Sales taxes

Over a Third of Accountants Would Rather Get Divorced Than Experience a Sales Tax Audit, Says This

Fun statistic of the day courtesy Avalara: 37% of accounting professionals said a sales tax audit would be more stressful than a divorce. And here's a funky graphic from that same research report: Yeah, no wonder they think it would be stressful, then.

Majority of New York Court Rules Lap Dances Taxable; Questions the Artistic Integrity of Strippers Everywhere

In an ongoing battle to prove that taking your clothes off for money is not only a dramatic, artistic performance but one that should not be subject to the state rules of revenue that apply to far less artistic venues like amusement parks, Albany strip club Nite Moves has lost its appeal in New York's […]

If You’ve Got a Better Solution to Rhode Island’s Budget Crisis, Governor Lincoln Chafee Is All Ears

Over at Tax.com, David Brunori calls Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee’s latest state sales tax proposal “awful.” You see, Governor Chafee wants to levy a tax on goods and services sold by Ocean State businesses. Examples of previous tax-exempt services include “data processing, landscaping, taxi fares, garbage collection, auto repairs and tickets to theaters and sporting events,” while it would also tax goods such as “agricultural products, boats, clothing, manufacturing machinery.”

Brunori writes that this idea is horrendous because it not only, “violates every notion of sound sales tax policy,” but because the Rhode Island rubes won’t even realize that the tax is ultimately being passed on to them:

In general, businesses should not pay sales tax on their purchases. When they do, the tax is passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. The tax is often included in the final purchase price and taxed again. The funny thing is that citizens do not know they are being secretly taxed. Everyone knows this.

So wait…do the citizens know they are being taxed or does “everyone” simply mean tax policy wonks? Putting our confusion aside for a second, Governor Chafee has defied the haters like Brunori and Rhode Island businesses, standing by his proposal. But if you’ve got a better idea, he’s more than happy to hear your out:

Chafee said it’s up to his critics to suggest a better option. “Crisis calls for leadership,” Chafee, an independent, said at an impromptu press conference called after the rally. “If you don’t like my proposal, what’s the alternative? No politician likes to raise taxes. … We’re waiting for a better idea.”

Terrible Tax Idea of the Week [Tax.com]
Chafee firm as business groups protest tax plan [Tto10]

In Order to Avoid Sales Tax on Food in Wyoming It’s Best to Refuse Napkins, Resist the Urge to Heat Pastries

Today over the Tax Foundation’s Tax Policy Blog, we get a little taste of how fun defining something like “food” can be. Now, if you’re like some people we know, there is lots of stuff at the grocery that definitely should not be consumed by human beings but in order to avoid raucous debate, it gets the food label. Wyoming is one of the 37 states that partially or wholly exempt groceries from sales tax but just because something is a grocery store, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be taxed. Sigh.

Under Wyoming’s new law, food is defined as “substances whether in liquid, concentrated, solid, frozen, dried, or dehydrated form that are sold for ingestion or chewing by humans and are consumed for their taste or nutritional value.” This does not include booze, tobacco or “prepared foods.” And yes, exactly what items are included in “prepared foods” is where things get a little confusing.

What is a prepared food? Here’s how the new law defines it:

• Food sold in a heated state or heated by the seller; or

• Two or more food ingredients mixed or combined by the seller for sale as a single item; or

• Food sold with eating utensils provided by the seller including plates, knives, forks, spoons, glasses, cups, napkins, or straws. A container or package used to transport the food is not an eating utensil.

”Prepared food” does not include:

• Food that is only cut, repackaged, or pasteurized by the seller;

• Eggs, fish, meat, poultry, or foods containing raw animal foods and which are required or recommended to be cooked by the consumer to prevent food-borne illness;

• Food sold by a seller whose proper primary North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) classification is manufacturing in sector 311, except subsector 3118 dealing with bakeries; [Ed. note: This is my personal favorite]

• Food sold in an unheated state by weight or volume as a single item; or

• Bakery items including bread, rolls, buns, biscuits, bagels, croissants, pastries, donuts, danishes, cakes, tortes, pies, tarts, muffins, bars, cookies, tortillas, and other bakery goods unless the item is sold as prepared food.

This isn’t nearly as confusing at Washington state’s attempt to define candy (Kit-Kat doesn’t qualify) but it’s about as windy as…well, Wyoming.

Wyoming Redefines Food: Don’t Overprepare Your Danishes [Tax Foundation]

Should Groceries Be Taxed?

An interesting idea from the Tax Foundation’s Blog today that comes by way of Nebraska State Senator Rich Pahls. TF reports that Senator Pahls plans on introducing legislation that would broaden the sales tax base that would, theoretically, lower income or property taxes. TF takes it slightly further than Senator Pahls and suggests that groceries should be included in this broadened base.

