Joint Subcommittee to Study and Revise Virginia's State Tax Code

HJR 60 (2002)
HJR 685/SJR 387 (2001)

November 13, 2002

During its final meeting for 2002, the joint subcommittee received several brief reports regarding a number of issues and ended with the approval of twelve recommendations by a majority of the members present. Topics included the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, real estate tax assessments and appeals to Boards of Equalization, state tax appeals to a hearing officer and the elimination of the "pay to play" requirement, reporting requirements for casual sales of motor vehicles, and local sales tax revenues versus BPOL tax revenues.

Issue Reports

Having just returned from the Streamlined Sales Tax Project ("Project") meeting in Chicago, Senator Hanger reported on the Project. Virginia is one of 35 implementing states participating in the Project with a goal of reducing the burden of tax compliance. They have been working on a written draft agreement that 31 of the states voted on November 12 to support. The agreement explains what states have to do to implement the plan. Some of the provisions include state level administration of sales and use tax collections, simplification of rates, uniform definitions, and uniform sourcing rules. Once 10 states representing twenty percent of the United States population have amended their laws to implement the program, then the U.S. Congress will be asked to consider making the program applicable nationwide. The joint subcommittee agreed to continue to follow the Project.

Legislation dealing with real estate assessments and boards of equalization was reviewed. There was much discussion by the joint subcommittee related to the burden of proof that was the main issue of contention between local government and the business community. The burden involves a two-prong test that the taxpayer has to satisfy in order to prevail at the board of equalization level. A second area of contention between local government and the business community is the statute of limitations. It was proposed that there be a three-year statute of limitations for appealing to the circuit court plus a mandatory appeal to the board of equalization with a one-year statute of limitations for all localities. Currently, there is no statewide mandatory board of equalization appeal and a handful of localities have a one-year statute to appeal to the circuit court. The subcommittee adopted the three-year statute of limitations for appeals to the circuit court but there was ongoing concern about the burden of proof on the taxpayer.

The Tax Commissioner next reviewed again how the tax appeals process would work at the state level with a separate hearing officer appointed by the Department of Taxation. Due to lack of support from the business community and the need for additional funding in the Department in order to implement the process, the joint subcommittee decided to study this issue further next year.

The second issue addressed by the Tax Commissioner dealt with the requirement currently in the tax code that taxpayers who decide to adjudicate their tax liability must first pay the amount assessed ("pay to play"). A proposal was made and adopted by the joint subcommittee that will eliminate that requirement. Legislation will be introduced during the 2003 General Assembly Session to accomplish this.

Next, a proposal was made with regard to the collection of the motor vehicle sales and use tax as a result of a casual sale of a motor vehicle. It was proposed that a purchaser of a motor vehicle that is 5 years old or less will report to DMV the greater of the purchase price or the NADA value (less $1,500) of the motor vehicle when titling the vehicle and paying the sales and use tax. The joint subcommittee approved the proposal and added it to its list of recommendations.

The final speaker, who was from VML, presented a chart showing how much in revenues localities would raise from a half-percent increase in the sales and use tax and how much they currently raise from the BPOL tax. The chart was broken down locality by locality. It was determined that the information would be a good starting point when examining the BPOL tax issues further in 2003.

Finally, the joint subcommittee discussed one of the requirement of the House Finance (Orrock) Subcommittee report dealing with the percentage allowed for administration costs of nonprofit organizations. Current law says no more than forty percent of gross annual revenues may be spent on administration costs. There was some discussion of making it a sliding scale (i.e. 40% for organizations with gross revenues less than $1,000,000 and 20% for those with gross revenues of $1,000,000 or more) but it was decided to leave it at 40 percent.

Recommendations and Draft Report Approved

As its final act of the year, a majority of the joint subcommittee approved an initial draft of its report and its recommendations. Two members abstained from voting while two voted against approval. Their concern centered on the issue of revenue neutrality, one of the principles adopted by the joint subcommittee to guide them in their decision-making regarding changes to the state tax code and how revenues are collected. At least two of the recommendations, if adopted by the legislature during the 2003 General Assembly Session, most likely will have a negative fiscal impact resulting in a reduction in general fund revenues without any offsetting recommendation that would increase general fund revenues during the same period. It was agreed that in 2003, the joint subcommittee would continue to discuss and look for additional revenue sources.

The approved recommendations (and actions required, if any) are:

1. Adopt House Finance (Orrock) Subcommittee Report with standards for charitable organization sales tax exemptions. (Legislation)

2. Restore conformity with federal income tax law, with the exception of accelerated depreciation and carry back loss issues to essentially eliminate fiscal impact. (Budget amendment)

3. Revise administrative appeals process for income taxpayers to provide for no payment of tax in advance of adjudication. (Legislation)

4. Eliminate June accelerated sales tax collections in 2002-2004 budget -- pushes $118 million back to FY 03. (Budget amendment)

5. Revise property tax appeals process to clarify procedures and standard of proof for taxpayer. (Legislation)

6. Phase out estate tax beginning in FY 2005. (Legislation)

7. Impose no new unfunded state mandates on localities, and to maximum extent possible, eliminate existing ones.

8. Support a moratorium on new sales and use tax exemptions.

9. Maintain policy of no sales tax on access to Internet and digital downloads.

10. Continue working with the national Streamlined Sales Tax Project.

11. Require purchaser to report the greater of (i) the actual purchase price, or (ii) the NADA value less $1,500) for casual sales of motor vehicles that are no more than five years old when titling the vehicle and paying the sales and use tax. (Legislation)

12. Continue the study in 2003 with final report in December 2003. (Resolution)


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