All summer we have been talking about the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair. We analyzed the opinion when it came out; we looked at the initial state responses in August; and we looked at one of the early Federal proposals in September. It’s been an exciting ride!
One of the things we’ve come to realize is that the Wayfair decision signals a convergence of the disparate state nexus thresholds for different types of tax. Correctly or not, the Commerce Clause and Due Process nexus thresholds for sales tax and income tax regimes are converging around the idea that a taxpayer needs to have “minimum contacts” with a taxing jurisdiction and must “purposefully avail” themselves of the jurisdiction’s economic market. Thanks to Public law 86-272 (codified at 15 USC §§ 381-384), nuance still exists in the areas of sales of solicitation of sales of tangible personal property. Also, the requirements of internal and external consistency help limit the deleterious impact of having thousands of taxing jurisdictions each doing their own thing.
Because there are all of these limitations and restrictions on a state’s ability to tax activity within its borders (however that may be defined), states in the last few years have been relying more and more heavily on “fees.” The challenge, of course, is that there isn’t a good definition of how to distinguish a “fee” from a “tax.”