This column by Liz Peek of the Fiscal Times offers one of the most balanced, thoughtful takes we’ve read on the Main Street Fairness Act and online sales tax in general.
In addition to offering general background on the issue, Peek is both philosophical—in looking at the question of fairness—and pragmatic, in looking at the long-term effects of online sales tax collection:
States across the land face growing budget gaps and any pick-up in tax revenues would be welcome. Nebraska Tax Commissioner Doug Ewald has been quoted as saying that his state alone loses out on some $80 million to $120 million each year in lost revenues. That paves a lot of roads.
Moreover, as much as we all like shopping in our pajamas, there is a lot to be said for the importance of brick-and-mortar stores in our communities. Small retail businesses create jobs – an important consideration as the nation struggles with 16 million people out of work.
In addition, studies have shown that socializing improves our quality of life. Though “downtown” is an antiquated concept for much of the country, where hollowed-out town centers have become historic curiosities, the ascendant shopping malls provide much the same community focus. Imagine a world without food courts.
Worse, imagine a world without bookstores.
Peek concludes with this call for common sense:
This is a bipartisan issue that Congress should address, openly and fairly. The anti-tax Norquist is wrong; this is not an example of adding new taxes, but simply enforcing the law of the land. Sales taxes are due; somehow Congress should mandate that they are paid. As Peterson points out, there are several reasons that small companies lose out to bigger ones. Wal-Mart’s greater sourcing efficiencies, for instance, have put many mom and pop operations out of business. As Peterson says, however, “In the case of not requiring online companies to collect sales taxes, the government is in effect sanctioning anti-competitive behavior.” He’s right. And, for the record, I love shopping in my pj’s.
She makes a great case, without becoming strident or combative—we highly recommend you read the entire article.