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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. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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