Massachusetts Adopts Single-Sales-Factor Apportionment; Manufacturing Classification Becomes Less Controversial

On October 4, 2023, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey signed House Bill 4104 into law. The most significant change it introduces is the adoption of single-sales-factor apportionment (SSF) for all corporate taxpayers, not just manufacturers and mutual fund service corporations. Massachusetts joins more than 30 other states that have adopted either mandatory or elective SSF. The law applies to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2025.

In addition to the anticipated reduction in taxes for corporations with a relatively large Massachusetts property and payroll base, the change will end the relevance of the manufacturing and mutual fund service corporation classifications.

During the 20th century, Massachusetts was synonymous with three-factor apportionment. In fact, many called three-factor apportionment the “Massachusetts formula,” especially in the context of manufacturing. Then, in the 1990s, the state adopted SSF for manufacturers and mutual fund service corporations.

Generally speaking, under SSF, companies with a relatively large out-of-state presence had a lower apportionment percentage if they were not considered manufacturers. By contrast, companies with a large in-state presence generally had a lower apportionment percentage if they were manufacturers. Naturally, there were years of audits and litigation regarding these classifications. A company’s classification could even change from year to year depending on what ratio of its business fell within a classification. Thus, “winning” in one year did not mean that the issue would not be reexamined during the next audit cycle.

The broad adoption of SSF means that these classifications will no longer be relevant in this context, although the classifications still matter for other aspects of corporate income tax (like credits), as well as property and sales tax.




Texas Taxing 130% of Marketplace Sales

Proving that everything is bigger in Texas, the state’s Comptroller is now assessing marketplace providers on 130% of their sales. It seems a sales tax on 100% was not big enough for tax officials in the Lone Star State. The additional 30% is a tax on the portion of the product sales price kept by marketplace providers. Talk about double dipping…

Like all states following the Wayfair decision, Texas adopted a marketplace law in 2019 that required marketplace providers to charge tax on 100% of the sales price for products sold over the platform by third-party sellers. Apparently unsatisfied, the Texas Comptroller has decided to assess tax on 130% of marketplace sales, with the additional 30% a double tax on the portion of the sales proceeds paid to the marketplace provider as a commission.

In most marketplaces, the provider charges a commission for allowing a third-party seller to use the platform and its services, like advertising and access to the platform’s user base. As most commissions are typically in the 30% range, Texas is demanding that marketplace providers pay tax on 130% of the sales price and charge the consumer for tax on the 100% and the seller for the 30%.

Without notifying the public, Texas is asserting, on audit, that these commissions are taxable. This position is contrary to a long-standing administrative ruling that was issued in 2012 and quietly revoked by the Texas Comptroller in 2020.

A quick example illustrates how aggressive this position is and the negative impact it will have on marketplace sellers in Texas: Take a book collector in Austin who is selling used books through a marketplace provider and sells a $100 rare Bible to a customer in Dallas. Historically, the marketplace provider would charge an 8% sales tax on the $100 Bible and send that $8 to the Texas Comptroller.[1] The marketplace provider would then take its $30 commission and send the balance of $70 to the local bookseller.

Now, the Texas Comptroller is telling the marketplace provider, on audit, that the $30 commission it received is separately subject to the sales tax. The marketplace provider in the example should have collected an additional $2.40 in sales tax on its receipt of the commission, resulting in an effective sales tax rate on the transaction of 10.4% (again, with no legislative authority or change behind this view). Instead of getting $70 in revenue, the bookseller will only receive the net after sales tax, or $67.60.[2] While this reduction may not seem like much, it will be the difference between being profitable and losing money for some Texas-based sellers. For the Texas Comptroller to make this policy change without legislative blessing—and while the state is enjoying a record budget surplus—should raise alarm bells.

How does the Texas Comptroller get there? First, it deems the commission payment a transaction separate and distinct from the underlying sale of the Bible in the above example. Second, it looks at the services the marketplace provider offered [...]

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Maryland Ad Tax Denials Coming: Are You Ready for Tax Court?

Winter is coming, and so are denials of taxpayer refund claims for return of the illegally extracted Maryland digital ad tax (DAT). Sources in Annapolis report the Maryland Comptroller is preparing denial notices imminently. Taxpayers need to be prepared for quick action once that happens.

According to our intelligence, the denial letters will inform recipients they have 30 days from the date of the notice to petition the Maryland Tax Court for review of the claim denial. Previously, we believed most taxpayers would be shunted to administrative hearings and appeals on their refund claims to wait it out, but it appears that is no longer the case.

Depending on a particular taxpayer’s facts and circumstances, the 30-day ticket to Tax Court may be suspect. Additionally, there may be steps a taxpayer can take now to head off an immediate trip to Tax Court. If you filed a refund claim and want to get to Tax Court quickly, this is all good news. If you filed a refund claim and want to let others litigate ahead of you (knowing that there are two pending lawsuits challenging the DAT), quick action before your refund claim is denied may prevent Comptroller action.

Keep in mind, interest due to you on your refund claim is tied to the date on which you filed the claim and is currently 9% per year.

Practice Note:

Taxpayers should immediately evaluate how they perfected their DAT refund claim and whether the refund claim demanded that the Comptroller conduct a hearing. Unless you are prepared to go to Tax Court immediately, there are steps you can take now before your claim is disallowed. If you have already received a notice of disallowance, please contact us to discuss your options.




