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Virginia Missing $422 Million in Sales Taxes: Can Congress Get It Back?

"Virginia's got to have the ability to collect all sales tax revenue," says Sen. Mark Warner, who is co-sponsor of a bill that would allow local government to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases.

Consumers across the country increasingly are making purchases online, in some cases doing so to avoid paying sales tax. When that happens, local governments like miss out on much-needed revenue to help pay for roads, schools and police. One group estimates Virginia is missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars each year — $422 million in FY2012 — according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The group says in all, states will lose $23 billion in 2012.

That could change soon.

Virginia's two Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine voted in the majority (70-24) this week to proceed with a vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013.

The legislation will allow state and local governments to require Internet retailers with sales over $1 million a year to pay the same sales taxes that bricks-and-mortar retailers are required to pay. 

Warner is a co-sponsor of the bill. A final vote by the U.S. Senate on the sales tax bill has been delayed until May. It would next go to the House of Representatives.

Online retail sales totaled $169 billion in 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported, about 4.4 percent of total retail sales, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. From 2002 to 2010, such sales rose at an average annual rate of 18 percent, compared with 2.6 percent for total retail sales.

The New York Times this week noted that online retailers are hurting "old-fashioned retailers," who are "going bust, leaving towns marred by vast, empty storefronts. Those that remain complain of 'showrooming,' when shoppers inspect their wares, then leave the store to buy the same products on the Internet, finding lower prices and avoiding sales taxes."

The bill has conservative Republicans and Internet businesses such as Amazon and Walmart on board.

EBay is solidly against it. "...the problems with the current bill can be most easily addressed by exempting small businesses with less than $10 million in Internet sales or fewer than 50 employees," eBay wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today this week.

“Unfortunately under the current circumstances,” said Warner, in a news release, "we have an uneven playing field. Local, bricks and mortar small businesses follow the law and collect sales taxes from customers…On the other hand, many large online businesses do not collect the same sales taxes…That creates an un-level playing field between the online vendor and the bricks and mortar store.”

In Virginia last year, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced an agreement with Amazon.com to start collecting state sales tax from the company. The agreement was made as part of the company's move to build warehouses in Virginia's Chesterfield and Dinwiddie counties. Amazon will begin collecting and remitting Virginia sales tax on Sept. 1. States across the country have enacted similar legislation, mostly based on whether a company has a physical presence in the state. 

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance says that by not collecting sales tax on Internet purchases it:

  • Creates disadvantages for local businesses. Exempting online retailers from having to collect sales tax, as regular stores must, gives these companies a 4 to 9 percent price advantage over local stores — a sizable competitive advantage in retailing.
  • Makes a regressive tax more regressive, because only those with Internet access, a credit card, and a home or workplace where they can accept daytime deliveries are able to take advantage of the tax exemption.
Barry Meuse April 27, 2013 at 05:02 PM
This not about 'fairness' - this is simply another money grab by politicians - they can't pass up an opportunity to grab more of our hard-earned money to spend on inefficient and wasteful projects. Given the choice to eliminate wasteful projects and use the money thus 'saved' on new projects or to impose additional taxes - they avoid the tough decisions and chose to add new taxes. Even states with no sales tax will now be mandated to collect sales taxes on certain sales. And the writer above is correct - there are more sales tax jurisdictions than just the 50 states - think of the many city and county sales taxes layered on top of state taxes and you have some idea of the considerable body of tax law with which each Internet business will have to comply - easily 500. The fact is that retail business is evolving into additional media and becoming more efficient and we should let it do so without burdening it with another tax. There is a market-oriented solution if 'leveling' the playing field were a public good (which i doubt it is) - retail storefront businesses can sell on the Internet just like their competitors are doing.
Not giving real name April 29, 2013 at 04:15 PM
more and more money hungry dirty politicians. wake -up folks! what about Obama & administration taking Billions from Medicare to pay on Deficit!!!!!! Oh yes.

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