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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 Announces New Relief for Remitting California Sales Tax

On Monday, November 30, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California will provide temporary tax relief for eligible businesses impacted by restrictions imposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement indicates that the Governor will direct the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) to:

  1. Provide an automatic three-month extension for taxpayers filing less than $1 million in sales tax on the return and extend the availability of existing interest- and penalty-free payment agreements to companies with up to $5 million in taxable sales;
  2. Broaden opportunities for more businesses to enter into interest-free payment arrangements; and
  3. Expand interest-free payment options for larger businesses particularly affected by significant restrictions on operations based on COVID-19 transmissions.

No information was provided as to how the CDTFA will expand interest-free payment options for larger businesses, or what constitutes “significant restrictions” on a business’ operations for purposes of this temporary tax relief. Nevertheless, we applaud the governor’s move to initiate this relief for California’s taxpayers, and we will keep readers up to date as additional details are revealed for this program.




Taxes, Like Temperatures, Going Up: California COVID-19 Budget “Revenue Solutions”

Yesterday Governor Gavin Newsom turned to a familiar gambit from California’s playbook to help tackle the budgetary hole wrought by COVID-19. In January, the Governor proposed his budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which projected a $5.6 billion surplus. Indeed, revenues through March are reported as having run $1.35 billion above projections. But, as the Governor says in his May Revision to his January Budget, “[t]he COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession has changed the fiscal landscape significantly.” Without the various changes proposed by the May Revision, which includes the “revenue solutions” described below, the Governor’s Budget projects a $54 billion deficit.

The May Revision proposes two significant changes to business taxation. The Governor proposes suspending net operating losses for 2020, 2021, and 2022 for medium and large businesses. The Governor also proposes limiting business incentive tax credits from offsetting more than $5 million of tax liability per year for 2020, 2021, and 2022.

While it is not known what parameters were used for the May Revision revenue estimates, and the actual threshold for being a medium or large business subject to NOL suspension will be set during the legislative process should the Governor’s proposal be enacted, standards used for prior NOL suspension periods may provide a guide. For taxable years beginning in 2008 and 2009, California suspended the NOL carryover deduction for taxpayers with a net business income of $500,000 or more. For taxable years beginning in 2010 and 2011, California’s NOL suspension affected taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income of $300,000 or more. In neither case were disaster losses affected by the NOL suspension rules.

The May Revision also includes two proposals to address the sales and use tax gap: (1) Used car dealers would have to remit sales tax to the Department of Motor Vehicles with the registration fees, and (2) Market value will be used to determine the price paid in private auto sales.

Also tagged as “revenue solutions” in the May Revision are three General Fund proposals from the Governor’s January Budget Proposal: (1) Extending the sales tax exemption for diapers and menstrual products through the end of 2022-23; (2) Extending the carryover period for film credits awarded under Program 2.0 from six years to nine years; and (3) Extending the current exemption from the minimum tax for first year corporations to first year LLCs, partnerships and LLPs. The May revision also maintains a new tax on e-cigarettes based on nicotine content and will be deposited in a new special fund.

Overall, the revenue solutions in the May Revision are projected to net $4.4 billion in 2020-21, $3.3 billion in 2021-22 and $1.4 billion in 2022-23. The Governor states, “These tax measures as a whole are intended to raise revenue, stimulate economic growth, and help those in need.”

He explains that his May Revision revenue solutions “recognize the disproportionate tax relief that has been provided to larger corporations, compared to small businesses, which has resulted in relatively lower tax payments.” And he adds that [...]

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Déjà Vu – Marketplace Model Debate May Resume Again

The debate over state marketplace laws may resume again, after the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) announced it has set up a committee to study whether to draft a uniform state law on online sales tax collection, focusing on marketplaces. The study committee is chaired by Utah Sen. Lyle Hillyard. The lead staffer (“reporter”) will be Professor Adam Thimmesch of the University of Nebraska College of Law. The members of the committee are listed here and information to sign up to be notified of developments is available here.

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The Digital Advertising Tax Trend Continues: New York Introduces Another Bill

On April 13, S. 8166 was introduced in the New York Senate, which would expand the sales tax base to include receipts from the sale of digital advertising services. The bill would dedicate the revenue raised to student loan relief.

As introduced, “digital advertising services” would be broadly 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 which markets or promotes a particular good, service, or political candidate or message.” (With the exception of the added last clause, the definition of “digital advertising services” is identical to the definition in the digital advertising tax legislation recently passed by the Maryland General Assembly. The definition differs from the previously introduced New York digital ads tax (S. 8056) in that it is not limited only to targeted advertising.) “Digital interface” would also be defined very broadly as “any type of software, including a website, part of a website, or application, that a user is able to access.”

If enacted, the law would take effect on the 30th day after enactment, and would sunset five (5) years after the effective date.

