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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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…)
On January 14, LB 989 was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature, which would impose sales and use tax on “the retail sale of digital advertisements.” The bill defines “digital advertisement” as “an advertising message delivered over the Internet that markets or promotes a particular good, service, or political candidate or message” (see pages 5-6 of the bill). The definition is a sweeping one, but the exact scope is unclear as the terms used are not further defined. It is also unclear how a taxable digital advertising transaction would be sourced if the proposed legislation is enacted.
The digital advertising tax proposed in the bill would have an effective date of October 1, 2020. Nebraska’s state sales tax rate is 5.5%, with local sales taxes up to an additional 2%.
Similar to Maryland’s SB 2 proposal, because Nebraska would tax digital advertising but not tax non-digital advertising, the proposed tax raises a series of legal concerns (above and beyond the obvious policy concerns). For example, the tax would be a “discriminatory tax” prohibited by the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA). The proposal also raises serious First Amendment (singling out digital commercial speech for tax) and Equal Protection (lack of rational basis for tax only on digital advertising) issues.
Practice Note: If enacted, LB 989 would create an uncharted and sweeping tax on digital platforms and advertisers. While this bill will have an uphill battle in 2020 (for example, Nebraska has a short, 60-day legislative session this year and Nebraska has a filibuster rule) the repeated introduction of digital advertising tax bills early in 2020 state legislative sessions may be the start of an alarming trend of legally suspect tax proposals that we are keeping a close eye on. Businesses impacted by the Maryland and Nebraska digital advertising tax proposals are encouraged to contact the authors to discuss these legislative developments further.
BREAKING NEWS: Maryland Proposes (French) Tax on Advertising – Digital Platforms and Advertisers Beware!
On January 8, SB 2 was introduced to establish a new digital advertising gross revenue tax of up to 10% on “annual gross revenues of a person derived from digital advertising services in the state.” This uncharted new tax would make Maryland the first state or locality in the United States to impose a targeted tax on the gross revenue of digital advertising services.
The bill defines “in the state” as appearing on the user’s device located in the state (determined based on either the user’s IP address or reasonable knowledge). “Digital advertising services” is 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.” The definition uses the word “includes” rather than “means,” enabling the definition to be read even more broadly. “Digital interface” is defined as “any type of software, including a website, part of a website, or application, that a user is able to access.”
The tax applies at a sliding scale:
- 2.5% for person with global annual gross revenues of $100 million or more
- 5% for person with global annual gross revenues of $1 billion or more
- 7.5% for person with global annual gross revenues of $5 billion or more
- 10% for person with global annual gross revenues of $15 billion or more
The bill would require quarterly estimated tax payments and an annual return and provides that willful failure to file a digital advertising gross revenues tax return is a misdemeanor subject to a $5,000 fine and 5 years’ imprisonment.
The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Thomas Miller (D), the outgoing Senate President, and Senator William Ferguson (D), the incoming Senate President. Maryland legislative leaders have been hinting at new taxes on the digital economy, digital downloads, and streaming subscriptions as they decide how to fund a proposed $825 million per year education spending increase. Governor Hogan (R) opposes the education spending increase as too expensive, amounting to a $6,000 per family tax increase, and in response Democrats last week ruled out raising income, sales, or property tax rates. We therefore may see additional digital taxation bills aside from this one.
Because Maryland would tax digital advertising but not tax non-digital advertising, the tax is a “discriminatory tax” prohibited by the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA). The use of an arbitrary threshold of global annual gross revenues, while perhaps politically popular, serves to tax larger global advertising service providers at a higher tax rate than their domestic counterparts, in violation of the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.
The proposal also raises serious First Amendment (singling out digital commercial speech for a punitive tax) and Equal Protection (lack of rational basis for punitive tax on digital advertising) issues. For example, the Maryland Court of Appeals has held that municipal taxes on advertising media were unconstitutional for singling out for taxation newspapers and radio and television stations entitled to first amendment immunities. See City of Baltimore [...]
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), participants in the amnesty program should proceed with extreme caution. For more information, the Secretary of State has published a Fact Sheet and form of Petition on its website: https://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/business_services/home.html.
Recently passed budget legislation in both Connecticut and Rhode Island included tax increases on sales of digital goods and services. The Connecticut bill has been signed into law. The Rhode Island bill passed late last night awaits executive action. Below are brief summaries of the impacts of these bills on the sales taxation of digital goods and services (assuming the Rhode Island governor signs the bill) beginning October 1, 2019.
Legislators in Frankfort added a new “video streaming service” tax to the omnibus tax bill (HB 354) as part of a closed-door conference committee process before the bill was hastily passed in the House and Senate. Notably, the new video streaming service tax was not previously raised or discussed as part of HB 354 (or any other Kentucky legislation) before it was included in the final conference committee report that passed the General Assembly in March.
Specifically, as passed by the General Assembly, HB 354 will add “video streaming services” to the definition of “multichannel video programming service” subject to the telecom excise tax. This is the same tax imposition that the Department of Revenue argued applied to video streaming services in the Netflix litigation—an argument that was rejected by the courts in Kentucky and then subsequently settled on appeal. Under existing law, Kentucky taxes “digital property” under the sales and use tax. The term is broadly defined and applies to audio streaming services, but expressly carves out “digital audio-visual works” (i.e., downloaded movies, TV shows and video; defined consistently with the SSUTA) from the scope of the sales and use tax imposition. HB 354 would not modify the treatment of digital goods and services under the sales and use tax, and changes that would be implemented are limited to the telecom excise tax imposed on the retail purchase of a multichannel video programming service. (more…)