Guest editorial: No taxes on Amazon deals costs our state

OK, under the “cone of silence,” how many of you use Amazon to buy a book? How many of you send a check to the state of Vermont for what you owe in use taxes? How many of you would stop buying your books on Amazon if the company collected that tax for you and sent it to Montpelier?
Our guess is that a bunch of you buy books from the online giant, that virtually none of you pony up and send a check to Montpelier for what you owe, and that only a tiny percentage of you would stop shopping on Amazon if the company did collect the tax.
But Amazon doesn’t want you to pay the tax and therefore pledges to oppose any effort to collect it. That saves you a buck or two and, for example, costs the state of Vermont an estimated $20 million to $30 million annually. As the percentage of click-and-charge buying increases, the lost revenue to the state also increases, which puts upward pressure on other taxes.
It’s not only silly, it’s both unfair and harmful. It would be virtually painless for the sales tax to be collected from online companies and the burden is borne by almost all. To cheat the state of that revenue puts other programs at risk, and places an increased tax burden on a smaller number of people.
This tax drama is being played out in California, which on July 1 enacted a law that would collect that tax from Amazon and other such online retailers. California would stand to collect roughly $20 million annually from the tax.
But Amazon is fighting back. It has gone over the heads of legislators and wants the voters of California to weigh in. It is pushing for a voter referendum on the issue, which could be held as early as next February.
You can imagine the company’s pitch: “Dear voters, sign here if you want to pay less in taxes.”
But maybe, just maybe, the public is beginning to catch on. Amazon and its ilk are infuriating its Main Street competitors, companies that do have to pay the tax. The public is also beginning to realize that the bigger something gets, the more political it gets, and the more it’s all about them. It smacks of nothing but pure greed when a company like Amazon decides to use its zillions of dollars to rewrite the tax code to its benefit.
When a state needs to trim benefits for its employees, or public television stations are left in the cold, or our potholes go unfilled and our bridges remain rickety all because the money is not there, it’s tough to excuse online retailers their responsibility. Why should we pay, and they not?
This is not an argument for the need to raise taxes, it’s an argument for fairness. In fact, if online taxes were collected an argument could be made that the state would be able to lower the overall sales tax, benefiting all Vermonters.
One would think that argument would have greater currency than the present circumstance in which the value accrues primarily to out-of-state online retailers.
The Vermont Legislature considered legislation to tax Internet sales, but Gov. Peter Shumlin opposed it, which makes no sense, thus it went nowhere. It needs to be brought up again next session and the governor needs to be educated as to its obvious value.
But it’s an issue bigger than Vermont. This is an issue that needs to be addressed state by state and one championed by Congress. At a time when our elected representatives are fighting over fewer and fewer scraps to send to the states, here is an obvious, and very painless, way to help.

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