May 7, 2013

U.S. Senate passes bill letting states tax online sales

By Stephen Ohlemacher / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate sided with traditional retailers and financially strapped state and local governments Monday by passing a bill that would widely subject online shopping – for many a largely tax-free frontier – to state sales taxes.

click image to enlarge

Sarah Davis, co-owner of Fashionphile.com, poses with her bags in a company warehouse in the Carlsbad, Calif. The Internet company sells rare, vintage, and discontinued previously owned bags and is facing the complicated task of dealing with new state regulations on Internet sale taxes.

The Associated Press

Related headlines

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 69 to 27, getting support from Republicans and Democrats alike. But opposition from some conservatives who view it as a tax increase will make it a tougher sell in the House. President Obama has conveyed his support for the measure.

Maine's two senators, Republican Susan Collins and Angus King, an independent, voted in favor of the bill.

Under current law, states can only require retailers to collect sales taxes if the store has a physical presence in the state.

That means big retailers with stores all over the country like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target collect sales taxes when they sell goods over the Internet. But online retailers like eBay and Amazon don't have to collect sales taxes, except in states where they have offices or distribution centers.

As a result, many online sales are tax-free, giving Internet retailers an advantage over brick-and-mortar stores.

"We ought to have a structure in place in the states that treats all retail the same," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. "Small retailers are collecting (sales tax) on the first dollar of any sale they make, and it's only fair that other retailers who are selling to those same customers the same product have those same obligations."

The bill would empower states to require businesses to collect taxes for products they sell on the Internet, in catalogs and through radio and TV ads. Under the legislation, the sales taxes would be sent to the state where the shopper lives.

Supporters say the current tax disparity is turning some traditional stores into showrooms, where shoppers pick out items they like, then buy them on the Internet to avoid sales taxes.

"It's about the way commerce has changed in America," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "Bookstores, stores that sell running shoes, bicycles and appliances are at a distinct disadvantage. They've become showrooms."

Internet giant eBay is leading the fight against the bill, along with lawmakers from states with no sales tax and several prominent anti-tax groups. The bill's opponents say it would put an expensive obligation on small businesses because they are not as equipped as national merchandisers to collect and remit sales taxes at the multitude of state rates.

"Giant retailers have a requirement to collect sales taxes nationwide because they have physical presence nationwide," eBay president John Donahoe wrote in an online column over the weekend. "Likewise, today small retail stores and online retailers collect sales taxes for the one state where they are located. That's a fair requirement."

"If the bill passes, small online businesses would have the same tax compliance obligations and face the same enforcement risks as giant retailers, despite the fact that they are usually located in just one state."

Businesses with less than $1 million in online sales would be exempt. EBay wants to exempt businesses with up to $10 million in sales or fewer than 50 employees.

Some states have sales taxes as high as 7 percent, plus city and county taxes that can push the combined rate even higher. For example, the combined state and local sales tax is 9 percent in Los Angeles and 9.25 percent in Chicago. In New York City, it's 8.5 percent and in Richmond, Va., 5 percent. In many states, shoppers are already required to pay unpaid sales tax when they file their state income tax returns. However, states complain that few taxpayers comply.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)