School Cafe

Are College Meal Plans Taxable or Not?

Many colleges and universities require students living on-campus to purchase a meal plan. The school typically contracts with an outside company to provide the meals, which students then pay for using their meal plan. But are such transactions subject to sales tax?

The Colorado Supreme Court recently addressed this question.

The specific dispute before the Court involved the City of Golden, Colorado, and Sodexo America, a well-known food service company that provides contractual dining services to the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), which is based in Golden. The City levies a 3-percent sales tax. Following a 2014 audit, the City determined Sodexo was liable for approximately $234,000 in unpaid sales tax on the sales of meals to meal-plan students at CSM.

Sodexo challenged the City’s decision in court. Although a trial judge sided with the City, an intermediate appeals court ruled in Sodexo’s favor. The Colorado Supreme Court then agreed to review the matter.

Colorado Supreme Court: Campus Dining Plan Meals Not Subject to City’s Sales Tax

The Court ultimately agreed with Sodexo and the intermediate appeals court. Justice William W. Hood III, writing for the Court, said there were two types of transactions at issue here. The first was CSM’s sale of meal plans to the students. The second was Sodexo’s sale of meals to CSM. The latter sale, Hood said, was a wholesale transaction not subject to the City of Golden’s sales tax.

“Sodexo didn’t directly charge the meal-plan students,” Hood explained. Rather, CSM billed the students each semester for the cost of the meal plan. CSM, in turn, paid Sodexo a fixed amount monthly for each meal served. Sodexo therefore had no responsibility (or ability) to take action against a student who failed to pay CSM for his or her meal plan.

In other words, Hood said, there was never a taxable “sale” that took place between Sodexo and the meal-plan student. The sale occurred when the student purchased the meal plan, not when they swiped their card at the dining hall to use one of their allotted prepaid meals. The students “didn’t provide any consideration to Sodexo for the meals,” Hood said.

Ruling Does Not Affect Cash Sales

It is worth noting the Supreme Court’s ruling only covers students who purchase meals at a campus dining hall via a prepaid meal plan. It does not apply to a student, or anyone else, who purchases food or beverages from the same dining hall using cash or their own credit card. Indeed, even prior to this litigation, Sodexo collected and remitted sales taxes on cash and credit sales to the City.

Canada Considers “Netflix Tax” Again

streamingReport: Canadian Government Fails to Collect $169 Million in Sales Taxes Annually on Digital Goods & Services

Canada loses approximately $169 million annually in sales tax revenue, according to a recent report from the nation’s interim auditor general. These losses are the result of Canadians failing to pay taxes on digital purchases from foreign vendors. As a result, the auditor general’s office noted Canadians often pay more for domestic digital goods than their foreign counterparts.

Interim AG: Most Canadians Do Not Pay Their Own Sales Tax on Foreign Purchases

Interim Auditor General Sylvain Ricard submitted a series of five performance audits to the Parliament of Canada on May 7. One of these audits focused on the taxation of e-commerce. The audit noted the rapid rise of e-commerce, particularly with respect to “digital products” for music and video, creates “challenges for assessing” the federal goods and services tax (GST) and the harmonized sales tax (HST).

 

Domestic sellers of digital goods and services are required to collect GST and HST from individual consumers and remit those payments to the government. But foreign vendors with no “permanent establishment” in Canada are not required to make such collections under federal law. This does not mean that foreign sales are exempt from taxation. Rather, if an individual consumer’s total purchases of foreign digital goods results in a GST or HST tax liability of more than $2, it is that consumer’s responsibility to fill out a form and pay the applicable tax.

 

In practice, most Canadian consumers simply ignore this duty. According to Ricard, while approximately two-thirds of Canadian adults “purchased digital products from both foreign and domestic vendors between July 2017 and June 2018,” only 524 people filed GST or HST forms on those purchases. And the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) only has “limited authority” to ensure compliance.

 

For instance, Ricard noted, while the United States government requires all payment processors to provide their financial data to the Internal Revenue Service, the CRA lacks a similar ability to collect such third-party information without first obtaining a court order. This, in turn, reduces the CRA’s ability to “detect and deter non-compliance.”

