Senate votes to support Marketplace Fairness Act, 75-24

March 27, 2013

On Friday, the Senate debated the merits of online sales tax and the Marketplace Fairness Act. The debate was thrilling, and we are proud to provide (courtesy of C-SPAN) a complete stream of the 42-minute debate right here.

After the debate, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to support the amendment to the Senate’s 2014 budget resolution. The final vote was 75-24.

So what’s next for the bill? Your guess is as good as ours, but we trust Congress can finally get this done.

Also, for those of you who are as geeky about this topic as we are, here’s the full 63-minute “pre-debate” that occurred one day earlier, on March 21st.

Senate Debate March 21, 2013


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.


Debunking 3 myths about internet sales tax

March 8, 2013

The reintroduction of the Marketplace Fairness Act has resulted in the reintroduction of myths and half truths about its impact on businesses. In this post, we counter the three main fears about collecting internet sales tax.

Fear: Collecting sales tax is too difficult.

Some point to the fact that, nationwide, there are over 9,600 tax jurisdictions, and they argue that online sales tax collection would be so difficult that online retailers would have to hire additional staff to handle it.

Fact: Fortunately, technology provides an easy answer. Sales tax rates are easily stored and maintained in a database—it doesn’t matter if there is 1 rate or 100,000. Databases easily handle tax exemptions, too, for every location. 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.

Sales tax management services, which offer retailers an easy way to manage sales tax, have already been integrated with most e-commerce platforms, so starting to collect sales tax can be as easy as checking a box.

The proposed legislation is doing its part, too, to make collecting sales tax easy. It requires that states simplify their sale tax laws before online retailers start collecting, lets retailers file one sales tax return per state, and centralizes the registration process. It also requires states to make available free sales tax software for retailers that can work with all states.

So much for the concern over difficulty; what about cost? Sales tax management services are available at every price point—including free. So collecting sales tax doesn’t need to cost an online retailer anything.

And it’s also worth noting that most online retailers won’t have to collect sales tax at all. Only retailers with over $1 million in annual out-of-state sales will be affected.

Fear: This will give local stores an advantage over online stores.

Fact: Actually, it will correct an artificial advantage that online stores currently have, creating a more level playing field for all retailers.

Right now local stores have to collect sales tax while online stores don’t, which gives online stores the appearance of a price advantage of up to 10%. Even when bricks-and-mortar retailers also sell online, it doesn’t change the basic fact that in their local stores, they have to collect sales tax, while online stores don’t.

If the law doesn’t change to keep up with the way people shop, the logical conclusion is that many businesses will elect to only sell online—which would mean no local shopping. Picture your community without a bookstore, clothing store, or electronics store. That’s not what anyone wants.

Fear: This is a new tax.

Fact: If you live in a state with sales tax, you already owe sales tax on your online purchases. If the retailer doesn’t collect sales tax, the purchaser is supposed to pay the tax due directly to the state. In other words, this isn’t a taxation issue, it’s a collection issue.

Most people don’t know that they owe sales tax when they buy online, and states find it almost impossible to enforce their own sales tax laws online. That’s why the Marketplace Fairness Act is needed: to allow states to enforce their own laws and end the sales tax loophole that favors online retailers over local retailers.


Strong support for Marketplace Fairness Act from retail and other groups

February 20, 2013

The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, which was introduced last Thursday, is already receiving strong support from retail and other groups. Those issuing statements about the legislation include:

Why the strong show of support for the Marketplace Fairness Act? Primarily, these groups say, in order to level the playing field for local businesses. As the American Independent Business Alliance put it in a letter to the senators who introduced the bill, “We ask you to push this bill through to help level the playing field for the many small businesses we represent who are hobbled by the status quo. When remote retailers are effectively subsidized by being exempted from sales tax collection duties imposed on storefront businesses, government is obstructing genuine market competition.”


