North Carolina settles with ACLU

February 10, 2011

The ACLU announced yesterday, February 9, that it had settled its case against the North Carolina Department of Revenue over the customer purchase information released by Amazon in response to a DOR request.  More information is contained in this Daily Tech article.

Amazon itself filed a similar suit against North Carolina. As we blogged about the ruling in that case last October, the decision was not a clear victory for Amazon. The court ruled that North Carolina has the right to ask Amazon for general information about customer purchases, but not for specific purchase information, such as the titles of books bought by an individual.  The court also ruled that North Carolina can pursue Amazon for the sales tax that was justly due to the state.  This statement from Beth Stevenson of the North Carolina Department of Revenue explains the fundamentals of the case:

“The case between the North Carolina Department of Revenue and Amazon has long been twisted into something it is not,” said Beth Stevenson, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Revenue. “Bottom line, this is about fairly collecting the tax that is due to the state of North Carolina and nothing more. The Department has always maintained that we do not need—or wanttitles or similar details about products purchased by Amazon customers. The department voluntarily destroyed the detailed information that Amazon unnecessarily provided and offered them the opportunity to comply with the state tax laws moving forward.

“The lawsuit on this particular issue could have been avoided altogether if not for the aggressive stance Amazon took to avoid compliance with North Carolina’s tax laws. There would have never been an issue of customer privacy if Amazon would simply collect the North Carolina sales tax that others already do.”

It’s not surprising that North Carolina is trying its best to collect the sales tax that is due on those purchases. This article from Storefront Backtalk says that only 6% of North Carolinians took advantage of North Carolina’s eTail sales tax amnesty program last year.

The Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA)—of which North Carolina is a member—in conjunction with federal legislation such as the Main Street Fairness Act, will eliminate the need for states to craft individual strategies to collect the taxes that are already due them.


Hawaii introduces Streamlined Sales Tax legislation

January 25, 2011

Yesterday, Hawaii Senate Bill 568 was introduced by Senator Brickwood Galuteria.

We are really looking forward to voluntary testimony in support of this bill!

UPDATED 1/26/2011 (SEE NEW POST)


Senator Durbin expresses support for collecting sales tax on internet sales

January 21, 2011

According to this article in the Naperville Sun, Senator Dick Durbin is ready to co-sponsor a bill to address the issue of uncollected sales tax on internet purchases. The article states that at a recent meeting between Durbin and Illinois business people, there was a common interest in working on a uniform tax for internet sales, which owners of traditional brick-and-mortar stores said would level the playing field between their businesses and online competitors.

The article quotes Senator Durbin as saying, “I cannot understand how people can buy so many things over the Internet and have them shipped to Naperville, Illinois, and use your streets, your police, your traffic lights, your fire protection, your curbs and gutters, without paying a penny in sales tax to the city of Naperville.” Illinois, he said, is losing between $150 million and $1 billion in sales tax revenue on out-of-state Internet sales. “You are losing so much revenue in this process that should be coming back to the community.”

The article did not mention the Main Street Fairness Act, but it would be most efficient for Senator Durbin to pick up the ball on this bill, which was introduced into the House last year but was not voted upon. The senator’s public statements on the issue caps off a week of support and discussion at the city, state, and federal levels, as we have been covering here on the FedTax.net blog.


Connecticut’s new Governor turns his attention to internet sales

December 30, 2010

Recent articles about the budget shortfalls in Connecticut prompted a round of discussion on whether the state should raise the state sales tax rate from 6% to 6.5%.  Since many of us at FedTax.net live and work in Connecticut, we were preparing to send out a letter to Governor Malloy and our state Representatives suggesting there is an easier way to raise money without raising the tax rate. Governor Malloy beat us to the punch by announcing that he has already identified online sales as a challenge that his administration is going to take on.  The Governor was quoted in the Connecticut Mirror as saying: “We can’t afford it,” referring to projected $48.3 million annual loss Connecticut faces from missed taxes on Internet sales.  (The $48.3 billion is from a study by researchers at the University of Tennessee.  In fact this study did not take telephone order or mail order sales into account, so it would be reasonable to expect that much more sales tax is going uncollected through these channels).

