Tax conformity and simplicity

Published 1:07 pm Wednesday, January 30, 2019

In the news, you may have heard the term “tax conformity.” More than likely, your eyes have glazed over. For most, their greatest interest is how much of a refund will they get back or have to pay. As well, you might be wondering how much you will need to pay as you move forward. Should you ask your employer to withhold more for state income tax from each paycheck or how much should you pay quarterly? These are issues of greatest importance as you are receiving W-2 forms.

As you are aware, the Trump tax cuts were implemented last winter. However, since the regulations around them were not implemented until later in the year (some still have not), we could not act. Therefore, Virginia could not conform our state income tax regulations with the federal until this year. Traditionally, changes are few and simple. The General Assembly could push through those needed changes in the first few days of the annual session in January by simply conforming our tax policy to the federal changes.

This year, however, is far different. We are not dealing with just a few hundreds of dollars but rather an estimated $600 million each year. This is because, in the federal changes, the Trump cuts included a major change in exemptions. No longer can families deduct huge mortgage interest payments and other items. Instead, they will have a much larger exemption that covers what many used to exempt item by item. Many in Virginia may want to continue to itemize those items, but they cannot because they must conform their state filing to match the federal policy. For 3 out of 4 that is no problem. However, 1 in 4 will end up seeing a big Virginia tax increase amounting to $300-400 million.

The Governor has proposed spending these windfall taxes on a number of issues. Those expenditures are based on guestimates that may not hold true for the next two years. The majorities in both the House and Senate disagree with this proposal because it is unwise to build a budget on unknown revenues. Myself and others find it unethical to soak some taxpayers from funds from a federal tax cut. Because of these differences we will continue to negotiate.


Probably we will be looking at sending checks to taxpayers after we know the exact amount after the state’s books are closed in July.


Another tax issue deals with the Sales and Use tax. Under existing law, each of us is required to pay a sales and use tax on items we purchase for use. If one goes to a local merchant, the store is required to add the tax at the point of sale. If you order it online, sometimes the business will add the tax and sometimes they do not. In those cases that they do not, it is up to you to send a payment to the tax department. The tax department has tried to aid you in that process by allowing you to save receipts and pay with your income tax. Some citizens do not for various reasons. I do not believe people do it to cheat on their taxes. Therefore, I have legislation that requires most out-of-state sellers to relieve you of this bookkeeping nightmare. Many national companies are currently doing such. Amazon and their sellers are now doing that.

This legislation was requested of me by the association that represents mostly local retailers who have been harmed by the current unfair system.

Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.