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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)  (Source: chicagotribune.com)
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) plans to introduce a bill called the Main Street Fairness Act

Amazon's war on taxes is becoming a tale as old as time. A U.S. state pushes the online retailer to collect taxes, and Amazon simply packs its bags and leaves for the next state that will leave it alone. But this time, that may not be the case.

Amazon is the largest online retailer with over 90 million registered buyers and $34 billion in annual sales. It launched in 1995, and sells everything from food, furniture and apparel to computers, electronics and toys. 

Recently, U.S. states have started pressuring Amazon to collect sales taxes on its items due to the retailer's affiliates operating within those states, and because of large state budget deficits. For example, Texas State Comptroller Susan Combs gave Amazon a $269 million bill in unpaid sales taxes, which led to Amazon's decision to close a local distribution center and cancel all plans to expand in the state of Texas. 

In another instance, Amazon won an exemption on a new sales tax law in South Carolina after saying it would pull a distribution center from the state if forced to collect. Amazon has also cancelled tens of thousands of affiliate accounts in Illinois and Colorado due to tax problems, and has brick-and-mortar chains like Best Buy and Wal-Mart breathing down its neck because of Amazon's "unfair advantage."

The unfair advantage refers to the online sales tax reprieve that was put in place awhile ago to support the then-upcoming industry of online shopping. But now that Amazon is large and in-charge, states and brick-and-mortar retail chains believe this reprieve is no longer necessary.

Now, Amazon may be in an inescapable position as Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) plans to introduce a bill that will require all businesses to collect sales tax "in the state where the consumer resides." The bill is called the Main Street Fairness Act.

"This idea is overdue," said Durbin. "Online retail sales are now very fulsome and are growing at the expense of local units of government." 

Amazon argues that a Supreme Court ruling from 1992 excuses Amazon and other remote sellers from having to collect taxes in U.S. states that do not have the company's employees or warehouses operating within its borders. In addition, Amazon notes that it currently collects taxes in Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Dakota and Washington, and that buyers in other states where taxes are not collected are to report it themselves, though they rarely do. 

According to a University of Tennessee study, U.S. states will collectively lose $10.1 billion in uncollected sales tax revenue this year. Next year, that number is expected to jump to $11.3 billion. With many state budgets in the red, the collection of online sales tax looks to be a quick fix that they all will continuously push for.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, has said that he would prefer that the tax situation be "fixed properly" through federal legislation, and this month, he may get his wish. Durbin is gathering support from former mayors and governors who are now in Washington "weighing the budget problems back home," and the issue will go to Capitol Hill by the end of the month.

"Doing it state by state gives the Internet companies an opportunity to go shopping, to find the state that is going to treat them the best," said Durbin. "It certainly argues for a federal approach."

Jason Brewer, vice president for communications and advocacy for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, is unsurprisingly for Durbin's new bill, saying that it's only a matter of time before Amazon will be forced to collect taxes

"Ultimately, this is a battle they are going to lose, and this is about how long they can push off that day of reckoning," said Brewer. "They always claimed to support a federal solution, but they've never lifted a finger to get there."

Even if Amazon loses this battle, it really wouldn't be that bad for the online retail giant. According to analysts at Wells Fargo Securities, Amazon's products would still be cheaper than Wal-Mart or Target even if it had to collect sales tax. In fact, if Amazon had to collect sales tax, it would be 5 to 6 percent cheaper than Wal-Mart and 12 to 13 percent cheaper than Target. In addition, with a sales tax policy in place, Amazon could add new shipping centers anywhere they pleased, and could accelerate shipping time.

With prices remaining lower than brick-and-mortar retailers and items being delivered quicker than ever with cheaper shipping prices, how could Amazon lose?



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Taxes...
By croc on 6/4/2011 2:21:19 AM , Rating: 2
Here, in AUS., the store-front owners are up in arms over on-line purchasing as well. They want GST added to EVERY purchase, no matter the cost to the gov't of that proposition. Guess that the wealthy Gerry Harvey and Frank Lowy don't have enough money yet, despite raping we Aussies for years to the tune off 100 to 1000% markups...

Oh well, I'll happily pay what the law requires. Speaking of which, don't the tax departments of the various states that are whinging about this have any enforcement capability? As I see it, it is not the retailer's responsibility to collect the taxes, it is the various states' responsibilities to see that their citizens pay up.

We Aussies came from a penal colony, once upon a time, and are just a bit proud of that. But we pay our taxes, when we have to, and don't whinge too much about it.

Seems that over in the good ol' US of A, land of the 'throw 'em in the butt-hurting slammer' right wing haters, getting away with tax-avoidance is a crime to be proud of... E-tailers in the US should send records of purchases to the purchaser's state revenue collection authority and let the states deal with the crimes.




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