Haslam Talks More on Amazon & Congress

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that not every member of Tennessee’s congressional delegation shares his urgency about establishing national rules for collecting online sales tax from retailers like Amazon.com.
Haslam said after an appearance at East Tennessee State University that he’s hoping for national guidelines on the issue within the next two years. Fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said earlier this week that it could take up to four years for Congress to act.
“Bob thinks that’s probably right, but it kind depends on who you talk to in Congress,” Haslam said. “Some folks like Senator (Lamar) Alexander — because he’s been a governor — kind of understand the urgency of it.
“Some of our House district representatives aren’t so sure of why it’s important.”
The governor said he is trying to make the case about the “considerable” loss of state and local sales tax revenues. The University of Tennessee has estimated that the state will lose $410 million in forgone sales tax revenues from online sales this fiscal year.

Amazon is building three distribution centers in Tennessee with an agreement from the state that it won’t have to collect state sales taxes on items sold through them. The deal was struck by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, but Haslam OK’d the arrangement before he took office.
Amazon lobbyists said during the legislative session that the company would be willing to collect the taxes as long as the same rules applied in every state and to every company. The retailer threated to abandon the project if the state reneged on the previous agreement.
The arrangement has drawn the ire of Tennessee retailers who are required to collect the taxes, but it has been most vocally supported by lawmakers representing the areas that will see an influx of more than 1,200 full-time jobs.
Haslam said he has been in negotiations with Amazon over potential future sales tax collections apart from a nationwide approach, but said that nothing has come of the discussions so far.
Corker said earlier this week that he was unaware that Haslam had pledged to take a leadership role in urging Congress to act. The governor said Thursday that that effort is still getting off the ground.
“As a governor, by myself I can have some effectiveness,” he said. “I can be a lot more effective with a group of governors.”
Haslam said he will work with the National Governors Association to establish a strategy.
“And once we do, obviously Bob will be one of my first calls,” he said.

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