The § 199A Regulations: Looking Toward Finalization

By: Leigh Osofsky
Professor of Law, UNC School of Law

As the holiday season approaches, tax practitioners and commentators are waiting for the arrival of a much-anticipated event: the finalization of the § 199A regulations. The Treasury Department has indicated that it is trying to finalize the regulations before the end of the year or shortly thereafter. Treasury has moved expeditiously with this monumental regulatory project for good reason: with the New Year comes the first tax filing season that will require application of § 199A (though those filing estimated returns may have already tried to apply the section). While the proposed regulations indicate that taxpayers may rely on the proposed regulations until the date that the final regulations are published in the Federal Register, it is nonetheless beneficial to have a bit more certainty regarding the operation of the provision as soon as possible going into filing season.

So, what can we expect of the final regulations? Much of what we saw in the proposed regulations – the basic regulatory approach – will likely stay the same. As Shuyi Oei and I catalogued in a recent article, Beyond Notice-and-Comment: The Making of the § 199A Regulations, Treasury put significant work into formulating the proposed regulations. Treasury engaged in extensive dialogue with interested constituencies prior to the release of the proposed regulations in addition to going through OIRA review. The proposed regulations offer a lengthy and detailed presentation of why Treasury chose particular approaches such as, for instance, a narrow reading of the critical “reputation or skill” clause from the statute. These types of fundamental decisions from the proposed regulations are thus unlikely to radically change.

This is not to say there will be no changes at all in the final regulations. Treasury has signaled it may make some changes to parts of the aggregation rules. And S Corp banks lobbied extensively both as part of the notice-and-comment period and outside of it to increase the de minimis threshold for the specified service trade or business (“SSTB”) characterization. If their lobbying effort is successful, the threshold will go up in the final regulations and allow more S Corp banks and similarly situated businesses to avoid classification in the undesirable SSTB category. This would be a real win for such banks, especially given that the statute itself does not explicitly provide for a de minimis exclusion from the SSTB category. Many other taxpayers pleaded for greater clarity, and, in particular, clearer exclusion from SSTB categorization, including in a slew of requests made as part of the notice-and-comment process. Shuyi Oei and I documented much of this dynamic in our recent work. However, Treasury is unlikely to grant the certainty requested by all, as the taxpayers making the requests are surely aware.

So, who will get a present in finalization and who will get a lump of coal? We will all find out soon enough. But my money is on few major changes and a lot of little ones around the edges.

Tax Implications of the Recent Dynamex Worker Classification Ruling

Heather Field
Professor of Law
UC Hastings College of the Law

Greetings from San Francisco, the epicenter of the gig economy, where workers-rights advocates are celebrating Monday’s California Supreme Court decision in the Dynamex case.  The ruling, which cites an article by my colleague Veena Dubal, is expected to make it harder for businesses in California to classify gig economy workers (and others) as independent contractors rather than employees.  As a result, these workers are more likely to be protected by rules about minimum wage, overtime, rest breaks, and other working conditions, although there are open questions about exactly how these rules will apply to gig workers.

But what is good for workers for employment/labor law purposes may not be so good for workers for federal income tax purposes.  As readers of this blog know, independent contractors can generally deduct their business expenses above-the-line and may be able to take the new Section 199A deduction equal to up to 20% of qualified business income (significantly reducing the effective tax rate). Employees, on the other hand, can do neither.  Thus, the employment/labor law win for workers in the Dynamex case may come with some unexpected and unwanted tax losses for these same workers.  This is especially true for workers with non-trivial amounts of unreimbursed business expenses (although the amount of a worker’s unreimbursed expenses may decline if the worker is classified as an employee because California Labor Code 2802 generally requires employers to reimburse significant business expenses of employees).

So, taking tax into account, is independent contractor status or employee status better for workers?  This question involves complicated employment/labor law and tax law tradeoffs. For example, despite the tax disadvantages of employee classification mentioned above, employee status can benefit workers for employment tax and tax compliance purposes.  Others (including Shuyi Oei here, Shuyi Oei and Diane Ring here, here and here, and Kathleen DeLaney Thomas here) have written extensively on worker classification/taxation topics, and at least some of them have additional articles forthcoming on these topics.  I will defer to them for more details as I am not an expert (at least right now) on worker classification or its tax implications.  But even I know that, when analyzing the implications of the Dynamex case, it will be important for commentators to consider the tax, not just employment/labor, consequences.