There are few states that already tax groceries: “Alabama, Arkansas (3%), Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois (1%), Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri (1.225%), Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee (5.5%), Utah (1.75%), Virginia (1.5% + 1% local option tax), and West Virginia (5%),” and TF argues that more states could benefit from this policy:

Broadening the sales tax base and lowering the rate is a good idea and a move in the direction of sound tax policy. Services should be taxed. Groceries should be taxed. All end-user consumption should be taxed. There is no reason that entire sectors of the economy and swaths of consumption should go untaxed while others are singled out for taxation. Broadening the tax base allows the government to raise the same amount of revenue with a lower tax rate, which reduces distortions in the economy. Taxing all consumption at the same low rate keeps lawmakers from picking winners and losers in the market and ensures you will be taxed equally no matter what you choose to purchase.

Unless you’re one of those people that doesn’t want pay taxes period, this is a sensible solution for states looking to close their budget gaps (even just a little bit). BUT! As you might imagine, taxing groceries is a hot political spud that, for some, is simply not an option:

[T]his type of reform is seen as radical and a political non-starter. One reason is that people have concerns that changes such as applying the sales tax to groceries might unfairly or disproportionately impact the poor. Even Sen. Pahls seems reluctant to embrace this “emotional” reform.

First, remember that broadening the tax base allows us to lower the rate, so that everyone, poor and rich alike, will be paying a lower tax rate on their non-grocery purchases, offsetting some of the increased tax paid on groceries. Still, lower income people spend a disproportionate amount of their income on necessities like food, and they may very well come out behind even after accounting for the lower rate. Then I would recommend implementing or expanding food assistance programs (which provide free food, not just tax-free food) targeted at those who truly need it.

The bottom line is that most of us can afford to pay sales tax on our grocery purchases. Exempting groceries for everyone is a very costly and indirect way of providing assistance to the poor.

Forget for a second that most state politicians can’t entertain actual solutions to budget problems and taxing groceries is sound policy. Think about it. If a states settles on a 5% grocery tax and you purchase $100 worth, that’s an extra $5. That isn’t going to put anyone on the street and if it does, we recommend sticking to the produce section where food is considerably cheaper.

And from a more practical standpoint, it certainly makes more sense than taxing shoe shines and jugglers.

Broadening the Sales Tax Base in Nebraska is the Right Idea [Tax Foundation]

In Washington State, a Kit-Kat Bar is Not Considered Candy for Sales Tax Purposes

[caption id="attachment_10643" align="alignright" width="260" caption="Not candy"][/caption]

Listen up people. Since many of you regularly get either your breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, pre-midafternoon snack, afternoon snack, pre-leaving work snack or – during busy season – your dinner out of a vending machine this could be cause for concern.

States are strapped for cash so t��������������������ve you joy is a logical and effective conclusion. Accordingly, sweets, sodas, booze, cigarettes, strippers are all fair game. Some of these are old hat (e.g. booze, cigs) and some are becoming more popular (e.g. candy, soda). Washington state is rolling out its candy tax on June 1, 2010 and as you might have guessed, it’s not nearly as simple as you would think. There are many questions.


First off, candy needs a definition, so Department of Revenue de Washington presents its version:

“Candy” means a preparation of sugar, honey, or other natural or artificial sweeteners in combination with chocolate, fruits, nuts, or other ingredients or flavorings in the form of bars, drops, or pieces. Candy does not include any preparation containing flour. Candy does not require refrigeration.

OFTLOG. Couldn’t it just boil down to: “Anything handed out on Halloween”? But wait, the questions get better:

Are bags of trail mix containing small amounts of candy subject to sales tax?
No, trail mix is not considered to be candy if it contains only small amounts of chocolate chips or other candy.

Are sweetened breakfast cereals considered candy if they do not list flour as an ingredient?
No. Breakfast cereals are non-taxable food, even if they are sweetened and do not list flour as an ingredient.

What about prepackaged combination packs of candy? I sell bags of mixed candy bars for one, non-itemized price. Some of the bars contain flour, while others meet the definition of candy. Do I collect sales tax on the bags of candy?
The sale of the bags of candy represents a bundled transaction. See RCW 82.08.190 for more information on bundled transactions. Because one of the items in this bundled transaction is subject to sales tax, the entire bundle of products is subject to sales tax. See RCW 82.08.195 for more information.

However, you can exempt the bundled transaction from sales tax if you demonstrate that the purchase price or sales price for the taxable candy is 50% percent or less of the total purchase price or sales price of the bundled food products. See RCW 82.08.190(4) for information about how this 50% exception works.

Are nicotine gum and analgesic gum candy?
They are not candy, but they are subject to sales tax because they are over-the-counter drugs. Over-the-counter drugs refer to any drug sold with a label that identifies the product as a drug and includes either of the following:

A “drug facts” panel; or
A statement of the “active ingredient(s)” with a list of those ingredients contained in the compound, substance, or preparation.

