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.


“Fair Is Fair”: A legal perspective on the Marketplace Acts

September 11, 2012

The latest issue of Shopping Center Legal Update, a “legal journal for the shopping center industry,” has an interesting article on the Marketplace Fairness Act, Marketplace Equity Act, and Main Street Fairness Act—the three bills currently before Congress that would each allow states to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

In the article, Brian D. Huben, a partner at the LA law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, provides a legal perspective on online sales tax collection. We were particularly interested in his analysis of the Supreme Court case Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992). That case is responsible for the current rules about sales tax that govern online shopping, and this is the first place we’ve seen its details explained by a legal expert.

We found this part of the article, which quotes the dissenting opinion in Quill, particularly enlightening:

Some say that the past is prologue. Justice Byron Raymond “Whizzer” White, who dissented in Quill, presciently noted that “an out-of-state seller in a neighboring State could be the dominant business in the putative taxing State, creating the greatest infrastructure burdens and undercutting the State’s home companies by its comparative price advantage in selling products free of use taxes, and yet not have to collect such taxes if it lacks a physical presence in the taxing State.” Quill Corp., 504 U.S. at 328 – 329. While the stakes in Quill were decidedly smaller, the $23 billion in uncollected sales and use tax revenue cannot be ignored.

While fairly brief, this article is a great source for those interested in today’s online sales tax rules, how they came to be, and why some are arguing for change.


Poll shows overwhelming support for online sales tax collection

August 16, 2012
US News and World Report

A US News and World Report poll shows overwhelming support for online sales tax collection.

As we blogged about a few days ago, U.S. News and World Report recently hosted an online debate featuring eight arguments for and against online sales tax collection. Readers had the chance to vote on whether they agreed or disagreed with each argument. Now, a week later, we can see what the public thinks of online sales tax collection based on how the votes went.

The result? More than 4 to 1 in favor of online retailers collecting sales tax just like local retailers.

At last check, each of the 3 supporters of online sales tax collection had close to 1,000 votes for and approximately 300 votes against, while the 5 opponents of online sales tax collection had between 750 and 900 votes against them.

See the current tally and vote yourself!


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.


Colorado’s online sales tax reporting requirements law finally killed

April 7, 2012

A federal judge has finally issued a permanent injunction on Colorado’s 2010 online sales tax reporting requirements law, which called for all online retailers to report purchases made by Colorado residents to the state’s Department of Revenue. A temporary injunction against the law was issued last year just before the reporting requirements would have gone into effect.

In his ruling, Judge Robert E. Blackburn looks at the precedent set by the 1992 Supreme Court case Quill v. North Dakota, which mandated that out-of-state retailers did not have to collect sales tax even as it recommended that Congress address the issue—which, of course, it has yet to do.

Blackburn writes:

Quill puts states like Colorado in a difficult position. The state cannot require out-of-state retailers, retailers with no physical presence in the state, to collect and remit sales tax on sales those retailers make to residents of Colorado. Residents who make purchases from those retailers are obligated to pay use tax on those purchases, but enforcing the use tax is significantly more difficult than enforcing the sales tax. Seeking to enhance enforcement of the use tax on those who make purchases from out-of-state retailers, a state understandably looks to the out-of-state retailers for key information that can enhance enforcement. However, if the state has a mandatory sales tax system, as does Colorado, enforcing a reporting requirement on out-of-state retailers will, by definition, discriminate against the out-of-state retailers by imposing unique burdens on those retailers. Such a system imposes a differential burden on out-of-state retailers because the different burden is imposed precisely because the retailer is an out-of-state retailer entitled to the protection of Quill. Quill creates the in-state versus out-of-state distinction, and the dormant Commerce Clause prohibits differential treatment based on that distinction. Only a change in the law by the Supreme Court or action by Congress can change this situation. Quill, 504 U.S. at 318 (“Congress is now free to decide whether, when, and to what extent the States may burden interstate mail-order concerns with a duty to collect use taxes.”) (emphasis ours)

It’s worth repeating: “Only a change in the law by the Supreme Court or action by Congress can change this situation.”

Our readers may be surprised, given our support of states’ efforts for online sales tax collection in general, that we agree with Judge Blackburn—on his overall ruling, the fact that Quill makes the current situation difficult for states, and his assertion that only federal action, not state, can remedy the situation.

