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Local News

May 7, 2013

Senate passes bill letting states tax online sales

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“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.

Many governors — Republicans and Democrats — have been lobbying the federal government for years for the authority to collect sales taxes from online sales.

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