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Colorado Changes Rules for Determining Members of Combined Filing Group

Colorado Governor Jared Polis has signed legislation that would replace Colorado’s unique “3 of 6” rule for determining the members of a unitary group for combined reporting purposes and instead adopt what Legislative Council Staff has called “the Multistate Tax Commission’s standard” for determining the members of a combined filing group.

Under current law, a combined report may only contain those members of an affiliated group of corporations as to which three of the following six facts have been in existence in the tax return year and the two preceding years:

  1. Sales or leases between one affiliate and another constitute 50% or more of the gross operating receipts or cost of goods sold of the entity making the sales/leases
  2. Certain back-office services are provided by one affiliate for the benefit of another
  3. Twenty percent or more of the long-term debt of one affiliate is owed to or guaranteed by another affiliate
  4. One affiliate substantially uses certain intellectual property of another affiliate
  5. Fifty percent or more of the board of one affiliate are members of the board or are corporate officers of another affiliate
  6. Twenty-five percent or more of the 20 highest ranking officers of an affiliate are members of the board or are corporate officers of another affiliate.

Under the new law all members of a “unitary business” will be required to file a combined report. A “unitary business” is defined as an affiliated group of entities “that are sufficiently interdependent, integrated, and interrelated through their activities so as to provide a synergy and mutual benefit that produces a sharing or exchange of value among them and a significant flow of value to the separate parts.”

The new law keeps Colorado’s water’s-edge rule in place, but it’s notable that said rule provides an exception for any entity “incorporated in a foreign jurisdiction for the purpose of tax avoidance” while identifying a list of nations where a corporation will be presumed to be incorporated for tax avoidance purposes (including the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Monaco, etc.).

Presuming Colorado voters don’t file a referendum petition and get the legislation overturned in November, the new standard would go into effect for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2026.




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California Legislator Considers Digital Advertising Tax

Senator Steven Glazer, chair of the California State Senate Revenue and Tax Committee, is treating data like the next gold rush and taking bold steps to mine this new vein of wealth with his proposed “Digital Data Extraction Tax Law.” While couched as a tax on “data extraction,” the base for the tax is digital advertising revenue. The draft proposal contains several gaps, including the tax rate and effective date, and we understand that Senator Glazer is not certain he will file it.

Senator Glazer modeled his proposed tax on Maryland’s digital advertising gross receipts (DAGR) tax approach but with a twist, aligning it with Tennessee’s digital barter tax proposal (House Bill 2234/Senate Bill 2065). While California’s bill attempts to cure the numerous legal infirmities present in Maryland’s DAGR tax, it suffers from many of the same fatal weaknesses.

LEGISLATIVE BACKGROUND

The bill’s stated intent is to tap into the supposedly “enormous economic rents” that the “largest” internet companies generate from the personal data they “extract” from their users. The draft bill would introduce a new tax on gross receipts from the sale of digital advertising services (digital ad tax). The digital ad tax would be imposed on persons engaged in “digital data extraction transactions,” defined as transactions where:

(i) a person sells advertisers information about or access to users of the person’s services, [and]

(ii) the person engages in a digital barter by providing services to a user in full or partial exchange for displaying advertisements to the user or collects data about the user.

Under the bill, persons with digital advertising revenue above a certain level would be deemed engaged in taxable activity. Additionally, the digital ad tax would only apply to persons with advertising revenue above a certain (currently unspecified) level but would provide a carve-out for news media entities. Revenue from the tax would be earmarked for a fund that supports local newspapers.

A troubling feature of the draft bill is its sourcing regime. The bill would require that those subject to the digital ad tax use personally identifiable information about those to whom the ads are served to source revenue from the advertising to either California or somewhere else. Specifically, the bill requires that sellers of digital advertising services capture and retain information, such as users’ GPS locations or IP addresses. A seller would be required to produce this information to tax authorities on audit. These requirements raise profound privacy issues.

Perhaps recognizing the myriad of legal challenges faced by Maryland’s DAGR tax, California’s bill attempts to limit its application to entities based on their revenue derived in the state. It also attempts to ward off challenges that the digital ad tax is a discriminatory tax on electronic commerce barred by the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) by adding a bare statement that the “Legislature finds and declares . . . . [t]hat digital advertising is not substantially similar to traditional print [...]

