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Texas Comptroller’s Office Holds Roundtable on Proposed Regulation Targeting IT, Pharmaceutical Industries

On August 4, 2016, representatives of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts held a limited-invite roundtable to discuss the proposed amendments to 34 Tex. Admin. Code 3.584, relating to the reduced rate available under the Texas Franchise Tax for retailers and wholesalers. As previously reported, these proposed revisions were published in the Texas Register on May 20, 2016 and have the potential to double the tax rate for a substantial number of businesses – namely those in the information technology and pharmaceutical industries.

Members of the Comptroller’s office present included Karey Barton, Associate Deputy Comptroller for Tax, Theresa Bostick, Manager of Tax Policy, William Hammer, Special Counsel for Tax and Jennifer Burleson, Assistant General Counsel. Several representatives of businesses and trade groups, along with legal and accounting professionals, were also present.

Ms. Bostick opened the meeting by reiterating the language of the statute and the proposed regulation, and clarifying the application of the proposed regulation’s language. To briefly summarize, the proposed rule provides that a retailer is considered to produce the products it sells (and therefore may be disqualified from the lower Franchise Tax rate available for retailers) if it “acquires the product and makes modifications to the product that increase the sales price of the product by more than 10 percent.” See proposed Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(i). A business will also be considered a producer if it “manufactures, develops, or creates tangible personal property that is incorporated into, installed in, or becomes a component part of the product that it sells.” See proposed Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(ii). The proposed Rule offers two examples of businesses that will now be considered “producers” rather than retailers: (1) a business that produces a computer program, such as an application or operating system, that is installed in a device that is manufactured by a third party; and (2) a business that produces the active ingredient in a drug that is manufactured by an unrelated party. These proposals represent substantial changes to both the current version of Rule 3.584 and prior Comptroller interpretations of the retailer/producer distinction, and are not supported by the language of the statute that the Rule purports to interpret.

Ms. Bostick explained that the Comptroller had received several comments on the 10 percent rule (some of which were reiterated at the roundtable, including comments that the 10 percent rule should be interpreted as a safe harbor rather than a ceiling and that it should be applied to both modification and development), and that the Comptroller will consider how to define “modification” in the context of Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(i) (such language was not provided at the roundtable). She then focused on Rule 3.584(b)(2)(C)(ii) and the examples provided thereunder, explaining that these provisions are meant to convey that if a taxable entity produces (with “development” being equivalent to “production” in this context) tangible personal property that is incorporated into, installed in, or becomes a component part of a product it sells, that business is considered a producer of the product. Because the Comptroller’s representatives view [...]

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Retailers, Such as IT and Pharmaceutical Vendors, Among Businesses Targeted by Texas Comptroller’s Proposed Rule Change

The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts recently proposed amendments to 34 Tex. Admin. Code 3.584 relating to the reduced rate available under the Texas Franchise Tax for retailers and wholesalers. These proposed revisions, which appear to formalize elements of informal guidance issued in August of 2015, have the potential to substantially impact a great number of businesses, specifically in the information technology and pharmaceutical industries.

The Texas Franchise Tax is imposed on taxable business entities, including corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies, doing business in the state of Texas. The generally applicable tax rate is 0.75 percent of “taxable margin”—which is itself computed under a complex set of statutes and regulations—however, the rate is reduced to 0.375 percent for entities “primarily engaged in retail or wholesale trade. To qualify for the reduced rate, a business must meet two statutory thresholds: first, it must earn more revenue from retail or wholesale trade activities than it earns from all other business activities; and second, it must earn less than 50 percent of its retail or wholesale trade revenues from the sale of products it or an affiliate entity produces. Tex. Tax Code § 171.002(c). The current version of Rule 3.584 (the Rule) clarifies that, for purposes of the second statutory threshold, a product is not considered to be produced by the retailer if “modifications made to the acquired product do not increase its sales price by more than 10 percent.” In other words, there is a safe harbor under the Rule for retailers who make some modifications to products they sell; so long as those modifications do not increase the product’s sale price by more than 10 percent, the sales of those products will not factor into the second statutory threshold. This is currently the only guidance provided by regulation regarding the scope of the “primarily engaged in” standard.

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