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Update on State Responses to Federal Tax Reform: Illinois and Oregon

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 [...]

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State Revenue Departments Misapplying Federal Tax Law

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 [...]

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