FedTax Statement for the Record to the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Hearing: Exploring Alternative Solutions on the Internet Sales Tax Issue

March 18, 2014

Download This Statement via FedTax Judiciary Committee Statement 031214

Introduction

Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and distinguished members of the Committee on the Judiciary, thank you for the opportunity to submit this Statement for the Record on this hearing, “Exploring Alternative Solutions on the Internet Sales Tax Issue.” Our company, FedTax, is the proud inventor and operator of TaxCloud, a free online sales tax compliance service now being used by approximately 5,000 online retailers of all sizes. TaxCloud is available at no cost to retailers because we are a Certified Service Provider (CSP) for the twenty-four Member States of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA). Our company was founded in 2008 by technology executives with decades of experience building some of the most recognizable brands in e-commerce. At our previous companies we experienced firsthand how difficult sales tax compliance can be, and we made it our mission to make sales tax compliance easy for businesses and more efficient for state and local governments. As we have grown, our executive team has expanded to include payments industry executives as well as nationally recognized sales tax and public policy experts.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Goodlatte named several technology-related fears regarding the Marketplace Fairness Act that we are uniquely qualified to address: technical capabilities of the prescribed free software, integration costs related to the free software, concerns for the direct mail industry, and concerns related to additional audit exposure.

We agree that Chairman Goodlatte’s stated concerns are important, and we are convinced that they can (and should) be addressed.

Background

This testimony is not based upon hypothetical notions or unproven theories. Rather, it is informed by our direct experience as a SSUTA CSP since 2010.

A brief background: SSUTA’s goal is to minimize or eliminate the burdens of sales tax compliance for businesses. Since its inception in 1999, it has sought input from state and local governments as well as the business community through regularly scheduled public meetings.

During its first few years, SSUTA stakeholders publicly debated many different sales tax modernization and simplification schemes (a subset of which have been proposed before the committee today). Ultimately, they agreed on an approach that relied upon modern technologies to accommodate the many nuances and variations in sales tax law across state and local governments.

Over the next few years, the SSUTA states developed the Certified Service Provider program, including the policies, practices, and procedures to be employed by each of the participating states to test and verify that a CSP candidate’s software and/or service adhered not only to SSUTA’s rules (including sourcing, taxability, rounding rules, etc.) but also to each state’s statutes. Today, six companies (including ours) have achieved CSP designation. It should also be noted that achieving CSP designation is not a one-time event but an ongoing process; our systems are regularly tested, verified, and audited by the states to maintain our certified status.

During this time, SSUTA stakeholders also worked with the tax technology group TIGERS[1] to develop standard formats for states to provide open source sales tax rate and jurisdictional boundary data for use by the business community. The work with TIGERS also included the specification and adoption of a Simplified Electronic Return (SER), based upon the widely used e-file format.

The current SSUTA Member States represent more than half of the states with sales and use tax laws, including Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

In these SSUTA states, each of the CSPs already manages all aspects of sales tax compliance for their respective retailers. These responsibilities include:

  1. Calculation of applicable sales tax rates (including state, county, city, and special jurisdictions)
  2. Application of any full or partial product-based exemptions
  3. Capturing any available use-based exemptions
  4. Detailed jurisdictional (and sub-jurisdictional) reporting of sales tax collections
  5. Automated, timely filing of sales tax returns
  6. Automated remittance of sales tax proceeds to applicable jurisdictions
  7. Primary response to any jurisdictional audit inquiries

Technical Capabilities

Some have suggested that systems capable of keeping track of the sales tax laws of over 9,600 jurisdictions simply do not exist, or that the technologies necessary to achieve compliance would be prohibitively costly for small businesses. TaxCloud’s direct work with taxpayers refutes these assertions. It doesn’t matter if there are 9,600 or 96,000 jurisdictions; modern e-commerce systems are adept at easily managing such diversity, as Joe Crosby noted in his testimony before the committee. Businesses do not need to spend enormous quantities of time or resources to achieve compliance.

Integration Costs

Even with free software already available, opponents continue to complain that businesses will be burdened with the costs of integrating such software into their existing systems. This line of argument ignores the reality that all but the very largest retailers (and a few retailers who rely on legacy systems) rely upon pre-written software and/or online hosted platforms for e-commerce and order management. Retailers rely upon these systems to avoid the costs of developing, managing, and maintaining such systems on their own, costs that are magnified by the changing nature of e-commerce, which is constantly responding to evolving cyber-crime threats, payments and security industry best-practices, and, yes, even legislative requirements. When their retailer clients need to collect sales tax, platform vendors will provide ways for them to do so, embedded within the platforms that retailers already use.

E-commerce platform vendors are intensely competitive and focused; they take pride in not only complying with evolving requirements but often surpassing them, occasionally with stunning results. For example, much of the cloud computing infrastructure now transforming every corner of the technology sector can be traced to several of the largest e-commerce companies adapting to comply with the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002. There is no reason to believe these e-commerce platform vendors will not respond to action by Congress in an equally competitive manner to provide sales tax management services for their clients. In fact, this process is already underway—almost all of the most widely used e-commerce and order management platforms have already adopted and integrated with one or more CSPs.

Direct Mail Concerns

Some direct mail businesses are concerned that they could be required to include within their mail order catalogs a very long insert with every possible sales tax rate in the country. But mail order catalogs are designed to be mailed to their customers, so each customer’s mailing address can be harnessed to solve this problem. Just as the catalog vendor prints each customer’s address on each catalog, there is no reason they couldn’t print the effective sales tax rate for that specific address right on the mailing label!

Leveraging the address block for other customer-specific data is a technique routinely practiced in the direct mail industry today. Most mail order catalogs already print customer-specific Customer Reference or Quick Service Numbers (usually 5 to 9 characters), which the customer conveys to a sales agent when placing a phone order or enters on the website when placing an online order.

