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House Judiciary Subcommittee to Consider Sensenbrenner Bill Tomorrow

The No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 (NRWRA) is scheduled for a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law on Tuesday, July 25 at 10:00 am EDT in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building. The bill was introduced by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) last month with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) as one of seven original co-sponsors. As described in more detail below, the bill would codify the Bellas Hess “physical presence” requirement upheld by the US Supreme Court in Quill and make that requirement applicable to sales, use and other similar transactional taxes, notice and reporting requirements, net income taxes and other business activity taxes. Extending the concept to an area far beyond state taxation, the bill would also require the same physical presence for a state or locality to regulate the out-of-state production, manufacturing or post-sale disposal of any good or service sold to locations within its jurisdictional borders.

In the last Congress, the Business Activity Tax Simplification Act of 2015 (BATSA) would have codified a physical presence requirement in the context of business activity taxes (e.g., net income and gross receipts taxes). However, the scope of NRWRA’s limitations on interstate regulation and tax differs from the standard set forth in BATSA. Specifically, under BATSA, assigning an employee to a state constitutes physical presence, whereas under NRWRA a company does not have physical presence until it employs more than two employees in the state (or a single employee if he or she is in the state and provides design, installation or repair services or “substantially assists” in establishing or maintaining a market). Under NRWRA, activities related to the potential or actual purchase of goods or services in the state or locality are not a physical presence if the final decision to purchase is made outside of the jurisdiction. (more…)




BREAKING NEWS: Expanded “Physical Presence” Codification Bill Introduced in House

On, June 12, 2017, the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 was introduced by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) as one of seven original co-sponsors. As described in detail below, the scope and applicability of the “physical presence” requirement in the 2017 bill is significantly broader than the first iteration of the bill that was introduced last year. Not only does the bill expand the physical presence rule to all taxes, it expands the rule to all regulations.

2016 Bill

In July 2016, Congressman Sensenbrenner introduced the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2016 (H.R. 5893) in the US House of Representatives. The bill provided that states and localities could not: (1) obligate a person to collect a sales, use or similar tax; (2) obligate a person to report sales; (3) assess a tax on a person; or (4) treat the person as doing business in a state or locality for purposes of such tax unless the person has a physical presence in the jurisdiction during the calendar quarter that the obligation or assessment is imposed. “Similar tax” meant a tax that is imposed on the sale or use of a product or service.

Under the 2016 bill, persons would have a physical presence only if the person: (1) owns or leases real or tangible personal property (other than software) in the state; (2) has one or more employees, agents or independent contractors in the state specifically soliciting product or service orders from customers in the state or providing design, installation or repair services there; or (3) maintains an office in-state with three or more employees for any purpose. The bill provided that “physical presence” did not include the following: (1) click-through referral agreements with in-state persons who receive commissions for referring customers to the seller; (2) presence for less than 15 days in a taxable year; (3) product delivery provided by a common carrier; or (4) internet advertising services not exclusively directed towards, or exclusively soliciting in-state customers.

The bill did not define the term “seller,” but did provide that “seller” did not include a: (1) marketplace provider (specifically defined); (2) referrer (specifically defined); (3) carrier, in which the seller does not have an ownership interest, providing transportation or delivery of tangible personal property; or (4) credit card issuer, transaction billing processor or other financial intermediary. Under the 2016 bill, persons not considered “sellers” (e.g., marketplace providers) were protected as well because the bill provided that a state may not impose a collection or reporting obligation or assess tax on “any person other than a purchaser or seller having a physical presence in the State.”

2017 Bill

The scope of the 2017 bill is significantly broader than the bill introduced in 2016 and would require a person to have “physical presence” in a state before the state can “tax or regulate [the] person’s activity in interstate commerce.” (emphasis added) The new bill applies the “physical presence” requirement to sales and [...]

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Breaking News: Physical Presence Requirement Bill Introduced in Congress

Yesterday, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2016 (H.R. 5893) in the US House of Representatives (House).  The bill would codify the physical presence requirement established by the US Supreme Court in Quill.  The bill would specifically define physical presence, creating a de minimis threshold, and would significantly affect existing state efforts to expand the definition of physical presence and overturn Quill.

Not only would the bill preempt the ‘nexus expansion’ laws, such as click-through nexus provisions, affiliate nexus provisions, reporting requirements and marketplace collection bills, but it would likely halt the South Dakota and Alabama (and other state litigation) specifically designed to overturn Quill.  It would also move all future litigation on this issue to federal courts.