At the 10-Yard Line: New York Formally Proposes Corporate Tax Reform Regulations

On August 9, 2023, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (Department) released 417 pages of proposed regulations, an important step toward concluding a now almost decade-long process to implement corporate tax reform.

The journey began in 2014 with the enactment of legislation modernizing the state’s corporate tax law. Thereafter, the Department released several versions of draft regulations while warning taxpayers that the drafts were “not final and should not be relied upon.” Even though the Department announced last spring that it intended to formally propose and adopt such regulations in fall 2022, taxpayers had to wait another year.

Comments on the proposed regulations must be provided to the Department by October 10, and the regulations will be finalized thereafter. In this article, we’re taking a closer look at a few of the items included in the proposed regulations.

ADOPTION OF THE MULTISTATE TAX COMMISSION’S INTERPRETATION OF P.L. 86-272

Consistent with the Department’s final version of the draft regulations, the proposed regulations contain rules based on model regulations adopted by the Multistate Tax Commission, which narrowly interpret P.L. 86-272. Under the proposed regulations, “interacting with customers or potential customers through the corporation’s website or computer application” exceeds P.L. 86-272 protection. By contrast, “a corporation will not be made taxable solely by presenting static text or images on its website.” This sweeping change remains surprising because P.L. 86-272 is a federal law, the scope of which is not addressed by the state’s corporate tax reform.

THE ELIMINATION OF THE “UNUSUAL EVENTS” RULE

The proposed regulations omit the “unusual events” rule contained in the 2016 draft regulations. Generally consistent with Department regulations long predating the state’s corporate tax reform legislation, the 2016 draft stated that “business receipts from sales of real, personal, or intangible property that arose from unusual events” were not included in the business apportionment factor. For example, a consulting firm that sold its office building for a gain would not have included the gain in its apportionment factor because the sale was considered to be from an unusual event. The Department claims to have abandoned the rule “because Tax Reform provided significantly more detailed sourcing rules, including guidelines for those transactions that might have been excluded under pre-reform policy.”

SAFE HARBOR SOURCING FOR DIGITAL PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Post-reform corporate tax law sources receipts from digital products and digital services to New York if the location the customers derive value from is in New York as determined by a complicated hierarchy of methods. The proposed regulations provide a simplified safe harbor in applying this sourcing rule, where “if the corporation has more than 250 business customers purchasing substantially similar digital products or digital services as purchased by the particular customer . . . and no more than 5% of receipts from such digital products or digital services are from that particular customer, then the primary use location of the digital product or digital service is [...]

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OTA Finds CDTFA’s Audit Methodology Arbitrary

In Appeal of Colambaarchchi (OTA Case No. 21017152; 2023-OTA-302), a California-based retailer was audited by the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) for years 2016 through 2019. Upon audit, CDTFA determined that taxable sales went unreported. In calculating the extent of the underreporting, CDTFA used various indirect methods for different periods in the audit years and applied a method to each period that maximized the amount of tax due. The Office of Tax Appeals (OTA) found that this methodology was utilized simply to create the largest underreporting, was inconsistent and lacked the required minimum rational and reasonable basis.

Colambaarchchi operated two perfume retail stores. During its audit, CDTFA performed various sales tests that suggested unreported sales. To compute the taxable measure, CDTFA used a combination of the federal income tax returns (FITR) method and the bank deposits method. Specifically, CDTFA used the bank deposits method for 2016, switched to the FITR method for 2017, then switched back to the bank method for 2018 and Q1 2019. In the audit work papers, CDTFA noted that the “[a]uditor used the higher of FITR or bank deposit difference to arrive at audited taxable sales.” In other words, CDTFA alternated between the two methodologies simply to maximize the tax liability.

CDTFA subsequently issued a notice of determination, which the company timely appealed. At the prehearing conference, OTA placed the parties on notice that, in deciding the appeal, the OTA may consider “[w]hether respondent was justified in selecting the bank deposit method for 2016, 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 and gross receipts from the [FITR] for 2017.” Accordingly, bearing the initial burden of showing that its decision to switch between two methods was reasonable and rational, CDTFA argued that it “selected the FITR method for 2017 because ‘the bank deposits may not have all cash deposited into the bank’ in 2017, and that it may have selected the bank deposits method for 2016, 2018 and 1Q19 because the income tax returns ‘may not be accurate because obviously there are additional [bank] deposits in addition to what they reported on their income tax returns.’”

OTA rejected this argument because it found “no support in the record for CDTFA’s assumption that the bank deposits method is less accurate in 2017 than in the other periods such that it would be reasonable and rational for CDTFA to switch to the FITR method in 2017.” According to OTA, CDTFA “cannot assume that one indirect audit method is more accurate in one period than another just because it produces a higher result.” OTA further stated that “this arbitrary selection made solely to increase unreported taxable sales is not reasonable and rational. Where CDTFA alternates between indirect audit methods because one method produces a higher result, CDTFA is no longer attempting to estimate the correct measure of tax but instead is arbitrarily increasing the tax measure.” Consequently, OTA held that CDTFA failed to meet its burden of proof, and CDTFA was ordered to utilize the bank deposits [...]

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