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Big CATAs discussed in recent blog posts, the Oregon Legislative Assembly recently enacted a Corporate Activity Tax (“CAT”). Governor Kate Brown signed the legislation into law, effective January 1, 2020. Put in simplest terms, the CAT is a gross receipts tax on businesses with greater than $1 million of “commercial activity sourced to this state.”

Given the broadness of the new law and the many anticipated difficulties that taxpayers, tax advisors and the government will likely encounter determining what constitutes “commercial activity sourced to this state,” the need for the Oregon Department of Revenue (the “Department”) to adopt administrative rules on the new law is evident.

sailboat in stormAs we reported in our June 4 blog post, Oregon lawmakers had recently enacted a “corporate activity tax” (“CAT”) that applies to certain Oregon businesses. The new law, absent challenge, becomes effective January 1, 2020.

We also recently reported that a prominent group of Oregon businesses planned to challenge the CAT. It appears, however, that the momentum for a challenge has recently died.

In this blog post, we discuss the reasons causing the death of the challenge. In addition, we cover some technical changes in the new law that are currently awaiting Governor Kate Brown’s signature.

Capitol in Salem, OregonWe are taking a break from our multi-post coverage of Opportunity Zones to address a recent, significant piece of Oregon tax legislation. 

On May 16, 2019, Governor Kate Brown signed into law legislation imposing a new “corporate activity tax” (“CAT”) on certain Oregon businesses.  The new law expressly provides that the tax revenue generated from the legislation will be used to fund public school education. 

Although the new tax is called a “corporate” activity tax, it is imposed on individuals, corporations, and numerous other business entities.  The CAT applies for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2020. 

To help defray the expected increased costs of goods and services purchased from taxpayers subject to the CAT that will assuredly be passed along to consumers, the Oregon Legislative Assembly modestly reduced personal income tax rates at the lower income brackets.

There has been a lot of “buzz” in the media about Qualified Opportunity Zones (“QOZs”). Some of the media accounts have been accurate and helpful to taxpayers. Other accounts, however, have been less than fully accurate, and in some cases have served to misinform or mislead taxpayers. Let’s face it, the new law is quite complex. Guidance to date from Treasury is insufficient to answer many of the real life questions facing taxpayers considering embarking upon a QOZ investment.

In this installment of our series on QOZs, we will try to address some of the questions that are plaguing taxpayers relative to investing in or forming Qualified Opportunity Funds (“QOFs”). Please keep in mind before you attempt to read this blog post that we readily admit that we do not have all of the answers. We do, however, recognize the many questions being posed by taxpayers.

disconnectedAs we have been discussing these past several weeks, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) drastically changed the Federal income tax landscape. The TCJA also triggered a sea of change in the income tax laws of states like Oregon that partially base their own income tax regimes on the Federal tax regime. When the Federal tax laws change, some changes are automatically adopted by the states, while other changes may require local legislative action. In either case, state legislatures must decide which parts of the Federal law to adopt (in whole or part) and which parts to reject, all while keeping an eye on their fiscal purse.

Explosion - Oregon gross receipts taxFor 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.

ConfettiAs reported in my November 2015 blog post, in accordance with Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) Section 280E, taxpayers (for purposes of computing federal taxable income) are prohibited from deducting expenses related to the production, processing or sale of illegal drugs, including marijuana.

A Bit of Welcome Relief?

Measure 91, officially called the Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act, passed by Oregon voters, appears to have alleviated some of the impact of Code Section 280E as it relates to Oregon taxable income. Specifically:

  1. Section 71 of Measure 91 provides that Code Section 280E does not apply for purposes of determining Oregon taxable income or loss under our corporate income tax regime. This provision sets forth no specific effective date. So, in accordance with Sections 81 and 82 of Measure 91, it became effective on July 1, 2015.
  2. Section 74 of Measure 91 provides that Code Section 280E does not apply for purposes of determining Oregon taxable income or loss under our individual income tax regime. This provision of Measure 91 specifically provides that the change became effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2015.

So, following the passage of Measure 91, were there any Oregon tax problems plaguing the cannibals industry? The short answer is: Maybe.

Measure 91 generally only applies to the recreational marijuana industry. Even though nothing in Measure 91 says Sections 71 and 74 are limited to recreational marijuana, maybe an argument could be made that these provisions did nothing to alleviate the Code Section 280E issue for medical marijuana business activities.

