Make taxing Internet sales fair
Two tried and true sayings apply to The Tribune's April 26 editorial on the Marketplace Fairness Act. The first: There are two sides to every story. The second: The devil is in the details.
Overstock.com, contrary to popular thought, does not oppose Congress allowing states to require remote sellers to collect sales tax. In fact, Overstock.com thinks it is time for Congress to act to resolve the issue. But, for all the high-flown talk of "fairness," the bill has yet to earn that portion of its title.
Utah's congressional delegation understands that "fairness" has to be more than just lip service in the title of a bill. Our senators' opposition is principled and based on needed amendments.
Unlike the big-box store retailers backing the measure, remote sellers, like Overstock.com, receive no benefit for shouldering the massive job of tax collection in states where they have no physical presence. Here are just a few examples:
For their trouble, remote sellers are required by states to pay the considerable costs for tax collection implementation systems and pay credit card exchange fees on collected state taxes, all without reimbursement. It is states that are trying to free-ride on remote sellers that have no physical presence in their states.
These remote sellers get no local governmental benefits and can exercise no political influence to reduce the complexity of the current local tax laws in the 9,600 tax districts nationwide. States should provide a level of compensation to remote sellers for shouldering these burdens. It's only fair, and vendor compensation is not in this bill.
For their trouble, remote sellers take on exposure to lawsuits for liability both to states and to enterprising lawyers for over- or under-collection of state taxes. States should be required to certify the adequacy of software systems that remote sellers could then use to collect tax. States should also provide immunity from lawsuits when these systems cause errors (as they sometimes do). It's only fair. Software certification and lawsuit immunity are not in this bill.
States in recent years have cobbled together a patchwork quilt of laws, contrary to the U.S. Constitution, expanding their tax reach to conscript remote sellers into tax collection without congressional permission. This bill, while on its face seems to require states to comply with certain tax simplification components, actually does nothing to stop states from ignoring the bill, and continuing to add to the patchwork quilt of unconstitutional schemes.
Congress should end the patchwork quilt by preempting it, and set the standard nationwide for the minimum requirements that states will need to meet before requiring remote sellers to collect sales tax. It's only fair. That is not in this bill.
Overstock.com and other retailers have been working hard with Utah's congressional delegation and the bill's sponsors to ensure that the current bill is in fact as "fair" as its title suggests.
We are confident that when the final measure passes, as it likely will, the amendments we urge will assure that the measure has earned the word "fairness" in its title.
Jonathan E. Johnson III is an executive at Utah-based Overstock.com, Inc.