“Voluntary” in Name Only? New Jersey Introduces Transfer Pricing Initiative

The New Jersey Division of Taxation (Division) has announced a “voluntary” transfer pricing initiative beginning June 15, 2022, and continuing through March 2, 2023. According to the Division, the initiative is targeted toward companies that have intercompany transactions that would be subject to transfer pricing adjustment.

The initiative is broadly available to taxpayers with related party intercompany pricing, even if those taxpayers are currently under audit or have a case pending before the Division’s Conference and Appeals Branch. However, the initiative does not apply to matters in litigation.

Taxpayers must agree in writing to participate in the initiative by September 15, 2022, and comply with Division deadlines thereafter (including by providing “all required transfer pricing, tax, and financial information and documentation” to the Division by October 31, 2022). As part of any agreement reached with a taxpayer, the Division will agree to waive all applicable penalties and all rights to assess any additional tax, interest or penalties except for adjustments relating to federal corrections.

Notably, the Division is warning taxpayers that do not reach an agreement through the initiative that in the future it will: (1) “assess all applicable penalties;” (2) “not waive any penalties;” and (3) audit according to the Division’s “regular audit schedule” without agreeing “to a methodology or settlement for any unaudited open tax years.”

Evidently, the Division has hired Dr. Ednaldo Silva, Founder & Director of RoyaltyStat, to assist with the initiative. Sources familiar with the initiative report that the Division will consider prospective-only settlement agreements under the initiative, under the right circumstances.




State False Claims Acts: “Knowing” Why They Matter for Tax Professionals

Like the federal government, many states have adopted False Claims Act (FCA) provisions that exclude tax matters from coverage. The federal model makes clear that matters under the Internal Revenue Service are not covered by the law,[1] and in the vast majority of cases, states also explicitly exclude tax from coverage.[2] However, there is a growing number of states seeking to extend FCA liability to tax cases in which “knowing” causes of action apply to any person that knowingly conceals, avoids or decreases an obligation to pay the state.[3] In such states, FCA liability, including punitive penalties and damages, will be argued to create liability for certified public accountants (CPAs) and other tax professionals who advise clients to take a favorable tax position on a tax return or simply file a return with an “error.” Under a “knowing” standard, an “error” is asserted to exist when the taxpayer’s position differs from someone else’s view of the law—the reasonableness of the position simply does not matter.

This risk is not hyperbole. On March 23, 2022, New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a warning to cryptocurrency investors and their tax advisors: “The consequences of a taxpayer’s failure to properly report income . . . are potentially far-reaching and severe [and could] result in taxpayer liability under the New York False Claims Act,” adding, “False Claims Act liability may also extend to tax professionals advising clients. . .”[4]

New York and Washington, DC, already extend FCA liability to tax cases and apply a “knowing” standard. In other states, FCA expansion bills have started popping up, too. For instance, there is currently a FCA bill before Ohio legislature proposing to extend FCA liability to tax cases and any person that “[k]nowingly present[s], or cause[s] to be presented, to an officer or employee of the state. . .a false or misleading claim for payment or approval.”[5] Recently, a proposal to expand the Connecticut FCA to tax cases failed to advance.[6] While the Connecticut FCA already includes a “knowing” standard, it only applies to false claims made in the Medicaid context. Additionally, New York legislature is considering a bill that would further expand the application of its FCA’s “knowledge” standard to “obligations” under the Tax Law.[7] However, the term is not defined in the Tax Law, making it unclear whether it would apply only to the “obligation” to file a return or to situations where a CPA or tax advisor provides general advice on a specific tax matter.

The trend to loosen the standard for state FCAs liability is a problematic shift leading to lawsuits that will assert that simply providing advice or a good-faith interpretation of the tax law to a client could result in liability under a state’s FCA. Adding insult to injury, these suits will threaten treble damages, attorneys’ fees and civil penalties per occurrence. Taxpayers and their advisors should know the breadth of each state’s FCA provisions and take them into account as [...]

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Maryland Attorney General’s Office Says Taxpayers May Inform Customers of Increased Charges Resulting from Digital Advertising Tax

In a brief filed on April 29, 2022, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office (Attorney General) agreed that the “pass-through prohibition” of the state’s digital advertising tax “does not purport to impose any restriction on what the taxpayer may say to the customer, or anyone else, about” increased billing charges because of the tax.

Last year, Maryland lawmakers enacted a first-of-its-kind digital advertising tax on the annual gross receipts from the provision of digital advertising services. The tax only applies to companies with annual gross revenues of $100 million or more. Shortly thereafter, Maryland lawmakers added a pass-through prohibition, which provides that “[a] person who derives gross revenues from digital advertising services . . . may not directly pass on the cost of the [tax] to a customer who purchases the digital advertising services by means of a separate fee, surcharge, or line-item.”

In litigation brought by McDermott Will & Emery in Maryland federal court, several leading trade associations have challenged the pass-through prohibition on the basis that it violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution by regulating how sellers may communicate their prices on invoices, billing statements and the like. However, in a brief seeking dismissal of the litigation, the Attorney General claimed that the pass-through prohibition does not regulate speech but instead only prohibits the “conduct of directly passing through to a customer” the tax burden.