State after state has tried to increase the collection of sales tax on online purchases, but only a federal law, like the Marketplace Fairness Act, can overcome the limits set by Quill—or, more precisely, can exercise the interstate commerce authority reserved for Congress via the (dormant) Commerce Clause.

One other interesting point: Colorado doesn’t include a line on its income tax return form for reporting and remitting sales tax on online purchases. The reason given? That “the amount of tax collected did not justify the printing expense.” We have to think that, while that may have been true in 1974, it wouldn’t be true anymore, and it does seem like a reasonable measure to impose until Congress acts on online sales tax collection.

But the inclusion of this fact in the ruling leads us to another question. The ruling says that “there are at least three reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives” to reporting requirements that could also increase the collection of sales tax on online purchases: the line on income tax returns, increased auditing of businesses, and consumer education and notification programs aimed at increasing compliance.

What about the other states that have already implemented these, that include the line on income tax returns, have increased business audits, and created consumer education programs—and still have not seen satisfactory compliance with its sales tax laws? Would these states be permitted to implement reporting requirements?

Other ideas in the ruling make us think not, but better legal minds than ours may be tempted to try. We still oppose reporting requirements, primarily because they are an invasion of consumer privacy, but we wouldn’t be surprised if another state, fed up with lack of action by Congress, decides to try this approach.

The best course of action, as we have been arguing for a long time, is for Congress to pass federal legislation allowing states to require online retailers to collect sales tax, for many good reasons.


House Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on online sales tax collection

November 30, 2011
House Judiciary Committee

House Judiciary Committee hearing

Tomorrow, November 30, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “constitutional limitations on states’ authority to collect sales tax in e-commerce”—in other words, on whether states can or should be able to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

With three online sales tax collection bills before Congress and the holiday retail season heating up, it’s no surprise that Congress is moving to act on the issue.

The witness list includes one small business owner; senior executives from eBay, Overstock.com, and Amazon; Texas State Representative John Otto; and Indiana State Senator Luke Kenley, who is also president of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board.

We’re pleased to see Congress moving ahead on the issue!


UT small business owners urge Congress to pass online sales tax legislation

October 26, 2011
Utah

Utah's small business owners want online sales tax collection

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, small business owners from Utah traveled to Washington, DC, to “meet with members of Utah’s congressional delegation and Congressman Steve Womack, R-Ark., who introduced states’ rights ‘e-fairness’ legislation last week.” Although the article doesn’t specifically say so, it certainly sounds like the reason for the visit was to persuade Utah’s congressional delegation to support online sales tax legislation.

The article quotes small business owners making some good points about online sales tax collection:

“Small businesses across the state of Utah are struggling,” said Jared Hurst, owner of Rebel Sports, “and the unfair advantage given to online retailers hurts Utah businesses and local communities.” . . .

Betsy Burton, owner of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, also supports Womack’s legislation. Her bookstore now draws cutthroat competition from online retailers such as Amazon.com.

“This is a huge economic issue,” said Burton. “Internet sales are getting bigger and bigger and if we can’t compete on this unlevel playing field, it will drive bricks-and-mortar businesses out of business. And we are the backbone of the economy.”

She’s not kidding. For every $1 million in new sales, Amazon creates 0.88 jobs. For the same $1 million in new sales, Best Buy creates 3.47 jobs.

The chair of the Utah Tax Commission, Bruce Johnson, also made a good point, one that we’ve heard many times from local retailers:

“People will go in and shop at a bricks-and-mortar retailer in Utah to get specifics,” Johnson said, “and then go buy the product on the Web to save sales tax.”

An executive at O.co (formerly Overstock.com), which is also based in Utah, repeated his company’s concern that it’s too difficult to collect sales tax for all states.

We know that’s not the case. We know that because we designed TaxCloud specifically to eliminate all the complexity and confusion of online sales tax collection.

We recommend that O.co executives take a look at TaxCloud. It’s comprehensive, easy to use, and FREE.


