A newly passed New Jersey law is interesting both for what it does and for what it does not do.  Assembly bill 3486/Senate bill 2268, attempts to “clarify” four aspects of New Jersey law (retroactively for three of the four!).  The four areas affected by the law change are:  (1) the business/non-business income distinction (called “operational/non-operational income” in New Jersey); (2) a limited partner’s eligibility for a refund of Corporation Business Tax paid on its behalf by a limited partnership; (3) net operating losses involving certain amounts related to bankruptcies, insolvencies, and qualified farm indebtedness; and (4) click-through nexus for sales and use tax purposes.

Business/Non-Business Income Distinction

The distinction between business and non-business income (called “operational” and “non-operational” income in New Jersey) is critical as it determines whether certain income (such as gain from the sale of an asset) can be apportioned among the states or instead much be allocated to only one state.  The law change expands the definition of “operational income” so that many more transactions will result in the generation of apportionable income.  In fact, the law change is estimated to increase revenue by $25 million annually.

Historically, New Jersey’s definition of business (“operational”) income included gain from sale of property “if the acquisition, management, and disposition of the property constitute integral parts of the taxpayer’s regular trade or business operations. . .”  N.J.S.A. 54:10A-6.1(5)(a) (emphasis added).  Use of the conjunction “and” caused New Jersey courts to determine that all three activities (“the acquisition, management, and disposition”) must each have been integral parts of the taxpayer’s regular trade or business in order for the gain from the asset to be apportionable business (“operational”) income.  This could be overcome by demonstrating that one of the activities—usually the disposition of an asset—was not an integral part of a taxpayer’s regular trade or business.

The definition was changed, however, to replace the conjunctive “and” with the disjunctive “or” such that it will now read “the acquisition, management, and or disposition of the property constitute an integral parts of the taxpayer’s regular trade or business operations. . .”  Thus, because engaging in any one (or more) of those three activities as part of a taxpayer’s regular trade or business is sufficient, many more transactions will generate apportionable business income.

This provision takes effect for tax years ending after July 1, 2014.  This means that for a calendar year filer the provision takes effect retroactively for the tax year starting January 1, 2014, since the end of the year (December 1, 2014) is after July 1, 2014.  Interestingly, while the legislation refers to this change as a “clarification,” the fact that it is anticipated to increase revenue by $25 million indicates that it is, indeed, a change of law, reiterating that for the test really is a conjunctive one for prior periods.

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