Archived Story

Editorial: A tax of online sales would be fair

Published 9:39am Monday, April 29, 2013

Ever since the days when it was still called the World Wide Web, the Internet has provided a mechanism for large sales organizations to out-compete not only smaller retailers but even large ones that operate from an actual store — in part because online sellers usually do not collect the sales tax shoppers would pay if they made a purchase in person. Finally, Congress is getting serious about giving states the power to close that loophole, and it’s about time.

As much as we dislike the idea of new taxes or expanded taxes, it’s clear creating a mechanism that would require online retailers to collect sales tax and pay it to shoppers’ home states would be a good thing. Retailers who operate physical stores pay property taxes to the cities where they’re located, they provide jobs in the cities where they’re located, and they serve as magnets for other economic activity in the cities where they’re located. They not only collect sales tax according to state laws but provide many other benefits. Most online sellers don’t. This disparity creates a net loss not only for businesses but also for the communities and states who lose out on taxes, jobs and more.

The simplest solution is for sales tax to be collected in accordance with state laws, whether a sale is made digitally or in person. There is a lot of pressure from some giant, national retailers designed to keep Congress from giving states this authority, the main argument being that it’s difficult to administer sales tax online. We’re confident, however, that the geniuses who run major retail websites can figure out this minor technical detail.

The Internet has tilted the retail playing field a long way during the past 20 years. It’s time to level it a bit.