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.

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.

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.

Michigan becomes latest state to consider affiliate nexus legislation

September 29, 2011
Michgan State Capitol

MLive: Michigan becomes latest state to consider affiliate nexus legislation

Michigan has become the latest state to consider affiliate nexus legislation, according to this article on MLive.com. Although the state bill (HB 5004) is being referred to by the Michigan media and even several of its sponsors as “the Main Street Fairness Act”, it is completely different from the federal bill of the same name, introduced in July by Senator Dick Durbin.

The state bill would require online retailers with affiliates in Michigan to collect sales tax.

The federal bill, on the other hand, would not affect affiliates at all. It would authorize states that have simplified their sales tax laws—as already Michigan has—to require all online retailers, regardless of location, to collect sales tax.

The reasons for supporting online sales tax collection make a lot of sense:

“We are trying to level the playing field for Michigan retail businesses,” said Barb Stein, owner of Great Northern Trading in downtown Rockford. “We want to make sure that anybody that sells something in Michigan subject to sales tax has to collect it, including Internet retailers.”

Stein was part of the press conference Tuesday unveiling the proposed Michigan Main Street Fairness Act, co-authored by state Reps. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake Township, and Jim Ananich, D-Flint.

Closing the loophole could save the state $141.5 million in lost sales tax revenue, generate as much as $126 million in additional sales and lead to the creation of 1,600 jobs,according to a report released last week by Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.

“The uneven playing field reduces economic activity across the state and prevents small businesses in Michigan from adding jobs,” said Sikkema, a senior policy fellow at the nonpartisan think tank and a former Republican House minority leader from Grandville.

But the federal Main Street Fairness Act would have all these benefits without the drawbacks of the recent rash of state-by-state “affiliate nexus” or so-called “Amazon tax” bills. Retailers usually respond to state affiliate nexus bills by dropping their affiliates in the state, which means the in-state affiliates have to either move out of state or face an enormous drop in income. What’s more, these bills have repeatedly proven not to bring an increase in sales tax revenue—they’re simply ineffective.

There’s a terrific editorial in favor of the Michigan bill that laments the fact that state affiliate nexus laws are necessary, that Congress hasn’t yet passed the federal Main Street Fairness Act:

Michigan businesses have struggled enough without politicians adding to their troubles. Yet the burden they’ve faced in recent years has not been relieved by a simple measure Congress could take. Congress could have empowered states to collect taxes on remote sales made to their citizens — sales over the Internet and through catalogues. E-commerce in particular has become an increasingly common way to do business. . . .

Jobs that could have been created in our local communities will not be created, because bricks-and-mortar retailers in Michigan operate at a disadvantage against their virtual rivals. If e-tailers can spare their customers the 6 percent sales tax, main street stores get undercut on price, especially where large purchases are concerned.

With Congress failing to act, members of the state legislature are going to take another run at it this important question. Tuesday, state Reps. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake Township, and Jim Ananich, D-Flint, introduced the Main Street Fairness Act.

The act would level the playing field between in-state retailers — who pay taxes and employ people in Michigan — and remote retailers who do not. The bills should be passed by lawmakers.

The greatest irony is, Michigan has already done all the work needed and enacted laws necessary to simplify its sales tax laws in accordance with the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement. The federal Main Street Fairness Act requires states to do this before they can mandate all online retailers to collect sales tax. So Michigan has already made sales tax collection easier for businesses and is poised to benefit from the federal legislation as soon as it is passed by Congress—but the state legislators still feel the need to look at affiliate nexus legislation because right now it’s the state’s only recourse to get at uncollected online sales tax revenue without Congress taking action. Hopefully Congress will soon pass the already pending Main Street Fairness Act, so Michigan is not forced to enact H.B. 5004 and inadvertently hurt its thousands of affiliate marketing businesses.

We understand why Michigan is considering affiliate nexus legislation, but the state would do better to put its full support behind the federal Main Street Fairness Act. It’s better for everyone—states, affiliates, online retailers, and consumers.