January 21, 2019

High court to decide Internet sales tax collection

16 April 2018, 10:51 | Regina Holmes

J. Scott Applewhite AP FILEThe Supreme Court Building

J. Scott Applewhite  AP FILEThe Supreme Court Building

A decision on the case by the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to be announced in June.

This law was challenged by the state of South Dakota as it seeks to collect sales taxes from out-of-state internet retailers. North Dakota, when the court ruled that companies can not be forced to collect sales tax from customers in a state where they don't have a physical presence like a store or distribution center. "The entire nature of interstate commerce has changed", says Stephanie Martz, general counsel of the National Retail Federation, which has members such as Walmart Inc., Target Corp., and Amazon.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court is hearing arguments whether to overturn its 1992 decision when it hears a new case focused on online purchases, South Dakota vs. Wayfair.

If it's reversed, that could mean all online retailers have to collect taxes everywhere.

Additionally, independent businesses on websites like Etsy and Ebay would be included in a rewritten sales tax law, as well as third party merchants that operate in Amazon's global marketplace, which totaled almost two-thirds of the company's gross merchandise volume at $313.4 billion.

South Dakota says it is looking to start collecting taxes only for future online sales, but But Wayfair's attorneys argue in court filings that many other states and local governments could demand years of back sales taxes, forcing retailers to go through costly audits of past sales and make back payments that could bankrupt some companies.

Supreme Court Weighs Internet Sales-Tax Case
Supreme Court Case Could Change Sales Tax Rules For Online Retailers

While Harlingen has consistently posted positive numbers over the past two years, strong showings again by McAllen and Brownsville indicate retail sales in those cities seem to be rebounding after a long slump.

The professor said the growth of online sales is enough of a worry to the large retailers that a lot of them are developing hybrid systems where customers can make a purchase online and either ship it directly to the customer or to the local store where the customer can come in and pick it up.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced he would send cities, counties, transit systems and special objective taxing districts $651 million in local sales tax allocations for sales in February, 5 percent more than the previous year. Software does exist that would allow online retailers to easily automate the state and local sales tax collections process. "They look at the final cost, of course, but shoppers are becoming more comfortable with the idea that these taxes should be collected and paid".

The case now before the Supreme Court involves South Dakota, which has no income tax and relies heavily on sales tax for revenue. At the time, the court was concerned in part about the burden collecting sales tax would place on the catalog company. "These online companies have taken advantage of a bygone decision in order to evade the tax collection duties that their brick and mortar competitors perform every day".

BookPeople has been collecting sales tax on online orders for several years.

But other online sellers, from 1-800 Contacts to home goods site Wayfair, can often sidestep charging the tax. Kennedy has written that the 1992 case was "questionable even when decided" and "now harms states to a degree far greater than could have been anticipated earlier". While there is disagreement over how much money is at stake, the Government Accounting Office reports that 45 states and Washington, D.C., have sales tax programs in place.

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