Tag: Streamlined Sales Tax Project

More Internet Sales Taxes—and Your Privacy Compromised

Yesterday, Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and 19 cosponsors introduced a bill to promote the collection of taxes on Internet sales. I can’t recall seeing a bill so universally condemned in the libertarian, free-market, anti-tax, and pro-innovation communities. The National Taxpayers Union issued a press release, a “myths & facts” one-pager, and wrote it up on their blog for good measure. Here’s the Heartland Institute’s press release. The Competitive Enterprise Institute calls it a raw deal. R Street seems to hate this bill with a burning passion. Our sweethearts at NetChoice went with a Valentine’s theme.

[Update: The Center for Freedom and Prosperity also does not like this bill.]

[Update 2: Americans for Tax Reform does not like Internet sales taxes.]

I think differently from these groups. Oh no, I don’t think it’s a good idea to let state and local tax authorities impose complex taxes on businesses around the country just because they sell online. Doing so would cause Internet sales taxes to soar because tax authorities would be able to impose taxes on people who can’t vote them out of office.

But I think it’s important not to forget the consequences for privacy if Congress were to approve interstate tax collection like this.

Dig down into the bill and you start to see what it takes for states and localities to tax products sent into their states by remote sellers.

For purposes of [collecting taxes], the location to which a remote sale is sourced refers to the location where the item sold is received by the purchaser, based on the location indicated by instructions for delivery that the purchaser furnishes to the seller. When no delivery location is specified, the remote sale is sourced to the customer’s address that is either known to the seller or, if not known, obtained by the seller during the consummation of the transaction, including the address of the customer’s payment instrument if no other address is available.

That means that sellers all over the country would have to turn the addresses of the people they sell to over to state tax authorities. You could design a system to minimize the privacy problems here, but not eliminate them—especially when the time comes for the officials in one state to audit the sales in another.

Actually, Texans Save $600 Million a Year

A Texas tax official estimates in this story that Texas loses an estimated $600 million in Internet sales taxes every year. Its part of a long-running debate about whether state governments should be able to collect taxes from out-of-state retailers who send goods into their jurisdictions.

What happens with the $600 million depends on what you mean by “Texas.” If you mean the government of the state of Texas in Austin, why, yes, the government appears not to collect that amount, which it wants to. If by “Texas” you mean the people who live, work, and raise their families throughout the state–Texans–they actually save $600 million a year. They get to do what they want with it. After all, it’s their money.

The Texas tax collector is complaining because the last thing state taxing agents want to do is collect money in the form of use taxes, which means something like going door to door to collect money from voters based on what they bought from out of state. Revenuers intensely prefer to hide the process, collecting their residents’ money from out-of-state companies.

Amazon.com is Texas’ target–it’s the great white whale for tax-hungry jurisdictions nationwide. With no retail outlets and few offices or fulfillment centers around the country, it’s not subject to tax jurisdiction in lots of places that would like to tap it for revenue. Having a fulfillment center in Texas may make Amazon liable for $600 million of its customers’ money, so it’s doing the sensible thing: getting out.

And thank heavens it can! Amazon is a cog in the extremely virtuous process of tax competition. Its ability to move operations means that it can escape states with burdensome taxes and tax collections oblibations, like Texas. Tax competition among states puts downward pressure on taxes, which in turn puts upward pressure on the wealth and well-being of state residents.

The pro-tax folks have been working for years to eliminate tax competition. The “Streamlined Sales Tax Project” continues work it began in 2000 to pave the way for nationwide sales taxation. “Streamlining” sounds so good, doesn’t it? But the result would be uniform–and uniformly high–sales taxes that every state might impose on every retailer that sends goods across state lines.

The Web site of the pro-tax coalition sounds good, too: the “Alliance for Main Street Fairness,” at the URL standwithmainstreet.com. Who wouldn’t want to “stand with Main Street”? Lovers of limited government, for one.

“Fairness” here means uniform high sales taxes and interstate tax collection obligations. The site doesn’t say who’s behind it, but the campaign to impose taxes on Amazon and other remote sellers is almost certainly a project of big national chain retailers. Rather than fight to lower taxes nationwide, they think they should just saddle their online competitors with tax collection obligations.

As long as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project continues to fail, tax competition in this area survives, and retailers like Amazon can provide lower costs to all of us–including that $600 million in savings enjoyed by Texans each year.