Economic analysis: Online sales tax collection may benefit the economy

August 6, 2012
Briefing.com Research

Briefing.com’s report on the Marketplace Fairness Act suggests it could have a positive impact on the economy, particularly retail jobs

The research arm of the live market analysis firm Briefing.com has issued a report on the effects the Marketplace Fairness Act would have on the economy, including both corporate and government perspectives.

We do recommend reading the entire report—it’s a nicely evenhanded analysis that avoids some of the overwrought rhetoric we’ve been hearing lately—but for those of you who just want the highlights, here you go:

Some lobbyists for the online retailers are contending that these new requirements are actually a new consumption tax. That is not necessarily true.

All 45 states that have sales taxes require consumers to collect the tax on online transactions themselves and submit them when filing taxes each year. States, however, lack proper enforcement gauges and audit abilities. Thus, most consumers understate the sales taxes they actually owe.

The benefits to state and local governments and brick-and-mortar retailers should outweigh the decline in consumers’ disposable income.

State and local governments currently have nearly $3.0 tln in outstanding debt. While the recovery of lost tax revenue will not be enough to pay off the debt, it will help prevent more cuts to projects and services until the economy fully recovers.

On the business side, retailers like Best Buy (BBY) will see their prices become more competitive with online retailers. That should boost overall retail sales, increase profits, alleviate pressure to cut payrolls further, and improve hiring conditions.

At the same time, online retailers, like Amazon, generally do not have large workforces or sales staffs. The loss of online sales will lower online retailer profits, but should have few negative effects on overall employment levels.

That means the collection of sales taxes by online companies should result in a net gain in aggregate wages as stronger employment levels at brick-and-mortar establishments more than offset the potential losses from online retailers.

. . .

From an economic perspective, there is little negative impact—and perhaps some positive impact—from an increase in tax revenue and a more level playing field in the retail sector.

From a corporate perspective, the battle is only in the initial stages. As the political story plays out, other online retailers are likely to go the route of Amazon (and eBay) by negotiating regional/state agreements to mitigate the impact of potential tax increases.

At the end of the day, online retailers have gotten away with not paying/collecting taxes. Eventually, that will come to an end.


St. Petersburg (FL) Times: Florida needs Main Street Fairness and Streamlined

October 4, 2011
St. Petersburg Times

St. Petersburg Times: Florida need Streamlined and Main Street Fairness

A new editorial in the St. Petersburg Times urges Florida lawmakers to adopt the simplified sales tax guidelines of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement and support the federal Main Street Fairness Act.

The whole editorial is worth reading—it’s not long, and it’s cogent, incisive, and well-argued—but we had to quote this section in its entirety:

For years, every major Florida business group has pushed for the state to join the Streamlined group, rightly arguing the outdated tax code discriminates against their members. While any business with a traditional store in Florida must collect the 6 percent state sales tax on goods, out-of-state online-only merchants don’t. That gives them an enormous pricing advantage. Florida TaxWatch has estimated the shift to e-commerce has cost at least 100,000 Florida jobs. And a University of Tennessee study estimates Florida will lose more than $800 million in uncollected sales taxes this year for goods bought through merchants like Amazon.com.

Even Republican-controlled Texas has joined California and New York in championing this cause of tax fairness. Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, favoring out-of-state carpetbaggers over businesses that employ Floridians is far more acceptable. (emphasis added)

We talked in a recent post about how not collecting sales tax online has cost jobs by keeping funds that might pay for new firefighters and police out of city coffers. In Oklahoma City, for instance, the mayor suggested that online sales tax collection could have created 100 to 150 jobs for firefighters and police officers.

The TaxWatch statistic in this St. Petersburg Times editorial refers to another way that e-commerce is costing jobs. Bricks-and-mortar retailers employ far more people than online retailers. In fact, for every person hired at an online retailer, four would have been hired at a bricks-and-mortar retailer.

We need to level the playing field between online and bricks-and-mortar retailers and give bricks-and-mortar retailers a fighting chance to protect retail jobs.

Take a look at the rest of the St. Petersburg Times editorial. It’s worth a read.


Lax tax for e-commerce cost US 260K jobs

July 19, 2011
Missouri News Horizon

Missouri News Horizon: Online shopping costing jobs

According to an article in the Missouri News Horizon, Dr. William Fox, director of economics at the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research and the co-author of a 2009 study on state and local revenue losses due to uncollected sales tax on online purchases, has presented new research at the Southern Legislative Conference in Memphis.

Although many at the conference have been focused on Amazon and its recent actions regarding sales tax, Dr. Fox looked at the larger picture and examined the effects of e-commerce not only on state revenue but also on jobs:

“The Amazon part is only about 5 percent of e-commerce,” he said.

But Fox said his center’s research estimates the total of e-commerce is about $4 trillion, with about $46 billion in taxes due across the nation. He said most states surveyed are going to lose about $200 million or more this year due to uncollected taxes on e-commerce.

But the issue goes far beyond uncollected sales taxes, according to Fox. There was consistent growth in retail employment until about 2000, a rate of about 2 percent per year.

“Since 2002, retail employment in the U.S. has absolutely flattened out,” Fox said.

To put a sharper focus on it, Fox told lawmakers Walmart hires five workers for every million dollars in sales. Amazon hires one.

“As we move from people who buy on Main Street, and they move to buy from Amazon because of the tax subsidy that is implicit in the way we pay, we cost the economy four jobs,” he said. . . .

Fox figures the costs to the country because of e-commerce in general is 260,000 retail jobs.

“This is not a little issue. It’s not a small concern,” Fox said. “They don’t need a subsidy to operate. E-commerce associated with business-to-consumer sales this last year grew 18 percent, while commerce on Main Street essentially grew zero percent.” (emphasis added)

To put that figure of 260,000 lost jobs in perspective: The last jobs report indicated that just 18,000 jobs were added in June, giving rise to speculation about a double-dip recession and raising the unemployment rate to 9.2%.

This data is critically important. With unemployment still high and even rising a year after the recession technically ended, everyone is concerned about jobs and job growth—but this is the first time we’ve seen figures on the effects the online marketplace is having on jobs.

North Carolina’s Secretary of Revenue, David W. Hoyle, also presented at the conference, and the article offers more details on what he had to say about Amazon and North Carolina’s efforts toward collecting sales tax online.

We highly recommend you read the entire article.