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Microsoft Scores Massive Win in California, Opens the Door for Others Nationwide

The Office of Tax Appeals (OTA) handed Microsoft an enormous win in its controversy with the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) over the inclusion of qualifying dividends in the sales factor denominator for which it also claimed a dividends received deduction (DRD).

Microsoft filed a water’s-edge combined report for the years at issue and deducted 75% of qualifying dividends received from foreign affiliates outside its water’s-edge group. Initially, Microsoft only included the 25% net amount of dividends received in its sales factor denominator. Subsequently, Microsoft filed a refund claim asserting that the gross amount of dividends received should be included in the sales factor denominator, which would have resulted in a nearly $100 million refund.

The FTB argued that its own legal ruling (Ruling 2006-01) limiting the denominator to net dividends was dispositive of the issue. In its opinion, qualifying dividends should be excluded like eliminated intercompany dividends that were previously reported as income. The FTB also argued that a “matching principle” should apply to exclude the dividends like other items expressly excluded for allegedly not contributing to the tax base.

However, the OTA did not defer to FTB’s legal ruling because it was not a formal regulation. It was interpreting a statute, and its interpretation was inconsistent with the law. The OTA also disagreed with the comparison to eliminated intercompany dividends as there is no similar express exclusion in the DRD statute. Furthermore, the OTA found that “the legislative history” did not support the FTB’s “matching principle” because if the legislature intended the list of exclusions to be non-exhaustive, it would have used language like “such as” or “and other similar transactions.”

In its petition for rehearing, the FTB raised new arguments that the legislative history supported its interpretation and that qualifying dividends should be excluded from the denominator because they are qualitatively different from Microsoft’s main line of business. The OTA again rejected “the same or similar arguments that were considered and rejected in the Opinion” and stated that “new theories that could have been raised, but were not, is not one of the causes that permits a new hearing.” Accordingly, the OTA found that Microsoft was entitled to the nearly $100 million refund.

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Corporate taxpayers should consider this decision as the basis for similar claims both in California and nationwide. While the Microsoft case involved dividends resulting from the Section 965 inclusion regime, it should apply to any type of dividend. The position is not conceptually different from including the factors of a unitary business entity that is in a loss while simultaneously using the loss for a net operating loss deduction. Therefore, in states where taxpayers are including only dividends in the denominator to the extent included in the base, there may be a position to instead include all dividends – even those subject to a deduction from the base. Depending on the statutory language in any given state, this could be true even if 100% of the dividends are deducted. [...]

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Vermont Considers Imposing Mandatory Worldwide Combined Reporting

The Vermont House Committee on Ways and Means is actively exploring a proposal to become the first state to enact mandatory worldwide combined reporting for corporate income tax purposes. While legislation has not been formally proposed, the Committee has examined a working draft that could be embedded into a broader tax legislation package.

In Committee testimony supporting the adoption of mandatory worldwide combined reporting, Don Griswold, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argued that multinational corporations “pay huge fees to sophisticated advisers to develop an endless variety of complex schemes that shift their profits offshore.” According to him, mandatory worldwide combined reporting would be “the complete solution” to stopping what he perceives as a “loophole for massive tax avoidance.” He also intimated that several companies are among those he believes are currently engaging in “tax avoidance,” even though he freely acknowledged that he worked in a “Big 4 accounting firm’s 600-person ‘state tax minimization’ group” for most of his career.

On the other hand, at least one representative from the Vermont Department of Taxes has suggested that worldwide mandatory combined reporting is not the panacea that Griswold claims it would be. In Committee testimony, Will Baker, assistant attorney general and general counsel at the Department of Taxes, pointed out that a corporation’s Vermont taxable income could increase or decrease under worldwide combined reporting depending on the profitability of the corporation’s domestic and overseas subsidiaries and the locations of the corporate unitary group’s sales throughout the world. Baker also suggested that the Department of Taxes would face practical challenges calculating the income of subsidiaries that are not part of a corporate filing at the US federal level. Finally, he added that “small states” should generally “have the same rules that other states have” to make it easier for taxpayers to comply with Vermont law.

