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Washington State Capital Gains Tax Held Unconstitutional

The Washington State capital gains tax, which went into effect on January 1, 2022, has been held unconstitutional by the Douglas County Superior Court. Created in 2021, the tax was ostensibly labeled an “excise” tax in an effort by the Washington State Legislature (Legislature) to avoid difficulties associated with implementing an income tax in the state of Washington. The judge, however, was not persuaded.

Citing to authority from the Washington State Supreme Court, the trial judge held that courts must look through any labels the state has used to describe the statute and analyze the incidents of the tax to determine its true character. Here, the judge reviewed the most significant incidents of the new tax, including:

  • It relies on federal income tax returns that Washington residents must file and is thus derived from a taxpayer’s annual federal income tax reporting;
  • It levies a tax on the same long-term capital gains that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) characterizes as “income” under federal law;
  • It is levied annually (like an income tax), not at the time of each transaction (like an excise tax);
  • It is levied on an individual’s net capital gain (like an income tax), not on the gross value of the property sold in a transaction (like an excise tax);
  • Like an income tax, it is based on an aggregate calculation of an individual’s capital gains over the course of a year from all sources, taking into consideration various deductions and exclusions, to arrive at a single annual taxable dollar figure;
  • Like an income tax, it is levied on all long-term capital gains of an individual, regardless of whether those gains were earned within Washington and thus without concern of whether the state conferred any right or privilege to facilitate the underlying transfer that would entitle the state to charge an excise;
  • Like an income tax and unlike an excise tax, the new tax statute includes a deduction for certain charitable donations the taxpayer has made during the tax year; and
  • Unlike most excise taxes, if the legal owner of the asset who transfers title or ownership is not an individual, then the legal owner is not liable for the tax generated in connection with the transaction.

The court found that these incidents show the hallmarks of an income tax rather than an excise tax, and because the new capital gains tax did not meet the uniformity and limitation requirements of the Washington State Constitution, it was unconstitutional.

The Washington State Attorney General has already indicated that the ruling will be appealed; in all likelihood, this issue will ultimately be decided by the Washington State Supreme Court. In the meantime, if you have questions about the Washington State capital gains tax, please contact Troy Van Dongen.




Washington State’s Mandatory Withholding for Long-Term Care Put on Hold

In 2019, the Washington State Legislature (Legislature) established the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program (LTSS Trust Program) to provide funding for eligible beneficiaries that they can apply to the cost of their long-term care. The LTSS Trust Program is funded through a 0.58% payroll tax on employee wages, which went into effect on January 1, 2022.

Though the LTSS Trust Program was intended to provide a baseline of benefits to Washingtonians lacking private long-term care insurance, the program drew public criticism in recent months because, among other things, employees had no easy way to opt out of it. The legislation provided that individuals could opt out by purchasing private long-term care insurance before November 1, 2021, and applying for an exemption by the end of 2021. However, shortly after the program went into law, most (if not all) private long-term care insurance providers pulled out of the state.

When the Legislature convened earlier this month, it fast-tracked new legislation to put the LTSS Trust Program on hold. Though many lawmakers were calling for an outright repeal of the program, the majority ultimately passed a bill to delay its implementation until July 2023. Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign the measure by Friday, January 28.

Since this delay comes after employers have already started withholding the tax from their employees’ wages and, in some cases, after the tax has been remitted to the Employment Security Department (ESD), refunds will be necessary. Under the new law, employers are required to provide refunds to their employees within 120 days of the collection. If the employer already remitted the tax to the ESD, the ESD is required to refund that money to the employer who is then required to pass it on to the employee.

If you have questions about the LTSS Trust Program or its delayed implementation, please contact the author of this article.




Washington Legislature Introduces Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act

On January 10, 2018, a bill was introduced in the Washington State Legislature that would substantially enact the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (RUUPA) finalized by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) in late 2016. The bill, House Bill (HB) 2486, is sponsored by Representative Paul Graves at the request of the ULC and would be effective beginning January 1, 2019. The House Committee on Finance conducted a public hearing on the bill on January 16, 2018, but only the sponsor testified and the bill was held for further consideration. While similar (or identical) to RUUPA in most respects, the bill contains a number of significant deviations. Below is a brief summary of several provisions that we flagged in our initial review and the potential impact on Washington holders. (more…)




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