Furthermore, most catalog retailers encourage their customers to place their orders online or by phone; many don’t even offer paper ordering forms any longer. Of course, once a customer “channel shifts” from the printed catalog to an online storefront or telephone order, both of these ordering systems can rely upon free software and services provided by the states to determine the correct sales tax rates and even apply any available item-level exemptions.

If a catalog exemption is to be included, it should be carefully crafted so as not to favor catalog retailers over other remote retailers (or local retailers).

Audit Exposure

Another concern is related to the threat of remote state audits. Under the current CSP system, CSPs, not their retailers, are responsible for responding to audit inquiries. In most cases the CSP already has all of the information necessary to respond to such audit requests, without any effort by the retailer. As this committee considers alternatives to deal with audit concerns, one option is to rely upon the integrity of the states’ CSP certification process and shield any retailer relying upon the services of a CSP from remote state audits.

Important Concepts for Alternative Solutions

FedTax believes that the central tenet of any internet sales tax legislation must be a federal framework based upon the current sales tax structure. Anything else would cause an immense disruption to businesses across the nation.

Some witnesses have asserted that SSUTA’s simplifications are insufficient to remove perceived compliance burdens. We would note that the other solutions that were proposed, such as origin sourcing or an “IFTA-like” home-base proposal, create compliance burdens of their own—and if they choose these options, states would be jettisoning a fully developed, functioning system that has been eliminating compliance burdens for 15 years in favor of an untested, hypothetical system that might take years to create and that businesses and consumers have no experience using.

Disruption of existing business processes by changing to a new system will damage the economy and cause needless delays in solving this pressing problem.

Compliance burdens can be eliminated by requiring states with collection authority to provide retailers with automated technology solutions (including software and/or services) that can manage compliance tasks for all states with collection authority, and that are verified and certified by each such state’s revenue agency to ensure compliance with that state’s sales and use tax laws. In addition:

  • Certified systems must be allowed to file sales tax returns and remit sales tax proceeds on behalf of remote retailers.
  • Certification is necessary for states to have the certainty necessary to grant comprehensive liability relief for remote retailers relying upon such systems.
  • States must be required to certify multiple providers to ensure an open and free market.
  • Providers of certified systems must be compensated by the certifying state to eliminate costs for remote retailers. Such compensation should be paid by the states from the remotely collected sales tax proceeds.
  • Retailers’ reimbursement for expenses related to integration and initial setup costs should be paid by the states from the remotely collected sales tax proceeds.
  • States must provide publicly available electronic (machine-readable) data sources for sales and use tax rates, jurisdictional boundaries, and taxability of goods and services. These data sources must be available for all businesses to rely upon, even those not using a certified system.
  • States must allow certified systems to automatically register businesses in their state.
  • States must support a central registration process to allow remote retailers to register easily and quickly in all states.
  • States must make a single statewide agency responsible for accepting sales tax returns and sales tax proceeds.
  • Recognizing the multichannel nature of modern retail, states must be able to accept multiple (nonduplicative) sales tax returns, possibly one per channel.
  • Destination sourcing must be required for interstate sales. Destination-based sourcing returns the tax collected to the customer’s tax jurisdiction.
  • There must be limitations on audits, such as restricting audits to sellers above a certain threshold, or a consolidated audit, or even exempting retailers that use a Certified Service Providers from audits.

The beauty of this proposal is that this system is in already in place today and it is working. The SSUTA system currently provides proven technology solutions for the thousands of retailers that are already collecting today. Some of the other ideas that have been proposed at the hearing have not been tested and are not currently in use. Forcing states and businesses across the country to adopt radically different systems will create disruption and unnecessary expense.

Why should Congress discard the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, which has been perfected over several years, and replace it with a different structure? A simpler answer would be to give collection authority to all states that meet congressionally mandated minimum simplification requirements and require them to provide technology as listed above to reduce compliance burdens.

We know what works. It is not a single rate. It is not origin sourcing, or any of the other alternatives presented at the hearing. They will simply muddle tax reporting further. Inaction by Congress will encourage states to continue attempts to circumvent Quill and find solutions that may or may not benefit the retail community and may or may not further simplification and uniformity.

What won’t work:

  • Origin sourcing. This scheme shortchanges state and local governments by sending their consumers’ tax dollars to other states and countries. It also would turn jurisdictions with no sales tax into e-commerce havens.
  • Requiring reporting instead of remittance. This scheme is burdensome for businesses and would require entirely new systems at revenue departments to process and respond to such reports. This is a highly inefficient way to collect tax that is owed.
  • Reporting remote sales to a clearinghouse for distribution to states. This increases administrative expenses and replaces one bureaucracy with another—such as creating an IFTA for sales tax.
  • Granting states the power to exclude noncompliant retailers rather than having them collect sales tax. States have enough difficulty tracking down in-state sellers that do not collect sales tax; the process of identifying remote sellers that aren’t collecting and then engaging in a legal process to bar them from selling into the state, is unduly lengthy and litigious, not to mention very unfriendly to businesses.

Dramatically changing the way sales tax works is not a solution. It would be a disruption for both businesses and governments and carries unacceptable costs for both.

The issues cited as barriers for business to collecting—fear of audits by states where the retailer has no locations, exorbitant integration costs for “free” software, catalog sellers, and data privacy—are all easily resolved by legislation. For example, limitations on the frequency of audits and dollar thresholds can reduce audit burden or risk. Audits of remote sellers could be performed by the seller’s home state or by a multistate compact. Legislation should clarify that integration costs should be paid by the states.

Conclusion

The simplest, least expensive, and easiest solution is to require remote retailers to collect the sales tax at the destination and provide the technology to do so at no cost.