 

The costs of this non-compliance are not insignificant. Ricard’s office estimated the total GST losses for the 2017 fiscal year alone was $169 million. And given the increasing role of cross-border e-commerce in Canada’s economy, Ricard recommended the CRA “implement mechanisms to track, monitor, and report the number of compliance activities it conducts to manage the risk of non-compliance.”

Cross-Party Opposition to Any “Netflix Tax”

But it may not be that simple. Enforcing sales tax collection on foreign digital goods, especially popular U.S.-based services like Netflix, is unpopular with Canadian politicians. During the 2015 federal election, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper released an ad saying his Conservative Party was “100 per cent against a Netflix tax,” according to a recent report in the Toronto Star. Harper’s rival, Liberal Party leader and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also came out against efforts to require Netflix and other non-Canadian vendors to collect the GST and HST.

province flags

Some Canadian provinces, however, are taking a harder line. The auditor general’s report noted the British Columbia provincial government has independently “reached an agreement with a major foreign accommodation sharing platform” to “voluntarily collect the provincial sales tax (PST) and remit it directly to the government.” Meanwhile, the Quebec National Assembly has passed its own legislation requiring foreign businesses to “register for, collect, and remit sales taxes,” regardless of whether they have a “permanent establishment” in Quebec or Canada.

 

As federal law currently stands, according to Ricard, the CRA lacks the “legislative authority or flexibility” to follow either British Columbia or Quebec’s example. And with the next federal election expected later this year, there may be little incentive for any of the major political parties to pursue the issue in the short-term.


Looking for Canadian Sales Tax Rates for your business?  Zip2Tax has easy, fast downloadable tables.  Or look here for general tax rates by province.


 

June 1st Sales Tax Rate Changes

Few changes to the general sales tax rates for June, but stayed tuned for many more as of July 1st.

 

ALABAMA

The Town of Ranburne adopted an ordinate to increase the general sales tax rate from 1.5% to 2.0% effective with sales as of June 1, 2019.

The Dallas County Commission has repealed and rescinded the ordinances imposing an additional one-half percent sales tax for public school purposes.  The rate was 1.50% but as of June 1st sales, the new rate is 1.00%.

 

FLORIDA

The 2019 Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday begins Friday, May 31, 2019 and extends through Thursday, June 6, 2019.  Click here for more details from the State of Florida.

For a complete chart of upcoming sales holidays in all states, see our post.

 

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2019 Sales Tax Holidays

Every year various states offer sales tax holidays to encourage sales of specific items.  See our chart for this year’s participants.

The following states are not participating in sales tax holidays this year. Keep in mind that sales tax holiday participation is subject to change and we’ll update this as announcements are made public.

Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia (Washington D.C), Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

 

STATEITEMS INCLUDED / MAXIMUM COSTMONTHDAYSLink to MORE DETAILS
AlabamaHurricane Preparedness
Generators - $1,000
Supplies - $60
February22-24AL DOR Sales Tax Holiday for Severe Weather Prepareness
AlabamaBack to School
Clothing - $100
Computers - $750
School Supplies - $50
Books - $30
July19-21AL DOR Tax Holiday for Back To School
ArkansasBack to School
Clothing - $100
School Supplies
August3 - 4Arkansas Tax Holiday for Back To School
ConnecticutBack to School
Clothing and Footwear - $100
August18 - 24Connecticut Department of Revenue
FloridaDisaster Preparedness
Generators - $750
Other Supplies - $50
May / JuneMay 31 - Jun 6Florida Disaster Preparedness Tax Holiday
FloridaBack to School
Clothing - $60
School Supplies - $50
August2 - 6http://floridarevenue.com/
IowaBack to School
Clothing - $100
August2 - 3Iowa Annual Sales Tax Holiday
LouisianaFirearms
Ammunition
Hunting Supplies
September6 - 8Louisiana Department of Revenue
MarylandEnergy Star ProductsFebruary16 - 18Maryland Department of Revenue
MarylandBack to School
Clothing and Footwear - $100
August11 - 17Maryland Department of Revenue
MassachusettsEnergy Efficiency Sales Tax HolidayAugust10 - 11
MississippiBack to School
Clothing and Footwear - $100
July26 - 27Mississippi Department of Revenue
MississippiFirearms
Ammunition
Hunting supplies
August / Sept30 - Sept 1Mississippi Department of Revenue
MissouriEnergy Star Products - $1,500April19 - 25Missouri Department of Revenue
MissouriBack to School
Clothing - $100
Computers - $1,500
School Supplies - $50
August2 - 4Missouri Department of Revenue
New MexicoBack to School
Clothing - $100
Computers - $1,000
Computer Equipment - $500
School Supplies - $30
August2 - 4New Mexico Department of Revenue
OhioBack to School
Clothing - $75
School Supplies - $20
August2 - 4https://www.tax.ohio.gov/
OklahomaBack to School
Clothing - $100
August2 - 4http://www.tax.ok.gov/
South CarolinaBack to School
Clothing
School Supplies
Computers
Other
August2 - 4South Carolina Department of Revenue
TennesseeBack to School
Clothing - $100
School Supplies - $100
Computers - $1,500
July27-29Tennessee Department of Revenue
TexasHurricane Preparedness
Generators - $3,000
Storm devices - $300
Preparedness items - $75
April27 - 29Texas Department of Revenue
TexasEnergy Star Products
Air conditioners - $6,000
Other - $2,000
May25 - 27Texas Department of Revenue
TexasBack to School
Clothing, backpacks and school supplies - $100
August9 - 11Texas Department of Revenue
VirginiaBack to School
Clothing - $100
School Supplies - $20
Energy Star Products - $2,500
Hurricane preparedness items - $60
Generators - $1,000
August3 - 5Virginia Department of Revenue
WisconsinBack to School
Clothing, Supplies - $75
Computer Supplies - $250
Computers - $750
August 1 - 5 https://www.revenue.wi.gov/