 




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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Tax Commissioners: Please Drop Unnecessary or Dangerous Tax Administration Requirements

This week we wrote a letter to state tax administrators, sharing five key suggestions for relieving undue tax administration burdens in the wake of this difficult COVID-19 situation. As explained, “at a time when many people are working from home and should not or cannot go to post offices or banks, a business-as-usual attitude for tax administration would be inexcusable.” The five suggestions:

  1. Postpone deadlines for tax filing and payment. The federal government and many states have already taken this needed step. When many Americans, including business tax professionals and tax administrators and their staffs, are fearing for their own health and unable, prohibited or unadvised to leave their own house, this is not the time for pulling records and preparing tax filings.
  1. Waive requirements to file hard copy, notarized, and/or wet-signature documents. Waive requirements to mail documents by certified mail. Allow automated-clearing-house (ACH) electronic transfers of funds instead of requiring hard checks. In a time of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, it is dangerous to require that business representatives go outside to banks or Post Offices, stand in line, and purchase services from one particular provider. While the US Postal Service (USPS) has valiantly endeavored to keep all post offices operating and mail delivery uninterrupted, new reports on the enormous financial difficulties of the USPS and the growing impact of the virus on the USPS’s public-facing workforce surely give all of us pause. Digital signatures and electronic document delivery, and electronic forms of payment, are widely adopted, affordable, secure, and instantaneous. It is time for tax authorities to dispense with – or suspend – the requirements of physical copies, wet signatures, notarization, physical checks and mailing. Furthermore, tax agencies and hearing tribunals should adopt temporary procedures to either automatically acknowledge receipt of electronic documents or waive stringent proof of delivery in situations in which missing a deadline would preclude a taxpayer from obtaining further review of agency action.

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COVID-19 State Tax Relief for Illinois | Quarterly Estimated State Income Tax Payments Still Due 4/15/20

Illinois has announced the following tax-related relief measures related to COVID-19. Taxpayers who file quarterly estimated returns should note that unlike the federal government, Illinois has not extended the April 15, 2020 due date for first quarter estimated tax payments.

I. Extension of Filing and Payment Deadlines for Illinois Income Tax Returns

The 2019 income tax filing and payment deadlines for all taxpayers who file and pay their Illinois income taxes on April 15, 2020, have been automatically extended until July 15, 2020. This relief applies to all individual returns, trusts and corporations. The relief is automatic; taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms or call the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) to qualify. For additional details, click here for the guidance issued by IDOR on March 25, 2020.

Penalties and interest will begin to accrue on any remaining unpaid balances as of July 16, 2020.

Even though the deadline has been extended, IDOR has encouraged taxpayers expecting a refund to file as soon as they can. Taxpayers who have already filed a return can check the status of their return by using the Where’s My Refund? link located at mytax.illinois.gov

Note: This extension does NOT impact the first and second installments of estimated payments of 2020 taxes that are due on April 15 and June 15. Although the federal government has extended the date for the payment of first quarter estimated tax payments to June 15, 2020, Illinois has not followed this practice. Illinois taxpayers are still required to estimate their tax liability for 2020 and make four equal installment payments to IDOR, starting on April 15, 2020.

II. Sales Tax Deferral for Bars and Restaurants

To help alleviate some of the unprecedented challenges facing bars and restaurants due to COVID-19, Governor Pritzker has directed IDOR to defer sales tax payments for eating and drinking establishments that incurred less than $75,000 in sales tax liabilities last year. Qualifying businesses are still required to timely file their sales tax returns, but will not be charged penalties or interest on their late payments due in March, April or May 2020. The IDOR estimates this will give relief to nearly 80% of the bars and restaurants in Illinois.

Taxpayers taking advantage of this relief will be required to pay their sales tax liabilities due in March, April and May in four installments, starting on May 20 and extending through August 20. For more information, please view IDOR’s informational bulletin available at tax.illinois.gov.

III. Small Business Loans

The US Small Business Administration has approved the state’s eligibility for disaster assistance loans for small businesses facing financial hardship in all 102 Illinois counties due to COVID-19. Eligible businesses can apply for up to $2 million in low-interest loans here.




Cities Providing Local Tax Relief Efforts for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19

From coast to coast, both state and local tax authorities are rapidly responding to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). And while many of the relief efforts are appropriately aimed at supporting individuals who have been impacted by COVID-19, recent pronouncements from local leaders demonstrate that cities are also eager to implement measures supporting small businesses within their communities.

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Vermont Bill Would Repeal Cloud Software Tax Exemption

On January 16, a bill (H. 756) was introduced in the Vermont Assembly that would repeal the sales and use tax exemption for remotely accessed prewritten computer software. If enacted as introduced, the exemption would no longer protect Vermont taxpayers from this legally suspect tax beginning July 1, 2020.

This is not the first time the Vermont Legislature has considered the issue of taxing cloud software. After the Department of Taxes administratively issued guidance interpreting the sales tax to apply to all prewritten software (including cloud-based software) in 2010, legislative actions were taken to curtail this administrative overreach—including a 2012 temporary moratorium and the aforementioned 2015 exemption—to preclude the imposition of sales tax on the mere accessing of prewritten computer software.

Practice Note: With the introduction of H. 756, Vermont is at risk of reverting back to the dark ages of cloud tax uncertainty that existed throughout the first half of the past decade. As noted below, there are substantial policy and legal flaws with this proposal that counsel against repeal of the exemption. Vermont Legislative Counsel estimates that repealing the sales tax exemption for cloud software would generate six to seven million dollars of revenue in FY 2021—hardly enough to justify the additional administrative complexities and disputes that will arise on audit (and potential litigation arising therefrom). Specifically, even if the cloud tax exemption is repealed, substantial uncertainty remains under Vermont law as to whether there is sufficient authority to impose sales or use tax on cloud service providers. Disturbing the existing certainty created under current law will take Vermont from one of the most favorable jurisdictions to do business in United States to one of the worst from a cloud service provider point of view. In a world where relocation can be accomplished at the click of a button, Vermont would be putting itself at a disadvantage over its neighboring states and incentivize new and relocating businesses to avoid consumption in Vermont in favor of states with more favorable (and more certain) tax laws. (more…)




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