Is it Time for an Internet Sales Tax?
We all love buying online to save on sales tax. But with state governments struggling to balance budgets and services getting slashed, more and more states are finding ways to get a piece of the pie.
Several states have enacted the so-called "Amazon tax", requiring companies over a certain size with affiliates in the state to collect sales tax. Amazon has responded by terminating all affiliates in those states.
Whether or not these laws violate federal law is an open question. States are only able to require businesses with a "nexus" in the state to collect sales tax. Affiliates may or may not fulfill that requirement.
But even if the courts decide that question in favor of companies like Amazon, is that they way it should be?
Yesterday, Jerry West quoted former President Clinton saying:
"E-commerce is going great and old commerce is doing not so great," he said and then continued to name some stores in his hometown that have gone out of business. "Do we need to set up a tax system that favors the people that are doing well and burdens the people that are struggling?"
Local businesses are hurting because they can't match the no-sales-tax prices of online retailers. And local governments are hurting as their sales tax bases shrink. What's good for us individually is hurting our communities. Perhaps it's time for all of us as individuals to suck it up and change that.
But letting each state collect sales tax according to their own rules is a problematic solution.I remember a few years ago when a new sales tax system was about to be adopted in Utah, where I lived at the time. Instead of setting sales tax rates based on where an item was sold, the rate was going to be set based on where it was mailed to. That would have required online businesses to constantly update sales tax rates for every county in the entire state, and even individual cities.
Fortunately, that part of the new law was scrapped before it went into effect.
Allowing each state to collect sales tax at their own rate would cause the same problem. Only it would be worse, because there'd be thousands upon thousands of different tax rates all across the country.
Sure, a few people would cash in by providing sales tax rate tracking services. But for the most part, it would reverse the current situation, placing a heavier tax burden on eCommerce than on brick and mortar stores, which would still collect tax only at their local rate.
A single, unified sales tax rate for all states would make matters much simpler. Reporting would be more complex, assuming the tax was going to be remitted to the buyer's state. (Sales tax is actually a consumption tax paid by the consumer. It's just collected by sellers on behalf of consumers for convenience.) But a single, central clearinghouse could receive all the taxes and distribute them to the states.
What do you think? Are you willing to give up your free ride to help your local businesses and government stay afloat? Or do local business and government need to adapt to the information age?