Archive for the ‘California’ Category

FTB Not Appealing Swart Decision

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Last month a California appellate court ruled that California’s Franchise Tax Board was wrong in trying to assess an Iowa corporation with a 0.2% ownership in an LLC that invested in California the California minimum Franchise Tax. It was announced today that the FTB will not appeal the decision. The court’s conclusion was,

We conclude Swart was not doing business in California based solely on its minority ownership interest in Cypress LLC. The Attorney General’s conclusion that a taxation election could transmute Swart into a general partner for purposes of the franchise tax, and that the business activities of Cypress can therefore be imputed to Swart, is not supported by citation to appropriate legal authority and, in our view, defies a commonsense understanding of what it means to be “doing business.”

This is good news for passive business entity investors who happen to be investing in California. It’s likely that other cases that are winding way through the courts will now be settled and that the FTB will adopt a common-sense approach on this issue. Chris Smith, the FTB’s Trade Media Liaison, sent an email noting that, “[The] FTB is working on providing information to taxpayers in light of the decision which it expects to release soon.” I will link to that information when it becomes available.

San Francisco Supervisors Want a Local Income Tax

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

California is not a low-tax state. Thankfully for Californians, there are no local income taxes. However, that soon may change.

Seven of the eleven members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors [1] are sponsoring a measure that will ask California lawmakers to allow a local income tax to fund “sanctuary city” policies. The measure was supposed to come up for a vote last Tuesday; however, the vote has been postponed for two weeks.

If you’re a middle class resident of California or San Francisco, your government is telling you that your wallet will be far better off elsewhere.

[1] San Francisco is both a city and county; instead of a city council, there’s a Board of Supervisors (the county equivalent).

Train to Nowhere is Significantly Overbudget

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

The Los Angeles Times has a report today that California’s bullet train may cost 50% more than initially thought…and that’s in the “easy” section to build (in California’s flat Central Valley). It’s now estimated to cost somewhere between $9.5 to $10 billion (rather than the initially budgeted $6.4 billion).

I’ve written about this train before. The train makes no sense; if the train is completed (a dubious assumption), how many people will use it when you can fly between Los Angeles and San Francisco for less than $100 in one hour?

Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown is telling Californians that the state is likely running a budget deficit. An obvious solution—but one that will not happen in the Bronze Golden State—is to end the train to nowhere.

I remain quite happy to no longer be a taxpayer in California.

Swart Wins Appeal; Not Liable for California Minimum Tax

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Good news for non-California businesses that are passive investors in an investment that invests in a California entity. The Franchise Tax Board (California’s income tax agency) has been ruling that business entities that have no active business in California but make an investment in another entity that invests in California must pay California’s mandatory $800 annual franchise tax. Today, a California Court of Appeal upheld the lower court judgment that Swart Enterprises, Inc., one such entity, is not doing business in California.

The facts of the case were not disputed. Swart is a small family-owned Iowa corporation, with a farm in Kansas; occasionally they make sales to Nebraska. Swart has no physical presence in California, no property of any kind (or employees) in California. It does not sell to California. Yet the FTB said it owed the California minimum franchise tax. Why? As the Court noted,

In 2007, Swart invested $50,000 in Cypress Equipment Fund XII, LLC (Cypress LLC or the Fund) and became a member of the LLC. Swart’s investment amounted to a 0.2 percent ownership interest. This is Swart’s sole connection with California.

Cypress was simply an investment fund. But the FTB said, “A foreign business entity (partnership, LLC, or corporation) is considered doing business in California if it is a member of an LLC that is doing business in California,” and owed the minimum $800 franchise tax. Swart paid the tax but filed a claim for refund. The FTB denied the claim. Swart filed a lawsuit which they won; the FTB appealed.

The Court of Appeals noted,

Although this matter calls for our independent judgment, our views are substantially consistent with the trial court’s ruling, which we find to be logical and well-reasoned. We are not persuaded Swart may be deemed to be doing business in California because it owns a 0.2 percent interest in a manager-managed LLC doing business in California. Swart’s only connection to California was a mere 0.2 percent ownership interest it passively held during the tax year the franchise tax was imposed. This interest closely resembled that of a limited, rather than general, partnership as evinced by the fact Swart had no interest in the specific property of Cypress LLC, it was not personally liable for the obligations of Cypress LLC, it had no right to act on behalf of or to bind Cypress LLC and, most importantly, it had no ability to participate in the management and control of Cypress LLC. Because the business activities of a partnership cannot be attributed to limited partners, Swart cannot be deemed to be “doing business” in California solely by virtue of its ownership interest in Cypress LLC. [citations omitted]

There’s more. The FTB tried to hold that because Cypress LLC is being taxed as a partnership, all partners are general partners, and Swart must pay the $800 minimum tax. The Court disagreed.

