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Batten Down the Hatches: Digital Tax Nor’easter Coming This Fall

Recently passed budget legislation in both Connecticut and Rhode Island included tax increases on sales of digital goods and services. The Connecticut bill has been signed into law. The Rhode Island bill passed late last night awaits executive action. Below are brief summaries of the impacts of these bills on the sales taxation of digital goods and services (assuming the Rhode Island governor signs the bill) beginning October 1, 2019.

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Nevada Bill Proposes Broad New Excise Tax on Sales of Digital Goods and Services

A bill (AB 447) was introduced on March 25th in the Nevada Assembly that would create a broad new excise tax on the retail sale of “specified digital products” to Nevada customers. Instead of expanding the scope of Nevada’s sales and use tax, the bill would enact an entirely new chapter of the Revenue and Taxation Title imposing this new excise tax. Currently, sales of digital products, including electronic transfers of computer software, are not subject to the sales and use tax. Thus, the new proposal represents a major policy departure from the status quo. The introduced bill also would create inconsistencies with the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA)—to which Nevada is a member state—and contains many potential violations of federal law under the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA) that do not appear to have been carefully considered.

Broad New Tax

Specifically, the bill would impose the new excise tax “upon the retail sale of specified digital products to an end user in this State . . . [and] applies whether the purchaser obtains permanent use or less than permanent use of the specified digital product, whether the sale is conditioned or not conditioned upon continued payment from the purchaser and whether the sale is on a subscription basis or is not on a subscription basis.” Based on this broad imposition, subscription-based services and leases or rentals of “specified digital products” would be covered by the new tax. “Specified digital products” is defined as “electronically transferred: (a) Digital audio works; (b) Digital audio-visual works; (c) Digital books; (d) Digital code; and (e) Other digital products.” Except for “other digital products,” these terms are defined consistently with the definitions in the SSUTA (of which Nevada is a member). The bill defines the term “other digital products” as “greeting cards, images, video or electronic games or entertainment, news or information products and computer software applications.” (more…)




Illinois Budget Bill Makes Few Tax Changes except the Adoption of an Economic Nexus Standard

On June 4, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law the state’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget implementation bill, Public Act 100-0587 (the Act). The Act makes a significant change to the Illinois sales/use tax nexus standard by adopting an “economic nexus” standard for a sales/use tax collection obligation. The economic nexus language was added to the budget bill one day before it was passed by the General Assembly. The standard is contrary to the physical presence nexus standard established by the United States Supreme Court in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 US 298 (1992), the validity of which is currently pending before the Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Docket 17-494. The Court is expected to rule on Wayfair by the end of this month (see here for our prior coverage of the Wayfair case).

The Act amends Section 2 of the Use Tax Act to impose a tax collection and remission obligation on an out-of-state retailer making sales of tangible personal property to Illinois customers if the retailer’s gross receipts from sales to Illinois customers are at least $100,000 or the retailer has at least 200 separate sales transactions with Illinois customers. Similarly, it would amend Section 2 of the Service Use Tax Act with respect to out-of-state sellers making sales of services to Illinois customers. These changes mirror the economic nexus standard adopted by South Dakota. See SD Codified Laws § 10-64-2.

In the wake of Wayfair, other states have adopted similar nexus provisions. See, e.g., Conn. SB 417, Ga. HB 61, Haw. HB 2514, Iowa SF 2417, provisions enacted in 2018. By enacting the statute without an escape clause, Illinois, like other states, has put a law on the books that directly conflicts with Quill, and which will be ripe for constitutional challenge if the US Supreme Court affirms the South Dakota Supreme Court’s ruling that the South Dakota statute is unconstitutional.

The Act also amended Section 223 of the Illinois Income Tax Act to extend the tax credit for for-profit hospitals (equal to the lesser of property taxes paid or the cost of charity care provided) to tax years ending on or before December 31, 2022.

The Act made no changes in response to the federal tax reform bill. In particular the General Assembly did not enact Senate Bill 3152 (proposing to add-back the new federal deduction for foreign-derived intangible income (FDII); see here for our prior coverage). The General Assembly also did not enact either of the pending bills (HB 4237 and 4563) proposing to work around the federal $10,000 limitation on the deductibility of state and local taxes by establishing funds/foundations to which taxpayers could make contributions in exchange for tax credits.




