Retailers have been gunning for amazon.com for a long time and have tried in the past to use political muscle to "put them on a level playing field." When I say "level playing field," what that translates to in the eyes of retailers is "force them to pay state sales tax." Retailers have lamented that it is unfair that they have to make their customers pay sales tax while Amazon does not.
Now brick-and-mortar retailers have a new weapon to take on Amazon – the Alliance for Main Street Fairness. The group is pushing hard to change sales-tax laws in more than a dozen states including Texas and California. Before the group was associated with smaller, local businesses. Now it has the backing of retailers like Target, Best Buy Co., Home Depot, Sears, and Wal-Mart.
Amazon has fought efforts over the years to force them to collect sales taxes. Lawmakers would like to change all that but have to get by a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling; the court said that "only merchants who have a physical presence in a state have to collect sales taxes." Amazon collects taxes in five states: Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Washington, and New York.
Still that hasn’t stopped the fight to level the playing field, because, as retailers see it, Amazon is "eating their lunch." Last week retailers pushed for a new law in Illinois that forces Amazon to collect sales taxes if it employs marketing affiliates in the state. This law is similar to a law in New York – and if retailers have their way – it will be federal law.
U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin, (D-Illinois) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) are also considering legislation to force online retailers to collect sales taxes.
This is bad news for Amazon and could be a slippery slope for other retailers and online goods sellers that don’t currently collect taxes. Would Microsoft, Valve, or Sony like it if the virtual goods they sell suddenly had a state or federal tax attached? I think not. Consumers would not be amused.
We’ll continue to follow this story as it develops.