This editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times covers all the issues in the ongoing debate over sales tax collection. It starts off by outlining on the debate over the affiliate nexus bill introduced by California representative Nancy Skinner. The editorial recognizes the pitfalls of that legislation: that Amazon and other companies will simply drop affiliate relationships with California websites, which is bad for California businesses in the short term (although it will bring in some of the uncollected sales tax—”about $300 million, a fraction of the estimated $1.7 billion California loses each year.” The writers keep the focus where it needs to be, though—the taxes are due and consumers are supposed to report them, but they don’t. The issue is collection, and the most efficient way to improve collection is to shift responsibility to the retailer.
The editorial effectively neutralizes two arguments often made by online sellers: First, that they are neutral as far as sales tax goes. The LA Times says:
Online retailers assert that they are not trying to exploit an unfair advantage over local companies by letting shoppers believe that no taxes are owed, or colluding with them to avoid taxes. But that argument is balderdash on its face. If the Amazons of the world really wanted shoppers to know that they have to pay taxes, they’d include a statement at e-checkout (upfront, not several asterisks and clicks away) telling them to find out from their state and local authorities about adding up and paying the tax. Most are only too happy to promulgate the notion, wordlessly and falsely, that tax obligations dissolve in cyberspace.
The second argument frequently offered by online sellers is that collecting sales tax is too complex. The LA Times points out that “it’s not hard to track rates in some 7,500 jurisdictions across the country; it takes a simple software add-on.”
The only point we at FedTax think needs clarifying is that it doesn’t even take software. With TaxCloud, there is no software or database to install. Instead, the relevant tax data is delivered to the merchant or e-commerce shopping cart over a real-time web services API. TaxCloud can calculate correct local sales tax rates in every U.S. tax jurisdiction and account for the type of merchandise, exemptions, and tax holidays. In addition, because we are a Certified Service Provider under the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, we take responsibility for tax filings and remittances on behalf of our retailers, who will also appreciate pass-through indemnification by states regarding the accuracy of our rates.
As the editorial points out, with more online buyers than any other state, California has more to gain in uncollected revenue than any other state. Rep. Skinner’s bill, if it passes, is likely to be only the starting point for California. We hope that support for federal legislation is the next step.