The much anticipated study of combined reporting, performed over the summer by the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) Office of Fiscal Management Analysis, was recently outlined to the legislative Interim Committee on Fiscal Policy.
As a refresher: Combined reporting would impact companies here with operations outside of the state. It tasks these businesses with adding together all profits for one report. Indiana’s current system of separate accounting allows for each subsidiary to report independently based on its location.
The study was required by SEA 323, which passed last session. That legislation also directed a study of the related issue of transfer pricing. Both LSA studies were presented to the interim committee and have now been made available to the public.
The combined reporting study, however, was by far the more comprehensive and was the primary subject of discussion at the interim committee meeting. The report includes examples that demonstrate how a switch to mandatory unitary combined reporting would have varying impacts on taxpayers.
Depending on their particular circumstances, some taxpayers would see their tax liability increase while others would see it decrease. The end result being that the overall effect on the tax revenue stream is unpredictable.
Using data from numerous states and applying econometric techniques, the LSA economists estimated that Indiana could see an initial spike in corporate tax revenue but that it would “only be short term and will decline to zero in the long run.” The study also recognized that while the change could be beneficial in addressing some current issues, such as transfer pricing disputes, it would raise a multitude of new administrative burdens and complexities; most notably those associated with the core difficulty, “determination of the unitary group” – exactly which affiliated entities are ultimately to be deemed part of those that must be combined. In other words, going to combined reporting only trades one set of problems for a different challenge of substantial magnitude.
Studying combined reporting is itself a complicated and difficult task. The LSA did a nice job of putting the issues in historical and practical context, identifying the issues and analyzing the potential impacts. What it could not do, because it isn’t really its role, is fully evaluate how a change could disrupt the progress that has been made over the past 15 years in improving our state’s business climate. Governor Robert Orr concluded in 1984 that combined reporting would be “extremely detrimental to Indiana’s economic growth.” In his open letter to all corporate taxpayers, he offered his assurance that Indiana “does not, and will not, require combined reporting.” That position proved significant in attracting the large manufacturing facilities built by multi-national companies that presently employ thousands of Hoosiers across the state.
Why would you want to reverse this course, abandon the certainty that comes with 50 years of tax law and jeopardize our image as the most business-friendly state in the Midwest and among the top in the nation? This was the core of the Indiana Chamber’s testimony to the interim committee. As for those who view a possible change to combined reporting as a means for dealing with what they label a “compliance issue”, the Chamber committed to work with them. We will need to find less drastic ways to address their concerns and identify ways to respond to the situations they believe represent noncompliance.
It should be noted that concerns with transfer pricing issues seem to have served as the impetus for much of the larger discussion of combined reporting. Consequently, focusing on those issues would provide the potential for reaching resolutions, without a major structural conversion to mandatory unitary combined reporting. In fact, Appendix A to the Transfer Pricing study points to several possibilities that deserve further exploration.