Costly Real-Times Sales Tax Collection Proposals would Hurt Small Businesses

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Posted by Ben Rajadurai on Friday, February 26th, 2021, 2:05 PM PERMALINK

Massachusetts is home to the 16th worst Business Tax Climate in the United States, according to the Tax Foundation. Aside from high taxes and a poorly structured code, small businesses in Massachusetts contend with soaring rent and costly regulatory regimes. Despite all of this and after suffering from a year of economic downturn, pandemic-induced lockdowns, and new expenses, small businesses in Massachusetts face even more new fees and regulations from their state government. 

Members of the Massachusetts legislature are again considering a real-time sales tax remittance requirement for retailers, which does not increase revenue for state coffers like other tax grabs, but does impose significant new costs on employers at a time when many businesses are struggling just to stay open. While this misguided proposal wouldn’t raise any new revenue, a real-time sales tax collection and remittance requirement would force businesses to create an entirely new payment system that would saddle employers with new compliance costs, further reducing the job-creating and sustaining capacity of Bay State small businesses while raising new privacy concerns for consumers.

The retail infrastructure required to fully comply with a real-time sales tax remittance mandate does not exist. Current payment processors only collect a final purchase amount and aren’t built to collect the data required to remit a sales tax instantaneously. As a result, the real-times sales tax requirement some on Beacon Hill are calling for would force businesses and financial institutions to build new systems from scratch in order to comply, all to generate no new revenue, just earlier collection. The State Tax Research Institute estimatesthat this process would cost businesses almost 1.2 billion dollars in costs.

Aside from the added costs, the real-time sales tax proposal raises significant consumer privacy and information security questions. The current sales tax collection and remittance system is already a complex web that requires coordination from multiple government agencies and stakeholders. Any new information needed to make a transaction compliant presents another point of attack for bad actors to access even more consumer information. 

Forcing the nation’s first real-time sales tax requirement on employers would only serve to make Massachusetts a more costly and less hospitable place to do business and invest. The real-time sale tax proposal being advocated for in Massachusetts would inflict pain on in-state employers, with no gain for state coffers. This misguided policy would create no additional revenue for the state. It would only levy new rules and associated costs for businesses that are just beginning to recover from the adverse effects of the pandemic-driven downturn. Several state legislatures have proposed and eventually rejected instant sales tax remittance because they ultimately understood that it was an onerously expensive and unnecessary policy that brought no new revenue to the state. Massachusetts lawmakers should heed the lessons from those failed attempts. 

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