Like the limited partners in Amman & Schmid, Swart had no interest in the specific property of Cypress LLC (Corp. Code, former § 17300), it was not personally liable for the obligations of Cypress LLC (id., former § 17101, subd. (a)), it had no right to act on behalf of or bind Cypress LLC (id., former § 17157, subd. (b)(1), (2)), and Swart was prohibited from participating in the management and control of Cypress LLC…

We conclude Swart was not doing business in California based solely on its minority ownership interest in Cypress LLC. The Attorney General’s conclusion that a taxation election could transmute Swart into a general partner for purposes of the franchise tax, and that the business activities of Cypress can therefore be imputed to Swart, is not supported by citation to appropriate legal authority and, in our view, defies a commonsense understanding of what it means to be “doing business.”

There are many other similar cases working through the appeals process and the California court system. (There is a case of a corporation that invested in another entity that invested in another entity that made a California investment, and California is attempting to impose the $800 minimum tax on the corporation. That’s a passive investor in another passive investor that has made an investment in California.) It appears that California courts are taking a dim view of the idea that a passive investor with no ties to California can be made into an entity liable for California tax simply making an investment in California. Incidentally, the Court awarded legal costs to Swart.

The bad news is that I fully expect the Franchise Tax Board to appeal this decision to the California Supreme Court. Still, we appear to be reaching the point where California will likely cease this practice.

California Cities Eye Netflix as a Revenue Source

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

“Don’t tax you, don’t tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree.” — Russell B. Long

The city of Pasadena, California (home of the Rose Bowl and annual Rose Parade) voted to expand their telecommunications tax to include streaming video services such as Netflix. The tax rate is 9.4%; the tax will begin on January 1, 2017.

The Pasadena Star-News noted,

Councilman Tyron Hampton called the decision “ridiculous” on Friday and said he hopes the council will take up the topic.

“Cable has been a hardship for many families and now we’re going to add a hardship to them,” Hampton said. “Next we’ll be taxing you for streaming music on Pandora. This is ridiculous.”

There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that Pasadena will be bringing up a tax on Pandora at their next city council meeting. (Seriously, I made that up.) But it does show the desperation of California cities to balance their budgets. And the biggest culprit are pension costs.

The crisis dates back to the late 1990s, and the dot-com bubble. California tax revenues were increasing rapidly thanks to the stock market, so everyone drew straight lines going up, up, and up. California legislators and the then Governor Grey Davis forgot this song:

But I digress….

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association isn’t enamored by the new tax, and I suspect a lawsuit is in the future. Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that Californians need to watch their wallets (which is nothing new, and one of the reasons I now reside in Nevada).

Kiplinger’s Tax Friendly and Tax Unfriendly States: No Surprises

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

Kiplinger released its list of the tax friendly and least tax-friendly states in the US. There really aren’t any surprises:

Here are the bottom ten:

1. California
2. Hawaii
3. Connecticut
4. New York
5. New Jersey
6. Minnesota
7. Maine
8. Vermont
9. Illinois
10. Rhode Island

And the top ten:

1. Wyoming
2. Alaska
3. Florida
4. Nevada
5. Arizona
6. Louisiana
7. South Carolina
8. South Dakota
9. Mississippi
10. Delaware

Let’s look at my former state (California) and my current state (Nevada) as to the differences. “The Golden State is home to movie stars, beautiful beaches and the highest income tax rates in the U.S., putting it at the top of our list of Kiplinger’s top ten least tax-friendly states. Californians pay lower property taxes than residents of other high-tax states, but, in a state with some of the highest real estate prices in the U.S., they’re no bargain.” There’s not much to add: California is a very high-tax, high-regulation state.

Now let’s look at Nevada. “Another no-income-tax haven, Nevada is one of Kiplinger’s top ten most tax-friendly states. Where does it get its money? Sales tax: the average combined state and local tax rate is 7.98%.” Kiplinger missed another huge source of funding for Nevada: casinos. No matter, Nevada is a low-tax, low-regulation, business friendly environment. I’m happy I’m here.

The California Pension Crisis

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Last week, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS) released its rate of return for the past year. CALPERS budgets based on a 7.5% return per year. In a “Missed it by that much” moment, they came in at 0.61%. Oops.