In announcing his appointment of Former Lt. Governor Kevin Sullivan as the new commissioner of the Department of Revenue Services, Malloy made it clear that taxing online sales will be a high priority for Sullivan:  “Malloy, who takes office on Jan. 5, said his administration is looking at ways to tax Internet sales, a hot button issue this holiday shopping season.  The state is in dire need of more revenue …and he wants Sullivan to go after those not paying their required taxes.”  (nbcconnecticut.com)

Connecticut is very familiar with the Streamlined sales tax initiative, having participated in the process as an Advisory member state since 2002.  In 2007 Connecticut conducted a study on whether to join the Streamlined Sales Tax Agreement but decided to wait for Federal legislation.  (Which is ironic because it appears that Federal legislation has been ‘waiting’ for more states to join in).  Last year the state introduced a bill into committee that would have enacted an ‘affiliate tax law’ similar to New York’s.  The bill died in committee due to concern that Amazon would drop its Connecticut affiliate relationships if such a bill was passed.

The momentum at the federal level in support of the Main Street Fairness Act, combined with Governor Malloy’s determination to address the challenge at the state level, could result in Connecticut being the 25th state to join the list of Streamlined states.


Smartphone technology hastens the shift of sales from local to online

December 17, 2010

This Wall Street Journal article highlights the use of smart phones by in-store shoppers to find the best deal — and very often the best deal is from an online retailer.  The article notes that “The retailer’s advantage has been eroded,” says Greg Girard of consultancy IDC Retail Insights, which recently found that roughly 45% of customers with smartphones had used them to perform due diligence on a store’s prices. “The four walls of the store have become porous.”  The article goes on to cite statistics from Coremetrics that:  “On the Friday after Thanksgiving a year ago, consumers using mobile devices accounted for just 0.1% of visits to retail websites…[t]his Black Friday, they accounted for 5.6%, for a 50-fold increase.”

Unfortunately, the article mistakenly leaves the reader with the impression that the sale is tax free (it is not):  “Tri Tang, a 25-year-old marketer, walked into a Best Buy Co. store in Sunnyvale, Calif., this past weekend and spotted the perfect gift for his girlfriend.  Last year, he might have just dropped the $184.85 Garmin global positioning system into his cart. This time, he took out his Android phone and typed the model number into an app that instantly compared the Best Buy price to those of other retailers. He found that he could get the same item on Amazon.com Inc.’s website for only $106.75, no shipping, no tax.”

The perceived price advantage enjoyed by online retailers makes retail stores more vulnerable to shifts in purchasing habits driven by the new smartphone technology.  The Main Street Fairness Act now pending before Congress would eliminate this structural imbalance.


MA Senator Richard Moore: Any extension of tax cuts should include the provisions of the “Main Street Fairness Act

November 23, 2010

Politico.com published a blog post today by Massachusetts State Senator Richard Moore which gave a ringing endorsement for the Main Street Fairness Act, and which advocates for including provisions of the Act in any extension of tax cuts (generally referring to the extension of the so-called Bush Tax Cuts).
The post closes with the following sobering assessment: The national recession is still threatening America at the state and local level. Without the benefits of H.R. 5660, states will be forced to lay off more teachers, public safety personnel and others in the next two or three years and reduce state and local purchases of private sector services. The resulting increase in unemployment and decrease in state and local government purchases of goods and service could harm the recovery and even lead to a “double-dip” recession.”


Chicago Tribune Article Gets it Right

November 10, 2010

Yesterday’s article in the Chicago Tribune by Columnist Eric Zorn covers all the issues related to sales tax collection by internet merchants.  The article starts by highlighting a local retailer who has been steadily losing business on price to internet retailers.  Mr. Zorn goes on to explain the finer points of use tax reporting and remittance (even helpfully including links to the tax forms that need to be completed for out-of-state sales), and goes on to say that use tax collection “…has a low compliance rate…[f]ewer than 5,000 taxpayers filed ST-44s in fiscal 2010, according to the revenue department, leaving an estimated $163 million in online Illinois sales taxes unpaid.”

The article wraps up with a discussion of why Internet companies have escaped sales tax collection thus far (Quill and Bellas Hess Supreme Court decisions) and why that view is outdated: “It wasn’t a particularly urgent question when the Web was young and e-tailers argued successfully that taxing Internet purchases would strangle the baby of e-commerce in its crib.  But now that e-commerce is an obstreperous adolescent, conventional small businesses are gasping for air and cash-strapped states are eyeing all this lost revenue hungrily.”

Good points, great article, thanks Mr. Zorn.