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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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Seattle Payroll Expense Tax Upheld by State Appellate Court

This week, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a challenge to the recently enacted payroll expense tax in Seattle, WA. Seattle Metro. Chamber of Commerce v. City of Seattle, No. 82830-4-I, 2022 WL 2206828 (Wash. Ct. App. June 21, 2022).

The tax, which went into effect on January 1, 2021, applies to entities “engaging in business within Seattle” and is measured using the business’s “payroll expense” (defined as “compensation paid in Seattle to employees,” including wages, commissions, salaries, stock, grants, gifts, bonuses and stipends). The tax only applies to businesses with a payroll expense of more than $7 million in the prior calendar year, and compensation is considered “paid in Seattle” if the employee works more than 50% of the time in the city. Additionally, if the employee does not work in any city more than 50% of the time, the employee’s compensation is treated as though it was “paid in Seattle” only “if the employee resides in Seattle.”

Although the tax is based on employee compensation, the Washington Court of Appeals held that incidence of the tax is on the employer, not the employee. This was a critical distinction because, under Washington law, municipalities generally are prohibited from levying taxes directly on wages (e.g., an income tax). By finding that the tax incidence fell on the employers, the Court was able to define the tax as an excise tax on the employer’s privilege of doing business in the city.

As expected, the tax is already bringing in significant revenue for Seattle. In its first year on the books, the tax brought in more than $230 million. Yet, despite this new revenue (as well as revenue from several other recently enacted taxes), Seattle is still projecting a financing gap of more than $100 million for 2022. Taxpayers are concerned that the city will explore even more revenue options to help close the gap.

The McDermott tax team is constantly monitoring tax developments on a state-by-state basis and will provide updates on the PNW specifically as they are made known.




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.




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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