Maine Legislators Consider “LOST”

Shopping image

Maine Legislators Consider Authorizing Local-Option Sales Taxes

Although most U.S. states permit their local governments to collect certain types of sales taxes (in addition to the statewide tax), about a dozen state still do not. One such state is Maine, which currently assesses a statewide sales tax of 5.5 percent only. But there is a renewed effort in the state’s legislature to authorize local-option sales taxes (LOST), which could provide an additional source of revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.

Bills Would Allow Municipalities to Target Sales Tax Increases During Tourist Season

There are several LOST bills currently pending before the Maine Legislature. One such bill, known as LD 65, would allow municipalities to impose a local sales tax after obtaining approval in a voter referendum. The referendum question would need to include not only the proposed tax rate, the “purposes for which the revenue will be used,” and any months when the LOST would not be collected.

This last item means that the municipality would not have to collect its portion of the sales tax year-round. Rather, localities could focus tax collection efforts on the summer months when Maine typically attracts a large number of tourists. According to the Portland Press Herald, roughly 36.7 million people visited Maine in 2017, spending approximately $6 billion throughout the state.

A second proposal, LD 1254, would allow for a LOST of up to 1 percent on restaurant meals and lodging. Like LD 65, LD 1254 would require a referendum and allow localities to specify the months in which the local sales tax would apply. But while LD 1254 is restricted to “prepared food or the value of rental of living quarters” to travelers, LD 65 permits collection of local sales tax on any item that is already subject to Maine’s statewide sales tax.

Conservative, Liberal Activists Challenge LOST Proposals

Not surprisingly, many conservative anti-tax groups oppose the LOST bills. Jim Fossel, a former staffer for Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, wrote in an editorial for the Press Herald that “the very concept of a local-option sales tax is fundamentally flawed.” Fossel argued it was a “competitive advantage” for Maine not to have such taxes, and that “towns and cities across Maine ought to continue doing what they can to cut costs and constrain spending.”

What’s interesting is that some liberal activists agree with Fossel–at least with respect to opposing the LOST. Sarah Austin of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, which describes itself as a “progressive voice” for “Maine working families,” wrote on the organization’s website, argued legislators should reject LD 65 and LD 1254 as it would disproportionately benefit those “communities heavily reliant on the tourism industry” while “doing little–or even nothing–for others.”

Austin noted that 10 municipalities in Maine generated 45 percent of the state’s meals and lodging revenue, yet only contained 16 percent of the state’s permanent population. And even a general LOST that was not limited to meals and lodging, such as the one proposed by LD 65, would hit poorer Maine residents the hardest. For this reason, Austin said a sales tax increase limited to meals and lodging would be preferable, but only if implemented as part of more comprehensive tax reform, including higher income tax rates for the “wealthiest and profitable corporations.”

 

 

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