We urge the committee to draft a bill reflecting these core concepts and report it favorably to the House of Representatives for action in this session of Congress. Your action would reward the years of effort and cooperation between businesses and states to modernize and simplify sales tax collection and administration while eliminating tax compliance burdens.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to submit this Statement for the Record on this important issue.

R. David L. Campbell
Chief Executive Officer
The Federal Tax Authority, LLC


[1] The Tax Information Interchange Task Group of ANSI ASC X12 was formed in 1991, and initially worked with traditional EDI formats. The Task Group produced X12 standard Transaction Set 813, the generic EDI tax filing, which is still in use today in the Motor Fuel and Sales Tax areas. TIGERS began working with XML in December 2000, and issued its first production schema set in 2003.The task group became “TIGERS” in December 1994, with the realization that technical standards were not enough – states and their partners needed guidance and assistance in turning the standards into actively supported electronic commerce programs. The group broadened its scope to include peer reviews of state technical implementations and mappings, guidance in technical infrastructure for e-commerce, and model documentation for the business rules enforced by the state programs.

E-Fairness Solutions Make Online Sales Tax Quick and Easy

March 18, 2014

FYI: For those of you that didn’t already see it, the following Op-Ed piece by our CEO ran in Politico last week.

Online retailers are a tech-savvy bunch. They seem to know what we want, when we want it—and how to get it to us as quickly as possible. But a few of the same companies that have figured out how to target our shopping habits and ship products of all shapes and sizes around the country are now claiming that collecting sales tax is too hard.

These critics of e-fairness legislation have suggested that private-sector software already widely available for collecting sales tax is incomplete, complicated, and expensive. As an e-commerce entrepreneur for almost two decades, and as cofounder and CEO of TaxCloud, one of several online sales tax management services, I’d like to offer the truth about online sales tax.

The same technologies that enable smartphones also make sales tax calculation quick and easy: At TaxCloud, our software works directly with e-commerce platforms to calculate sales tax during each customer’s checkout. Everything needed to figure out the correct tax rate is already present during an online sale: the purchaser’s address, the sales price, and the type of item being purchased. That information is used to calculate the appropriate sales tax in a fraction of a second, just like shipping charges. Don’t be fooled—calculating sales tax is not laborious or burdensome. It’s really quite simple.

Collecting sales tax is not very expensive, either: Software and services that manage sales tax collection aren’t hard to find or expensive; in fact, in some states the service is free. Opponents of an e-fairness solution have made numerous misleading statements about the costs of software, presumably to preserve the preferential treatment they currently enjoy in the tax code. For instance, while publicly railing against the expense associated with online sales tax, eBay actually features a sales tax utility on its own website that costs $15 per month. And many third-party online storefronts or marketplaces can handle sales tax collection for their merchants for a very small fee. The cost of software is simply not an impediment for small online sellers.

Set it and forget it—why software makes it easy: It’s true that any sales tax system will need to know the type of item being purchased in order to determine if it’s tax-exempt. It’s important to remember that bricks-and-mortar sellers have always been required to assign tax classifications to their wares—this is not a new concept or obligation. And here again, the rhetoric does not match reality.

First, most small online stores tend to be specialists—they’re more likely to be selling one class of products than a wide range—and if that’s the case, all a seller needs to do is set their entire store to one tax category. Click—done. Second, even if a small online retailer sells many kinds of items, they would only need to assign categories to tax-exempt items, a small subset of most stores’ inventories. Click, click—done. E-commerce platforms are designed to assign large groups of items to tax categories, so no online seller will spend their time worrying about whether an item is tax-exempt or not. The bottom line is that once these categories are set, online retailers can focus on serving their customers—not on tax collection.

Tax returns aren’t filed by horse and buggy anymore. Despite the oft-repeated claim that compiling and filing sales tax returns with multiple states will create huge burdens and audit risks, the fact is that all of the existing sales tax management services can take this task off an online retailer’s hands entirely. Agreements with individual states let these services handle filing returns and remitting tax proceeds, without any effort from the retailer themselves. Most of these services also store all returns associated with your account, so accessing past records is a breeze.

Twenty years ago, opponents of remote or online sales tax collection were correct—collecting sales tax was rather laborious and time-consuming. But the same burst in technology that now allows consumers to shop anywhere, anytime, and have whatever they want delivered to their door in under twenty-four hours, also makes charging sales tax remarkably simple. For online stores, collecting sales tax is easier than configuring shipping charges. “Doom and gloom” predictions about the technology are misplaced—and any suggestion that sales tax management systems don’t already exist is simply wrong.

If Congress believes that online retailers should be exempt from the same laws and tax policies that every other business complies with, that is of course their right. But they shouldn’t make that determination based on the misguided and misleading rhetoric spun by those who stand to benefit from special treatment. And if Congress chooses to end the current disparity and treat all retailers equally, rest assured that the free market has already developed the tools and software necessary for both online sellers and brick-and-mortar retailers to thrive and grow in the decades ahead.


Eliminating the costs associated with online sales tax

July 25, 2013
TaxCloud

TaxCloud: Sales Tax at the Speed of Commerce

One of the most frequent concerns we hear from online retailers about collecting sales tax is that it will simply be too costly. We’ve heard estimates that range up to $400,000 per year—which is insane. We don’t think that anyone should have to spend that kind of money simply to collect sales tax.

In fact, we don’t think that anyone should have to spend money to collect sales tax, full stop. That’s why we created TaxCloud, to give online retailers a free way to manage sales tax. Instead of charging to use TaxCloud, we receive a commission from states based on the amount of sales tax we help retailers collect.

That’s also why the Marketplace Fairness Act requires states to provide free sales tax software for retailers.

But even with the promise of free sales tax software and services, concerns about costs remain. Nothing is really free, the argument goes; there must be hidden costs somewhere.

So let’s look at the most common arguments we hear on why collecting sales tax online would be too expensive.