Nicotine gum and analgesic gum (gums containing aspirin) meet the description above and should be treated as taxable over-the-counter drugs unless purchased with a prescription. See RCW 82.08.0281 for more information regarding over-the-counter drugs.

How are products in the baking aisle treated?
Below is information on selected baking aisle products [we’re skipping the table but fact that there is a table to explain the candy/non-candieness of the baking aisle is ridiculous]

Are fruit snacks such as fruit roll-ups and fruit leathers subject to sales tax as candy?
Fruit roll-ups and fruit leathers are subject to sales tax if they contain any sugar, honey, or other natural or artificial sweeteners and do not contain flour or require refrigeration. The fruit added to such item is not considered a sweetener (fruit is not intended to refer to concentrated fruit juices).

Are sweetened dried fruits candy?
Yes, dried fruits are candy when they are sweetened with natural or artificial sweeteners. This is true whether the product is sold prepackaged or in a bulk bin, by weight. Unsweetened fruits are not candy.

Is halvah candy?
Halvah is a confection usually made from crushed sesame seeds and honey, but in some instances may be made with grain based ingredients. It has been a traditional dessert in India, the Mediterranean, and the Balkans. Halvah that is based on nut butters (or seeds) and contains no flour is candy. Halvah that is flour-based is not candy. You should read the ingredient label if you are unsure.

Are energy bars and protein bars candy?
Energy bars and protein bars that contain no flour and require no refrigeration are taxable as candy. Bars that contain flour or require refrigeration are not candy.

Are cough drops subject to sales tax as candy?
Cough drops are not taxable as candy if they have either:

A “drug facts” panel; or
A statement of the “active ingredient(s)” with a list of those ingredients contained in the compound, substance, or preparation.

In such situation, the cough drops represent over-the-counter drugs. These cough drops are subject to sales tax unless purchased with a prescription. See RCW 82.08.0281 for more information regarding over-the-counter drugs.

Cough drops that do not have either of the above are candy.

Some takeaways: 1) Careful with the trail mix that has lots of M&Ms, it could possibly be taxable 2) Lucky Charms, et al. are safe 3) If anything has the word “gum” in it, it’s up for debate (e.g. Nicotine gum). Strangely enough, condom gum, edible undies, etc. is not mentioned 4) Fruit Roll-ups, energy bars, halvah and cough drops are all in the gray area.

And in case that doesn’t clear it up, there’s an entire spreadsheet that you can refer to (file below) but no, a Kit-Kat bar is not considered candy. Neither is a Milky Way. Got it?

Quick Tax Quiz: When Is a Candy Bar Not a Candy Bar? [Tax Policy Blog]
Washington State Candy List

Accounting News Roundup: Bank America Lands a CFO; FASB, IASB Can’t Guarantee Convergence; Maine to Tax Medical Marijuana | 04.14.10

Bank of America Names an Outsider as CFO [WSJ]
Charles Noski will be the new Bank of America CFO, effective May 11th. He most recently was the CFO at Northrup Grumman, which he left in 2005 and prior to that held the same position at AT&T. He has also served as a advisor to Blackstone Group and is currently a director at Morgan Stanley and Microsoft. It is reported that he will give up his director seat at competitor Morgan Stanley. Noski began his career at Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte) for seventeen years and was a partner.

This ends BofA’s quest to land a CFO after former finance bigwig Joe Price moved into a new role under new CEO Brain Moynihan back in January.


IASB says “no guarantee” of full US accounting convergence [Accountancy Age]
The FASB and IASB, try as they might, have announced that they simply cannot guarantee that they will pull off 100% unadulterated convergence. The two boards have struggled to get their cerebral minds together on a number of “important technical issues” and are holding out for the possibility that they may not resolve any of their remaining differences.

The two boards issued a statement which warned, “Although our recent experiences with joint meetings show that we have been able to resolve differences on several projects, there is no guarantee we will be able to resolve all, or any, of our differences on this project.” The two cite “different imperatives that pushed our development timetables out of alignment,” in the struggle for converging the two sets of rules. While the FASB and IASB are warning that accounting rule convergence may be impossible, the statement indicates that the two still aim to finalize their work by the mid-2011 deadline.

Medical pot users to pay sales tax [Bangor Daily News via Tax Policy Blog]
The Pine Tree State will taxing its medical green that is sold at state-sanctioned dispensaries. The Maine Revenue Service had argued that since marijuana is currently issued for medicinal purposes, that the it should be treated as a prescription drug and thus, not taxed. However, since a prescription isn’t necessary to obtain medical marijuana, Maine lawmakers disagreed and ultimately decided to administer a levy on the sale of state-issued grass.