Congress shows states some love this Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2013

taxcloud_sweethearts

Congress sent states that have been losing billions of dollars in uncollected sales tax a valentine today with the introduction of the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill that will give states the authority to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

Identical bills were introduced in both the House (HR.684) and the Senate (S.336). Similar legislation was introduced last year but expired when Congress ended its session in early January.

Momentum seems to be on the side of legislation. Let’s hope it passes quickly!


Update: States eager for online sales tax action

February 7, 2013

In early December, we posted about states taking action on online sales tax collection.

As we noted then, states can’t do much without federal legislation, and support is growing in Congress for a bill that would give states full authority to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

But in the meantime, more states have started looking at what they can do.

Hawaii, Florida, and Michigan are all considering bills that would require an out-of-state retailer to collect sales tax if the retailer has an affiliate in the state.

Hawaii is also looking at adopting the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, a set of guidelines that make collecting sales tax easy for retailers.

And while Virginia isn’t considering state action, it is counting on congressional action. The state’s proposed plan for transportation funding assumes that Congress will pass online sales tax legislation, allowing Virginia to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in uncollected sales tax.

States have already said that online purchases are subject to sales tax—but most of that sales tax goes uncollected. What they need now is federal legislation, and with each state-level bill or resolution, they’re sending Congress the clear message that the time to act is now. Let’s hope Congress is listening.


Making it easy for online stores to collect sales tax

January 31, 2013

The final post in our series for Spree Commerce is up! We look at the different ways online stores can collect sales tax—and how to make collecting easy.


Online sales tax and your business

January 23, 2013

In our new guest post on Spree Commerce, we look at how online sales tax collection may affect your business. Take a look!


What to expect from a new online sales tax bill

January 16, 2013

The next guest post in our series for Spree Commerce is up! In it, we look at what we can expect from a new online sales tax bill and how it would change the current sales tax situation.


Why don’t online retailers collect sales tax?

January 9, 2013

We’ve tackled the perennial question of why online retailers don’t have to collect sales tax in a guest blog post for Spree Commerce. Check it out!


A return to state legislation for online sales tax

December 5, 2012

While the Marketplace Fairness Act continues to garner support in Congress, it remains in committee for the time being—which means that this holiday season, at least, the online sales tax loophole will stay open.

Without action from Congress on the issue of online sales tax, states are beginning to return to passing their own legislation. Two states, Michigan and Florida, have recently introduced bills that would require online retailers to collect sales tax.

Unfortunately, there’s not much states can do on their own—the Supreme Court said in 1967 and 1992 that states can’t require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax. At the same time, though, the court said that Congress could and should decide the issue legislatively. That’s what the Marketplace Fairness Act is about.

We hope that all those state legislators, governors, local retailers, and others who are supporting state legislation will make their voices heard in DC, too. This is one instance where state action just isn’t enough. Congress needs to give states the right to decide for themselves whether they’ll require online retailers to collect sales tax.


Congratulations to Senator-elect Heitkamp!

November 26, 2012

Heidi Heitkamp

Congratulations to Heidi Heitkamp, who was just elected senator of North Dakota! Some of our readers may recognize her name: She was the North Dakota Tax Commissioner when the state brought suit against Quill Corp. in an attempt to require the catalog company to collect use tax on purchases made by North Dakota residents. The case famously went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that it would be too difficult for businesses to collect sales tax for states where they had no physical presence. But, equally important, the court also said that “the underlying issue here is one that Congress may be better qualified to resolve, and one that it has the ultimate power to resolve.”

Four bills currently before Congress attempt to do just that and close the online sales tax loophole. We look forward to Senator-elect Heitkamp’s support on the issue!


Voters support local tax measures

November 16, 2012

Election Results

With the election over, Politico has taken a look at how local tax measures did throughout the country. The result?

During last week’s elections, voters across the country opted to raise taxes to help their cities, counties and school districts.