Keep in mind, we can only speak to how TaxCloud works, so all the information here pertains to TaxCloud and not to any other sales tax management software or service.

Training employees to use sales tax software is costly and time-consuming. TaxCloud was designed to be easy for anyone to use. From registration to going live takes as little twenty minutes. What’s more, once TaxCloud is activated for a store, there’s next to no upkeep. If we’re filing the store’s sales tax returns, we ask that they review their returns once a month. Other than that, retailers don’t need to think about it—they can just set it up and forget it. There’s no training involved, and anyone who can manage an online store won’t have any trouble using TaxCloud.

Necessary software upgrades cost money. Because TaxCloud is a real-time web service, not software that’s uploaded or downloaded, there are no upgrades. Tax rates are updated and new features are added behind the scenes, so retailers see those results automatically, without doing anything extra. And as always, there’s no charge for the service at all.

It’s too expensive to hire developers to set up software to work with existing systems. TaxCloud is integrated directly with the e-commerce platforms that most online retailers use to run their shops. That means that our developers work with the platform’s developers to make TaxCloud available to users. Retailers using e-commerce platforms that are integrated with TaxCloud don’t need to hire their own developers. If your e-commerce platform doesn’t support TaxCloud yet, then call them and ask when TaxCloud will be available—TaxCloud is free for platforms as well.

We’d have to hire an accounting staff just to keep track of everything. This is the beauty of sales tax management services: It’s all automated. There’s no need to calculate anything, or look up sales tax rates, or fill out sales tax returns, or even write a check to remit the sales tax that’s been collected. TaxCloud handles all of that.

We completely agree that there shouldn’t be any compliance costs associated with online sales tax, and we’ve worked hard to create a free service that handles every aspect of sales tax for retailers. Cost simply shouldn’t be a factor, and with TaxCloud, it isn’t.


Why the number of sales tax jurisdictions doesn’t matter

April 1, 2013

Illustration by Cory Thoman - http://clipartof.com/1087428

So what does all that mean?

First, let’s be clear: It would never mean a sales tax return or an audit for each jurisdiction. The Marketplace Fairness Act says that there has to be just one central authority in each state that handles sales tax returns and audits. So no matter how many tax jurisdictions are in a state, there’s just one return to file, and if a retailer is audited, there’s just one audit from the state. And retailers who use state-certified sales tax management services don’t need to worry about audits in general—but more on that in a moment.

So what about sales tax rates, which can vary by jurisdiction?

The good news there is that the Marketplace Fairness Act requires states to provide sales tax management software or services (such as TaxCloud) for free. These programs check and update rates and product definitions for every tax jurisdiction, and it all happens behind the scenes, so sellers don’t need to worry it.

In the end, for online sellers, collecting sales tax is much like handling shipping. There’s a program or service to set up with the online store, and then the program handles everything—no matter how many tax jurisdictions there are.

Back to audits: When retailers use sales tax management programs from state-approved Certified Service Providers (CSPs), they never have to host an audit. The CSP deals with the state instead, so the retailer doesn’t need to worry about dealing with state officials and coming up with transaction records.

Rates, audits, returns, the number of tax jurisdictions—with sales tax management services, retailers don’t need to worry about any of them. It’s all taken care of.


Small sellers: What does $1 million in sales look like?

March 19, 2013

There has been a lot of talk lately about the “small seller exception” in the Marketplace Fairness Act, which was introduced last month. The bill says that small sellers don’t have to collect sales tax on online purchases, and it defines “small seller” as a merchant with less than $1 million in annual remote sales.

Some opponents say this threshold is still too low, though—that a seller with $1 million in annual remote sales is too small to handle sales tax.

So, what does a seller making $1 million in remote sales look like? Here a few examples.

Bottled Water

You wold have to sell 166,000 cases of water per yearLet’s say an online retailer is selling 0.5-liter bottles of water in cases of 24. At $6 per case, $1 million is equal to 166,667 cases of bottled water, enough to fill 125 fifty-three-foot tractor-trailer trucks.* That means that if you were selling $1 million worth of bottled water in a year to out-of-state buyers, then you would shipping out an entire truck of full of bottled water approximately every three days.

125 trucks

Shoes

ShoesAssuming the average price of shoes is $50 per pair, $1 million is equal to 20,000 pairs of shoes. To make $1 million selling shoes in one year to out-of-state buyers, you’d need to sell about 55 pairs of shoes per day, every day, for an entire year.55 Pairs of Shoes sold each day

Digital Goods

Angry Birds Star Wars AppMany apps go for about $1 each, so to earn $1 million selling apps, you need to sell at least 1 million apps. To sell 1 million apps in a single year, you’d have to sell 2,739 per day to out-of-state buyers, or slightly less than 2 per minute, every minute, for an entire year.

Conclusion

Any business selling at these volumes must be using some sort of e-commerce platform or order management system, and these systems can be easily updated to provide access to free sales tax management services.


truck*A 53-foot tractor-trailer has approximately 4,000 cubic feet of carrying capacity, with a maximum cargo weight of approximately 50,000 pounds.


TaxCloud in the news!

October 11, 2012

TaxCloudWe’re happy to report that TaxCloud and FedTax have been in the news quite a bit lately.

An end to the free online tax ride nears: In this ComputerWorld article, TaxCloud user Ken Knezek, owner of Bandals Southwest, talks about how his small company has handled online sales tax

What the end of tax-free online shopping means for small businesses: Our CEO, R. David L. Campbell, was interviewed for this Reuters article on how small businesses will be affected by online sales tax

How you can prepare to collect online sales tax: And in an article in Independent Retailer, David offers some tips for online retailers who are thinking about starting to collect sales tax

It’s great to see so much attention being paid to the practicalities of what online sales tax really means for online retailers. As we move closer to federal legislation on the issue, we hope to see more articles like these!


