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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.




Inside the New York Budget Bill: Tax Base and Income Classifications

The New York Legislature has passed bills related to the 2015–2016 budget (S2009-B/A3009-B and S4610-A/A6721-A, collectively referred to herein as the Budget Bill) containing several significant “technical corrections” to the New York State corporate income tax reform enacted in 2014, along with sales tax provisions and amendments to reform New York City’s General Corporation Tax.  The Budget Bill’s technical corrections to last year’s corporate income tax reform include changes to the economic nexus, tax base and income classification, tax rate (including clarifications to rules applicable to certain taxpayers, such as qualified New York manufacturers), apportionment, combined reporting, net operating loss and tax credit provisions.  The technical corrections are effective on the same date as last year’s corporate income tax reform, which was generally effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2015.

This post is the second in a series analyzing the New York Budget Bill, and summarizes the technical corrections to New York’s tax base and income classifications.

Although the modifications are described as “corrections” to last year’s corporate tax reform provisions, the Budget Bill makes a number of substantive changes with respect to the income classification rules.

Investment Capital 

Last year’s corporate tax reform narrowed the definition of investment capital to mean investments in stocks held by a taxpayer for more than six consecutive months but not held for sale to customers in the regular course of business, and excluding stock that is a “qualified financial instrument” for which the taxpayer has elected to use the 8 percent apportionment sourcing rule, stock in a unitary business, stock in a business that is included in a combined report with the taxpayer, and stock issued by the taxpayer.

This year’s Budget Bill further narrows the definition of investment capital by extending the holding period from six months to one year, by tying the definition of investment capital to certain Internal Revenue Code provisions, and by requiring taxpayers to separately identify stock held as investment capital in their books and records.  Investment capital now means investments in stocks that meet the following criteria:

  • Satisfy the definition of a “capital asset” under section 1221 of the Internal Revenue Code at all times the taxpayer owned the stock during the taxable year;
  • Are held for investment for more than one year;
  • The dispositions of which are, or would be, treated by the taxpayer as generating long-term capital gains or losses under the Internal Revenue Code;
  • For stocks acquired on or after January 1, 2015, have never been held for sale to customers in the regular course of business at any time after the close of the day on which they are acquired; and
  • Before the close of the day on which the stock was acquired, are clearly identified in the taxpayer’s books and records as stock held for investment in the same manner as required under section 1236(a)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code for the stock of a dealer in securities to be eligible for capital gain treatment (for [...]

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D.C. Bill Ostensibly Lowers Tax on Capital Gains from QHTC Investments… But How?

On September 23, District of Columbia Council Chairman Mendelson introduced the Promoting Economic Growth and Job Creation Through Technology Act of 2014 (Bill 20-0945 , hereinafter the “Act”) at the request of Mayor Vincent Gray.  This marks the second time that the Council has considered the introduced language; it was originally included as part of the Technology Sector Enhancement Act of 2012 (Bill 19-747), but was deleted prior to enactment.  The Act would add a new provision to the D.C. Code (§ 47-1817.07a) to impose a lower tax rate on capital gains from the sale of an investment in a Qualified High Technology Company (QHTC) beginning in 2015.  The rate would be 3 percent as compared with the current rate of 9.975 percent for business taxpayers.  Notably the proposed provision is limited in scope and only applies when the following three elements are satisfied:

  1. The investment was held by the investor for at least 24 continuous months;
  2. The investment is in common or preferred stock or options of the QHTC Company; and
  3. During the taxable year, the investor disposed or exchanged of some or all of his or her investment in the QHTC.

As introduced, the proposed tax is explicitly applied “notwithstanding” any provision of the income tax statutes.

Good Thought, Poor Drafting

The intent of this legislation is clear, but the practical application is not.  As a threshold matter, the second element requires the investment to be “in common of preferred stock or options,” which by definition excludes partnerships and limited liability companies since only corporations can issue stock.  On its face, the language of the bill appears to be limited to investments in a QHTC organized as a corporation, despite the fact that other entities are eligible for QHTC status under D.C. law.  Therefore, limited partners and members investing in pass-through QHTC’s appear to fall outside the scope of the proposed legislation.

Second, by imposing a different rate on only a certain type of income and by taxing the gains notwithstanding any other provision of the income tax statute, the proposal fails to account for basic tax calculations necessary to arrive at taxable income in the District for a business taxpayer.  For example, the allocation and apportionment provisions would seem to be negated both practically and legally.   What part of a multistate taxpayer’s gain from a QHTC is subject to the 3 percent rate?  Is it all of the gain; an apportioned part of the gain – and if so, based on whose apportionment percentage?  What if the gain would have been categorized as non-business income and the taxpayer is a non-resident?  The answer is certainly not obvious from the legislation.  Similarly, how do a taxpayer’s losses, both in the current year and carried over, affect the amount of gain available to tax?  Can all of the losses be used against other types of income first?  Can the losses be used at all against the QHTC gain?

Third, how is a taxpayer [...]

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Illinois Trust Taxation Deemed Unconstitutional

In Linn v. Department of Revenue, the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court reviewed the state’s statutory framework for taxing trusts.  Linn v. Department of Revenue, 2013 Il App (4th) 121055.  On constitutional grounds, the court limited Illinois’ power to impose taxes under its “once subject to tax, forever subject to tax” regime.

This case creates planning opportunities to minimize Illinois income taxes.  However, it should be noted that the Linn case applies to trusts that pay Illinois income tax on trust dividends, interest, capital gains or other income retained by the trust and not distributed to a beneficiary.  This case does not apply to income distributed to an Illinois beneficiary; that income clearly can be taxed by Illinois.

Read the full article.




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