The Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) has had its hands full with tax cases this year. Although largely unpopular and unexciting for the general public, SCOTUS find tax cases even less appealing. In fact, since 1992 in Quill, SCOTUS has not heard a case dealing with sales tax nexus. Despite its unpopularity, the nexus issue is an important one since the advent of the Internet. However, every statistic has its anomaly. From a state tax perspective, SCOTUS issued two opinions in 2 days, which is impossible. The first case, the DMAcase came down yesterday, March 3, 2015, ruling that a taxpayer could embark on a constitutional challenge to a state tax in federal court. Even more riveting, SCOTUS ruled today, March 4, 2015, in theCSX case.
By way of brief background, federal law prohibits states from imposing taxes that “discriminate against rail carriers.” With that in mind, Alabama decided to impose a 4% tax on diesel fuel purchases made by a rail carrier and exempt similar purchases made by other competitors, namely motor and water carriers. However, motor carriers pay 19 cents per gallon of fuel tax on diesel purchases and water carriers don’t pay tax on diesel fuel purchases. Is this the type of discrimination the feds were talking about? Does anyone really care?