California: The Land of Double Taxation for Small Businesses

Just think: You run a small company. Your partner embezzles from you and you are reeling – you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. Next, California’s state government shows up and slaps you around. When you object, Sacramento offers no apology, no comfort. You’re on your own.

Farfetched? Read on to see what happened to a California Limited Liability Company (LLC) that tried to play by what it thought were common-sense rules.

First, an LLC is a form of business that permits the owner to avoid double taxation. In California, such companies must pay an annual minimum franchise tax of $800, which is the highest of any state (in 40 other states the fee is $100 or less) and may be subject to additional fees based on revenue.

An article by Mike Dazé in Bloomberg BNA – Corporate Close-Up: The Burden of California’s Taxes and Fees on Limited Liability Companies – points out that the State Board of Equalization “illustrates the challenges businesses face when trying to reduce their liability for taxes and fees in California. A company filing two short-period returns in tax year 2010 unsuccessfully protested the imposition of the minimum tax and LLC fee in each short period.”

In short, they objected to double taxation.

The company, Bay Area Gun Vault, LLC, converted from a two-member entity into a single-member LLC after one of the two members was caught embezzling money and was removed. So the company filed two returns for 2010, one as a two-member LLC and the second as a single-member LLC.

In the first return, the company timely paid the annual tax of $800 and an extra LLC fee on profit. In the return for the second period, the company did not pay the LLC annual fee, but did pay the tax.

Despite two tax returns, the company clarified that the income was for the same business with the same tax ID number and assets and was operating in the same location. So the company should owe only $800 in tax and an LLC fee of $6,000.

But the removal of the embezzler caused a “technical termination” of the original LLC because 50 percent or more of the interests changed hands. Hence, the resulting single-member LLC was a “new entity for tax purposes” and owed the minimum tax and LLC fee during the same year.

Mr. Dazé wrote, “The logic of the company’s argument is appealing: LLC taxes and fees should not be imposed twice in the same year on the same business.”

The Board claims there is no statutory support for that position.

Well, if the Board is correct, why did legislators let an unfair law stand? Do Sacramento lawmakers use no foresight in determining whether technical provisions in business-oriented laws might cause future injury?

Actually, I know the answers to my own questions. Here is why the legislature doesn’t care how its actions harm the business community:

  • First, the Franchise Tax Board (California’s version of the Internal Revenue Service) has projected revenue from LLC taxes and fees to be $753 million in fiscal year 2014-2015. Sacramento wants to collect every single penny of that revenue.
  • Next, California’s legislature is packed with people who will use taxpayer funds to support the latest half-baked ideas. But they routinely turn a deaf ear to requests from the business community for fair taxation and regulatory policies.
  • Finally, most Sacramento politicians are clueless about what it takes to run a business.

To amplify on that last point – only “18 percent of the Democrats who control both houses of California’s full-time legislature worked in business, farming or medicine before being elected,” wrote former California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. “The remainder drew paychecks from government, worked as community organizers, or were attorneys.”

In business-friendly Texas, “Democrats are more than twice as likely as their California counterparts to claim private-sector experience outside the field of law,” continued DeVore, and “75 percent of the Republicans earn a living in business, farming, or medicine….” All that can be found in his book, The Texas Model: Prosperity in the Lone Star State and Lessons for America.

The analysis was for a couple of years ago, but the makeup of both legislatures remains virtually the same.

California is replete with demands for “environmental justice,” “social justice,” “income justice,” “sexual justice,” “workplace justice” – oh, the list goes on and on. What California needs more of is “entrepreneurial Justice,” “business justice” and “tax justice.”

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders should reverse tax-confiscatory policies and refund overpayments to that LLC and others in similar positons. If not, California will perpetuate its mean-spiritedness towards corporations – even the one-person kind.

Joe Vranich of Spectrum Location Solutions helps companies find great locations in which to grow. Joe also is a keynote speaker on the challenges and benefits of businesses relocating out of high-tax, high-cost, over-regulated states. More information is available at Biography and Speaking Availability

© Excerpts from this blog may be used, but only if attribution is given to “Joseph Vranich of Spectrum Location Solutions in Irvine, Calif.”

Crossposted at Fox&Hounds Daily

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