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Wrapping Up August – and Looking Forward to September

Upcoming McDermott Will & Emery SALT Activities in September:

September 14, 2017: Robin Greenhouse, Kristen Hazel, Sandra McGill and Alysse McLoughlin will be speaking at McDermott Will & Emery’s Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable meeting in New York City about local tax updates and ethics.

September 15, 2017: Jane Wells May is speaking in Austin, TX at the ABA Tax Section Meeting about “False Claims Acts and State Taxes.”

September 18, 2017: Mary Kay Martire is speaking in San Antonio, TX at the 2017 IPT Sales Tax Symposium about “Third Party Tax Enforcement Actions.”

September 19, 2017: Arthur Rosen is speaking in San Antonio, TX at the 2017 IPT Sales Tax Symposium about sales tax nexus –“Son of Quill: The Sequel.”

September 19, 2017: Stephen Kranz is speaking in San Antonio, TX at the 2017 IPT Sales Tax Symposium about uncollectible debts – “Breaking Bad from Bad Debt.”

September 26, 2017: Cate Battin and Mary Kay Martire are presenting a “National Update on Key SALT Issues” in Rolling Meadows, IL, at the 18th Annual SALT Conference of the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois.

September 28, 2017: Eric Carstens and Nick Furtwengler will be speaking at the TEI Emerging Tax Professionals Seminar, taking place in McDermott’s Chicago, IL office, about the SALT portions of “Acquiring or Expanding a Business,” “Integration and Compliance” and “The Audit Notice Arrives: Now What?”

Wrapping up August:

Our August 2017 blog posts are available on insideSALT.com, or read each article by clicking on the titles below. To receive the latest on state and local tax news and commentary directly in your inbox as they are posted, click here to subscribe to our email list.

August 1, 2017: Implications of Federal Partnership Audit Rules for State and Local Taxation

August 8, 2017: MTC Offers 18 State Marketplace Seller Amnesty Initiative

August 14, 2017: Resistance is not Always Futile: New Decision in Ongoing Delaware Unclaimed Property Audit Litigation

August 15, 2017: Illinois Court Upholds Cook County’s Beverage Tax Finding It Passes Constitutional Muster and Related Developments

August 16, 2017: Delaware (Re)Proposes Unclaimed Property Reporting and Examination Manual Regulation

August 18, 2017: MTC Marketplace Seller Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Underway




MTC Marketplace Seller Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Underway

Yesterday, the application period opened for the limited-time MTC Marketplace Seller Voluntary Disclosure Initiative opened and it will close October 17, 2017. Since our last blog post on the topic detailing the initiatives terms, benefits and application procedure, six additional states (listed below) have signed on to participate in varying capacities. The lookback period being offered by each of the six states that joined this week is described below.

  1. District of Columbia: will consider granting shorter or no lookback period for applications received under this initiative on a case by case basis. DC’s standard lookback period is 3 years for sales/use and income/franchise tax.
  2. Massachusetts: requires compliance with its standard 3-year lookback period. This lookback period in a particular case may be less than 3 years, depending on when vendor nexus was created.
  3. Minnesota: will abide by customary lookback periods of 3 years for sales/use tax and 4 years (3 look-back years and 1 current year) for income/franchise tax. Minnesota will grant shorter lookback periods to the time when the marketplace seller created nexus.
  4. Missouri: prospective-only for sales/use and income/franchise tax.
  5. North Carolina: prospective-only for sales/use and income/franchise tax. North Carolina will consider applications even if the entity had prior contact concerning tax liability or potential tax liability.
  6. Tennessee: prospective-only for sales/use tax, business tax and franchise and excise tax.

Practice Note

The MTC marketplace seller initiative is now up to 24 participating states. It is targeting online marketplace sellers that use a marketplace provider (such as the Amazon FBA program or similar platform or program providing fulfillment services) to facilitate retail sales into the state. In order to qualify, marketplace sellers must not have any nexus-creating contacts in the state, other than: (1) inventory stored in a third-party warehouse or fulfillment center located in the state or (2) other nexus-creating activities performed by the marketplace provider on behalf of the online marketplace seller.

While Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee have signed on to the attractive baseline terms (no lookback for sales/use and income/franchise tax), Minnesota and Massachusetts are requiring their standard lookback periods (i.e., 3+ years). Thus, these two states (similar to Wisconsin) are not likely to attract many marketplace sellers. The District of Columbia’s noncommittal case-by-case offer leaves a lot to be determined, and their ultimate offer at the end of the process could range from no lookback to the standard three years.




