On April 25, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided that refundable state tax brownfield credits are taxable income for federal purposes. The court held in Ginsburg v. United States, “The excess amount of the brownfield redevelopment tax credit received by the Ginsburgs in 2013 is taxable gross income because it is an undeniable accession to wealth over which the Ginsburgs have complete dominion and control.”
The case dealt with New York’s brownfield credits that may be used to reduce a taxpayer’s state tax obligations and, if there are excess credits beyond the state tax liabilities, can be refunded to the taxpayer. The court’s decision makes that refunded credit subject to federal tax. The taxpayers argued that the brownfield redevelopment tax credit “is a reimbursement of a portion of the capital costs,” i.e., costs relating to investments made by them for the cleanup and redevelopment of the property. Accordingly, the Ginsburgs claimed they “neither realized an undeniable accession to wealth nor an economic gain” because the payment was a reimbursement of expenses. They also argued they do not have complete dominion and control over the tax credits because there were many strings attached. The court was not persuaded and found that the Ginsburgs neither alleged a payment was made to New York nor explained why the payment of the excess amount of the brownfield redevelopment tax credit was a return of their basis to restore impaired capital.