Taxation without representation?

August 16, 2012

Since Senator Jim DeMint’s July 31 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal asserted that online sales tax collection is taxation without representation, we’ve been seeing this argument repeated all over the media. Even thoughtful articles that are trying to look at the topic objectively seem to be taken in by this red herring.

So what’s the truth about online sales tax and taxation without representation?

The three bills currently before Congress that call for online sales tax collection, including the Marketplace Fairness Act, require that that sales tax is destination-based. That means that the sales tax is applied based on where the consumer, not the store, is located. Why? Because consumers are the ones paying the tax, so they should a) get to vote on what the sales tax rate is and b) benefit from the services funded by sales tax.

In other words, if you live in Vermont and make a purchase from an online store located in California, you would pay Vermont sales tax. The store in California would collect the sales tax just as a local store would and remit it back to Vermont, where it would help to pay for police and fire departments, public roads, schools, libraries, and more. And as a resident of Vermont (or any state with sales tax), you have the opportunity to vote on the local sales tax rate and elect the state and local representatives who help administrate sales tax. Which means that destination-based sales tax is taxation with representation, despite what Senator DeMint said.

What’s the other option? Origin-based sales tax. This means that no matter where the customer is located, the sales tax is applied based on where the online store is located. If you live in Vermont and make a purchase from an online store based in California, you’d pay California sales tax that is remitted to California. Where, as a Vermont resident, you have no say in the sales tax rate, cannot vote for state and local representatives, and do not benefit from the services that sales tax helps fund.

In other words, it’s taxation without representation. It’s also, for our money, simply wrong—when you pay sales tax, you should benefit from the roads, schools, parks, and more that it funds.

What a good thing that none of the bills before Congress suggest that origin-based sales tax is the way to go.

So who is supporting origin-based sales tax (taxation without representation)? Ironically, it’s Senator Jim DeMint, along with Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and others. Both Senator DeMint and Mr. Thierer have written editorials attacking destination-based sales tax as taxation without representation and proposing that origin-based sales tax is best.

But the facts just don’t hold up.

We’re not saying that there’s no reason to support origin-based sales tax. There is: It’s easier for online shops to apply just one sales tax rate, based on their own location, instead of applying various rates based on their customers’ locations. They also would get to remit all the sales tax on purchases made at their store to their own state, rather than sending it back to the state where the customer, who paid the tax, resides.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Origin-based sales tax is taxation without representation.

Destination-based sales tax—the kind proposed in the Marketplace Fairness Act—is not.


Small business owners quoted by Alliance for Main Street Fairness — including our CEO

August 1, 2012

We were excited to see FedTax’s CEO, David Campbell, quoted alongside two other business owners in a press release from the Alliance for Main Street Fairness.

The article includes quotes from Pete Sides, co-owner of Robert M. Sides Family Music Center in Williamsport, PA, and Steve Bercu, co-owner of BookPeople in Austin, TX, both of whom support online sales tax collection—and whose small businesses both collect and remit sales tax, proving just how easy it is. Said Steve Bercu, who also testified in today’s hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee:

Remitting sales tax from out-of-state customers is not that hard, and those perpetuating the myth that it’s wildly complicated and costly are simply trying to preserve the special treatment in the tax code they currently enjoy. Congress should level the playing field and let us all compete on price in a free market.

We’re proud to be making online sales tax collection easier and cheaper (free) for businesses big and small. Here’s what our CEO had to say to the Alliance for Main Street Fairness:

Today, keeping track of a few thousand local tax rates and filing requirements is not an insurmountable technical, administrative or financial burden. TaxCloud proves this point by calculating and collecting sales tax on any purchase for any tax jurisdiction in the United States in less than one second. The service is free to all retailers.

It’s great to see business owners speaking up for marketplace fairness and recognizing the role that TaxCloud and other sales tax management services play in making the playing field level for everyone.

We will post again on our report from the hearing floor.


We ♥ Senator Cardin – The most entertaining 108 seconds in online sales tax collection history

April 26, 2012

Yesterday we were in Washington DC to attend the Senate Finance Committee hearing we mentioned a few days ago. We would encourage everyone to watch the video of entire hearing, particularly Professor Walter Hellerstein’s outstanding testimony (time-code 47:50 to 52:47). But we are posting today to tell you about the very exciting portion of the hearing when Senator Cardin (D-MD) asked questions of the witnesses (time-code 84:41 to 91:32). Our regular readers will truly appreciate the last 108 seconds.

We have prepared this unofficial transcript of Senator Cardin’s questions from the video of the hearing.

Senator Cardin: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and let me thank the panelists. I want to talk about one of the major sources of revenues for our state, and that’s the sales and use tax.

Dr. Rubin, I want to focus on the fact of how much of those revenues are not being collected today. It’s been estimated as a result of out-of-state shipments, principally through the internet, that there’s eleven billion dollars ($11,000,000,000) a year not being collected. Now, I’ve got the Maryland number, and the Maryland number is thee hundred million ($300,000,000). Which is an interesting number because the governor is talking today about bringing the legislature back to a special session in May because of a three-hundred-million-dollar gap and is looking at increasing a lot of taxes in our state because we need three hundred million dollars to balance our budget. If we had this sales and use tax, we would have a balanced budget, and there would be no need to bring the legislature back into session.

Which brings me to the Marketplace Fairness Act – trying to establish a level playing field. You can go to a retail store in Maryland. Use your phone to take a photograph of the identification [of a product], then go on the internet and get that product shipped into Maryland and avoid the sales tax. Price might be identical, but you’re avoiding the sales tax. To me this is a matter of tax integrity.

The person who does that is supposed to pay a use tax and I have heard that retailers or internet sellers feel that it is such a burden to have to collect a sales tax. It is a huge burden to ask Marylanders to pay a use tax. So, aren’t we picking winners and losers if [we] don’t take some action to provide for a level playing field?