MTC Offers 18 State Marketplace Seller Amnesty Initiative

The Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) is moving quickly to implement a multistate amnesty program through its current National Nexus Program (NNP) for sellers making sales through marketplaces. The new MTC marketplace seller amnesty program is limited to remote sellers (3P sellers) that have nexus with a state solely as the result of: (1) having inventory located in a fulfillment center or warehouse in that state operated by a marketplace provider; or (2) other nexus-creating activities of a marketplace provider in the state. Other qualifications include: (1) no prior contact/registration with the state; (2) timely application during the period of August 17, 2017 through October 17, 2017; and (3) registration with the state to begin collecting sales and use tax by no later than December 1, 2017, and income/franchise tax (to the extent applicable) starting with the 2017 tax year.

The baseline guarantee is prospective-only (beginning no later than Dec. 1, 2017) tax liability for sales and use and income/franchise tax, including waiver of penalties and interest. The program also attempts to ensure confidentiality of the 3P seller’s participation by prohibiting the states and MTC from honoring blanket requests from other jurisdictions for the identity of taxpayers filing returns. Note, however, that the confidentiality provision would still allow for disclosure of the content of the agreement in response to: (1) an inter-government exchange of information agreement in which the entity provides the taxpayer’s name and taxpayer identification number; (2) a statutory requirement; or (3) a lawful order.

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MTC Arm’s-Length Adjustment Service (Part II): “An Expression of Grief, Pity, or Concern”

Executive Summary

  • Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) transfer pricing program moving forward in some fashion;
  • Priority includes information sharing among participating states (and possibly their third party vendors) on transfer pricing issues. Because a formal agreement was found necessary, the scope of the information shared is presumed to include taxpayer specific information; and
  • States currently have significant inventory of transfer pricing audits that they admit they do not have the expertise to properly examine or defend in a protest.

The inaugural meeting (via conference call) of the Multistate Tax Commission’s Committee (Committee) addressing transfer pricing issues (ALAS) took place on April 7, 2016, and was certainly interesting.  A predecessor Working Group had created an extensive plan that is intended to be implemented by the Committee over 4 years.  The plan initially anticipated that approximately 10 states (at least) would agree to fund the cost of the multi-year program, but meeting that goal has not materialized.  Instead, the Committee is moving forward hoping to add more states (or limit services provided) as the plan progresses.  The anticipated program has multiple parts such as training, additional MTC staff resources and multistate transfer pricing audit and litigation support for participating states.

Ten states identified themselves on the call – only Pennsylvania was new to the process; the rest of the states on the call had all been involved in the predecessor Working Group.  Also on the call was Eric Cook, co-founder of Chainbridge, the company that is currently involved in the controversial transfer pricing approach adopted by the District of Columbia (and previously by some other states).  To no one’s surprise, all of the states agreed that Joe Garrett, Deputy Co-Commissioner of Revenue of Alabama, should be Chair of the Committee (he was the chair of the Working Group as well).  The group will have monthly calls which are open for the public to listen in on. (more…)




How Far Back Can a Back Tax Go? Petition for Certiorari in Hambleton Asks Supreme Court to Right Unjust Retroactivity

Retroactivity is an endemic problem in the state tax world.  In this year alone, we have seen retroactive repeal of the Multistate Tax Compact (MTC) in Michigan, as well as significant retroactivity issues in New York, New Jersey and Virginia.  But after decades of states changing the rules on taxpayers after-the-fact, relief may be on the way if the Supreme Court of the United States grants certiorari in a Washington estate tax case, Hambleton v. Washington, with retroactivity that makes you say “What the heck?”.

The taxpayers filed a petition for certiorari on June 5, 2015.  The Court requested a response, which is now due by September 9, 2015.  The Tax Executives Institute filed an amicus brief on July 6, 2015.

The case involves two widows’ estates.  As stated in the petition:

Helen Hambleton died in 2006, and Jessie Macbride died in 2007.  Each was the passive lifetime beneficiary of a trust established in her deceased husband’s estate, and neither possessed a power under the trust instrument to dispose of the trust assets.  Under the Washington estate tax law at the time of their deaths, the tax did not apply to the value of those trust assets.  In 2013, however, the Washington Legislature amended the estate tax statutes retroactively back to 2005, exposing their estates to nearly two million dollars of back taxes.

