State and local taxes (SALT) is an important practice area for many CPAs, as well as a significant decision factor for many companies. SALT professionals must keep abreast of a different mix of taxes than are seen at the federal level. Adding to the complexity are the large variances among the states and ever-increasing efforts by state and local policymakers to increase revenues. Some excellent SALT resources are available for free, however, from the Tax Foundation and Bloomberg BNA. In addition, the Council on State Taxation has some unique materials with practical value.
Tax Foundation Center for State Tax Policy
The Tax Foundation’s mission is to conduct research on the impact of tax policy on taxpayers, the government, and the economy, as well as to educate taxpayers and policy makers. The Tax Foundation’s full website was reviewed in the October 2012 CPA Journal (Susan Anders, “Website of the Month: Tax Foundation,” http://bit.ly/2cJ4tEg). CPAs are probably already familiar with the Tax Foundation’s federal tax policy efforts, but may also be interested in the resources available on its Center for State Tax Policy (http://taxfoundation.org/tax-topics/state-taxes).
The center’s state tax information includes useful annual updates on state tax rates for individual and corporate income tax, sales tax, specific excise taxes, and property taxes. The current tax statistics are summarized in web pages, but can also be downloaded as PDF reports. One handy feature is an Excel document containing the specific tax rates for each state.
The “Tax By State” feature on the center’s main page allows users to access summary information on the tax climate of individual states. Looking at New York, for example, the quick facts include a top individual income tax rate of 8.82%, a flat corporate tax rate of 6.5%, and a sales tax rate of 4%. New York unhappily ranks 49th on the Center’s State Business Tax Climate Index, followed by New Jersey at 50th. A summary of the index can be viewed at http://taxfoundation.org/article/2016-state-business-tax-climate-index, and the full report can be downloaded as an 84-page PDF. The first table has details for each state and ratings for corporate income tax, individual income tax, sales tax, unemployment insurance, and property tax. The appendix alone is worth the download, as it contains tabular summaries of corporate tax rates, selected corporate tax credits and deductions, individual income tax rates and deductions, sales and excise tax rates and exemptions, unemployment insurance tax rates and bases, and property tax rates and bases.
Bloomberg BNA State Tax Research and Analysis
Bloomberg BNA makes many of its state tax reports available for free with registration. A good place to start is the Insight Center for State Taxes at http://bit.ly/2cNosjR, which displays SALT Talk Blog articles and white papers, as well as subscription-only materials.
SALT Talk Blog is an almost daily update on state tax news, policy concerns, and potential changes (http://www.bna.com/State-Tax-Blog/). The categories include corporate close-up, extras on excise, individual income tax insights, property tax post, and sales tax slice. Weekly round-up is a summary of the highlights from the “Weekly State Tax Report.” A recent digest included the Airbnb state tax battles and considerations of a consumption-based tax system in Mississippi.
Several reports and white papers are available for free download. The Daily Tax Report 2016 Outlook (http://www.bna.com/2016-tax-outlook-m57982067798/) is a 52-page examination of the BBNA staff’s expectations for the year ahead. The report covers legislative agendas, tax administration, international taxes, judicial proceedings, state developments, and accounting issues. Example state topics include analysis of state efforts to collect sales tax from companies that do not meet a physical presence test, such as online retailers. A related piece discusses state sales taxation of the digital economy and cloud-based service providers. Lastly, the number of states adopting market-based sourcing, as New York State did in 2015, is predicted to continue to increase, spearheaded by the Multistate Tax Commission (MSTC).
Bloomberg BNA (BBNA)’s 2016 Survey of State Tax Departments is a 500-page document designed to help professionals determine whether a corporation’s activities may result in state taxation. It is offered for purchase at $125; however, at the time of this review, a free download was available at http://bit.ly/2cHNftN. This informative book is a must-read for CPAs whose clients or employers operate in a multistate environment. Noted trends include a continued lack of consensus on sourcing, which leads to potential double taxation, as well as lack of agreement among states on the treatment of federal pass-through entities. Not surprisingly, states are taking aggressive positions concerning what creates nexus and increasing their focus on cloud-based providers and remote sellers.
“Sourcing Receipts: 2016 Survey of State Tax Departments” (http://www.bna.com/2016-survey-state-m73014446104/) focuses on the sourcing issue and includes a free downloadable 10-page report and an industry infographic. The report analyzes the market-based sourcing trend for apportioning state income taxes. It summarizes state sourcing policies regarding sales of tangible personal property, services, intangibles, and cloud computing. A related infographic presents the results of a BBNA survey of state tax departments on special industry sourcing rules, covering construction contractors, trucking, airlines, television and radio broadcasters, banks and financial services, and telecommunications.
Council on State Taxation and Mobile Workforce Coalition
The Council on State Taxation (COST) (http://www.cost.org) is a membership organization of multistate corporations that represents corporate taxpayers’ concerns. While its focus is mostly policy-related and many of its resources are restricted to members, a few of its materials may be of interest to CPAs with multi-state clients. “State Tax Haven Legislation: A Misguided Approach to a Global Issue” is a 52-page PDF report (http://bit.ly/2cmEpCf) that is the result of a collaboration between COST and the State Tax Research Institute (STRI). The results indicate that state and local taxes paid by corporations have remained stable and have decidedly not decreased due to profit shifting, and state tax haven blacklists are often arbitrary and based on outdated information. The most practical information for CPAs is probably in the appendix, which covers the status of several states’ tax haven criteria, as well as the MSTC’s standards.
“State-by-State Scorecard Summaries & State Legislative Targets” (http://bit.ly/2cVndmY) is a summary of the highlights of state legislative targets, containing a grade on state tax administration and a state and local business tax competitive index. New York, for example, earned a “B” for overall administration, a “C+” for property tax administration (with “Ds” on consistency and procedural fairness), and ranked 27th overall for jobs competitiveness. A related document is COST’s handy one-page “2016 State Tax Amnesty Programs,” which summarizes the taxes covered, applicable years, and any special provisions for 11 state amnesty programs (http://bit.ly/2cricPY).
COST is also a partner in the Mobile Workforce Coalition (http://www.mobileworkforcecoalition.org/), which provides information on the inconsistent and highly varied state requirements for travelling employees to submit personal income tax returns in nonresident states and the related withholding standards for employers. The website indicates states for which employees are subject to withholding on the first day of travel within the state, states for which withholding must begin after reaching a specific threshold, and states with no state income tax. There is also a list of distinct requirements by state, such as New York’s requirement that employers withhold income tax on nonresident employees who work in the state for more than 14 days in a calendar year.