Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The US Senate Passes a War Tax? Well an Online Sales Tax Sneaks into the Defense Authorization Bill

Online sales tax to be added to defense authorization bill
This may be the last Christmas of online shopping without paying sales tax.

A proposed online sales tax has been offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, much to the ire of opponents.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association, a group that opposes this move, says that an online sales tax will burden small businesses, “some of the most promising candidates for future economic growth.”

“This proposal, and other online sales tax collection proposals like it, would allow states to penalize the innovative e-commerce business model by targeting small online businesses as convenient sources (and collectors) of revenue,” said CCIA President and CEO Ed Black.

The Marketplace Fairness Act, and its House counterpart the Marketplace Equity Act, seek to clarify, and arguably overturn, a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that requires retailers to have a physical presence in a state in order to collect sales tax on goods.

“Severing the relationship between taxation and physical presence would be a fundamental transformation in how we consider taxes,” Black continued. “Such a significant step deserves more extensive consideration than attachment to the unrelated Defense Authorization bill.”

Still, a recent poll indicates that the majority of Americans support the idea, describing an online sales tax as “common sense”. They also feel that a tax for online purchases would encourage people to buy local and keep tax dollars in their community.

“Local retailers invest in their communities and play a significant role in the overall quality of life in the places we call home,” said Betsy Laird, senior vice president of global public policy for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Collecting the tax across state lines however poses as a challenge for small businesses that sell their goods in multiple states.

It is not the job of small businesses to collect taxes to provide tax revenue relief for state and local governments outside their jurisdiction,” Black said, suggesting that an online tax would protect existing businesses at the expense of consumers and growth.

Some Republicans are on board, with Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi as “the most overlooked tax loophole.”

“We are optimistic that once the Marketplace Fairness Act is brought for a vote, it will have enough support to pass,” said Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin’s spokeswoman, Christina Mulka.

Both Sens. Durbin and Enzi have offered the bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

“Sen. Durbin is focused on working with his colleagues to try to get a vote on the bill before the end of this year, whether as a stand-alone bill or part of a larger piece of legislation,” Mulka said. “They are keeping all options on the table at this point.”
What is really happening here? Well, first you have to understand the online sales tax.

Collecting Sales Tax Online
If you run a business with a physical storefront, collecting sales tax is straightforward. You charge your customers the sales tax required by the jurisdiction where your business is located. For example, if you operate a retail store in Nashville, Tenn., you collect both state and local sales taxes from customers buying merchandise at your store.

But suppose you start selling your products online. Does that mean you charge customers the same sales taxes that you do to those who are coming into your store? It depends.

When to Collect Sales Tax Online

If your business has a physical presence in a state, such as a store, office or warehouse, you must collect applicable state and local sales tax from your customers. If you do not have a presence in a particular state, you are not required to collect sales taxes.

In legal terms, this physical presence is known as a "nexus." Each state defines nexus differently, but all agree that if you have a store or office of some sort, a nexus exists. If you are uncertain whether or not your business qualifies as a physical presence, contact your state's revenue agency. If you do not have a physical presence in a state, you are not required to collect sales taxes from customers in that state.

This rule is based on a 1992 Supreme Court ruling in which the justices ruled that states cannot require mail-order businesses, and by extension, online retailers to collect sales tax unless they have a physical presence in the state.

State Exemptions

Keep in mind that not every state and locality has a sales tax. Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon do not have a sales tax. In addition, most states have tax exemptions on certain items, such as food or clothing. If you are charging sales tax, you need be familiar with applicable rates.

Determining which sales tax to charge can be a challenge. Many online retailers use online shopping-cart software services to handle their sales transactions. Several of these services are programmed to calculate sales tax rates for you.
That the states are actually lobbying congress to facilitate their ability to increase tax revenues by federalizing state sales tax collections is blatantly wrong.  State sales tax collection issues are a 10th amendment issue that got muddled by the 1992 Supreme Court ruling at a time when online sales were not significant.

Once the federal government federalizes state sales tax collections with legislation that clearly violates the 1992 SCOTUS ruling, it's only a matter of time before Fedzilla imposes its own online sales tax which would effectively be a backdoor national sales tax starting with an online sales tax.

That such a bill was sneaked into the Defense Authorization bill without any debate or notice is appalling but that's pretty much how things operate in the District of Crime (DC).

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