Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2011 Issue

The ABA Takes On Amazon

An ad from the Alliance for Main Street Fairness (which includes the ABA).

In June, we reported on a major sales tax battle taking place in the hinterlands between the world's largest online bookseller, Amazon.com, and various American states. The ABA (American Booksellers Association) has weighed in heavily on this issue, and it strongly opposes the position taken by Amazon. The ABA is an association of independent, storefront booksellers founded in 1900. The issue is whether Amazon, and other online retailers, should be required to collect sales tax in states where they do not have a physical presence. This is no small issue, with estimates well into the billions annually said to be at stake. On one side are revenue-starved states and bricks and mortar retailers, ranging from small independents such as those represented by the ABA, to large chains like Wal-Mart and Target; on the other are online retailers such as Amazon and Overstock.com and some anti-tax groups.

 

We all know the issue. When you buy at a store, you pay your state and local sales tax (if there is one). When you buy online, unless that online retailer has a store or some physical presence in your state, you do not. Naturally, local retailers see that as a competitive disadvantage. They have to charge more to cover the tax, encouraging consumers to buy from the out of state online retailer instead. They want a "level playing field," that is, they want online retailers to be compelled to collect local sales taxes just as they must do.

 

Electronic retailers object to having to collect sales tax primarily on the grounds of complexity. Forty-five states impose sales taxes, each at its own rate. But that is not all. Hundreds of municipalities also charge sales taxes at varying rates. Then, add to that each state has its own list of items that are and are not subject to sales tax. The permutations are in the thousands.  The online retailer must compute and charge the correct amount on those items subject to tax for each jurisdiction and then make payments to at least 45 separate taxing authorities. Meanwhile, the local store charges just one rate on one set of taxable items.

 

States have long wanted mail order (and now online) retailers to collect their sales taxes. For them, it's a revenue, rather than a fairness issue. However, the Supreme Court has struck down state attempts to force out-of-state retailers to collect taxes on the grounds that the task of collecting varying sales taxes puts an unacceptable burden on interstate commerce, constitutionally the purview of the federal government. So, years ago, it said that an out-of-state retailer could only be compelled to collect a state's sales tax if it had a "nexus" with that state. "Nexus" has generally been considered some sort of physical presence within the state, such as a store. That is why a Wal-Mart online will charge you sales tax but Amazon won't. Wal-Mart has a store in your state; Amazon does not.

 

In 1992, the Supreme Court (in the Quill case) modified its earlier decision to open one more option for states to collect sales tax. Since interstate commerce is a federal responsibility, the Court said that the federal government could compel internet retailers to collect state sales taxes, even if the states themselves could not. So far, the federal government has declined this invitation.

 

For years, this issue stayed on the backburner, politicians loathe to push for taxing internet purchases as taxes are not popular with the public. "Main Street" may have felt it was treated unfairly, but consumers are glad for any break they can get. However, with the recent severe recession, coupled with decreasing federal aid, states have been desperate to find new sources of revenue. They are looking at these billions of dollars in lost sales tax revenue and trying to find a way to collect them.

 

The most obvious answer, short of convincing Congress to help, is to uncover innovative ways of finding "nexus" between the internet company and their state. Warehouses, and local "agents," have topped the list of new forms of claimed "nexus."

 

Enter Amazon. No one is a bigger online retailer, and no one has objected more strenuously to efforts to require the collection of sales taxes on internet purchases. Amazon plays hardball. Amazon, through a separate corporation, controlled a warehouse in Texas, opened to reduce shipping costs. After a couple of years, Texas yelled "nexus" and sent Amazon a bill. Amazon shuttered its Texas warehouse and laid off its local employees. Nexus no more. Amazon demanded the Governor of Tennessee agree not to deem warehouses to be a "nexus" as a precondition to opening one in that state.


Posted On: 2011-08-02 00:00
User Name: maquetanddumas

An absurd position for brick-and-mortar stores. Instead of whining about long-standing intrastate and interstate commerce laws, these shops


Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [RUTH, George Herman “Babe” (1895-1948)]. Signed photograph. Circa 1930s. 191 x 248 mm. $1,500 to $2,500.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HARRISON, Benjamin. Document signed (“Benj Harrison”) as governor of Virginia, certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a Black Revolutionary soldier. $6,000 to $9,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: ONE OF THE FIRST PRINTED ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: FIRST PRINTING OF LINCOLN’S IMMORTAL GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: HIGHLY IMPORTANT MORMON ARCHIVE. ALLEY, George. Archive of 23 Autograph Letters Signed by Mormon Convert George Alley to His Brother Joseph Alley. $10,000 to $20,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [AVIATION]. [ARMSTRONG, Neil A.] Aviation Hall of Fame Gold Medal MS64 NGC, Awarded to Neil Armstrong in 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: NEWLY DISCOVERED FIRST PRINTING OF "WITH MALICE TOWARDS NONE... " FROM THE ONLY NEWSPAPER ACTUALLY ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN LINCOLN’S SECOND INAUGURAL PROCESSION. $4,000 to $8,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: THE MOST IMPORTANT GEORGE WASHINGTON DOCUMENT IN PRIVATE HANDS; GEORGE WASHINGTON’S COMMISSION AS COMMANDER IN CHIEF, 1775, ONE OF ONLY TWO ORIGINALS. $150,000 to $250,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: A VERY RARE ACCOUNT OF BLACKBEARD’S DEATH AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIRATE ITEMS EXTANT. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Potter & Potter Auctions
    How History Unfolds on Paper:
    Choice Selections from the Eric C. Caren Collection
    Part IX
    Starting 10AM CST
    April 18, 2024
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: EDISON, Thomas. Patent for Edison’s Improvements on the Electric-Light, No. 219,628. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent Office], 16 September 1879. $2,000 to $3,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: [VIETNAM WAR]. The original pen used by Secretary of State William P. Rogers to sign the Vietnam Peace Agreement, Paris, 27 January 1973. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Potter & Potter, Apr. 18: SONS OF LIBERTY FOUNDER COLONEL BARRÉ ANNOTATED TITLE-PAGE, “WHICH OUGHT TO ROUSE UP BRITISH ATTENTION”. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions