News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, March 22 - U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced Senate passage today of an amendment he sponsored to the budget resolution that would allow Congress to pass legislation giving states the right to collect, or not collect, sales taxes that are already owed under state law from online and remote sellers. Alexander said the amendment, which passed by a Senate vote of 75-24 with a majority of Republicans voting in favor, “boils down to two words: states’ rights.”
In a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, Senator Alexander asked fellow senators, “Do we have a Tenth Amendment, or the spirit of a Tenth Amendment, or do we not? Do we trust governors and legislatures to make decisions, or do we not? They can decide whether they want to raise or lower taxes, whether they want to collect taxes from some of the people who owe it or from all the people who owe it. That is the issue, these two words: states’ rights …. This is an opportunity for us to express our support for this principle of states’ rights and to give governors and legislatures across the country a chance to treat businesses and taxpayers in the same way – and to stop picking winners and stop picking losers in the marketplace.”
The amendment to the budget resolution was sponsored by Alexander and Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and a bipartisan group of 16 other senators. It had the strong support of Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and state legislative leaders.
From the News-Sentinel:
State authorities today arrested a Knox County business owner on sales tax evasion charges, officials said.
The Special Investigations Section of the Tennessee Department of Revenue conducted the investigation that led to the indictment and arrest of Brahim Mazouzi, 43, of Knoxville, according to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Revenue.
Officials said Mazouzi was arrested by Special Agents of the Tennessee Department of Revenue at his business, Magnolia Mini Market, 2400 E. Magnolia Ave. Bond was set at $1,000.
On Jan. 29, 2013, the Knox County grand jury indicted Mazouzi on 19 Class E felony counts of sales tax evasion in violation of Tennessee Code Ann. Section 67-1-1440(g), the release stated. The indictment charges that Mazouzi willfully attempted to evade $25,521.59 in sales tax due the State of Tennessee between January 2009 through July 2010.
Revenue Commissioner Richard H. Roberts said the state’s tax structure depends on taxpayers voluntarily complying with laws. Taxpayers who collect, but intentionally do not remit sales tax, breach the public’s trust and violate the criminal laws of the state, he said.
Officials said that if convicted Mazouzi could be sentenced up to two years in the state penitentiary and fined $3,000 for each of the tax evasion counts.
Part of the “fiscal cliff” tax bill approved by Congress extended the ability of Tennesseans to deduct sales tax payments from their federal income taxes, reports the Commercial Appeal. But that didn’t stop Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a longtime advocate fo sales tax deductability, from joining other Tennessee Republican congressmen in voting no. Back when she was a freshman, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn worked with then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee to permit Tennesseans and other filers in states without income taxes to deduct sales taxes on federal returns. As recently as Nov. 16, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was calling Blackburn “the leader in restoring the deduction in 2004 and she’s the leader now in an effort to ensure it is extended again.”
But on New Year’s Day, when the extension was made part of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff, Blackburn and every member of the Tennessee congressional delegation except U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., voted against it.
Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., also voted for the deal that included extending the deduction, which can be used by the roughly 25 percent of Tennesseans who itemize their deductions rather than taking the standard deduction.
Asked to explain her vote, Blackburn said in a statement, “Restoring sales tax deductions was one of the first pieces of legislation I helped pass when I came to Congress. As is the case with most pieces of legislation we debate, there were obviously provisions in the bill that I was happy to see included such as the extension of the sales tax deduction, which is very important for my constituents in Tennessee.
“However, as a total package, the Senate bill was a bad deal for the American people. It only makes our situation worse. I could not support a proposal that imposes job-killing tax hikes, does nothing to restrain spending, adds to our annual deficit, and increases our debt by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It was likely a record weekend for gun sales in Tennessee.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm said in an email that the agency performed 9,772 background checks over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That’s 500 more than the second biggest weekend on record — Black Friday and the two days that followed in November.
Background checks do not indicate how many guns were actually sold because buyers can purchase more than one.
The sales spike came after President Barack Obama called for stricter gun control following the horrific elementary school shooting in Connecticut on Friday.
John Harris, executive director of the gun rights advocacy group the Tennessee Firearms Association, said many people he knows are purchasing guns and ammunition.
“The fear is that the government is going to disregard the Constitution and try to ban weapons we’ve got a right to own under the Constitution,” Harris said. “…The thinking is that since we don’t know what’s going to happen, we need to go out and stock up.”
At the Goodlettsville Gun Shop, outside of Nashville, sales continued to be brisk on Wednesday.
Owner Phillip Arrington said in a phone interview that the store was packed and he had five check-out lines going.
“I’m so busy I don’t have time to talk,” he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire have sent a letter to two U.S. Senate Finance Committee leaders urging action before the end of the year on legislation allowing states to collect sales taxes on Internet sales. The bill is known as the “Marketplace Fairness Act.”
The letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Sen. Orrin Hatch, ranking Republican on the panel, says the lack of state tax collection on Internet sales has created “an artificial price disparity” between online retailers and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, who must collect sales taxes.
“We understand you would prefer to take up the Marketplace Fairness Act next year in the context of wide-ranging, comprehensive tax reform. Frankly, our Main street businesses and states cannot afford to wait. This is our best chance to pass this important legislation and we urge your support for enacting S. 1832 this year,” the letter says.
The letter was distributed to media by the National Governors Association. The full letter is available HERE.
