The Marketplace Fairness Act is being billed by its supporters as a common-sense proposal that would level the playing field between online and brick-and-mortar retailers by taking away online retailers’ exemption from sales tax. Currently, sales tax is only applied to online purchases when a customer buys something from a business that has a location within the customer’s state. What sounds noble, or at least harmless, at first glance begins to sound more like foxes volunteering to guard the hen house when you look at how the MFA would play out in practice, and when you examine who’s supporting it and who isn’t.
Not only would the complexity of complying with the MFA be a massive burden on businesses (the tax would be based on where the customer lives, so a popular online retailer could realistically find themselves paying sales tax to all 50 states, navigating all the unique tax jurisdictions with unique rules of each state.). The cost of compliance would cripple a startup or small niche business. According to Freedomworks Policy Analyst Julie Borowski’s article on Rare; “It would be overly complicated for online businesses to pay sales taxes on goods shipped across state lines. There are nearly 10,000 different sales tax jurisdictions in the United States. The number of tax jurisdictions varies widely by state—New Jersey has only two while Texas has over 1,500 different sales tax jurisdictions.
To add extra confusion, some jurisdictions charge different rates based on the type of item being sold. For example, eight states fully or partially exempt clothing from sales taxes. Some exceptions do apply. In Pennsylvania, there are no sales taxes on clothes except for formal wear, bathing suits, fur coats, and accessories such as jewelry or purses.”
The True Simplification of Taxation (TruST) coalition finds in their recent study; “Mid-market online and catalog retailers ($5-50 million in annual sales) will spend $80,000 to $290,000 in setup and integration costs for the so-called “free software” promised by advocates of the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA). And every year, these retailers will also spend $57,000-$260,000 on maintenance, updates, audits and service fees charged by software providers.”
When you look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars annual compliance would cost, it’s easy to see why online-only giants like Amazon, and other big businesses like Best Buy and Home Depot, who do a significant amount of online business would support the MFA despite the burden it stands to be. These businesses can afford to comply with the MFA, and would even get the extra benefit of seeing their smaller competitors hurt or driven out of business by the immense cost of this tax.
On top of the unfair cost and complexity of the Marketplace Fairness Act is the issue it raises about tax jurisdiction. Why should any state be allowed to collect taxes from businesses in other states? What right does the government of New York have to take money from an Arizona business? As ATR’s Katie McAuliffe explains, the MFA sets a disturbing precedent for states to tax people who aren’t even their constituents;
“Their ultimate goal is to export their tax and regulatory burden to Americans who have no recourse at the ballot box. A politician’s dream come true.”