For more than a year, I have been discussing the potential that Oregon lawmakers will pass a corporate gross receipts tax. On May 26, 2017, we discussed recent events that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the dream of a corporate gross receipts tax was definitely alive and well in Oregon. In fact, the passage of it certainly appeared to be gaining steam in the legislature. Maybe that is not the case – at least for now.
Late yesterday, Oregon Democrats announced that they are abandoning any efforts to enact a corporate gross receipts tax this year as they have been unable to garner adequate legislative support to pass such a measure. Article IV, Section 25 of the Oregon Constitution requires a three-fifths majority of all members elected to each house of the legislative assembly to pass bills for raising revenue and that the presiding officer of each respective house sign the bill or resolution. So, it appears a three-fifths vote in favor of a corporate receipts tax in each the house and the senate is not currently attainable.
After Oregon Measure 97’s drubbing at the polls in November 2016, for many, it suggested the quashing of any notion of a gross receipts tax in the state. For Oregon Senator Mark Hass (D) and Representative Mark Johnson (R), it got them thinking creatively about alternatives to such an approach, spawning Legislative Concept 3548, and subsequently, the births of Senate Joint Resolution 41 and House Bill 2230. Both resemble the now defunct Measure 97—and in the same way can be viewed as a hidden sales tax, essentially. While finding a palatable path to reform is certainly a tall order, the new tax proposals could pose a serious threat to the Oregon business community and present a thorny solution to addressing the state’s budgetary needs.
In an April 2017 State Tax Notes article, titled “The Idea That Would Not Die: Beyond Oregon’s Measure 97,” my colleague Michelle DeLappe and I discuss these new Oregon tax proposals and their key differences with Measure 97, the benefits and shortcomings of a gross receipts tax, and the likelihood of a gross receipts tax in Oregon becoming a reality.
As I reported previously, Oregon Measure 97 was overwhelmingly defeated by voters in the state’s general election this past November. It certainly appeared that the voters spoke loudly and clearly on November 8, 2016, when they voted to defeat the ill-designed amendments to the Oregon corporate minimum tax regime contained in Measure 97. Flaws in the legislation included:
- Measure 97 contained a corporate alternative tax based on Oregon gross receipts – a tax that has no relationship to profits.
- Measure 97 proposed a corporate alternative tax applicable only to C corporations. S corporations, entities taxed as partnerships and Oregon benefit companies would have escaped the proposed tax altogether.
- While Oregon benefit companies would have escaped the proposed tax, non-Oregon benefit companies were to be subject to the tax. As a result, Measure 97 was clearly in conflict with the Interstate Commerce Clause.
Enter Legislative Concept 3548
On February 13, 2017, Oregon Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mark Hass (D) requested that Legislative Concept 3548 (“LC 3548”) be released. LC 3548 is a legislative referendum to amend the Oregon Constitution in order to create a “Business Privilege Tax” based on gross receipts. It looks a lot like Measure 97. There are, however, some key differences, including:
As a general rule, in accordance with IRC § 162(a), taxpayers are allowed to deduct, for federal income tax purposes, all of the ordinary and necessary expenses they paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on a trade or business. There are, however, numerous exceptions to this general rule. One exception is found in IRC § 280E. It provides:
“No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any payment paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law or the law of any state in which such trade or business is conducted.”
Congress enacted IRC § 280E as part of the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, in part, to support the government’s campaign to curb illegal drug trafficking. Even though several states have now legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana, IRC § 280E may come into play. The sale or distribution of marijuana is still a crime under federal law. The impact of IRC § 280E is to limit the taxpayer’s business deductions to the cost of goods sold.
On October 22, 2015, the U.S. Tax Court issued its opinion in Canna Care, Inc. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2015-206. In that case, Judge Haines was presented with a California taxpayer that is in the business of selling medical marijuana, an activity that is legal under California law.
The facts of this case are interesting. Bryan and Lanette Davies, facing significant financial setbacks and hefty educational costs for their six (6) children, turned to faith for a solution. After “much prayer,” Mr. Davies concluded that God wanted him to start a medical marijuana business. Unfortunately, it does not appear that he consulted with God or a qualified tax advisor about the tax implications of this new business before he and his wife embarked upon the activity.
The good news for the Davies is that their business blossomed. In fact, they employ ten (10) people in the business and have enjoyed financial success. They timely filed state and federal income tax returns, reported income and paid, what they believed, was the proper amount of taxes. The bad news for the Davies is the fact that the IRS did not agree with their computation of the tax liability.
The IRS issued a notice of deficiency. Not able to resolve the matter at IRS appeals, the Davies found themselves in the U.S. Tax Court. The sole issue in the case was whether the taxpayers’ business deductions were properly disallowed by the Service under IRC § 280E.
To no avail, the Davies presented numerous arguments as to why marijuana should no longer be a controlled schedule I substance. They also asserted that their new business created employment opportunities for others, cured their family’s financial woes, and allowed them to participate in civic and charitable activities.
Judge Haines quickly dismissed the Davies’ arguments, concluding the sale of marijuana is prohibited under federal law—marijuana is a schedule I controlled substance. Accordingly, IRC § 280E prevents taxpayers from deducting the expenses incurred in connection with such activity (other than the cost of goods sold).
Faced with a tax assessment exceeding $800,000, the Davies argued that their business does more than sell marijuana. In fact, it sells books, shirts and other items related to medical marijuana. Citing other cases, they argued that their expenses should be apportioned among the various activities (i.e., the sale of medical marijuana and the sale of other items), and that they should be able to deduct the expenses related to the sale of the non-marijuana items.