Don’t despair; Oregon lawmakers came to the rescue. The law is now clear (at least as clear as a law can be) that, with respect to the Oregon individual income tax regime, folks in both medical and recreational marijuana businesses may deduct (for Oregon purposes only) expenses that would be otherwise be nondeductible under Code Section 280E.

House Bill 4014 Is Signed Into Law

On March 3, 2016, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed House Bill 4014 into law. The bill, which spans numerous pages, deals with several issues related to the Oregon cannabis industry, including the application of Code Section 280E to both the recreational and the medical marijuana industries.

The provisions of House Bill 4014 relating to Oregon income taxation are contained in: Sections 28, 28a and 29.

SECTION 28 of House Bill 4014 amends ORS 316.680 by adding subsection (i) providing that there shall be subtracted from federal taxable income:

“Any federal deduction that the taxpayer would have been allowed for the production, processing or sale of marijuana items authorized under ORS 475B.010 to 475B.395 but for section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code.”

SECTION 28a of House Bill 4014 amends ORS 316.680 by adding subsection (i) providing that there shall be subtracted from federal taxable income:

“Any federal deduction that the taxpayer would have been allowed for the production, processing or sale of marijuana items authorized under ORS 475B.010 to 475B.395 or 475B.395 or 475B.400 to 475B.525 but for section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code.”

SECTION 29 of House Bill 4014 provides that the amendments to ORS 316.680 by Section 28 apply to conduct occurring on or after July 1, 2015 but before January 1, 2016, and to tax years ending before January 1, 2016. The amendments to ORS 316.680 by section 28a apply to conduct occurring on or after January 1, 2016, and to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2016.

Implications for the Oregon Cannabis Industry

What this means for the cannabis industry in Oregon is twofold:

  1. For Oregon personal income tax purposes only (for tax years beginning on or after July 1, 2015 but before January 1, 2016), the prohibition contained in Code Section 280E does not apply to the non-medical production, processing or sale of marijuana. In other words, a subtraction from Oregon personal income tax is permitted by folks in a recreational marijuana business for any federal deduction a taxpayer would have been allowed for expenses related to the production, processing or sale of marijuana had there been no prohibition under Code Section 280E.
  2. For Oregon personal income tax purposes only (for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2016), the prohibition contained in Code Section 280E does not apply to the production, processing or sale of marijuana (medical and non-medical marijuana).  In other words, on or after January 1 of this year a subtraction from Oregon personal income tax is permitted by folks in both a medical and recreational marijuana business for any federal deduction a taxpayer would have been allowed for expenses related to the production, processing or sale of marijuana had there been no prohibition under Code Section 280E.

Interestingly, House Bill 4014 does not appear to address the Oregon corporate excise or income tax regimes. Remember, Section 71 of Measure 91 clearly tells us that, after July 1, 2015, Code Section 280E does not apply to the computation of Oregon corporate taxable income.

Why did Oregon lawmakers feel the need to make it clear that Code Section 280E does not apply to the computation of Oregon individual taxable income in the case of both medical and recreational marijuana business activities (as of January 1, 2016), but did not do the same for the computation of Oregon corporate taxable income?

Oregon law clearly contemplates corporations and other entities will be used to operate marijuana related businesses. In fact, both Measure 91 and the Oregon regulations governing the local marijuana industry allow businesses to be organized as corporations (and other entities). The definition of "person" in Measure 91 includes corporations (Section 5(24)), and various parts of the regulations contemplate that marijuana licenses will be issued to corporations and other entities (e.g., OAR 845-025-1045(3).

Was this apparent omission intentional or simply as oversight by Oregon lawmakers? It certainly seems Measure 91 covers (for purposes of Code Section 280E) recreational and medical marijuana activities at both the Oregon corporate and individual income tax levels. Was House Bill 4014 necessary to clarify the elimination of the application of Code Section 280E for Oregon income tax purposes?

It will be interesting to see how the Oregon Department of Revenue interprets House Bill 4014 and Measure 91 in this regard. Time will tell.

An Observation

One interesting observation about Measure 91 is that the clear language eliminating the application of Code Section 280E for Oregon individual and corporate taxation is not expressly limited to marijuana activities. Arguably, it eliminated the application of Code Section 280E for Oregon income tax purposes in all instances (including the sale or distribution of illegal drugs). It appears House Bill 4014 removes that interpretation of the law in the instance of the Oregon individual tax regime as it expressly limits the application to marijuana, but its silence as to the Oregon corporate tax regime leaves that interpretation alive. I hope this was not the legislature’s intent.

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Larry J. Brant
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Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder in 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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