Digital Tax Update – Local Edition

After the highly publicized administrative lease transaction and amusement tax expansions in Chicago last year, more cities around the country are taking steps to impose transaction taxes on the sale or rental of digital content. Unlike tax expansion efforts at the state level (such as the law recently passed in Pennsylvania), which have almost all been tackled legislatively, the local governments are addressing the issue without clear legislative authority by issuing administrative guidance and taking aggressive positions on audit. As the local tax threat facing digital providers turns from an isolated incident to a nationwide trend, we wanted to highlight some of the more significant local tax developments currently on our radar.

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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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Pennsylvania General Assembly Passes Revenue Package with Significant Digital Tax Expansion

Yesterday, a legislative conference committee was appointed to approve an already agreed-upon $1.3 billion revenue package, which was immediately approved by both the House (116-75) and Senate (28-22) and sent to Governor Wolf for approval.  The governor subsequently issued a press release confirming that he “will sign this revenue package.”  A copy of the conference committee report (in full) that passed is available here.

The final revenue package includes (among a host of other revenue raising changes) a new tax on digital content and services, as described in more detail below.  Specifically, the expansion captures most (if not all) digital goods within the sales and use tax imposition by defining them as tangible personal property.  A number of digital services are also captured in the broadly defined language.  (more…)




Louisiana Supreme Court Upholds Bundling Portable Toilet Leases and Cleaning Services, but Not Sure About True Object of Resulting Transactions

If you are ever waiting in line for portable toilet facilities at the St. Patty’s Day Parade and in need of something to think about, consider the property and service you are about to use: Is it the lease of tangible personal property, the provision of a cleaning and waste removal service, or both? The Supreme Court of Louisiana grappled with this fundamental sales and use tax issue in Pot-O-Gold Rentals, LLC v. City of Baton Rouge, No. 2014-C-2154 (La. Jan. 16, 2015). Approaching the provision of toilets and services as a single transaction and finding the true object to be unclear, the court interpreted the taxing statute narrowly and ruled in favor of the taxpayer. Underlying the opinion is an unusually broad, all-or-nothing bundling approach to the taxability of goods and services provided together.

The City of Baton Rouge taxes the lease of tangible personal property but does not tax the provision of cleaning services. The taxpayer provided both: a customer could lease portable toilets, could purchase toilet cleaning services, or could lease toilets and purchase cleaning services together. There was no question that services alone were nontaxable or that the lease of toilets alone was taxable. The issue was how tax should apply when toilets and cleaning services were provided together. The taxpayer had collected tax on the charges for the toilets but had not collected tax on charges for services in such transactions.

Baton Rouge assessed sales tax on the services where toilets also had been provided. The taxpayer challenged the assessment and won summary judgment in its favor, with the trial court allowing the splitting of the transaction into taxable and nontaxable components. The Court of Appeals reversed, No. 2013 CA 1323 (La. Ct. App. 1st Cir. Sept. 17, 2014), holding that the cleaning service and toilet lease components of combined contracts could not be split and addressed separately. That court then applied the true object test to determine that the entire bundled transaction should be treated as a taxable lease.

The Supreme Court reversed in a per curiam opinion, taking the bundled approach of the Court of Appeals but reaching the opposite conclusion on taxability. The Supreme Court observed that it was unclear whether providing tangible personal property in connection with waste removal services constituted the provision of a nontaxable service, comparing the Louisiana Department of Revenue’s Revenue Rulings 06-012 (Aug. 23, 2006) (providing dumpsters with trash removal service is nontaxable) and 06-013 (Sept. 19, 2006) (providing portable toilets with cleaning services is taxable). Given that the true object of such a transaction was “debatable,” the canon of reading a taxing statute narrowly against the state and in favor of the taxpayer applied: The transaction was nontaxable.

Underlying both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opinions was a very broad, all-or-nothing approach to taxability. Where many states would view this type of transaction as a taxable lease of property coupled with nontaxable cleaning services that were not “necessary to complete [...]

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Arizona’s 2015 TPT Amendments Have 99 Problems, but Origin Sourcing ain’t One

Actually, there are really only two issues, but they are big issues.

Arizona’s Transaction Privilege Tax has always been an anomaly in the traditional state sales tax system.  Contrary to some commentators, however, the recent amendments do not, and could not, impose an origin tax on Arizona retailers for remote sales delivered out-of-state.  That is not to say that these amendments are benign.  Oddly, the amendments provide incentives for Arizona residents shipping items out-of-state to purchase these items over the internet rather than visit Arizona retailers in person.  Furthermore, these amendments create complexities for Arizona vendors shipping to foreign jurisdictions.   Finally, these amendments create additional administrative problems for retailers that are difficult to address with existing software and invite double taxation problems that should not exist in a transaction tax world.

