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Chicago Mayor’s Tax-Heavy Budget Passes: Lease and Amusement Tax Implications

Last week the Chicago City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2016 revenue ordinance as part of his tax-laden budget proposal. The revenue ordinance included noteworthy changes to the personal property lease transaction tax (lease tax) and amusement tax, both of which we have covered in-depth since the Department of Finance (Department) issued two rulings over the summer officially extending a nine percent tax to most services provided online. The portions of the revenue ordinance related to the lease tax were drafted in response to the concerns raised by the startup community. As discussed in more detail below, the lease tax amendments provide little relief for the vast majority of businesses dreading the January 1st effective date of the ruling. The amendments to the amusement tax provide no relief whatsoever.

Chicago Lease Tax Amendment

The changes to the Lease Tax Ordinance include: (1) a narrowly defined exemption for small businesses; (2) a reduction of the rate for cloud-based services where the customer accesses its own data; and (3) codification of the applicability of the Illinois mobile telecom sourcing rules. The amendments were touted by the mayor as addressing many of the concerns expressed by small businesses after the Department administratively interpreted the nine percent lease transaction tax to apply to most cloud-based services in June. In response to an outcry from the startup community, the Department subsequently delayed the effective date of the ruling to January 1, 2016. Unfortunately the mayor’s solution falls short of providing any significant relief and will not alleviate the concerns of the vast majority of customers and providers affected by the ruling.

Effective immediately upon publication, the lease transaction amendments approved yesterday will:

  1. Exempt “small new businesses” that are lessors or lessees of non-possessory computer leases from their respective lease transaction tax collection and payment obligations. For this purpose, “small new business” is a business that (1) holds a valid and current business license issued by the city or another jurisdiction; (2) during the most recent full calendar year prior to the annual tax year for which the exemption provided by this subsection is sought had under $25 million in gross receipts or sales, as the term “gross receipts or sales” is defined for federal income tax purposes; and (3) has been in operation for fewer than 60 months. For the purpose of calculating the $25 million limit, gross receipts or sales will be combined if they are received by members of a single unitary business group. This will exclude most subsidiaries from taking advantage of the “small new business” exemption.
  2. Reduce the rate from nine percent to 5.25 percent of the lease or rental price in the case of the non-possessory lease of a computer primarily for the purpose of allowing the customer to use the provider’s computer and software to input, modify or retrieve data or information that is supplied by the customer.
  3. Codify the use of the sourcing rules set forth in the Illinois [...]

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Chicago, Searching for Tax, Taxes Searchable Websites

Taxpayers providing services over the internet need to carefully consider two recent City of Chicago rulings: Lease Transaction Tax Ruling #12 and Amusement Tax Ruling #5. Issued together on June 9, 2015, the rulings extend a 9 percent tax to most services provided online. Charges for video streaming, audio streaming, computer game subscriptions, and other forms of online entertainment are subject to the 9 percent amusement tax. Charges for essentially any other kind of interactive website or online service, with only a handful of exceptions, are subject to the 9 percent lease transaction tax. The lease transaction tax is supposed to be a municipal sales and use tax on the leasing of tangible personal property, but the City is stretching the tax to encompass the deemed use of the provider’s computer in accessing a website or program over the internet. As detailed in this On the Subject, providers of information services and cloud-based services need to evaluate the applicability of the City’s guidance and consider whether to comply or challenge the imposition of tax.

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