One possibility is that the Dynamex case will change California worker classification only for employment/labor purposes and not for tax purposes.  After all, the language of the ruling makes it clear that the issue addressed in the case is how to classify the workers “for purposes of California wage orders” (emphasis in original).  So the case does not technically have any impact on workers’ tax classifications.  Thus, a worker currently classified as an independent contractor for all purposes could be reclassified under the Dynamex standard as an employee for California wage order purposes but could remain classified as an independent contractor for tax and other purposes.  The applicable classification standards are different enough that, for some workers, it would be possible to have hybrid status.  But I am skeptical about whether businesses will do nuanced context-by-context worker classification determinations.  It is possible, particularly if workers (and scholars?) fight for hybrid worker status, but it seems more likely, at least to me, that businesses will just determine worker status based on the employment/labor standard and use that classification across the board.  Of course, a worker who believes they have been misclassified for one or more purposes could try to fight the classification, but that is a tough road.

Given the Dynamex decision, will worker classifications change, and if so, for which purposes?  I do not know.  We will have to wait and see how businesses react to the ruling.  Regardless of how businesses respond, I hope that, in analyses of the Dynamex decision and in future discussions about worker classification, commentators will be able to move beyond our legal silos, as Diane Ring recommends in a newly posted paper. This would advance a more holistic analysis that integrates labor, tax and any other relevant issues, and that approach could really help businesses and workers in our evolving economy.

The Workability of Pike Balancing for Sales and Use Tax Collection Obligations

Hayes Holderness
Assistant Professor
University of Richmond School of Law

As covered in earlier posts (here, here, here, and here), the Supreme Court is currently considering the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., which calls into question the physical presence rule for sales and use tax collection obligations. This rule holds that a state cannot require a person to collect the state’s sales and use taxes unless that person has a physical presence in the state; the rule was justified as a way to prevent undue burdens on interstate commerce. On March 28th, Wayfair filed its brief with the Court laying out its argument for retaining the physical presence rule.

The arguments in Wayfair’s brief are mostly expected: that state and local sales and use tax systems are still too complex and varying to expand taxing authority to remote vendors, that the dollars at stake are relatively small and declining, and that the physical presence rule benefits small vendors who would otherwise be unable to meaningfully engage in interstate commerce. However, one section of Wayfair’s brief addresses the argument of many amici that the balancing test from Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137 (1970), should replace the physical presence rule going forward. (Surly Blogger Adam Thimmesch has been at the forefront of these arguments.) Wayfair pulls no punches—it argues that Pike balancing would be “fundamentally unworkable for addressing the burdens of state sales tax collection,” i.e., that it would be unable to prevent undue burdens on interstate commerce in this context.

Continue reading “The Workability of Pike Balancing for Sales and Use Tax Collection Obligations”

Taxing R2-D2? ABA Tax Section Panel on Automation and AI

Kerry Ryan
Associate Professor
St. Louis University School of Law

I had the pleasure of attending the midyear meeting of the ABA Tax Section this past weekend in San Diego. The Tax Policy & Simplification committee organized an interesting panel entitled: “Taxing R2-D2: How Should We Think About the Taxation of Robots and AI.” The panel was organized and moderated by Surly’s own Leandra Lederman, and panelists included Shu-Yi Oei (Boston College), Roberta Mann (Oregon Law), and Robert Kovacev (Steptoe & Johnson LLP).

For those of you who read Shu-Yi’s post, you know that she is “deeply skeptical” of the “robot tax” frame. At best, it is misleading—no one is attempting to impose a tax on a “robot” (whatever that is?) per se. As Robert Kovacev succinctly put it: “robots don’t pay taxes, people pay taxes.” The key question is which people: owners, workers, and/or consumers? Roberta linked this question to the long-standing debate about who ultimately bears the burden of the corporate income tax.

At worst, the “robot tax” terminology captures (and perhaps amplifies) the fear (“the robots are coming!”) and angst driving much of this discussion. The underlying concern relates to the potential negative impact on labor of increased utilization of technology/artificial intelligence (AI)/automation in the production process. Experts disagree about whether, over the longer term, automation will reduce the number, or merely the type, of human workers. The unanswered question is whether this is just the next in a long line of technological shifts in the economy dating as far back as the Industrial Revolution, or whether AI/machine learning truly represents a technological tipping point.

What is clear is that the transition to this new automated workplace may lead to worker displacement (particularly for those in manual/routine jobs). Mass unemployment could negatively impact the tax base—fewer workers mean fewer taxpayers. Notice that any revenue loss would hit at the same time as funding demands increased for re-training and/or social protection programs (existing and/or proposed universal basic income) for displaced workers.