Press round-up on Marketplace Equity Act

October 15, 2011
Press round-up

Press round-up: News on the Marketplace Equity Act

Here’s a round-up of the press coverage on the Marketplace Equity Act, introduced yesterday:

– from Politico, “Online sales tax bill splits community”

– from the National Journal, “House online sales tax bill draws bipartisan support”

– from Internet Retailer, “A new take on web sales tax collection”

– from the Tax Foundation’s Tax Policy blog, “New state online sales tax bill introduced in Congress”

– from Bookselling This Week, “New federal sales tax fairness legislation introduced”


Marketplace Equity Act (HR 3179) introduced in House of Representatives

October 14, 2011

HR 3179 introduced in House of Representatives

Today Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced before Congress the Marketplace Equity Act (HR 3179), a bill that, like the Main Street Fairness Act, authorizes state to require all online retailers, regardless of location, to collect state sales tax.

The introduction of the Marketplace Equity Act is a sign that more and more legislators are becoming aware of the problems inherent in the fact that while bricks-and-mortar retailers have to collect sales tax, online retailers do not. We’re happy to see that Washington DC legislators are listening to state and local legislators—not to mention their constituents—and are working hard to offer possible solutions.

Although the Marketplace Equity Act differs in some details from the Main Street Fairness Act, the two bills have the same goal: to ensure that states can enforce existing sales tax laws in cyberspace by requiring online retailers to collect sales tax. The very fact that two bills with this goal exist emphatically demonstrates how much they are needed.

Communities need sales tax revenue to pay for schools, police, and libraries, and local businesses are at a disadvantage when they try to compete with online retailers that don’t have to collect sales tax. By allowing states to require online retailers to collect sales tax, the Marketplace Equity Act and the Main Street Fairness Act stand to return to states over $23 billion in uncollected sales tax. They will also create a level playing field for local retailers, which create three times as many jobs as online retailers.

We welcome Reps. Womack and Speier and their cosponsors to the fight to ensure that all retailers play by the same rules, and we look forward to working with them.


Growing momentum for local online sales tax movement

October 13, 2011

The local and state efforts toward online sales tax collection is gaining momentum, as is clear from the recent deluge of local articles on the issue. Here’s a selection:

– from the Holland Sentinel (MI), “The case for fairness: A sale is a sale is a sale”:

According to a report released last month by Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants, the sales tax loophole has a significant negative impact on job makers and the state’s economy. The study found that closing the loophole would directly lead to the creation of as many as 1,600 new jobs, would increase investment in Michigan’s economy in the form of sales at brick-and-mortar retail outlets by as much as $126 million per year and would save the state as much as $141.5 million in otherwise lost sales tax revenue from electronic remote sales in 2012 alone.

– from NorthJersey.com, “Internet retailers might lose tax edge”:

In my mind, it comes down to a question of fairness, as stated by John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association:

“Online-only retailers are costing the State of New Jersey hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue and are underselling New Jersey’s small-business owners. It’s time for New Jersey to modernize its tax structure and close this unfair tax loophole.”

– from the Bismarck Tribune, “It’s simply an issue of fairness”:

A customer goes into a local business to check out a product. This person finds a computer, makes an online purchase of that same item and avoids paying the sales tax.

Is that fair to a North Dakota brick-and-mortar business that employs our state’s citizens, invests in the community and helps drive the local economy? I don’t think so.

That’s why we need The Main Street Fairness Act. This legislation will close the loophole that gives online retailers a competitive advantage over the local businesses.

– from Tampa Bay Online, “Solution sought for sales tax ‘loophole'”:

Some shoppers look over a product at local stores and then buy it online in hopes of avoiding the sales tax, Alpine said. Stores end up being treated like a showroom.

“It needs to be an equal playing field,” he said.

“Without a doubt this is an enforcement issue that ultimately can only be fully resolved if the federal government weighs in,” state Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, said in an email.


Tennessee strikes deal with Amazon

October 9, 2011

Tennessee and Amazon have agreed to a deal similar to the one between California and Amazon. This deal requires Amazon to begin collecting sales tax for the state in 2014—unless federal legislation on online sales tax has passed by then—and the company will create 3500 full-time and several thousand seasonal jobs in the state. This Missouri News Horizon article has the details.

