Paying with Data

By Adam B. Thimmesch

It is an oft repeated adage that if you are not paying for a product, then you are the product. This comment has traditionally been directed at products like Google, Facebook, and Instagram, but it is not just large software companies that are making use of consumer data as “payment” for their services. NPR recently published a story about a café in Rhode Island that is taking this one step further. They sell coffee in exchange for data.

According to the article, students and faculty at Brown University are the only customers allowed at the shop, and students get free coffee by allowing the coffee shop to gather and sell their data. The students also receive corporate pitches from the café’s workers. (Apparently professor data is not so valuable. They have to pay.) According to the article:

To get the free coffee, university students must give away their names, phone numbers, email addresses and majors, or in Brown’s lingo, concentrations. Students also provide dates of birth and professional interests, entering all of the information in an online form. By doing so, the students also open themselves up to receiving information from corporate sponsors who pay the cafe to reach its clientele through logos, apps, digital advertisements on screens in stores and on mobile devices, signs, surveys and even baristas. Continue reading “Paying with Data”

A Series of Series? Tax, Regulation, and Faculty Workshops at Boston College Law School

I do love a good faculty workshop. Reading and spiritedly discussing the work of other academics always fills me with energy and inspiration for my own projects. Plus, it’s great to be able to spend time with new and old friends and find out what’s been baking in their brains.

Here at BC Law, I’m fortunate to be involved in two exciting workshop series: the BC Tax Policy Workshop and the BC Regulation and Markets Workshop. Both kicked off this week: On Tuesday, we hosted Professor Jens Dammann from the University of Texas at Austin and heard about his paper, “Deference to Delaware Corporate Law Precedents and Shareholder Wealth: An Empirical Analysis.” Today, we welcomed Professor Ajay Mehrotra (Northwestern Law; Executive Director, American Bar Foundation) and had a lively discussion of his book project, “The VAT Laggard: A Comparative History of U.S. Resistance to the VAT.” Tomorrow, BC Law will have its first Faculty Colloquium of the semester. Professor Guy-Uriel Charles (Duke Law; visiting at Harvard Law) will present “The American Promise: Rethinking Voting Rights Law and Policy for a Divided America.”

You can never have too many workshops!

Below are the dates and speakers for the remainder of the semester. If you’re a Boston-area law professor and are interested in attending or would like to be on our workshop email list, just let me know.

Tax Policy Workshop (Fall 2018):

Thursday September 13, 2018
Ajay Mehotra (Northwestern, and American Bar Foundation):
The VAT Laggard: A Comparative History of US Resistance to the VAT
(co-sponsored with BC Legal History Workshop)

Tuesday November 6, 2018
Andrew Hayashi (UVA): title TBD

Tuesday Nov. 13, 2018
Cliff Fleming (BYU): title TBD

Tuesday November 27, 2018
Emily Satterthwaite (University of Toronto): title TBD
(co-sponsored with BC Regulation and Markets Workshop)

Continue reading “A Series of Series? Tax, Regulation, and Faculty Workshops at Boston College Law School”

New Paper on Tax Legislative Process and Statutory Drafting

Shu-Yi Oei

For those readers in search of some light summer reading, Leigh Osofsky (UNC Law) and I have been working on a paper on statutory drafting, entitled “Constituencies and Control in Statutory Drafting: Interviews with Government Tax Counsels.” We finally got around to posting it on SSRN, here.

In the paper, we report findings from interviews we conducted with government tax counsels who have participated in the tax legislative process, in which we asked questions about various aspects of drafting and creating tax legislation. In addition to reporting our findings, we also discuss the implications of our research for statutory interpretation, tax system design, and the legislative process.

For readers interested in legislation, tax drafting, statutory interpretation, tax shelters, and the political process, the paper is probably worth a look. Feel free to contact either of us with comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Post-Wayfair Thoughts: Sales Tax?

By now, anyone who reads this post should be aware that the Supreme Court decided South Dakota v. Wayfair and overruled its physical presence rule last week. States now have expanded authority to require the collection of their consumption taxes by remote vendors like online retailers. Coverage of the case and its impact on states and vendors has been widespread, including my preliminary thoughts offered on this blog and with Darien Shanske and David Gamage elsewhere.

One aspect of the coverage that would usually drive state tax aficionados crazy is the continued reference to the case as involving sales tax.

