Senate Passes Online Sales Tax Bill

Rhett Pardon

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday passed a bill that would empower states to require businesses with more than $1 million in out-of-state sales to collect taxes for products they sell on the Internet.

The Senate voted 69 to 27 Monday to pass the bill, which next goes to the House, where antitax sentiment among many Republicans may make it difficult to pass. President Obama has conveyed his support for the measure, called the Marketplace Fairness Act.

States currently can only require retailers to collect sales taxes if the merchant has a physical presence in the state.  

Online sales U.S. totaled $226 billion in 2012, but states lost billions of dollars last year because they couldn't collect taxes on out-of-state sales, according to a study done for the National Conference of State Legislatures, which lobbied for the bill.  

If signed into law, the bill would allow for businesses with less than $1 million in online sales to be exempt.

Supporters of the piece of legislation say the bill makes it relatively easy for Internet retailers to comply. States would provide free computer software to help retailers calculate sales taxes, based on where shoppers live, and establish a single entity to receive Internet sales tax revenue, so retailers don't have to send it to individual counties or cities.

Opponents argue the bill would give states too much power to reach across state lines to enforce their tax laws. States could audit out-of-state businesses, impose liens on their property and, ultimately, sue them in state court.

Opponents also say that the bill creates complicated administrative issues, imposing audits, compliance costs and lost wages for small businesses.

In the Senate, lawmakers from three states without sales taxes lead the opposition — Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. They said that businesses based in their states should not have to collect taxes for other states. Delaware also has sales tax, though its two senators supported the bill.

"We ought to have a structure in place in the states that treats all retail the same," National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. "Small retailers are collecting [sales tax] on the first dollar of any sale they make, and it's only fair that other retailers who are selling to those same customers the same product have those same obligations."