Highlighting what it agrees to be the limited scope of the pass-through prohibition, the Attorney General states as an “example” that if a “taxpayer wishes to inform [a] customer that [an] invoiced charge is higher than it might otherwise be due to the imposition of the digital ad tax, the taxpayer is free to communicate that or any other message.” (Emphasis added). Further, the Attorney General agrees that “if the taxpayer wants to use the invoice as an opportunity to engage in political speech, the taxpayer is free to express its displeasure with the tax and identify who bears political responsibility for [the] new tax.”

Consistent with this position, the Attorney General does not dispute that the digital advertising tax may be reflected in the amounts charged to customers. Instead, the Attorney General argues that the pass-through prohibition is a “prohibition against direct, as opposed to indirect, pass-through of the tax cost,” which is intended to ensure that the taxpayer’s “annual gross revenues” subject to the tax “reflect the full amount of revenues received from customers, undiminished by any tax costs that the taxpayer might otherwise have preferred to pass directly to the customer.”

The parties are scheduled to file additional briefs in the case on May 13, 2022. The case is Civil No. 21-cv-410 (D. Md., filed February 18, 2021). Sarah P. Hogarth, Paul W. Hughes, Michael B. Kimberly and Stephen P. Kranz, partners in McDermott’s Washington, DC, office, represent the plaintiffs.




New York State Department Intends to Finalize Corporate Tax Regulations This Fall

Almost seven years after it started releasing draft regulations concerning sweeping corporate tax reforms that went into effect back in 2015, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (Department) has issued guidance, stating that “the Department intends to begin the State Administrative Procedure Act (SAPA) process to formally propose and adopt” its draft corporate tax regulations this fall.

The Department has released many versions of “draft” regulations addressing corporate tax reform since September 2015. However, these draft regulations have been introduced outside of the SAPA process because the Department intended to formally propose and adopt all draft regulations at the same time. In the meantime, the Department warned taxpayers that so long as the regulations remain in draft form, they are not “final and should not be relied upon.”

Now, the Department has given its first public signal that it is prepared to formally adopt the draft regulations later this year. On April 29, 2022, the Department released “final drafts” of regulations that address a variety of topics, including nexus and net operating losses, and indicated that it will release final draft regulations addressing “apportionment, including rules for digital products/services and services and other business receipts” this summer.

Notably, the draft regulations released on April 29 include new provisions, “largely modeled after the [Multistate Tax Commission (MTC)] model statute . . . to address PL 86-272 and activities conducted via the internet.” Like the MTC model statute, the new draft regulations take a broad view of internet activities that would cause a company to lose PL 86-272 protection. In one example, the draft regulations state that providing customer assistance “either by email or electronic ‘chat’ that customers initiate by clicking on an icon on the corporation’s website” would exceed the scope of protections provided under PL 86-272.

As it intends to formally propose the draft regulations this fall, the Department is “strongly” encouraging “timely feedback” on all final draft regulations. With respect to the final draft regulations released on April 29, the Department is asking for comments by June 30, 2022.




Washington State Capital Gains Tax Held Unconstitutional

The Washington State capital gains tax, which went into effect on January 1, 2022, has been held unconstitutional by the Douglas County Superior Court. Created in 2021, the tax was ostensibly labeled an “excise” tax in an effort by the Washington State Legislature (Legislature) to avoid difficulties associated with implementing an income tax in the state of Washington. The judge, however, was not persuaded.

Citing to authority from the Washington State Supreme Court, the trial judge held that courts must look through any labels the state has used to describe the statute and analyze the incidents of the tax to determine its true character. Here, the judge reviewed the most significant incidents of the new tax, including:

  • It relies on federal income tax returns that Washington residents must file and is thus derived from a taxpayer’s annual federal income tax reporting;
  • It levies a tax on the same long-term capital gains that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) characterizes as “income” under federal law;
  • It is levied annually (like an income tax), not at the time of each transaction (like an excise tax);
  • It is levied on an individual’s net capital gain (like an income tax), not on the gross value of the property sold in a transaction (like an excise tax);
  • Like an income tax, it is based on an aggregate calculation of an individual’s capital gains over the course of a year from all sources, taking into consideration various deductions and exclusions, to arrive at a single annual taxable dollar figure;
  • Like an income tax, it is levied on all long-term capital gains of an individual, regardless of whether those gains were earned within Washington and thus without concern of whether the state conferred any right or privilege to facilitate the underlying transfer that would entitle the state to charge an excise;
  • Like an income tax and unlike an excise tax, the new tax statute includes a deduction for certain charitable donations the taxpayer has made during the tax year; and
  • Unlike most excise taxes, if the legal owner of the asset who transfers title or ownership is not an individual, then the legal owner is not liable for the tax generated in connection with the transaction.

The court found that these incidents show the hallmarks of an income tax rather than an excise tax, and because the new capital gains tax did not meet the uniformity and limitation requirements of the Washington State Constitution, it was unconstitutional.

The Washington State Attorney General has already indicated that the ruling will be appealed; in all likelihood, this issue will ultimately be decided by the Washington State Supreme Court. In the meantime, if you have questions about the Washington State capital gains tax, please contact Troy Van Dongen.




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