Noonan’s Notes Blog is written by a team of Hodgson Russ tax attorneys led by the blog’s namesake, Tim Noonan. Noonan’s Notes Blog regularly provides analysis of and commentary on developments in the world of New York tax law.

Posts from May 2015.

New York’s driver’s license suspension program, used to encourage and enforce delinquent tax collection, is still in its infancy. Two of my colleagues wrote an informative piece about the mechanics of the program, which began in 2013, and they also detailed appeals strategies in the event a taxpayer receives a suspension notice from the New York Tax Department that wasn’t warranted.

Supreme Court buildingOn May 18, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Maryland's resident tax credit structure unconstitutional because it subjected income earned outside the state to potential double taxation. The Supreme Court concluded in a 5 to 4 decision in Comptroller of the Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne that this structure impermissibly favored income earned within Maryland over income earned outside the state. According to the court, this effectively created a tariff that violated the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

Here's a quick review of the facts of the case. Brian and Karen Wynne are Maryland residents. Like most states, Maryland taxes residents on their worldwide income regardless of its source. In other words, Maryland residents can pay tax on income earned outside Maryland. In 2006, Brian Wynne owned stock in a Subchapter S corporation that operated and earned income in other states. In fact, the S corporation filed income tax returns in 39 states. The Wynnes reported the income that flowed through to them from the S corporation on their Maryland income tax returns but also claimed an income tax credit for taxes paid to other states. Almost every state tax code contains a similar credit. These credits are designed to avoid double taxation and to allow for the proper allocation of the tax burden to the jurisdiction where the income was earned.

The problem in the case arose because Maryland imposed two taxes, a state tax and a county tax. Despite imposing two taxes, the Maryland credit for taxes paid to other states only applied to the state tax, not the county tax. Thus, the Wynnes ended up being double taxed on the S corporation income. They paid tax to the states where the income was earned, and they paid the Maryland county tax on the same income. According to the Supreme Court, this scheme violated the dormant Commerce Clause of U.S. Constitution. 

This case is notable for several reasons:

marijuana plantIn a few short years, marijuana has gone from being widely regarded as an illicit drug to being legalized for medical purposes in 23 states and for recreational purposes in four states – with others expected to follow suit in short order. New York State jumped on the bandwagon last year with the enactment of the Compassionate Care Act (the Act), a highly-regulated medical marijuana program. In fact, the Department of Health is currently accepting applications from would-be “registered organizations” (ROs) aspiring to be among the five ROs to receive the department’s blessing to cultivate and dispense medical marijuana from up to four locations around the state. 

So why would sophisticated tax bloggers like us care? As tax nerds, we see tax issues everywhere! Indeed, the potential for states to grow tax revenue from marijuana sales has been a selling point on much of the state-level marijuana legislation from the outset. The potential is great: Colorado collected over $50 million in tax revenues and related fees in its first year. New York State, never one to forego a new tax, adds a new Article 20-B to the Tax Law under the Compassionate Care Act. Article 20-B imposes a 7% excise tax on every sale of medical marijuana by an RO to a “certified patient” or “designated caregiver” – both defined terms under the Act. That’s a pretty high tax rate…

Building scaffoldingIt seems I can’t get through a work day lately without some tax alert, webinar invite, article, or tweet addressing the new IRS tangible property regulations. These new rules have caused quite the uproar in the tax community, as outlined by articles here, here, and here. These regulations are aimed at questions as to whether expenditures on tangible property are currently deductible, or whether they must be capitalized and recovered through depreciation over time. And the principal question that the final regulations address is whether expenditures relating to the maintenance and alteration of tangible property, including buildings and other fixed assets, are properly treated as repairs, which are currently deductible, or are required to be capitalized as an improvement to the property. That distinction—between deductible repairs and capital improvements—has been mostly developed through judicial decisions, based on facts and circumstances. But in 2003, the IRS issued Notice 2004-6 , announcing that it intended to propose regulations in this area. And with the expediency and speed we have come to expect from our government, final regulations were issued in September 2014, and more recently the IRS announced simplified procedures offering relied to certain small businesses.    

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