The agreement comes after years of back-and-forth between Amazon and the Tennessee government. Former governor Phil Bredesen, who preceded current governor Bill Haslam, made a deal for Amazon to bring several distribution centers to Tennessee, creating 1500 jobs, in exchange for an exemption from collecting state sales tax. There had been strong objection to that deal from local Tennessee retailers and others, and there was some question as to whether Haslam, once elected, would uphold the deal made by Bredesen:

The new agreement is a dramatic shift from the original deal struck by the state with Amazon, in which former Gov. Phil Bredesen and his team evidently agreed to allow Amazon to forego collecting sales taxes in exchange for creating hundreds of jobs with distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties.

Haslam had agreed to honor that original deal, and state officials Thursday insisted the new agreement does not mean the state has gone back on its word. . . .

“I’ve been asked several times over the course of the last couple of months if working on an agreement like this is doing what we said we would do as a state. The answer is yes,” Haslam said. “The scope of the project has changed, with the addition of newly planned facilities here, and that conversation in the Legislature and in states across the country has had an impact.”

The agreement won’t apply if federal legislation is enacted before 2014:

Haslam said the agreement applies unless a national solution, which would bring all states under the same framework on state sales tax collections, comes first. Many people believe Congress should act to make application of sales tax law the same for online and traditional retailers.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has spoken publicly in support of the Main Street Fairness Act in the past, and he mentioned it again during the announcement:

“Of the online retail sales where tax is not being collected Amazon is only about 10 percent of it,” Haslam said, adding that that is why he has called for a national solution. “It’s not just about Amazon.”

Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, was present at the announcement and also made a statement that included strong support for federal legislation:

The Amazon executive said his company supports efforts to streamline sales tax collections nationally.

“The sales tax issue must be resolved in Congress,” Misener said. “It’s the only way the state of Tennessee will be able to retain all the sales tax revenue that can be collected for the state.

“We are committed to going to Washington with the state’s leaders, both here in Nashville and also in Washington, to obtain that sales tax legislation as soon as possible.”

With all this vocal support for the Main Street Fairness Act from both Amazon and state legislators, there seems to be a general consensus that federal legislation is the best solution for everyone. But in its absence, states will do whatever they can to try to make sure sales tax is collected online as well as in local stores.

We hope Congress is noticing the rapidly increasing support for the Main Street Fairness Act among state legislators. These are the people who work where the rubber meets the road and know exactly what their states and communities need to function properly.

Unfortunately, in this case they are not the ones who have the power to make sure states and communities get what they need. That’s Congress. But members of Congress need to listen to what local and state legislators are telling them and then put their support behind Main Street Fairness Act.


Reuters: State and local leaders on both sides of the aisle ask Congress to close online sales tax loophole

October 4, 2011
Reuters: Strapped states crave bigger online tax bite

Reuters: Strapped states crave bigger online tax bite

We were fascinated by a new Reuters article that focuses on states’ loss of revenue due to uncollected online sales tax.

Among the facts that caught our eye was this tidbit:

On the state level . . . financial pressures seem to have erased partisan division on the issue. Texas’ majority Republican legislature passed its legislation, and California’s measure had support from both parties.

Hoping to bring that cooperation and a sense of urgency on the issue to Washington, local businesspeople, mayors and other officials from states have been lobbying on Capitol Hill. (emphasis added)

We’ve always believed that online sales tax collection is a bipartisan issue—it’s not about creating a new tax or raising taxes; it’s simply about closing a loophole that’s draining states’ abilities to fund critical local services. We’re glad to see that state politicians are willing to forget about partisanship in order to serve the greater good, and we think that even on the federal level, there’s more agreement than not on the issue. Over time, we believe that more and more political leaders on both sides of the aisle will speak out for the Main Street Fairness Act—particularly since the article quotes a spokesman for the Alliance for Main Street Fairness as saying that “between 150 and 200 members of Congress come from states which have recently taken action and would see hometown support for a federal solution.”

The article also includes a quote from Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who’s “lobbied extensively for federal action” (and who is, we note, a Republican), that offers some specific figures on what the lost sales tax revenue would have paid for:

Cornett says the $10 to $15 million a year his city loses on uncollected taxes equates to between 100 and 150 firefighters or police. He says he’s making progress arguing that these are taxes already owed, not new taxes.

“Now you find conservatives in Washington who understand this is closing a loophole, it’s not a new tax,” says Cornett.

