Saturday, February 20, 2010
L.A. Times, Lawmakers Want to Tax Amazon Sales in California, by Evan Halper:
The retail giant is among several that have no physical presence in the state. Legislative Democrats think a levy on them could bring in up to $150 million annually.
State lawmakers hunting for revenue are eyeing one source that could prove costly to millions of California consumers: Amazon .com.
The online retail giant has enjoyed an edge over many competitors in the state because it is not required to collect sales tax from residents who buy books, top-of-the-line plasma televisions, cases of diapers and thousands of other products from its website. The Seattle corporation has no store, warehouse, office building or other physical presence in California, and the state cannot tax such businesses under a 1992 Supreme Court decision.
Consumers here are required to pay sales tax on the goods they purchase at Amazon but almost never do, because the state has no mechanism for tracking Amazon purchases and collecting the money.
Now California is one of several cash-strapped states exploring a novel legal strategy that could force Amazon and others like it, including Overstock.com, to start collecting tax from their customers. New York launched the effort with a law that took effect in 2008. North Carolina and Rhode Island have passed similar laws; other proposals have advanced in the statehouses of Virginia, Illinois, Colorado and Hawaii.
The Democrats who control California's Legislature plan to put their own bid on the governor's desk this month in hopes of reaping up to $150 million annually for state and local coffers. The revenue would make only a tiny dent in the state's $20-billion deficit, but supporters say every dollar counts in tight times, and there's a principle at stake.
Amazon has "built an entire business model based on tax avoidance," said Assembly tax committee Chairman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello).
(Hat Tip: Mox Elraheb.)