“I’m OK with being taxed for making sure we don’t go under and people are taken care of,” said Elizabeth Boyd, 35, an independent voter in Sacramento. “I think it’s really good for us to pay for schools and make sure they’re kept open and teachers aren’t being laid off for ridiculous reasons.”

Whether you agree with this outcome or not, the important thing is that the system works: The people who voted on the tax measures both pay the increased taxes and benefit from the services and projects they fund. Which is as it should be.

Still, we can’t help thinking that it would have been better if the increased taxes were unnecessary. Sales tax is due on online purchases but nearly always goes unpaid, to the tune of $23 billion each year. If that money had been collected at the point of purchase, just as sales tax on bricks-and-mortar purchases is, perhaps none of these tax increases would have been necessary.

If you pay sales tax on an online purchase, it doesn’t matter where the online store is—the sales tax you pay goes to your state and local community, where it funds services that voters approved.

Most people are willing to chip in for services that benefit their community. According to the Politico article,

voters tend to have a more favorable opinion about increasing taxes when they can see that the extra revenue will benefit their community directly. A 2010 analysis by The Associated Press found that voters in a large cross-section of states passed 50 percent or more of the local tax initiatives that came before them. . . .

In California, Sacramento voters, who tend to be more conservative than other areas of the state, supported a sales tax hike by a 2-to-1 ratio in addition to two school construction bonds.

“That’s a pretty clear choice of the people,” [Sacramento] City Councilman Darrell Fong said. “They don’t want to see a reduction in service, especially when it is to public safety and parks. They know we’ve made the cuts already.”


Local sales tax on Election Day

November 2, 2012

Vote!With Election Day fast approaching, we’re seeing more and more articles on local sales tax measures that will appear on the ballot.

Any changes in sales tax have to be approved by voters, and in many places this year’s ballot includes a new sales tax to fund local initiatives. No one like paying taxes, of course, but these measures often receive a lot of local support—those who pay the tax are the same ones who benefit from the services it provides.

So what kinds of sales tax measures are appearing on ballots?

In Creek County, Oklahoma, a one-third-cent sales tax would buy much-needed equipment for the volunteer fire department.

In Rifle, Colorado, a three-quarter-cent sales tax would help pay for a new water treatment plant to replace the existing one, “which is old and in danger of failure.”

In Augusta, Kansas, a one-percent sales tax would pay for a new water line that would triple the amount of water carried to the city, without raising water rates or property taxes.

In Deridder, Louisiana, a quarter-cent sales tax would pay for renovations to the 98-year-old courthouse, which has a broken wheelchair lift and no elevator.

In Saratoga, California, a one-eighth-cent sales tax would fund law enforcement programs, emergency room services, and health insurance for low-income children.

In Jackson, Missouri, a sixth-cent sales tax would fund renovations to the public library.

In El Paso County, Colorado, a quarter of one percent sales tax would provide deputies for the understaffed sheriff’s department.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a half-cent sales tax would pay for a highway improvement program that will create 40,000 jobs.

In Marion, Ohio, a 0.25% sales tax would allow for the rehiring of laid-off police and fire department personnel and help maintain city streets.

In Baldwin County, Alabama, a one-cent sales tax would go to local schools, which currently operate with less per-pupil spending than the state average.

All of these sales tax measures will appear on the ballot in November, to be either approved or rejected by local communities.

But if online retailers collected sales tax—which is already due on online purchases—these measures might be unnecessary.

States are losing out on $23 billion in uncollected sales tax every year—sales tax that shoppers owe but that goes unpaid because online retailers don’t have to collect it. That $23 billion would be supporting these kinds of projects and services without the need
for any increase in local sales tax.

Keeping fire and police departments staffed, maintaining roads, and supporting local schools without any tax increases—just more reasons to support online sales tax.


Same everything, except tax treatment (2)

October 31, 2012

 

Sales tax shown is based on delivery to a Connecticut address. Connecticut sales tax rates are among the lowest in the nation.