Estimates of the direct impact on state government if “fiscal cliff” spending cuts take effect is in the $100 million range insofar as initial loss of federal money goes. But a longer term and deeper impact could come from tax increases and their impact on state spending and, thus, sales tax collections.
That was part of the message Wednesday at a Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations meeting. Andy Sher has a report. If federal officials don’t resolve the so-called fiscal cliff, the impact of tax hikes on consumer spending likely will hit sales-tax dependent states like Tennessee the hardest, a tax expert warned Wednesday.
Dr. Stan Chervin said that absent an agreement in Washington, D.C., the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and newer payroll-tax reductions will leave Tennesseans with less cash in their pockets.
“So what are you going to do with less? You’re probably going to spend less,” Chervin said. “All those things are going to reduce take-home [money] if they go away, and that’s what we use to buy stuff. And that’s how we run the state.”
About 54 cents of each state tax dollar comes from the state sales tax, which is among the highest in the nation. Unlike most states, Tennessee has no broad-based income tax.
…Chervin said federal tax increases include boosts in capital gains rates from 15 percent to 20 percent, higher income tax rates and elimination of the 2 percent payroll tax reduction pushed by Obama. Add them all up and that’s less money for most, he said.
“If you just follow the dominoes, yeah, less take-home [money], less retail sales, less sales tax — boom, boom, boom,” Chervin later told reporters. “So it is kind of scary.”
The results of the Aug. 2 election on a Millington sales tax hike were changed Tuesday, Oct. 9, to show the tax hike for a municipal school district was approved by 12 votes instead of losing by three votes, reports the Memphis Daily News. The court order by Chancellor Arnold Goldin came after attorneys for the city of Millington, who filed suit contesting the previous results, and the attorney for the Shelby County Election Commission agreed there was a “mathematical certainty” that the half-cent sales tax hike passed.
“There doesn’t seem to be any question about it,” Goldin said after both sides told him they agreed on the resolution of the dispute.
The summary judgment means there will be no re-vote on the Millington sales tax hike. It also means Millington voters – some of whom are already voting absentee and others who will still see the countywide sales tax hike ballot question on the early voting ballot starting next week – will not be eligible to vote on the countywide sales tax hike.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2010 campaign quietly paid $434 in state sales taxes on more than $4,000 in purchases made from Amazon.com two weeks ago after The Tennessean inquired about failure to pay while researching a story that appeared Sunday.
The payment also came after Haslam’s July testimony before Congress in support of a law requiring Internet companies to collect state taxes… and after Haslam cut a deal with Amazon in 2011 on sales tax collections.
The newspaper found several state political campaigns that did not pay sales tax on Amazon purchases while reporting just one that did (Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden). After fielding questions from The Tennessean about the purchases two weeks ago, the campaign promptly paid the taxes, spokesman Dave Smith said.
“Since this issue came to our attention, the taxes have been paid,” Smith said in an email. “It was inadvertently overlooked.”
Smith declined to elaborate further.
During its most recent fiscal year that ended in June, the Department of Revenue collected about $4.7 million in revenue from “consumer use tax” — which is levied on all online, catalog and purchases of untaxed items from outside the state, said department spokesman Billy Trout.
Voluntary filings — 8,766 to be exact — accounted for just more than $3 million of that revenue. Those filings last year jumped nearly fivefold from the 1,795 returns received in the previous fiscal year.
“Quite honestly, it’s a continual issue for us,” Trout said. “We know there’s a lot of people out there who don’t understand it and don’t realize it.”
Trout said he suspected the Amazon email notices contributed to the increase. The company began sending notices in April to Tennessee residents for purchases made in 2011.
Voters in Memphis, Millington and unincorporated Shelby County will decide in November if there should be a half-cent countywide sales tax increase to help fund the county’s public schools, reports The Commercial Appeal On Monday the Shelby County Commission overrode Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s veto of a sales-tax referendum, with an eight-vote majority.
The deciding vote was cast by Commissioner Melvin Burgess, an employee of Memphis City Schools, who received an opinion from the county attorney’s office that it was not necessary to recuse himself from voting.
“We all want a world-class education system and you have to pay,” Burgess said in support of his vote. “I believe it is our duty to put that question to the people,” he said of the referendum.
Commissioners previously had approved the referendum by seven votes at a meeting Burgess didn’t attend. Eight votes are required on the 13-member commission to override a mayoral veto.
Luttrell has insisted for weeks that a countywide sales-tax increase to fund schools was premature. The override vote was no “great surprise,” he said.
“Now it goes to the voters and the voters will make the ultimate decision,” Luttrell said.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell vetoed a referendum for a countywide sales tax increase on Thursday, but the author of the measure said he believes the County Commission will override the veto, reports The Commercial Appeal. Commissioner Mike Ritz, who proposed the resolution to add a half-cent sales tax referendum to the November ballot, believes he has the necessary votes to override Luttrell at the commission’s Monday meeting.
“The County Commission is responsible for financing education in Shelby County and not the county mayor. I think the County Commission will do the right thing Monday,” Ritz said.
The referendum for voters in Memphis, Millington and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County was proposed to generate money for the newly created Memphis and Shelby County unified school district, which begins next year.
Under state law, voters in the county’s suburbs who approved sales tax increases in the Aug. 2 election will not be allowed to vote on the issue again. And the tax hikes in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Lakeland — towns that were hoping to fund their own municipal school districts — would be set aside if a countywide tax were to be approved.