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2022, like the prior two years, has been difficult.  The COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest continues to be at the forefront of our existence.  On top of that, inflation and possible recessionary times are among us.

Thanks to the unwavering support of family, friends, clients, and colleagues, we are enduring through these turbulent times.  I am so grateful for these relationships!

I have had to constantly be mindful of the good things going on around us.  As American Poet Walt Whitman is accredited with saying:

By motion dated November 3, 2022, the Washington State Attorney General asked the Supreme Court of the State of Washington to allow the Washington Department of Revenue to implement and collect the capital gains tax struck down as unconstitutional by the Douglas County Superior Court, pending the high court’s ultimate ruling on the matter. 

As previously reported, the tax, which was set to go into effect on January 1, 2022 was struck down by the Douglas County Superior Court as unconstitutional.  The first tax payments under the new tax regime would be due on April 17, 2023.

Introduction

Magnifying glassMore than two decades ago, the Service announced its intention to consider simplifying the entity classification rules in Notice 95-14.  It stated:

“The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department are considering simplifying the classification regulations to allow taxpayers to treat domestic unincorporated business organizations as partnerships or as associations on an elective basis. The Service and Treasury also are considering adopting similar rules for foreign business organizations. Comments are requested regarding this and other possible approaches to simplifying the regulations.”

The Service asked for public comments on simplification of entity tax classification.  It scheduled a public hearing on the matter for July 20, 1995. 

In May 1996, proposed entity classification regulations were issued by Treasury.  About seven months later, on December 17, 1996, Treasury finalized the regulations.  The regulations are found in Treasury Regulation Section 301.7701.

The regulations were clearly designed to accomplish the IRS’s stated goal – simplifying entity tax classification.  The regulations, commonly referred to as the “Check-the-Box” regulations, successfully brought an end to much of the long existing battle between taxpayers and the Service over entity tax classification.  The regulations generally became effective on January 1, 1997.  In a little over a month from now, they will be 25-years old.  

The regulations, despite judicial challenge (e.g., Littriello v. United States, 2005-USTC ¶50,385 (WD Ky. 2005), aff’d, 484 F3d 372 (6th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 128 S. Ct. 1290 2008)), have persevered, making the entity classification landscape free of many tax authority challenges and providing taxpayers with some objectivity and more importantly, much needed certainty.  That said, despite the simplification brought into the world of entity tax classification by the Check-the-Box regulations, for which tax practitioners applauded the government, several new hazards were created.  Whether these new hazards were intentional or unintentional is subject to debate.  Unfortunately, not all of these hazards are obvious to taxpayers and their advisors.  If taxpayers and their advisors are not extremely careful in this area, disastrous unintended tax consequences may exist.  Accordingly, a good understanding of the regulations and the consequences of making, not making or changing an entity tax classification decision is paramount.

Last month, I presented a White Paper that I authored on the regulations at the NYU 81st Institute on Federal Taxation in New York City, and I will be presenting it again for NYU in San Diego on November 17, 2022.  The paper provides exhaustive coverage of the regulations and covers numerous nuances and traps that exist for unwary taxpayers and their advisors.  An issue which is often overlooked by practitioners is whether using the regulations to change entity status for income tax purposes is always a good idea.  While I discuss the issue in some detail in the paper, the sub-issue of whether a taxpayer should use the regulations to change the tax status of a limited liability company (“LLC”) taxed as a partnership to a corporation taxed under Subchapter S needs discussion.  I explore that sub-issue below.

NYC and San DiegoThe NYU 81st Institute on Federal Taxation (IFT) returns to in-person programming this year in New York City on October 23-28, 2022, and in San Diego on November 13-18, 2022. 

This year, I will be presenting my white paper “Entity Classification – The Check-The-Box Regulations Revisited."  Our discussion will cover recent developments in the law relating to entity classification, limitations under the check-the-box regulations, flexibility and planning opportunities created by the regulations, traps that exist for the unwary, and practical planning opportunities for tax advisers.

I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to present with IFT for more than a decade. During this year’s Institute, I will again be presenting as part of the Closely-Held Business program, chaired by my esteemed colleague Jerry David August, on the mornings of October 27 (NYC) and November 17 (San Diego)

GavelOn August 23, 2022, the Regular Division of the Oregon Tax Court issued its opinion in Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. v. Department of Revenue, State of Oregon.  The court determined that the taxpayer in that case is subject to the corporate excise tax. 

The taxpayer, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., required that its wholesale customers located in Oregon accept and process returned goods.  In addition, the taxpayer’s in-state sales representatives, who did not maintain inventory, routinely confirmed and processed purchase orders between Oregon retailers and wholesalers.

Remote workerAs previously reported, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote workforces currently dominate the landscape of most U.S. businesses.  In fact, in many industries, remote workforces may be the new normal post-pandemic.  Unfortunately, as workers become more mobile, the tax and human resources issues become more challenging for employers.