Dr. Rubin: I am a big fan of there being some action to help coordinate these issues. I think that as more sales get done on the internet or electronically or through catalogs, state and local governments are going to be at a disadvantage. So, congressional action to coordinate this seems like a no-brainer, from my perspective.

Senator Cardin: Mr. Zinman, I see that you’re anxious to respond, I’m going to give you a chance.

Mr. Zinman: I’m just agreeing.

Senator Cardin: Ok, well, good. Let me just pose the question. There’s two issues that are usually raised by those who have asked for delay of federal action.

One is that it’s a little complicated, because of all the different sales and use taxes. I point out that there’s free software available that would assist in the collection of this.

The other is for a small business exception – which is included, by the way, in the Marketplace Fairness Act. I’m not aware of any small business exceptions on the brick and mortar requirements to collect sales tax if you have a facility located in our state. Is there any administrative reason why we shouldn’t be moving forward on this, that cannot be solved?

Mr. Zinman: Absolutely not. If you look at what’s happing with BestBuy – that is even though they’re multi-state, they’re brick and mortar – they’re hurting a lot because of the internet sales because . . . I’ll give you a perfect example. An individual can go to New York and buy a set of golf clubs . . . and he has a place in Florida. He buys an expensive set of golf clubs, and he says ship it to Florida, no sales tax. It’ll cost him $30 dollars to ship those golf clubs down to Florida . . .

Mr. Henchman: Florida has a very high sales tax.

Mr. Zinman: . . .but he’s not paying . . . he’s supposed to pay. I’m not saying what he’s supposed to do. I’m saying what actually happens. What actually happens is, he is not reporting that sales tax in Florida.

Senator Cardin: I haven’t check with Florida’s use taxes, but my guess is there’s not many being filed by individual consumers.

Mr. Zinman: In New York, we have a line on our New York State – and many states have a line on their tax return – asking the taxpayer to voluntarily compute and give back the sales tax they should’ve paid, in the form of a use tax. But you now take a state like Florida, that doesn’t even have a state income tax form to report this – they have use tax forms, they are there, they’re available. But many people who have multi-state residences – I’m just using New York and Florida as an example because that’s a corridor that a lot of people travel. A lot of individuals are ignoring the taxes they have to pay.

Senator Cardin: It’s my understanding that we have a form in our state where you can include the use tax, we have that in Maryland. The three-hundred-million-dollar number I gave you is a net number. I don’t know the exact amount of use taxes that we collect from individual consumers, but it’s minuscule.

Mr. Zinman: I’m sure its minuscule.

(time-code 89:44)

Mr. Henchman: Senator, very briefly . . . I just want to be sure the goal of simplification is not minimized here. Because while that retailer has to collect, and doesn’t get a de minimus threshold, they are only collecting one sales tax. Internet retailers would have to track and collect 9,600 across the country. And yes there is software on the rates, but that software doesn’t help you to distinguish between all the sales tax holidays, and all the different rates on different products.

Senator Cardin: Are you telling me that computers cannot figure this out?

Mr. Henchman: It’s not computers, it’s tracking the states laws . . .

Senator Cardin: I have my iPad. And I’m amazed at what I can put into my iPad and get an answer immediately. Are you trying to tell me we don’t have a computer program that can figure out this issue?

Mr. Henchman: It’s not a question of computer programming, but a question of tracking changes in legislative laws. There’s a lot of . . .

Senator Cardin: And my iPad gets me the up-to-date information on traffic instantaneously. You’re trying to tell me we don’t have that technology available today?

Mr. Henchman: I work at the Tax Foundation. We do our best to keep track of all state and local laws and changes, and it’s difficult for us, and we’re not running a business.

Senator Cardin: Well, I think you better get a better program.

Gallery: [laughter]

Senator Cardin: I find this hard to understand that when you’ve got governmental actions, which are very public actions . . . every time taxes are changed . . . that that can’t be done? I’m not minimizing the issues of simplicity.

Mr. Henchman: The laws . . .

Senator Cardin: And we’ve been talking about this ever since I’ve been in Congress, which is twenty-some years. This is being used as an excuse for inaction! It’s not a problem that can’t be overcome.

Mr. Henchman: To me it’s not an excuse for inaction, it’s an excuse for the right kind of action. Some of the bills you’ve mentioned have very different . . .

Senator Cardin: Well, after twenty-some years, don’t you think it’s time for some action?

Mr. Henchman: I agree, but . . .

Senator Cardin: Thank you. I appreciate your opinion. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Chairman Baucus: I like it!

Gallery: [laughter]

Chairman Baucus: That’s good. Good for you guys.

Gallery: [laughter]

Chairman Baucus: That’s how you get information out.

Gallery: [laughter]

Based upon the testimony and statements provided to the committee, we hope Chairman Baucus and the rest of the committee will act quickly to advance the Marketplace Fairness Act.


FedTax Statement Submitted for the Record of the Senate Finance Committee (in support of Marketplace Fairness Act)

April 26, 2012

[Download PDF of FedTax Statement]

Statement Submitted for the Record to

The United States Senate Committee on Finance

Full Committee Hearing

Tax Reform and What It Means for

State and Local Tax and Fiscal Policy

April 25, 2012

 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510-6200

Attn:  Editorial and Document Section

Rm. SD-219

Statement submitted by

R. David L. Campbell[i]

Chief Executive Officer

and

Joan Wagnon[ii]

Executive Vice President

The Federal Tax Authority, LLC

162 East Avenue

Norwalk, CT. 06851-5715

Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist in 1788 that “individual States should possess an independent and uncontrollable authority to raise their own revenues for the support of their own wants.”