The McDermott state & local tax team will be closely monitoring this legislative proposal to see whether the Vermont General Assembly takes heed of the advice of its own officials at the Department of Taxes.




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Following Maryland’s Lead? We Guess Everyone Wants to Go to Court. Icy Challenges to Nebraska’s Advertising Services Tax Act Start to Emerge

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen’s ambitious plan to provide $2 billion in property tax relief via an increase in the sales tax rate and an expansion of the sales tax base is stirring significant debate. Part of his proposal is embodied in the newly introduced Legislative Bills 1310 and 1354, known as the “Advertising Services Tax Act” (the Act), which aims to finance this tax relief by imposing a 7.5% gross revenue tax on advertising services. However, this initiative faces a wall of voter opposition. A recent Battleground Connect survey revealed that 70% of likely voters disapproved of increasing the sales tax rate to offset property taxes. It should come as no surprise that Nebraska voters would not want to follow Maryland’s lead. What is surprising is that Nebraska legislators are willing to tie the fate of their new tax to a law that is currently being challenged in court in Maryland after the state adopted a similar tax in 2021.

The heart of the controversy lies in the new advertising tax’s specifics. The tax only targets firms with US gross advertising receipts exceeding $1 billion, a threshold that effectively discriminates against out-of-state advertising service providers and implicates constitutional and federal laws governing interstate commerce.

The proposed law specifically excludes “news media entities” and targets out-of-state digital advertising platforms. “Advertising services” incorporates a range of services, including digital advertising services, related to advertisement creation and dissemination. The term also includes “online referrals, search engine marketing and lead generation optimization, web campaign planning, the acquisition of advertising space in the Internet media, and the monitoring and evaluation of website traffic for purposes of determining the effectiveness of an advertising campaign.” Advertising services does not include services provided by entities “engaged primarily in the business of news gathering, reporting, or publishing articles or commentary about news, current events, culture, or other matters of public interest.” A news media entity does not include “an entity that is primarily an aggregator or republisher of third-party content.” Taxing publishers of one type of content and not taxing others raises profound First Amendment concerns.

While facially the Act applies to all advertising, its real focus is on digital and internet advertising and this targeting raises multiple legal and policy concerns:

  • Impact on Nebraska Businesses and Consumers. The tax, though imposed largely on out-of-state service providers, will be passed through directly to local businesses when they buy advertising. Much like a sales tax, service providers can and will add a line-item charge of 7.5% on each invoice to the local business placing the advertisement, driving up the cost of advertising services for Nebraska businesses. These higher costs will be reflected in the prices of goods and services sold to Nebraska consumers or the profits of local businesses.
  • Potential for Litigation. Drawing parallels with Maryland’s digital advertising tax, which faced legal challenges and has already once been ruled unconstitutional and barred by federal law, Nebraska’s legislation would also lead to costly and [...]

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As Minnesota Moves Toward GILTI Taxation, New Jersey May Be Moving Away from It

We previously reported that the Minnesota Legislature was considering imposing mandatory worldwide combined reporting through an omnibus tax bill. Subsequent to our report and in the face of numerous criticisms, Minnesota Senate leaders backed away from the proposal. But ominously, those same leaders said they would examine other tax increases to make up for the (potentially hypothetical) revenue left on the table by moving away from mandatory worldwide combined reporting.

After a series of negotiations, an updated omnibus tax bill (HF 1938) emerged from the Minnesota Legislature conference committee over the weekend, which has already been passed by both the Minnesota House and Senate. Most notably for corporate taxpayers, the legislation:

  • Recouples Minnesota with the Internal Revenue Code provision providing for the inclusion of global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) (under IRC § 951A) in the corporate tax base while providing a 50% dividends received deduction (but no deduction under IRC § 250)
  • Reduces the dividends received deduction from 80% to 50% for corporations in which the recipient owns 20% or more of the stock and from 70% to 40% for corporations in which the recipient owns less than 20% of the stock and
  • Decreases a corporation’s maximum net operating loss deduction from 80% to 70% of taxable net income each year.