Assuming you believe there is a problem(s), what is the policy prescription? While most of the panelists agreed that tax has a role to play here, they disagreed as to the contours of that role. Should we plug the hole in the income tax base by shifting more of the tax burden onto capital, as opposed to labor? Do we attempt to tax work completed by robots in the same manner as comparable work by employees (see Bill Gates proposal)? Should we raise the overall level of taxation (under existing or new tax structures)? Do we view automation as imposing negative externalities on the labor market and impose some type of Pigouvian tax? Should we attempt to slow the pace of technological development, rather than workplace implementation, by reducing either direct funding or tax incentives for R&D and innovation (see South Korea)?

Many interesting questions with no easy answers. At the very least, we must resist allowing zeitgeist to drive the policy response, while at the same time affirming the legitimacy of the underlying concerns and working to minimize their negative consequences on workers and their families.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: §§ 1221(a)(3)/1235 Disconnect

Deborah A. Geier
Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University

Does the sale of a patent by its creator create capital or ordinary gain? Prior to the legislation commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enacted in late December, we had a clear answer: long-term capital gain (with some statutory limits). The TCJA has muddied the water significantly.

Prior to the TCJA, patents were not listed in § 1221(a)(3), which has long excepted self-created copyrights and self-created literary, musical, and artistic works from the definition of “capital asset” (with an elective “exception to the exception” for musical compositions in § 1221(b)(3), thanks to the Country Music Association). In addition, transferees of such assets also hold them as ordinary assets if their basis is determined by reference to the creator’s basis. The § 1221(a)(3) exception is premised on the analogy to labor income; although property is transferred, the property was created through the personal effort of the creator. While the same can be said of self-created patents, Congress provided them favorable treatment not only by failing to include them in the § 1221(a)(3) list but also by providing additional favorable rules in § 1235.

Section 1235 provides that the transfer of all substantial rights to a patent or an undivided interest in all substantial rights (other than by gift or bequest) to an unrelated party by certain “holders” generates long-term capital gain, even if the patent was held for less than one year and even if the consideration may look like (ordinary) royalty payments because contingent on (or measured by) use of the patent. The “holders” that can benefit from these favorable rules include patent creators (whether amateurs or professional inventors), as well as buyers of a patent from the inventor before the invention covered by the patent is reduced to practice, even if the buyer is in the business of buying and selling patents and even if he holds patents for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business, so long as the buyer is not the inventor’s employer. In Pickren v. U.S., 378 F.2d 595 (5th Cir. 1967), the Fifth Circuit extended application of § 1235 to unpatented secret formulas and trade names, though the taxpayers failed to transfer all substantial rights to the property and thus were denied capital gains treatment under § 1235.

Section 3311 of the House version of the TCJA would have repealed the § 1221(b)(3) election to treat self-created musical compositions as capital assets and—more important to the current discussion—would have added the words “a patent, invention, model or design (whether or not patented), a secret formula or process” before “a copyright” in the § 1221(a)(3) exception to the definition of a capital asset. Thus, a patent held by its creator or by a taxpayer whose basis is determined by reference to the creator’s basis would be an ordinary asset. Consistent with this change, § 3312 of the House bill would have repealed § 1235.

The Senate version of the TCJA contained neither provision. Continue reading “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: §§ 1221(a)(3)/1235 Disconnect”

Update on the GOP Bill’s Tax on Graduate Tuition Waivers

Patrick W. Thomas
Professor of the Practice, Notre Dame Law School

Following up on my post on the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers in the GOP tax bill, there have been a few new developments. (By the way, my fellow Hoosier from the opposite end of the state, Michael Austin, along with Sam Brunson, have a great post on the proposed repeal of section 117(d) as it affects university employees and their dependents.)

First, it’s been confirmed that the intent of the House bill (if not necessarily the effect, per my post) is to tax graduate student tuition waivers, for those graduate students who work in a research or teaching assistant role. According to an article in The Verge, a spokesperson from the Ways and Means Committee explicitly indicated as much in an email. While Congressman Brady did release an amendment to the bill Monday (text here) and a subsequent amendment on Thursday (text here), none of the education provisions were affected. Additionally, the bill (incorporating Congressman Brady’s amendments) was reported out of Ways and Means on a party line vote on Thursday. Continue reading “Update on the GOP Bill’s Tax on Graduate Tuition Waivers”

How SALT Deduction Repeal Promotes State Capture of Federal Charitable Contributions

By Manoj Viswanathan, Associate Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law

The current version of the GOP tax bill dramatically limits the deductibility of state and local taxes. For individuals, the deduction for state and local income taxes is eliminated entirely and the deduction for state and local property taxes is limited to the first $10,000. [fn.1] Though much has been said about the proposal, there has been little discussion about how eliminating the state and local tax deduction dramatically incentivizes (1) states to solicit charitable contributions in exchange for state tax credits and (2) taxpayers to make these charitable contributions.

