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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Public Law 86-272 - Upcoming 50th Anniversary of Stopgap Legislation

In reaction to a US Supreme Court decision - Northwestern Cement v. Minn., 358 US 450 (1959), which many members of Congress thought would lead states to tax businesses beyond what they should under the commerce clause, Congress enacted Public Law 86-272 on September 14, 1959. Despite the lack of an expiration date in this legislation, it was described as a temporary measure while Congress further studied state taxation (a study established by PL 86-272). The report was completed in the mid-1960s (referred to as the Willis Commission report after the Congressman who chaired the subcommittee). However, PL 86-272 was not revised.

PL 86-272 explains when a state may impose income taxes on multistate businesses selling tangible personal property. Businesses selling services or intangibles, get no protection (or guidance) from the federal law. With more businesses selling services and intangibles today than in 1959, PL 86-272 is in need of updating. There have been various congressional proposals in the past few years, but no changes have been enacted and there are differences of opinion between state governments and businesses on what the reforms should be. Also, recent court decisions have held that "economic presence" is sufficient for a state to be able to impose income tax obligations on a business (businesses believe that "physical presence" should be the standard). The US Supreme Court has declined to hear any of these cases. Meanwhile, the 50th anniversary of this stopgap legislation is approaching.

For background on PL 86-272 and the case that led to its enactment, click here.

For links and related information on PL 86-272 and the current controversies in attempts to modernize this nexus rule - see this website.

Do you think temporary law PL 86-272 will be updated before its 50th anniversary on 9/14/09? If no, why not? If yes, what will the new version look like?

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