The bill would be effective as of January 1, 2017.  The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, which Rep. Sensenbrenner is a sitting member of (and former Chairman).

Summary

The bill defines “seller”, and provides that states and localities may not: (1) obligate a person to collect a sales, use or similar tax; (2) obligate a person to report sales; (3) assess a tax on a person; or (4) treat the person as doing business in a state or locality for purposes of such tax unless the person has a physical presence in the jurisdiction during the calendar quarter that the obligation or assessment is imposed.

Persons have a physical presence only if during the calendar year the person: (1) owns or leases real or tangible personal property in the state; (2) has one or more employees, agents or independent contractors in the state specifically soliciting product or service orders from customers in the state or providing design, installation or repair services there; or (3) maintains an office in-state with three or more employees for any purpose.

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Michigan Backs Off Cloud Tax, Refund Opportunities Available

After refusing to back down on the issue for years, the Michigan Department of Treasury (Department) issued guidance last week to taxpayers announcing a change in its policy on the sales and use taxation of remotely accessed prewritten computer software.  This comes after years of litigating the issue in the Michigan courts, most recently with the precedential taxpayer victory in Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Dep’t of Treasury, No. 321505 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2015), in which the Michigan Court of Appeals held that remote access to software did not constitute delivery of tangible personal property.  See our prior coverage here.  The Department has announced it will apply Auto-Owners (and the numerous other favorable decisions) retroactively and thus allow for refunds for all open tax years.  This is a huge victory for taxpayers; however, those that paid the tax (both purchasers and providers alike) must act promptly to coordinate and request a refund prior to the period of limitations expiring.

Implications

In issuing this guidance, the Department specifically adopts the Michigan Court of Appeals interpretation of “delivered by any means” (as required to be considered taxable prewritten computer software).  Going forward, the “mere transfer of information and data that was processed using the software of the third-party businesses does not constitute ‘delivery by any means’” and is not prewritten software subject to sales and use tax.  See Auto-Owners, at 7.  Not only has the Department admitted defeat with respect to the delivery definition, but it also appears to have acquiesced to taxpayers’ arguments with respect to the true object test (or “incidental to services” test in Michigan).  This test was first announced by the Michigan Supreme Court in Catalina Marketing, and provides that a court must objectively analyze the entire transaction using six factors and determine whether the transaction is “principally” the transfer of tangible personal property or the transfer of services with a transfer of tangible personal property that is incidental to the service.[1]  In last week’s guidance, the Department states that if only a portion of a software program is electronically delivered to a customer, the “incidental to service” test will be applied to determine whether the transaction constitutes the rendition of a nontaxable service rather than the sale of tangible personal property.  However, if a software program is electronically downloaded in its entirety, it remains taxable.  This guidance comes in the wake of Department and the taxpayer in Thomson Reuters, Inc. v. Dep’t of Treasury stipulating to the dismissal of a Supreme Court case involving the same issues that had been appealed by the Department.  In light of these developments, it appears that the Department has given up all ongoing litigation over cloud services.

Immediate Action Required for Refunds

Taxpayers who paid sales or use tax on cloud based services are entitled to receive a refund for all open periods.  In Michigan, the period of limitations for filing a refund [...]

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Precedential Cloud Victory in Michigan Court of Appeals

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel sitting for the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court decision finding that the use of cloud-based services in Michigan is not subject to use tax in Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Dep’t of Treasury, No. 321505 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2015). While there have been a number of cloud-based use tax victories in the Michigan courts over the past year and a half, this decision marks the first published Court of Appeals opinion (i.e., it has precedential effect under the rule of stare decisis). See Mich. Ct. R. 7.215(C)(2). Therefore, the trial courts and Michigan Court of Appeals are obligated to follow the holdings in this case when presented with similar facts, until the Michigan Supreme Court or Court of Appeals say otherwise. While the ultimate outcome (i.e., not taxable) of the lower court decision was affirmed, the analysis used by the Court of Appeals to get there was slightly different and the court took the time to analyze over a dozen different contracts, as discussed below. Given the fact that a petition for review is currently pending in another Court of Appeals case (Thomson Reuters) decided on similar issues in 2014, it will be interesting to see if this development increases the Michigan Supreme Court’s appetite to hear a use tax case on cloud-based services. The Department of Treasury (Department) has approximately 40 days to request that the Auto-Owners decision be reviewed by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Facts

