Yesterday’s editorial in the Newport News Daily Press came out strongly in favor of requiring all retailers to collect the local sales tax that is due on purchases. The editors state: ”It makes absolutely no sense that if you buy the latest best-seller at your local bookstore, you pay sales tax—say, $1 on a $20 book. Buy the same book on Amazon.com, and you pay no sales tax.”
The argument about fairness is always framed in terms of the retailer—i.e., is it fair that an online retailer does not have to collect sales tax when a bricks-and-mortar retailer does? This editorial puts a new twist on the fairness issue, asking whether it is fair that one resident pays sales tax on an item when his neighbor, who buys the same item online, does not.
Bricks and mortar retailers add more than bricks and mortar to the state. They add jobs—sales clerks, managers, warehouse workers, drivers, etc. Many of them also contribute to their community, both tangibles and intangibles. The online bookstore isn’t the one that hosts story time for local children and readings by local poets. The online retailer isn’t the one that donates supplies for a civic group’s community service project. The manager at an online site isn’t the individual who helps a high school strengthen its vocational programs and get businesses involved, as the former manager of Patrick Henry Mall, Roger Brown, did for many years. Closing this loophole will, collectively, benefit taxpayers. It’s costing states billions of dollars in sales tax revenue. If they could collect it, they could reduce the pressure on income and other taxes.
The writer closes by suggesting a “uniform national sales tax” on online purchases. Although that’s not possible, for numerous reasons, a standard set of sales tax rules, policies, and procedures has been under development by 44 states and the business community for over ten years—the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement.
Unlike the author, we believe Congress is finally willing to level the playing field for online and offline retailers alike, and we expect the introduction of the Main Street Fairness Act soon.