax.

The tax at issue is the City’s Personal Property Lease Transaction Tax (Lease Tax), which is imposed upon “(1) the lease or rental in the city of personal property, or (2) the privilege of using in the city personal property that is leased or rented outside of the city.”  Mun. Code of Chi. § 3-32-030(A).  While the Lease Tax is imposed upon and must be paid by the lessee, the lessor is obligated to collect it at the time the lessee makes a lease payment and remit it to the City.  Mun. Code of Chi. §§ 3-32-030(A), 3-32-070(A).

The subject of this litigation is the City’s application of the Tax in its Personal Property Lease Transaction Tax Second Amended Ruling No. 11 (eff. May 1, 2011) (Ruling 11).  The plaintiffs argued that Ruling 11 is an extraterritorial exercise of the City’s authority because the City lacks nexus with the rental transactions.  The Ruling “concerns [short-term] vehicle rentals to Chicago residents, on or after July 1, 2011, from suburban locations within 3 miles of Chicago’s border … [excluding locations within O’Hare International Airport] by motor vehicle rental companies doing business in the City.”  Ruling 11 § 1.  The Ruling explains that “‘doing business’ in the City includes, for example, having a location in the City or regularly renting vehicles that are used in the City, such that the company is subject to audit by the [City of Chicago Department of Finance] under state and federal law.”  Ruling 11 § 3.  As for taxability of leased property, the Ruling cites the primary use exemption, exempting from Tax “[t]he use in the city of personal property leased or rented outside the city if the property is primarily used (more than 50 percent) outside the city” and stating the taxpayer or tax collector has the burden of proving where the use occurs.  Ruling 11 § 2(c) (quoting Mun. Code of Chi. § 3-32-050(A)(1)).

Ruling 11 contains a rebuttable presumption that motor vehicles rented to customers who are Chicago residents from the suburban locations of rental companies that are otherwise doing business in Chicago are subject to the Lease Tax.  The Ruling applies to companies with suburban addresses located within three miles of the City.   The presumption may be rebutted by any writing disputing the conclusion that the vehicle is is used more than 50 percent of the time in the City.  The opposite is assumed for non-Chicago residents.  Ruling 11 § 3.  The [...]

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