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Retroactive legislation and back taxes

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether to debate questions regarding back taxes owed due to retroactive changes in the law. The justices are not looking at taxes currently owed or even taxes for the past year. Instead, they are deciding whether legislators can make retroactive changes to the law that could result in taxpayers owing money from several years back.

The justices may decide to not even hear the matter. And if they do decide to hear the case, it will not come up for argument until early next year. Yet whether they do or do not hear the case, there does seem to be a level of unfairness in making taxpayers pay back taxes when their tax returns complied with the law at the time of filing.

The case concerns an out-of-state company called Dot Foods that was doing business in another state. While Dot Foods was not required to pay the business and occupation tax for this other state over a period of several years, the other state suddenly decided the company should have been paying this tax. The revenue department for that state then decided against refunding money previously owed to the company – such money allegedly no longer refundable due to the change in legislation.

This case will impact Michigan law. A number of large corporations including Goodyear, DirecTV and IBM also challenged a Michigan law that would retroactively require companies to pay back taxes. Should the Supreme Court decide on the Dot Foods case, it would impact this Michigan legislation as well.

Because tax matters are so complex, sometimes there is need for guidance from an experienced tax attorney. As in the above instance, a taxpayer may not have done anything wrong and yet still discover he or she owes back taxes.

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