Consider a taxpayer donating $500 to a tax-exempt private school in Arizona. Assuming the taxpayer itemizes, this reduces the taxpayer’s federal taxable income by $500 as per Sections 170(c) and 67(b)(4). Under Arizona’s School Tax Credits for Individuals program, this donation also entitles the taxpayer to a dollar-for-dollar $500 credit against state income tax liability. By donating the $500, the taxpayer has both saved $500 in state tax liability and obtained a federal charitable contribution deduction of $500. Continue reading “How SALT Deduction Repeal Promotes State Capture of Federal Charitable Contributions”

GOP Raises Taxes on Graduate Students … Or Does It?

Patrick W. Thomas
Professor of the Practice, Notre Dame Law School

We’ve all been poring over the GOP tax bill, released last week. On my initial read, I mainly looked at those provisions that affect my own practice in a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic: the expansion/restriction of the Child Tax Credit; the elimination of the dependency exemption; and the lack of any expansion in the Earned Income Tax Credit (paging Paul Ryan…). Selfishly, I also calculated the bill’s effect on my own taxes: a nearly 3% tax cut that I do not need!

Or so I thought. You see, my wife is a Ph.D. student in computer science who, like most students at the University of Notre Dame, receives a full tuition waiver, in addition to a stipend from the university. As I returned home on Friday, ready to put the tax bill out of mind for a couple hours, I saw a tweet from Claus Wilke, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas:

Uh oh. Back to tax policy on a Friday night, it seems. And, perhaps, so long to that tax cut. Continue reading “GOP Raises Taxes on Graduate Students … Or Does It?”

Trump’s Back-to Basics Tax Plan: It’s Tremendous!

Aren’t we all wondering what President Trump’s big tax reform announcement will be tomorrow?  Loyola Los Angeles Tax LL.M. student Anosh Ali ventured a tongue-in-cheek guess in a short memo he wrote in Katie Pratt’s Tax Policy class.  We’ll see tomorrow how good a prognosticator Anosh is. 

Until then, at least we know that his Presidential ‘voice’ is spot on


TO:         President Trump

FROM:   Anosh Ali, White House Communications Specialist

RE:         Your tax reform press conference on Wednesday

DATE:    April 25, 2017

_____________________________________________________________________________________

You have asked me to prepare talking points for your tax reform press conference tomorrow. This memo includes general talking points and responses to hostile questions you are likely to get from the liberal media. Continue reading “Trump’s Back-to Basics Tax Plan: It’s Tremendous!”

The Insurance Market Regulations in the Republicans’ Health Care Bill: Crippling Obamacare, or Passing a Hot Potato to State Governments?

By David Gamage

On Monday, the House Republicans finally revealed their draft bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (#Obamacare or #ACA). The bill is titled the American Health Care Act, and commentators have been referring to it as either the #AHCA or #Trumpcare.

To assess the bill, it is helpful to think of it as consisting of four primary buckets:

  1. ending many of Obamacare’s tax provisions (read: large tax cuts for the very wealthy);
  2. phased-in cuts to Medicaid funding and scheduled devolution of Medicaid to the states (read: eroding the health safety-net program for the poor);
  3. transforming Obamacare’s other major health subsidies from being based mostly on income and health costs to being based more on age (read: the implications of this are actually less straightforward than what much of the commentary suggests, but that is a topic for another day); and
  4. other changes to Obamacare’s insurance market regulations (the subject of today’s blog post).

In this blog post, I will focus on the fourth bucket—the changes to Obamacare’s insurance market reforms other than the changes to the subsidies. Time permitting, I hope to write future blog posts on some of the other buckets.

What is most striking about the AHCA’s insurance market changes is how they keep the vast majority of Obamacare’s reforms in place. Right-wing groups have thus taken to calling the AHCA “#ObamacareLite”. Yet I consider this a misnomer. A more accurate label would be #ObamacareCrippled.

The AHCA’s changes do not really water down Obamacare, as the intended slur of “ObamacareLite” implies. Rather, the AHCA’s changes would likely cause Obamacare‘s framework for regulating the individual market to fall apart. If the AHCA bill were to be enacted in its current form, the result would likely be adverse-selection death spirals. The only real hope for saving the individual market would be for state governments to step up with new state-level regulations for supporting insurance markets within each state.

Continue reading “The Insurance Market Regulations in the Republicans’ Health Care Bill: Crippling Obamacare, or Passing a Hot Potato to State Governments?”