As no prior bills proposing these tax increases had been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature, these tax increases have been passed without any public hearing or public testimony. The rush to put these proposals together may explain why the legislation fails to address how income from GILTI must be accounted for in determining a taxpayer’s apportionment factor.

Minnesota’s move toward GILTI taxation is out of step with legislation introduced in New Jersey, which would increase the state’s GILTI deduction to 95% from 50%. The proposal, which is part of a broader legislative compromise package negotiated by New Jersey government officials and businesses, has the support of the chair of the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and has been publicly called “win-win” legislation by a New Jersey Division of Taxation representative.

As litigation addressing the constitutionality of taxing GILTI is already percolating through administrative appeals in numerous states, it is likely that New Jersey’s potential move away from GILTI taxation will prove to be the more fiscally prudent way to go.




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Be Careful What You Wish For: Minnesota May Be on the Precipice of Enacting Worldwide Combined Reporting at the Worst Possible Time

It has been widely reported that the Minnesota Legislature has advanced an omnibus tax bill that would require the inclusion of the “entire worldwide income” of combined corporate income tax filers engaging in a unitary business. Tax press outlets have made the broad claim that mandatory worldwide combined reporting will “add foreign subsidiaries’ profits” to Minnesota corporate tax returns. But these claims disregard how such a change in Minnesota’s tax regime would also bring worldwide losses into a combined filing group’s income (or loss) calculation. If Minnesota passes mandatory worldwide combined reporting legislation this year and economic expert predictions of an impending global recession come true, the state could see a significant decrease in revenue from its corporate income tax.

Claims that worldwide combined reporting will bring additional profits into the corporate tax base presuppose foreign subsidiaries added to a combined group are always profitable. But if the entities added to a combined group are unprofitable, the opposite would be true. Instead, the foreign entities would either decrease income subject to state corporate income taxation or increase losses that generate net operating loss carryforwards that will decrease state corporate income taxation in future years.

This isn’t just a hypothetical concern. Tax specialists who practiced in the wake of the 2008 global recession recall that states with combined reporting regimes often sought to force unitary groups of corporations to “decombine” in order to remove entities generating losses from the state corporate tax base. When attempts to decombine were unsuccessful (as many were), states were often forced to walk away from large assessments or pay large refunds to corporate taxpayers. Such experiences should serve as a reminder that combined reporting often can decrease a state’s revenues from a corporate income tax. In Minnesota’s case, the potential for lost tax revenues may only balloon if its legislature imposes worldwide combined reporting during a recession.

No state currently has a true mandatory worldwide combined reporting regime (Alaska only imposes it on specific industries), and concerns about bringing foreign loss companies into the combined group is one of many reasons why. If Minnesota were to break state ranks by imposing worldwide combined reporting and a US parent corporation determined the regime could cause its Minnesota taxable income to increase, the corporation would have every incentive to either avoid or decrease connections with the state—potentially causing the state to lose out on capital investments that bring jobs with high wages and benefits.

Further, any attempt to impose mandatory worldwide combined reporting is likely to cause an international backlash, along with potential federal action and litigation challenging Minnesota’s regime. In the immediate wake of a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision indicating, to a limited degree, that a state mandatory worldwide combined reporting regime could pass constitutional muster, the US Department of the Treasury completed a study outlining state taxing principles supported by “state, [...]

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Coupon Amounts Are Not Subtracted from Sales Tax Base Unless Sales Receipt Adequately Describes Taxable Item and Coupon

Overturning a 6-1 en banc decision by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a coupon does not reduce the price upon which sales tax must be collected unless the coupon is adequately described and “linked” with the taxable item in accordance with Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (DOR) regulations. The case was brought by a retail customer seeking a sales tax refund on the difference between the retail price of the product and the discounted price as the result of a coupon. The decision instructs retailers on the application of coupon discounts when collecting sales tax. The decision may also provide comfort to retailers facing class action lawsuits in Pennsylvania for collecting sales tax on full invoice prices without taking discounts from coupons into account.