Most cities are just hanging on, trying to keep the firefighters and police on the street. This is one way Congress can help local governments without it costing them anything.” (emphasis added)

Granted, that figure applies only to Oklahoma City, but it does give us some idea of just what we lose when online retailers don’t collect sales tax. Consider, too, that the 100 to 150 firefighters or police officers that sales tax would have paid for isn’t only a loss to the community, as important as that is. It’s also a loss of new jobs at a time when they are desperately needed. If Oklahoma City had had the $10 to $15 million a year that it’s due in uncollected sales tax, it could have created 100 to 150 new jobs.

The article concludes with a discussion of how sales tax contributes to state budgets:

Nationally, the cost of running local government is rising faster than tax revenue. Sinking property values are hurting real estate tax collections. Stagnant salaries have kept income tax flat in the states which impose one.

Oklahoma’s cities rely on sales taxes for 55 percent of their budget on average. In some places, sales tax covers more than 90 percent of the local budget.

Arkansas municipalities rely on it heavily too, for close to 50 percent of their income from sales taxes. Slack receipts have driven 15 Arkansas cities to institute sales tax increases so far this year, according to the Arkansas Municipal League.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs calculates that in fiscal 2010, which ended August 31, her state lost $658 million in uncollected sales taxes. Sales tax contributes 55 percent of the state’s total income. (emphasis added)

These figures are revealing, particularly when you consider the fact that sales tax revenue has been declining for the past decade, due mainly to the increase in online shopping. Add up these three facts—sales tax provides at least 50% (in some places, up to 90%) of city or municipal income in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas; sales tax revenue has been declining for a decade; and in this economy, other sources of revenue, such as income tax and property tax, are also declining—and it becomes clear why 15 Arkansas cities had to raise sales taxes this year. If online retailers were collecting the sales tax that’s already due, those increases would not have occurred.

Near the beginning of the article, Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City, directs a plea toward Congress: “We need help at the federal level. . . . There’s a limit to what we can do [locally].” If Congress is paying attention to what its counterparts at the state and city level are saying, not to mention to the needs of Americans for new jobs, firefighters, and police, the Main Street Fairness Act should pass soon, by a wide margin.


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.


Round-up of recent press on online sales tax collection

October 3, 2011
Recent press

Recent press on online sales tax collection

We’ve been looking at the recent editorials and news articles on online sales tax collection, and we’re encouraged to see that most of them are in favor of it—a position that we’ve long argued to be practical, sensible, and simply right.

From the Tulsa World, “Only fair: Online sales tax is necessary”:

No one likes paying taxes. They are, however, necessary to keep a city and state running. You might not like a sales tax, but you certainly like good roads.

If we’re going to have taxes, it is imperative that everyone pays their share. For years, some shoppers have been skirting local and state sales taxes by purchasing items online that are available locally. That is not fair to those who support local businesses and keep their cities running with local sales taxes. . . .

States and cities . . . need the income that they have coming. Local merchants, who choose to do business here and employ Tulsans and spend their hard-earned money with fellow local merchants and pay their sales taxes, deserve a level playing field. 

From the Bismarck Tribune, “Main Street Fairness Act: A bill to close the sales tax loophole”:

Studies show that states are losing about $23 billion annually in sales taxes. The tax is legally due on purchases but goes uncollected because the seller is not required to collect the tax and the purchaser fails to report and remit the tax due. This situation creates a huge disparity and an extreme disadvantage for our main street retailers who are competing with retailers selling over the Internet or by some other remote means. . . .

The Main Street Fairness Act addresses the issue of fairness and levels the playing field for all retailers. . . .

Cities, counties and state government rely on sales and use tax revenue to provide services to our residents and to build and maintain a high quality infrastructure for the businesses operating here. The Main Street Fairness Act is an important bill for the retail industry and states—it provides for fairness across the retail industry while permitting individual state sovereignty and supporting a fair sales tax system. . . .

The proposed legislation will go a long way to support and encourage growth in our local North Dakota businesses along with main street retail industry across the country. We encourage Sens. Kent Conrad and John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg to sign on to the legislation and support it when it comes up for a vote.

From the Detroit Free Press, “Online sales tax collection rules would level playing field and add funds to state”:

Main Street retailers, the backbone of America, stimulate local economies, build communities and provide good, stable, local jobs. In July retailers added 26,000 jobs to the national economy.