Auto-Owners is an insurance company based out of Michigan that entered into a variety of contracts with third-parties to provide cloud-based services. These contracts were grouped into six basic categories for purposes of this case: (1) insurance industry specific contracts, (2) technology and communications contracts, (3) online research contracts, (4) payment remittance and processing support contracts, (5) equipment maintenance and software customer support contracts and (6) marketing and advertising contracts.  The contracts all involved, at some level, software accessed through the internet. Michigan audited Auto-Owners and ultimately issued a use tax deficiency assessment based on the cloud-based service contracts it utilized.  In doing so, the Department cited the Michigan use tax statute, which like many states, provides that tax is imposed on the privilege of using tangible personal property in the state. See generally Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 205.93. The Department took the position that the software used in Michigan by Auto-Owners was “tangible personal property,” which is defined to include prewritten, non-custom, software that is “delivered by any means” under Michigan law. See Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 205.92b(o). The taxpayer paid the tax under protest and filed a refund claim, which was the focus of the Court of Claims decision being appealed.

Procedural History

At the trial court level, the Court of Claims determined that the application of use tax to the software used in Michigan by Auto-Owners would be improper. In doing so, the court issued three separate holdings—all in favor of the taxpayer. First, the court held that use tax [...]

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Favorable New York Guidance on Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Noncommercial Aircraft

On July 24, 2015, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance published guidance on the sales and use tax exemption for “general aviation aircraft,” effective September 1, 2015.  N.Y. Dep’t of Taxation & Finance, TSB-M-15(3)S (July 24, 2015).  The exemption, to be added as subsection (a)(21-a) of section 1115 of the Tax Law, exempts from sales and use tax “general aviation aircraft, and machinery or equipment to be installed on such aircraft.”  Previously, such sales and uses were fully taxable.

“General aviation aircraft” is defined broadly as aircraft used in civil aviation, except for commercial or military aircraft or “an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone.”  With respect to “general aviation aircraft,” the ruling states receipts from the following items are tax-exempt:

  • Aircraft itself
  • Property affixed to aircraft for its equipping, including furniture, fixtures, built-in appliances, window coverings, climate control systems or entertainment systems
  • Property that the aircraft has at the time of its sale that is necessary for its operation, such as avionics, radios, weather radar systems, and navigation and emergency lighting

Similarly, receipts from machinery and equipment installed on a general aviation aircraft after its purchase and necessary for equipping and normal operation are also tax-exempt.  The sales and use tax exemption for “general aviation aircraft” also applies to leases of one year or more of certain noncommercial aircraft (seating capacity of less than 20 passengers and maximum payload capacity of less than 6,000 pounds) subject to the accelerated tax payment provisions of section 1111(i) of the Tax Law.  However, effective September 1, 2015, these provisions no longer apply to aircraft.

However, receipts from the following items (termed “accessories”) are not exempt with respect to a general aviation aircraft:

  • Items of décor (paintings or other artwork)
  • Tableware, glassware or cookware
  • Small appliances
  • Linens, pillows, or towels
  • Other ancillary property

Regarding timing, the exemption applies generally to sales or uses occurring on or after September 1, 2015.  For the transition period, the exemption applies to sales made prior to September 1 if the purchaser takes delivery on or after that date, and applies to leases entered into before September 1 to the extent of the lease term beyond that date.




Inside the New York Budget Bill: Sales Tax Provisions

The New York Legislature has passed bills related to the 2015–2016 budget (S2009-B/A3009-B and S4610-A/A6721-A, collectively referred to herein as the Budget Bill) containing several significant “technical corrections” to the New York State corporate income tax reform enacted in 2014, along with sales tax provisions and amendments to reform New York City’s General Corporation Tax.

This post is the seventh in a series analyzing the New York Budget Bill, and summarizes the sales tax provisions in the Budget Bill.

Dodd-Frank Act Relief Provisions

The Budget Bill includes provisions that provide relief from potential sales and use tax implications arising from compliance with certain requirements of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (commonly referred to as Dodd-Frank).  Under Dodd-Frank, large financial services organizations must develop and implement resolution plans allowing for an orderly wind-down of their banking and broker/dealer operations in the event of an adverse financial event, such as another financial crisis.  The affected financial services organizations and their regulators have agreed in principle to plans where front-office and back-office assets and operations would be segregated into separate legal entities.  As a result, many affected financial services organizations are implementing plans whereby back-office functions are being placed into separate bankruptcy remote legal entities as a way to ensure that an orderly wind-down of the affected entities could occur, with the back-office functions remaining available to all potentially affected entities.