In 2005, Washington state enacted an estate tax that was intended to operate on a standalone basis, separate from the federal estate tax.  In interpreting the new law, the Department of Revenue issued regulations that the transfer of property from the petitioners’ husbands to the petitioners through a Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) trust was not subject to the Washington estate tax.  The Department then reversed its position and assessed tax.  Petitioners, along with other estates, challenged the Department’s position and won in Washington Supreme Court (In re Estate of Bracken, 290 P.3d 99 (Wash. 2012)).  Then in 2013, the Washington legislature amended the estate tax to retroactively adopt the Department’s position, going back to 2005.  The petitioners challenged this law up to the Washington Supreme Court, which held in favor of the Department and concluded that the retroactive change satisfied the due process clause under a rational basis standard.

The petition urges the Supreme Court to take the case to resolve the uncertainty as to “how long is too long” when it comes to retroactive taxes, citing multiple examples of past and ongoing litigation in which lower courts have taken divergent approaches to the length of retroactivity that is permissible.  Of particular interest, one of the cases cited is International Business Machines Corp. v. Michigan Department of Treasury, 852 N.W.2d 865 (Mich. 2014).  The retroactive repeal of the MTC election in Michigan is a central issue in that ongoing litigation. If the Supreme Court takes Hambleton, its decision would likely impact the Michigan MTC litigation. The recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals, allowing [...]

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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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Let the Training Begin: MTC Transfer Pricing Audits Draw Near

Deputy Executive Director Greg Matson (a nice guy at heart) announced this week that the Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) has hired its first transfer pricing training consultant and is scheduled to begin training state auditors.  The training, titled “Identifying Related Party Issues in Corporate Tax Audits” will be hosted by the North Carolina Department of Revenue from March 31 to April 1, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  While the much anticipated Arm’s Length Adjustment Service (ALAS, discussed in more depth in our February 6, 2015 blog post, available here) is still pending approval of the MTC Executive Committee and ratification at the annual meeting this summer, it has not stopped MTC officials from moving forward with training state auditors on transfer pricing.  This training (and any subsequent training offered before the annual meeting) will be conducted as part of the MTC’s “regular training” schedule (and is not directly tied to the ALAS program since authority to train for that program has not vested).  Nonetheless, Executive Director Joe Huddleston made it clear in a recent letter to the states that “[t]his course will preview the training to be provided through the Arm’s-Length Adjustment Service.”

The kickoff training session at the end of this month will be conducted by former Internal Revenue Service Office of Chief Counsel senior economic advisor, Ednaldo Silva.  He is the founder of RoyaltyStat LLC, one of the transfer pricing consulting firms that is being considered by the MTC to provide their services for the ALAS.  During yesterday’s teleconference of the ALAS Advisory Group, Matson and Huddleston were optimistic that additional training sessions would be offered by the MTC before the ALAS is finalized.  It remains to be seen whether this training will be offered by Silva or another participant from the October 2014 Advisory Group meeting that has submitted a bid to be the contract firm for the ALAS.  Because these trainings are a fundamental threshold step to commencing ALAS audits (projected to begin December 2015), they provide a strong signal that the MTC is optimistic that they will have sufficient support from the states to continue the ALAS program.

Too Soon?

In a letter distributed to 46 states and Washington, D.C. in February 2015, the MTC officially solicited state commitments to the ALAS program.  States were given until the end of March 2015 to respond.  By the terms of the ALAS proposal, the MTC will need a commitment from at least seven states for the program to move forward.  MTC officials announced at yesterday’s Advisory Group teleconference that the current count is zero (with one state declining).  While there is still time to respond, several revenue department officials voiced concern about making a commitment without more detailed estimates of costs.  Others voiced uncertainty about the ability to enter into a contract for such a long period under state law (the program requests that each state commit to four years).  While there was no significant undertone of opposition to [...]

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MTC Puts Designs on Increasing State Transfer Pricing Revenues

This past December, the Multistate Tax Commission’s (MTC) transfer pricing advisory committee and its project facilitator Dan Bucks recommended what it calls the “preliminary design” approach for a proposed Arm’s Length Adjustment Services (ALAS) program.  While still subject to approval, states already anticipate that the program will increase their state transfer pricing revenues.

The MTC ALAS is an attempt to bring to state governments a comprehensive and coordinated program to address income shifting and the loss of state tax revenues, much along the lines of what the United States and other foreign governments have been trying to do, most recently in their Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) initiative.  The ALAS program is intended to address both interstate income shifting, which is never addressed at the federal level, and international income shifting, which the MTC believes is massively under-audited at the federal level.  According to some estimates, state revenue losses from transfer pricing total as high as $20 billion a year.

Fundamental to the preliminary design will be the hiring of a mix of MTC in-house and contract consulting expertise for advanced economic and technical analysis of taxpayer-provided transfer pricing studies, including providing alternative recommendations to taxpayer positions.  This approach (in contrast to a fully outsourced or in-house approach) recognizes the highly specialized and interdisciplinary nature of transfer pricing analysis, and the need to both quickly and effectively address and resolve immediate cases, as well as to build the capabilities and capacity (through training, information exchange, process improvements, etc.) to support state transfer pricing needs for the long-term.