However, these jobs are being threatened by online retailers fighting to preserve an unfair price advantage of 6% over brick-and-mortar stores in Michigan. . . .

In today’s marketplace, the shape of commerce is changing, but the rules remain stuck in 1992—well before the era of the iPad, smart phones and even home Internet access. Online-only retailers are exempt from collecting sales tax at every point of purchase. . . .

Many consumers are often unaware that the tax on online and catalogue purchases already exists. When an online retailer fails to collect the sales tax, it falls to the consumer to report that tax directly to the state, which is often not done.

The Center for Business and Economic Research estimates that this year Michigan will lose more than $125 million in revenue due to the Internet sales tax loophole. As legislators grapple to fill budget gaps, this revenue would go a long way toward adequately funding essential public services: paving roads, keeping police and firefighters on the job, and providing our children with a quality education.

States have been compelled to take action in the absence of a national approach to sales tax collection. But a possible solution is the Main Street Fairness Act, introduced in Congress in July. The bill is designed to grant states the authority to set up a simple and equitable system of tax collection on remote sales and, ultimately, the ability to collect these taxes at the point of purchase. . . .

We need a 21st Century framework to ensure a marketplace that benefits online retailers in addition to brick-and-mortar retailers, who provide good local jobs, support our communities and drive America’s economy.

Our country is overdue for a national solution to the issue of sales tax collection.

From Gazette.net (Maryland), “Inaction on Internet sales tax hurts states”:

For Maryland, collecting sales tax on Internet purchases could yield additional revenue estimated to be in excess of $200 million annually, which the state sorely needs to bring budgets into balance given the lagging condition of our local economy and continued structural deficit.

Without this revenue, which is rightfully owed to the state, programs such as Medicaid, K-12 education and our transportation infrastructure needs will be unmet without additional tax increases. . . .

More importantly, though, such a policy change would level a slanted playing field for bricks and mortar retailers who invest in our local communities and currently charge and collect taxes on sales via the Internet. . . .

Moving forward . . . our federal representatives and Congress as an institution should end this debate and do what’s right for state governments and more importantly for countless mom-and-pop retailers that serve as the backbone of our nation’s economy.

From the Midland (MI) Daily News, “Local businesses like proposed Internet sales tax legislation”:

Legislators hope a newly proposed online sales tax bill will equalize what they consider an unfair playing field between Web retailers and small businesses. . . .

Michigan would save up to $141.5 [million] in lost sales tax revenue if the [state] bill becomes law, improve sales at brick-and-mortar retailers by as much as $126 million and create up to 1,600 jobs, according to a report from the Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.

Jerry Meier, owner of Meier Camera Shop, 122. W. Main St. in Midland, said he cannot believe the state has chosen to miss out on those tax dollars for so long.  “We’ve wondered about this for some time. I think it’s going to make a difference,” Meier said. “Everyone says ‘buy local,’ but when it gets right down to it, they look at (online retailers) as an advantage.”

A 6 percent disadvantage when it comes to sales taxes makes a large difference in the long run, he said. . . .

“Legislators we’ve talked with understand that a sale is a sale is a sale regardless of where it takes place,” said Tom Scott, senior vice president of the Michigan Retailers Association. “Government should not be picking winners and losers by favoring one type of retailer over another — especially when it’s our hometown Michigan retailers who are being hurt by the current situation.”


California-Amazon deal gives hope to states and the Main Street Fairness Act

September 30, 2011
Stateline.org

Stateline.org: Amazon deal with California may set precedent for online tax collection

According to an article on Stateline.org, the deal between Amazon and California on online sales tax collection gives other states hope that they, too, may get online retailers to collect sales tax—though they do not have as strong a position for negotiating as California:

Now that the largest state in the country has seemingly pressured Amazon to change its policy, the result could be a flood of new online tax laws, as other states ask why Amazon can’t treat them the same as it treats California. Danny Diaz, spokesman for the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, a group trying to get the online retailers to collect taxes, says Amazon has undermined its own case by striking the California deal. “You begin your argument by saying you can’t do it, it’s too complicated, it’s unconstitutional and all of this,” Diaz says, “and you end your argument by saying you’ll do it in a year, it’s legal, you can do it. Clearly, clearly the ground has shifted underneath your feet.”