Without the relief provided by the Budget Bill, the Dodd-Frank-mandated reorganizations could have resulted in increased New York sales tax compliance burdens and increased New York sales tax liabilities, both upon the reorganization itself and on an ongoing basis.  Many transactions that formerly occurred between different units within the same legal entity (and hence were not subject to sales tax) will have to occur between different legal entities after the restructurings and thus will be taxable.  To prevent this increase in sales tax burdens and liabilities, an exemption was inserted into the Budget Bill that will apply to sales of property or services that are entered into or conducted as a result of the resolution planning required by Dodd-Frank, so that the affected companies are not subject to sales or use tax on transactions that occur solely as a result of their compliance with a federal law that has been put in place to make the global financial systems safer.

The exemption provided by the Budget Bill is tied to the status of the buyer and the seller as a “covered company” or “material company” as defined in section 243.2(l) of the Code of Federal Regulations, which is one of the sections implementing the Dodd-Frank Act.  Under the exemption, sales of tangible personal property or services among related parties are exempt from the New York sales and use tax if the vendor and the purchaser are referenced as either a “covered company” or a “material entity” in a resolution plan (or the vendor and the purchaser are separate legal entities pursuant to a divestiture authorized by the Dodd-Frank [...]

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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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Illinois Retailers Beware: Class Action Complaint Filed Against Grocer for Collecting Illinois Sales Tax on Manufacturers’ Coupons Lacking Specific Language

A class action complaint was filed in federal court last week against the operator of a grocery chain, alleging failure to deduct manufacturers’ coupons from the tax base on which sales tax was calculated and collected from customers.  This latest attack on a retailer relies on an interpretation of a Department of Revenue regulation that, if correct, would be overly burdensome on Illinois retailers. Other Illinois retailers that accept manufacturers’ coupons may be at risk of being sued in similar actions or may be forced to change their practices.

The Illinois sales tax, the Retailers’ Occupation Tax, is a tax on a retailer’s gross receipts. Store coupons, where a retailer does not receive reimbursement from another party, constitute a reduction in a retailer’s gross receipts and therefore reduce the tax owed. 86 Ill. Admin. Code 130.2125(b)(1). Manufacturers’ coupons, on the other hand, involve reimbursement to a retailer from a third party. This reimbursement constitutes taxable gross receipts. 86 Ill. Admin. Code 130.2025(b)(2). As such, manufacturers’ coupons do not decrease the amount of Retailers’ Occupation Tax owed by the retailer.

An Illinois retailer collects Use Tax from its customer as reimbursement for its Retailers’ Occupation Tax. See 35 ILCS 105/3-45; 86 Ill. Admin. Code 130.101(d). The difficulty with manufacturers’ coupons is that the customer has not paid the entire amount of the retailer’s receipts on which Retailers’ Occupation Tax is due. The Department’s regulation addresses the issue by calling for the customer to assume liability for Use Tax in the fine print of the coupon:

Technically, the coupon issuer … owes the corresponding Use Tax on the value of the coupon.  However, in many cases, the coupon issuer incorporates language into the coupon that requires the bearer … to assume this Use Tax liability.  86 Ill. Admin. Code 130.2025(b)(2).

The theory of the complaint is that the coupon did not contain this language shifting the Use Tax liability, and therefore it was improper of the retailer to collect tax on the coupon amount. If the class action attorneys’ theory is correct, store clerks would be expected to carefully read the fine print of each and every coupon that customers present.  Surely, the Department of Revenue could not have intended such a result.  The complaint seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages of at least 1 percent of the revenue from Illinois stores during years in which violations occurred, and fees and costs. Other retailers may risk similar suits and should consider seeking clarity from the Department of Revenue.




Inside the New York Budget Bill: 30-Day Amendments

On Friday, February 20, 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office released the 30-Day Amendments to the 2015–2016 New York State Executive Budget Legislation (Budget Bill).  This year, instead of the usual set of corrections and minor changes to the Budget Bill, the 30-Day Amendments focused primarily on the governor’s five-point ethics reform plan, with only very few corrections and minor changes included with respect to the Revenue Bill.  Those few corrections and changes focused on credits and incentives (e.g., technical corrections and clarifications to the New York State School Tax Relief (STAR) Program, the real property tax credit, the Brownfield Cleanup Program, and the credit for alternative fuel and electric vehicles) leaving any changes to the proposed sales tax provisions, corporate franchise tax technical correction provisions and New York City conformity provisions to the legislative process.  Please see our On the Subject related to the Budget Bill’s proposed significant changes to New York’s sales and use tax statutes.




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