Response: LA Times invents more Amazon Tax.

The LA Times ran an article this weekend about California ABX8 (the emergency amazon tax) – unfortunately, the LA Times does not offer a web-forum for comments/responses. The Article incorrectly states in the subtitle and in the article that the effect of this bill could result in $150 million per year in new revenue for the State of California. The fact-checker seems to have been asleep-at-the-wheel, because the actual Senate Analyses (available here) projected the revenue effect of this bill would be $107 million. Don’t get me wrong, $107 million is a lot of money, but when your state has a 14.6% budget gap, perhaps everyone should start double-checking their numbers and actually doing math. Substantially more revenue is “still left on the table” by all the other out-of-state sellers that are not collecting sales tax (hard to imagine sometimes, but there actually are other companies making sales online – about 3.5 million of them).

California should simply become a Full Member State of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (or SSUTA). The California Legislature already passed related legislation last fall. California now should take the remaining steps to become a full Member State under the SSUTA – a collective effort of 44 states (including California) which has been developing for the last 10 years to simplify and standardize sales tax laws to enable congressional action at the federal level to resolve this matter once and for all.

In anticipation of California’s likely ultimate adoption of SSUTA provisions, at Fed-Tax.net we have already prepared our TaxCloud systems to provide real-time calculation of accurate local sales tax for every jurisdiction in California. Take a moment to try it out at http://myrate.taxcloud.net/. Once California becomes a full Member State under the SSUTA we will be happy (and honored) to help merchants all over the country accurately calculate local sales tax for California residents. We will do this at absolutely zero cost to merchants or consumers (we are paid by the states to perform remote merchants’ sales tax management, reporting, and remittance obligations).

We know nobody likes paying sales tax, but the fact remains that this tax is still due, and when merchants do not collect at the time of sale (as they do in all physical stores), then the consumer is obligated to report and pay these taxes on their own. Since few people do, these taxes go unpaid resulting in massive budget shortfalls as California is now enduring. We think it is terrible that through lack of federal action to-date on this matter an entire generation of consumers on the Internet have grown up feeling that not being charged sales tax on Internet purchases is their constitutional right – and are frequently shocked to learn that they are committing tax fraud when they willfully or at least negligently fail to report and pay these taxes. It is time for California to tell all Internet merchants (not just those with affiliate marketing practices) that it is time for them to respect the budget decisions made by the California voters and their elected officials and to stop pretending it is too difficult, too complicated, or too costly to calculate local sales tax. Our TaxCloud service demonstrates these arguments are without merit, and these merchants are simply avoiding collection as a way to bully local merchants (who must collect sales tax) out of consumer price-competition.

California’s Projected 2010 Budget Shortfall: $ 14,400,000,000 1
AXB8 Projected Revenue: $ 107,000,000 2
Difference: $ 14,293,000,000 3

Total Sales Tax due by California consumers based on purchases from out-of-state Internet retailers

Uncollected Sales Tax (from remote sellers) $ 1,441,100,000 4

Admittedly, becoming a full SSUTA Member State will not solve all of California’s budget deficit, but at least it can cover 10% – and it is not a new tax, and no budget cuts are required.

1-Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=711
2 – Source: State of California Senate Analysis – http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/asm/ab_0001-0050/abx8_8_cfa_20100219_175402_asm_floor.html
3-Source: Simple Math
4-Source: The University of Tennessee 2009 Study: State and Local Government Sales Tax Revenue Losses from Electronic Commerce

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