Background: Arizona Transaction Privilege and Use Tax

For retail sales, Arizona, like most states, has two complementary transaction-based taxes, but each tax is imposed on a different entity.  The first tax, the Transaction Privilege Tax (TPT), is imposed directly on the retailer.  Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 42-5001.13.  A retailer will be subject to the TPT on the gross proceeds from a sale if “the location where the sale is made” is Arizona.  Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 42-5034.A.9.  A retailer subject to the TPT is allowed but not required to collect the amount of TPT it owes from its customers.  Ariz. Admin. Code §§ 15-5-2002, 15-5-2210.

The second tax, the Arizona Use Tax, complements and backstops the TPT.  The Use Tax is imposed on the use, storage or consumption in the State of tangible personal property purchased from an out-of-state retailer.  Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 42-5155.  Generally, the purchaser is liable for payment of Use Tax to the State, but a retailer is required to collect Use Tax from a purchaser if the retailer meets the constitutional nexus provisions.  Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 42-5155, 42-5160.  Use Tax is imposed only on transactions where TPT has not been imposed, i.e., a transaction is subject to either TPT or Use Tax, but not both.  Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 42-5159.A.1.

The State and its courts have been clear that, while the location of the transfer of title or possession is relevant to the inquiry as to where the sale is made, it is the totality of the retailer’s business activities that identifies the location that may tax the proceeds.  Exactly where that line is drawn, however, is not as clear.  The Arizona Department of Revenue (DOR) has taken the position that, unless an exemption applies, a seller is subject to the tax if a purchaser buys a product at a store, even if the purchaser does not take possession in the state, and the product is shipped to a location outside of the state.  The DOR is apparently taking the position either that the title transfers in the store, which cannot always be the case (a retailer could easily specify that title transfers to the customer outside the store, particularly if the retailer [...]

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Texas Comptroller Defies the Laws of Physics

In this article, the authors examine a recent Texas administrative law judge’s opinion that says an out-of state company has nexus with Texas through downloaded software that it licenses to Texas customers.  They argue that the state comptroller’s adoption of the decision allows sales and use tax liability to be based on economic nexus instead of physical nexus and is therefore unconstitutional.

Read the full article.




Idaho Drafting Cloud Computing Regulation in the Wake of H.B. 598

The Idaho Sales Tax Rules Committee is currently revising Rule 027, Computer Equipment, Software, and Data Services, in response to the passage of H.B. 598.  The Committee met for the last time on July 24 to discuss the draft rule prior to the promulgation of the proposed rule.

As previously discussed in Inside SALT, the passage of Idaho H.B. 598 has resulted in the exclusion from the definition of tangible personal property of “computer software that is delivered electronically; remotely accessed software; and computer software that is delivered by the load and leave method where the vendor or its agent loads the software at the user’s location but does not transfer any tangible personal property containing the software to the user.”  However, “computer software that constitutes digital music, digital books, digital videos and digital games” is included within the definition of tangible personal property.

The discussion draft of Rule 027, released prior to the meeting, added new definitions for ‘canned software,’ ‘computer program,’ ‘computer software,’ ‘custom software,’ ‘digital product,’ ‘information stored in an electronic medium,’ ‘load and leave method’ and ‘remotely accessed computer software.’  As of the July 24 meeting, the definition of ‘delivered electronically’ was still under discussion.

The draft rule interprets H.B. 598 to assist taxpayers in identifying transactions subject to Idaho sales tax.  Following are items addressed by the draft rule:

  • The draft identifies streaming digital music, books and videos as subject to Idaho sales tax.
  • The draft explains that if canned software is loaded onto a user’s computer but has minimal or no functionality without connecting to the provider’s servers, it may be taxable based upon the delivery method of the canned software.
  • Online or remote data storage on storage media owned and controlled by another party is a nontaxable service.
  • Where the seller purchases raw data, expends time and resources to “clean up” the raw data into a usable format and charges customers for the right to use the data for a specified period of time, and the customers only have access to the full data over the internet, the charges are not taxable.
  • Digital games are treated by the draft rule as tangible personal property, and thus taxable, regardless of the method of access or delivery and regardless of whether the digital game requires the internet for some or all of its functionality.
  • Periodic charges to play games that require a constant connection over the internet to a remote server and periodic charges for a gaming service that enables certain functionality are taxable.
  • While the rule imposes sales tax on the purchase of virtual currency that enables additional content or progress in a digital game, it will not address the purchase of virtual currency used to purchase digital products such as video games, digital videos or apps.
  • The draft rule addresses the taxability of maintenance contracts.  The original rule is revised to impose tax on mandatory maintenance contracts only if the software to which the contract applies is subject to tax.  [...]

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