If you stop and think about it, factors supporting the Streamlined Sales Tax project have never been as optimally aligned as they are today. Here are some specifics:
- Political environment: For eight of the ten years the project has been underway the political environment at the federal level essentially guaranteed the elements of the project wouldn’t be enacted into law. It’s a real testament to the vision and tenacity of the people and institutions involved that technical and structural progress continued throughout this period. Now that both the executive and legislative branches of the US government are more revenue-friendly, a huge obstacle to the project’s adoption has been removed. (In fact, this political change may also have contributed to the motivation behind the complex nexus initiatives from New York, North Carolina et al.)
- State participation: State enlistment has steadily progressed over the course of the project, with over 44 states participating in some way, and fully 1/3 of the US population fully participating through full, conforming member states. Critical mass of participation has been achieved.
- Technology advancement: The efficiency of computing infrastructure and the understanding of how to operate distributed services like those envisioned by the Streamlined Sales Tax project have advanced dramatically. The revolution in efficiency exemplified by on-demand computing platforms like SalesForce.com, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google (along with dozens of others) indicates how computing has become more cost effective and sophisticated over the last few years. These types of on-demand services typify the ideal way to deliver Sales-Tax-as-a-Service across all US businesses.
- State Budget shortfalls: This problem is well understood, so I won’t bore you with details, but many billions of dollars of uncollected state tax revenue are a strong motivation for all participants.
These four elements are coming together to drive the Streamlined Sales Tax project forward in 2009-2010. While it may appear that little progress has been made over the last 10 years, it is imortant to recognize the evolution of the political and technical environments along with the legal and structural advances which have been achieved.