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For a long time, many of us have smugly corrected folks (often only in our own minds) and noted that it is the state use tax that is at issue when we are talking about online sales. That may be no more.

The South Dakota law that was challenged in Wayfair indeed requires remote vendors to collect the state’s sales tax rather than the state’s use tax. Historically, that would have been a big problem, but it didn’t trouble Justice Kennedy or the other members of the majority. This may require broader thinking than just analyzing what Wayfair means about states’ powers over remote vendors. The Court’s decision in Wayfair may have done much more than just overrule Quill; it may have unsettled some even longer-standing doctrine in this area.

Continue reading “More Post-Wayfair Thoughts: Sales Tax?”

South Dakota v. Wayfair: First Impressions

The Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision overruling its long-standing physical presence rule in South Dakota v. Wayfair this morning. That decision provides welcomed relief to states (and to those of us who already pay use tax) and will have significant short- and long-term consequences. My reactions to Wayfair will surely extend for a long period of time, but here are some brief first thoughts.

The Basics

The Court’s holding was very limited: the physical presence rule no longer governs the determination of what constitutes a “substantial nexus” under the dormant Commerce Clause. The Court also found that nexus existed in the case based on the challengers’ connections with South Dakota. Finally, the Court did not bless the South Dakota statute completely, but remanded the decision back to the South Dakota courts to hear non-nexus based challenges to the law, if any exist.

What this means is that states will be able to continue (or expand) their efforts to require the collection of sales/use tax by online vendors. States will also need to monitor whether and how Congress responds, but they should be able to craft their laws to avoid state-court scrutiny until that time.

Continue reading “South Dakota v. Wayfair: First Impressions”

The Stages of International Tax Reform (Insights from this Weekend’s ABA Tax Section Meeting)

By: Diane Ring

Since December 2017, tax conferences in the United States have focused substantially on the H.R. 1 tax reform legislation. No surprise there — the 2017 changes are among the most significant in the past thirty years. But over the past five months, through attending numerous tax conferences featuring international tax practitioners, I’ve observed some interesting developments in the nature of the discussions and debates at these conferences. These changes are pretty revealing about the process of absorbing the true impact of the new tax law, particularly in international tax. This weekend’s ABA May Tax Section Meeting in Washington, D.C. highlighted some of these trends.

Continue reading “The Stages of International Tax Reform (Insights from this Weekend’s ABA Tax Section Meeting)”

The Gig Economy Battles Continue: 9th Circuit Weighs In on Seattle Uber Driver Ordinance

By: Diane Ring

Today the 9th Circuit weighed in on the validity of a Seattle ordinance that requires businesses contracting with taxi-drivers, for-hire transportation companies, and “transportation network companies” to bargain with drivers if a majority of drivers seek such representation. The legislation, which effectively enables Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize, drew objections from Uber, Lyft and the Chamber of Commerce— which sued the City of Seattle. In an August 2017 post, I reviewed the ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, which concluded that the Seattle ordinance was an appropriate exercise of the city’s authority and did not violate the Sherman Act (because of state action immunity) and was not preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  So what did the 9th Circuit say?

Continue reading “The Gig Economy Battles Continue: 9th Circuit Weighs In on Seattle Uber Driver Ordinance”

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.

Call for Papers: New Voices in Tax Policy and Public Finance (2019 AALS Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA)

The AALS Tax Section committee is pleased to announce the following Call for Papers:

CALL FOR PAPERS
AALS SECTION ON TAXATION WORKS-IN-PROGRESS SESSION
2019 ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 2-6, 2019, NEW ORLEANS, LA
NEW VOICES IN TAX POLICY AND PUBLIC FINANCE
(co-sponsored by the Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law and Section on Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation)

The AALS Section on Taxation is pleased to announce the following Call for Papers. Selected papers will be presented at a works-in-progress session at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA from January 2-6, 2019. The works-in-progress session is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, January 5.

Eligibility: Scholars teaching at AALS member schools or non-member fee-paid schools with seven or fewer years of full-time teaching experience as of the submission deadline are eligible to submit papers. For co-authored papers, both authors must satisfy the eligibility criteria.

Due Date: 5 pm, Wednesday, August 8, 2018.

