Sales Tax
Subscribe to Sales Tax's Posts

Is California Picking the Pockets of Other States?

In Matter of Body Wise International LLC (OTA Case No. 19125567; 2022 – OTA – 340P), a California-based retailer collected amounts designated as “tax” related to jurisdictions where it was not registered to collect tax. The California Office of Tax Appeals (OTA) held that the retailer must remit those amounts to California, even though the sales were not taxable in California, because the retailer did not actually pay the “tax” amounts it collected to the other states nor did it refund those amounts to its customers.

Body Wise International, LLC sold weight loss supplements to customers across the country and shipped the products directly to customers via common carrier from its warehouse in California. During the periods at issue, Body Wise’s tax software program charged a “Tax Amount” on all sales to customers located in various states based upon the respective tax rates in those other states. In states where Body Wise had not registered to charge or collect tax, Body Wise did not remit the “tax” collected to those states.

On audit, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) determined that the “Tax Amounts” Body Wise collected in those other states constituted excess sales tax reimbursements under California Revenue & Taxation Code (R&TC) section 6901.5, which provides that a retailer who collects a sales tax reimbursement exceeding the amount of the sales tax liability imposed upon the sale must remit the excess to the customer or to the state. CDTFA concluded that those amounts collected but not paid over to the other states must either be returned to the customer or remitted to California.

Upon appeal, the OTA agreed with CDTFA. OTA first observed, “it is not necessary for a sale, purchase, or any other type of transfer for consideration to be subject to California’s sales tax in order for the excess tax reimbursement provisions of R&TC section 6901.5 to apply.” Rather, OTA then stated, the requirement to remit or refund excess sales tax reimbursement to CDTFA applied to Body Wise even where the underlying transaction was nontaxable or exempt in California. Based upon this, OTA concluded that Body Wise must remit those amounts collected to California. OTA supported its conclusion by observing that Body Wise was not registered to collect sales tax in some or all of the other states.

However, logically, the excess tax reimbursement covered by the statute must be excess California tax reimbursement in the first instance. Indeed, the statute by its own terms expressly applies to “taxes due under this part [the California Sales and Use Tax Law].” (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 6901.5.) Because these were not taxes due to California but ostensibly to the other states, California’s attempt to abscond with revenues belonging to another state would appear to be unconstitutional as violating the sovereignty of that other state.

The OTA’s conclusion would seem to be at odds with the important maxim of statutory construction to avoid an interpretation of the statute that would render it [...]

Continue Reading




More than Tax Compliance: California Legislation Requires Marketplace Facilitators to Track “High-Volume” Seller Information

The responsibilities of marketplace facilitators operating in California are expanding under legislation recently signed by Governor Gavin Newsom. Starting on July 1, 2023, an “online marketplace” will be required to collect and maintain specified contact and financial information related to its “high-volume third-party sellers.” The legislation is intended to “provide greater tools for law enforcement to identify stolen items” being resold through online marketplaces.

Under the legislation, a “high-volume third-party seller” is defined as any seller who, in any continuous 12‑month period during the previous 24 months, has entered into 200 or more transactions through an online marketplace for the sale of consumer products to buyers located in California, resulting in a total of $5,000 or more in gross revenues. While the legislation includes its own definition of an “online marketplace,” the definition will likely reach most (if not all) businesses classified as “marketplace facilitators” for California sales tax purposes.

An online marketplace will be required to collect information about any high-volume third-party seller on its platform, including the seller’s name, tax ID number and bank account number (presuming the seller has a bank account), along with certain government-issued records or tax documents if the seller is not an individual. For those sellers making at least 200 sales totaling at least $20,000 in gross revenues to buyers in California, an online marketplace must collect additional information, disclose certain contact information to consumers and provide a means to allow users “to have direct and unhindered communication with the seller.”

Information collected about sellers must be verified within 10 days and be maintained for at least two years, and the online marketplace must suspend sales activities of a high-volume third-party seller out of compliance with the requirements of the legislation. An online marketplace not in compliance with the legislation will be subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.

Businesses impacted by this legislative development or with questions about marketplace facilitators are encouraged to contact the authors of this article.




New Mexico Proposes Regulations Addressing Gross Receipts Tax Treatment of Digital Advertising Services

On August 9, 2022, the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department published proposed regulations addressing the gross receipts tax (New Mexico’s version of a sales tax) treatment of digital advertising services. The Department states the proposed regulations do not reflect a change in policy but instead ensure the rules are consistent for all advertising platforms.

While the proposed regulations provide some clarity regarding the taxation of digital advertising services under preexisting rules, they introduce several inconsistencies and other gaps, particularly with respect to the finer details of the sourcing provisions. For example, we believe the proposed regulations leave ambiguity regarding whether gross receipts from the provision of digital advertising services should be sourced to:

  1. The purchaser’s address
  2. The server’s location
  3. The viewer’s location

Separately, the proposed regulations would allow a deduction for gross receipts from national or regional advertising. However, the deduction is not allowed if the purchaser is incorporated in or has its principal place of business in New Mexico. While this significantly narrows the base for the tax, it injects complexity by requiring that the seller know the state in which its purchaser is incorporated or has its principal place of business, information not likely available in the context of internet-based advertising platforms.

