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SCOTUS Asked to Hear Appeal Involving Constitutionality of Retroactive Tax Legislation

The Supreme Court of the United States has been asked to hear an appeal in a case involving the circumstances in which retroactive tax legislation will be constitutional.

In Dot Foods, Inc. v. State of Washington Department of Revenue, 372 P.3d 747 (Wash. 2016), the Washington State Supreme Court upheld legislation retroactively removing a corporate income tax exemption.  Although the legislature, in justifying its action, said that the retroactive legislation was intended to reflect the legislature’s initial intent, the facts did not bear that out.  The exemption was consciously adopted by the legislature and, indeed, upheld by the Washington Supreme Court when the Department of Revenue attacked Dot Foods’ use of it in an earlier case.  (more…)




How Will Michigan Courts Analyze a Legal Challenge to the Michigan Legislature’s Retroactive Repeal of the Multistate Tax Compact?

In recent days, the state tax world has focused on the State of Michigan’s retroactive repeal of the Multistate Tax Compact (Compact).  Last week, the Michigan Legislature passed and Governor Snyder signed into law a bill (P.A. 282) that nullifies the effect of the state Supreme Court’s July 14, 2014 decision in International Business Machines v. Dep’t of Treasury, Dkt.  No. 146440.  In IBM, the state Supreme Court held that IBM may apportion its business income tax base and modified gross receipts tax base under the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) using the three-factor apportionment formula provided in the Compact, rather than the sales-factor apportionment formula provided by the MBT. Reflective of the urgency with which he views the situation, Michigan’s Governor Snyder signed the bill into law within twenty-four hours after its passage, with a statement that the state’s actions were an effort to ensure that “Michigan businesses are not penalized for investing in the State.”  The Michigan Department of Treasury (MDOT) made no attempt to sugar coat its statements in language that would reflect support for Michigan business interests.  Rather, it loudly proclaimed that the Legislature must act because the revenue impact to the State of the IBM decision was $1.1 billion.

The new law repeals L. 1969, P.A. 343, which enacted the Compact, retroactive to January 1, 2008, allegedly in order to express the original intent of the legislature regarding the application of M.C.L.A. §208.1403 of the MBT.  (Section 208.1403 specifies that a multistate taxpayer must apportion its tax base to Michigan using the sales factor.)  The law goes on to provide that the Legislature’s original “intended effect” of §208.1403 was to eliminate the ability for taxpayers to use the  Compact’s three factor apportionment election provision in computing their MBT, and to “clarify” that the election provision included in the Compact is not available to the Michigan Income Tax Act, which replaced the MBT in 2012.

The actions of the state are perhaps not surprising, given MDOT’s revenue estimate and the number of related claims (more than 130) that are reported to be pending before MDOT and/or the Michigan courts on this issue.  Earlier this week, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an unpublished decision holding that the IBM ruling was dispositive on the issue of whether Lorillard Tobacco Company could elect to use a three-factor apportionment formula in computing its MBT for 2008 and 2009.  Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Dep’t of Treasury, No. 313256 (Sept. 16, 2014).  Critics of the new law make strong arguments about the unfairness of the state’s recent actions, and tax pundits predict that the retroactivity of the law will soon be the subject of a court challenge.  What do Michigan court’s prior rulings on retroactivity teach us about how the Michigan courts are likely to address this issue?

This is not the first time in recent memory that the state has acted to retroactively repeal legislation with the potential for large, negative implications to Michigan’s revenue stream.  In General Motors Co. v. [...]

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