Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Proponents of Streamlined Sales Tax Legislation Remain Unwilling To Pursue Genuine Simplification, While Exaggerating The Amount Of Uncollected Use Tax on eCommerce Sales

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt introduced H.R. 5660, “a Bill to promote simplification and fairness in the administration and collection of sales and use tax, and for other purposes.”  H.R. 5660 represents the latest effort by Congressional allies of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (“SSUTA”) to promote legislation that would overturn the substantial nexus standards that limit states’ power to impose sales and use tax collection obligations on out-of-state sellers, as reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Quill v. North Dakota

Sadly, H.R. 5660 represents no real promotion of simplification of state sales and use tax systems over the level of improvement introduced in prior bills which fell far short of the mark. Indeed, H.R. 5660 is nearly identical to a bill introduced by Mr. Delahunt in 2007 that endorsed the SSUTA, the shortcomings of which Brann & Isaacson senior partner, George Isaacson, explained to Congress in December 2007.  Among the fundamental steps toward true simplification that the states have still refused to adopt (and that H.R. 5660 fails to require) are a reduction in the number of state and local taxing jurisdictions, a single sales tax rate for all jurisdictions in a state, uniformity in the tax base, and uniformity in the measure of tax for like transactions, to name just a few.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is Amnesty Really Amnesty?

States frequently announce amnesty programs. In return for settlement of back taxes, taxpayers obtain waiver of penalties and sometimes a reduction of interest. It has now become increasingly common, however, that states provide a stick to go along with the carrot of penalty waiver. Thus, Pennsylvania completed an amnesty period on June 18 in which it provided for waiver of penalties for payment of back taxes. The Governor of the Commonwealth, Ed Rendell, has announced that in the future, an additional 5% penalty will apply to all tax delinquencies that remained after June 18. In addition, he pointed out that the DOR will begin to seek to hold corporate officers personally accountable for taxes businesses owe and take other aggressive means to enforce the taxes.

Back in 2005, California announced a similar program, by which it increased the accuracy penalty from 20% to 40% and assessed an additional 50% “interest penalty” for all those taxpayers who did not apply for amnesty. Other states have followed a similar approach.

Is an offer of relief from liability coupled with a penalty for failure to take the offer really amnesty? Webster’s defines amnesty as a pardon from an authority. The consideration by the taxpayer for such pardon is the payment of back taxes. The sort of punitive measures, however, that some states impose for failure to acknowledge liability is not a pardon. Serious questions of taxpayer fairness are raised. Why should there be an additional penalty and in some cases threat of personal liability when a taxpayer has a legitimate dispute and chooses not to seek “amnesty”? The Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution is designed to provide every citizen their “day in court.” Imposing a penalty for the exercise of this due process right seems to be inconsistent with the basic principle of fair dealing that should be the very foundation of our tax system.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Oklahoma (again)!

This post is not a repeat of the successful musical. Rather, it is yet another blog post on the Oklahoma tax statute to supplement our posts of June 24 and July 1. The Oklahoma Tax Commission has recently proposed emergency regulations that purport to implement the notice requirements of the recently-adopted Oklahoma statute. As reported in our blog post of June 24, the Oklahoma statute is “Colorado-like,” inasmuch as it requires notice with each sale to an Oklahoma consumer by a direct marketer that does not have substantial nexus with Oklahoma. However, the statute provides that the notice is not effective until the Tax Commission has adopted regulations implementing the statute. Hence, the proposed regulations circulated by the Tax Commission, which become effective when approved by the governor.

The regulations require that the “required notice” be included (i) on the retailer’s website or in the retailer’s catalog; and (ii) on each invoice provided by the retailer. The regulations also prescribe that if the retailer does not provide invoices, the retailer must send a confirmatory email containing the required notice. The “required notice” must include the following disclosures:(1) the retailer is not required to collect, and does not collect, Oklahoma use tax; (2) the purchase is subject to Oklahoma use tax, unless exempt; (3) the purchase is not exempt because it is made over the Internet, by catalog or other remote means; (4) the State of Oklahoma requires Oklahoma purchasers to report, by filing a consumer use tax return or disclosing the same on the individual income tax return, all use tax due on out-of-state purchases and to pay such tax with the report or return; and (5) the forms and instructions for consumers to report and pay the Oklahoma use tax are available on the Oklahoma Tax Commission web site,

Friday, July 2, 2010

B&I Files Constitutional Challenge to Colorado Notice and Reporting Law for The Direct Marketing Association

We've blogged frequently about Colorado's new notice and reporting law (see here and here).

Since our last posts on the topic, Brann & Isaacson's George Isaacson and Matthew Schaefer filed suit in federal district court in Colorado on behalf of The Direct Marketing Association in The Direct Marketing Association v. Roxy Huber.  Filed on June 30, the suit challenges the constitutionality of the new Colorado law.

The Colorado statute, which targets out-of-state retailers, purports to require those retailers to notify Colorado customers of their obligation to self-report use tax and to require those same retailers to turn over confidential purchasing information regarding Colorado customers to the Colorado Department of Revenue. In the complaint, the DMA, the leading global trade association of direct marketing businesses and nonprofit organizations, asserts that the Colorado statute discriminates against interstate commerce, exceeds the State’s regulatory authority over out-of-state businesses, violates the privacy rights of Colorado consumers, infringes the free speech and due process rights of retailers and consumers, and exposes confidential consumer information to the risk of unauthorized disclosure.

We'll continue updating you as developments arise.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oklahoma Seeks to Expand the Definition of Nexus for Internet and Catalog Retailers

In our blog post last week, we discussed the new Oklahoma sales tax statute, which contains a “Colorado-like” reporting requirement for those Internet and catalog sellers that do not collect and remit the Oklahoma sales and use tax. As a second part of the statute, the Oklahoma legislature also expanded the definition of those companies that are engaged in the business of selling tangible personal property for use in Oklahoma; i.e. those companies required to register to collect and remit the Oklahoma sales and use tax.  This part of the statute, like the reporting requirements section, is not the model of clarity, so there is some ambiguity in the statute.

First, the statute provides for “affiliate nexus” attribution. Thus, under the new law a retailer that otherwise does not have nexus based on its own activities (an out-of-state retailer) is deemed to have nexus if it and another retailer that has nexus with Oklahoma are commonly-owned, and if: (i) the Oklahoma-retailer sells the same or a “substantially similar” line of products under the same trade name as that of the non-nexus retailer (the so-called multi-channel retailer); (ii) the facilities or employees of the Oklahoma retailer are used to advertise, promote or facilitate sales by the out-of-state retailer; or (iii) the in-state retailer has a warehouse or similar place of business in Oklahoma that is used to deliver property to the out-of-state retailer’s customers, as in a drop ship relationship. Additionally, any retailer that is part of a controlled group (as defined under the Internal Revenue Code) faces a rebuttable presumption that it is engaged in business in Oklahoma if a component member of the controlled group is engaged in any of the activities described above. The presumption can be rebutted if the retailer shows that the component member did not do any of those activities on behalf of the retailer. The foregoing provisions are more comprehensive than those of other state statutes, which have some but not all of the provisions regarding common ownership. Colorado’s statute, for example, provides for a presumption of nexus similar to that described for members of controlled groups above and Arkansas’ statute contains a similar provision to that of the first category.