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Thursday March 22, 2012 | 02:47 PM

The online sales site eBay is taking exception to Gov. Paul LePage’s support for federal legislation making it easier for states to reap sales taxes from online purchases.

Maine Republican LePage earlier this month sent a letter to GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine asking them to support the Marketplace Fairness Act authored by Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyoming.

LePage said the bill would create a more level playing field in Maine by requiring online businesses to collect Maine sales taxes the same way bricks and mortar Maine retailers do currently.

“Unfortunately, a damaging inequity exists in the retail marketplace because some online retailers are not required to collect Maine sales tax, but Maine retailers are," LePage said in his letter to Collins and Snowe. "Not only does this hurt Maine businesses, it hurts the state. If the handcuffs on these small retailers were removed, they could compete on equal terms. They would generate mores sales, pay more sales tax to the state treasury, hire more local retailers and pump more money into local economies throughout Maine." 

In a letter sent Wednesday by eBay’s government relations director, Brian Bieron, the company says that policymakers should “ensure that they protect small business retailers in Internet sales tax legislation.”

But Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, points out that the Enzi bill, which is the legislation LePage supports, already exempts businesses with less than $500,000 in gross sales.

eBay notes there are a variety of internet sales tax bills pending in Congress and says it supports a “robust” exemption set by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which will “be able to most accurately measure which businesses need protection the most.”

The Senate legislation LePage supports gives states more power to force online retailers to collect state sales taxes.

The bill says that, “States should have the ability to enforce their existing sales and use tax laws and to treat similar sales transactions equally, without regard to the manner in which the sale is transacted, and the right to collect - or decide not to collect - taxes that are already owed under state law.”

LePage says he is not advocating a tax increase – just to allow Maine to collect sales taxes that already are due.

Under current laws, consumers are supposed to voluntarily pay state taxes on online purchases, but rarely do.

Neither Collins nor Snowe is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Kevin Kelley, Collins’ spokesman, said that Collins intends to discuss the issue with LePage and the bill’s sponsors.

Snowe has not yet responded to a request for comment.

(Updated as of 6:15 p.m.: A Snowe spokesman said that the senator is reviewing the legislation and will speak to LePage about the issue, as well as constituents.

Snowe in particular wants to examine “any small business exemption that may be developed to address the challenges that would confront small merchants,” said her spokesman, Chris Averill.)

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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