New national rules for calculating cross-border sales tax are in the discussion stages in Congress, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte is poised to introduce a new legal framework for tax sales following years of legislative and industry debate on the issue, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Currently, sellers collect sales tax on cross-border sales only if they have a presence in the state they're shipping to, but the Virginia Republican Goodlatte's plan would have sales taxed according to the tax base of the retailer and the tax rate in the state to which they're shipping goods. In other words, a California-based e-retailer shipping widgets to New York would apply California's rules for taxing widgets and New York’s tax rate.
Five states — Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire, Delaware and Oregon — currently don’t charge sales tax, and it is not yet clear how a new national sales tax approach would affect these states.
Anyone suddenly in the mood for a good latte? (Sorry, we're just try to divert your attention from what sounds like an overly complex solution to a years-long dispute.)
A different approach that emerged in Congress three years ago that would let state governments tax goods shipped into their states by out-of-state sellers seems much simpler and more straightforward. Many retailers also feel it's fairer to them from a competitive point of view, and of course the states that already have sales tax structures in place probably like that plan even more than the retailers do.
But that proposal has languished... in part after objections were raised by none other than Virginia state representative Bob Goodlatte.
Predictably, some large brick-and-mortar retailers are for the new proposal, while just as predictably, e-commerce retailers are largely against it, except for the biggest one: Amazon long ago stopped fighting sales taxes levied on online sellers, and has argued in favor of a national plan for some time. The online giant also probably just wants to stop talking about the sales tax issue and get on with the business of gradually dismantling the brick-and-mortar retail market.
Yet Amazon (and the rest of us) may be in for only more debate, as the new proposal would need to creep through Goodlatte's committee and the House, and Congress could be out of session again before it gets much further. Like the making of sausage, the making of laws is not a process anyone should care to watch too closely.
In that regard, the states of Alabama and South Dakota might have the right idea. Instead of waiting for new laws, they are suing to try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the 1992 court ruling that put the current in-state requirement in place. On second thought, old judges may not move any faster than Congress.
And the debate rolls on...