The court explained that, where a taxpayer is involved in more than one distinct trade or business, it may be able to apportion its ordinary, necessary and reasonable expenses among the different trades or businesses. Unfortunately for the Davies, they could not show that they operated two (2) or more trades or businesses. In this case, the facts indicated that the sale of shirts, books and other items was merely incidental to the sale of medical marijuana. There was not more than one (1) trade or business.
PRACTICE ALERT: Whether more than one (1) trade or business exists is a question of facts and circumstances. Under CHAMP v. Commissioner, 128 T.C. 182 (2007), if a taxpayer operates more than one (1) distinct trade or business, it may be allowed to apportion its expenses among the trades or businesses. If only one (1) of the businesses is impacted by IRC § 280E, only the expenses relating thereto should be denied. The key is establishing that more than one (1) trade or business exists, and reasonably be able to apportion the expenses among those trades or businesses. Keeping separate books and records, and accounting for business expenses in a separate manner, is likely the best approach. The more separation and distinction among the businesses the better the chances of showing more than one (1) trade or business exists. Maintaining separate entities or business names for each activity may be warranted.
The Davies lost the case and are now faced with a hefty tax bill. Unless IRC § 280E is amended, taxpayers involved in the sale of medical and/or recreational marijuana, despite state legalization, will be presented with the same dilemma faced by the Davies in Canna Care, Inc. v. Commissioner.
Actual or constructive receipt of the exchange funds during a deferred exchange under IRC Section 1031 totally kills an exchange and any tax deferral opportunity. Treasury Regulation Section 1031(k)-1(f)(1) tells us that actual or constructive receipt of the exchange proceeds or other property (non-like-kind property) before receiving the like-kind replacement property causes the exchange to be treated as a taxable sale or exchange. This is the case even if the taxpayer later receives the like-kind replacement property. In accordance with Treasury Regulation 1.1031(k)-1(f)(2), a taxpayer is in constructive receipt of money or property if it is credited to his, her or its account; set apart for the taxpayer’s use; or otherwise made available to the taxpayer.
The treasury regulations specifically tell us that security (such as a third party guarantee, letter of credit or mortgage) put in place to ensure a transferee (including the Qualified Intermediary) actually transfers the replacement property to the taxpayer does not constitute actual or constructive receipt of the exchange funds.
Last, where the exchange funds are held in a “qualified escrow account,” no actual or constructive receipt exists by the mere fact that the escrow holds the funds. A qualified escrow account exists if two criteria are met:
Requirement #1: The Escrow may not be established so that the holder of the funds is the taxpayer or a “disqualified person.”
Under Treasury Regulation Section 1.1031(k)-1(k), a disqualified person is:
- Any person or firm that acted as the taxpayer’s employee, attorney, accountant, investment banker or business broker, or real estate agent within two (2) years prior to the transfer of the relinquished property (or when there are multiple relinquished properties, the time period starts at the transfer of the earliest relinquished property). For this purpose, some services are ignored such as services routinely provided by title insurance companies, escrow companies, and financial institutions.
- The attribution rules of IRC Sections 267(b) and 707(b) come into play, but we have to substitute 10% for 50% in applying these rules. So, for example, related persons include: the taxpayer’s spouse, siblings, ancestors, and lineal descendants; a corporation or a partnership owned more than 10% by the taxpayer or a related person; or a trust in which the taxpayer or a related person is a beneficiary or the fiduciary.
Requirement #2: The terms of the escrow must expressly provide that the taxpayer’s rights to the funds are limited.
The taxpayer cannot be allowed to receive, pledge, borrow against or otherwise obtain the benefits of the funds until after the exchange period expires, until after the 45 day identification period where the taxpayer failed the exchange by not identifying any replacement property, or after the time when the taxpayer has received all of the property identified within the 45 day identification period.
Chief Counsel Advice 201320511
Chief Counsel Advice 201320511 raises a not so obvious issue in the area of constructive receipt of exchange funds. An issue that likely occurs often.
In the CCA, Chief Counsel was presented with a taxpayer that was in the equipment rental business. It regularly engaged in Code Section 1031 deferred exchanges to dispose of its rental equipment and to obtain new rental equipment in a tax deferred environment. Machinery and equipment rental businesses, rental car businesses, trucking companies and airlines likely find themselves in this same predicament.
The taxpayer maintained various lines of credit that it used to assist in funding operations during parts of the year and to acquire new rental equipment. The lines of credit, as you may suspect, were secured by the equipment.
Under the exchange agreement, the two specific requirements of a qualified escrow were met, but the Qualified Intermediary was required to pay down the lines of credit with the exchange proceeds and then (through the taxpayer) use the same lines of credit to fund the purchase of the replacement property. Again, one would assume this often occurs in personal property exchanges by taxpayers in related or similar businesses.
The specific issue presented to Chief Counsel was whether the use of the exchange proceeds to pay down the taxpayer’s debt (which may or may not have been directly related to the relinquished property) constituted constructive receipt by the taxpayer of the exchange funds, thereby killing the taxpayer’s opportunity to obtain tax deferral. The taxpayer was getting the benefit of the exchange funds during the time the deferred exchange was ongoing.
Chief Counsel, citing the boot netting rules, concluded in favor of the taxpayer and held no actual or constructive receipt existed. The new debt secured by the replacement property equaled or exceeded the debt secured by the relinquished property which was paid off in the exchange.
Put this Chief Counsel Advice in your bag of tricks. The issue may come up when taxpayers undertake personal or real property exchanges where a line of credit serves as security.
Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder in Garvey Schubert Barer, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; New York, New York; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant practices in the Portland office. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.
Upcoming Speaking Engagements
- New York, NY, 10.22.17-10.27.17
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- "A Look at Worker Classification Under Federal, State and Local Law," Willamette Law Review Tax SymposiumSalem, OR, 2.2.18