States are moving to advance different solutions in their efforts to address federal tax reform. Illinois recently introduced legislation to addback the new deduction for foreign-derived intangible income (a topic we’ve previously covered), and its Department of Revenue has issued its position on other aspects of federal reform. Oregon, after resolving a controversy between its senate and house, is about to pass legislation addressing deemed repatriation income and repealing its tax haven inclusion provisions.

Illinois Issues Guidance on Federal Tax Reform

On March 1, the Illinois Department of Revenue (Department) issued guidance explaining its position with respect to how various law changes made in the 2017 federal tax reform bill, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Act), will impact taxpayers in Illinois.

While, for the most part, the pronouncement provides a cursory analysis of the provisions of the Act and a conclusory statement as to whether each provision will result in an increase or decrease in a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (for individuals) or federal taxable income (for corporations), there are a few items that do warrant some specific mention.

With respect to Illinois’ treatment of the Act’s new international tax provisions, the Department provides some insight into treatment of deemed repatriated foreign earnings and global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI). For purposes of both the deemed repatriated foreign earnings and the GILTI, the Act provides that a taxpayer computes its taxable income by including an amount in income and taking a corresponding deduction to partially offset the inclusion. The Illinois guidance indicates that the inclusion in Illinois will be net, with both the income inclusion and the deduction taken into account in determining a taxpayer’s tax base. This is consistent with the provisions of the Illinois corporate income tax that provide that the Illinois tax base is a corporation’s “taxable income,” which is defined as the amount of “taxable income properly reportable for federal income tax purposes for the taxable year under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.” 35 ILCS 5/203(b)(1), (e).

Mitigating the tax impact of these provisions, the Department also takes the position that the amount included as deemed repatriated foreign earnings or as GILTI will be treated as a foreign dividend eligible for Illinois’ 100 percent dividend-received deduction. See 35 ILCS 5/203(b)(2)(O), (b)(2)(G). This rationale is in accordance with the provisions in the Illinois statute that provide a dividend-received deduction for dividends received or deemed received under Internal Revenue Code sections 951 through 965. Thus, because the deemed repatriated foreign earnings are included pursuant to section 965 and the new GILTI is included pursuant to section 951A, those amounts should both be dividends eligible for the dividend-received deduction.

In addition, the Department has specified that the new provision limiting the use of federal net operating losses (NOLs) in an amount equal to 80 percent of the taxpayer’s taxable income is a change that could provide an increased tax base or increased tax revenue to Illinois. Corporate taxpayers should not get confused, however. Illinois allows use of the federal NOL only for individuals. Corporate taxpayers, however, have to add back any federal NOL and then compute a separate NOL for purposes of the Illinois corporate income tax. Thus, neither the 80 percent limitation nor the change to unlimited carryforwards will impact the ability of a corporate taxpayer to use its NOL for purposes of the Illinois corporate income tax.

Nail Biting Success in Oregon on Tax Haven Repeal Following Federal Tax Reform

While drama surrounded Oregon’s legislation addressing aspects of federal tax reform, the end result provides clarity and relief for taxpayers with international affiliates. Oregon has now addressed the repatriation provisions of federal tax reform and is in the process of repealing its (hated) tax haven inclusion provision.

Oregon Senate Bill 1529-A addresses several elements of how the state will conform to federal tax reform. Oregon decided it needed to address reform rapidly because of the risk of a perceived windfall to taxpayers if the state did not change its existing dividend-received deduction statute. Absent the legislation, Oregon would have included both the repatriation addition and the deduction in its tax base and allowed its 80 percent dividend-received deduction against the gross, not the net. The adopted legislation changes this calculation. The legislation requires that amounts deducted for income repatriated under section 965 must be added back in calculating Oregon taxable income. This provision is added to ORS 317.267, the provision decoupling from the federal dividend-received deduction. The tax on the remaining amount would be due in year one, as there is no provision in the bill similar to the federal 8-year payment allowance. It is estimated that the state will receive approximately $160 million from the one-time deemed repatriation. Absent the change, the state would have lost $100 million.

The legislation provides additional relief from the tax on repatriated income. Oregon is one of the states that had adopted tax haven legislation, requiring income of the taxpayer’s affiliates incorporated in certain listed countries to be included in the taxpayer’s taxable income. ORS 317.716. As a result, Oregon may have already taxed some of the income now deemed repatriated. To alleviate any double taxation, new Section 33 in the bill allows a credit for taxes attributable to this income. The credit is limited to the lesser of the tax attributed to the repatriated income or the tax on the income included under ORS 317.716. Unused credits may be carried over five years.

The drama over passage of the bill revolved around a provision that repealed the tax haven inclusion provisions of ORS 317.716. The bill that passed the senate unanimously included the repeal of the tax haven provision. When it reached the house, however, Amendment –A9 removed the repeal. A hearing on the bill included testimony both for and against the repeal. Proponents argued that it was too soon to determine whether repeal was necessary and the tax haven provision should be maintained until the Department of Revenue completed a study to determine whether there was truly overlap between the tax haven inclusion and the GILTI provisions. McDermott provided written comments explaining why maintaining the tax haven provision was duplicative of the policy behind the new GILTI provision and would require complex computations to avoid double taxation when a taxpayer was subject to both GILTI and the tax haven inclusion. COST and the Tax Foundation also provided comments supporting the bill as passed by the senate that included the tax haven repeal language. The house ultimately passed a bill repealing the tax haven provisions, and the senate agreed in conference. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Under amendments to the bill, the Department of Revenue will have an opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of GILTI, but it is not clear whether the pending budget bill will provide funding for this study.

