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February 06, 2014 08:30 AM UTC

A Better "Amazon Tax?"

  • by: Colorado Pols


As the Durango Herald's Joe Hanel reports:

Democrats are back with another attempt to tax Internet sales, and this year, they are confident the courts will be on their side.

The so-called “Amazon tax” has roiled the Legislature for the last five years. Colorado passed an Internet tax law in 2010, but its status has been uncertain after it was thrown out by a federal judge, then reinstated and currently is the subject of a new lawsuit that seeks to block it again.

Colorado isn’t alone in trying to impose taxes on Internet sales. States got a big boost in December when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a New York law passed in 2008 to tax companies such as…

“It’s really simple. Our brick-and-mortar businesses are being undermined,” [sponsoring Rep. Lois] Court said.

Supporters include the Colorado Retail Council, a lobbying group for local businesses.

Here's the full text of the Marketplace Fairness and Small Business Protection Act as introduced.

The fight over collection of Colorado's standard state use tax of 2.9% for online purchases has raged in the Colorado legislature, and on this blog, for a number of years. As Hanel reports, Colorado passed a bill in 2010 meant to push online retailers to remit this tax, more or less by imposing an onerous paperwork requirement if they didn't. That law was ruled unconstitutional in 2012 by a federal judge, whose ruling was then overturned on appeal. The court battle over that law continues, but as Hanel reports, House Bill 14-1269 could render the issue moot.

In the time between passage of the 2010 "Amazon Tax" and today, the question has shifted at least rhetorically in favor of taxing online purchases, with large online retailers like Amazon expressing a new willingness to remit taxes in a "fair" manner. Federal legislation has been introduced to create a nationwide system for sales tax collection on online purchases, but like so many agenda items in today's paralyzed Congress, its status today is "uncertain."

But the bottom line hasn't changed: business groups like the Colorado Retail Council support collecting tax on internet sales because local retail has been severely impacted by the switch to tax-free online buying and selling. Not only has it hurt brick-and-mortar local businesses, the state and local communities are deprived of revenue. It can't–and shouldn't in a free market–be undone, but there's nothing radical about trying to level the playing field. In fact, claims that these laws are "anti-business," generally from Republican lawmakers, could not be more wrong. This is pro-business.

That is, pro local business. Now that this is becoming a more prevalent attitude nationwide, it will be interesting to see if House Bill 1269 gets a better reception from Amazon's many previous defenders.


28 thoughts on “A Better “Amazon Tax?”

  1. Democrats seeking to raise more taxes.  Isn't that a shocker.  And then they are shocked and surprised that we have as many people employed in full-time work as we did back in the good old days of Jimmy Carter.  Take more money out of the economy, less money is spent creating private sector jobs.  Who would have thought?

    1. I thought that Republicans were all about protecting small businesses, which this bill is designed to do. And, if you drive on public roads, expect someone to answer when you call 911, and would like your food and drugs to be safe, government has to do that – with taxes.


      1. I get it.  You protect small business by taxing big business.  Then you protect big business by taxing small business.  Then you protect small business even more by taxing big business even more.  Then everbody goes out of business and there is nobody left to tax.  That is what I call business development Dem style.  Others might call it crony capitalism, but I digress.

        1. Big businesses don't suffer because of small tax adjustments either. There is no data demonstrating unemployment caused by taxes in our economy. The number of customers with disposable income to spend in businesses, large and small, is the single most important factor. 

          Raising the minimum wage would be a boost to the economy. Adjusting taxes well within reason would not be a drag. The taxes would simply level the playing field a bit.  Internet taxes still wouldn't be as high as taxes in brick and mortar stores. They certainly wouldn't affect pricing enough for people to give up the convenience of shopping in their pajamas. 

          Many people miss the many retail stores that have closed in the post-Bush disaster economy that Rs have used their power of obstruction to resist fixing for anyone but the top fraction of a percent. Many of us enjoy both options and want our own neighborhoods' unique small businesses to survive and thrive. There's no reason why both businesses large and small, internet and brick and mortar, can't continue to enrich our lives and our economy. This tax wouldn't prevent any of them from doing so.

      2. They change their tune according to what Dems are for. Also there is no evidence that employers hire or fail to hire due to adjustments in taxes rather than due to the amount of business they're doing. I'd be thrilled to pay taxes at Clinton era levels if we were still doing Clinton era business. We were giving work to many more subcontractors and making much more money ourselves. 

        The biggest tax cut small business owners have received since Cheney/Bush tanked the economy and Rs have fought tooth and nail against stimulus policies that would have restored it at a much quicker clip than the slow but steady clip achieved under Obama against their obstruction is the tax cut you get because you're making so much less money. And if your business went bust, as so many empty retail spaces attest, you got a really great tax break. No taxes on no income. Not my idea of beneficial tax cuts. 