Form and Content of submission: We welcome drafts of academic articles in the areas of taxation, tax policy, public finance, and related fields. We will consider drafts that have not yet been submitted for publication consideration as well as drafts that have been submitted for publication consideration or that have secured publication offers. However, drafts may not have been published at the time of the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting (January 2019). We welcome legal scholarship across a wide variety of methodological approaches, including empirical, doctrinal, socio-legal, critical, comparative, economic, and other approaches.

Submission method: Papers should be submitted electronically as Microsoft Word documents to the following email address: tax.section.cfp@gmail.com by 5 pm on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. The subject line should read “AALS Tax Section CFP Submission.” By submitting a paper for consideration, you agree to attend the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting Works-in-Progress Session should your paper be selected for presentation.

Submission review: Papers will be selected after review by the AALS Tax Section Committee and representatives from co-sponsoring committees. Authors whose papers are selected for presentation will be notified by Thursday, September 28, 2018.

Additional information: Call-for-Papers presenters will be responsible for paying their own AALS registration fee, hotel, and travel expenses. Inquiries about the Call for Papers should be submitted to: AALS Tax Section Chair, Professor Shu-Yi Oei, Boston College Law School, oeis@bc.edu.

Reform 2.0 – Some Passing Thoughts on S.B. 2687

Senator Ted Cruz has introduced S.B. 2687, described as a bill “to make permanent the individual tax rates in effect for taxable years 2018 through 2025.”  Speculation about the success of the effort has run the gamut (see here and here), but after last year’s holiday surprise, the new bill, which would lock in rate gains across the board, merits a quick read-through.  It is possible that Congress would pass this bill or a similar one. With the legislature having made corporate rate cuts permanent and individual rate cuts temporary, individual members may be motivated to respond to constituents’ distributive justice-based criticisms.

Notably, S.B. 2687 would make the increased estate tax exemption—previously $5 million, now $10 million—permanent.  Given that this Congressional love letter to the wealthy is paid for by permanently eliminating deductions for things like health care expenses, it might be a wish-list item for Republicans to use as a bargaining chip.  It affects a vanishingly small number of constituents, and allowing Democrats to win on this front might be face-saving enough to swing a vote or two.

Most of the proposed legislation is business as usual though.  The bill would, as advertised, make the new personal income tax rate cuts permanent.  It would permanently repeal the personal exemption and miscellaneous itemized deductions, and it would continue to limit the home mortgage interest deduction and the deduction for state and local taxes.  As I previously have written, repeal of the personal exemption might adversely affect large and non-traditional families, a possibility that the original reform and Senator Cruz’s subsequent effort would mitigate (but not eliminate) by doubling the child tax credit.  For more on that, see Shannon Weeks McCormack’s article here.

A couple of miscellaneous provisions in the bill are worth mentioning (and here, I am not claiming to be comprehensive).  The first would permanently restrict deduction of moving expenses under IRC § 217 to members of the armed forces who relocate in connection with active duty.  As long as we are re-upping this provision for Congressional consideration, why not add Americorp and Teach for America to it?  Moving allowances for these programs may not cover all of the participant’s cost, but like members of the armed forces, participants move on assignment in service to their country.  Adding Americorp and Teach for America to section 217 likely will not cost much—these young people don’t have high incomes, so their deductions are proportionately smaller— and their inclusion in section 217 signals the importance of their public service.  Our laws embody our values, and allowing the moving expense deduction for Americorps and Teach for America participants would more broadly express the government’s vision of personal sacrifice for the public good.

A second interesting provision of S.B. 2687 is permanent repeal of IRC § 132(f)’s exclusion for qualified bicycle commuting expense reimbursements.  Is it just me, or is this narrow repeal sort of peculiar?  From a nudge perspective, the exemption seems like a net good.  Biking is expensive, and people on the margins otherwise might choose to drive, causing pollution and diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle.  On the other hand, we all know that in most cities, only the truly committed bike to work.  It’s dangerous; it requires a lot of gear and a funny hat; and at the other end, despite what people may tell you, you need a shower.  Cyclists don’t need a tax incentive; they are impervious to people who swear at them from the passing lane, and they will bike whether we pay them to or not.  In fact, the market appears to be so inelastic that Oregon taxes bicycles.  Maybe the fringe benefit for cyclists is not warranted on behavioral grounds.  But even if the section 132 allowance doesn’t change anyone’s behavior, allow me to park a final question in this spot.  Why single out this one small piece of the Code for elimination when, perhaps, all of section 132 is due for a tune-up?

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