Today the discussion about state sovereignty over matters of taxation continues unabated. State revenue directors have seen firsthand how the actions of the federal government have affected state and local revenues. Members of Congress are increasingly bombarded by requests for action because state laws are restrictive to business or seen as unfair. There are any numbers of examples where congressional action has been beneficial or harmful to states.

But the issue that has been most devastating to state and local government has resulted from Congressional inaction, rather than action: the failure of Congress to overturn Quill v North Dakota.[iii] 

The Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), S. 1832, sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators (Enzi, Durbin, Alexander, et. al.) is a good solution to the revenue problems of states, but more importantly, it gives states a better mechanism than they have now to collect the taxes they already levy.[iv]

The MFA also corrects a growing imbalance between groups of retailers. Under the current court ruling, tax is collected on some sales and not on other sales of the exact same items. Why should tax be collected on a book or camera purchased from a local business and not on an identical item purchased from a mail order or internet business?

Remote sales are growing at double digit rates.[v] However, states’ inability to collect sales tax on these sales results in the erosion of the states’ tax bases. Certainly this unfairness is not the hallmark of good tax policy! Congress is creating winners and losers among the retail community by its inaction.

Opponents cite two specific reasons for allowing this unfair situation to continue: a) that remote collection would be overly burdensome and complex, and b) that any systems necessary for remote collection would be prohibitively costly. This testimony will provide technical information for Congress to consider when evaluating those arguments.

I.       The Complexity Argument

Technology has advanced considerably since the 1967 and 1992 Supreme Court rulings that created the current sales tax situation. Even the more recent of these, Quill, occurred before the first graphical browser was invented, before most homes had internet connections, and long before e-commerce forever changed the retail landscape. Today, forty-five years after Bellas Hess and twenty years after Quill, online marketplaces and auction sites easily manage millions of items for sale at any given moment.

Today, keeping track of a few thousand local tax rates and filing requirements is not an insurmountable technical, administrative, or financial burden. TaxCloud, the sales tax management system created by FedTax, proves this point by calculating and collecting sales tax on any purchase for any tax jurisdiction in the United States in less than one second. The service is free to all retailers.

The technologies necessary to create such a system are not new; they are well-established. In fact, they are currently being used throughout e-commerce. They are Application Programming Interfaces and Web Services. An Application Programming Interface (API) allows dissimilar and unrelated systems to communicate with each other using pre-established syntax and structure. Web Services allow APIs to be used for machine-to-machine interactions over the internet. Both are now commonly used in e-commerce—for example, in real-time-shipping, which allows a retailer to provide its customers with accurate, real-time quotes for shipping costs based on at least five variables, including weight, size, delivery speed, origin, and destination. Often customers can even compare shipping costs among multiple shippers.

With APIs, Web Services, and other technological advances of the past twenty years, it is now possible for remote retailers to easily keep track of every state’s tax laws. 

To minimize or completely eliminate the undue burdens cited in Bellas Hess and Quill, more than half of the states with sales tax have worked together for twelve years to create the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA). These states provide free rates and boundaries databases for all of their respective taxing jurisdictions, and regularly issue updates when rules, rates, or boundaries change. In addition these states also certify and pay for software and service providers to manage sales tax compliance on behalf of retailers.[vi] The Marketplace Fairness Act requires that any states seeking remote collection authority shall comply with SSUTA or provide comparable rates and boundaries information as well as certified software and services that retailers can rely upon to achieve compliance with minimal burden.[vii]

Ironically, those who argue most strenuously that remote collection would be too complex are a few large online businesses that already rely on these same technologies every day, in every transaction. The plain fact is that online retailers operate the largest marketplaces in the world by relying on technology to simplify and automate a host of historically burdensome chores, including payment automation, location-specific marketing, personalized recommendations, and even Duties and Value Added Tax management for foreign governments.

II.        The Costs-of-Compliance or Undue Burden Argument

Opponents also argue that even if technology can solve the technical burden of keeping track of rates, jurisdictions, and filing complexities, such software would be prohibitively costly, particularly for small businesses. TaxCloud is provided to retailers at no cost—so the argument that such software would be prohibitively costly should be flatly disregarded. However, the costs-of-compliance argument also maintains that even if the software is free, businesses will still be burdened with the cost of integrating such software into their existing systems.

This line of argument ignores the reality that all but the very largest retailers rely upon pre-written software and/or online hosted platforms for e-commerce and order management. Retailers rely upon these systems to avoid the costs of developing, managing, and maintaining such systems on their own, costs that are magnified by the changing nature of e-commerce. It is no secret that e-commerce is constantly changing to respond to evolving cyber-crime threats, payments and security industry best-practices, and, yes, legislative requirements. When their retailer clients need to collect sales tax, platform vendors will provide ways for them to do so, embedded within the platforms that retailers already use.

E-commerce platform vendors are intensely competitive and focused; they take pride in not only complying with evolving requirements but often surpassing them, occasionally with stunning results. For example, much of the cloud computing infrastructure now transforming every corner of the technology sector can be traced to several of the largest e-commerce companies adapting to comply with the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002. Most platforms already provide basic sales tax management features for their clients. Upon enactment of MFA, these existing systems will quickly be adapted to ensure compliance.

To conclude, modern technology has made it easy for retailers to collect sales tax for any state in the U.S. TaxCloud enables retailers of any size to easily collect sales tax and comply with the provisions of The Marketplace Fairness Act—for free. More information is available at TaxCloud.net.

And in addition to TaxCloud, five other companies are certified by the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board and ready to assist when Congress authorizes collection—and no doubt hundreds more will emerge soon after legislation is passed, because the free-market system will provide the incentive for entrepreneurs and innovators to develop these products.

Please don’t wait to enact the Marketplace Fairness Act until all the parts of tax reform are in place. Passing this one bill can be the foundation for future reform as well as provide great benefit to both state and local governments. It also benefits brick and mortar retailers. Creating the same tax collection system for retailers whether they sell online or in a store is only fair.

