Amazon and Sales Tax Collections a Hot Topic at SLC

In a couple ofTNReport articles from the Southern Legislative Conference, Mike Morrow reports on the controversy over collecting state sales taxes, which is a big issue for legislators in many states.
One article is on an SLC meeting that featured reports on the impact of e-commerce. An excerpt:
Dr. William F. Fox, director of economics at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research, joined North Carolina’s secretary of Revenue, David W. Hoyle, in a presentation, and the message they brought was that Amazon has managed to create an uneven playing field and that Internet sales in general are having a huge impact on state revenues.
…”The Amazon part is only about 5 percent of e-commerce,” (Fox) said.
But Fox said his center’s research estimates the total of e-commerce is about $4 trillion, with about $46 billion in taxes due across the nation. He said most states surveyed are going to lose about $200 million or more this year due to uncollected taxes on e-commerce.
But the issue goes far beyond uncollected sales taxes, according to Fox. There was consistent growth in retail employment until about 2000, a rate of about 2 percent per year.
“Since 2002, retail employment in the U.S. has absolutely flattened out,” Fox said.
To put a sharper focus on it, Fox told lawmakers Walmart hires five workers for every million dollars in sales. Amazon hires one.
“As we move from people who buy on Main Street, and they move to buy from Amazon because of the tax subsidy that is implicit in the way we pay, we cost the economy four jobs,” he said.

The other article is devoted mostly to commentary from House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, sponsor of legislation that would mandate Amazon collect sales taxes once it opens distribution facilities in Tennessee…. Even if Gov. Bill Haslam negotiates a deal to exempt Amazon.
Sargent’, the article says, has “used some of the strongest language of any legislator to express his opinion on Amazon.” For example:
“We can find no legal basis for this alleged agreement. None,” Sargent said in a subcommittee meeting in May. “Nobody is above the law, and nobody can cut deals to circumvent the law.”
But his current rhetoric sounds considerably more ambivalent. For example:
“I am definitely looking at proceeding on it,”

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