House panel prepares to consider Womack’s online sales tax bill


WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee appears ready to take up U.S. Rep. Steve Womack’s proposal to require online merchants to collect sales tax receipts for most Internet purchases.

Its chairman, U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on Wednesday unveiled a list of seven basic principles to serve as a starting point for discussion on the proposal that Womack, R-Rogers, first introduced in October 2011.

Womack said Wednesday that he is encouraged to see the principles unveiled and believes they reflect the spirit of his legislation, which he said is to level the playing field between online-only and brick-and-mortar retailers when it comes to collecting sales taxes.

Currently, online merchants do not have to collect sales taxes for purchases made in states where they have no physical presence, giving them a de facto pricing advantage over brick-and-mortar stores that collect the tax at the point of sale.

“This tax loophole has forced more and more of the small businesses that line our Main Streets to shut their doors,” Womack said. “Congress must act to fix this injustice, and Chairman Goodlatte’s principles are a huge step in that direction.”

The National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association issued statements Wednesday praising Goodlatte for taking a “solid first step” toward a legislative solution.

Goodlatte said his principles were developed with input from taxpayers, industry and trade groups, and representatives of state and local governments to serve as a starting point to spark creative solutions to Internet taxation.

“Americans across the country are affected by the issue of Internet sales tax whether they are consumers or business owners. The aim of the principles is to provide a starting point for discussion in the House of Representatives. I greatly look forward to hearing fresh approaches to this issue and continuing the discussion,” Goodlatte said in a statement.

A 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unless a merchant had a physical presence within a state, the state could not compel the merchant to collect sales taxes.

Congress can change the rule but opponents argue that it would be too onerous for online merchants to comply with sales tax regulations that differ across 45 states that have such a tax.

States now require consumers to pay the uncollected “use” taxes themselves, but few do — costing states an estimated $23 billion in 2012. That figure could double in a decade, according to economist Arthur Laffer.

Goodlatte’s basic principles on remote sales tax:

• Tax relief: Using the Internet should not create new or discriminatory taxes not faced in the offline world, nor should any fresh precedent be created for other areas of interstate taxation by states.

• Tech neutrality: Brick and mortar, exclusively online and brick and click businesses should all be on equal footing. The sales tax compliance burden on online Internet sellers should not be less, but neither should it be greater than that on similarly situated offline businesses.

• No regulation without representation: Those who would bear state taxation, regulation and compliance burdens should have direct recourse to protest unfair, unwise or discriminatory rates and enforcement.

• Simplicity: Governments should not stifle businesses by shifting onerous compliance requirements onto them; laws should be so simple and compliance so inexpensive and reliable as to render a small business exemption unnecessary.

• Tax competition: Governments should be encouraged to compete with one another to keep tax rates low and American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage to their foreign competitors.

• States’ rights: States should be sovereign within their physical boundaries. In addition, the federal government should not mandate that states impose any sales tax compliance burdens.

• Privacy rights: Sensitive customer data must be protected.