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Records Committee orders public disclosure of Utah-Amazon contract on sales taxes

First Published      Last Updated Mar 17 2017 11:14 am


Private vs. public » State won’t say whether it will appeal Records Committee ruling in court.

A conservative group has won its battle to get a copy of the contract between the state and Amazon that was signed for the online retailer to begin collecting sales taxes on Utahns' purchases last January.

The state Tax Commission hasn't decided whether it will appeal Thursday's unanimous decision of the State Records Committee to district court.

"The Tax Commission itself will make a determination after we receive the order as to whether or not they are going to file an appeal in district court. If they don't they'll disclose the document to Libertas," Gale Francis, assistant attorney general, said after the meeting.




The order to release the contract is expected to be issued in seven business days.

The Libertas Institute appealed to the state Records Committee after its open-records request was denied by the Tax Commission. The agency claimed the records were properly withheld as protected because of trade secrets and unfair-competition concerns.

At Thursday's meeting, committee members entertained arguments on the issue then went into executive session to review the contract. They emerged to rule in favor of Libertas, finding the information was public, although they will allow the Tax Commission to redact certain confidential, proprietary company information.

"We're not asking Amazon to provide detail about the tax, we just want to know what the agreement is," said Libertas attorney Spencer Salcido.

In written arguments provided to the committee Salcido and Connor Boyack, Libertas president, asserted that rather than seeking to protect Amazon's private information, the Tax Commission appears bent on preserving its own secrets.

"Utahns are subject to Amazon's agreement with the state to collect sales taxes from them and yet they are being denied the ability to know how the agreement to take their property reads," they argued. "Utah's consumers will have their property seized under this secret contract."

Amazon is estimated to account for about one fifth of the total online sales to state residents and the collection of sales tax is expected to mean tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the state and local governments. Skeptics are not sure why the company voluntarily agreed to collect the taxes when they are not required by law to do so.

The only incentive the Tax Commission has publicly acknowledged is the 1.31 percent handling fee that other retailers are allowed to keep.

— Editor Dan Harrie contributed to this report.

 

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