Articles Tagged with “Tallahassee Sales Tax Attorney”

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The United States Constitution expressly forbids ex post facto laws with respect to both the federal and state governments.[i] An ex post facto law is one that retroactively changes the legal status and consequences of a particular action. The easiest way to understand it is in the criminal realm. Today, I ate a yogurt. Two years from now, the government passes a law saying it is a third-degree felony to eat yogurt and makes the law retroactive for a 5-year period. While eating my yogurt today was not against the law, I am still, two years later, guilty of a felony and can be punished accordingly. Fortunately, the government is not too interested in yogurt. Unfortunately, the government is very interested in tax.

In 2014, Michigan passed 2014 PA 282, a retroactive tax law replacing the elective three-factor apportionment formula from the Multistate Tax Compact to which Michigan adhered with a new single-factor apportionment formula. This may have been just another disappointment to Taxpayers, who are regularly disappointed by the creative and nefarious ways in which states try to drum up revenue. But with a retroactive application to 2008, it was just plain devastating.

It is no surprise that the state supreme court upheld the state’s interest in collecting more tax. The case challenging this law was in fact 50 consolidated cases in Gillette Commercial Operations North America & Subsidiaries et al. v. Dep’t of Treasury, No. 325258 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2015). The question now is: will the Supreme Court hear the case? The Department of treasury argues that the Supreme Court can’t. Rather than a retroactive law, the state argues that 2014 PA 282 is simply a clarification of the preexisting law. Therefore, under the state statutory-construction law, the Michigan state court had adequate and independent state law ground to uphold 2014 PA 282 and the Supreme Court of the United States does not have the jurisdiction to overturn it.

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Tennessee is the latest of states to jump on the economic nexus bandwagon.  In an effort to sidestep the physical presence the proposed rule would require out-of-state dealers that engage in the regular or systematic solicitation of consumers in Tennessee through any means and make sales exceeding $500,000 to Tennessee consumers during the calendar year would be considered to have substantial nexus with the state. One substantial nexus is established, the dealers would be required to register with the state and collect and remit sales and use tax.

Similar to recent rulemaking in Alabama, Tennessee does not believe its position offends the Commerce Clause. The proposed rule, may go into effect on or about November 8, 2016. It is worthy to note the rule is subject to committee review in both house of the Tennessee legislature and legislative approval is needed before a rule can become permanent.

Tennessee is not the only state attempting to combat Quill. Similarly, Alabama and South Dakota are litigating whether their economic nexus standards are sufficient to satisfy the Commerce Clause substantial nexus requirement. Earlier this year, South Dakota adopted the economic nexus for sales and use tax purposes. South Dakota is currently a plaintiff and defendant in two separate cases addressing the constitutionality of the substantial nexus law.

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If states could impose tax on every company that makes a sale within its borders, they would. Luckily, the Commerce Clause of the Constitution requires something known as “nexus,” or a connection, between a company and state in order for that company to be subject to state and local taxes. The standards for nexus can be ambiguous, particularly in recent years as a result of the radical changes to traditional business models that have occurred with the internet.

While nexus may seem easy to determine using the physical presence test, the definition of physical presence has in fact been something that courts across the country have struggled with since the beginning. That struggle has only become increasingly complicated with the internet and virtual marketplaces that no longer require a company to open a brick and mortar shop everywhere it wants to sell its products.

Recently, Washington state has found nexus with a company that made wholesale sales through infomercials. This particular company sent employees to Washington to participate in trade shows and other promotional events. However, they did not have a physical business location within the state.

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On December 14, 2015, the Supreme Court of the State of Utah issued its ruling in the case of DIRECTV and DISH Network v. Utah State Tax Commission. At issue in this case was a tax scheme that provided a sales tax credit for “an amount equal to 50%” of the franchise fees paid by pay-TV providers to local municipalities for use of their public rights-of-way.

The franchise fees were imposed for the running of cable and the construction of hubs on public property. Therefore, it is exclusively cable providers who pay franchise fees and qualify for the credit. Meanwhile, satellite providers such as DIRECTV are not subject to franchise fees and do not qualify for the tax credit.

DIRECTV argued that the tax credit was a violation of the dormant commerce clause of the Constitution. The dormant commerce clause is a legal term that means that states cannot either discriminate against interstate commerce or unduly burden interstate commerce because the power to do is in the hands of Congress. From a practical perspective, allowing 50 states to regulate interstate commerce differently would cause complete chaos, so the federal government wants to reserve that power for itself. Furthermore, states’ motivation to help their own local businesses would weaken the national economy as a whole.
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State and local governments are continually searching for ways to increase revenue through taxation of online companies conducting business within their state or county. One such way is by assessing a rental tax against online travel companies (“OTCs”).

