WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced legislation Monday aimed at closing what advocates say is an Internet sales tax loophole.
Industry groups lauded the new bill and said they hope it will level the playing field between brick-and-mortar stores and online and remote sellers.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) and others, introduced the “Remote Transactions Parity Act,” a bill that would allow states to collect taxes on online and other remote sales in the 45 states and the District of Columbia that collect sales tax, whether the retailers have a physical presence in the state or not.
Business groups have been pressing Congress to pass such legislation for several years. But Congress has been unable to find a resolution on the issue of taxing Internet sales, as states have been enacting their own laws to close what they say is a loophole created in 1992 in Quill v. North Dakota, a Supreme Court ruling that stated retailers were required to collect sales tax from out-of-state customers only if they have a “physical presence” in the customer’s state. E-tailers such as eBay and others that don’t have distribution centers or offices in a certain state have relied on that decision to avoid collecting sales tax on online orders. Brick-and-mortar retailers argue that puts them at a competitive price disadvantage.
The Senate passed a bill dubbed the Marketplace Fairness Act in May 2013 but the measure stalled in the House in the last session of Congress. Proponents are hoping the new House bill modeled after that legislation but with a few new provisions will give momentum to the issue this year. The Senate reintroduced the Marketplace Fairness Act in March.
The House bill introduced Monday would allow states to collect taxes on purchases made by consumers residing in the state from online retailers if the state meets certain requirements. It would also provide for a small-seller exemption that prohibits states from requiring certain small sellers to collect sales and use taxes. The bill creates a phaseout for the small-seller exemption. The exemption in the first year would apply to small remote sellers with gross annual receipts under $10 million. It would be lowered to $5 million in the second year, $1 million in the third year and phased out altogether in the fourth year.
Notably, the bill would provide some protections for small sellers from state audits and liability. Several lawmakers raised concerns about previous versions of the legislation, arguing that small remote sellers could essentially be subjected to audits from multiple states.
“The bill will eliminate the online sales tax collection loophole, which distorts competition, the free market and unfairly favors online sellers at the disadvantage and expense of local communities, merchants and small business owners and their employees,” said David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation. “RTPA will provide sales tax parity at the point of purchase, so that Main Street retailers do not face a competitive disadvantage because they are required to collect the sales tax owed on purchases while remote and online sellers are not required to collect the tax.”
French said the bill notably simplifies the sale tax collection process and removes audit and compliance burdens for remote sellers that use certified software providers.
“The shopping center industry would like to thank this group of retail champions in the House for their leadership in introducing a bill that provides true parity at the time of sale and levels the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses,” said Michael P. Kercheval, president and chief executive officer of ICSC. “Today’s development signals that the House of Representatives is prepared to move forward with legislation that will provide local retailers with a fair chance to compete.”