Collectively, these inconsistencies and lack of clarity could lead to future compliance issues, which we hope will be mitigated as part of the Department’s regulatory approval process.

The Department scheduled a public hearing on the proposed rules for September 8, 2022, at 10:00 am MDT, which also is the due date for submission of written comments. The proposed regulations would be effective upon publication in the New Mexico Register, which could happen as soon as October 11, 2022 (or thereabout).

Please contact the McDermott Will & Emery State & Local Tax team if you have any questions about the potential impact of these proposed regulations on your company. In the meantime, we will be monitoring the regulation approval process and participating in next month’s public hearing.




CDTFA Proposes Significant Revisions to Chapters 4 and 13 of the Sales Tax Audit Manual

On February 2, 2022, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) held an interested parties meeting (IPM) to discuss proposed amendments to sales tax audit manual (AM) Chapter 13, “Statistical Sampling,” and Chapter 4, “General Audit.”

Prior to the IPM, the CDTFA released a lengthy discussion paper outlining the extensive proposed changes to the AM, which includes:

1. Removing the three error rule. The current text of AM 1308.05 explains that when a sample produces only one or two errors, the auditor must evaluate whether these errors are representative or whether it is possible they indicate problems in certain areas that could be examined separately. Under the proposed amendment, the same evaluation standards would still be in place without the minimum error requirement. According to the CDTFA, the proposed removal of the three error rule is because of the fact that “the number of errors identified in a sample does not give any indication whether the sample is representative or not…If the combined evaluation evaluates within Department [CDTFA] standards, it is justified to project the results even if one or two errors are found.”

2. Requiring 300 minimum sample items per stratum unless the auditor obtained approval from CAS to select fewer than 300. Currently, the “minimum sample size of at least 300 items of interest is to be used in all tests, except where the auditor can support a smaller sample size and it evaluates well.” (AM 1303.05) Under the new subsection titled “Materiality,” a minimum of 300 sample items per test stratum is recommended. Computer Audit Specialist (CAS) approval is required for selecting less than 300 sample items per test stratum.

3. Refunding Populations: A minimum of 100 sample items per stratum is required. In the section addressing sampling refund populations (AM 1305.10), the proposed amendment would permit auditors to select as few as 100 sample items per test stratum without CAS approval, provided the expected error rate is sufficiently high (greater than 20%). No such rule exists under the current text of Chapter 13.

4. Contacting CAS when the prior audit had 300 hours charged to it is now mandatory. In contrast, under the current rule, it is mandatory that CAS be contacted when the prior audit expended 400 or more hours or if CAS was involved in the prior audit.

5. Replacing Credit Methods 1, 2 and 3 with one recommended approach to handling credits in a statistical sample. The subsection (AM 1303.25) currently lists three types of credit methods that can be used for a statistical sample. The CDTFA now only recommends one credit method for use in a stratified statistical sample, which is referred to as “Method 1” in the current AM text. When auditors review electronic data, attempts should be made to match credit invoices to original invoices (including partially) if it is certain that the credit invoices are related to the original invoice. For all credit memos that are not matched to original invoices, those credits will be removed from [...]

Continue Reading




Texas Comptroller Announces Medical or Dental Billing Services are Not Taxable, Effective Immediately

On June 4, 2021, the Texas Comptroller issued a policy statement (Accession No. 202106003L) announcing that it is not going to enforce its previously stated policy of taxing medical billing services. This guidance comes in response to a sales and use tax bill that was signed into law April 30, 2021, which excluded “medical or dental billing services” performed prior to the original submission of a medical or dental insurance claim from insurance services. The Comptroller states that it will immediately treat medical or dental billing services as excluded from the definition of insurance services even though the bill is not effective until January 1, 2022. It remains to be seen if the Comptroller’s interpretation of medical billing services, which has been defined through decades of policy and guidance, is aligned with the legislature’s view of “medical or dental billing services.” Some commentators have suggested there may be points of divergence that will need to be worked out over time. For additional information on this topic, please see our prior blog post.




Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Approves Sales Tax Apportionment for Software

On May 21, 2021, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision affirming the Massachusetts Tax Appeal Board’s decision in favor of Microsoft and Oracle, ruling that the companies may apportion sales tax to other states on software purchased by a Massachusetts company from which the software was accessed and seek a tax refund.

The case involved a claim by vendors for abatement of sales tax collected on software delivered to a location in Massachusetts but accessible from multiple states. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) claimed that the statute gave it the sole right to decide whether the sales price of the software could be apportioned and, if so, the methods the buyer and seller had to use to claim apportionment. Under rules promulgated by the DOR, there are three methods to choose from, such as the purchaser giving the seller an exemption certificate claiming the software would be used in multiple states, none of which the purchaser used. The DOR argued that if a taxpayer did not use one of the methods specified in the rule, no apportionment was permitted. The vendors sought abatement of the tax on the portion of the sales price that could have been apportioned to other states had one of the methods specified under the rule been used. The DOR claimed the abatement procedure was not a permissible method of claiming apportionment.

