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In interpreting an ambiguous statute allowing for a tax credit against the state’s financial institution excise tax (FIET), the Alabama Court of Appeals held in favor of the Department of Revenue’s interpretation. Alabama imposes a 6½% FIET on the net income of certain financial institutions. After deducting administrative charges payable to the Department, the Department is required by statute to distribute the FIET proceeds to the counties and municipalities in which the financial institution is located, with the remaining amount to the Alabama general fund. Taxpayers who make certain investments in designated areas of the state are eligible under Alabama Code § 41-9-218(1) for a credit against the “state-distributed portion” of the FIET due. The court stated that although the phrasing “state-distributed portion” of the tax credit statute was ambiguous, the various differing constructions by the taxpayer, the Department, and the lower court did “not stand on equal footing.” Because of the Department’s “expertise in matters of taxation,” the court held that the Department’s interpretation of the statute—that the “state-distributed portion” refers only to the FIET proceeds distributed to the state general fund—was entitled to deference. The court reasoned that even though the Department did not promulgate a rule or regulation interpreting the statute, the Department was entitled to deference because it applied the same interpretation “on its internal paperwork in making its final assessment” and before the circuit court and court of appeals, rather than just adopting the interpretation as a litigation position. Thus, the credit applied to reduce the FIET liability by only the amount of the FIET proceeds distributed to the state general fund, and not to the amount of the FIET proceeds distributed to the counties, municipalities, and the state as argued by the taxpayer.
Alabama Dep’t of Revenue v. Bryant Bank, CV-17-900699 (Ala. Civ. App. Sept. 14, 2018).