Set to be voted on by the MTC’s Executive Committee at its May meeting, the ALAS program would kick-off in July 2015 with the hiring of an in-house tax manager, followed shortly thereafter with the engagement of one or more private economic consulting firms and an in-house senior economist by the end of the year.  The program would begin transfer pricing analyses by December 2015, with the completion of up to 18 joint economic studies by the end of 2017.

The focus of the initial stages of the ALAS approach will be on reviewing and analyzing the taxpayer’s existing transfer pricing study—questioning, critiquing and (re)-computing the taxpayer’s results– rather than attempting to re-create the transfer price whole cloth.  The effect is likely to produce a more rigorous, sophisticated and traditional analysis, one that paradoxically is likely to corroborate those taxpayer studies that are both thorough and orthodox in their approach, but at the same time pose a serious challenge to those that are not.

To the extent taxpayers don’t have formal documentation, they would be well-served to get it, or at least develop external third party benchmarks to corroborate their cross-border intercompany pricing.

The MTC’s proposed ALAS program is quite ambitious, not only in terms of its operational goals and timing, but also in its conception.  Preliminary or not, the programs’ combination of outside expert consultants with coordinated state resources, should cause taxpayers to reexamine the “designs” of their state transfer pricing [...]

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Multistate Taxpayers Take Note! Recap of the First Day of the MTC Pricing Summit

On October 6, 2014, the Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) held the first day of a two-day meeting intended to educate state revenue authorities on corporate income tax issues surrounding intercompany transactions, and further refine a path forward for states interested in collaborating on audit and compliance strategies.  This first day focused entirely on presentations by specialists in transfer pricing and related intercompany transaction issues.  Two important themes and one blatant omission regarding future enforcement emerged from the first day:  (1) suggestions for increased disclosure and substantiation requirements; (2) safe harbor options and (3) a lack of discussion of how to prevent the risk of double taxation.

Taxpayers should be particularly concerned with the stress placed by the specialists on increased disclosure and substantiation requirements.  Most of the specialists emphasized the importance of getting information into the hands of revenue authorities.  Several suggested adding questions to the tax return itself such as “does the taxpayer use intangible property owned by an affiliate?”  These questions would be used to identify potential audit targets and focus audit inquiries.  Separately – but in a similar vein – several specialists suggested that taxpayers be required to create contemporaneous documentation substantiating their intercompany pricing at the state level.  An example provided was the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development proposal that a taxpayer provide a country-by-country analysis.  This example provoked at least one attendee to compare it to the infamous “50-state spreadsheet.”  Some specialists even suggested that states create special penalties for failure to properly disclose or create the required substantiation.

As some commentators acknowledged, a substantial concern with both the disclosure and substantiation suggestions is the risk of a significant increase in the cost of compliance for taxpayers.  State authorities should carefully consider the risk/rewards of any such action.  Increased state disclosure requirements, such as modeling the federal uncertain tax position rule, have not yet widely caught on among the states despite spurts of activity.  This is partially because of the administrative burden on taxpayers and partially because states receive a great deal of information from the Internal Revenue Service.  It is clear, however, that the states continue to be frustrated with the perceived tax planning problem.  The specialists expressed near-unanimous agreement that states need more information to properly enforce intercompany transaction issues.

The second theme of the day was the concept of safe harbors.  This theme took different forms but could be something that both taxpayers and state revenue authorities would support.  For example, some specialists suggested that for low-value transactions, safe harbor rules be created to provide increased certainty to taxpayers.  This might include providing limits on the percentage profit that could be made from certain types of intercompany transactions.  Other commentators and some states suggested, however, that additional safe harbor protections are unnecessary because state add-back statutes effectively provide safe harbor protection.

In a glaring omission, specialists failed to recognize or address the need to avoid double taxation.  Although several specialists noted that in the international area, most of the action happens [...]

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MTC State Transfer Pricing Program Looms on the Horizon

More formal, rigorous, and perhaps more frequent, state transfer pricing audits appear to be looming on the horizon, as the Multistate Tax Commission (MTC) is set to launch a design and development project tasked with presenting a preliminary draft program by year’s end, with a final program recommendation due by the MTC’s annual meeting in July 2015.  The intent would be to create a dedicated MTC program, including staff, that would assist, as well as train, member states (both combined and separate reporting states) in conducting state transfer pricing audits as an alternative to hiring contracted consultants.

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