OTCs typically facilitate the rental of a hotel room for vacationers and charge a fee for their services. OTCs play a significant role in the hotel rental business by providing consumers with a variety of choices based on price, location, and other factors. OTCs also provide benefits to hotels through promotion and advertising, and providing the ability for vacationers to rent a room at a lower price. Further, OTCs increase hotel occupancy rates and promote tourism thereby creating revenue for state and counties.
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Yet another state jumped on the band wagon to force out-of-state companies to collect and remit state tax. Specifically, South Dakota recently passed legislation adding sales and use tax collection requirements for out-of-state businesses conducting sales within the state. The legislation continues the trend of states enacting aggressive nexus statutes aimed at out-of-state online retailers.

The concept of nexus is derived from the Commerce Clause and the Due Process Clause of the United State Constitution. Essentially, these Federal limitations limit the ability of a state to tax business that takes place outside of the state. However, if a business has enough of connection to a state, then the state can force the business to abide by its state and local tax laws.

In Quill Corporation v. North Dakota (U.S. 1992), the U.S. Supreme Court held that nexus required a physical presence of the business within the state to require a business to follow a state’s state and local tax laws. The physical presence requirement has resulted in much litigation throughout the country. Essentially, there has been confusion as to how much of a connection to a state is required before a physical presence is established.

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I have been writing about the taxability of the online travel companies for some time. Recently, the Florida Supreme Court case of Alachua County v. Expedia, Inc., ruled that the local bed tax should be imposed on the amount the hotel received rather than the higher amount the customer pays the Online Travel Company (“OTC”). Similarly, the Court of Appeal of Wisconsin recently held that reservation facilitation services are not among the taxable services enumerated in section 77.52(2)(a)1, Wisconsin Statutes.

In the Wisconsin case, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (“WDOR”) attempted to assess tax on any “internet service provider” that provides lodging throughout Wisconsin. The WDOR argued that the markup amount retained by the internet service provider is subject to tax under section 77.52(2)(a)1, Wisconsin Statutes.

However, the law worked very differently. Specifically, in Wisconsin, section 77.52(2)(a)1, Wisconsin Statutes, tax is only imposed on “the furnishing of rooms or lodging to transients by hotelkeepers, motel operators and other persons furnishing accommodations that are available to the public, irrespective of whether membership is required for use of the accommodations.” The crux of this case turns to the word “furnishing.” Is an online travel company “furnishing” a hotel room?

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Few understand or even bring up sales tax issues when they order pizza. The next time you order pizza, take a look at the receipt and see if the pizza shop charges you for the delivery. Taking it a step further, what happens if you purchase an item and pay for shipping charges? Is tax due on just the item, or is it also due on the delivery charge as well? The answer depends largely on whether the delivery charge is separately stated and if it is optional. This issue will be in center stage for a recent class action filed in Broward County against Pizza Hut.

Lauren Minniti, the class representative, purchased a pizza from Pizza Hut and had it delivered. Pizza Hut allegedly charged her tax based on the charge for the pizza and for the separately stated delivery fee instead of tax on the pizza alone. Was this correct?
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With the every-so-exciting Florida Sales Tax Holiday (“Holiday”) running August 7th through August 16th, all Floridians must become knowledgeable so that we can maximize our savings as buyers. The Holiday does not solely apply to Parents and Students looking for their essential pencil sharpeners, the Holiday applies to all sales throughout Florida–so thrilling! Just think about all the wonderful school supplies you could stock up your office drawers this upcoming week. Like everything that seems too good to be true, this 10 day Holiday has a few rules that must be discussed. The following are the limitations for the Holiday:

• Clothing selling for $100 or less per item;
• Footwear selling for $100 or less per item;
• Certain Clothing Accessories selling for $100 or less per item;
• Certain School Supplies selling for $15 or less per item (Note – This does not include books); and
• Personal Computers and Certain Computer-Related Accessories on the first $750 of the sales price, when purchased for noncommercial home or personal use.
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As an avid sports fan and season ticket holder, I have now become more accustomed to seeing fellow fans smoking vapor products–a battery powered pen-like device that heats liquid nicotine into vapor-in the stadium seats. While some may wonder how people can possibly get away with smoking vapor products at stadium seats, or even at restaurant tables, I often ponder about how the vapor products are taxed at the state level. Are vapor products really tobacco products, are they cigarettes, or are they something completely different, and if so, are vapor products taxed at the wholesale level, as a sales tax, or some combination thereof?
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