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September 17, 2015 The Tax Lawyer

A History of the State and Local Taxes Committee and Its Most Recent Quarter Century of Work

Vol. 68, No. 4 - Summer 2015

Philip M. Tatarowicz


    This Article is written to contribute to the Diamond Anniversary celebration of the Tax Section of the American Bar Association (“ABA”). It explores an aspect of Tax Section history that has largely been unaddressed: the role and organizational accommodations for the study and advancement of stateand local taxes (“SALT”).

    Given that the ABA goal is to serve as the national representative of the legal profession, and that its members work within a federalist government and tax system comprised of disparate federal, state, and local tax laws, SALT issues have been part of the ABA since its inception. Without addressing subnational tax issues, the ABA would have failed to serve as the national representative of the legal profession in the critical area of tax system issues, where frequently uniformity is desired. Of course, inclusion versus related degrees of activity are different questions; a decision to include SALT does not answer the question of how best to strategically parcel available ABA resources between national and subnational tax matters. In fact, the initial organizational structures employed by the ABA for addressing tax issues may have had more to do with allocation of its limited resources and political capital than with the level of government from which the tax issues arose.

    This Article provides a high-relief state and local tax history by dividing the ABA into two eras, split by when the Tax Section was formed. The first, The Pre-Tax Section Era, is comprised of two periods: Uncertainty (1878–1905) and Selflessness (1905–1939). The second, The Tax Section Era, is also comprised of two periods: Dimensional Multiplicity (1939–1946) and Emerging Singularity (1947–present). The period of Emerging Singularity is subdivided between earlier (1947–1988) and later (1989–2015) years.

    The modern SALT Committee has coalesced over the past century from a variety of special and standing Committees, as well as joint-taskforces and the like. This Article describes this development with a particular focus on the development of its current organizational and jurisdictional dynamics, the complexity and depth of which can be traced to the early 1960s, and the role the SALT Committee played in advising the Willis Commission, a Congressional Commission that was charged with studying the state taxation of interstate commerce. This history provides insight into how the Tax Section, and the ABA before the formation of the Tax Section, parceled national and subnational tax issues; collectively, the organizational structure was a mirror of member interests, related tax law changes, and evolving concepts of federalism. Additional insights relate to the balancing of tensions resulting from different Committees and other interest groups competing for jurisdiction over select subnational tax matters based on functional, industrial, geographical, and political lines. The Article concludes with a recounting of the SALT Committee’s many accomplishments over the past 25 years.

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