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SALT Implications of the House and Senate Tax Reform Bill

Many provisions of the House and Senate tax reform proposals would affect state and local tax regimes. SALT practitioners should monitor the progress of this legislation and consider contacting their state tax administrators and legislative bodies to voice their opinions.

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Implications of Federal Partnership Audit Rules for State and Local Taxation

The new federal partnership income tax audit rules, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2018, will have significant implications for the state and local taxation of partnerships and their partners. Most, but not all, states that impose a net income-based tax adopt by reference the federal definition of taxable income, but those that do typically adjust that income to reflect differences between state and federal tax policies. Moreover, state revenue departments generally do not regard themselves as being bound by Internal Revenue Service interpretations of the Internal Revenue Code even when substantive Code provisions are incorporated into state law by reference. The federal statutory rules relating to partnership audits are procedural rules and not ones of substantive tax law, so they will not be automatically adopted by states that generally conform to Internal Revenue Code provisions relating to taxable income. State legislatures may decide to adopt some or all of the federal statutory rules, or they may decide to adopt none of them. Arizona has already adopted its own version of the federal rules, and other state revenue departments are considering recommending to their legislatures that the legislatures take similar action, but most states have not reacted to the federal rules at this time. (more…)




SALT Implications of Proposed Section 385 Debt/Equity Regulations

On April 4, 2016, without warning, the US Department of the Treasury proposed a new set of comprehensive regulations under section 385. There had been no advance indication that regulations were even under consideration. Although the Treasury indicated that the proposed regulations were issued in the context of addressing corporate inversions, their application went well beyond the inversion space and they apply to inter-corporate debt regardless of whether it occurs in an international context. The following is a discussion of the state and local tax consequences of the proposed regulations; for a detailed discussion of the proposed regulations themselves, see this previous article.

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Michigan Department of Treasury’s New Acquiescence Policy: A Model for Other States

On February 16, 2016, the Michigan Department of Treasury announced its new acquiescence policy with respect to certain court decisions affecting state tax policy. The Treasury’s acquiescence policy is similar to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) policy of announcing whether it will follow the holdings in certain adverse, non-precedential cases.

In Michigan, while published decisions of the Michigan Court of Appeals and all decisions of the Michigan Supreme Court are binding on both the Treasury and taxpayers, unpublished decisions of the Court of Appeals and decisions of the Court of Claims and the Michigan Tax Tribunal are binding only on the parties to the case and only with respect to the years and issues in litigation. Nonetheless, the Treasury has determined that a particular decision, while not binding, may constitute “persuasive authority in similar cases.” The Treasury may therefore decide to follow a non-precedential decision that is adverse to the Treasury in other cases, a policy known as acquiescence. Beginning with its May 2016 quarterly newsletter, the Treasury will publish a list of final (i.e., unappealed), non-binding, adverse decisions, and announce its acquiescence or non-acquiescence with respect to each. The Treasury points out that an indication of acquiescence does not necessarily mean that the Treasury approves of the reasoning used by the court in its decision. (more…)




District of Columbia’s Transfer Pricing Enforcement Program and Combined Reporting Regime: Taking Two Bites of the Same Apple

In his recent article, “A Cursory Analysis of the Impact of Combined Reporting in the District”, Dr. Eric Cook claims that the District of Columbia’s (D.C. or the District) newly implemented combined reporting tax regime is an effective means of increasing tax revenue from corporate taxpayers, but it will have little overlap with D.C.’s ongoing federal-style section 482 tax enforcement.  Dr. Cook is chief executive officer of Chainbridge Software LLC, whose company’s product and services have been utilized by the District to analyze corporations’ inter-company transactions and enforce arm’s length transfer pricing principles.  Combined reporting, (i.e., formulary apportionment, as it is known in international tax circles) and the arm’s length standard, are effectively polar opposites in the treatment of inter-company taxation.  It is inappropriate for the District (and other taxing jurisdictions) to simultaneously pursue both.  To do so seriously risks overtaxing District business taxpayers and questions the coherence of the District’s tax regime.