The case examined three transactions between a retailer and customer. In two of the transactions, the customer purchased a single taxable item and used a single coupon. In the other transaction, the customer purchased six taxable items and used five coupons of varying amounts. The receipt provided in each transaction identified each coupon as a “SCANNED COUP” and identified the discount provided with each coupon but did not further describe the coupon nor link the coupon as a discount to any specific item purchased. In all three transactions, the retailer collected sales tax on the full purchase price without taking the coupons into account. The customer sought a sales tax refund from the DOR, maintaining that sales tax should have been collected on the discounted price. The DOR denied the refund claim.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the DOR’s position that under Pennsylvania regulations, “sales tax is owed on the full purchase price” (disregarding any coupons) unless an invoice or receipt (1) separately states and identifies the amount of the taxable item and the coupon and (2) provides a description of both the taxable item and the coupon. Further, the Court agreed that a satisfactory description in the receipt must contain a “linking” element, meaning the coupon must be adequately described to show that it applied to a specific item. The Court explained that such a description on the receipt was necessary because, under Pennsylvania law, “there are discounts or coupons that do not establish a new [taxable] purchase price, such as a discount for shopping on a specific day, discounts from a minimum purchase amount, and sales tax absorption coupons.”

In recent years, state tax departments have been very aggressive in asserting that coupons and discounts do not reduce the sales tax base. This decision serves as a reminder to retailers that the description of coupons on invoices is critical in determining the amount of sales tax to collect. In Pennsylvania, the coupon must be separately identified and “linked” to the taxable product upon which the discount is applied.

This decision highlights the dilemma many retailers face when collecting tax on discounted products: if they collect on the full retail price, they face the potential for customer class action suits [...]

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Tax That DC?!?! FCA Suit on Residency Brings Business Intelligence Company into the Crosshairs

For the first time since the enactment of the False Claims Amendment Act of 2020, the DC Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office has used its new tax enforcement powers to pursue an alleged personal income tax deficiency. This development brings to the forefront a long-simmering constitutional problem with DC’s statutory residency law and offers a stern warning to businesses that assist key employees and executives with their personal tax obligations.

The press rapidly and widely reported on DC’s lawsuit against MicroStrategy Co-Founder, Executive Chairman and former CEO Michael Saylor for alleged evasion of D.C. personal income taxes, which was made public this week. The case alleges that Saylor wrongly claimed that he was a resident of Virginia or Florida (rather than DC) since at least 2012.

The case was originally brought under seal by a relator under DC’s False Claims Act in April 2021—less than one month after the False Claims Amendment Act took effect. Using its new tax authority, the DC AG’s Office filed a complaint last week to intervene (taking over the case going forward). Interestingly, when the DC AG’s Office took over the case, it added MicroStrategy as a defendant under the theory that the company conspired to help Saylor evade DC personal income taxes. Under DC’s False Claims Act, both Saylor and MicroStrategy could be liable for treble damages if a court rules in favor of the DC AG’s Office.

ISSUES WITH DC’S “STATUTORY RESIDENCY” TEST

While determining where an individual is a resident for state and local tax purposes generally requires a fact-intensive analysis, the case against Saylor also implicates DC’s unique (and likely unconstitutional) statutory residency standard. DC’s statute is fundamentally different than statutory residency standards in other states. Most states only tax individuals having their domicile in the state as residents, while some states also have a “statutory residency” test to classify individuals as taxable residents. In most states, a person is classified as a statutory resident if they (1) maintain a permanent place of abode in the jurisdiction and (2) spend more than a specific number of days (typically 183 days) in the jurisdiction.

DC truncates this standard and classifies someone as a statutory resident if they merely maintain a personal place of abode in DC for more than 183 days. Thus, no amount of actual presence of the individual in DC is required. The problem created by this one-of-a-kind standard should be obvious: someone can (as many high-net-worth individuals often do) maintain a residence for 183 days in more than one jurisdiction. Thus, the plain language of the statute would violate the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution because it runs afoul of the internal consistency test. Under this test, a statute is unconstitutional if under a hypothetical situation in which every jurisdiction has the same law as the one being challenged, more than 100% of the tax base would be subject to tax. Here, if every state had a statutory residency test applicable to anyone who had a [...]

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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.




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