Please contact us to join McDermott’s multi-state coalition, the STAR Partnership, which will address state business tax ramifications raised by federal tax reform. Further information is available here.

 

State income tax laws generally build on federal tax law.  The typical pattern is to begin the calculation of state taxable income with federal taxable income and then to modify it by adding or subtracting items where state tax policies differ from federal tax policies.  As a result, a corporation’s state taxable income can be affected by the application of the federal Internal Revenue Code.  State revenue departments generally do not consider themselves bound by Internal Revenue Service determinations respecting the application of federal tax law and believe that they are free to interpret the Internal Revenue Code as they see fit.  Unfortunately, this has led to problems because state tax auditors often are not well trained in federal tax principles.  We had an instance earlier this year in which an auditor claimed that the merger of a wholly-owned subsidiary into its corporate parent was taxable because there was an increase in the parent’s retained earnings.  The merger was a plain vanilla tax-free liquidation under Sections 332 and 337 of the Internal Revenue Code (there was no intercompany debt and the subsidiary was clearly solvent), but sending copies of these provisions to the auditor left him unmoved.  We finally got him to back down by showing that the parent’s increase in retained earnings was matched by a decrease in the subsidiary’s retained earnings so that there was no overall increase.  As we explained to the client, a win is a win, even if for the wrong reasons.  Nevertheless, if the auditor had been properly versed in the most basic federal corporate tax principles, this exercise would not have been necessary.

Two recent decisions illustrate misapplications of federal tax law by state revenue departments.

The Idaho Tax Commission recently held that a subsidiary’s net operating loss (NOL) carryovers did not pass to its parent in a merger of the subsidiary into the parent.  The parent did not continue to operate the business of the merged subsidiary and the Commission held that “based on IRC §382, the Petitioner cannot carry the loss forward after the merger.”  Idaho State Tax Commission Ruling No. 25749 (Apr. 17, 2014).  The Commission’s statement of federal tax law is incorrect.  Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code does not apply to a merger of a wholly-owned subsidiary into its parent.  Because of constructive ownership rules, no change in ownership is deemed to occur.  Moreover, Section 382 does not prevent an NOL from passing to the surviving company in a merger; it simply limits the extent to which the NOL can be used.  Although it is true that the limitation is zero for years in which the merged company’s business is discontinued, the NOL is not destroyed.  If the parent later sells assets received from the subsidiary that had built-in gain at the time of the merger, the loss can be used to offset the gain.

Discussions that we have had with the Commission after the decision came out indicate that the Commission had concluded that there was real doubt as to whether the subsidiary’s losses were valid in the first place.  Nevertheless, its explanation of the reasons for preventing the loss from passing to the parent are incorrect as a matter of law and may be a problem to taxpayers if Commission auditors take the Commission’s language at face value in the future.

NIHC, Inc. v. Comptroller of the Treasury (Docket 63, Court of Appeals of Maryland) (August 18, 2014) involved corporations that were filing consolidated federal income tax returns but separate Maryland income tax returns.  A subsidiary distributed appreciated property to its parent in a transaction in which, had they been filing separate federal income tax returns, a gain would have been taxed to the subsidiary under Section 311(b) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Under the federal consolidated return regulations, however, the subsidiary’s gain was “recognized” but “deferred.”  This means that the gain was not immediately taxed but would have been taxed in later years upon the occurrence of certain events (e.g., a breakup of the consolidated return group, the transfer of the appreciated property by the parent outside the group, or the depreciation or amortization of the transferred property by the parent).  Under the federal consolidated return regulations, the subsidiary recognized income gradually over the next 15 years as the parent amortized the appreciated property.  Thus, the subsidiary reported income in later years but not in the year of the distribution.

In the litigation, the subsidiary took the position that it should have recognized the gain for Maryland income tax purposes in the year of the distribution because the corporations were filing separate Maryland income tax returns.  In other words, the taxpayer argued that the deferral principles of the federal consolidated return regulations, which were predicated upon the filing of consolidated returns by the corporations, should not apply for Maryland tax purposes because the corporations were filing separate Maryland tax returns.  The statute of limitations for assessing deficiencies for a taxable year of the distribution had expired.  The court, without discussing the applicable principles, held that the subsidiary made its bed and should lie in it and should not profit by the mistake that it claimed to have made in filing its tax returns for the year of the distribution.  The court failed to analyze the federal tax principles and their relationship with Maryland tax principles.

This may have been a classic case of bad facts making bad law.  The subsidiary had been established as an intangible holding company and the court made it clear that it disapproved of the taxpayer’s alleged attempt to divert income from Maryland through the intangible holding company device.  Nevertheless, the court clearly misapplied federal tax principles.

The takeaway here is that practitioners should not assume that state tax auditors will understand and correctly apply federal tax principles.  It may be necessary to call upon a company’s federal tax advisors to explain these principles to the auditors in simple terms.  It may also be necessary to talk to senior people in the department of revenue, who are more likely to be knowledgeable about federal tax rules than are the auditors.