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.




CDTFA Proposes Significant Revisions to Chapters 4 and 13 of the Sales Tax Audit Manual

On February 2, 2022, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) held an interested parties meeting (IPM) to discuss proposed amendments to sales tax audit manual (AM) Chapter 13, “Statistical Sampling,” and Chapter 4, “General Audit.”

Prior to the IPM, the CDTFA released a lengthy discussion paper outlining the extensive proposed changes to the AM, which includes:

1. Removing the three error rule. The current text of AM 1308.05 explains that when a sample produces only one or two errors, the auditor must evaluate whether these errors are representative or whether it is possible they indicate problems in certain areas that could be examined separately. Under the proposed amendment, the same evaluation standards would still be in place without the minimum error requirement. According to the CDTFA, the proposed removal of the three error rule is because of the fact that “the number of errors identified in a sample does not give any indication whether the sample is representative or not…If the combined evaluation evaluates within Department [CDTFA] standards, it is justified to project the results even if one or two errors are found.”

2. Requiring 300 minimum sample items per stratum unless the auditor obtained approval from CAS to select fewer than 300. Currently, the “minimum sample size of at least 300 items of interest is to be used in all tests, except where the auditor can support a smaller sample size and it evaluates well.” (AM 1303.05) Under the new subsection titled “Materiality,” a minimum of 300 sample items per test stratum is recommended. Computer Audit Specialist (CAS) approval is required for selecting less than 300 sample items per test stratum.

3. Refunding Populations: A minimum of 100 sample items per stratum is required. In the section addressing sampling refund populations (AM 1305.10), the proposed amendment would permit auditors to select as few as 100 sample items per test stratum without CAS approval, provided the expected error rate is sufficiently high (greater than 20%). No such rule exists under the current text of Chapter 13.

4. Contacting CAS when the prior audit had 300 hours charged to it is now mandatory. In contrast, under the current rule, it is mandatory that CAS be contacted when the prior audit expended 400 or more hours or if CAS was involved in the prior audit.

5. Replacing Credit Methods 1, 2 and 3 with one recommended approach to handling credits in a statistical sample. The subsection (AM 1303.25) currently lists three types of credit methods that can be used for a statistical sample. The CDTFA now only recommends one credit method for use in a stratified statistical sample, which is referred to as “Method 1” in the current AM text. When auditors review electronic data, attempts should be made to match credit invoices to original invoices (including partially) if it is certain that the credit invoices are related to the original invoice. For all credit memos that are not matched to original invoices, those credits will be removed from [...]

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Washington State’s Mandatory Withholding for Long-Term Care Put on Hold

In 2019, the Washington State Legislature (Legislature) established the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program (LTSS Trust Program) to provide funding for eligible beneficiaries that they can apply to the cost of their long-term care. The LTSS Trust Program is funded through a 0.58% payroll tax on employee wages, which went into effect on January 1, 2022.

Though the LTSS Trust Program was intended to provide a baseline of benefits to Washingtonians lacking private long-term care insurance, the program drew public criticism in recent months because, among other things, employees had no easy way to opt out of it. The legislation provided that individuals could opt out by purchasing private long-term care insurance before November 1, 2021, and applying for an exemption by the end of 2021. However, shortly after the program went into law, most (if not all) private long-term care insurance providers pulled out of the state.

When the Legislature convened earlier this month, it fast-tracked new legislation to put the LTSS Trust Program on hold. Though many lawmakers were calling for an outright repeal of the program, the majority ultimately passed a bill to delay its implementation until July 2023. Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign the measure by Friday, January 28.

Since this delay comes after employers have already started withholding the tax from their employees’ wages and, in some cases, after the tax has been remitted to the Employment Security Department (ESD), refunds will be necessary. Under the new law, employers are required to provide refunds to their employees within 120 days of the collection. If the employer already remitted the tax to the ESD, the ESD is required to refund that money to the employer who is then required to pass it on to the employee.

If you have questions about the LTSS Trust Program or its delayed implementation, please contact the author of this article.




Maryland Comptroller Adopts Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax Regulations

On December 3, 2021, the Maryland Comptroller published notice of its adoption of the digital advertising gross revenues tax regulations (which was originally proposed on October 8, 2021). Per the Maryland Administrative Procedure Act, the final adopted regulations will go into effect in 10 calendar days, or December 13, 2021. (See Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t § 10-117(a)(1).)

The final regulations were adopted almost entirely as proposed, with just two minor changes that the Attorney General (AG) of Maryland certified as non-substantive. Specifically, the changes to the October 8 proposed regulations concern the information that may be used to determine the location of a device and are described by the AG as follows:

  • Regulation .02(C): The Comptroller is clarifying language regarding the allowable sources of information a taxpayer may use to determine the location of a device. Specifically, this final action amendment changes “both technical information and the terms of the underlying contract” to “both technical information and nontechnical information included in the contract.”
  • Regulation .02(C)(2): The Comptroller is amending the non-exhaustive list of technical information to include “industry standard metrics.”

Practice Note: While “industry standard metrics” is a nice addition to the list of sources that may be used to determine the location of devices for sourcing purposes, significant and fundamental questions and concerns submitted as part of the comments were not addressed by the Comptroller in adopting the final digital ad tax regulations. The tax is subject to multiple lawsuits (both state and federal court) and pending a court order to the contrary is scheduled to take effect beginning January 1, 2022, with the first filing obligation for large taxpayers in April 2022. Taxpayers grappling with how to comply with this new tax are encouraged to contact the authors.




Massachusetts Department of Revenue Stops Applying COVID-19 Telecommuting Policy, Returns to Location of Work Performed

In a recently issued guidance, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue indicated that the emergency telecommuting rules it put in place during the Massachusetts COVID-19 state of emergency would cease to be in effect as of September 13, 2021. Under the telecommuting rules, which were effective beginning March 10, 2020, wages paid to a non-resident employee who worked remotely (i.e., working from home or a location other than their usual work location) because of the COVID-19 pandemic were sourced based on where the employee worked prior to the state of emergency. Effective September 13, 2021, wages will generally be sourced based on where the employee’s work is actually performed.




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