When online sales tax means less income tax

July 18, 2013
Art Laffer

Art Laffer

Today’s issue of USA Today has an interesting piece by Art Laffer on how changes to the tax code can lead to economic growth. His main suggestion? Close the online sales tax loophole.

He writes:

Because state sales taxes generally have fewer loopholes and lower rates — and therefore have a lesser impact on growth and employment — pro-growth policies should favor sales over income taxes where possible.

The governors of Wisconsin, Iowa, Maine, and Ohio are already planning to put this idea into action.

If the Marketplace Fairness Act passes and these states are allowed to require online retailers to collect sales tax, the governors say, they’ll cut income taxes by an equal amount. So if online sales tax generates, say, $1 million in revenue, the cut in income taxes will equal $1 million in revenue.

There are multiple benefits to this approach, for both small businesses and taxpayers. First, it helps out the mom-and-pop businesses on Main Street, which are having a hard time competing with online retailers who don’t have to collect sales tax. The Marketplace Fairness Act levels the playing field by requiring all retailers to play by the same tax rules.

At the same time, it’s a win for taxpayers, who won’t see any increases in their overall tax bills.

For those who worry that enforcement of online sales tax will lead to more government spending as state and local governments see tax revenue rise, there’s another benefit: Since these states won’t see an overall change in their tax revenue, there’s no opportunity for increased spending.

And Laffer offers solid statistics on how online sales tax will help grow the economy:

Gross state product would increase from 1.2% in Alaska to 4.6% in Washington state over 10 years. States would see jobs created, anywhere from about 2,000 in Vermont to more than 180,000 in California. Gross domestic product would grow by more than $563 billion, creating 1.5 million jobs nationwide.

We think this idea is a win for everyone, especially in more conservative states that want to support local small businesses and avoid more government spending at the same time.

Of course, it’s dependent on the passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act. We hope that Congress—especially the representatives from Wisconsin, Iowa, Maine, and Ohio—is listening.


Internet retailers will have to collect sales tax, with or without the Marketplace Fairness Act

May 23, 2013

Among opponents of the Marketplace Fairness Act, there is a sense that if they succeed in blocking the bill, online retailers won’t have to collect sales tax.

Not so.

First, online retailers already have to collect sales tax for any state where they have nexus, defined as a physical presence. Warehouses and offices definitely fit the requirement, but some states also require any retailer selling at a fair or convention to collect sales tax.

More importantly, states can pass their own online sales tax laws. While the Supreme Court’s ruling in Quill v. North Dakota says that states can only require retailers with nexus to collect sales tax, states have been pushing against the edges of that ruling for some time by redefining “nexus.”

Affiliate nexus laws have been perhaps states’ most popular tool. These laws redefine “nexus” to include any retailer with a marketing affiliate located in the state. New York famously used an affiliate nexus law to get Amazon to collect New York sales tax, and with the court’s March ruling that the law can stand, more and more states are following its lead—most recently Kansas and New Mexico. West Virginia has gone even further by saying that having an individual perform services or solicit business in the state also qualifies a retailer for nexus. What is meant by “services” and “solicit” has yet to be defined.

The use of a drop shipper can also trigger a requirement to collect sales tax. If a customer and drop shipper are located in the same state, sales tax must be collected on the purchase—no matter where the retailer is located.

States are hurting for funds, and they aren’t going to ignore the $11 billion in sales tax that a University of Tennessee study found is going uncollected. If federal legislation doesn’t pass, they will continue to enact their own laws, increasing the number of retailers with nexus in the state and who therefore must collect sales tax.

Unfortunately for retailers, that means a nationwide patchwork of sales tax laws to navigate, all with varying requirements and definitions.

The Marketplace Fairness Act, in contrast, requires states to simplify and standardize their sales tax rules, so it will be easier for a retailer to collect sales tax for multiple states. And with this legislation in place, states will have no reason to pass their own laws aimed at getting online retailers to collect sales tax.


Editorials support Marketplace Fairness Act

April 30, 2013

The Marketplace Fairness Act has been all over the news in the last two weeks as it’s been debated on the Senate floor. The Senate is recessed for this week, but a vote on the bill is scheduled for Monday, May 6.

Most editorials on the topic have largely been in favor of online sales tax. Among the largest news outlets supporting it are:

(One notable exception to the general trend of support was the Wall Street Journal, whose April 17 editorial “The Internet sales tax rush” was effectively countered by the National Governors Association in a letter published on April 25.)

There have also been a lot of positive editorials from smaller local outlets, including:

If you’re interested in reading more, you’ll find a compilation of news articles on the Marketplace Fairness Act on marketplacefairness.org/news.


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.


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.”