state tax 'strategery'

'Strategery.' According to Wikipedia, the word "strategery" was coined for a Saturday Night Live sketch, written by James Downey, airing October 7, 2000, which satirized the performances of George W. Bush and Al Gore, two candidates for President of the United States, during the first presidential debate for election year 2000. Comedian Will Ferrell played Bush and used the word "strategery" (a mock-Bushism playing on the word "strategy"), when asked by a mock debate moderator to summarize "the best argument for his campaign", thus satirizing Bush's reputation for mispronouncing words. The episode was later released as part of a video tape titled Presidential Bash 2000.

After the 2000 presidential election, people inside the Bush White House reportedly began using the term as a joke, and it later grew to become a term of art among them meaning oversight of any activity by Bush's political consultants. Bush's strategists also came to be known within the White House as "The Department of Strategery" or the "Strategery Group.

I am in the middle of preparing for a presentation I will be giving next month in Chicago for Bloomberg BNA. As I was preparing for it, reading through recent developments, it dawned on me - we need new 'strategery' when dealing with state taxes. As taxpayers and tax professionals, we are constantly trying to find the right answer - what position to take, whether something is taxable, etc. We review explanations in tax research software, we read statutes, regulations, court cases. We call colleagues, and if we get really desperate, we call the state. I know, sometimes we call the state first, but we all know that when we call the state, we may not get the right answer. It depends on who we talk to, what department, etc. It can be very frustrating to find an answer that is reliable. 

Please note, I am not talking about tax avoidance or planning to minimize tax. I am simply talking about searching and looking for a compliant answer. We just want to know what position we are supposed to take. That's all. Should it really be that difficult to comply? 

What happens when we don't comply? We get notices. We get audits, and once we are in the middle of an audit, we get unreasonable audit requests for information. We get auditors taking positions that are in direct opposition to the state's statutes and regulations simply because the audit division has a 'policy' or 'procedure' to follow. 

Again, why is this so complicated? Do the states do it intentionally? Or is it simply a lack of resources, training? 

Regardless of the reason, we must find some new 'strategery' to navigate this playing field and reduce uncertainty.

As tax professionals, we can easily get in a rut of simply reading a tax research publisher's explanations or relying on an explanation from a 'big' accounting or law firm. I challenge you to read the cases for yourself. I promise, that if you do, you will find hidden gems of arguments and statements made by the court or the state that will give you clues as to what positions to take. I also challenge you to use other tools to be proactive, such as tax planning software.

Based on the complexity of compliance, we must play this game 'with a chip on our shoulder.' Let's not be passive and simply get tossed around.

Let's be game-changers, not just another player.