History

Both combined reporting and 482 adjustments have had a renaissance in the past decade.  Several tax jurisdictions, including the District, enacted new combined reporting requirements to increase tax revenue and combat perceived tax planning by businesses.  At the same time, some tax jurisdictions, once again including the District, have stepped up audit changes based on use of transfer pricing adjustment authority.  This change is due in part to new availability of third-party consultants and the interest in the issue by the Multistate Tax Commission (MTC).  States have engaged consultants, such as Chainbridge, to augment state capabilities in the transfer pricing area.  At the request of some states, the MTC is hoping to launch its Arm’s Length Audit Services (ALAS)[1] program.  States thus have increasing external resources available for transfer-pricing audits.

International Context

A similar discussion regarding how to address inter-company income shifting is occurring at the international level, but with a fundamentally important different conclusion.  The national governments of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the G-20 are preparing to complete (on a more or less consensual basis) their Base Erosion and Profit Shifting action plan.  This plan will reject formulary apportionment as a means of evaluating and taxing inter-company transactions.[2]  Thus, in the international context, formulary apportionment and transfer pricing adjustment authority are not seen as complementary, but instead are seen as mutually exclusive alternatives.  The history of formulary apportionment in international context sheds light on why states make a mistake when they seek to use both combined reporting and transfer pricing adjustments.

A combined reporting basis of taxation seeks to treat the members of a consolidated group as a single entity, consolidating financial accounts of the member entities and allocating a portion of the consolidated income to the taxing jurisdiction based on some formula or one or more apportionment factors.  Under the arm’s length approach, individual entities of a consolidated group within a single jurisdiction are treated (generally) as stand-alone entities and taxed according to the arm’s length value (the value that would be realized by independent, [...]

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Currency Conversion Concerns: New York Issues Guidance on Virtual Currencies

On December 5, 2014, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance (Department) released TSB-M-14(5)C, (7)I, (17)S.  This (relatively short) bulletin sets forth the treatment of convertible virtual currency for sales, corporation and personal income tax purposes.  The bulletin follows on a notice released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in March of this year, Notice 2014-21.

The IRS Notice indicates that, for federal tax purposes, the IRS will treat virtual currency as property, and will not treat it as currency for purposes of foreign currency gains or losses.  Taxpayers must convert virtual currency into U.S. dollars when determining whether there has been a gain or loss on transactions involving the currency.  When receiving virtual currency as payment, either for goods and services or as compensation, the virtual currency is converted into U.S. dollars (based on the fair market value of the virtual currency at the time of receipt) to determine the value of the payment.

The IRS Notice only relates to “convertible virtual currency.”  Virtual currency is defined as a “digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value.”  Convertible virtual currency is virtual currency that “has an equivalent value in real currency, or that acts as a substitute for real currency.”

The Department’s bulletin also addresses only convertible virtual currency, and uses a definition identical to the IRS definition.  The Department indicates that it will follow the federal treatment of virtual currency for purposes of the corporation tax and personal income tax.

For sales and use tax purposes, the bulletin states that convertible virtual currency is intangible property and therefore not subject to tax.  Thus, the transfer of virtual currency itself is not subject to tax.  However, the exchange of virtual currency for products and services will be treated as a barter transaction, and the amount of tax due is calculated based on the fair market value of the virtual currency at the time of the exchange.

The Department should be applauded for issuing guidance on virtual currency.  It appears that these types of currencies will be used more and more in the future, and may present difficult tax issues.

However, the Department’s guidance is incomplete.  There are a couple of unanswered questions that taxpayers will still need to ponder.

First, the definition of convertible virtual currency is somewhat broad and unclear.  The Department and the IRS define “convertible” virtual currency as currency that has an “equivalent” value in real currency, but equivalent is not defined in either the IRS Notice or the bulletin.  Many digital products and services use virtual currency or points that cannot be legally exchanged for currency to reward users, and the IRS and the Department should be clearer about the tax treatment of those currencies.

Second, although the Department will follow the federal treatment for characterization and income recognition purposes, the bulletin does not discuss apportionment.  This is likely a very small issue at this point in time, but the Department will, [...]

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