Monday, February 19, 2018

The TCJA and Contribution in Aid of Construction

Section 13312 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act substantially overhauled section 118 of the Internal Revenue Code. This relatively unpopular Code section fulfills a somewhat unique role. It allows corporations to exclude certain payments from gross income. These payments reduce the taxpayer's basis in the assets to which the payments relate. (For a more in-depth discussion of section 118, the underlying proposed regulations issued in 2000, found here, provide a very good overview.) Over the last decade, the Service has often been involved in contentious disputes over section 118's scope. These controversies usually focus on  a specific class of nonshareholder contributions to capital, contributions in aid of construction, and whether the case law permits non-corporate taxpayers to use an approach like section 118.

In overhauling section 118, Congress provided that contributions in aid of construction as a (potential) customer or any contribution by a governmental entity or civic group (other than as a shareholder) would no longer qualify as non-shareholder contributions to capital. In the legislative history, the Conference Committee went on to explain that it intends for the provision to continue apply only to corporations. The act is generally effective for contributions made after December 22, 2017, with some exceptions for Master Development Plans approved by governmental entities prior to that date. Why does this matter?

For many years, taxpayers have been applying this nonshareholder contribution to capital approach to non-corporate entities' contributions in aid of construction. They exclude the contribution from income and reduce the basis of the related assets. Word on the street has been that, as of last year, only one of the Big 4 firms would even write opinions blessing this approach. Gven the much lower income tax rates going forward and the 2.5% asset limitation for under section 199A, it might be advisable for passthrough entities who have taken this approach to file Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method to reduce their IRS audit risk.

If you have passthrough entity clients who have received substantial payments from government entities to pay for construction and the payments were excluded from gross income and the bases of the related assets reduced by the amount of the payments, please feel free to contact me about making this method change.