Other states, though, might not be in a position to get the same deal as California. For one thing, Amazon had more of a presence in that state than simply a bunch of affiliates. The company had several wholly-owned subsidiaries in California, which made it tougher for the company to claim that it lacked a physical presence.

The other difference is that California is simply bigger, which may have made Amazon leery of cutting its ties there. Last Friday, the company said it would add 10,000 jobs in the state in coming years. “When you’re California or New York across the table from an Amazon, it’s a pretty big slice of the market,” says Kevin Sullivan, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services. “We don’t have the leverage that a New York has or the leverage that a California has.”

But, the article continues, the Amazon-California deal inspires even more hope that federal legislation on online sales tax—which would make state-by-state laws unnecessary— will finally pass:

For now, Amazon isn’t indicating that it will offer other states the same deal it offered California. But the company is saying what it would like to have happen next: a federal solution. “We’re committed to working with Congress, retailers and the states to pass federal legislation as soon as possible,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, said in a statement after Brown signed the law. That isn’t a new position. Amazon’s case has long been that it isn’t against collecting sales taxes, so long as a federal deal also makes collecting the taxes less burdensome.

That’s actually what most state officials want, too. Legislation in Congress known as the Main Street Fairness Act would require online retailers to collect sales taxes in the state where a purchase is made, but only if the state is among those that that have made their sales taxes more uniform through an interstate collaboration known as the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement.

When state legislators came to Washington last week to give their view on federal debt negotiations, one thing they asked Congress for was passage of the Main Street Fairness Act. With Amazon and big brick-and-mortar retailers like Wal-Mart and Target forming an unusual coalition in favor of a federal law, their hope is that their side has the clout to win passage. If the California deal adds urgency to the efforts, all the better. “We’re going to face hundreds of millions, billions of dollars in [aid] reductions,” says Neal Osten, director of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Washington office. “This is something Congress can do for the states.”

With Amazon, Walmart, Target, and many more major retailers (not to mention the Retail Industry Leaders Association) all joining state legislators from both sides of the aisle in supporting the Main Street Fairness Act, surely the bill’s time has come.

“Still,” the article says, “there are reasons for skepticism.”

For one thing, some online retailers are still taking a hard line against collecting sales tax. Jonathan Johnson, president of O.co (formerly known as Overstock.com), points out that Amazon’s size and wealth positions it to cope with differing sales tax rates and definitions around the country. Smaller online companies might suffer more. “I think the Main Street Fairness Act is anything but main street and anything but fair,” Johnson said in an interview with Stateline. “Big retailers would like to create a barrier to entry for any new company.”

The other reason for doubt is that Congress has struggled to forge compromises on all big issues lately. A proposal that would result in more taxes being collected—even if the taxes are legally already owed—will be an especially hard sell, even if the failure to pass it will likely result in a new round of messy fights between states and online retailers.

If these are the only arguments standing in the way of the Main Street Fairness Act, then we take heart. There are reasonable answers to these objections.

First, the notion that “the Main Street Fairness Act is harmful for small online retailers”: It’s really not. Technology has reached the point that today, it’s no more difficult to collect sales tax online than to calculate shipping rates. Look at TaxCloud, a comprehensive sales tax management service that’s available at no cost for retailers. With services like TaxCloud available—again, at no cost—there’s no reason for any retailer, no matter how small, to find it difficult, costly, or burdensome to collect sales tax.

Second, there is this scare statement that “the Main Street Fairness Act is a hard sell in Congress”: We disagree. While it is easy to simply say things like “it will never happen” or “Congress is too divided,” nobody in Washington DC is saying that about this issue (except for the ATU and NTP). In fact, it’s one of those rare bills that has bipartisan support. It may have been introduced by a Democrat, but it has lots of Republican supporters, among them Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Senator John Boozman (R-AR), and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (not to mention all the Republican supporter in state legislatures, such as Luke Kenley (IN) and Evelyn Lynn (FL), to name just two). We think that once hard facts overcome all the inflammatory rhetoric about the Main Street Fairness Act, voting for it should be a pretty easy decision.

The Stateline article is well worth reading in its entirety for its thorough summary of the arguments for and against online sales tax collection. Just keep in mind that the arguments against it aren’t the last word.