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Commerce Clause

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As part of the growing trend of states seeking to tax digital activities and data, New York is considering yet another data tax proposal that would tax the collection of personal data for commercial purposes. This latest proposal—which is contained in Senate Bill 4959—would impose a new excise tax “on the collection of consumer data of individual New York consumers by commercial data collectors.” The tax would apply regardless of how the data is collected, whether by electronic or other means. Under the proposal, “consumer data” is “any information that identifies, relates to, describes, is capable of being associated with, or could reasonably be linked with a consumer, whether directly submitted to the commercial data collector by the consumer or derived from other sources,” and a “consumer” includes individuals who purchase goods or services from a commercial data collector and individuals who use the services of a commercial data collector, whether charged for those services or not. A “commercial data collector” is a “for-profit entity that: (i) collects, maintains, uses, processes, sells or shares consumer data in support of its business activities; and (ii) collects consumer data, other than consumer contact information, on more than one million individual New York consumers in a month within the calendar year.” The bill would add the tax to a new section 186-h, within Article 9 of the New York Tax Law.

Several states continue to move forward with the taxation of digital advertising and new tax proposals have entered the fray.  We last updated you on the attempts by Maryland, Nebraska, and New York.  Nebraska had a hearing on its sales tax bill in February, with relatively little movement after that.  In contrast, Maryland and New York have continued their move towards imposing taxes on digital advertising in some form and West Virginia has entered the mix.

Massachusetts recently joined a handful of other states (read: States over the Edge and Testing Boundaries with Business Activity Tax Nexus) by issuing a final revised regulation adopting a bright-line, $500,000, nexus threshold for its corporate excise tax. See generally 830 CMR 63.39.1. Echoing the language of the Wayfair decision, the state’s revised nexus regulation provides that “the Commissioner will presume that a general business corporation’s virtual and economic contacts subject the corporation to the tax jurisdiction of Massachusetts under M.G.L. c. 63, § 39, where the volume of the corporation’s Massachusetts sales for the taxable year exceeds five hundred thousand dollars.” 830 CMR 63.39.1(3)(d).

Wayfair has, for now, answered the question (at least, in part) of whether economic activity creates substantial nexus under the Commerce Clause for purposes of sales and use taxes. However, questions remain regarding whether and to what extent business activity tax nexus standards could be impacted. While states had boldly asserted economic nexus in the business activity tax context pre-Wayfair, the response since has been somewhat muted, until recently. Three states, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, have recently sought to fill in the blanks with regard to business activity tax nexus, with varied and inconsistent results that may raise more questions and concerns than answers.