Payment of State Sales Taxes or Late Payment Charges on Utility Bills by a Federal Agency

B-195246: Aug 8, 1979

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An inquiry was made as to whether the payment of state sales taxes or late payment charges on utility bills may be paid by a federal agency. The general rule is that the federal government is immune from payment of state taxes. The determination as to which party is legally responsible for the payment of the tax is a matter of statutory construction. No general rule can be stated as to the government's liability for a sales tax which will apply in every state. The particular state taxing statute must be examined. There is another consideration in dealing with utility contracts. Sometimes the sales tax is a part of the utility's approved tariff. If the government has agreed to pay the tariff, it is also obligated to pay the part of the tariff attributable to the tax. If a utility company's rate schedule requires late payments for overdue accounts and the government accepts service in accordance with the rate schedule, it becomes bound to pay the late charges.