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Tax exemption doesn't apply to hotel utilities

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The Indiana Supreme Court was split today in its ruling on whether a hotel was entitled to a sales tax exemption on utilities it purchased during 2004 and 2005. The majority held the exemption that allows hotels to skip paying sales tax on tangible personal property - soap and shampoo - used by guests, doesn't extend to utilities because the hotel, and not the guests, uses those utilities.

The issue arose in Indiana Department of Revenue v. Kitchin Hospitality, LLC, No. 49S10-0808-TA-474, after the Indiana Tax Court held for the years at issue, the utilities consumed in Kitchin Hospitality's hotels guest rooms qualified for the tangible personal property exemption.

Indiana Code Section 6-2.5-5-35 was amended in 1992 to exempt hotels from paying sales tax on tangible items used or consumed by guests. The 1992 exemption, which the opinion refers to as the Section 35 Exemption, didn't define "tangible personal property." In 2003, while adopting the "Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement" (SSUTA), the legislature included a definition of it in I.C. Section 6-2.5-1-27. The 2003 definition defined tangible personal property to include electricity, water, gas, steam, and pre-written computer software. The language of the 1992 exemption wasn't changed until 2007 when the legislature specified that the exemption doesn't apply to electricity, water, gas, or steam transactions. The change came after this litigation began.

The majority analyzed the language of the 1992 exemption differently than the Tax Court, which concluded the language of the exemption didn't require a hotel guest to directly consume the utilities. The high court ruled tangible personal property must be used up or otherwise consumed during the occupation of the rooms and must be used up or consumed by a guest. Not reading it in this manner could lead to cleaning supplies or the water used to clean the hotel sheets to become exempt from sales tax, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan for the majority.

"Reading the 2007 amendment to the Section 35 Exemption as a clarification of the law is consistent with the purpose of Indiana's adoption of the (Streamlined Sales Tax Project) and its model provisions - to simplify and modernize the administration and collection of the state's sales and use taxes," he wrote. "Thus the Legislature in all likelihood enacted the definition of "tangible personal property" in I.C. § 6-2.5-1-27 to bring the state into compliance with the SSUTA, not to render utilities eligible for the Section 35 Exemption."

The hotels had single electric, water, and gas meters for the entire facility and the hotels didn't monitor each guest's usage. The utilities are used up or consumed in the guest rooms whether they are occupied or vacant, so they are used up by the hotel and not the guests, wrote the justice.

The majority reversed the Indiana Tax Court's decision and affirmed the Indiana Department of Revenue's decision to deny Kitchin exemptions from sales tax under I.C. Section 6-2.5-5-35.

Justice Brent Dickson dissented in a separate opinion with which Justice Robert Rucker concurred, believing the facts and law of the case warrant the deferral to the determination of the Tax Court which was created to "consolidated tax-related litigation in one court of expertise," Justice Dickson wrote.

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  • Supreme Court Not Tax Savvy
    Well the Indiana Supreme Court just proved that its tax expertise is sorely lacking. Why is it not apparent to them that when the legislature change this applicable statute when the taxpayer filed in court, that the law must have been flawed. What would the ordinary person read here? Shame on them. When the legislature changed the definition to comply with the SST, how hard is it to read through the current law and find all instances of "Tangible personal property?" Then if that instance was not to be exempt, adjust it then. While that is what they "meant" to do, they did not and the Supreme Court in essence, sanctioned that.

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  1. As one of the many consumers affected by this breach, I found my bank data had been lifted and used to buy over $200 of various merchandise in New York. I did a pretty good job of tracing the purchases to stores around a college campus just from the info on my bank statement. Hm. Mr. Hill, I would like my $200 back! It doesn't belong to the state, in my opinion. Give it back to the consumers affected. I had to freeze my credit and take out data protection, order a new debit card and wait until it arrived. I deserve something for my trouble!

  2. Don't we have bigger issues to concern ourselves with?

  3. Anyone who takes the time to study disciplinary and bar admission cases in Indiana ... much of which is, as a matter of course and by intent, off the record, would have a very difficult time drawing lines that did not take into account things which are not supposed to matter, such as affiliations, associations, associates and the like. Justice Hoosier style is a far departure than what issues in most other parts of North America. (More like Central America, in fact.) See, e.g., http://www.theindianalawyer.com/indiana-attorney-illegally-practicing-in-florida-suspended-for-18-months/PARAMS/article/42200 When while the Indiana court system end the cruel practice of killing prophets of due process and those advocating for blind justice?

  4. Wouldn't this call for an investigation of Government corruption? Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote that the case warranted the high court’s review because the method the Indiana Court of Appeals used to reach its decision was “a significant departure from the law.” Specifically, David wrote that the appellate panel ruled after reweighing of the evidence, which is NOT permissible at the appellate level. **But yet, they look the other way while an innocent child was taken by a loving mother who did nothing wrong"

  5. Different rules for different folks....

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