Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act

I was glad to see that Senator Sherrod Brown (D – OH) introduced the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act on August 2, 2012.  The bill is being promoted by the American Institute of CPAs, and a version of the bill passed the House on voice vote May 15th.

The bill would establish a uniform standard for the withholding of state income taxes on nonresident employees.  It would lessen the burden the current system places on employers and traveling employees. 

Both bills would require nonresidents to work in a state for more than thirty days before becoming subject to a state‘s income tax withholding.

Why is this an issue? Let’s say that you start a consulting firm. Business takes off. You develop a national client base and hire employees. You send your employees throughout the country, sometimes for 4 or 5 days and other times for longer. You meet with me to discuss your tax filing requirements, especially your payroll. You tell me that you have engagements coming up in the following states and ask me how to handle the employee withholding.

               State                                      Exempt from Employer Withholding if …

Arizona                                               60 days or less
California                                            exempt if less than $1,500
Delaware                                             no exception
Georgia                                               23 days or less
Hawaii                                                 60 days or less
Idaho                                                   exempt if less than $1,000
Maine                                                  10 days or less
Maryland                                             exempt if less than $5,000
Massachusetts                                     no exception
Ohio                                                    less than $300 in any quarter
Virginia                                               exempt if less than $7,000

Now seriously, how are we to work with this? Remember that payroll may have some very nasty penalties for just minor errors. Do we simply withhold from day one on all employees in all states? That is the safest way to go, but now you are going to have monthly or quarterly reporting to almost every state in the nation. Perhaps the report says “zero”, but it will still take time to prepare and file. You may have additional end of year considerations, such as submitting W-2s to the state. Why not just shut down the account every time, you ask? That likely will save little to no time overall and may create more problems whenever you try to reactivate an account.

This all takes time. It may be my time, it may be your employee’s time, but you will be paying for this time. You can now see the issue. If you ship an employee into Delaware for 1 1/2 days, do they really expect you to withhold, remit and keep reporting to Delaware until the cows come home? Perhaps this made sense years ago when our parents worked at the factory down the street, but it makes no sense today. It is unreasonable to threaten an employer with payroll taxes (and penalties) because they made the mistake of sending an employee into your state for 3 or 4 days. This is not the Lewis and Clark era.

Will this bill pass Congress? My hunch is that no tax bill will pass Congress until the elections are resolved, and then only a tax extender bill passed at the last hour of the last day. This bill will not pass this Congress, but at least the issue is being discussed and highlighted. Perhaps next time and next Congress.

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