/R. David L. Campbell/
R. David L. Campbell
Chief Executive Officer
/Joan Wagnon/
Joan Wagnon
Executive Vice President

[Download PDF of FedTax Senate Finance Committee Statement – 4/25/2012]


[i] David Campbell, Chief Executive Officer of The Federal Tax Authority (FedTax), founded the company in 2008. FedTax is a Washington State Limited Liability Company with operations in Washington, Connecticut, and Kansas.  Its management team includes highly experienced professionals who have been directly involved in building some of the most recognizable brands in e-commerce, including MasterCard, Google, WebMD, Microsoft, Expedia, and American Express.

[ii] Joan Wagnon served as Secretary of Revenue in Kansas from 2003 to 2011. She also chaired the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board in 2008-9 and the Multistate Tax Commission from 2006 to 2008. She served on the Board of Directors of the Federation of Tax Administrators for 8 years before joining FedTax to work toward the passage of federal legislation granting states’ collection authority over remote sales.

[iii] The notion that out-of-state retailers would find it overly burdensome to keep track of every state’s sales tax rules can be traced directly to the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in National Bellas Hess v. Illinois Department of Revenue. In its majority opinion, the court ruled thatthe many variations in rates of tax, in allowable exemptions, and in administrative and record-keeping requirements could entangle National’s interstate business in a virtual welter of complicated obligations to local jurisdictions” (emphasis added).

In 1992, the matter of remote sales tax collection came before the Supreme Court again in Quill v. North Dakota. This time, the court reaffirmed the earlier Bellas Hess decision by a ruling of 8 to 1, primarily on the basis of stare decisis. The ruling went on to state, “[O]ur decision is made easier by the fact that the underlying issue is not only one that Congress may be better qualified to resolve, but also one that Congress has the ultimate power to resolve.”

FedTax frequently cites the earlier Bellas Hess quote because it summarizes the ruling’s basis in complexity and burden, which has rippled forward to the present day and created a tidal wave of unintended consequences. This ruling has shielded all out-of-state retailers from the obligation to collect sales tax, based purely on the notion that it would place too much of a burden on businesses. Perhaps it would have, in 1967. That was the year the floppy disk was invented at IBM.

[iv] States typically depend on voluntary means of collecting from individuals, such as a voluntary line on the income tax form. Audit procedures, which are used for businesses, are ineffective for consumers.

[v] On Cyber Monday (the first Monday after Thanksgiving) in 2011, over $1.2 billion in sales were transacted online. On that day alone, approximately $58 million in sales tax went uncollected.

[vi] FedTax has been designated a Certified Service Provider (CSP) by the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board specifically for its TaxCloud service. There are six CSPs and 24 member and associate member states.

[vii] Although “software and services” is not defined in the Marketplace Fairness Act, likely it will include Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), Web Services, rates and boundaries databases, and a process for certifying service providers to process returns accurately under state laws.

[Download PDF of FedTax Senate Finance Committee Statement – 4/25/2012]


A fresh take on online sales tax

April 25, 2011
Forbes: The Future of Online Shopping

Forbes: The Future of Online Shopping

In her “The Point of Purchase” column in Forbes last Wednesday, Laura Heller offered a fresh take on online sales tax. Rather than focusing on whether or not online retailers should collect sales tax, Heller decided to look at future online shopping trends that may be indirectly shaped by online sales tax:

Much of the activity and expansion [around online shopping] is the indirect result of new legislation requiring Internet retailers to collect sales tax. There already are 12 states with laws either enacted or awaiting approval, and now Senator Dick Durbinof Illinois is hoping to pass such a law at the national level.

There’s no telling when, or even if the legislation will pass, but there’s also no turning back the tide. It will happen and online shoppers will be required to pay sales tax, sooner or later.

And what will that mean for shoppers? According to Heller, traditional retailers “are becoming more aggressive in capturing online sales”—witness L.L. Bean’s recent decision to provide free shipping on all items—because:

If traditional retailers are to compete with sites like Amazon–which flourished in the absence of regulation—they must implement some of the same benefits like free shipping, liberal return policies, varied product selection and customer reviews.

Heller then examines ten trends to watch for in online shopping. It’s an interesting article and a take on online sales tax that we haven’t seen before—definitely worth a read.

It is also worth remarking that this column, in combination with the Janet Novak article about Connecticut adopting affiliate nexus legislation and the FUD-itorial yesterday, is the third article in less than a week from Forbes on the internet sales tax topic. I guess this issue finally has their attention.


Internet Retailer Article 8/1/10 “Tax Attack”

August 2, 2010

Despite the scary headline, this Internet Retailer Article by Paul Demery does a good job of analyzing the sales tax environment, providing a lot of factual information and commentary from all sides of the issue.  FedTax.net CEO David Campbell is quoted in the article which points out that TaxCloud is designed to be extremely easy and efficient for web retailers to use – and that it is completely free for merchants.


The Internet Sales Tax “event horizon” is near.

March 23, 2010

Just in case you missed it late last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a good article last week about all the recent state-by-state legislation efforts.

Politically speaking, we believe we are rapidly approaching an “event horizon” at which time the mandate for federal legislation to resolve interstate sales tax matters will be irreversibly required under the United States constitution. We feel the growing volume of state-by-state actions attempting to force out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax are increasingly interfering with interstate commerce as multi-state sellers are becoming entangled by these varied obligations and uncommon sets of rules. These state-by-state efforts share imperative origins in significant budget crises, that cannot be remedied by program cuts alone. However, each state is attacking this problem differently, which should quickly provoke action by merchants across the country and legislators across the aisle to finally resolve this issue once and for all. We look forward to this moment coming soon!