        Small business owners still stupid enough to vote for any Republican ever need to wake up.

      3. Republicans have the most disposable income and thereby benefit greatly from online purchasing.  Even small business owners, mostly Republicans, buy online for themselves and their business inventory.  Democrats are more apt to buy locally and pay sales tax in proportion to their disposable income.  That is why the Democrat establishment is pushing for online sales tax collected by the larger online retailers like Amazon … it benefits their constituents by providing more funding for social programs.

        1. It also benefits the economy by keeping more small businesses in business which actually means more  jobs for more people and fewer in need of social programs such as unemployment.

        2. If by "social programs" you mean "street maintenance, police, firefighters, and other essential city services" then, sure.  That's why we need sales tax (and why it's so unfair for Amazon and others to get a free ride).

    2. I volunteer for non-profits, who depend on the support of their local residents and businesses to do their good work. It's the small brick-and-mortar businesses who support such enterprises in the community, not the national chain big guys (with a very few exceptions) and certainly not the online-based businesses.

      If non-profits continue to lose local businesses as supporters, you just watch your taxes go up when governement social services have to step in.


  2. There are places in Colorado that rely on on-line shopping…Wallmart already forced out most of the mom&pop stores…and that left driving distances to small business stores or to a Wallmart…On-line shopping still has to pay shipping costs etc…Tax the churches if you want a revenue stream…

    1. It's not that big of a tax. Those people will not be priced out of the internet. They could also stop voting for Republicans against their own economic interests so we could grow the economy everywhere including for them.

    2. You've got a point that online retailers provide an alternative to Walmart, but most of the big order-fulfillment centers treat their empoyees as badly as Walmart treats theirs, if not worse. 

      And while Walmart may have displaced many mom and pop stores in rural areas, let's not kick 'em when they're down. Local sales tax at 8% in many areas provides a lot of monetary motivation to shop online, rather than local. Personally, I'd like to see a more level playing field. There's no reason to put your nighbohood business at a disadvantage to the likes of Amazon.

      1. And you don't have to pay shipping when you shop local either so even with higher local tax and lower internet tax you could still choose either or both without much difference to your wallet. 

        Personally I find the Walmart putting mom and pops out of business thing something that all the Republican voters in those parts should have thought about long before they started automatically pulling the lever for the party that is the political arm of those big corporations and against their own economic interests. How many of those mom and pop businesses that got crushed were owned by loyal Republican voters?

        If they're going to continue vote the party of the Masters of the Universe because that party has made an art form of yelling "squirrel", "abortion", "gays", "guns", "welfare queens", "socialists" and swaggers about being the party of God fearing patriots and freedom and puppies and apple pie instead of what they really are, the party of the bottom line corporations who may be "people" but not the kind with an ounce of compassion or patriotic feeling, things are going to continue to go down hill for small towns, small businesses and middle class workers. They get what they vote for.

        1. David, hadn't we better get started on the robot war? Those damned machines are gonna take over the world. But first…I would have to ask…which side would you be on…?wink

            1. My son trained as a mechanical engineer. He graduated in the depth of the recession, and took crappy drafting jobs for years.

              Now, all he does is program machines to create precision parts for aeronatics, rail, and other industries. And there's a little bit of manual work involved in cleaning and storing the finished parts and supplies. But basically, all he does all day is tell complex robotic machines inside gigantic transparent tanks what to do with blanks of metal.

              And he really likes it, and it pays quite well, although he'd still like to get a real engineering job. In his particular shop, the ratio of humans to robots is 1:6.

    3. Tax the churches if you want a revenue stream…

      Don't want to get into this discussion, but I do want to second this. How much longer before we, as a nation, address this scam?

  3. 1. 2.9% will have almost zero impact on people's purchases. The state will collect more money, but local businesses will not see a revenue uptick. I shop at Amazon first for many items because of selection and convenience, not price.

    2. I am against this tax collection implementation because I think our sales tax structure needs to be simplified first. I really do not want to get into an argument with an online seller about how Kit-Kat bars are not taxable while Snickers are.

  4. Is it truly 2.9% statewide? And will what is taxable also be set statewide? If so, that's workable. It still means online businesses have to contact 48 states for what's taxable (as opposed to a mom&pop that only has to contact one). But 48 is managable.

    And a single rate per state makes calculating trivial as you don't hve to worry about political borders that do not exactly match zip codes (which causes the software programs that calculate the location to get it wrong near the borders).

      1. I think it's workable for 48 jurisdictions because in return you have this much larger market you're selling to. But only if those jusrisdictions have competent people that can provide answers. If it's cluster fucks like our DoR, at least under the totally incompetent Roxy Huber, then it's unworkable.

        But that would be true even if it was a single jurisdiction managed by Roxy Huber.

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