I was asked by Dan Feld, Principal Editor, Tax Journals, of Thomson Reuters, to author an article on this topic for the July 2022 Practical Tax Strategies Journal.  With Dan’s approval, I have provided a link to the complete article, Remote Workforces: Tax Perils and Other Traps For Unwary Employers, for my blog readers. 

IRSThe Taxpayer Advocate Service (“TAS”) is an independent body housed within the Internal Revenue Service (the “Service” or “IRS”).  Its mission is to ensure taxpayers are treated fairly by the Service and that taxpayers know and understand their rights with respect to the federal tax system.  Further, the TAS was created by Congress to help taxpayers resolve matters with the IRS that are not resolved through normal IRS procedures.  Additionally, the TAS was established to address large-scale, systemic issues that impact groups of taxpayers.

The TAS is currently led by Ms. Erin M. Collins, who joined the TAS in March 2020.  She serves as the National Taxpayer Advocate (“NTA”).  The NTA submits two reports to Congress each year, namely an “Annual Report” in January and what is called an “Objectives Report” in June.

On June 22, 2022, the NTA submitted the TAS Fiscal Year 2023 Objectives Report to Congress.  In addition to identifying the TAS’s objectives for the upcoming fiscal year, Ms. Collins sets out the good, the bad and the ugly relative to the Service’s performance during the year.  As a report card, it does not appear Ms. Collins gave the IRS all A’s.  She expressed critical comments centered primarily around three areas of customer service that include unprocessed paper-filed tax returns, delays in responding to taxpayer correspondence and failures in answering taxpayer telephone inquiries.  Whether the criticism is warranted may be debatable.

CheckboxMore than 25 years ago, effective January 1, 1997, Treasury issued what have been called the “Check-the-Box” regulations (the “Regulations”).1  The Regulations ended decades of battles between taxpayers and the IRS over entity classification.  Further, the Regulations simplified entity classification and brought much needed certainty to most entity classification decisions.

Under the Regulations, a business entity with more than one owner is either classified for federal tax purposes as a corporation or a partnership.2  Likewise, a business entity with only one owner is either classified as a corporation or is disregarded for federal income tax purposes as being separate and apart from its owner.3 

If a business entity is disregarded, its activities are generally treated for federal tax purposes as the activities of its owner.  There are five notable exceptions to that rule. 

Background

remote workingEarly in the pandemic, I reported on the widespread newly created remote workforces resulting from stay-at-home orders issued by the governors of most states.  In many cases, neither the employer nor the workers were prepared to take this journey.

Fears were rampant among employers that workplace productivity would diminish, quality of work would be impacted, technology would not support remote workers, culture would be compromised, employee recruiting and retention would be harmed, and customer goodwill would be tarnished.  On top of that, many employers worried that employee fatigue (mental and physical) would accompany the new workforce model.

Preliminary Results

Now that we are over two years into the pandemic, employers and employees alike are surprised to find that their fears, for the most part, were misplaced.  In most cases, it is reported that the remote workforce model is working quite well.    

    • Employees generally like the remote workforce model;
    • In a large number of cases, employees desire to remain remote post-pandemic;
    • The lack of commuting to and from work reduces employee disruption, stress  and household expenses (commuting costs, daycare, meals and clothes), and allows more time for family and leisure activities;
    • Workplace politics are diminished;
    • It creates flexibility as to where employees may live, resulting in housing costs reductions in some cases; and
    • Employee absenteeism is diminished.

JumpstartAs I previously reported, the Washington state capital gains tax has had a turbulent ride, commencing with a rough ride through the legislative process where it almost hit disastrous terrain on at least six (6) occasions.  Then, it was hit with a lawsuit to strike it down as unconstitutional before Governor Inslee could even sign the legislation into law.  Days later, it was sideswiped with a second lawsuit to end its short life.

As I reported on March 2, 2022, the new tax regime took a near lethal blow when Douglas County Superior Court Judge Brian C. Huber struck down the newly enacted Washington state capital gains tax as unconstitutional. 

Judge Huber concluded:

ESSB 5096 violates the uniformity and limitation requirements of article VII, sections 1 and 2 of the Washington State Constitution. It violates the uniformity requirement by imposing a 7% tax on an individual's long-term capital gains exceeding $250,000 but imposing zero tax on capital gains below that $250,000 threshold. It violates the limitation requirement because the 7% tax exceeds the 1% maximum annual property tax rate of 1%.

As suspected by many local commentators, the state would not let the tax regime die without a fight.  It is now seeking a higher court review of Judge Huber’s ruling, hoping to bring life back into the tax.

On March 25, 2022, Attorney General Robert W. Ferguson filed a notice of appeal.  Instead of appealing to the Washington Court of Appeals (the normal course of review), Mr. Ferguson filed a petition requesting the Washington State Supreme Court hear the case. 

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Larry J. Brant
Editor

Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder and the Chair of the Tax & Benefits practice group at Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; 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.

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