But for California taxpayers it’s a real issue: California taxpayers will have to make up the shortfall. California State Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) has the right idea: “Now we’re in Peter Pan territory. ‘You’ve just got to believe’… the stock market will rise more than 7.5 percent per year. You’ve just got to believe that interest rates will stay at zero indefinitely. You’ve just got to believe that real estate prices will continue to rise.”

Here’s the reality: Taxes must massively increase or state payrolls must massively decrease. Let’s add more taxes to the most heavily taxed state in the country; I’m sure that will go over well…especially just to pay pensions. Might even more of the middle class do what I did? (Hint: The answer is yes.)

Actually, the idea of cutting California government by 30% is wonderful. It also has a 0% chance of happening in California. A repeal of Proposition 13 would require approval by California voters; there’s a chance (albeit small) that could pass; if it did, it would guarantee more middle class departures from the state. On this year’s California ballot is an initiative to extend the “temporary” California tax hikes.

I hope no one wonders why I call California the Bronze State.

Dotting the I’s and Crossing the T’s

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Assume there’s a California LLC filing its final tax return, and it is owed a refund of (say) $900. You timely file the return and are surprised when you receive a check for $100 rather than $900. What happened?

Years ago this occurred with one of my clients, and I discovered that the Franchise Tax Board (California’s income tax agency) will automatically deduct $800 from a business refund and apply it to the following year’s mandatory $800 tax (if that has not been paid). But that was a final return, so that shouldn’t happen, right?

Checking the box “Final Return” is just one of the steps a California entity must do when filing a return; it must also close the business with the California Secretary of State. When this happened to my client, the Secretary of State’s office hadn’t processed the LLC withdrawal paperwork (they were running about 90 days behind then). About 30 days later the FTB sent a second check for $800 (once they were notified by the Secretary of State’s office that the entity had closed).

Spidell Publishing highlighted this issue in its weekly podcast on California taxation. I do recommend this podcast for any tax professional dealing with California taxation.

Is Cost of Goods Sold Included in the Calculation of the LLC Fee for a California LLC in Real Estate?

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

The Franchise Tax Board, California’s income tax agency, today issued a legal opinion on how to calculate the Limited Liability Company (LLC) fee for a real estate company selling real property. This is an important issue because if Cost of Goods Sold is included the LLC fee would be significantly higher.

California charges LLCs two fees. The first is an $800 a year tax that any California LLC (or a foreign LLC doing business in California) must pay. The second is a gross receipts fee. Gross receipts is calculated by taking gross income and adding back cost of goods sold. So for an LLC selling real estate is COGS added back to determine the basis for the fee?

The FTB ruled that it should be added back.
The FTB looked at the history of the law, and whether COGS (which must be included in the calculation of the LLC fee) includes real property or not.

Accordingly, the term “cost of goods sold” as used by RTC section 17942, subdivision (b)(1)(A), includes real property held for sale to customers in the ordinary course of a trade or business. Therefore, LLCs that are dealers in real property must add the cost of goods sold (based on real property) back to gross income in calculating the LLC fee.

Do note that this is just the FTB’s opinion; courts could rule otherwise. However, a plain reading of the law would seem that the FTB is likely interpreting this correctly. This means an LLC may not always be the best choice of legal entity in California. (Do note that an LLC that elects a corporate form of taxation in California is treated as a corporation—either an S-Corp or a C-Corp—for tax purposes.)

A Train to Nowhere

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

I haven’t posted on California’s bullet train in some time (I’m no longer a resident of the Bronze Golden State), but it’s time to once more post about the train to nowhere. In theory, this train will connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. The first part of the route being built is between Shafter and Merced. Shafter is about 18 miles northwest of Bakersfield. How many riders do you think are interested in taking that segment when (or better put, if) it opens?

The whole idea of the train makes little sense given that airlines fly regularly between Southern and Northern California. The price-tag of the train has gone from about $10 billion to over $60 billion; meanwhile, funding from the federal government has dried up.

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times released a story that notes that almost every high-speed rail line needs taxpayer subsidies, a direct contradiction of what the high speed rail authority has stated. And this gem was noted from an April hearing:

Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) asked [rail authority Chairman Dan] Richard, “Do you know of any high-speed rail operations around the world that make substantial profit?”

Richard answered, “Actually all of them, virtually all of them, make operating profit.” He defined that as being able to cover costs after the expenditure of capital to build the systems.

“Ha, OK,” Patterson said.

The Spanish study showed that 3 of 111 high speed rail lines cover their costs, or 2.7%. Or better put, 97.3% do not cover their costs.

I’m glad I’m no longer a California taxpayer.