The court held: (1) the statute gave the purchaser the right of apportionment and it was not up to the DOR to decide whether apportionment was permitted; (2) the abatement procedure is an available method for claiming the apportionment; and (3) the taxpayer was not limited to the procedures specified in the rule for claiming sales price apportionment.

The court’s decision was based in part on separation of powers: “Under the commissioner’s reading of [the statute], the Legislature has delegated to the commissioner the ultimate authority to decide whether to allow apportionment of sales tax on software sold in the Commonwealth and transferred for use outside the Commonwealth.” The court found such a determination represented “a fundamental policy decision that cannot be delegated.”

The Massachusetts rules reviewed by the court have their genesis in amendments to the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) (that never became effective) providing special sourcing rules for, among other things, computer software concurrently available for use in more than one location. Even though Massachusetts is not a member of the SSUTA, officials from the DOR participate in the Streamlined process and apparently brought those amendments home with them and had them promulgated into the Commonwealth’s sales tax rules.

Practice Notes: This case addresses one of the issues with taxing business models in the digital space. This important decision makes clear, at least in Massachusetts, that taxpayers have post-sale opportunities to reduce sales tax liability on sales/purchases of software accessible from other states where tax on the full sales price initially was collected and remitted by the seller.

Taxpayers may have refund opportunities related to this [...]

Continue Reading




US Treasury Issues Guidance on the ARPA Claw-Back Provision

Earlier this week, the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) issued formal guidance regarding the administration of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) claw-back provision. The guidance (Interim Final Rule) provides that the claw-back provision is triggered when there is a reduction in net tax revenue caused by changes in law, regulation or interpretation, and the state cannot identify sufficient funds from sources other than federal relief funds to offset the reduction in net tax revenue. The Interim Final Rule recognizes three sources of funds that may offset a net tax revenue reduction other than federal relief funds—organic growth, increases in revenue (e.g., a tax rate increase) and certain spending cuts (i.e., cuts that are not in an area where the recipient government has spent federal relief funds). According to the Treasury, this framework recognizes that money is fungible and “prevents efforts to use Fiscal Recovery Funds to indirectly offset reductions in net tax revenue.”

The Interim Final Rule also provides guidance on what is considered a change in law, regulation or interpretation that could trigger the claw-back (called covered changes), but that point remains somewhat ambiguous. The Rule provides that:

The offset provision is triggered by a reduction in net tax revenue resulting from ‘a change in law, regulation, or administrative interpretation.’ A covered change includes any final legislative or regulatory action, a new or changed administrative interpretation, and the phase-in or taking effect of any statute or rule where the phase-in or taking effect was not prescribed prior to the start of the covered period. [The covered period is March 3, 2021 through December 31, 2024.] Changed administrative interpretations would not include corrections to replace prior inaccurate interpretations; such corrections would instead be treated as changes implementing legislation enacted or regulations issued prior to the covered period; the operative change in those circumstances is the underlying legislation or regulation that occurred prior to the covered period. Moreover, only the changes within the control of the State or territory are considered covered changes. Covered changes do not include a change in rate that is triggered automatically and based on statutory or regulatory criteria in effect prior to the covered period. For example, a state law that sets its earned income tax credit (EITC) at a fixed percentage of the Federal EITC will see its EITC payments automatically increase—and thus its tax revenue reduced—because of the Federal government’s expansion of the EITC in the ARPA. This would not be considered a covered change. In addition, the offset provision applies only to actions for which the change in policy occurs during the covered period; it excludes regulations or other actions that implement a change or law substantively enacted prior to March 3, 2021. Finally, Treasury has determined and previously announced that income tax changes—even those made during the covered period—that simply conform with recent changes in Federal law (including those to conform to recent changes in Federal taxation of unemployment insurance benefits and taxation of loan [...]

Continue Reading




Texas Governor Signs Bill Exempting Medical Billing Services from Sales Tax

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed HB 1445 into law, making “medical or dental billing services” exempt from sales tax. Under the statute, a “medical or dental billing service” is defined as “assigning codes for the preparation of a medical or dental claim, verifying medical or dental insurance eligibility, preparing a medical or dental claim form for filing, and filing a medical or dental claim.” Beginning in 2002, the Texas Comptroller’s office took the position for sales tax purposes that “medical billing services” were not taxable data processing services. In November 2019, the Comptroller published a notice stating that it was going to treat “medical billing services” as taxable “insurance services.” Implementation of that notice was delayed multiple times, most recently through October 2021. The Comptroller’s office may now take the position that the legislative definition of “medical or dental billing services” is narrower than the definition the Comptroller has applied in its recent guidance and assert that some items are still subject to tax effective October 2021. Companies should consider whether their medical billing services fall within the legislative definition of “medical or dental billing services.”




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.




STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES